How Many Degrees of Glory?

March 25, 2009    By: Jacob J @ 1:09 am   Category: Eternal Progression

On Matt’s “crazy things you believe” thread several people mentioned that they don’t believe there are actually three degrees of glory, but instead see the three degrees of glory from D&C 76 as being symbolic of an infinite gradation of glory in the world to come (as Matt suggested in #5 of the original post). Although I have argued for an infinite gradation of glory in the next life, I have not abandoned the traditional three degrees. Here’s why.

I view salvation as a fundamentally social endeavor. Sanctification, in my mind, is primarily about learning to live with other people. The problem is that societies cannot progress beyond certain points without eventually setting some minimum requirements for membership. If you let in all the riffraff they will hose things up. Case in point: Earth.

Have you ever stopped to think about how much society is affected by the riffraff? People steal things, so we have to put locks on virtually everything. People murder strangers, kidnap children, and sell bogus stuff on eBay. Identity theft costs society tens of billions of dollars every year. I don’t pick up stranded people because it is too dangerous to invite a stranger into my car. There is enough food to feed the hungry people in the world and people willing to donate it, but corrupt governments prevent aid from being delivered to the people who need it. Ethnic wars ravage countries for decades, destroying the lives of countless people.

Of course, if we were to able to annihilate all the thieves, murderers, racists, rapists, dictators, and people who sell bogus stuff on eBay, we would still have problems in society, but a whole bunch of the problems we have now would simply disappear. A whole host of possible solutions to current societal problems would open themselves up if we didn’t have to worry about malicious people coming along to thwart our efforts. We become so accustomed to the world as it is that I don’t think we stop to realize how often we are governed by the lowest common denominator.

The application to degrees of glory should be fairly obvious. If salvation is a social enterprise, then people of (infinitely) varying degrees of glory in the afterlife still need to have a sphere in which they interact with other people and these spheres can’t always include everyone. This naturally leads to the idea of groups of people at roughly the same level of progression. Thus, while I expect there is effectively an infinite gradation of glory for individuals, I also expect that there are major divisions which govern the societies in which an individual can participate. Celestial society simply ceases to be celestial if there is someone in there backbiting and trying to manipulate everyone else to their own advantage.

It is interesting that D&C 76 speaks of the celestial participants saying that “they see as they are seen, and know as they are known, having received of his fullness and he makes them equal in power, and in might, and in dominion. And the glory of the celestial is one” (D&C 76:94-96). We get a picture of unity, harmony, oneness, openess, and benevolently wielded power. By contrast, those in the telestial glory differ in glory, “for as one star differs from another star in glory, even so differs one from another in glory in the telestial world” (D&C 76:98). In one of my favorite passages of scripture, D&C 121 explains that God can only entrust us with power if we are prepared to exercise that power through principles of righteousness: persuasion, long-suffering, gentleness, meekness, love (unfaked), kindness and so forth. The reason we have been called but not chosen, it says, is that we have failed to learn that one lesson.

We live in a telestial world where people vary tremendously in their levels of righteousness. If what I’ve been told about the ushering in of the millennium is to be believed, even God cannot make this world terrestrial without first clearing out some of the riffraff (D&C 43:30-33). And so, I see the three degrees as serving a valuable purpose in teaching us about the nature of salvation and progression. Even if people’s individual glory is infinitely graded, I think the three degrees of glory play an important role in our soteriology, reminding us that we cannot be saved alone and that heavenly society requires every person to be heavenly.


  1. Interesting take. I agree.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — March 25, 2009 @ 4:05 am

  2. I would venture to say that those who believe in infinitely gradated degrees of glory are right: but as you pointed out here, those infinitely gradated degrees are all in the Telestial kingdom. In order to exist in the Terrestrial or Celestial kingdoms, you have to be willing to be one.

    Comment by SilverRain — March 25, 2009 @ 6:12 am

  3. To add to your list of links, I also posted on the subject of the degrees of glory being a continuum a mere four years ago.

    Comment by Geoff J — March 25, 2009 @ 8:31 am

  4. SilverRain,

    I would be interested in your reasoning for saying the terrestrial kingdom requires oneness. I assume there is gradation within the terrestrial kingdom as well as the telestial. D&C 76 is interesting on this:

    96 And the glory of the celestial is one, even as the glory of the asun is one.
    97 And the glory of the terrestrial is one, even as the glory of the moon is one.
    98 And the glory of the telestial is one, even as the glory of the stars is one; for as one star differs from another star in glory, even so differs one from another in glory in the telestial world;

    Notice that it says all three have a glory that is “one,” but the glory of the telestial is one in the same way as the stars (many different glories), the glory of the terrestrial is one like the moon and the glory of the celestial is one like the sun (equal in power, might, dominion). It doesn’t really say anything to clarify the “one” glory of the terrestrial, but given the phases of the moon, the analogy seems to imply a range within the terrestrial as well as the telestial.

    Geoff, I like that old post and agree with it. I realized when I read Matt’s post that I have rarely seen anyone take the next step to articulate the reason for having three degrees in heaven if there are actually infinite degrees of glory on an individual basis.

    Comment by Jacob J — March 25, 2009 @ 8:42 am

  5. Jacob I don’t really disagree with anything you said here. I guess my thought for the opposition is that if you took an string of a jillion degrees of glory and stuck them in a row, you can cut it into three pieces, sure, but what’s the difference between the guy on one side of the line from the guy right next to him on the other side? Are there Hard and Fast things that segregate the degrees, or is it just “I’m sorry, you are only 37.43% glorious, and you needed 37.44% to get to the next kingdom.”.

    Comment by Matt W. — March 25, 2009 @ 11:11 am

  6. There are three kinds of people: those who believe in three degrees of glory and those who don’t.

    Comment by Steve Evans — March 25, 2009 @ 11:40 am

  7. I believe there are infinite gradations of mini-degrees that are placed within closed systems or kingdoms. This is why the scripture describes the telestial as various stars that shine at different levels.
    Early Jewish/Christian writings, such as the Apocalypse of Paul, and the Ascension of Isaiah, also strongly suggest a limited number of levels (they both suggest 10 levels). As Jesus descended the levels (in Asc of Isaiah), his glory changed to match those beings he was with.

    Comment by Rameumptom — March 25, 2009 @ 12:24 pm

  8. these spheres can’t always include everyone.

    Why not? Is the implication that it’s due to limitations of time or space?

    Comment by Eric Russell — March 25, 2009 @ 12:42 pm

  9. Great post! I think you’re right on. I really think it’s an issue of seeing the afterlife not as God bestowing Glory upon us, but as us becoming more glorious and perfect. “Keeping out the riff-raf” really does open doors for people to progress. I just might get a lot better at stopping to help people on the road with flat tires if I know I’m in a society with no murderers. I’d be more easily able to learn to love more, if I knew for sure that those around me were also genuinely trying to live the gospel and improve.

    Comment by CoriAnton — March 25, 2009 @ 1:08 pm

  10. #4 Jacob—The “glory” of the moon is always the same, the phases are not real to the moon itself, they are only an observed effect of the rotation of the earth and moon.

    I have always felt it to mean that the Celestial are one as the sun: shining from glory and power in and of themselves, because God is in them. The moon is also one body, but its power reflects the glory of God, rather than sharing it, as they have accepted Christ (the fruits of God’s glory) but denied the fullness of the Father. The stars glow with their own glory, as they have suffered for the full extent of their own sins, but their glory and power is thence weak and varied.

    I may be wrong in this feeling, as I’ve neither prayed about it nor thought a great deal about it, it is just the impression I have always had.

    Comment by SilverRain — March 25, 2009 @ 1:26 pm

  11. Oh . . . and for those wondering where the string is cut, so to speak, it is clearly described in D&C 76. Three degrees: Telestial=accept Holy Spirit; Terrestrial=accept Christ, Celestial=accept fullness of the Father.

    Comment by SilverRain — March 25, 2009 @ 1:28 pm

  12. . . . and of course: Outer Darkness: accept no portion of the Godhood.

    Comment by SilverRain — March 25, 2009 @ 1:29 pm

  13. my personal heresy is that I see the terrestrial and telestial kingdoms as being rhetoric, rather than reality. FWIW

    Comment by John C. — March 25, 2009 @ 2:17 pm

  14. What if it’s not hierarchical?

    Due to the death rate of infants (up to 8 years) since Adam and Eve there is are going to be a heck of a lot more ‘non-Mormons’ in the Celestial kingdom than ‘Mormons’. [Assume 2 infant deaths per couple and 100 Billion parents since Adam – that’s 100 Billion ‘non-Mormons’; How many ‘Mormons’ will there be? 1 Billion? 10 Billion? ]

    Comment by ed42 — March 25, 2009 @ 4:16 pm

  15. Matt, You raise a reasonable objection. I tend to see the celestial kingdom as having very rigid and specific requirements. Stuff like being all-benevolent. However, I see the lower kingdoms as being much looser, with the telestial kingdom having a very wide range of glories. Even if the number 3 turns out to be a fiction, I think the concept of needing to progress by interacting with people of similar progression to be a meaningful aspect of our view of the afterlife.

    Eric Russell #8: Why not? Is the implication that it’s due to limitations of time or space?

    Neither, I am suggesting it is the nature of human interaction that a single bad apple spoils, to some extent, the whole bunch. I tried to give a bunch of examples of that in the post. The reason you can’t invite all the telestials to the celestial kingdom is that they ruin it when they get there.

    CoriAnton, exactly.

    SilverRain: The “glory” of the moon is always the same, the phases are not real to the moon itself, they are only an observed effect of the rotation of the earth and moon.

    Well, yes, it is an analogy drawing on our experience with the sun moon and starts. Part of the analogy (as explicated in D&C 76) relies on the fact that the sun is very bright in comparison to stars. And yet, it doesn’t undermine the analogy to point out that stars are actually as bright or often brighter than the sun, only very far away. The dimness of the stars is “not real to the starts themselves” either, but just an observed effect based on their distance from the observer. This is the standard problem with analogies. They suck at explaining things.

    Anyway, your interpretation is fine, even if it is different than mine. Thanks for sharing it. The only idea in your interpretation that I really take issue with is the idea that telestials “suffer the full extent of their own sins.” I strongly reject that idea because I think it relies on an incorrect idea about sin, suffering, and repentance. My very first guest post at NCT was on that subject.

    Comment by Jacob J — March 25, 2009 @ 4:36 pm

  16. ed42,

    John C mentioned personal heresy. You have stumbled on to one of mine.

    Comment by Jacob J — March 25, 2009 @ 4:38 pm

  17. Jacob, good to go, just making sure.

    Celestial society simply ceases to be celestial if there is someone in there backbiting and trying to manipulate everyone else to their own advantage.

    This seems to suggest that the real nature of society is determined by how we are acted upon, but what if it’s actually determined by how we respond to others?

    If celestial people are highly benevolent then they will be more patient, more forgiving and more at peace even in the midst of evil and cantankerous people. You could almost define the celestial person as the one who is happy even in the midst of irritating people while the telestial person is he who is constantly angered, offended and put-off by the doings of his neighbors. Thus, given two men living in the very same society, one perceives it to be heaven because he is so full of love towards his brothers and sisters while the other perceives it to be hell because he constantly feels himself slighted by the actions of those around him.

    The presence of un-celestial people does not reduce the celestial nature of the celestial man’s society except in the literal sense. And I’m not sure that that literal sense is the form in which we must understand it.

    Comment by Eric Russell — March 25, 2009 @ 6:12 pm

  18. 1) Those who actively seek to do bad things;

    2) Those who really don’t care enough to try to understand good and bad and follow good;

    3) Those who actively seek to do good things.

    Those are my own descriptions, but I don’t see any “small distinctions” or gradations in these categories, and I’m fairly certain the differences are obvious when the filters are removed and the mists are cleared away. I’m also fairly certain most of will be surprised at some of the people who will be with us wherever we end up – and I’m fairly certain that the composition in Celestial Kingdom will the most surprising to most Mormons.

    Comment by Ray — March 25, 2009 @ 7:50 pm

  19. Eric,

    I agree with you about what it means to be a celestial person and I agree you can be a celestial person even when surrounded by telestial people. However, I don’t believe you can have a celestial relationship with a telestial person. I believe there is a oneness and sharing between celestial persons into which telestial people cannot be included without ruining the oneness and mutual love.


    Every person I know regularly falls into all three of your categories at various times throughout the week. This provides at least one easy way to have gradations as we judge people against your descriptions. Another easy way to get gradations within these categories is to notice that “bad things” are not created equally. Thus, we judge people who actively seek to do terrible things to be worse than those who actively seek to do moderately bad things, even though both fall into category 1.

    Comment by Jacob J — March 25, 2009 @ 10:04 pm

  20. If we are all immortals then I tend to go with John C’s heresy (as I have recently noted).

    I suppose that if universalism proves an accurate theory then the three degrees apply to mortals behind veils (like us) only.

    Comment by Geoff J — March 25, 2009 @ 11:55 pm

  21. Jacob J: Can you be Celestial at your relationship with some people and only telestial with others? Or is it when you reach the ability to have celestial awesomeness with everyone that you hit 100% Glorious and can cross into the Celestial Kingdom? Is a relationship celestial because it is between two celestial people with celestial qualities, or is it celestial because the two people treat that one relationship that way, even if their other relationships are not?

    Comment by Matt W. — March 26, 2009 @ 9:10 am

  22. Matt, I take it that God has a celestial relationship with other members of the godhead, but not with me. Certainly celestial people continue to interact with telestials in our theology. Celestial relationships require two celestial people, but it is not just that they are both celestial, it is that their being celestial makes a more intimate, loving, and fulfilling relationship possible than what can be had with a telestial. I suspect most anyone’s extended families will provide me plenty of examples of this.

    Comment by Jacob J — March 26, 2009 @ 9:33 am

  23. Matt W #21, the Ascension of Isaiah and other ancient texts show that as Jesus and others descend or ascend through the heavens, their glory changes accordingly.
    For instance, as Jesus descends, he empties himself of glory so as to be akin those in the lower realms. Suddenly, they are able to comfortably be in His presence and relate to him on their level. A celestial person cannot relate to telestial on a celestial level, as they cannot bear the purity and glory of that relationship. It, as with the glory of the individual, must be reduced, so that they can bear it. Milk before meat, etc.

    Comment by Rameumptom — March 26, 2009 @ 9:54 am

  24. In the ascension of Isaiah doesn’t Isaiah get sawn in half with a wooden saw? Ouch.

    Comment by Jacob J — March 26, 2009 @ 11:21 am

  25. Jacob: My question probably wasn’t very clear. Let me try and put it another way. A celestial person , like God, gives of himself 100% to others all the time. The Difference between kingdoms, in your view, is that everyone will be bought into this type of being and be giving of themselves 100% to everyone else. What if I give 100% of myself to some others, but not all? What If I am only willing to give 100% to the 90 and 9, but that NewCoolThang bunch, I’m not letting them in the sand box because they are going to treat it like kitty litter. ie- If I am not willing to give 100% of myself even to the people in Outer Darkness, then am I not worthy of celestial glory? (I just realized that I am comparing us to the SOP… nice.)

    Rameumptom- Interesting. I wonder though, if that is so, why don’t we all just empty ourselves of Glory so everyone can be comfortable? And if Glory is associated with (synonymous with?) righteousness, then does that mean Jesus is emptying himself of Goodness so he can be evil enough to hang out with Hitler?

    Comment by Matt W. — March 26, 2009 @ 1:19 pm

  26. Matt,

    I guess the problem I have with your suggestion is that I don’t think giving everyone 100% entails letting them treat the sandbox like a kitty litter. If it did, no one could ever enjoy a sandbox. Instead, I believe giving 100% entails being willing to help cats to learn the difference between a sandbox and a kitty litter, afterwhich they can be invited to play in the sandbox. I think the plan of salvation along with our understanding of the degrees of glory as having entrance requirements go a long way toward recommending this view.

    Comment by Jacob J — March 26, 2009 @ 1:58 pm

  27. I could not agree more.
    The cat/sandbox thing is a great analogy.

    Comment by Bruce in Montana — March 26, 2009 @ 3:57 pm

  28. Fair enough Jacob, but on my end to be a celestial being I need to be 100% willing to be in a celestial relationship with everyone and willing to help them get to that point themselves, even if they are unwilling to do the same.

    Also to you, the three degrees are definitely separated by space, so these relationship issues are probably not much of an issue, outside of ministering.

    Comment by Matt W. — March 27, 2009 @ 5:54 am

  29. the three degrees are definitely separated by space

    Is this an assertion you are making? If so, what makes this definite in your mind? I take that to be a highly speculative assertion (which is cool, no problem with speculative, just that you said “definite” in there so I have to ask).

    Comment by Jacob J — March 27, 2009 @ 10:26 am

  30. I was assuming that from what you were saying.

    Comment by Matt W. — March 27, 2009 @ 11:05 am

  31. #25 Matt W,

    The reason why all do not empty themselves down to the lowest common denominator is that we cannot experience a fullness of the Father’s glory in that way. We would not be able to have celestial relationships without being filled with the glory of the Father. We also would not have the power to create new worlds, etc.
    It is worth emptying oneself of such glory on occasion to enjoy the friendship and presence of loved ones that did not make it all the way (yet, if there is progression between kingdoms). It also allows those of higher glories to teach and encourage those in the lower kingdoms as suggested by D&C 76.

    Comment by Rameumptom — March 27, 2009 @ 11:07 am

  32. When the scriptures talk about the various glories being “one” (respectively) are they denoting sovereignty? Or are they suggesting that they each have their own peculiar brand of “oneness?” If it is the latter then my take is: It’s possible to experience varying kinds of oneness depending on the persona(s) that we are privileged to be part of.

    In the lower orders we probably won’t experience much more than being our unique selves. In higher orders we may identify with larger identities as if they were our own–as in how the righteous respond to the name of Christ according to King Benjamin’s sermon (never losing track of our unique selves, of course).

    Comment by Jack — March 28, 2009 @ 7:02 pm

  33. I received this in an email from JJ Dewey.. Food for thought:

    There are indeed three kingdoms plus those “higher than the celestial” that Joseph spoke of. The three kingdoms are the same as the three kingdoms spoken of by DK. He calls them the three worlds of form.

    The first world is the physical/etheric, or the Telestial. The scriptures says that this world is ministered to by the Holy Spirit and is composed of those who “love and make a lie.” It is compared to the stars with the notation that one star differs from another. In this kingdom there is no equality as every person differs. Some have much some have little. Some have health, others affliction etc.

    This is the world in which we live and the highest we normally attain is the ministration of the Holy Spirit after opening the door through soul contact. All around us are those who love and make a lie.”

    The teaching is that the higher can visit the lower, but the lower cannot enter the higher kingdoms and thus it is.

    In this telestial kingdom we have inhabitants from all three spheres. It is composed mostly of very earthly, telestial inhabitants, but we have a number of visitors from the terrestrial and celestial spheres to teach us and help us upon our way. Of course, when they incarnate they appear as normal humans.

    If you are a terrestrial or celestial person living in this telestial world you are still in the higher kingdom because that is where your consciousness is. The kingdoms are more a state of being than a physical location.

    To find the terrestrial kingdom from here a person does not get there by going to a location so much as much as going to a vibration. At death, if the person is vibrating at the terrestrial level, he will enter the terrestrial at death.

    The astral world is created of emotional matter and has two major divisions called by the LDS paradise and spirit prison. Those of telestial consciousness go to the sprit prison, which are the lower three spheres of the astral world and governed by the lower emotions. Those people of honor, but still deceived by the craftiness of men, go to one of the upper four spheres or worlds. This is the Terrestrial kingdom.

    A celestial person is one who has developed his mind and reason and can see through the craftiness of men. At death he goes to a celestial world created of mental matter, much more refined than the astral.

    Above this are four levels of the “formless worlds” where creation has its beginnings.

    You therefore do not enter the higher worlds through reincarnation, but the lessons learned through multiple lives increases light so the entity eventually moves in consciousness from one kingdom to another.

    Comment by MrNirom — April 1, 2009 @ 12:12 am

  34. What’s up with the long JJ Dewey quotes? Is MrNirom JJ Dewey?

    Comment by Geoff J — April 1, 2009 @ 8:22 am

  35. No.. I am not JJ. I was just adding a comment but felt that I could not say it any better than JJ said it, so I quoted him… that’s all.

    Comment by MrNirom — April 1, 2009 @ 9:05 am

  36. I love that quote is there any references of were we can find any of those things? How accurate are they? They put alot of light on the Egyptian beliefs of 7/10 heavens and how things could fit together.

    The higher order than even celestial can be found from D&C 130 – talking about the urim of thummin used to see higher orders of things than the celestial world.

    Know this was a while ago but maybe someone knows how accurate it is…Does this mean that all the kingdoms are on the same planet? I would say no or else the world could not be celestialized. But is it referring to just being able to see them or be in their presence while before moving our vibrations we are invisible to them until we allow them to see us. For they are always in the presence of us for all things will be before us. But to them we are hidden.

    According to the Ascension of Isaiah, He tells of the first 5 heavens of inequality (degradation) and the other 2 where god dwells w/ no variation of angels on the right and left side of the throne (right being more glorious and left being less glorious then the right side) yet It does say that Christ sat down on the right hand of god while the holy spirit sits on the left if i remember right. It describes the praises of the ones in the 6th and 7th heavens as responding more glorious with praises than the lower while being in unison. But the lower 5 were not in unison. So in this sense it suggests the oneness talked about only in the higher kingdoms. Hope i didnt miss quote anything.

    Comment by Curtis H — October 5, 2009 @ 1:11 pm

  37. Curtis H,

    MrNirom is not a regular here, so you won’t likely get a response from him. As to how accurate his quote is, it is a big ball of speculation without anything offered in support, so who can say? However, I will say whenever I see gems like these:

    To find the terrestrial kingdom from here a person does not get there by going to a location so much as much as going to a vibration.

    The astral world is created of emotional matter

    I steer clear.

    Comment by Jacob J — October 5, 2009 @ 5:21 pm