Three sub-degrees in the Celestial Kingdom?

Shannon Flynn is a life long student of Mormon History and a member of the Mormon History Association. 

About four weeks ago a discussion was started on the Mormon Historians Facebook page that asked about the common belief that there are three distinct sub-degrees or separate places within the celestial kingdom.  The reference that is usually pointed to is D&C section 131 verses 1-4 especially verse 1. “In the celestial glory there are three heavens or degrees.”

In the discussion that followed it was my contention that there are not, in fact, three sub-degrees or divisions. Moreover, this idea and all of the variations and speculations on the nature of the sub-degrees has become one of the most significant pieces of false doctrine that pervades the LDS church today. Part of the discussion came from Kevin Barney who linked a post he had done back in 2006 on BCC, that the three sub-degrees was not the original interpretation of the verses in section 131.  I had an experience similar to what Kevin describes in his post when he said he heard it from a friend who heard it from California temple president.

Over 35 years ago I attended a B.H. Roberts Society lecture in Salt Lake City, (you would have to be an old Salt Laker to remember those events) and the speaker was Van Hale. (Van has hosted a radio talk show on Mormon subjects, called Mormon Miscellaneous, Sunday evenings on K-TALK for many years) Though not the main subject of his talk, he mentioned that it was his belief that there were not three sub-degrees in the Celestial Kingdom and that the concept was an invention of some church member or members sometime after 1900.  He said he had read extensively, maybe even exhaustively, in the literature previously to 1900 and he could find no reference to a concept of the three sub-degrees. That came as surprise to me since I had grown up in the milieu of Wasatch front Mormonism and that was a very commonly held belief, including all of speculations of what was included in the sub-degrees and who went where.

As time went on I concluded that adding those sub-degrees just added much confusion and contradictions to the scheme laid out in Section 76 of the LDS D&C.  I would talk about this to others through the years and found a few that agreed that there probably weren’t three sub-degrees, but most had very upset and a few almost violent reactions.  About ten years ago I made an appointment with Van Hale to make sure I had understood him correctly and that I was transmitting the information as he had said it. He confirmed that he had given a lecture at the B.H.Roberts society and that was part of his remarks.  He went on to say that he had found nothing in the intervening years to change his mind. I asked him if he knew where and when the change in “doctrine” had occurred and he said he had no idea. He then issued a challenge to find out where and when this change had taken place.  I took up the challenge and have been researching this, on and off, ever since.

Where did three celestial sub-degrees come from?

It is my view that the original intent of the verses in Section 131 were never to delineate an expanded vision of the internal workings of the Celestial Kingdom. The verses in Section 131 are extracted from the journal of William Clayton years after he wrote them.  A careful reading of William Clayton’s journal entries for May 16, 1843 reveals that Joseph Smith’s comments were entirely about the eternal nature of the sealing covenant and the necessity of that covenant to enter the celestial kingdom.

An easy place to find some basic documentation for this thesis is No Toil nor Labor Fear, The Story of William Clayton. James B Allen pps. 394-395 of Appendix 1 and for context pps. 118 -130 and notes.  Appendix 1 in No Toil nor Labor Fear is formatted in a very handy side by side comparison of Clayton’s journal and what was to become Joseph Smith’s history. The first time that the words belonging to Section 131 were ever published for the general church membership was in 1856 in the Deseret News; they did not get added to the Doctrine and Covenants until 1876.  

I have been able to find nothing in print for the next 46 years about there being three divisions or sub-degrees within the Celestial Kingdom.  The next landmark that appears is in 1919. In that year there is published what is to be the first full length commentary on the Doctrine and Covenants.  The commentary is ostensibly the work of Hyrum M. Smith, an Apostle and son of Joseph F. Smith — but he had little to do with the actual writing. The bulk of the work is carried out by Janne M. Sjodahl and a committee consisting of Orson F. Whitney, Joseph Fielding Smith, John E. Cottam, George F. Richards and Junius F. Wells.  

When one looks at the commentary for Section 131 there is nothing mentioned about three sub-degrees. (see Doctrine and Covenants commentary, 1919.)   Nor is there anything to be found in the commentary for Section 76. It is difficult to argue from a negative or from a paucity of information but the absence of any reference to sub-degrees in the celestial kingdom at this point and in a book such as this is convincing that such an understanding and belief was not thought of as normative at this time and amongst this church leadership group.  

The Big Shift

A major shift in the interpretation of the first verse of Section 131 comes a scant three years later.  Elder Melvin J. Ballard gave a talk at the Ogden tabernacle on September 22, 1922. An early pamphlet carries the title “Three degrees of Glory; a discourse delivered in the Ogden Tabernacle, September 22, 1922.”  My particular copy, printed in 1926 is 48 pages long and it is a very interesting talk about the three degrees of glory as described in Section 76. Elder Ballard talks about a variety of subjects and tries to answer many questions on who goes where, how our choices and actions in this life affect our final destination and his views on wayward children in this life, among many other topics. The critical part to my thesis comes on page 10 of the 1926 printing. There appears this paragraph:

“Now, I wish to say to you that the only possible candidates to become what God is are those who attain Celestial Glory, and those who fail in that will never, worlds without end, be possible candidates to become what God is.  Then I wish to say to you that there are three degrees of glory in the Celestial Kingdom and only those who attain the highest degree of Celestial Glory will be candidates to become what God is, and graduate.”

This is the first time I can find any such teaching, in print form, of a three sub-degree division of the Celestial Kingdom.  Elder Ballard says nothing more about this subject anywhere else in the talk. He makes no clarification of who fits into sub one, two or three or what differences there are.  

It is noteworthy that Elder Ballard makes a confusion in terms that may be the genesis of this strange doctrine.  He uses Celestial Kingdom and Celestial glory interchangeably in one sentence and I believe this describes the heart of the problem.  When William Clayton wrote the journal entry in 1843, a common understanding of the word celestial would be “heavenly”. So at the time Clayton’s note was written “celestial glory” would mean heaven – thus we can see what I believe is Clayton’s meaning, “In “heaven or the next life” there are three heavens or degrees.”  This of course, is what is taught in Sec. 76. An important point to remember is that Melvin J. Ballard was born in 1873 which would have made him 49 years old when he gave this talk. He had no conscious memory of Brigham Young or his contemporaries or their teachings. Also, Section 131 was published for the first time in 1876 and so that edition of the D&C would have been likely the one used and read from by Ballard, all of his adult life.  Additionally, Mormon concepts of three degrees of glory and the use of the words celestial, terrestrial and telestial kingdoms had altered word definitions within the Mormon community as opposed to the Christian religious public at large. In other words, the word celestial has a different and loaded meaning to Mormons as compared with the general public. I have included pictures of my 1926 edition and 1955 printing of the talk. 3degrees1

3degrees2I don’t believe that Ballard had any idea he was introducing a radically new concept.  It is impossible to know how long he harbored the idea of three sub-degrees previous to this talk, but it seems clear that it was not widely held within the church authority community.  In my view, it was just a simple mistake on Ballard’s part. However, it grew a set of legs and has taken on a life of its own. The pamphlet had at least five printings before 1930 and many more afterward.   I have a copy that was printed after 1978.  As late as a 1951 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants Commentary there is nothing about three sub-degrees but at least general parts of the church populace had started promoting the idea.  I have included a picture of a drawn representation of the plan of salvation dated 1950 that was produced by Leonidas DeVon Mecham.  


By 1960, Sydney B. Sperry in his Doctrine and Covenants Compendium gives place to the concept. “In other words, before a man can be exalted in the Celestial Kingdom, he must have had a wife sealed to him by proper authority.  If he does not, he cannot obtain exaltation, the highest glory of all. He may enter into one of the two lower degrees of the celestial kingdom, but that is the end of his kingdom…” “Nevertheless, we must bear in mind that the Lord has not revealed to us or made it possible to deduce many of the situations that may relegate a man into the second heaven or degree in the Celestial World, much less those which may relegate him to the last or third heaven.”  (Page 701)

The concept of three sub-degrees is currently taught as part of the basic doctrines of the church.  (See – Gospel Topics- kingdoms of glory) I won’t go into an exhaustive listing of all of the places that the sub-degrees can be found since 1922.  It started off slowly and gained steam until it is generally believed by the majority of Church members today. In my opinion the Lord has not revealed any specifics about the three sub-degrees because he never said there were any sub-degrees to begin with.  My belief is that The Celestial kingdom is good as it stands and doesn’t need any help in modification. The sub degree doctrine just adds a lot of confusion by all of the speculation that it produces based on what I believe to be a mistaken interpretation. 


  1. Kevin Barney says:

    Thank you for this detailed follow up to that discussion. Needless to say I agree with you, but I appreciate all the detective work you did to try to trace the development of the three subdegrees idea.

  2. Kristin Brown says:

    Fascinating. Thank you. This history reminds me of the simple children’s “telephone game”.

  3. According to Swedenborgianism there are 3 divisions in the Celestial Kingdom. Maybe that was an inspiration.

  4. “it was my contention that there are not, in fact, three sub-degrees or divisions. Moreover, this idea and all of the variations and speculations on the nature of the sub-degrees has become one of the most significant pieces of false doctrine that pervades the LDS church today.”

    I would argue that it is a triviality. To me, it doesn’t really matter how many sub-degrees there are in any of the kingdoms. We are talking trifles. And it doesn’t matter whether the Celestial 3 sub-degrees are true or false. It doesn’t affect anything in my life one way or another.

    More important doctrinal issues include race, patriarchy, deification, etc. These are issues that actually affect members lives.

  5. But then what do we do with the fetishism of an ideal family structure? This would certainly make more room in the kingdom for righteous singles without the patronizing reassurance that we can be married in the eternities.

  6. I was certainly raised (in the 1970’s) with the belief of three kingdoms, and three levels of the Celestial Kingdom. I’m surprised as well to learn the apparently recent vintage of the doctrine, and I still wonder if Ballard didn’t tap into something that was more of an oral tradition, since as you note, he doesn’t seem to think he was innovating; and after all, there is D&C 131:1. I always sort of liked the fractal self-similarity of it. Who knew: maybe the highest Celestial level had three levels, too! And so on and so on… worlds without end?

    There were also always whispered heresies about “progress between kingdoms,” even though this was officially (as per Ballard) anathema. Alas, I don’t remember any real details about that from my LDS days.

  7. I think knowledge of the language of the period and that Joseph used makes it pretty clear that the three degrees Joseph spoke of were indeed those of our Section 76. At least I thought so (only having read a few biographies / pieces on the era as well as 5 of the 7 volumes of the old History of the Church). But then I was in a Q&A with Elder Bednar and fellow missionaries and Elder Bednar said something to the effect that unmarried ministering angels or something occupy the lowest degree in the celestial kingdom, and he said it with such an authoritative air.

    Guess I was wrong.

  8. Aussie Mormon says:

    How does this tie-in with D&C88 and more specifically vs22-24, which links Celestial, Terrestrial, and Telestial glory with the Celestial, Terrestrial, and Telestial kingdoms?

  9. I’d assume you could also suggest that homosexuals who won’t marry could end up in one of the other degrees. Not claiming support for that obviously, but if you classify 3 degrees of Godhood, essentially you could have married, unmarried, and something else?

    Another idea, in general the concept of degrees is vague as well and in this case seems more linked to Masonic degrees of title and progression rather than being some kind of inferior outcast like the impression of given… “I’m sorry you’re not good enough for degree 1, you get #2” naturally strikes us as problematic.

    You could even take the idea of degrees and apply it to priesthood office – deacon, teacher, priest or elder, high priest, apostle, etc. Those degrees (titles, offices) come with a responsibility so you can see how 1st degree celestial kingdom could be procreative spirit parents, and so on.

    Naturally all conjecture and I hesitate to share it for fear of being taken the wrong way. God can reveal these things and he might. But he wouldn’t reveal them to me if I was blabbering about them without authority.

    Which goes back to the apostles teaching – so what? If there’s something in it that rubs you the wrong way is easy to say that doesn’t really apply here and now and if it did God would clarify it to you and/or through the current authority. No need to reject it for you inability to find evidence of it. That he said it and published it makes it somewhat authoritative within its sphere, but that it’s not being taught and focused on removes and emphasis or relevance in that authority here and now.

  10. Have you come across this one?

    Imagine a triangle pointing up with a horizontal line through the middle touching each side and another vertical line coming down from that line to the base.

    Thus there is one “highest” and two “not-highest,” with the two “not-highest” being “equal.”

    This satisfies the language in the verse, which does not say there is a “highest” then a “middle,” and then a “lowest.”

    What if the “highest” degree is those who enter “the new and everlasting covenant of marriage”?

    And one of the “not-highest” is the single men and the other “not-highest” is the single women?

    Thereby, a man “may enter into the other” and a woman “may enter into the other “other,” both being equal.

    It’s interesting that in the temple endowment the men and women are together in only one place…

  11. I remember taking it for granted that section 131 meant subdegrees, but then reading it on my mission and seeing it as inconclusive. Reading it as subdegrees strikes me as an anachronistic reading, if for no other reason than that I think it would have been unusual for Joseph Smith to casually refer to the specific celestial kingdom without more explicitly connecting it back to his vision of the three degrees of glory, because the whole doctrine of the three degrees of glory was not nearly as fixed as we think of it today in the church.

    The appeal of the sub-degrees reading is that it opens the celestial kingdom at least in part to the unmarried. That appeals to our universalist tendencies, and it avoids a potential conflict with the doctrine that faith, repentance, baptism, and receiving the Holy Spirit alone saves a person in the Celestial Kingdom.

    And that raises another question: Is section 137, the vision of Alvin Smith in “the celestial kingdom of God,” referring to the Celestial Kingdom, or is it referring Alvin simply being saved in one of the three degrees of glory? I’m inclined to say that it’s the Celestial Kingdom, because of the reference to baptism and the holy spirit in section 76. And if it is, then I think it’s useful to contrast section 131’s more general “in the celestial glory are three heavens or degrees” with section 137’s more specific “the celestial kingdom of God” and “the celestial kingdom of Heaven.”

  12. Bro. Jones says:

    Interesting discussion. When I attended Institute in college (taught by an ultraconservative CES guy), our class taught essentially what Jacob posted on earlier: that the righteous married who had received all ordinances would attain the highest “sub-degree” of the CK, and the righteous singles would attain the lowest sub-degree and act in a service capacity. No mention of how one arrived at the “middle” division. (A couple otherwise worthy of the top but for their wicked consumption of Diet Coke and R-rated films?)

  13. lastlemming says:

    There are plenty of scriptures that we interpret differently than the original writer intended. If this is one of them, so be it. There is no going back. If Russell Nelson got up and announced that the Church would henceforth interpret D&C 131:1 as meaning that single men (or people, if you interpret “a man” in a gender-neutral way) would be excluded from the Celestial Kingdom, the fallout would be devastating. Better to follow the approach we took when I was a missionary–deemphasize the whole three kingdoms thing and emphasize John 14:2–“In my father’s house are many mansions.”

  14. I think this has a lot to do with how stuck we get on the metaphor of the “kingdoms” as places. When you start to think about the implications of discrete cutoffs between glories, lumping everyone ever into 4 (or 6) baskets, with some people barely making some and barely failing to make it into others, the whole thing starts to feel pretty grotesque. I’m sure there are non-LDS single folks with no “arrows in their quiver” who are much more deserving of being gods than I am, who would be better at it, and who would bring more glory to God by their service. I think the degrees of glory are an obvious simplification, which teaches very useful lessons about the consequences of our choices and our relationship to our Heavenly Parents, but which also has its limits as a description of reality. While turning it into some sort of technical sorting exercise may appeal to a certain personality type, the point isn’t to give us an alternative to obsessing over our D&D character sheets or the latest quarterly widget report. Some people want to spend Sundays talking about why some people are better than others. Others want to spend Sundays feeling the spirit and serving. In reality we all fall on a continuum between those extremes.

  15. Kristine says:

    “If Russell Nelson got up and announced that the Church would henceforth interpret D&C 131:1 as meaning that single men (or people, if you interpret “a man” in a gender-neutral way) would be excluded from the Celestial Kingdom, the fallout would be devastating.”

    I’m not so sure. We do a pretty good job of making sure single people know they’re second-class. It might not be all that shocking.

  16. t0008sa – what if heaven is shaped like a trapezoid?

    Kristine – agreed, and part-member families as well.

  17. Obviously we know nothing. Best thing to do is keep on the covenant path and live on the Lord’s side of the line. Then all will be well no matter how much the truth has been twisted and skewed.

  18. I think Kristine might be right. Doctrine aside, in the popular LDS imagination, is “eternally single ministering spirit” all that different, really, from “saved in the terrestrial or telestial kingdom”?

  19. Honestly, I think the entire kingdoms doctrine is based on the barely glimpsed and barely understood vision by Joseph then expanded on for really poor reasons; to figure out if you’re “making it”, making sure you’re “less than perfect” family can still be somewhere near you, or being grateful that “those people” won’t be around to bother your “heaven”.

    It’s looking beyond the mark; trying to start learning solar mechanics by studying Betelgeuse. We’ve each an additional lifetime of at least a thousand years to learn and prepare for it, forgetting about the simple directions we’ve been given for how to progress toward the simpler dichotomy we’re heading for in the life we are living right now.

    Sure, it’s fun to wonder, but for right now we only get to know that it exists and that sealings will be important to it. It’s kind of like wondering if there are people living on the moon and declaring that we’ll never go there “because it’s not our world, so God won’t let us”.

  20. +1 for O’s comment. Literalism is one of the hardest things to sort out in the Mormon religious imagination. There is great power in literal belief, but there is at least as much power in symbol. Taken too far, literalism wrecks a lot of beautiful things.

  21. To expand on Kristine’s point, we do a pretty good job of treating those who are different as less than us, to be either pitied or feared. Doctrine that says God feels the same way is very attractive, regardless of its truth or origin.

  22. Not sure about “the popular LDS imagination,” JKC, but in *my* imagination, it’s a short step above a good old fire and brimstone hell! (but still manages to beat out polygamous priestess…)

  23. pos·i·tiv·ism
    a philosophical system that holds that every rationally justifiable assertion can be scientifically verified or is capable of logical or mathematical proof, and that therefore rejects metaphysics and theism.

  24. Thanks for your work on this, Shannon. Ditto, Loursat. To “O’s” point, “I think the degrees of glory are an obvious simplification, which teaches very useful lessons about the consequences of our choices and our relationship to our Heavenly Parents, but which also has its limits as a description of reality.” Exactly how I read the OT. You make a good case that the same can be profitably applied to reading all scripture. As LDS, we do tend to get stuck on scriptural inerrancy and literalism.

  25. Shannon Flynn says:

    Kevin Barney, Kristen Brown and Bro. B, thank you for your kind words.

  26. Michael H. says:

    Thanks for the essay, Shannon. So many great follow-up comments, too.

    I wish the church weren’t so gnat-straining when it comes to doctrine. (I know–wishing gets us nowhere.) Until I returned west a few years ago, I lived in upstate New York, where we had a branch president who was obsessed with doctrinal correctness. For him, right and wrong answers were what the gospel was all about. Branch council consisted of calendaring, followed by a long, McLaughlin-Group-style quiz on doctrine. The prez would ask some obtuse, straining-at-gnat question, then abruptly jab a finger toward the YW president or the branch mission leader, who would try their best to answer, until the prez would bark “Wrong!” and supply the one and only correct answer.

    I have to say, I think the judgment bar of Christ is going to be about as different from that as anything could possibly be.

  27. Awesome. My ex FIL first introduced this idea to me about 20 years ago and I was so flabbergasted I set out to show him where it said there were indeed 3 degrees in the celestial kingdom. Couldn’t find it. Realized that apparently the entire church had a reading comprehension issue. Including me, until someone pointed it out. Glad to see someone did some detective work on this interesting topic.

  28. Great research work, Shannon. The lack of a magisterial authority in the church, CES or BYU RelEd notwithstanding, leaves a lot up in the air that we often think of as settled. Shannon’s research here has highlighted another of those things that we thought we knew all along.

    skholiast, as to your reference to the “heresy” of progression between kingdoms, it has never gone away. Eugene England was a proponent of it a few decades ago, and Fiona and Terryl Givens raise it as a possibility in their latest volume, “The Christ who Heals,” published by Deseret Book!!!

    As to my thinking, I go along with the concept of the atonement as eternal and perfect. Who are we to say that we understand it fully, when we don’t have a firm grasp on what Eternity means in the first place? As the Givens note in their book, the choice may not be between a “Stern Schoolmaster” who gives you one shot at a final exam, and few A grades, or a “saccharine-steeped schoolmarm” who gives everyone an A. Instead, they say, “we are given a third way of a patient master teacher “devoted to his students, [who] remains with us, staying after class for extra lessons, giving us individuated attention, practicing sums again and again, late into the night, for as long as it takes—until we master the material.” Or as Isaiah 49:15-16 says, “yet will I not forget thee. Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands.”

  29. Amen, kevinf.

  30. In context it still seems to me that both interpretations may be viable. That it was never spoken about afterward (one way or the other, since marriage and having eternal posterity as the reward/situation for all people in the celestial kingdom wasn’t taught either) could be due to the fact Joseph never had opportunity to teach whatever this doctrine was publicly, since he died not long afterward.

    So that this idea wasn’t taught, doesn’t to me preclude that Joseph may have in fact meant there are 3 degrees within the celestial Kingdom. It many was it matches his ongoing temple developments with several higher ordinances of salvation/exaltation. I could see it going both ways.

  31. *In many ways it matches…

  32. I have to agree with Steve. No matter where a person ends up there will be a need to progress. Progress is made on an individual basis, not as a group whether the celestial kingdom is one place of three. Frankly in one sense I see as many degrees as there are people.

  33. kevinf- Thank you for the reference to the book by the Givens. I have read it and find it informative. What has not been discussed is our agency. We will probably choose to progress as we do here or say “No thanks, I’m done”. Many do not want the responsibilities or the lifestyle of a higher kingdom. In the end don’t we choose where we end up?

  34. Meredith says:

    Maybe it can be compared to being worthy of a temple recommend while on this earth. All are invited but many choose not to accept the invitation to progress.

  35. Are there references to the highest degree of the Celestial Kingdom? I’m not stuck on there being exactly three degrees in the Celestial Kingdom, but it’s my understanding that there is at least a highest degree, and then everything else. But we don’t focus or teach all of the details, because the goal is to always focus on the highest.
    It’s my understanding that the line between the Celestial Kingdom and the Terrestrial is living baptismal covenants. The highest degree in the Celestial Kingdom is exaltation; and that requires being righteous, sealed to a spouse, and living up to those additional covenants.
    So why even have splits in the Celestial Kingdom? Because someone with a celestial body can dwell in the Celestial Kingdom and can effortlessly be around other celestial beings; even if they haven’t attained the highest degree. Those whose bodies are of a difference glory, can’t physically stand being in the Celestial Kingdom.
    If it turns out that God was simplifying something more complex, because knowing more of the details isn’t going to help anyone repent – and there’s going to be more to learn later – I’m fine with that.

  36. On the one hand, I enjoy this kind of detective work about scripture and interpretation. Including the little tweak for know-it-alls. So thank you.

    On the other hand, I am born-that-way skeptical of every description and speculation about heaven. My memory bank puts it all in the bucket labeled “Four beasts with six wings each” (Revelation 4:8).Three sub-degrees has always seemed over-specified.

    On the third hand, I am always interested in how this sort of speculation is used in teaching and preaching, and to my hearing three sub-degrees has almost always been used to describe an exclusive heaven (always the highest degree, of the classification scheme) for Mormons who are part of the new and everlasting covenant as understood at the time–the Mormon version of John’s “hundred and forty and four thousand” (Revelation 7:4). It is a culturally significant teaching, and if you knock down the three sub-degrees I suppose another version will take its place. (For myself, I am a born-that-way universalist who tends to laugh at every religious tradition’s idea of an exclusive heaven.)

  37. Aussie Mormon says:

    “Are there references to the highest degree of the Celestial Kingdom? ”

    There’s this from Brigham Young in the Journal of Discourses “Will we all become Gods, and be crowned kings? No, my brethren, there will be millions on millions, even the greater part of the celestial world, who will not be capable of a fulness of that glory, immortality, eternal lives and a continuation of them, yet they will go into the celestial kingdom.”[1]

    At first glance it seems to imply that people reaching the Celestial Kingdom will receive different rewards or attain a different level of progression (including “the fulness of that glory” which sounds like the “highest degree”) within the Celestial Kingdom, even if there aren’t explicitly delineated levels for each reward.


  38. Shannon Flynn says:

    A paragraph was excised prior to publication and I am adding it here in the comments. I think it is important to the argument I am making. It should be inserted between the 7th and 8th paragraphs, after the paragraph that ends,” George F. Richards and Junius F.Wells….. ”
    Hyrum M. Smith was an Apostle at the time and a son of Joseph F. Smith, Church president. Work on the Book had been underway since at least 1916. Hyrum M. Smith passed away in 1918 – part of the great flu epidemic of that year but the work was completed and published in 1919 and Hyrum’s name continued as author. In 1917 President Joseph F. Smith sent an interesting note Orson F. Whitney concerning the content of the book. “I should be pleased to have you and Joseph F. Jr. act as a committee to hear the reading of a work on the Doctrine and Covenants by Hyrum M. You will please render your best assistance to see that no error in doctrine or inaccuracy in history, should there be any, escape notice. Hyrum will confer with you as to the time that will be convenient for the reading.” (see, Mormon book bits #18)”

  39. Aussie, that’s a helpful quote, thanks. That made me remember I also thought J. Stapley had an insightful quote in his comment on Kevin Barney’s 2006 post (referenced in the OP).

    He referenced Millennial Star in 1847 (vol. 9 pg. 23-24):

    The chosen vessels unto God are the kings and priests that are placed at the head of these kingdoms. These have received their washing and anointings in the temple of God on this earth; they have been chosen, ordained, and anointed kings and priests, to reign as such in the resurrection of the just. Such as have not received the fullness of the priesthood, (for the fullness of the priesthood includes the authority of both king and priest) and have not been anointed and ordained in the temple of the Most High, may obtain salvation in the celestial kingdom, but not a celestial crown. Many are called to enjoy a celestial glory, yet few are chosen to wear a celestial crown, or rather, to be rulers in the celestial kingdom.

  40. Re: “rulers in the celestial kingdom” — I have sometimes wondered why some parts of Mormon revelation and speculation are so intently focused on being or becoming and reigning as boss-kings. But then, I probably have a stronger than average, though not “born-that-way”, aversion to authoritarian personalities.

  41. I think it is important to note in Steve’s quote the words “have not received”. Again, it is our choice not to progress and receive a fullness of the blessings and power available to all. In every step of the way we have our agency to accept or reject.

  42. John, That is an important point. However, to any extent “have been chosen, ordained, and anointed kings and priests” refers to the Second Anointing performed in this life [note it is not merely “to become such”], there is no agency to accept or reject unless it is first offered. That seems to happen rarely, though given the instruction not to talk about it, it is hard to know how rarely. The remainder of Steve’s quotation from the Millennial Star seems to indicate that a reference to the Second Anointing and ordination “in the temple of the Most High” is intended, and to assert that it is required in order to be “chosen” to “reign” as kings and priests in the resurrection and to be “rulers in the celestial kingdom.” If the “highest degree” of the celestial kingdom is not to be so very rare, perhaps that is one of those things to be put off to proxy work for the dead in the millennium — a very convenient place to put whatever some of us fail to make sense of otherwise.

    Vol. 9, No. 2 of the Millennial Star was published in Liverpool by Orson Spencer January 15, 1847. I think Spencer was President of the Church’s British mission at the time. There is no indication who drew that 1847 “Diagram of the Kingdom of God” or wrote the text that accompanies it on pp.23 and 24. It could be a reflection of a common understanding among the Saints or even a speculation by the editor or by Elder A.Nony Mouse. In any event, relative to the alleged 3 sub-degrees within the celestial kingdom, it is interesting to note the text that immediately precedes what Steve quoted: “… to every man will be given a kingdom and a dominion; according to his merit, powers, and abilities to govern and control. It will be seen by the above diagram that there are kingdoms of all sizes, an infinite variety to suit all grades of merit and ability.” That’s a few more than 3 sub-degrees. Maybe “Kingdom of God” refers to all of what we commonly refer to as the celestial, terrestrial, and telestial kingdoms, but if so the Millennial Star writer’s use of “kingdom” clearly fails to limit the concept of being a king to those annointed and ordained to be kings and rulers in the celestial kingdom.

    BTW, whoever wrote that piece in the Millennial Star did not express anything that suggests any interest in the place of women in the Kingdom of God. From a contemporary viewpoint, that is a major omission, but in 1847 I doubt it occurred to the writer or most of his readers.

  43. Good points JR- A great and informative discussion thanks to the work of Shannon.

  44. RockiesGma says:

    Glory, glory, glory….pun intended in this case. Of course there are variations in any place there is. I don’t think it’s punitive, but more descriptive. In our fallen state we tend to turn variation into less and more, or good, better, best. We’re a competitive lot who strive to beat others out in a race of our own imagination. I especially think big-heap leaders have to shoulder giving dang good talks all the time so they come up with ever different analogies folks can relate to. Challenged to lead us into eternal life, just wow!—how hard is that?? It’s their lot to motivate us to keep on keeping on, and there’s no small challenge in doing that. I can’t imagine being a Seventy in your 40’s and an Apostle in your 60’s and know you’ve got the rest of your life to talk about relatively few subjects….and all the other leaders are speaking when you are! Glory day! And look how bored we often are with many talks. Bless their hearts.

    As we eternally grow to become more like Christ and our goodly Heavenly Parents, light increases within us. We are all filled with however much light we’ve learned (not sure I like “earned” in these matters). Here in this estate it ebbs and flows. I expect that may be true in every estate. It’s that way right now here on this telestial sphere—many variations of light. One could say there are, thus, many “levels” of light here and that would be true. Some could call this “degrees” of light, or just degrees for short, even “sub degrees”. It’s descriptive of the mortal state. It’s descriptive of every place, thing and existence. The more we learn and grow the more we glow. I know folks who truly shine and I can truthfully say I want to be like them when I grow up unto Christ….into an ever brighter being of Light.

    Sing with me now folks…….mmmmm…..this little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine….

  45. RockiesGma says:

    Folks, you do such good posts here at BCC. I’m always learning from you all and I purely treasure that. Thank you to writers and commentors alike. Keep it coming. ❤️😘🌟

  46. Brent- Thank you for your input and references. Maybe I am reading it wrong but is sounds like it states children will remain children through eternity. I question that line of thinking. As I understand it children will be resurrected as children but will be raised by their parents in the millennium and will grow to maturity.

    Quoting from an article by Bruce R McConkie it states, “No blessing shall be withheld. They shall rise in immortal glory, grow to full maturity, and live forever in the highest heaven of the celestial kingdom—all through the merits and mercy and grace of the Holy Messiah… they will be entitled to all the blessings which they would have been entitled to had they been privileged to tarry here and receive them.” (Doctrines of Salvation, 2:54.)

  47. John, Brent’s comment has to do with what JS taught (according to Clayton and Woodruff), not what BRMcC taught that is contrary to Woodruff’s earlier report. From Woodruff’s report: “…all men will come from the grave as they lay lie down, whether old or young their will not be added unto ther stature one cubit neither taken from it, All being raised by the power of God having the Spirit of God in their bodies & not Blood children will be enthroned in the presence of God & the Lamb with bodies of the same stature that were on earth, Having been redeemed by the Blood of the Lamb they will there enjoy a fullness of that light Glory & intelligence which is received in the celestial kingdom of God…”

  48. Yes, I read the references. My point is both thoughts cannot be correct. I could be wrong but it seems to me eventually children will be able to progress to maturity. Maybe we will just have to wait and see.

  49. FlatStanley says:

    Great research! I heard this many years ago and quite liked it, though I’m mesmerized by the fractal nature of sub-degrees. I tend to think of the degrees of glory more as rates of progression than as permanent separations. I also find the cult of perfectionism inherent in our exaltation languaging to be very demoralizing to most members. On the other hand, temple language, until the gendering becomes apparent, tends be empowering, not demoralizing. I think much of our folk doctrine simply embodies the natural man’s tendencies towards tribalism vs. “the one heart and one mind” “to the least of these” type charity the gospel expounds.

  50. Corbin Mcmillen says:

    I think there is a law half-irrivocably decreed, that you cant talk about the three kingdoms unless had vision.
    (Vision club only)

  51. If we only had some sort of mechanism to clear up doctrinal questions and historical problems.

  52. I really appreciate this research as an example of how tradition becomes “doctrine” and taught as “gospel truth” to all members from the basic primary class to gospel doctrine. I imagine that Elder Bednar also learned it this way his whole life and has likely never needed to question the origins of such teaching.

  53. LaJean Carruth says:

    I am a professional transcriber of 19th century shorthand documents at the Church History Library. In a sermon delivered by Orson Pratt on May 30, 1875, which I have transcribed from David Evans’ shorthand record, Pratt taught that there are different degrees of glory within the celestial kingdom. He also talked about the other degrees of glory which were prepared for those who could not abide a celestial glory.

  54. it's a series of tubes says:

    LaJean, is there any online access to the material you reference or your transcriptions? Very interested.

  55. LaJean Carruth says:

    Many of my transcriptions are available in the Church History Library public catalog, in collection CR 100 912, with more being added to the second collection “Addresses and Sermons,” all the time. Here is the link: These are my original transcripts as I typed them. As for the Orson Pratt sermon I mentioned, it will, I assume, appear there in a while, but I have to proofread it first – 52 pages of David Evans’ shorthand – and then send it through the process. I like Orson Pratt and have transcribed almost everything I can find by him.

  56. it's a series of tubes says:

    I have bookmarked and look forward to reading in due course. Thanks much for using your nearly unique skill of reading these documents to bring them back to light.

  57. Shannon Flynn says:

    LaJean thank you for that information. I look forward to examining the transcription. So far, I believe my thesis still stands. EJ, could you tell me what your Elder Bednar comment is referring to?

  58. Kristin Brown says:

    LaJean, I went to the link. Thank you for your service!

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