Truth is not only
violated by falsehood;
it may be equally
outraged by silence.
Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon claimed to have had a revelation of three degrees of glory on the 16th February, 1832 (History of the Church 1:245-252). But this news was not well received. At that stage the only literature that mentioned different degrees in heaven was occultic. And it was a well known fact that Joseph Smith had been heavily involved in the occult since his youth.
In his book Early Mormonism and the Magic World View (Signature Books, 1987), author and historian D. Michael Quinn mentions that Orson Pratt and John Murdock had recorded the problem of the non-acceptance of this revelation in their diaries. In spite of the LDS’s best efforts to reassure them, many Mormons denounced the revelation as being satanic and left the church.
Larry E. Dahl puts the LDS’s views this way in the 1992 publication of The Encyclopedia of Mormonism:
“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has an optimistic view of the eternal rewards awaiting mankind in the hereafter. Members of the Church believe that there are “many mansions” (John 14:2) and that Christ’s Atonement and resurrection will save all mankind from death, and eventually will reclaim from hell all except the sons of perdition (D.& C 76:43-44). The saved, however, are not placed into a monolithic state called heaven. In the resurrection of the body, they are assigned to different degrees of glory commensurate with the law they have obeyed. …” (Emphasis by writer.)
The following are their teachings on the three degrees of glory (each of which has its own subdivisions):
Symbolically represented by the sun, the celestial is the highest and most glorious of the three kingdoms (c/f pages 669-670, Mormon Doctrine, McConkie).
“The celestial kingdom is reserved for those who sanctify their souls by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the [LDS] gospel. They are the ones whose sins Christ bore.” (A New Witness for the Articles of Faith by LDS Apostle Bruce McConkie, page 145, c/f 2 Nephi 9:26, BOM).
This is a lesser degree of glory, symbolically represented by the moon. It is inhabited by those who rejected the Mormon gospel during their lifetime but then reversed their course and accepted it in the afterlife; as well as by those who were lukewarm in their devotion to the LDS church and to righteousness. They will live in the presence of Christ, but not the Heavenly Father. (c/f Mormon Doctrine by Bruce McConkie, page 784, Doctrine & Covenants 76:71-80; 88:16-32).
In spite of being the lowest degree of glory (personified by the stars), this kingdom is more glorious than anything we could imagine. Its inhabitants will be those who willfully rejected the LDS gospel on earth and committed sins such as lying, adultery and so on, but who did not commit the unpardonable sin (which they say is murder).
“They will serve God, but will never be in His presence or in the presence of Christ. Their redemption will be delayed until the last resurrection. Nevertheless, the Holy Ghost and the angels will minister to them and they will also be visited by beings from the Terrestrial Kingdom, because they will be heirs of salvation.” (Articles of Faith, James E. Talmage, pages 83-84; Doctrine & Covenants 76:81-92.
But far from being heirs of salvation ministered to by the angels and the Holy Ghost, the Bible says that:
“The fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.” (Revelation 21:8, KJV)
The LDS uses the following “biblical proofs” to back up their teachings:
“In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.” (John 14:2, KJV)
Although this verse mentions many mansions in heaven, Christ said nothing about different degrees of glory. That idea came from Joseph Smith and the occult. And it is not biblical.
As verse 35 below indicates, Paul’s subject in this passage is the difference between our earthly bodies and our heavenly, resurrected bodies. … It has nothing to do with three different heavenly destinations.
35 But some man will say, How are the dead raised up? and with what body do they come?
Verses 36 to 39 confirm that we won’t be re-incarnated in the form of another species.
36 Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened,
except it die:
37 And that which thou sowest, thou sowest not that body that shall be, but bare grain, it may chance of wheat, or of some other grain:
38 But God giveth it a body as it hath pleased him, and to every seed his own body.
39 All flesh is not the same flesh: but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts, another of fishes, and another of birds.
Verse 40 indicates that our heavenly bodies will differ from one another in glory and that they will be more glorious that our earthly bodies. Verse 41 goes on to amplify that just as the sun, moon and stars have varying degrees of glory, so will our heavenly bodies differ from one another in glory.
40 There are also celestial [heavenly] bodies, and bodies
terrestrial [earthly]: but the glory of the celestial [the
heavenly] is one, and the glory of the terrestrial [the
earthly] is another.
41 There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory.
Paul does not mention the word telestial at all, for the simple reason that he’s not talking about the Mormon belief in three degrees of glory.
Verses 42 to 43 explain that our earthly bodies are corrupt, or fallen and weak, but that they will be raised in incorruption and power.
42 So also is the resurrection of the dead. It [the body]
is sown in corruption; it [the body] is raised in
43 It [the body] is sown in dishonour; it [the body] is raised in glory: it [the body] is sown in weakness; it [the body] is raised in power:
Verse 44 sums it all up by confirming that there is a natural (earthly) body which will be raised in the form of a spiritual (heavenly) body.
44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. (1 Corinthians 15:35-44, KJV).
Neither Christ nor any of His apostles ever mentioned three degrees of glory in the afterlife. Nor was it taught by the primitive church.
Nowhere in that passage was Paul teaching that there are three heavenly degrees of glory in the afterlife.
“I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago,(whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven. And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.” (2 Corinthians 12:2-4, KJV)
Rabbinical literature confirms that the term "first heaven" refers to the atmosphere, where the birds fly. The "second heaven" is where we find the moon and stars and other heavenly bodies. And the "third heaven," where the throne of God exists, is also called paradise.
Paul’s subject is not the resurrection. Nor is he teaching us here that there are three degrees of glory to which we will be assigned after death. Far from it. He is telling us of an occasion when he was caught up to paradise, where he had a deep spiritual experience.
By deciding on our own religious preferences and then using isolated verses out of the Bible to back them up, we can get the Bible to say anything we want. But this is not the way to discover truth. If we genuinely want to understand what God is saying to us in the Bible, we need to read it in context, prayerfully, and with an open mind and a humble spirit.
The link The LDS Version of Eternal Life leads to an article that amplifies the LDS’s teachings on their highest degree of glory.
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Copyright © 2013 by Yvonne Gibbs. All rights reserved.