Have you ever heard someone ask why a certain doctrine isn’t mentioned in the Book of Mormon? Sometimes the question is sincere, but sometimes I’ve heard it as a criticism of the Book of Mormon like “if it’s the most correct of any book, why doesn’t it have ‘XYZ’ in it?”
First of all, we know the Nephite library of scripture was vast. They had over 1,000 years of history with prophets all along that timeline. They had 200 years of millennial peace and righteousness. Imagine the things that were revealed to them! Yet Mormon had to take from all their library of revelation and put together the things that would be MOST helpful to us in our day. Would every cool piece of doctrine help us? No. Mormon knew the most important thing for us would be to understand the doctrine of Christ and how to obtain all the revelation and knowledge we want by coming to him, and other key information to help us overcome the challenges of living in these latter-days.
That said, lets say you wanted to know if the three degrees of glory were mentioned anywhere in the Book of Mormon. What would you do to find it besides asking someone or looking in the topical guide? What if we were actually just looking for support for the idea.
In this case we would be looking to use a deductive method to finding answers in the scriptures. Doing this can introduce a risk. Sometimes a person will search the scriptures trying to find an answer, and then they find something that fits a preconceived notion and think they’ve found their answer even though it’s out of context and they haven’t consulted all the other verses that talk about the subject. This cherry-picking can lead to “wresting” the scriptures and twisting true doctrines into false ones. Therefore, when searching for an answer to a question, we have to be careful to consider as much information as possible before trying to draw any conclusions.
So in this instance, we start off asking what do we know about the three degrees of glory already?
We have amazing revelations in Doctrine & Covenants (D&C) 76, D&C 131, and a couple statements of Paul in 1 Corinthians 15, and 2 Corinthians 12. These are the primary sources of knowledge which specifically talk about this doctrine.
We know from these sections that there are 3 heavens named the Celestial, Terrestrial, and Telestial kingdoms, and a place called outer darkness. We know that bodies are resurrected (1 Cor. 15) to various levels of light based on the light they were willing to receive in life.
We know that there are levels within these kingdoms.
D&C 131:1 tells us there are in the celestial glory, “three heavens or degrees.”
We know from D&C 76:98 that within the telestial glory there are many gradations in the glory those people possess because “for as one star differs from another star in glory, even so differs one from another in glory in the telestial world.” We also have Paul’s statement in 1 Cor. 15:41-42 that in the telestial, “one star differs from another star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead.”
Based on this, can we infer the terrestrial glory also has gradations from knowing the celestial and telestial kingdoms have multiple degrees of glory within them?
Elder Talmage thinks so:
“The three kingdoms of widely differing glories are organized on an orderly plan of gradation. We have seen that the telestial kingdom comprises several subdivisions; this also is the case, we are told, with the celestial; (D&C 131:1, 2 Cor 12:1-4) and, by analogy, we conclude that a similar condition prevails in the terrestrial. Thus the innumerable degrees of merit amongst mankind are provided for in an infinity of graded glories. The celestial kingdom is supremely honored by the personal ministrations of the Father and the Son. The terrestrial kingdom will be administered through the higher, without a fulness of glory. The telestial is governed through the ministrations of the terrestrial, by “angels who are appointed to minister for them.” (D&C 76:86-88) – (James E. Talmage, The House of the Lord [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1968], 83.)
Christ said in his Father’s house there are many mansions (John 14:2; D&C 98:18) and he has prepared a place for all. Certainly, this view of many degrees of glory matches well with what we know.
In fact, knowing there are these degrees of heaven, can we put a limit on these things and say, “this is all there is?”
No, but we are often prone to do these things based on our traditions and what we hear others say in definitive terms. In doing so we limit the bounds to which our imaginations might otherwise contemplate (and the Spirit might otherwise instruct). The prophets are not so constrained in their thinking. After all, not all our thoughts and ways are God’s thoughts and ways (Isaiah 55:8-9). Consider these statements:
“The Priesthood of the Lord has again bestowed upon those who will receive it, is for the express purpose of preparing them to become proficient in the principles pertaining to the law of the celestial kingdom. If we obey this law, preserve it inviolate, live according to it, we shall be prepared to enjoy the blessings of a celestial kingdom. Will any others? Yes, thousands and millions of the inhabitants of the earth who would have received and obeyed the law that we preach, if they had had the privilege. When the Lord shall bring again Zion, and the watchmen shall see eye to eye, and Zion shall be established, saviours will come upon Mount Zion and save all the sons and daughters of Adam that are capable of being saved, by administering for them. Is not this pleasing? Is it not gratifying? Is it not a consoling feeling and influence upon the mind of every intelligent being? Our former views were that the majority of the inhabitants of the earth would not be saved in any kind of kingdom of glory, but would inherit a kingdom of damnation. Jesus said, “In my Father’s house are many mansions. If it were no so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you, that where I am ye may be also.” In other words, “I go to prepare a place for you who have received and obeyed the celestial law, which I have committed to you.” The celestial is the highest of all. The telestial and terrestrial are also spoken of; and how many more kingdoms of glory there are is not for me to say. I do not know that they are not innumerable. This is source of great joy to me.” (Journal of Discourses, 26 vols., 8:, p.36)
Elder Joseph Taylor, writing on the resurrection of the dead, wrote this about Joseph Smith and D&C 76.
“The vision which the prophet Joseph had of the glories of the three kingdoms makes very plain Paul’s statement that “There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars;” and that the glory of the stars is as varied as the stars themselves vary in brightness. Joseph’s description is more minute than Paul’s; and it would seem that he had at this and other times a more extended view than Paul. He remarked at one time that, “Paul said he knew a man who was caught up to the third heaven.” “But,” said he, “I know a man who was caught up to the seventh heaven.” That man I have always believed to be Joseph himself, for the reason that no man living could supersede him.
Therefore, if it was not himself who was thus caught up, it must have been one of the ancients with whom he had conversed. Seeing that Joseph held the keys of the last dispensation, his privileges were certainly equal to those who had heretofore held similar authority and power. This being the dispensation when everything is to be revealed, who so likely as the head of the dispensation to become possessed of this knowledge, seeing that he is made the channel of communication to us?
We may, therefore, fully rely upon what he saw in vision on various occasions in regard to the future, and we presume to say that these visions were often before him when in after times he spake upon the subject of the future. His words may consequently be accepted as unquestionable authority.” – Liahona, The Elder’s Journal, volume 7, number 15, Oct. 2, 1909, pg. 234.
Joseph Smith’s statement he referred to is here:
“Paul knew a man who had been caught up to the third heaven and saw and hear things unlawful to be uttered. I know a man who was caught up to the seventh heaven, and saw and heard things unlawful to be uttered.” -“Life of Joseph the Prophet,” by Edward William Tullidge, pg. 504
“And when we have passed into the sphere where Joseph is, there is still another department, and then another, and another, and so on to an eternal progression in exaltation and eternal lives. That is the exaltation I am looking for.” (JD 3:375)
Joseph also said:
“Paul ascended into the third heavens, and he could understand the three principal rounds of Jacob’s ladder-the telestial, the terrestrial, and the celestial glories or kingdoms, where Paul saw and heard things which were not lawful for him to utter. I could explain a hundred fold more than I ever have of the glories of the kingdoms manifested to me in the vision, were I permitted, and were the people prepared to receive them.” -Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pg. 304-5
Is it any wonder that Elder Neal A. Maxwell said:
“To those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, it is clear that the Father and the Son are giving away the secrets of the universe!” – Neal A. Maxwell, “Meek and Lowly” (Brigham Young University devotional, Oct. 21, 1986), 9
So this is all amazing and wonderful, but now how does this get us to the Book of Mormon?
Well, the first thing we have to recognize is that what has been revealed to us that pertains to this sphere of existence, is that there are 3 kingdoms of glory and 1 place of darkness that have been revealed to us. These 4 places create a type of categorization of people even though within them, there may be many more gradations. The number 4 in Hebrew Gematria is the number of man, and God’s creations. We can look at it as the division of man.
Where else in scripture do we see 4 things illustrated as categories of individuals?
One that first comes to mind is the parable of the sower. In this parable which you can read in Matthew 13, Mark 4, or Luke 8, there are 4 types of ground represented. I’m not going to go into depth here except to point out that Christ is the sower and the seed is the word of God. We are each a type of the 4 “ground” categories that the seed falls into. Are you putting 2 and 2 together yet? Hey, that makes 4!
Here’s the rundown on the ground and the kingdom it represents:
|Celestial||Good ground that brought forth an hundredfold, or sixtyfold, or thirtyfold (D&C 131:1 – there are 3 divisions in the Celestial kingdom.)|
|Terrestrial||Ground with thorns that choked out the word and didn’t let it fully take root.|
|Telestial||Seed that fell by the wayside and the fowls (devil and his angels) came and devoured them up.|
|Outer Darkness||Stony places without much earth. The plants sprung up but without deepness of earth to provide for their roots when the sun came up they got scorched and withered away.|
I encourage you to read these passages and apply these meanings to the story.
What we want to recognize here is a pattern. When something can be classified in four ways, it can but obviously doesn’t always have a parallel to these four types of people. So when you are reading and see a set of four classifications, you might pause and wonder if they have a way to match up.
For example, when Mormon closes out his record and is teaching that God is a God of miracles and doesn’t vary in his behavior, he mentions the doctrine of the creation, fall, and atonement in Mormon 9:11-12. Then in verse 13 he says “because of the redemption of man, which came by Jesus Christ,” we are “brought back into the presence of the Lord” to be resurrected and stand before the bar of God for judgment. Then he says:
Hmmm, there are 4 classifications. Could this fit into the paradigm? I believe so. To me, this arrangement makes the most sense:
Obviously, the righteous are also happy. They are filled with joy and we know the plan of happiness is one of the names of the plan of salvation. However, the righteous are those saved in the celestial kingdom which leaves happy for something good but not the highest degree. The wicked are unhappy, but it’s the filthy whose seed grew and then got scorched when the sun came out.
Further down in verse 20, Mormon tells us that God ceases to do miracles among the children of men because among other things, they “depart from the right way.” The “right” way is to be righteous. They are the ones that see miracles.
Also, earlier in the chapter in verse 4, Mormon tells us we would be “more miserable to dwell with a holy and just God, under a consciousness of your filthiness before him, than ye would to dwell with the damned souls in hell.” Thus Mormon associates filthiness with hell (or the worst thing possible – ie. outer darkness).
That leaves unhappy people to be telestial. D&C 76 does say telestial people are the ones thrust down to hell and not redeemed until the last resurrection. However, I think the breakdown I have above is accurate because outer darkest is a place of permanence for the filthy.
Thus the Book of Mormon does seem to contain a reference to the degrees of glory and outer darkness.
I have heard the idea that because a doctrine isn’t directly found in the Book of Mormon it gives it less authority in some way. That’s silly. As mentioned above, Mormon had over 1,000 years of records to go through to give us the most important content – to prepare us for our conversion to Christ, and warn us of things we needed to know how to deal with in the last days. He couldn’t put everything into the book, and further, in their day and age, God may have only appointed so much to be known, at least publicly. At the time, this could have been one of the mysteries they were laid under strict command not to impart (Alma 12:9-10), and the Lord only gives a people knowledge according to “all that he seeth fit that they should have” (Alma 29:8).
Personally, I believe they did have this doctrine but Mormon wasn’t inspired by the Lord to put it into the Book of Mormon. The Lord knew we would have a great revelation on it and we didn’t need it in this record. It has a very specific purpose already. We just need to use it as the Lord intended, become sanctified, and be obedient to what we have in order to obtain the mysteries and get more light and truth. It is also up to us to read very carefully and search the scriptures. There is more to them than we give them credit for.