I often get the question of where “telestial” comes from. I thought it would be fun to put up here as much as I’ve been able to figure out/find on the subject, and then let the collective wisdom of the Bloggernacle add to it, so as to create a permanent record for future reference.
Telestial is a neologism (a “new word”) that was coined as part of the revelation of D&C 76.
Celestial and terrestrial are both derived from Latin. The word caelum means “sky, heaven”; turned into an adjective, that form becomes caelestis “heavenly”; and apparently that ending was extended with another Latin adjectival ending, -(i)alis, to get the form caelestialus. The Latin ending -us was dropped when the word was anglicized (and the ae diphthong was reduced), giving us “celestial.”
Terrestrial underwent a similar evolution. Terra means “earth”; terrestris is the adjectival form, “of or relating to the earth”; and terrestrialus would be an extended adjectival form, with the -us ending being dropped in English, for terrestrial.
Telestial appears to have been formed by analogy to celestial. Working backwards, the hypothetical forms would be telestialus, then telestis. The -stial is thus an adjectival formation. The question then becomes what the root tele signifies.
There is of course no answer book we can open to find out for sure what was intended. But here are four possibilities:
1. Although the word has a Latin formation, the root may be taken from Greek. One possibility would be telos, which means “end, purpose”; the cognate verb telein means “to bring to an end; to complete.” Apparently the idea here would be that the telestial is the last resurrection and would bring to an end, finish or complete the resurrection of man.
2. Another possibility based on Greek is that the root comes from the Greek adverb tele, which means “far away, distant.” This adverb is commonly seen in English formations, such as telephone, telescope and television. As an adverb, normally it is a combining form with other words, but it may convey the basic idea of something far away or distant (from God?), or it may have been coined backwards from English telescope, reflecting the basic idea that the stars are far away (much further than the sun or moon). It is interesting in this regard that there is a modern company having something to do with international roaming sim cards that uses the name “Telestial” (see telestial.com); the company name clearly is based on the Greek adverb tele, alluding to the use of its products over long distances.
3. What about Latin? Well, it may be helpful to think about what we ought to expect based on the progression of terms from celestial to terrestrial to telestial. The analogy used in the revelation talks about sun, moon and stars, so certainly any connection we can find to the stars would be worth considering. But the terms themselves reflect a different progression: caelum is heaven/sky, terra is earth, so to me the natural progression would be something designating a nether or underworld, something like Sheol or Hades. We see this progression in Phil. 2:10 which talks about things “in heaven” (GR epouranios), things “on earth” (GR epigeios), and things “under the earth” (GR katachthonos). The latter term is formed from the preposition kata (here “under”) and chthon “earth,” and is the Greek equivalent of such words as subterranean, infernus. When used in the plural, that Greek term refers to those who dwell there, the departed souls who dwell in the world below, the netherworld.
With that background, it has been suggested that perhaps the root to telestial is the Latin tellus, which means “earth, ground” and from there “land, district, country, region, territory.” (In Hebrew literature, words for the “earth” often do double duty and also can represent the netherworld.) If that were the case, the word was imperfectly formed, dropping an l from the root of the word. It might be odd to have two kingdom names both grounded in terms for “earth,” but recall that this earth is considered to be in a telestial state, its terrestrial state being a higher existence from which it fell.
4. I saw someone suggest that telestial is simply a combination of celestial and terrestrial.
I also wonder (calling smb!) whether W.W. Phelps might not have had a hand in coining the term. Phelps had a passion for such creative linguistics and had a profound influence on the linguistic aspects of Joseph’s revelations. Michael Hicks has argued that it was actually Phelps, not Joseph, who composed the poetic paraphrase of D&C 76 (see his “Joseph Smith, W.W. Phelps, and the Poetic Paraphase of’ The Vision.’” Journal of Mormon History 20 (Fall 1994): 63-84).
The other option I suppose is that telestial is a completely made up word.
OK, now add your insights and wisdom in the comments, and in the future I can send people who ask this question to this post for a distillation of our collective wisdom on the subject.