Nehor’s Universalism Problem—and Ours #BOM2016

Alma 1

nehorSherem, Nehor, and Korihor—Mormon scripture’s three most famous anti-Christs—constitute one of the most obvious recurring type-scenes in the Book of Mormon. Of the three, the middle child, Nehor, is clearly the most disruptive. Long after he receives the just desserts traditional for his ilk (Alma 1: 15), Nehorism pops up as the principle religion of most of the other bad guys in the Book of Alma (see Alma 14:4-8, Alma 21:4, Alma 24:28). Only Gadianton can claim a similarly evil influence on the Nephite people.

But there is a huge difference between the signature heresies of Nehor and those of Gadianton. The latter taught that it was possible to murder and get gain—hardly an original insight in the world, but an extremely disruptive one nonetheless.

Nehor, on the other hand, taught that

All mankind should be saved at the last day, and that they need not fear nor tremble, but that they might lift up their heads and rejoice; for the Lord had created all men, and had also redeemed all men; and, in the end, all men should have eternal life. (Alma 1:9)

Nineteenth century readers would have had no trouble identifying Nehor’s religion: he was a Universalist, or a believer in universal salvation.  Before Mormonism came along, Universalism was the most controversial religion in the New World. Emerging from several Pietist sects in the 18th century, American Universalism consolidated into a coherent religious organization  in a General Convention held in Winchester, New Hampshire, in 1805. The convention adopted three Articles of Faith:

  1. We believe that the Holy Scripture of the Old and New Testaments contain a revelation of the character of God and of the duty, interest, and final destination of mankind.
  2. We believe that there is one God whose nature is Love, revealed in one Lord, Jesus Christ by one Holy Spirit of grace, who will finally restore the whole family of mankind to holiness and happiness.
  3. We believe that holiness and true happiness are inseparably connected, and that believers ought to be careful to maintain order and practise good works; for these things are good and profitable unto men.

By 1830, the Universalist Church was among the largest denominations in the country. Throughout the 19th century, its famous membership would include Judith Sargent Murray, Clara Barton, P.T. Barnum, Olympia Browne, and Joseph Smith, Senior, the father of the Mormon prophet, whose own father was the co-founder of a Universalist society in Vermont.

But Universalism was almost as controversial on the American frontier as Mormonism. The doctrine of universal salvation was roundly criticized by Catholics, who believe that baptism is required for salvation, and by most Protestants, who believed that those who did not believe in of follow Christ would be damned to the biblical hell. But the strongest rejection came from the moral pragmatists, who argued that that the idea of hell is necessary to keep people from doing bad stuff[1]. Pretty much everybody hated the Universalists.  

Including, it seems, the Nephite Church. Through Nehor, the Book of Mormon condemns Universalism in terms that most nineteenth-century Christians would immediately recognize. Nehor preaches the standard 19th century Universalist shtick and, as if to prove that Universalism is a slippery slope to murder (because, hey, why should anyone refrain from killing people if there is no hell to burn in for all of eternity) kills a popular Nephite hero named Gideon who tries to stop him.

To the person reading the Book of Mormon as a 19th century document, none of this should be surprising. The Book of Mormon presents Protestant party line on a lot of things, things like heaven, hell, and salvation. The surprise comes later on, during the Nauvoo period, when Joseph Smith develops a theology that any nineteenth-century Catholic or Protestant would describe as Universalist.

Two specific innovations from the Nauvoo period move Latter-day Saint theology into the Universalist camp:

  • The doctrine of vicarious baptism universalizes baptism by ensuring that it is performed on behalf of every human being who has ever lived.  Thus, Latter-day Saints can insist, as Catholics do, that baptism is required for salvation while still making the ordinance available to those who die without it. Lack of the ordinance ceases to filter souls into heaven and hell.
  • The doctrine of the Three Kingdoms of Glory eliminates the concept of hell altogether, neutralizing the eternal threat that “salvation” is supposed to save people from. Latter-day Saints do not believe in hell, only in three different flavors of heaven (as others understand it) which we can roughly describe as good, better, and best.

Though these doctrines do not constitute a theology of universal salvation from within the Mormon world view (since not everybody achieves the pinnacle of exaltation), they very clearly do constitute Universalism from any other Catholic or Protestant perspective: nobody goes to hell, everybody is resurrected physically, and God gives everybody the exact degree of spiritual glory that they can bear. We all get to be as happy as God can make us for all of eternity.[2]

And this is our Universalism problem. It is not that we are Universalists–I couldn’t be happier about that one. Rather it is that, as is also the case with polygamy, the theology of the Book of Mormon conflicts with the current theology of the LDS Church. This is not really a problem. The whole point of having “living prophets” is that they can periodically announce new things that we have always believed. But it does mean that contemporary Latter-day Saints should be careful about how they use the Book of Mormon in conjunction with terms like “heaven,” “hell,” and “salvation”–since these are unstable ideas in Mormon scripture and practice.


[1] The author of the linked to anti-Universalist tract, The Serpent Uncoiled, is John Russell, an early defender of the Nauvoo Mormons and the author of The Mormoness; Or, the Trial of Mary Maverick, the first American novel to feature Mormons. (And yes, I did co-edit this critical edition, thanks for noticing).

[2] Yes, I know that Mormons believe in “outer darkness” for a particular brand of sinner—the Denier of the Holy Ghost—but I am treating this as an outlier, since it does not appear to be even a possibility for most people. I am also aware that Nehor claims that all men shall have “eternal life,” which contemporary Mormons define as exaltation in the Celestial Kingdom, but there is nothing in the text to suggest that either Nehor or the Nephites were aware of this concept when Nehor was speaking.


  1. Really great post, especially the closing mention that “terms like ‘heaven,’ ‘hell,’ and ‘salvation’ … are unstable ideas in Mormon scripture and practice.”

    Engaging these portions of the Book of Mormon as a modern reader, I can’t help but think they still hold water. Rather than a discussion of who God will punish or not punish, the BoM seems to derail the conversation in ways; universalism becomes dangerous not because it shrouds a punishing God, but because it renders morality meaningless. Your actions no longer mean anything anymore, and you’re, in a way, perceived as one isolated individual in the world, causing no ripples in the water around you, let alone sloshing water onto others. I take the BoM as almost something like a critique of what today is called “divine command theory,” the position that commandments are only valid because God will either reward for compliance or punish for disobedience; of course, if you remove God from the equation, the actions (following/disregarding the commandments) no longer matter. Consider, for instance, Nephi’s concern that people will one day toss moral decision-making out the window by concluding:

    “Eat, drink, and be merry; nevertheless, fear God—he will justify in committing a little sin; yea, lie a little, take the advantage of one because of his words, dig a pit for thy neighbor; there is no harm in this; and do all these things, for tomorrow we die; and if it so be that we are guilty, God will beat us with a few stripes, and at last we shall be saved in the kingdom of God.” (2 Ne. 28:8)

    Rather than being a warning that one’s punishment will be infinite, not finite, I can’t help but see this as diagnosing the modern religious individual as one who only sees things as right or wrong because God threatens the stick or offers the carrot for “good behavior.” And when God’s gotten over his own little rules—“if we are guilty, God will beat us with a few stripes”—then we’ll get some good stuff out of the guy—“saved in the kingdom of God.” In other words, things are only good because God rewards people for doing them and only evil because he punished people for doing them; or in Nehor’s ironically theological nihilism, nothing matters anyway, so do as you please without considering the effect or consequences.

    Either God punishes/rewards our actions (and thus they matter) or he does not (and thus they don’t)—I think the BoM presents this to the reader as a false dichotomy, then asks the reader to “think again.” Later Mormonism, I think, fleshes this out; as mentioned above, with vicarious ordinances, “Lack of the ordinance ceases to filter souls into heaven and hell.” Rather than removing ritual/ordinances altogether, God instead gives everyone the ordinance, then asks us once again what it is that will “filter souls” into the Three Degrees of Glory if it’s not the ritual act itself.

    This was a thought-provoking post, to say the least. Thank you for it.

  2. Nathan, I really got a lot out of your comment. And Michael, I’m enjoying this series a lot, thanks for sharing :)

    When I’m fighting against theological (and general) nihilism, it’s useful to bring my attention back to that question: what is it that will (as you’ve put it) “filter souls”?

    And the reminder that many concepts within Mormonism have a degree of instability is (perhaps confusingly to many) comforting.

  3. Kevin Barney says:

    It makes me nervous that I relate so well to all the BoM Anti-Christs (a la my recent Sympathy for the Devil post).

  4. That’s interesting that Joseph Smith Sr. was a universalist. Was the young Joseph Smith subconsciously rebelling against (or correcting) his father’s theology, but then as he matured, he started coming around to his father’s side? It sounds like an archetypal father-son relationship.

  5. stirlingadams says:

    Michael, thanks for your post. I appreciated your comment that “The doctrine of the Three Kingdoms of Glory eliminates the concept of hell altogether, neutralizing the eternal threat that “salvation” is supposed to save people from. Latter-day Saints do not believe in hell, only in [different] flavors of heaven….” I’ll replay it my mind for solace the next time I unsuccessfully claim that in Mormonism there is no hell, as here in the heart of the BoM belt I find most Mormons’ theological narrative differ from mine on that point.
    Like Kevin, I’m sympathetic to Nehor’s Alma 1:9 universalistic sentiment. Perhaps Elder Nelson had the BoM response to universalism in mind in his January 2016 speech on the exclusionary policy when he called people like me (who disagree with the corporate church’s policy same-sex marriage) “servants of satan.”
    Michael, you write “It is not that we are Universalists–I couldn’t be happier about that one.” If you get a chance, why is that?

  6. Perhaps the problem with Nehor’s religion was not necessarily its universalist teaching but rather its denial of the role of Christ’s Grace in the process. Also, closely related, Nehor’s ethics ran against the grain of the good works required of true disciples of Christ. This is to say that I don’t see any conflict between the Book of Mormon’s condemnation of Nehor’s religion and Mormonism’s own flavor(s) of Universalism.

  7. “Michael, you write “It is not that we are Universalists–I couldn’t be happier about that one.” If you get a chance, why is that?”

    Easy–I am happy that Mormons are Universalists (i.e., I do not consider that a problem) because I could not believe in a God who would create a few billion people and then condemn any of them to everlasting torment because they 1) did not get baptized into the right organization; or 2) acted they way that they were created to act and did things that God didn’t like.

  8. First, I too am happy that Mormons enjoy (a flavor of) universalism, although I sense conflict among current day Mormons including leaders regarding how far that goes and how to express it.
    Second, the observation that “the theology of the Book of Mormon conflicts with the current theology of the LDS Church” is, of course, not new or novel (although I don’t recall universalism on the list of conflicts, so thanks for that, whether new or reminder). It is a source of frustration for some, glee for others, and relatively neutral observation for (I hope) many. I find it a rich source of things to ponder.
    And therefore and finally,
    Third, john f.’s observation above makes good sense to me. In the converse, I would be careful not to paint too broadly with “universalist.”

  9. John, I largely agree, but I do see one irreducible conflict between the BOM and post-Nauvoo Mormonism generally that is at least related to Nehor’s universalism: The Book of Mormon cleary believes in Hell, and in fairly traditional ways. Post-Nauvoo Mormon theology has no place for a hell of endless torment. That has a huge impact on the concept of salvation because not going to Hell us what “salvation” means in a traditional Christian, and I would argue Book of Mormon context.

  10. Of course Mormon theology has a hell, even post-Nauvoo. Our sins must be paid for, and we either accept Christ and allow Him to pay the price, or we pay it ourselves, and that is hell. The fact that a person can emerge from hell and inherit the Telestial kingdom sounds very Universalist, in that hell has an end, but we have to remember that we believe in an infinite atonement as well. The suffering involved was infinite as well, but it had an end. My understanding is that without taking advantage of the salvation of Christ, our suffering in Hell will be boundless, even if it does have an end.

  11. Martin, what you just described is called “purgatory,” and yours is a dictionary perfect definition. Good concept, but it is Catholic, not Mormon.

  12. Martin seems to be thinking of “spirit prison”

  13. Michael, my sense is that the concept of the three degrees of glory had not yet been revealed to prophets who wrote in the Book of Mormon. Instead, their conception of the afterlife seems to have been binary — heaven or hell, as you say. Alma explains as much when he tried to teach his wayward son Corianton about the consequences in the afterlife of our sins during life in Alma 40:

    9 Therefore, there is a time appointed unto men that they shall rise from the dead; and there is a space between the time of death and the resurrection. And now, concerning this space of time, what becometh of the souls of men is the thing which I have inquired diligently of the Lord to know; and this is the thing of which I do know.

    10 And when the time cometh when all shall rise, then shall they know that God knoweth all the times which are appointed unto man.

    11 Now, concerning the state of the soul between death and the resurrection—Behold, it has been made known unto me by an angel, that the spirits of all men, as soon as they are departed from this mortal body, yea, the spirits of all men, whether they be good or evil, are taken home to that God who gave them life.

    12 And then shall it come to pass, that the spirits of those who are righteous are received into a state of happiness, which is called paradise, a state of rest, a state of peace, where they shall rest from all their troubles and from all care, and sorrow.

    13 And then shall it come to pass, that the spirits of the wicked, yea, who are evil—for behold, they have no part nor portion of the Spirit of the Lord; for behold, they chose evil works rather than good; therefore the spirit of the devil did enter into them, and take possession of their house—and these shall be cast out into outer darkness; there shall be weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth, and this because of their own iniquity, being led captive by the will of the devil.

    14 Now this is the state of the souls of the wicked, yea, in darkness, and a state of awful, fearful looking for the fiery indignation of the wrath of God upon them; thus they remain in this state, as well as the righteous in paradise, until the time of their resurrection.

    15 Now, there are some that have understood that this state of happiness and this state of misery of the soul, before the resurrection, was a first resurrection. Yea, I admit it may be termed a resurrection, the raising of the spirit or the soul and their consignation to happiness or misery, according to the words which have been spoken.

    Note that his view is limited to paradise vs. hell (prison). Alma incorrectly refers to hell/prison as outer darkness, likely attributable to the fact his view of the afterlife seems limited to the binary view of the creedal Christian world, lacking awareness of the three degrees of glory/outer darkness. Even as a prophet, Alma’s best reasoning about that detail was off, simply because he didn’t have that particular piece to the puzzle, so his best efforts at figuring it out fell short. His letter shows he is confused about the concept of resurrection and that he still has a ton of questions about it — when it is, what it will mean for the righteous and the wicked, etc. Absent actual revelation about it, he is not shy to share his opinion with Corianton, but he is thoughtful enough to delineate that as his opinion rather than expecting Corianton to assume that it is a revelation just because he (Alma) wrote it. I’m referring here, of course, to verse 20:

    20 Now, my son, I do not say that their resurrection cometh at the resurrection of Christ; but behold, I give it as my opinion, that the souls and the bodies are reunited, of the righteous, at the resurrection of Christ, and his ascension into heaven.

    Good stuff — Alma 40 has always been very important to me. It shows a number of things. First, it shows how all of us, even those called as prophets like Alma, do not have all knowledge and that much must still be revealed. Reading Alma 40 now, post-D&C 76, we Mormons have a lot more knowledge and understanding about how the afterlife might look than Alma did. We have a view past paradise/prison and the resurrection that Alma did not yet have. (Moroni takes this back up much later and gets some further insights.) Second, it helps us understand our creedal Christian co-religionists, many of whom have a view of the afterlife that still very closely approximates the knowledge shared by Alma in chapter 40 (which was quite a revelation for his time because it gave a view of resurrection as the next step past the paradise/prison binary). Finally, it provides a model of prophetic communication, taking care to distinguish between what has been revealed directly and what is his best effort at reasoning through the meaning or implications of what he knows: “I have inquired diligently of the Lord to know [x]” (v.9) and then “it has been made known unto me by an angel that [x.5]” (v.11) but as to [y] “I do not say” (v.19) (because I don’t know and the angel didn’t reveal it to me), nevertheless, as to [y], “I give it as my opinion that [y, z]” (v.20).

    It really is a very good and exemplary model of inspired communication that would serve us very well, as it did Alma.

  14. Clark Goble says:

    “The Book of Mormon cleary believes in Hell, and in fairly traditional ways. Post-Nauvoo Mormon theology has no place for a hell of endless torment.”

    I’m not so sure that’s true. For one, the change in meaning of endless torment is D&C 19 which is 1829 – pretty early. Earlier than the printing of the Book of Mormon.

    Second how to take the discussion of resurrection and punishment in the Book of Mormon (and pre-Christian Hebrew thought) is reasonably complex. When I do a literature search on views from pre-exilic texts and exilic texts there’s a surprising amount of disagreement. In the text of the Book of Mormon you start out with something akin to portions of 1 Enoch and then some interesting exegesis of Isaiah that gets applied to multiple time periods and groups.

    The very meaning of hell is odd in the Book of Mormon. Consider at minimum 2 Ne 9:12. “spiritual death shall deliver up its dead; which spiritual death is hell; wherefore death and hell must deliver up their dead, and hell must deliver up its captive spirits.” That’s nothing like traditional views.

    The place where Nephi gives something like traditional views (1 Ne 14) is very symbolic and apocalyptic more like John’s Apocalypse. However how 1 Ne 14 is read has to be taken with 2 Ne 9 so hell seems more complex than I think superficial readings get at. I think there’s a lot of intentional metaphor language. That’s not to say it can’t be read literalistically by people with a particular view of hell. That’s why I think the traditional view gets assumed to be in the text. But I think places like 1 Ne 15:29 suggest we be careful. No one takes the filthy water in Nephi’s vision literally yet they seem inclined to take the parts that are similar to 1 Enoch quite literally.

    All that said, there is a lot of indication in place like 2 Ne 24:9 that Nephi takes the common pre-Hellenistic view of sheol below and heaven above the earth.

    The places where the traditional view is best found in the Book of Mormon are places like Moroni 8:21 where he talks of “danger of death, hell, and an endless torment.” I’m not sure that should be taken as a place though, especially if he read Nephi’s writings which I think are intended to represent a spiritual state. (This is also the case with Alma the Younger’s conversion in Alma 36 – see particularly versa 13; also Alma 14:6)

    The only verse I could find giving a more location view of hell is Alma 54:22. I’m not quite sure how to take that though.

    I’d add that D&C 19 actually fits rather well with the Book of Mormon usage as I see them.

  15. Clark Goble says:

    To add – I didn’t address Alma 40 which gives the strongest views of Nephite conceptions of the afterlife. But note the word hell doesn’t occur in that chapter. The term is outer darkness (used quite differently from how Mormons use it) This roughly corresponds to contemporary Mormon conceptions of the afterlife prior to the resurrection but quite different from traditional Christian views. Basically there’s no punishment but people just remain the type of people they were. Hell, the chains of hell, and the captivity of the devil are more spiritual states and people just keep the state they had in life. Most interesting is the idea that this continues after the resurrection. The wicked don’t go to God but they’re merely cast out. However they’re not punished by God from what I can see but merely continue to have the fruits of their choices. Again that’s radically different from traditional Christian views (and even most Mormon views)

  16. Nehor’s universalism is condemned implicitly since he’s characterized as an Anti-Christ, but Alma doesn’t condemn this particular teaching. Alma charges Nehor with 1) priestcraft and 2) the murder of Gideon. Universalism doesn’t come up in the trial.

  17. Christian Adams says:

    We aren’t either pro or anti universalism…universal exaltation is something that hasn’t been revealed yet. President Joseph F Smith (I believe it was 1907 General Conference) said whether people could move from one kingdom of glory to another has not yet been revealed. He thought it might be possible, but it not doctrine. I think one reason why people are hung up about this is because McConkie was so adamant against it in his book Mormon Doctrine…except it isn’t mormon doctrine. Anyways…

  18. Alma’s experience shows how one can suffer eternal damnation in a finite time. Alma enters the traditional hell. In the midst of it, the experience feels like it has no beginning and no end. It is eternal. But that experience is obviously compatible with Alma’s ultimate exaltation. Presumably, all who do not come to Christ with broken heart and contrite spirit and receive the atonement will pass through the same hell that Alma did. Apparently, even in the midst of that hell, it is possible to remember Christ and be redeemed by him. But the scriptures indicate that there are many who will not call upon the Savior and will fully experience the pains Christ suffered before passing on to a degree of glory.

  19. I think John is right that the bigger problem is the denial of grace’s role in salvation. Incidentally, that seems to me to be the same issue with the verse that Nathan cites from Nephi–the idea that we can pay for our sins by enduring “a few stripes” rather than turn to Christ.

    The theology, our maybe more precisely, the soteriology of the Book of Mormon strikes me as very practical, not concerned with the hypothetical and the speculative, but primarily with repentance here and now. If you believe something about salvation that causes you to not repent (including full trust in Christ alone), or to put off repenting, that what gets condemned in the Book of Mormon.

  20. john f. April 16, 2016 at 12:31 pm nails it, and everymemamish makes a good point about the trial. Nathan in the very first comment easily grasps that Nehor’s doctrine renders morality meaningless. I also recommend the discussion by Terryl Givens in his book, By the Hand of Mormon, on p. 207.

    There simply is no conflict there, and no problem unless you are looking to make one. Nehor denied explicitly or implicitly both the necessity of faith in Christ and repentance. See, for example, Alma 15:15. Those two requirements, along with the ordinances of salvation, have been a constant in both the Book of Mormon and among the Latter-day Saints. To miss that point is to seriously misread the book, so seriously I wonder how it can be done with a straight face.

    Whenever I look for things that might weaken faith in the Church, its leaders, or its scriptures or might introduce confusion in what should otherwise be clear, By Common Consent will often serve up something that will fill the bill.

  21. Rob Osborn says:

    LDS doctrine has basically three doctrines, not fully understood as of yet, regarding salvation. The first is the doctrine in the Book of Mormon. The second is the doctrine of the BoM combined with the D&C. The third doctrine is that found in the temple. Taken all together, yes, there are some conflicts. I believe in large part, through my own study and opinions, that all three doctrines can be properly understood only when understood strictly from the BoM perspective and teachings of Christ himself as found in the BoM itself. For instance- salvation or damnation, as strictly taught in the BoM, holds true in light of the three kingdoms but only when defining it through BoM definitions. Salvation means to be saved into the kingdom of heaven according to the BoM. Damnation means to be condemned to hell. So, accordingly, we know that none of the three kingdoms of glory is hell nor can one be damned in one of these kingdoms of glory. As we understand that, then we come to know that our doctrine isnt a universalist doctrine and that repentance and baptism are required for salvation. Only when viewed through the lens of the endowment in the temple do we begin to understand the doctrine as found in the D&C and come to fully and properly understand that the BoM, in its strict dicotomy of heaven or hell, is in fact the true gospel of Christ.

    We have a long way to go as LDS yet before we truly understand the simplicity of our doctrine.

  22. It has been noted by smarter people than me that once Joseph Smith produced the Book of Mormon, he paid it almost zero attention. You can’t find a recorded sermon of his that takes the text of some chapter of the BoM as its starting point. It’s pretty much as if the only thing the BoM was good for was to establish his bona fides as a prophet and once he’s good there, the BoM can be safely ignored.

  23. Interesting comment, Mark N.

    Joseph Smith would not agree with your assessment:
    “I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book” (History of the Church, 4:461).

    And then there is D&C 84: 55-58:
    54 And your minds in times past have been darkened because of unbelief, and because you have treated lightly the things you have received—
    55 Which vanity and unbelief have brought the whole church under condemnation.
    56 And this condemnation resteth upon the children of Zion, even all.
    57 And they shall remain under this condemnation until they repent and remember the new covenant, even the Book of Mormon and the former commandments which I have given them, not only to say, but to do according to that which I have written—
    58 That they may bring forth fruit meet for their Father’s kingdom; otherwise there remaineth a scourge and judgment to be poured out upon the children of Zion.

  24. Yeah, I also don’t agree that Joseph Smith didn’t use the BoM in his teachings.

  25. Clark Goble says:

    I think the view that people didn’t use the Book of Mormon nearly as much as the Bible for doctrine is correct as far as it goes. That was brought up a lot in the 90’s in the era when the Book of Mormon became so focused on. That was in response to Pres. Benson’s talk about not taking it seriously enough. If you read through the Journal of Discourses while the Book of Mormon is quoted, it’s simply not used as a proof text the way the Bible is. But that’s a matter of degree. It also isn’t quite the same as simply not using it.

  26. Rob Osborn says:

    Is it safe to say that the BoM is still the standard for defining salvation in LDS doctrine?

  27. How does BRM resolve the seemingly contradiction between peforming temple work for the dead and the no progression between the kingdoms? Does he just push the time line of judgement back that all progression is made in the spirit world / purgatory prior to being “assigned” a kingdom? If there is no progression in the after-life then why are we then baptized for the dead?

  28. I do find it interesting that JS used many doctrines that are contained in the BOM including temple related doctrines (I’m thinking here of some things I’ve read from Joseph Spencer and a few others), yet at the same time he never really used the story lines — as others have pointed out. Its as if he had been immersed in an understanding of some of the core doctrines contained in the BOM, but not so much the plot lines.

  29. Clark Goble says:

    The traditional interpretation is all temple work has to be completed prior to judgment. Mormons have since the beginning rejected the traditional Christian idea of an immediate judgment and see most judgment taking place during or after the Millennium.

    Also note that the idea of purgatory (largely rejected by Protestants) was that it was for people judged worthy of heaven but who still needed sinful nature burned out of them. That is purgatory was temporary and was what Mormons would call a painful sanctification on the way to heaven. Lacking purgatory actually caused problems for Protestants especially in the 18th and 19th century as people looking a penal reform in politics starting looking at the same issues in religion. By the early 20th century the very notion of hell was becoming discounted in a lot of Protestant thinkers because of this.

    The Mormon notion of the spirit world is quite different because there is no judgment yet beyond the idea that we’re basically the same in our inclinations as now. In terms of place the popular folk view of the spirit world is that most of the good people are off proselytizing those who haven’t accepted the church anyway. So there’s a preliminary judgement into paradise/prison but it could easily be interpreted in terms of inclination/nature rather than place.

    While of course in Mormon history there have been big proponents for progression within kingdoms including a minor view in the late 19th century of a quasi-reincarnation like theology for those condemned to the telestial glory. By the 20th century this idea of progression within kingdoms was largely rejected on the idea of there being some essential nature we come to grips with combined with literal differences in our resurrected bodies. So a terrestrial person might always be progressing but they’ll be progressing within limits determined by their physical nature.

    The degree to which this is persuasive is often tied to how one views our essential nature that is outside of God’s control. If one thinks there’s no limits to its transformation beyond free choice then one tends to think progress between kingdoms is correct. If one thinks there’s a nature outside of God’s control and ours then the dominate view seems correct.

  30. Clark Goble says:

    I should add that universalism was big at the time of Joseph Smith largely because of Unitarians. There’s an argument to be made that as universalism became less of an issues because it was discussed in most mainline Protestant sects that Unitarianism became less and less culturally significant.

    I’ve got a post half finished for T&S on this so I don’t want to give up too much. But the most interesting universalist is Gregory of Nyssa who sees purgatory as essentially transforming the wicket. So it’s painful not in punitive terms (which came later with Augustine and solidified by Anselm and Aquinas) but in transformative terms. You can see echoes of that view in the Book of Mormon where the universalist view is ridiculed but ridiculed on punitive rather than transformative terms.

  31. Rob Osborn says:

    Our doctrine regarding “salvation” in LDS context is obviously unfinished. I personally believe it was coming line upon line with the early prophets but we never fully have put it all together and as such we have many contradictions and misinterpretations which include our own brand of redefining words and terms.

    If we take the endowment as the most up to date interpretation, then it completely contradicts our typical “plan of salvation” diagram showing the three worlds of glory where the saved go. But, ironically, it actually coincides perfectly with the Book of Mormon and adds clarity to that doctrine. But, in doing so one must realize that certain teachings, which come from the D&C, must be redefined or changed because of the obvious contradictions. For instance- one teaching that comes from the D&C is that one can be an unrepentant liar and be saved without baptism into the telestial kingdom for eternity. But, according to both the BoM and temple endowment, it is not only impossible to be saved without baptism, but also, the telestial kingdom isnt an eternal kingdom in eternity either.

  32. Clark Goble says:

    Which verse are you thinking of? I tend to think of this sermon of Joseph’s

    The question is frequently asked Can we not be saved without going through with all thes ordinances &c I would answer No not the fullness of Salvation, Jesus said their was many mansions in his fathers house & he would go & prepare a place for them. House here named should have been translated (Kingdom) & any person who is exalted to the highest mansion has to abide a Celestial law & the whole law to,

  33. Rob Osborn says:

    The endowment ceremony is the most defined and detailed explanation we have on the plan of salvation. According to the endowment, not only must we be baptized, we must take on additional covenants of the priesthood in order to he saved from hell. In reality, the gospel of repentance and baptism is just a preparatory gospel, or a preparatory procedure that places us into the path that leads to salvation. That gateway of baptism isnt what saves us, it just prepares us to he placed into the position where we can thus proceed to do the necessary covenants that have the power to save us. This doctrine is loosly taught in the BoM where repentance and vaptism is just the gate whereby we enter into the path leading to salvation. Its the actual works along the path that gets us to salvation. Thus, the temple shows that baptism by itself has no saving power from hell. It is only through obedience to the covenants made after baptism (the endowment) that has the power to save us from hell eternally.

  34. Clark Goble says:

    I suspect this reading hinges upon equivocations over what we mean by salvation. I don’t think Mormons tend to use the term in a stable sense. Often it’s used to mean exaltation, sometimes bare minimum to get into the Celestial Kingdom and other times anything more than outer darkness.

  35. Rob Osborn:
    You might be a little bit off there. Repentance and baptism get us into the gate, then we do good works in order to build our faith in Christ. Our faith in Christ is what leads to salvation, not our works. Works will never be sufficient, but works build our faith to a sufficient level.

  36. Rob Osborn says:

    This is where we have redefined words and terms to fit our contradictions. Salvation means to be saved from physical and spiritual death into the kingdom of heaven. In the scriptures, salvation never means “exaltation” as is used in the D&C. It’s only when we interpret sections like D&C 76 that salvation takes on our own brand of definitions that differ than both how the BoM and Joseph Smith used it. The word really does have just the one definition, it’s just our interpretation of doctrine such as that in section 76 that contradictions become embarrassing and apparant.

  37. Rob Osborn says:

    Michael, you are right that works alone get us nowhere. But, works are required for salvation.

  38. Clark Goble says:

    Michael, often faith is taken as the inner aspect of the same thing of which works are the outer aspect.

    Rob, out of earnest curiosity how do you read D&C 76:88?

  39. Rob Osborn says:

    88 And also the telestial receive it of the administering of angels who are appointed to minister for them, or who are appointed to be ministering spirits for them; for they shall be heirs of salvation.

    The prophet Joseph Smith is seeing the world upon which we now live. The righteous here are heirs of salvation and as such we have angels/ ministering spirits that now minister unto us. Compare with D&C 7:6
    6 Yea, he has undertaken a greater work; therefore I will make him as flaming fire and a ministering angel; he shall minister for those who shall be heirs of salvation who dwell on the earth.

    I do not believe that Joseph Smith realized at the time section 76 was revealed that the telestial and terrestrial world’s were in fact this very earth in its stages leading up to when the earth is celestialized. The big clue in this verse is that it speaks of the telestial as a group who in the future will be saved from physical and spiritual death into God’s kingdom (salvation). The other clue is why are there ministering spirits sent to the telestial if all are supposed to be already resurrected? This again tells me that the telestial spoken of in verse 88 is in fact us right now. In the endowment it is revealed that the world we now live on is the telestial kingdom. Joseph Smith, at the time section 76 was revealed, had not the revelation and clarification of the endowment at the time.

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