Monday Morning Theological Poll: Also-Ran Edition

What is the difference between the lower two tiers of the celestial kingdom and the terrestrial kingdom in the eternities? We’re going to exclude differences in glory and types of bodies from this poll, because those seem too obvious (and vague) to me. Complain below, if you must.

Justify your answers in the comments.


  1. I don’t believe any of those. Highest degree of Celestial Kingdom is eternal marriage with increase. Difference between Terestial and Celestial is living up to baptismal covenants. All of those in the Celestial can stand being in the presence of God, and are nice enough neighbors that God wants them living in His neighborhood.

  2. Sure, jader3rd, but what is the practical difference that it makes? It seems like you are saying it is access to God, physically if not spiritually.

  3. John, you’re right. Access to God probably is a summary of my belief.

  4. I’m going to go with none of the above. Probably a rather unorthodox interpretation of the LDS vision of the hereafter, but it’s mine, and I’ll own it.

    For me, the whole kingdoms of glory structure is predicated on the purpose of life – which is that everyone who came down to earth wanted to become a God. Mortality is a time to build and demonstrate (or at least to take the first steps on the path towards doing so) the type of moral character that can be entrusted with godly power. The Celestial Kingdom is about not just having that type of character, but (after having gone through everything) still wanting to go on and be gods. From my understanding, becoming gods is not something that can happen with individuals. It takes at least couples, bound together in covenant ties, and may even require whole communities bound together by covenants into a godly society.

    So, in this schema, the lower degrees of the Celestial Kingdom are for those who grew into the type of people who could be trusted with the powers of godliness, but are unwilling to or uninterested in being a part of that kind of society, with those covenants. The terrestrial kingdom is the place for the people who were good people, but who aren’t yet at a place where they can be trusted with the powers of godliness. They still have personal issues to work through and overcome before God can be certain that they won’t abuse the position. Plenty of people in this world are basically good people, even very good people, but still end up failing the test of holding power over others. That’s the terrestrial kingdom, where you’ve mastered basic ethics and how to treat other people and love and kindness and goodness and overcoming temptation and not giving in to lusts but rather being the master of your own desires, but you still need to work on higher laws and training yourself out of ingrained habits and ways of thinking.

    Of course, I also believe in progression between kingdoms, so I believe that everyone who *wants* to ascend to godhood and is *willing* to become the type of person that God insists they become in order to be trusted with those powers ends up in the highest degree of the celestial kingdom, making the covenants that are necessary to be given access to that power. Anybody who is left out is left out because of their own conscious (and continuous!) choices.

    As I said, it’s not orthodox, but it is what I believe to be true.

  5. Jacob H. says:

    I believe D&C 131:1 in our readings misrepresents what Joseph was saying; he wasn’t revealing some esoteric new truths about heaven, but rather “celestial” here should be understood as “heavenly”. Thus, he’s just mentioning the same 3 degrees of glory we are used to and saying that the highest is reserved for polygamists (or whatever the “new and everlasting covenant of marriage” is)

  6. Rockwell says:

    I agree with Jacob H., but I no longer have the data to back it up. There was some discussion somewhere either in a blog or dialog article or both that showed that early in the church folks did not interpret D&C 131 to be talking about anything other than the same degrees of glory that are typically discussed. It seems like as the terminology of the three kingdoms solidified in the LDS lexicon, the meaning of having three degrees within the Celestial kingdom changed. So as the meaning of the words changed, but the text is the same, and as a result we have a different interpretation now than what was originally intended.

  7. I think of the kingdoms as differing in how close or far they are to living with God. Not everybody is going to want to live right in God’s presence; some folks will choose a bit of distance and not so much…responsibility?…as Celestial folks will choose. In the end it will come down to where we want to be.

  8. Happy Hubby says:

    That is an interesting question. What is the difference between the person that just made the cutoff into the celestial kingdom and the summa cum laude of the terrestrial kingdom? I think that is what you are asking.

    It seems to me that we only really talk about getting into the celestial kingdom and even really talking about anything else is just not worth the time. It seems to me not much has been really revealed or even speculated on. So after voting for “Access to God”, I now think I might be more of the “I can’t imagine a difference, so there probably isn’t one” camp.

    I do like what I recall Robert Kirby of the SLTrib said, “Life gets a lot easier and enjoyable when you just accept that you are headed to the terrestrial kingdom.”

  9. I chose access to God because that is what I’ve been taught: God the Father and Jesus Christ are in the Celestial K., but only Jesus will visit the TerrestrIal K. I wonder, though, does that mean that Heavenly Mother is only in the CK? Will everyone in the terrestrial and telestial Kingdoms not get to live with their HM? This makes me sad.

  10. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    I’ve come to the conclusion that the Church really only believes in 2 levels – Heaven and Hell. Even though we trick ourselves into believing that Hell is an outlier, LDS discourse treats everything other than the highest level of the highest level as Hell. Maybe it’s not that there are multiple levels of glory, but that there is one level of glory (the top tier of CK), with multiple levels of misery. That’s my reading of the implicit discourse by Church leaders.

  11. I believe the whole “three degrees of glory” is looking beyond the mark. We may be able to set ourselves in that general direction, but the judgement for who goes where is an entire lifetime beyond this one away. We should be much more concerned with the Paradise/Spirit Prison (aka Heaven/Hell) judgement that awaits us after this life where we can grow and change and be sealed (by mortals) into families. So much can change just in our mortal lifetimes in who we love and who we want to be part of our family that trying to set it in stone (especially in casting out parts we don’t think we need) should be avoided.

  12. I think JS eventually thought there were 12 divisions, divided up somehow (maybe) between the three kingdoms. But I also believe that Wilford Woodruff vitiated the whole system. As anti-Augustinian as you can get, nearly everyone will end up exalted.

  13. HeavenIsaMystery says:

    I just want to go where there is dinosaur breeding. Whoever gets the largest sauropod species wins. That is the pinnacle of the celestial kingdom.

  14. Bill, a quick question re: “As anti-Augustinian as you can get, nearly everyone will end up exalted.” That’s you speaking, right? (Or are you attributing it to Woodruff? Or Joseph?)

  15. The parable of the sower is a type and shadow outlining the Plan of Salvation and includes the 3 levels in the CK too. As for the difference between bottom 2 tiers of CK and Terr K, scriptures indicate something to do with the Father but we don’t really know what that means.

  16. I am very pleased to see that most people think everyone will make it. I have thought that for a long time and believe it is an obvious outcome based on our doctrine.

  17. I don’t know how to respond – and therefore haven’t – because Kevin Barney (and others, don’t heap all the blame on him) has convinced me that the lower two tiers of the Celestial Kingdom don’t exist. For a refresher on the idea, here are two relevant BCC posts:

  18. I couldn’t vote as I have no idea. Neither in terms of official church doctrine nor in terms of my own personal beliefs. And to be honest, I don’t think any of the rest of you do either. It’s all just speculation.

  19. I also didn’t vote for the same reason: I remembered Kevin’s posts and now think the “three subdivisions” thing is hooey.

  20. jaxjensen says:

    “I am very pleased to see that most people think everyone will make it” I don’t. In my life I’ve never personally met someone I thought would end up in the Celestial Kingdom… including myself. There are specific rules to live there, that we’ve covenanted to follow, and I have never met a single person following them (I’ve met very, very few even willing to give it a try!).

    By extension of this, I’ve never met a single person who I think will be sealed to their family since that blessing is predicated upon our faithfulness in following those same rules… ergo, not faithful enough to earn CK = not faithful enough to have sealing be in effect. Also, don’t count on those principalities, thrones, or dominions.

    So, the difference between the kingdoms??? One of them is only a pipe dream for us… not because we CAN’T get there, but because we have collectively chosen that it isn’t worth the effort.

  21. jax,
    How do you feel about the role of grace in salvation?

  22. @WVS,

    “I think JS eventually thought there were 12 divisions” – I’ve never heard this idea, I’m assuming you got this from somewhere? If so, can you point me/us to a reference?

    I knew the whole doctrine of the Book of Mormon “For behold, this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors.” and “then cometh the night of darkness wherein there can be no labor performed” had fallen out of favor, but I am surprised by as much as the poll is showing – more than 50%!

    Unless people have something radically different than the obvious meaning of the poll option, this concept rejects the Book of Mormon teaching and reduces mortality to getting a physical body, and in the end nothing else we do in mortality really matters. Is that really what so many of you believe? Genuinely curious.

    Perhaps it is the result of BCC readership leaning toward a more religiously liberal viewpoint in comparison to the average church member, but those numbers do surprise me.

  23. jaxjensen says:

    John C,

    I think it is His grace that offers us the chance/choice at salvation. He is graceful enough to show us the path (the Covenant Path if you will) to follow and invites/helps us to follow it. Since we then decide not to follow it til the very end, choosing not to follow those covenants, then grace, though offered, is rejected by us.

    The temple literally has the covenants laid out in a path for us… “follow these to get to the terrestrial, then follow these to get to celestial.” We have a lot of people who follow right near the end… but I have yet to meet a person who follows the path laid out to get to the CK.

  24. jax,
    I find that outlook incredibly bleak. I guess I’m glad it works for you, but I guess I just don’t believe that God would create a plan to exclude most of his children.

  25. jaxjensen says:

    John C,

    I don’t believe He is excluding us… but that we are rejecting Him.

  26. Ryan Mullen says:

    Steve LHJ,

    Joseph’s vision of three degrees of glory is beautiful in its simplicity, but like his conception of sealed relationships (cf. Stapley’s The Power of Godliness), this simplicity is in tension with the complexity of lived human experience. I simply don’t believe that 8-100 years of mortality is enough “testing” to definitively sort people into eternal, unchanging categories. The reading of D&C 131 to support Celestial subcategories is so appealing, I think, precisely because we all know good, faithful Saints who have not entered into the new & everlasting covenant of marriage. And I am (we are?) not comfortable excluding them from the the CK. Joseph apparently felt this way about Alvin, too, with respect to baptism, which caused him and us to temper the BoM passage you cite with the belief that those in spirit prison can repent.


    Once upon a time I believed something similar to what you outline. Ultimately, it led me to develop a deep-seated hatred of God. While there are scriptural threads that can support that viewpoint, there are also many that support us being saved from our imperfections by grace.

  27. Ryan Mullen,

    I agree with you, D&C 76 is a snapshot, an expansion on the traditional heaven hell model that came before it, but given the realities of life as you have expressed, I too believe there is much more to the story. At the same time, intuitively it feels very wrong to me to reduce mortality’s necessity only to getting a physical body. I think the scriptures are clear that this is the period of probation, this is the test, or in other words this sphere and what we do here is in some way essential to our eternal journey and destiny. That is in tension with the oddness of comparing infinity to a mere 8-100 years, but much like quantum mechanics and relativity, I see both as being essentially true and both ultimately reconcilable with greater light and knowledge not yet understood. I believe our choices in mortality do really matter in the end, I also believe God’s plan wouldn’t be so myopic as to only be able to save a few of his children – or in other words I believe both justice and mercy will see their full measure in the grand plan.

  28. Left Field says:

    On October 13, 2009 (if you want to check the archives) a Jeopardy! clue in the category “The Afterlife” was:

    “This faith dating from 1830 says everyone except a few God-rejecters will see glory in the afterlife”

    All three contestants stood there dumbfounded, and then looked even more baffled after Alex revealed the correct question.

  29. jaxjensen says:

    ““This faith dating from 1830 says everyone except a few God-rejecters will see glory in the afterlife” Because the telestial and Terrestrial kingdoms are also kingdoms of glory… just not as “bright” So all but those cast to outer darkness will “see glory in the afterlife” … just not likely Celestial Glory.

  30. jaxjensen says:

    @ Ryan Mullen…

    I have no hatred toward God. None.

    I’m not sure what you think imperfections have to do with it though. Yes, grace saves us from our imperfections, but not from our willful decisions to not obey. There are plenty of accounts of imperfect people who I believe will go to CK. And entire city of Enoch, those generations after Christ came to Bountiful, etc. All imperfect, all having committed sin, … all living in a manner consistent with the CK. Us? Not living in that manner, repeatedly rejected living it, will choose to reject it for the foreseeable future.

  31. it's a series of tubes says:

    Jax, as you are no doubt aware, the cold, hard calculus of human mortality throughout history means that the bulk of humanity ends up in the celestial kingdom per D&C 137:10.

    I’ve always liked this article. Yes, it’s as old as I am, and yes, it’s the Ensign (back when it had substance), and yes, it’s BRM, but also yes, it’s pretty thorough and emphatic.

  32. Not only do I believe in a God that loves us enough that He could come up with a plan that would save us all, I think He is smart enough to come up with a plan that would save us all. And by “save” I mean exalt.

  33. Jared Livesey says:

    Some will not be saved – “will,” meaning it is a choice, competently made, by those who have had what it means to be saved revealed to them. God accepts that choice.

    The accuser had the plan to save us all – regardless of what we want.

    D&C 76 does not say repentance is possible in the eternal world, thus there is no contradiction between it and the Book of Mormon.

    Jesus said nobody enters the kingdom of God except he fulfills – does all things commanded in – the law and commandments he gave in the Sermon on the Mount.

    Nobody can fulfill the Sermon on the Mount – that is, nobody can perform the deeds commanded therein – in the eternal world. Hence the saying “the night [death] cometh, wherein no man can work.”

  34. Lily, I couldn’t agree more!
    I think that we get to pick where we will go. If we want something bad enough, we are willing to make the sacrifices to have it. It goes with the goal to lose weight, take that trip to Romania, or where to be in eternity. However, I don’t think this span of the existence is the only chance to choose. That would be like asking a small child if she/he doesn’t want to learn to cook at age 8 then she/he is doomed and will never learn it. Growth will always be an option if one pursues it.

  35. Ryan Mullen says:


    “grace saves us from our imperfections, but not from our willful decisions to not obey.” Our willful decisions to not obey ARE our imperfections. No one is failing to get into heaven on their own merits b/c they scored a 99% on an algebra test or can only hit 5-of-10 from the free throw line. We fail because we rebel, each in our own circumstances and each for our own reasons. Grace covers that rebellion.

    “There are plenty of accounts of imperfect people who I believe will go to CK. And entire city of Enoch, those generations after Christ came to Bountiful, etc.” I’d posit that a theology that only works for quasi-mythical cities of quasi-perfect peoples isn’t helpful. Jesus might as well have not atoned if his atonement is as inaccessible as you claim here.

  36. jaxjensen says:

    “I think that we get to pick where we will go. If we want something bad enough, we are willing to make the sacrifices to have it.” Yes, this is happening right now… we are picking now. And we obviously don’t want the CK bad enough to sacrifice for it. The path is laid out for us in the temple, the sacrifices spelled out for us, and I don’t know a single LDS person who makes those sacrifices. By choosing not to sacrifice now what we’ve covenanted to give, we are choosing daily to NOT go to the CK. We don’t have to be perfect… we could make mistakes at it, or even have it fail entirely. But by choosing to not even give it a try, I believe that we have picked where we will go…

    Now there are probably lots of non-LDS people I’ve met who will go. Why? Because they DO live up to the entirety of the knowledge they’ve been given. Sure they drink, smoke, curse, etc… but they never covenanted NOT to… I think by living 100% up to their beliefs that they will largely do better than us who just casually accept that we won’t. So maybe I have met people I think will go to the CK, but I am not an accurate enough judge to say which ones they might be… to distinguish them out at all.

  37. jaxjensen,
    What you describe makes missionary work actually harmful to people. They would be better off without knowledge of the gospel.

  38. jaxjensen says:

    John… You’ve never thought to yourself, “with only a 30% retention rate we’re just baptizing people to keep commitments they aren’t remotely likely to keep.” ?? I have, but still, it is their choice to keep them or not. Just as it is ours, and we choose not to.

  39. Time to repent must include the next life, else why have the theology that people can be brought out of Spirit Prison/Hell into Paradise? We talk often of the work that will be/is being done on the “other side”.

    It seems more when the scripture talks of “this life” it means the lifetime of this Earth, which includes the millennial reign.

  40. Just as the physical act alone of baptism will not save someone if it doesn’t come with true conversion, I doubt that the physical act of baptism will condemn anyone because they have made covenants if it didn’t come with true conversion. Ordinances like baptism are real and powerful, but they’re not magic. They ratify spiritual commitments, but without the spiritual commitment having been made they’re just dead works. And just as dead works can’t save, I don’t believe dead works can effectively invoke a higher condemnation. Sure, a person that has actually experienced true conversion and then falls from grace may have a higher condemnation, but a person that was never truly converted? I doubt it.

  41. I think the idea of covenants as contracts is fundamentally wrong. God doesn’t need to make agreements with us, and any agreement with us does not bind him in any way that he would be unwilling to bless us absent the agreement. The agreement would never change God’s actions. His goal is to help us get to exaltation, and if there is utility in our covenants, it is that they help US to feel more focused or committed. I think they are largely symbolic and mostly only important in the degree to which they help us to move forward. I don’t think anyone gets into–or gets excluded from–heaven because of deals or commitments, but rather on actions and intentions.

    Like many others, I think that there is always room for progression within and between degrees of glory. I tend to think of heaven as a long series of training courses before we get our world-building/governing permit. Demonstrating competence–and compassion and love and so forth–in each area moves us forward. Maybe there are Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3 (and 3a, 3b, 3c) certifications, but there are innumerable points of progression within each of those.

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