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.
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?