Sinning willfully vs. sinning ignorantly

The previous post showed how some people who murder can be forgiven in this life, while others who murder cannot be forgiven neither in this world nor in the world to come. This isn’t an isolated case. The scriptures are full of teachings that God holds people accountable at different levels, and punishes the same behavior differently depending on the amount of knowledge the person has.

King Benjamin, near the beginning of his discourse, warns his audience about the consequences of them giving heed to the evil spirit.

Mosiah 2
33 For behold, there is a wo pronounced upon him who listeth to obey that spirit; for if he listeth to obey him, and remaineth and dieth in his sins, the same drinketh damnation to his own soul; for he receiveth for his wages an everlasting punishment, having transgressed the law of God contrary to his own knowledge.

Notice he qualifies the statement saying this person transgresses the law of God contrary to his own knowledge. This is a person who knows the law of God and chooses to disobey. King Benjamin continues and makes it clear to his audience that all the adults fit this criteria – king Benjamin has made sure they’ve all been taught the laws of God.

34 I say unto you, that there are not any among you, except it be your little children that have not been taught concerning these things, but what knoweth that ye are eternally indebted to your heavenly Father, to render to him all that you have and are; and also have been taught concerning the records which contain the prophecies which have been spoken by the holy prophets, even down to the time our father, Lehi, left Jerusalem;
36 And now, I say unto you, my brethren, that after ye have known and have been taught all these things, if ye should transgress and go contrary to that which has been spoken, that ye do withdraw yourselves from the Spirit of the Lord, that it may have no place in you to guide you in wisdom’s paths that ye may be blessed, prospered, and preserved—
37 I say unto you, that the man that doeth this, the same cometh out in open rebellion against God; therefore he listeth to obey the evil spirit, and becometh an enemy to all righteousness; therefore, the Lord has no place in him, for he dwelleth not in unholy temples.
38 Therefore if that man repenteth not, and remaineth and dieth an enemy to God, the demands of divine justice do awaken his immortal soul to a lively sense of his own guilt, which doth cause him to shrink from the presence of the Lord, and doth fill his breast with guilt, and pain, and anguish, which is like an unquenchable fire, whose flame ascendeth up forever and ever.
39 And now I say unto you, that mercy hath no claim on that man; therefore his final doom is to endure a never-ending torment.

He then goes on to contrast the difference between those with knowledge who obey and disobey.

40 O, all ye old men, and also ye young men, and you little children who can understand my words, for I have spoken plainly unto you that ye might understand, I pray that ye should awake to a remembrance of the awful situation of those that have fallen into transgression.
41 And moreover, I would desire that ye should consider on the blessed and happy state of those that keep the commandments of God. For behold, they are blessed in all things, both temporal and spiritual; and if they hold out faithful to the end they are received into heaven, that thereby they may dwell with God in a state of never-ending happiness. O remember, remember that these things are true; for the Lord God hath spoken it.

But what about people who don’t know the law of God?

Mosiah 3
11 For behold, and also his blood atoneth for the sins of those who have fallen by the transgression of Adam, who have died not knowing the will of God concerning them, or who have ignorantly sinned.
12 But wo, wo unto him who knoweth that he rebelleth against God! For salvation cometh to none such except it be through repentance and faith on the Lord Jesus Christ.

If you don’t know the law, you aren’t held accountable, and Christ’s blood atones for those ignorant sins. But if you know the law, you will be judged differently. Some day in the future, when the fullness of the gospel has been taught to every nation, all men will be fully accountable:

Mosiah 3
20 And moreover, I say unto you, that the time shall come when the knowledge of a Savior shall spread throughout every nation, kindred, tongue, and people.
21 And behold, when that time cometh, none shall be found blameless before God, except it be little children, only through repentance and faith on the name of the Lord God Omnipotent.

This is a future event for most of humanity, even for us. But what about king Benjamin’s people?

22 And even at this time, when thou shalt have taught thy people the things which the Lord thy God hath commanded thee, even then are they found no more blameless in the sight of God, only according to the words which I have spoken unto thee.
23 And now I have spoken the words which the Lord God hath commanded me.
24 And thus saith the Lord: They shall stand as a bright testimony against this people, at the judgment day; whereof they shall be judged, every man according to his works, whether they be good, or whether they be evil.
25 And if they be evil they are consigned to an awful view of their own guilt and abominations, which doth cause them to shrink from the presence of the Lord into a state of misery and endless torment, from whence they can no more return; therefore they have drunk damnation to their own souls.
26 Therefore, they have drunk out of the cup of the wrath of God, which justice could no more deny unto them than it could deny that Adam should fall because of his partaking of the forbidden fruit; therefore, mercy could have claim on them no more forever.
27 And their torment is as a lake of fire and brimstone, whose flames are unquenchable, and whose smoke ascendeth up forever and ever. Thus hath the Lord commanded me. Amen.

King Benjamin’s people can’t argue that they sinned in ignorance. The scriptures make it clear that they, unlike most of the rest of the world, have enough knowledge at that present time to be fully accountable for their actions. They will have known God and received his Spirit. And if they should then sin against that, he uses the binary judgment paradigm: they meet the criteria for the sons of Perdition. Let’s compare Mosiah’s descriptions of his people to the description of the sons of Perdition from D&C 76.

King Benjamin in
Mosiah Chapters 2&3
D&C 76:32
“they who are the sons of perdition”
2:36  after ye have known and have been taught all these things, if ye should transgress and go contrary to that which has been spoken, that ye do withdraw yourselves from the Spirit of the Lord, that it may have no place in you

2:37 the man that doeth this, the same cometh out in open rebellion against God; therefore he listeth to obey the evil spirit, and becometh an enemy to all righteousness; therefore, the Lord has no place in him, for he dwelleth not in unholy temples.

31 Thus saith the Lord concerning all those who know my power, and have been made partakers thereof, and suffered themselves through the power of the devil to be overcome, and to deny the truth and defy my power

35 Having denied the Holy Spirit after having received it, and having denied the Only Begotten Son of the Father, having crucified him unto themselves and put him to an open shame.

2:38 Therefore if that man repenteth not, and remaineth and dieth an enemy to God, the demands of divine justice do awaken his immortal soul to a lively sense of his own guilt, which doth cause him to shrink from the presence of the Lord, and doth fill his breast with guilt, and pain, and anguish, which is like an unquenchable fire, whose flame ascendeth up forever and ever.

3:25 And if they be evil they are consigned to an awful view of their own guilt and abominations, which doth cause them to shrink from the presence of the Lord into a state of misery and endless torment,

3:27 And their torment is as a lake of fire and brimstone, whose flames are unquenchable, and whose smoke ascendeth up forever and ever.

31 suffered themselves through the power of the devil to be overcome, and to deny the truth and defy my power

33 For they are vessels of wrath, doomed to suffer the wrath of God, with the devil and his angels in eternity;

36 These are they who shall go away into the lake of fire and brimstone, with the devil and his angels—

2:39 mercy hath no claim on that man; therefore his final doom is to endure a never-ending torment.

3:12 But wo, wo unto him who knoweth that he rebelleth against God! For salvation cometh to none such except it be through repentance and faith on the Lord Jesus Christ.

3:25 which doth cause them to shrink from the presence of the Lord into a state of misery and endless torment, from whence they can no more return; therefore they have drunk damnation to their own souls.

3:26 Therefore, they have drunk out of the cup of the wrath of God…therefore, mercy could have claim on them no more forever.

34 Concerning whom I have said there is no forgiveness in this world nor in the world to come

37 And the only ones on whom the second death shall have any power;

38 Yea, verily, the only ones who shall not be redeemed in the due time of the Lord, after the sufferings of his wrath.

When I look at those two descriptions side by side, I come to the conclusion that once king Benjamin had delivered his message and the people accepted it, received the Spirit of the Lord and a remission of their sins (Mosiah 4:3), entered into a covenant with God to obey his commandments (Mosiah 5:5), took upon them the name of Christ (Mosiah 5:8), they could no longer sin in ignorance. At this point, refusing to repent was now coming out in open rebellion against the God they knew and had covenanted to obey.

It wasn’t just king Benjamin that taught this. Abinadi also taught the those who don’t have the fullness are judged differently than those who do have the fullness. First, those that will be ok:

Mosiah 15
21 And there cometh a resurrection, even a first resurrection; yea, even a resurrection of those that have been, and who are, and who shall be, even until the resurrection of Christ—for so shall he be called.
22 And now, the resurrection of all the prophets, and all those that have believed in their words, or all those that have kept the commandments of God, shall come forth in the first resurrection; therefore, they are the first resurrection.
23 They are raised to dwell with God who has redeemed them; thus they have eternal life through Christ, who has broken the bands of death.
24 And these are those who have part in the first resurrection; and these are they that have died before Christ came, in their ignorance, not having salvation declared unto them. And thus the Lord bringeth about the restoration of these; and they have a part in the first resurrection, or have eternal life, being redeemed by the Lord.
25 And little children also have eternal life.

And then those that won’t be ok:

26 But behold, and fear, and tremble before God, for ye ought to tremble; for the Lord redeemeth none such that rebel against him and die in their sins; yea, even all those that have perished in their sins ever since the world began, that have wilfully rebelled against God, that have known the commandments of God, and would not keep them; these are they that have no part in the first resurrection.
27 Therefore ought ye not to tremble? For salvation cometh to none such; for the Lord hath redeemed none such; yea, neither can the Lord redeem such; for he cannot deny himself; for he cannot deny justice when it has its claim.

Abinadi says that those did not have salvation declared unto them come forth in the first resurrection, are redeemed by the Lord, and have eternal life, whereas those that have known the commandments and do not keep them cannot be redeemed until they repent. He goes on to condemn those who rebel against God.

Mosiah 16
5 But remember that he that persists in his own carnal nature, and goes on in the ways of sin and rebellion against God, remaineth in his fallen state and the devil hath all power over him. Therefore he is as though there was no redemption made, being an enemy to God; and also is the devil an enemy to God.

10 Even this mortal shall put on immortality, and this corruption shall put on incorruption, and shall be brought to stand before the bar of God, to be judged of him according to their works whether they be good or whether they be evil—
11 If they be good, to the resurrection of endless life and happiness; and if they be evil, to the resurrection of endless damnation, being delivered up to the devil, who hath subjected them, which is damnation—
12 Having gone according to their own carnal wills and desires; having never called upon the Lord while the arms of mercy were extended towards them; for the arms of mercy were extended towards them, and they would not; they being warned of their iniquities and yet they would not depart from them; and they were commanded to repent and yet they would not repent.
13 And now, ought ye not to tremble and repent of your sins, and remember that only in and through Christ ye can be saved?

The Nephites had the fullness. The arms of mercy were extended towards them. They couldn’t claim ignorance of the laws of God. Anyone who continued in sin at that point was rebelling against God. Here are a few more teachings about Nephites willfully sinning.

4 Nephi 4:1
37 Therefore the true believers in Christ, and the true worshipers of Christ, (among whom were the three disciples of Jesus who should tarry) were called Nephites, and Jacobites, and Josephites, and Zoramites.
38 And it came to pass that they who rejected the gospel were called Lamanites, and Lemuelites, and Ishmaelites; and they did not dwindle in unbelief, but they did wilfully rebel against the gospel of Christ; and they did teach their children that they should not believe, even as their fathers, from the beginning, did dwindle.

3 Nephi 6
18 Now they did not sin ignorantly, for they knew the will of God concerning them, for it had been taught unto them; therefore they did wilfully rebel against God.

Alma 34
2 My brethren, I think that it is impossible that ye should be ignorant of the things which have been spoken concerning the coming of Christ, who is taught by us to be the Son of God; yea, I know that these things were taught unto you bountifully before your dissension from among us.

Alma 24
30 And thus we can plainly discern, that after a people have been once enlightened by the Spirit of God, and have had great knowledge of things pertaining to righteousness, and then have fallen away into sin and transgression, they become more hardened, and thus their state becomes worse than though they had never known these things.

The Nephites had no excuse, they knew too much. That’s why the words of the Nephite prophets to the Nephite people were so harsh, so black-and-white.

Jarom 1
10 And it came to pass that the prophets of the Lord did threaten the people of Nephi, according to the word of God, that if they did not keep the commandments, but should fall into transgression, they should be destroyed from off the face of the land.
11 Wherefore, the prophets, and the priests, and the teachers, did labor diligently, exhorting with all long-suffering the people to diligence; teaching the law of Moses, and the intent for which it was given; persuading them to look forward unto the Messiah, and believe in him to come as though he already was. And after this manner did they teach them.
12 And it came to pass that by so doing they kept them from being destroyed upon the face of the land; for they did prick their hearts with the word, continually stirring them up unto repentance.

Alma 9
8 Behold, O ye wicked and perverse generation, how have ye forgotten the tradition of your fathers; yea, how soon ye have forgotten the commandments of God.

11 Yea, and if it had not been for his matchless power, and his mercy, and his long-suffering towards us, we should unavoidably have been cut off from the face of the earth long before this period of time, and perhaps been consigned to a state of endless misery and woe.
12 Behold, now I say unto you that he commandeth you to repent; and except ye repent, ye can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God. But behold, this is not all—he has commanded you to repent, or he will utterly destroy you from off the face of the earth; yea, he will visit you in his anger, and in his fierce anger he will not turn away.

The Nephites knew the commandments, they had been taught to them, yet they disobeyed. And he tells them that it’s only by the mercy of God that he hasn’t wiped them off the face of the earth. They can’t claim they are sinning ignorantly, they know the commandments of God and are willfully rebelling against them. Contrast that with what he says about the Lamanites.

14 Now I would that ye should remember, that inasmuch as the Lamanites have not kept the commandments of God, they have been cut off from the presence of the Lord. Now we see that the word of the Lord has been verified in this thing, and the Lamanites have been cut off from his presence, from the beginning of their transgressions in the land.
15 Nevertheless I say unto you, that it shall be more tolerable for them in the day of judgment than for you, if ye remain in your sins, yea, and even more tolerable for them in this life than for you, except ye repent.
16 For there are many promises which are extended to the Lamanites; for it is because of the traditions of their fathers that caused them to remain in their state of ignorance; therefore the Lord will be merciful unto them and prolong their existence in the land.
17 And at some period of time they will be brought to believe in his word, and to know of the incorrectness of the traditions of their fathers; and many of them will be saved, for the Lord will be merciful unto all who call on his name.

So the Lamanites who sin in ignorance will be preserved, and one day taught the truth and be saved. But what about the Nephites?

18 But behold, I say unto you that if ye persist in your wickedness that your days shall not be prolonged in the land, for the Lamanites shall be sent upon you; and if ye repent not they shall come in a time when you know not, and ye shall be visited with utter destruction; and it shall be according to the fierce anger of the Lord.
19 For he will not suffer you that ye shall live in your iniquities, to destroy his people. I say unto you, Nay; he would rather suffer that the Lamanites might destroy all his people who are called the people of Nephi, if it were possible that they could fall into sins and transgressions, after having had so much light and so much knowledge given unto them of the Lord their God;

23 And now behold I say unto you, that if this people, who have received so many blessings from the hand of the Lord, should transgress contrary to the light and knowledge which they do have, I say unto you that if this be the case, that if they should fall into transgression, it would be far more tolerable for the Lamanites than for them.
24 For behold, the promises of the Lord are extended to the Lamanites, but they are not unto you if ye transgress; for has not the Lord expressly promised and firmly decreed, that if ye will rebel against him that ye shall utterly be destroyed from off the face of the earth?

Samuel the Lamanite informs the Nephites:

Helaman 13
38 But behold, your days of probation are past; ye have procrastinated the day of your salvation until it is everlastingly too late, and your destruction is made sure; yea, for ye have sought all the days of your lives for that which ye could not obtain; and ye have sought for happiness in doing iniquity, which thing is contrary to the nature of that righteousness which is in our great and Eternal Head.

This message isn’t delivered to the Lamanites wallowing in darkness. It’s delivered to the Nephites who are sinning against the light. Do we today have as much knowledge as the Nephites? Here are the signs of their faith:

20 Yea, after having been such a highly favored people of the Lord; yea, after having been favored above every other nation, kindred, tongue, or people; after having had all things made known unto them, according to their desires, and their faith, and prayers, of that which has been, and which is, and which is to come;
21 Having been visited by the Spirit of God; having conversed with angels, and having been spoken unto by the voice of the Lord; and having the spirit of prophecy, and the spirit of revelation, and also many gifts, the gift of speaking with tongues, and the gift of preaching, and the gift of the Holy Ghost, and the gift of translation;

Far more that we have now, or that has existed in documented scripture since about 400 AD. We had a brief period between 1831 and 1834 when the fullness was available but rejected. Excluding that brief period, there has been no people on record who have been able to obtain as much knowledge as the Nephites had. So when people in the last 1600 years sin, are they sinning willfully or ignorantly?

Is having fragments of the truth taught to us by unauthorized servants enough to condemn humanity to do same degree that the Nephites were condemned? Can we read the threats and punishments that were directed to Nephites willfully rebelling against God and apply them to people wallowing in centuries of darkness and apostasy? Or is most of humanity like the Lamanites, sinning in ignorance, waiting for the promises of the Lord to be fullfilled so that we can have the truth taught to us? Even if we diligently search the scriptures, do we have enough knowledge to be held accountable to the same degree as the Nephites who conversed with angels, heard the voice of the Lord, and enjoyed numerous spiritual gifts that are conspicuously absent from us today?

The Apostle Paul grew up well-schooled in the Law of Moses. He studied the scriptures and obeyed the law of Moses to the letter. He described himself as:

Philippians 3
5 Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee;

Acts 26
4 My manner of life from my youth, which was at the first among mine own nation at Jerusalem, know all the Jews;
5 Which knew me from the beginning, if they would testify, that after the most straitest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee.

Acts 22
3 I am verily a man which am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, yet brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers, and was zealous toward God, as ye all are this day.

Yet despite all his knowledge of the Law of Moses, he still sinned ignorantly.

1 Timothy 1
11 According to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which was committed to my trust.
12 And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry;
13 Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief.
14 And the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus.
15 This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.
16 Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting.

So even though Paul was one of the most educated Jews, well-versed in the law of Moses and strictly obedient to its rules, he says he sinned ignorantly in unbelief. And God’s longsuffering towards Paul was a pattern for the rest of us. That should cause us all to ponder. If Paul was considered by God to be acting in ignorance and deserving of mercy, what of people today living without the fullness of the gospel? What of ourselves, who are trying to piece together a knowledge of the fullness but we know we can’t reconstruct it all?

Alma 32
19 And now, how much more cursed is he that knoweth the will of God and doeth it not, than he that only believeth, or only hath cause to believe, and falleth into transgression?

Do any of us truly KNOW the will of God right now? Or do we only believe or have cause to believe? Obviously most of us inherently know that murder, rape, theft, and such actions are wrong because they violate the rights of others. But in so many other things we really only believe we understand God’s will. And we all have different ideas of what that means! God is not the author of confusion.

This is why the restoration is so important. Everyone who did not have the fullness taught to them will be restored to life and have it taught to them, so they can then be judged accordingly to men in the flesh. “All shall know me, who remain, even from the least unto the greatest, and shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, and shall see eye to eye.” (D&C 84:98). God is no respecter of persons. Everyone will have the opportunity to learn and accept the truth, and then when Satan is loosed for a little season, we’ll all be tested to see if we remain faithful, if we endure to the end.

The Murder Paradox

It’s presented as a black and white truth: There is no forgiveness for murder.

The Encyclopedia of Mormonism says:

Murder violates the sanctity of life and cuts off the ability of its victims to “work out their destiny” (Benson, p. 355). Moreover, because “man cannot restore life,” and restoration or restitution is a necessary step for repentance, obtaining forgiveness for murder is impossible (Kimball, 1969, p. 129; D&C 42:18-19).
https://eom.byu.edu/index.php/Murder

The encyclopedia cites D&C 42, which states:

D&C 42
18 And now, behold, I speak unto the church. Thou shalt not kill; and he that kills shall not have forgiveness in this world, nor in the world to come.

But in the Book of Mormon, we have the Anti-Nephi-Lehites, Lamanites who repented, buried their weapons of war, and chose to suffer death rather than take up arms to defend themselves. These people admitted to committing many murders. How is it possible that the Anti-Nephi-Lehi’s were forgiven of their many murders?

Alma 24
9 And behold, I also thank my God, that by opening this correspondence we have been convinced of our sins, and of the many murders which we have committed.
10 And I also thank my God, yea, my great God, that he hath granted unto us that we might repent of these things, and also that he hath forgiven us of those our many sins and murders which we have committed, and taken away the guilt from our hearts, through the merits of his Son.
11 And now behold, my brethren, since it has been all that we could do (as we were the most lost of all mankind) to repent of all our sins and the many murders which we have committed, and to get God to take them away from our hearts, for it was all we could do to repent sufficiently before God that he would take away our stain
12 Now, my best beloved brethren, since God hath taken away our stains, and our swords have become bright, then let us stain our swords no more with the blood of our brethren.

How can the Encyclopedia of Mormonism claim forgiveness for murder is impossible if the Book of Mormon highlights a group of Lamanites that had committed many murders and yet were forgiven by God? Is the Book of Mormon teaching false doctrine? If the Book of Mormon is true, that would seem to indicate the Encyclopedia of Mormonism teaches false doctrine. Perhaps if the authors had referenced the scriptures instead of Kimball’s The Miracle of Forgiveness, they would have not contradicted the “keystone” of the Church.

We are judged according to our knowledge. The more knowledge we have, the more accountable we are.

Alma 29:5
5 Yea, and I know that good and evil have come before all men; he that knoweth not good from evil is blameless; but he that knoweth good and evil, to him it is given according to his desires, whether he desireth good or evil, life or death, joy or remorse of conscience.

What does the Book of Mormon say about the Lamanites?

Mosiah 10:17
17 And thus they have taught their children that they should hate them, and that they should murder them, and that they should rob and plunder them, and do all they could to destroy them; therefore they have an eternal hatred towards the children of Nephi.

These Lamanites had been taught from birth that murder was acceptable. God accommodated their incorrect knowledge and forgave them of their murders once they learned it was wrong and repented of their murders.

So what about D&C 42? This section is the law for those who will live in Zion. These people will know good from evil. In particular, they know that murder is not acceptable. So a resident of Zion who kills won’t be held blameless. He knew better and chose to kill regardless. That seems to be the reason he won’t receive forgiveness, whereas the Lamanites had not been taught to know good and evil, and could receive forgiveness in this life for their many murders.

3 Nephi 6:18
Now they did not sin ignorantly, for they knew the will of God concerning them, for it had been taught unto them; therefore they did wilfully rebel against God.

Helaman 7:23-24
It shall be better for the Lamanites than for you except ye shall repent. For behold, they are more righteous than you, for they have not sinned against that great knowledge which ye have received; therefore the Lord will be merciful unto them; yea, he will lengthen out their days and increase their seed, even when thou shalt be utterly destroyed except thou shalt repent.

This demonstrates how important it is to look at the context of each scripture. The Lord has different messages and different expectations for different audiences depending on their level of knowledge. Misapplying a message to the wrong audience can lead to false doctrine that contradicts scripture – like claiming that murder can’t be forgiven.

During the Millennium

During the Millennium, the Celestial and Terrestrial categories of people will live on earth at the same time, while the telestial people suffer in hell. During this time, Christ reigns personally.

D&C 43:29-30
For in mine own due time will I come upon the earth in judgment, and my people shall be redeemed and shall reign with me on earth. For the great Millennium, of which I have spoken by the mouth of my servants, shall come.

When this happens, everyone who has lived that is of the celestial or terrestrial category will be restored to life, similar to how Lazarus was raised from the dead. If this is a new concept for you, I recommend you listen to episode 36 of the Iron Rod Podcast. Everyone who has ever lived who didn’t commit telestial-level sins will be raised from the dead and live during the Millennium.

Let’s remind ourselves of a key aspect of the terrestrial category.

D&C 88:99
And after this another angel shall sound, which is the second trump; and then cometh the redemption of those who are Christ’s at his coming; who have received their part in that prison which is prepared for them, that they might receive the gospel, and be judged according to men in the flesh.

When Christ comes there is a first judgement to select who is currently celestial, terrestrial, and telestial. The terrestrial people who are Christ’s at his coming were judged worthy of being redeemed at Christ’s coming at the beginning of the Millennium. While living in the Millennium, they have the opportunity to receive the gospel while in the flesh so they can later be judged according to men in the flesh at the final judgment on the last day.

How do they receive the gospel? (Receive means not just hearing the gospel, but fully embracing it and receiving all the spiritual benefits described in the scriptures).

D&C 76:87
And the terrestrial through the ministration of the celestial.

The celestial category of people are there in the Millennium (having come with Christ in the cloud) to teach and minister to the terrestrial category and prepare them to receive the gospel, as D&C 88:99 says. And what happens when someone receives the gospel?

D&C 11:30
But verily, verily, I say unto you, that as many as receive me, to them will I give power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on my name. Amen.

D&C 25:1
Hearken unto the voice of the Lord your God, while I speak unto you, Emma Smith, my daughter; for verily I say unto you, all those who receive my gospel are sons and daughters in my kingdom.

D&C 45:8
I came unto mine own, and mine own received me not; but unto as many as received me gave I power to do many miracles, and to become the sons of God; and even unto them that believed on my name gave I power to obtain eternal life.

Notice that there are no exclusion clauses here. Anyone who receives the gospel becomes a son or daughter of God, regardless of whether that happens before or during the Millennium. These terrestrial people spent time in prison that they might receive the gospel. The goal is for them to “receive the gospel”. Anyone who receives the gospel becomes a son or daughter of God in his kingdom. which as previous posts have demonstrated, is the celestial kingdom. The terrestrials who receive the gospel become celestial before the great and last day of judgment.

Remember how D&C 76 tells us that God saves all the works of his hands, and he saves all except the sons of perdition? We know you can’t be saved anywhere outside the celestial kingdom. Now we see how the terrestrial category of people are saved…they are taught the fullness of the gospel during the Millennium and in the process of “receiving” it become celestial.

Remember all those scriptures saying the only way to be saved in the kingdom of God is through faith, repentance, baptism by water and fire, etc., and there is no other way or condition to be saved in the kingdom of God? That hasn’t been violated here. These Terrestrials will be in the flesh, restored to their mortal bodies, and exercise faith, repent, and be baptized. They will meet all the conditions necessary for the celestial kingdom.

Remember the Alvin Smith paradox? The paradox is resolved. People like Alvin will be restored to life as terrestrial people in the Millennium (per D&C 76), and celestial people will teach them the gospel until they have achieved their own spiritual birth and become sons and daughters of God, at which point they will have become celestial people (per D&C 137).

Keep in mind, this progression occurs during the Millennium, before the little season when Satan is loosed, and before the great and last day of judgment, which is a binary judgment. Humanity will either be saved in the celestial kingdom, or cast out with the devil and his angels.

 

Additional scriptural references indicating that terrestrial people (heathens, less valiant, etc.) will progress to a celestial level during the Millennium:

2 Nephi 21:6-9 / Isaiah 11:6-9
6 The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the young lion and fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.
7 And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
8 And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice’s den.
9 They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain, for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.

Isaiah 35
1 The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose.
2 It shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice even with joy and singing: the glory of Lebanon shall be given unto it, the excellency of Carmel and Sharon, they shall see the glory of the Lord, and the excellency of our God.

Ezekiel 36
33 Thus saith the Lord God; In the day that I shall have cleansed you from all your iniquities I will also cause you to dwell in the cities, and the wastes shall be builded.
34 And the desolate land shall be tilled, whereas it lay desolate in the sight of all that passed by.
35 And they shall say, This land that was desolate is become like the garden of Eden; and the waste and desolate and ruined cities are become fenced, and are inhabited.

Joel 3
16 The Lord also shall roar out of Zion, and utter his voice from Jerusalem; and the heavens and the earth shall shake: but the Lord will be the hope of his people, and the strength of the children of Israel.
17 So shall ye know that I am the Lord your God dwelling in Zion, my holy mountain: then shall Jerusalem be holy, and there shall no strangers pass through her any more.

Zechariah 2
10 Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion: for, lo, I come, and I will dwell in the midst of thee, saith the Lord.
11 And many nations shall be joined to the Lord in that day, and shall be my people: and I will dwell in the midst of thee, and thou shalt know that the Lord of hosts hath sent me unto thee.

1 Nephi 22
26 And because of the righteousness of his people, Satan has no power; wherefore, he cannot be loosed for the space of many years; for he hath no power over the hearts of the people, for they dwell in righteousness, and the Holy One of Israel reigneth.
27 And now behold, I, Nephi, say unto you that all these things must come according to the flesh.
28 But, behold, all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people shall dwell safely in the Holy One of Israel if it so be that they will repent.

D&C 29
11 For I will reveal myself from heaven with power and great glory, with all the hosts thereof, and dwell in righteousness with men on earth a thousand years, and the wicked shall not stand.

 

A Three Degrees Paradox

In January 1836, Joseph Smith was in the Kirtland Temple preparing for the upcoming dedication when he had a vision of the celestial kingdom. In that vision, Joseph sees his deceased brother, Alvin, in the celestial kingdom.

D&C 137:5-8
I saw Father Adam and Abraham; and my father and my mother; my brother Alvin, that has long since slept; and marveled how it was that he had obtained an inheritance in that kingdom, seeing that he had departed this life before the Lord had set his hand to gather Israel the second time, and had not been baptized for the remission of sins.

Thus came the voice of the Lord unto me, saying, “All who have died without a knowledge of this gospel, who would have received it if they had been permitted to tarry, shall be heirs of the celestial kingdom of God; also all that shall die henceforth without a knowledge of it, who would have received it with all their hearts, shall be heirs of that kingdom.”

We love this message. All those good people who didn’t receive the gospel, but would have if they had had the opportunity, will inherit the celestial kingdom. We know this vision was of the future, because Joseph’s mother and father, whom he saw in the celestial kingdom, were very much alive on earth with Joseph at the time of this vision. So Alvin wasn’t in the celestial kingdom yet, but would be at some point in the future.

D&C 76 also talks about people who didn’t receive the gospel in this life, but receive it later:

D&C 76:72, 74
72 Behold, these are they who died without law;
74 Who received not the testimony of Jesus in the flesh, but afterwards received it.

This describes Alvin, who died in 1823, many years before Joseph would start baptizing people with authority. The problem is, D&C 76 says people like Alvin are in the terrestrial glory, not the celestial glory.

Did God get confused? Did he forgot in 1836 what he said in 1832? Three degree orthodoxy teaches that once you are assigned to a level of glory, you stay there forever. So which is it? Are people who don’t receive the gospel in this life sent to the terrestrial kingdom? Or are they sent to the celestial kingdom? According to the orthodox interpretation of the three degrees of glory, both these sections of the Doctrine and Covenants cannot be true.

Is D&C 76 teaching false doctrine? Should we repudiate it and embrace D&C 137?

Is D&C 137 teaching false doctrine? Should we repudiate it and embrace D&C 76?

Or are both these revelations true and their traditional interpretation is the false doctrine that we should repudiate?

The First Judgment

The LDS Encyclopedia of Mormonism teaches that “at the final judgment, all except the devil, his angels, and those who become sons of perdition during mortal life will be assigned to one of the three kingdoms of glory.” <https://eom.byu.edu/index.php/Degrees_of_Glory>

That sentence is incorrect. All of humanity will indeed be judged and assigned to one of those three categories – that is true. But where is the scripture that states that this happens at the final judgement? There isn’t one. What is the basis for this statement? I’m not sure what the basis was, but it wasn’t the scriptures! I’ve spent a lot of time searching for scriptures that support the notion that the separation into three degrees of glory happens at the final judgment. I haven’t been able to find them. If I’ve overlooked something, please enlighten me.

This post will use the scriptures to show that this judgment and assignment to three degrees of glory does not happen at the final judgment, but rather happens at the Second Coming of Christ and the beginning of the Millennium.

Celestial Glory

Christ uses the phrase “in the clouds of heaven” to refer to his Second Coming.

D&C 45:16
And I will show it plainly as I showed it unto my disciples as I stood before them in the flesh, and spake unto them, saying: As ye have asked of me concerning the signs of my coming, in the day when I shall come in my glory in the clouds of heaven, to fulfil the promises that I have made unto your fathers,

When discussing the Celestial category of people in Section 76, we are informed:

D&C 76:63
These are they whom he shall bring with him, when he shall come in the clouds of heaven to reign on the earth over his people.

Christ will be accompanied by these celestial-category people when he comes in the clouds of heaven to the earth to usher in the Millennium. The first thing to note is that this group of people will be comprised of those who have already died as well as those still alive at the time of Christ’s coming. Multiple scriptures attest to this:

1 Thessalonians 4:16-17
16 For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.

D&C 88:96-98
And the saints that are upon the earth, who are alive, shall be quickened and be caught up to meet him. And they who have slept in their graves shall come forth, for their graves shall be opened; and they also shall be caught up to meet him in the midst of the pillar of heavenThey are Christ’s, the first fruits, they who shall descend with him first, and they who are on the earth and in their graves, who are first caught up to meet him; and all this by the voice of the sounding of the trump of the angel of God.

D&C 45:44-45
And then they shall look for me, and, behold, I will come; and they shall see me in the clouds of heaven, clothed with power and great glory; with all the holy angels; and he that watches not for me shall be cut off. But before the arm of the Lord shall fall, an angel shall sound his trump, and the saints that have slept shall come forth to meet me in the cloud.

Who are these holy angels that come with Christ? The Celestial category of people, the saints that have slept. Notice how all these scriptures are linked by the angel sounding the trump. Joseph even uses this language in the Kirtland Temple dedicatory prayer.

D&C 109:73-76
That thy church may come forth out of the wilderness of darkness, and shine forth fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners; and be adorned as a bride for that day when thou shalt unveil the heavens, and cause the mountains to flow down at thy presence, and the valleys to be exalted, the rough places made smooth; that thy glory may fill the earth; that when the trump shall sound for the dead, we shall be caught up in the cloud to meet thee, that we may ever be with the Lord; that our garments may be pure, that we may be clothed upon with robes of righteousness, with palms in our hands, and crowns of glory upon our heads, and reap eternal joy for all our sufferings.

Obviously there has to be some type of judgment to determine who is worthy to meet Christ in the cloud and who is not. Those who are judged worthy of the Celestial glory are caught up to meet him before his Second Coming and later descend with him. That is when the Celestial category is initially judged and populated…nowhere close to the final judgment.

Terrestrial Glory

In the New Testament, Peter writes about the dead being taught the gospel so they could be judged according to men in the flesh.

1 Peter 4:6
For for this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.

Notice the word links to the descriptions of the Terrestrial people.

D&C 76:71-74
And again, we saw the terrestrial world, and behold and lo, these are they who are of the terrestrial, whose glory differs from that of the church of the Firstborn who have received the fulness of the Father, even as that of the moon differs from the sun in the firmament. Behold, these are they who died without law; and also they who are the spirits of men kept in prison, whom the Son visited, and preached the gospel unto them, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh; who received not the testimony of Jesus in the flesh, but afterwards received it.

D&C 88:99
And after this another angel shall sound, which is the second trump; and then cometh the redemption of those who are Christ’s at his coming; who have received their part in that prison which is prepared for them, that they might receive the gospel, and be judged according to men in the flesh.

Notice these people spent time in prison and were taught the gospel so they could be judged according to men in the flesh. These are the same people in 76 and 88, the terrestrial people. The Celestial people are described as taking part in the first resurrection. But so are the Terrestrials.

D&C 45 teaches that when Christ comes in his glory, the heathens and those that knew now law (linking back to D&C 76:72) will be redeemed and take part in the first resurrection.

D&C 45:54-56
And then shall the heathen nations be redeemed, and they that knew no law shall have part in the first resurrection; and it shall be tolerable for them. And Satan shall be bound, that he shall have no place in the hearts of the children of men. And at that day, when I shall come in my glory, shall the parable be fulfilled which I spake concerning the ten virgins.

Compare that with the Telestials:

D&C 63:17-18
Wherefore, I, the Lord, have said that the fearful, and the unbelieving, and all liars, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie, and the whoremonger, and the sorcerer, shall have their part in that lake which burneth with fire and brimstone, which is the second death. Verily I say, that they shall not have part in the first resurrection.

So the “first resurrection” takes place around the Second Coming of Christ, and comprises the Celestial and Terrestrial categories of people.

At the time of Christ’s coming, those judged worthy of the Terrestrial glory are raised up to dwell on earth with Christ and with those Celestial people who have come with him.  These people have been judged not worthy to meet Christ in the cloud, but they have been judged to not have to be thrust down to hell with the Telestials.This is the beginning of the Millennium when the Terrestrial category is populated. This, too, is nowhere close to the final judgment.

 

Telestial Glory

D&C 76:81-82,84-85, 102, 106
And again, we saw the glory of the telestial, which glory is that of the lesser, even as the glory of the stars differs from that of the glory of the moon in the firmament. These are they who received not the gospel of Christ, neither the testimony of Jesus…These are they who are thrust down to hell. These are they who shall not be redeemed from the devil until the last resurrection, until the Lord, even Christ the Lamb, shall have finished his work.

Last of all, these all are they who will not be gathered with the saints, to be caught up unto the church of the Firstborn, and received into the cloud.

These are they who are cast down to hell and suffer the wrath of Almighty God, until the fulness of times, when Christ shall have subdued all enemies under his feet, and shall have perfected his work;

D&C 88:100-101
And again, another trump shall sound, which is the third trump; and then come the spirits of men who are to be judged, and are found under condemnation; and these are the rest of the dead; and they live not again until the thousand years are ended, neither again, until the end of the earth.

According to D&C 88, the telestial category will be dead during the Millennium, and will not be restored to life until the thousand years are ended. So technically their judgment comes at the beginning of the Millennium when they aren’t raised to life with the Terrestrials. They are not redeemed from hell and restored to life until the end of the Millennium. You’ll also notice that this corresponds to the same time when Satan will be loosed and reign again for a little season (D&C 43:31). I don’t think that’s a coincidence.

By the beginning of the Millennium, everyone has been judged and assigned to one of the three degrees of glory. But instead of this happening at “the end”, with a final judgement, this will happen at the start of the Millennium. After the telestials have been restored to life, we still have the short season during which Satan reigns again, and the final battle with Satan and his angels against Michael and all those that follow the Lord. It is only after those major events, at the end, that the final judgment occurs. A lot can, and will, happen during that time that needs to be factored into a final judgment, and the next posts will talk about that.

Beating a dead horse, or who inherits eternal life?

Before we start exploring what the scriptures teach about the three degrees of glory, there is one more “loophole” that needs to be closed. Even though the scriptures teach that we can’t be saved anywhere but in the celestial kingdom, and that we can’t receive salvation anywhere but in the celestial kingdom, some might try to argue that we can participate in eternal life in places other than the celestial kingdom. At the risk of beating a dead horse, let’s measure that concept against the scriptures to see if there is any way we can possibly save the traditional interpretation of the three degrees of glory.

You’ll notice all the same themes pop up here as did with saved and salvation: faith, repentance, baptism, etc., plus we even have partaking of the sacrament. To state the obvious, these are all behaviors the telestial and terrestrial categories of people do not exhibit, therefore they cannot receive eternal life.

D&C 133:62
And unto him that repenteth and sanctifieth himself before the Lord shall be given eternal life.

John 6:53-54
Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.

John 3:14-16
And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

John 17:1-3
These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee: As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him. And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.

Mosiah 5:15
Therefore, I would that ye should be steadfast and immovable, always abounding in good works, that Christ, the Lord God Omnipotent, may seal you his, that you may be brought to heaven, that ye may have everlasting salvation and eternal life, through the wisdom, and power, and justice, and mercy of him who created all things, in heaven and in earth, who is God above all. Amen.

2 Nephi 2:27-29
27 Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself. And now, my sons, I would that ye should look to the great Mediator, and hearken unto his great commandments; and be faithful unto his words, and choose eternal life, according to the will of his Holy Spirit; And not choose eternal death, according to the will of the flesh and the evil which is therein, which giveth the spirit of the devil power to captivate, to bring you down to hell, that he may reign over you in his own kingdom.

2 Nephi 31:17-18,20
Wherefore, do the things which I have told you I have seen that your Lord and your Redeemer should do; for, for this cause have they been shown unto me, that ye might know the gate by which ye should enter. For the gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water; and then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost. And then are ye in this strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life; yea, ye have entered in by the gate; ye have done according to the commandments of the Father and the Son; and ye have received the Holy Ghost, which witnesses of the Father and the Son, unto the fulfilling of the promise which he hath made, that if ye entered in by the way ye should receive…Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.

Jacob 6:11
O then, my beloved brethren, repent ye, and enter in at the strait gate, and continue in the way which is narrow, until ye shall obtain eternal life.

Alma 7:15-16
Yea, I say unto you come and fear not, and lay aside every sin, which easily doth beset you, which doth bind you down to destruction, yea, come and go forth, and show unto your God that ye are willing to repent of your sins and enter into a covenant with him to keep his commandments, and witness it unto him this day by going into the waters of baptism. And whosoever doeth this, and keepeth the commandments of God from thenceforth, the same will remember that I say unto him, yea, he will remember that I have said unto him, he shall have eternal life, according to the testimony of the Holy Spirit, which testifieth in me.

Notice in this next verse that eternal life and salvation are equivalent.

Alma 11:40
40 And he shall come into the world to redeem his people; and he shall take upon him the transgressions of those who believe on his name; and these are they that shall have eternal life, and salvation cometh to none else.

Alma 5:28-29
Behold, are ye stripped of pride? I say unto you, if ye are not ye are not prepared to meet God. Behold ye must prepare quickly; for the kingdom of heaven is soon at hand, and such an one hath not eternal life. Behold, I say, is there one among you who is not stripped of envy? I say unto you that such an one is not prepared; and I would that he should prepare quickly, for the hour is close at hand, and he knoweth not when the time shall come; for such an one is not found guiltless.

D&C 14:7
7 And, if you keep my commandments and endure to the end you shall have eternal life, which gift is the greatest of all the gifts of God.

Remember D&C 6:13?

If thou wilt do good, yea, and hold out faithful to the end, thou shalt be saved in the kingdom of God, which is the greatest of all the gifts of God; for there is no gift greater than the gift of salvation.

D&C 59:23
But learn that he who doeth the works of righteousness shall receive his reward, even peace in this world, and eternal life in the world to come.

Eternal life and the celestial kingdom are linked in D&C 101.

D&C 101:65-66
65 Therefore, I must gather together my people, according to the parable of the wheat and the tares, that the wheat may be secured in the garners to possess eternal life, and be crowned with celestial glory, when I shall come in the kingdom of my Father to reward every man according as his work shall be; While the tares shall be bound in bundles, and their bands made strong, that they may be burned with unquenchable fire.

Notice how this contrasts with the terrestrial category, that isn’t crowned.

D&C 76:79
These are they who are not valiant in the testimony of Jesus; wherefore, they obtain not the crown over the kingdom of our God.

Here are several more references to crowns:

D&C 75:5
And thus, if ye are faithful ye shall be laden with many sheaves, and crowned with honor, and glory, and immortality, and eternal life.

D&C 59:2
For those that live shall inherit the earth, and those that die shall rest from all their labors, and their works shall follow them; and they shall receive a crown in the mansions of my Father, which I have prepared for them.

D&C 25:15
Keep my commandments continually, and a crown of righteousness thou shalt receive. And except thou do this, where I am you cannot come.

D&C 81:6
And if thou art faithful unto the end thou shalt have a crown of immortality, and eternal life in the mansions which I have prepared in the house of my Father.

D&C 20:14
And those who receive it in faith, and work righteousness, shall receive a crown of eternal life;

D&C 66:12
Continue in these things even unto the end, and you shall have a crown of eternal life at the right hand of my Father, who is full of grace and truth.

Speaking of the right hand of God, this next one is potent.

D&C 29:27-28
And the righteous shall be gathered on my right hand unto eternal life; and the wicked on my left hand will I be ashamed to own before the Father; Wherefore I will say unto them—Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.

The righteous on his right hand receive eternal life, which is the celestial kingdom. So there are no telestial or terrestrial people here. Those on the left depart into everlasting fire. As far as I know, Jesus doesn’t have a third arm. So what happened to the telestial and terrestrial people?

D&C 88 reiterates the link between eternal life and the celestial kingdom.

D&C 88:4
This Comforter is the promise which I give unto you of eternal life, even the glory of the celestial kingdom;

And here are a few more scriptures to just drive the point home.

D&C 50:5
But blessed are they who are faithful and endure, whether in life or in death, for they shall inherit eternal life.

D&C 18:8
And now, marvel not that I have called him unto mine own purpose, which purpose is known in me; wherefore, if he shall be diligent in keeping my commandments he shall be blessed unto eternal life; and his name is Joseph.

D&C 51:19
And whoso is found a faithful, a just, and a wise steward shall enter into the joy of his Lord, and shall inherit eternal life.

D&C 45:8
I came unto mine own, and mine own received me not; but unto as many as received me gave I power to do many miracles, and to become the sons of God; and even unto them that believed on my name gave I power to obtain eternal life.

D&C 46:14
To others it is given to believe on their words, that they also might have eternal life if they continue faithful.

D&C 30:8
Wherefore, give heed unto these things and be diligent in keeping my commandments, and you shall be blessed unto eternal life. Amen.

Moses 5:11
And Eve, his wife, heard all these things and was glad, saying: Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient.

As with saved and salvation, there are no scriptures that I can find that describe the telestial or terrestrial behaviors as worthy of any degree of eternal life. The scriptural requirements for eternal life match those of being saved, receiving salvation, and being a celestial person. We have strayed from the pure and simple truths of the gospel by introducing all these false doctrines on our misunderstanding of what the scriptures really say about the three degrees of glory.

The next post will talk about when humanity is judged and placed into the three degrees of glory.

The Gift of Salvation

In the last post we learned that the only way we can be saved in the kingdom of God is through faith, repentance, baptism by water, baptism by fire, and enduring to the end. We also learned that only those in the celestial glory have met those requirements. Meaning that those of the terrestrial and telestial glories do not meet the criteria to be saved in the kingdom of God.

What about salvation then? We’re taught that the three degrees of glory are a key part of the plan of salvation. Is there a difference between being saved and receiving salvation? Some may argue that while we can only be saved in the celestial kingdom, perhaps we can still participate in salvation in one of the lower kingdoms.

Let’s start with the Webster 1828 definition.

SALVA’TION, [Latin salvo, to save.]
1. The act of saving; preservation from destruction, danger or great calamity.
2. Appropriately in theology, the redemption of man from the bondage of sin and liability to eternal death, and the conferring on him everlasting happiness.

SA’VED, Preserved from evil; injury or destruction.

Those two words appear synonymous. In fact, they are used interchangeably in the scriptures:

D&C 6
3 Behold, the field is white already to harvest; therefore, whoso desireth to reap, let him thrust in his sickle with his might, and reap while the day lasts, that he may treasure up for his soul everlasting salvation in the kingdom of God.

13 If thou wilt do good, yea, and hold out faithful to the end, thou shalt be saved in the kingdom of God, which is the greatest of all the gifts of God; for there is no gift greater than the gift of salvation.

Saved in the kingdom                     = The greatest of all gifts of God (meaning no gift is greater)
Salvation                                            = No greater gift (meaning it is the greatest gift)
Greatest of all gifts                           = No greater gift
Salvation in the kingdom of God = Saved in the kingdom of God

All these phrases show that salvation and being saved are equivalent. With that in mind, look at these other scriptures.

D&C 43:25
How oft have I called upon you by the mouth of my servants, and by the ministering of angels, and by mine own voice, and by the voice of thunderings, and by the voice of lightnings, and by the voice of tempests, and by the voice of earthquakes, and great hailstorms, and by the voice of famines and pestilences of every kind, and by the great sound of a trump, and by the voice of judgment, and by the voice of mercy all the day long, and by the voice of glory and honor and the riches of eternal life, and would have saved you with an everlasting salvation, but ye would not!

Alma 5:9-10
And again I ask, were the bands of death broken, and the chains of hell which encircled them about, were they loosed? I say unto you, Yea, they were loosed, and their souls did expand, and they did sing redeeming love. And I say unto you that they are saved. And now I ask of you on what conditions are they saved? Yea, what grounds had they to hope for salvation? What is the cause of their being loosed from the bands of death, yea, and also the chains of hell?

Romans 10:9-10
That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.

Isaiah 45:17
But Israel shall be saved in the Lord with an everlasting salvation: ye shall not be ashamed nor confounded world without end.

Isaiah 25:9
Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, and he will save us:
this is the Lord; we have waited for him, we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation.

I don’t think I’m wresting the scriptures when I assert that there is no difference between being saved and receiving salvation. Now that we know they are equivalent, let’s see if the scriptures provide the same qualifications for receiving salvation as being saved.

Alma 9:27-28
And behold, he cometh to redeem those who will be baptized unto repentance, through faith on his name. Therefore, prepare ye the way of the Lord, for the time is at hand that all men shall reap a reward of their works, according to that which they have been—if they have been righteous they shall reap the salvation of their souls, according to the power and deliverance of Jesus Christ; and if they have been evil they shall reap the damnation of their souls, according to the power and captivation of the devil.

Alma 34:15
And thus he shall bring salvation to all those who shall believe on his name; this being the intent of this last sacrifice, to bring about the bowels of mercy, which overpowereth justice, and bringeth about means unto men that they may have faith unto repentance.

Alma 26:35
Now have we not reason to rejoice? Yea, I say unto you, there never were men that had so great reason to rejoice as we, since the world began; yea, and my joy is carried away, even unto boasting in my God; for he has all power, all wisdom, and all understanding; he comprehendeth all things, and he is a merciful Being, even unto salvation, to those who will repent and believe on his name.

So far, these are the same requirements as for being saved in the kingdom of God: faith, repentance, and baptism. These next verses add becoming as a little child and continuing in faith until the end, matching the requirements we found in the last post. But notice the qualifiers in red.

Alma 11:40
And he shall come into the world to redeem his people; and he shall take upon him the transgressions of those who believe on his name; and these are they that shall have eternal life, and salvation cometh to none else.

Mosiah 3
12 But wo, wo unto him who knoweth that he rebelleth against God! For salvation cometh to none such except it be through repentance and faith on the Lord Jesus Christ.

17 And moreover, I say unto you, that there shall be no other name given nor any other way nor means whereby salvation can come unto the children of men, only in and through the name of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent.
18 For behold he judgeth, and his judgment is just; and the infant perisheth not that dieth in his infancy; but men drink damnation to their own souls except they humble themselves and become as little children, and believe that salvation was, and is, and is to come, in and through the atoning blood of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent.

Mosiah 4:6-8
I say unto you, if ye have come to a knowledge of the goodness of God, and his matchless power, and his wisdom, and his patience, and his long-suffering towards the children of men; and also, the atonement which has been prepared from the foundation of the world, that thereby salvation might come to him that should put his trust in the Lord, and should be diligent in keeping his commandments, and continue in the faith even unto the end of his life, I mean the life of the mortal body—I say, that this is the man who receiveth salvation, through the atonement which was prepared from the foundation of the world for all mankind, which ever were since the fall of Adam, or who are, or who ever shall be, even unto the end of the world. And this is the means whereby salvation cometh. And there is none other salvation save this which hath been spoken of; neither are there any conditions whereby man can be saved except the conditions which I have told you.

There is no other way, no other salvation, no other condition by which we can be saved. Period. No ifs, ands, or buts. To argue otherwise is to deny the scriptures.

This presents the same problem with the terrestrial and telestial people – they don’t qualify for salvation. Salvation is only for the celestial category of people. Yet God says he will save everyone except for the sons of perdition. How can God save everyone, but only save celestial people? How can he save all, but not the terrestrial and telestial people?

1 Nephi 15:34-35
But behold, I say unto you, the kingdom of God is not filthy, and there cannot any unclean thing enter into the kingdom of God; wherefore there must needs be a place of filthiness prepared for that which is filthy. And there is a place prepared, yea, even that awful hell of which I have spoken, and the devil is the preparator of it; wherefore the final state of the souls of men is to dwell in the kingdom of God, or to be cast out because of that justice of which I have spoken.

There are no three degrees of glory here. You are either in the celestial kingdom or you are cast out. How can we reconcile what the scriptures plainly teach about salvation and being saved in the kingdom of God with the current LDS interpretation of the telestial and terrestrial kingdoms? It’s not possible. If we believe what the scriptures say, the plan of salvation, as taught by the LDS Church, is really a plan of condemnation. The vast majority of humans will be doomed to the terrestrial and telestial kingdoms, cast out, without salvation, without being saved; while a small portion enjoy the celestial kingdom.

We know that can’t be true, so the conclusion is that our interpretation of what the scriptures say about the telestial and terrestrial kingdoms is wrong. Once we have accepted that truth, we need to cast aside everything we have been taught and start fresh. Which is what we’ll start doing next.

Saved in the Kingdom of God

The three degrees of glory are one of the bedrock traditions of the LDS Church. Unfortunately, many of our beliefs about the three degrees of glory don’t agree with the scriptures. Let’s take a look one of these beliefs.

Near the beginning of the vision in D&C 76, we are given a description of the gospel:

40 And this is the gospel, the glad tidings, which the voice out of the heavens bore record unto us—
41 That he came into the world, even Jesus, to be crucified for the world, and to bear the sins of the world, and to sanctify the world, and to cleanse it from all unrighteousness;
42 That through him all might be saved whom the Father had put into his power and made by him;
43 Who glorifies the Father, and saves all the works of his hands, except those sons of perdition who deny the Son after the Father has revealed him.
44 Wherefore, he saves all except them

Verse 43 says God saves all the works of his hands except the sons of perdition. It’s so important, it’s repeated again in verse 44. Everyone except for the sons of perdition are saved. Just to be painfully obvious, this is saying that celestial, terrestrial, and telestial people are all going to be saved.

The scriptures say we will be “saved in the kingdom of God”, “saved in the kingdom of heaven”, or “saved in the kingdom of the Lamb”. We want to merge these statements with our interpretation that the telestial and terrestrial kingdoms are places where people will be saved for eternity. This leads us to teach that someone can be a terrestrial or telestial person and still be in the kingdom of God. We teach that we can be “saved in a lower kingdom”, “saved in the terrestrial kingdom”, or “saved in the telestial kingdom”. Yet none of those phrases have a scriptural basis that I can find. So what do the scriptures teach about who is saved, and where they are saved?

What did Jesus teach?

John 3:5
Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.

3 Nephi 9:22
Whoso repenteth and cometh unto me as a little child, him will I receive, for of such is the kingdom of God. Behold, for such I have laid down my life, and have taken it up again; therefore repent, and come unto me ye ends of the earth, and be saved.

(Notice also that he declares he has laid down his life for those who repent and come unto his as a little child. He doesn’t say he laid down his life for those who don’t repent. Compare this with D&C 76:41-43 at the top of this post.)

3 Nephi 11:33
Whoso believeth in me, and is baptized, the same shall be saved; and they are they who shall inherit the kingdom of God.

3 Nephi 11:38
Ye must repent, and be baptized in my name, and become as a little child, or ye can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God.

According to Jesus, we need to believe, repent, be baptized, be born of the Spirit, and become as a little child or we can IN NOWISE inherit the kingdom of God. The Webster 1828 dictionary gives us this definition of no wise.

NO’WISE, Not in any manner or degree.

According to the resurrected Christ, we cannot in any manner or degree inherit the kingdom of God without believing, repenting, becoming as a little child, and being baptized. Moroni adds some more criteria which we cannot avoid in any manner or degree:

Moroni 10:21
Except ye have charity ye can in nowise be saved in the kingdom of God; neither can ye be saved in the kingdom of God if ye have not faith; neither can ye if ye have no hope.

Alma piles on, telling us we must also be born of God and be changed from our carnal and fallen state and become a son or daughter of God, and unless we do this, we cannot in any manner or degree inherit the kingdom of God.

Mosiah 27:25-26
Marvel not that all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be born again; yea, born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters; and thus they become new creatures; and unless they do this, they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God.

Alma 42:24
Justice exerciseth all his demands, and also mercy claimeth all which is her own; and thus, none but the truly penitent are saved.

Alma 38:9
And now, my son, I have told you this that ye may learn wisdom, that ye may learn of me that there is no other way or means whereby man can be saved, only in and through Christ. Behold, he is the life and the light of the world. Behold, he is the word of truth and righteousness.

Nephi takes it even higher. Now we need to have perfect faith in God or we cannot be saved in the kingdom of God.

2 Nephi 9:23
And he commandeth all men that they must repent, and be baptized in his name, having perfect faith in the Holy One of Israel, or they cannot be saved in the kingdom of God.

He then tells us we need to endure to the end or we cannot be saved.

2 Nephi 31:15-16
15 And I heard a voice from the Father, saying: Yea, the words of my Beloved are true and faithful. He that endureth to the end, the same shall be saved. And now, my beloved brethren, I know by this that unless a man shall endure to the end, in following the example of the Son of the living God, he cannot be saved.

Just in case we’re thinking there is another way to be saved without having faith and enduring to the end, Nephi closes the door to any such possibility:

2 Nephi 31:21
21 And now, behold, my beloved brethren, this is the way; and there is none other way nor name given under heaven whereby man can be saved in the kingdom of God. And now, behold, this is the doctrine of Christ, and the only and true doctrine of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, which is one God, without end. Amen.

Modern revelation is consistent with this:

D&C 20
29 And we know that all men must repent and believe on the name of Jesus Christ, and worship the Father in his name, and endure in faith on his name to the end, or they cannot be saved in the kingdom of God.

Inheriting the kingdom?

In addition to “being saved in the kingdom of God”, the scriptures talk about “inheriting the kingdom of God”. Is there a difference between inheriting and being saved in the kingdom of God? They also talk about “inheriting the kingdom of heaven”. Is there a difference between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of heaven?

Nephi uses saved and inherit interchangeably:

2 Nephi 9:18
But, behold, the righteous, the saints of the Holy One of Israel, they who have believed in the Holy One of Israel, they who have endured the crosses of the world, and despised the shame of it, they shall inherit the kingdom of God, which was prepared for them from the foundation of the world, and their joy shall be full forever.

2 Nephi 9:23
And he commandeth all men that they must repent, and be baptized in his name, having perfect faith in the Holy One of Israel, or they cannot be saved in the kingdom of God.

Alma uses kingdom of God and kingdom of heaven interchangeably:

Alma 9:12
Behold, now I say unto you that he commandeth you to repent; and except ye repent, ye can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God.

Alma 5:51
And also the Spirit saith unto me, yea, crieth unto me with a mighty voice, saying: Go forth and say unto this people—Repent, for
except ye repent ye can in nowise inherit the kingdom of heaven.

I don’t know how much more interchangeable you can get than that! He goes on to use inherit and saved in the same sentence:

Alma 11:37
And I say unto you again that he cannot save them in their sins; for I cannot deny his word, and he hath said that no unclean thing can inherit the kingdom of heaven; therefore, how can ye be saved, except ye inherit the kingdom of heaven? Therefore, ye cannot be saved in your sins.

And the criteria for the kingdom of heaven are the same as for the kingdom of God listed above:

Alma 7
14 Now I say unto you that ye must repent, and be born again; for the Spirit saith if ye are not born again ye cannot inherit the kingdom of heaven; therefore come and be baptized unto repentance, that ye may be washed from your sins, that ye may have faith on the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world, who is mighty to save and to cleanse from all unrighteousness.

It seems that there is no difference between being saved in the kingdom of God and inheriting the kingdom of God. Nor is there is a difference between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of heaven.

From these scriptures we’ve just reviewed, here’s a list of the scriptural requirements to be saved in the kingdom of God:

  • Faith in God
  • Repentance
  • Baptism
  • Born again / born of God / redeemed of God
  • Become as a little child
  • Hope
  • Charity
  • Endure to the end

Now let’s take a look at terrestrial people:

  • Died without the law / didn’t receive the testimony of Jesus ,  (76:72-75)
  • Blinded by the craftiness of men (76:76)
  • Received the testimony of Jesus, but weren’t valiant. (76:79)

Those people don’t meet the scriptural criteria for being saved in the kingdom of God.

What about telestial people?

  • Didn’t accept the testimony of Jesus, but don’t deny the Holy Spirit.(76:82, 101)
  • Weren’t baptized, or didn’t accept the everlasting covenant (76:101)
  • Liars, sorcerers, adulterers, whoremongers (76:102)

They don’t fit the scriptural criteria for being saved in the kingdom of God either.  In fact, we have several scriptures that make it clear that these telestial people will not be saved in the kingdom of God.

1 Corinthians 6:9-10
Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.

Galatians 5:19-21
19 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these: Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

If all these scriptures consistently say that telestial and terrestrial people do not meet the criteria to be saved in the kingdom of God, how do we reconcile this with D&C 76:43-44?

43 Who glorifies the Father, and saves all the works of his hands, except those sons of perdition who deny the Son after the Father has revealed him.
44 Wherefore, he saves all except them

If we believe in the traditional view of the terrestrial and telestial kingdoms, these people cannot be saved, as only celestial people fulfill the requirements to be saved. Yet God says he saves everyone except the sons of perdition, so he also saves the telestial and the terrestrial people. Both cannot be correct.

I propose that our traditional interpretation of the three degrees of glory is flawed and inconsistent with scripture. For those that disagree with my assessment, I invite you to share with me scriptures that teach that:

  • we can be saved in the terrestrial or telestial kingdom
  • the terrestrial and telestial kingdoms are part of the kingdom of God
  • there is some other way to be saved in the kingdom of God without faith, repentance, baptism, being born again, becoming as a little child, having hope and charity, and enduring to the end.

In the next post, we’ll dive into what the scriptures say about salvation and what that means for the “plan of salvation”.

 

Further references

I have only listed a few scriptures in the main article. Here are other scriptures that teach about being saved:

3 Nephi 23:5
And whosoever will hearken unto my words and repenteth and is baptized, the same shall be saved. Search the prophets, for many there be that testify of these things.

D&C 49:5
5 Thus saith the Lord; for I am God, and have sent mine Only Begotten Son into the world for the redemption of the world, and have decreed that he that receiveth him shall be saved, and he that receiveth him not shall be damned

D&C 53:7
And again, I would that ye should learn that he only is saved who endureth unto the end. Even so. Amen.

D&C 56:2
And he that will not take up his cross and follow me, and keep my commandments, the same shall not be saved.

D&C 68:9
And he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, and he that believeth not shall be damned.

D&C 112:29
And he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, and he that believeth not, and is not baptized, shall be damned.

1 Nephi 15:14
And at that day shall the remnant of our seed know that they are of the house of Israel, and that they are the covenant people of the Lord; and then shall they know and come to the knowledge of their forefathers, and also to the knowledge of the gospel of their Redeemer, which was ministered unto their fathers by him; wherefore, they shall come to the knowledge of their Redeemer and the very points of his doctrine, that they may know how to come unto him and be saved.

2 Nephi 9:9
Wherefore, he is the firstfruits unto God, inasmuch as he shall make intercession for all the children of men; and they that believe in him shall be saved.

2 Nephi 25:13
Behold, they will crucify him; and after he is laid in a sepulchre for the space of three days he shall rise from the dead, with healing in his wings; and all those who shall believe on his name shall be saved in the kingdom of God. Wherefore, my soul delighteth to prophesy concerning him, for I have seen his day, and my heart doth magnify his holy name.

Moroni 7:34
And he hath said: Repent all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me, and be baptized in my name, and have faith in me, that ye may be saved.

Moroni 7:38
For no man can be saved, according to the words of Christ, save they shall have faith in his name; wherefore, if these things have ceased, then has faith ceased also; and awful is the state of man, for they are as though there had been no redemption made.

Mormon 7:3
Know ye that ye must come unto repentance, or ye cannot be saved.

Mormon 9:23
And he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, but he that believeth not shall be damned;

Helaman 12:22-23
And wo unto him to whom he shall say this, for it shall be unto him that will do iniquity, and he cannot be saved; therefore, for this cause, that men might be saved, hath repentance been declared. Therefore, blessed are they who will repent and hearken unto the voice of the Lord their God; for these are they that shall be saved.

Jacob 6:4
And how merciful is our God unto us, for he remembereth the house of Israel, both roots and branches; and he stretches forth his hands unto them all the day long; and they are a stiffnecked and a gainsaying people; but as many as will not harden their hearts shall be saved in the kingdom of God.

Ether 4:18
Therefore, repent all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me, and believe in my gospel, and be baptized in my name; for he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned; and signs shall follow them that believe in my name.

Ether 5:5
And if it so be that they repent and come unto the Father in the name of Jesus, they shall be received into the kingdom of God.

Alma 32:13
And now, because ye are compelled to be humble blessed are ye; for a man sometimes, if he is compelled to be humble, seeketh repentance; and now surely, whosoever repenteth shall find mercy; and he that findeth mercy and endureth to the end the same shall be saved.

Alma 39:9
Now my son, I would that ye should repent and forsake your sins, and go no more after the lusts of your eyes, but cross yourself in all these things; for except ye do this ye can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God. Oh, remember, and take it upon you, and cross yourself in these things.

3 Nephi 27:6
And whoso taketh upon him my name, and endureth to the end, the same shall be saved at the last day.

4 Nephi 1:17
There were no robbers, nor murderers, neither were there Lamanites, nor any manner of -ites; but they were in one, the children of Christ, and heirs to the kingdom of God.

Omni 1:26
And now, my beloved brethren, I would that ye should come unto Christ, who is the Holy One of Israel, and partake of his salvation, and the power of his redemption. Yea, come unto him, and offer your whole souls as an offering unto him, and continue in fasting and praying, and endure to the end; and as the Lord liveth ye will be saved.

Mosiah 15:11
Behold I say unto you, that whosoever has heard the words of the prophets, yea, all the holy prophets who have prophesied concerning the coming of the Lord—I say unto you, that all those who have hearkened unto their words, and believed that the Lord would redeem his people, and have looked forward to that day for a remission of their sins, I say unto you, that these are his seed, or they are the heirs of the kingdom of God.