My Skype recording application, Pamela, kept acting weird so this talk is three smaller files stitched together.
Some questions I have for Mormons:
- If Joseph Smith and Mormonism already believe that the only explicit post-resurrection hell, outer darknesss, is never-ending, and if the only main New Testament terms that correlate with a post-resurrection hell are Gehenna and lake of fire (and those, not Hades, are described as eternal/everlasting and “forever and ever”), then why did Smith attempt in D&C 19 to redefine the language used in the phrase “eternal damnation”, etc.? Hades, the term for the preparatory holding place of hell, is never described as eternal or everlasting or “forever and ever”, so there was no need for Smith to reorient the plain language. It seems Smith’s teaching was partly based on an ignorance of what particular hell the New Testament spoke of as eternal.
- If I heard him correctly, Ralph spoke of the bottom two heavenly kingdoms as where one experiences the “second death”, where one suffers eternal punishment, spiritual torment, and the wrath and fury of God. If that’s the case, then why even speak of these places in “heavenly” terms? That people in such hellish heavenly kingdoms are happier than those in outer darkness does not sufficiently address the incoherence.
- If, of those who come to earth to experience mortality, only a few dozen people—those who commit the unpardonable sin—will actually go to Gehenna (the only explicit post-resurrection hell; “outer darkness” in Mormonism), why does Jesus so widely warn about the threat of Gehenna for those who do not fight lust and anger, and for those who lead children astray (i.e. Matthew 5:22,29-30)? Why does he so widely warn people to “fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in Gehenna” (Matthew 10:28). Why does he denounce the general groups of the scribes and Pharisees, “How will you escape being condemned to Gehenna?” (Matthew 23:33) Modern Mormonism, contra Jesus, seems to teach that nearly all Pharisees and the scribes will end up in a heavenly kingdom, not Gehenna.
- Some modern Mormons believe that the Celestial kingdom has three partitions, only the top of which, “Church of the Firstborn”, entails the fullness of progression and exaltation. The bottom two Celestial kingdom-partitions seem to entail a cessation of progression and a lack of participation in enjoyments that the more privileged Celestial partition has. If this is the case, and if “damnation” is correctly defined by Mormons as the cessation of progression, then how are the bottom two partitions of the top Celestial Kingdom not a form of damnation? Again, isn’t it odd to speak of people in heaven being damned forever, especially when those people are in the highest of the three general heavenly kingdoms?
Ralph argues that D&C 19 is intended to reinforce and undergird the everlasting duration of hell, but I disagree. On an experiential note, I have simply never heard this kind of Mormon approach to D&C 19. In all my years of interacting with Mormons it has always been used to argue for the temporality of pre-resurrection spirit prison hell.
Notice how George Q. Cannon speaks in Journal of Discourses, v. 24, p. 374, alluding to D&C 19:
“Joseph Smith taught a different doctrine even before the Church was organized. He taught the doctrine, in a revelation given to Martin Harris—it had to be given with great care, because it was entirely different to what was generally believed—that ‘eternal punishment is God’s punishment;’ but it does not follow that those who come under God’s punishment are to be punished throughout the endless ages of eternity. He taught that grand truth in the year 1829. Then it was followed up by the Vision, which explained in the most wonderful manner the goodness of our God, and showed Him to be the being that He is described to be by all the holy Prophets—a being just and merciful, a being who labored to save His children, and had their salvation at heart continually.”
He also alludes to the language of D&C 19 in Journal of Discourses, v. 22, p. 182:
Persecutors generally believe that those whom they persecute are doomed to spend the endless ages of eternity in hell fire, unless they can be made to repent of their errors. Persecution becomes, therefore, with them, in many instances, a highly justifiable and meritorious method of saving souls. This has been the feeling which has impelled many persecutors in every age—a holy, burning zeal to snatch souls from perdition. The men who have been most zealous in hailing men to prison and inflicting torment, have been as a rule, men zealous and sincere in their religion. They thought it better to destroy the body than that the soul should be consigned to hell; they thought it better for heretics to burn an hour or too on earth than that they should burn eternally. But the Latter-day Saints have no such views respecting future punishment? We believe there is an endless hell. We do not, however, believe that human beings are consigned to it eternally. The hell may be endless and the punishment endless, but it does not follow that they who are consigned there are to remain in it eternally. We believe men will be rewarded for the deeds done in the body, and we therefore can afford to be liberal in our views in this respect.
Consider how Joseph Fielding Smith’s interacts with the text:
“Eternal punishment, or endless punishment, does not mean that those who partake of it must endure it forever. ‘It is not written that there shall be no end to this torment, but it is written endless torment. Again, it is written eternal damnation; wherefore it is more express than other scriptures, that it might work upon the hearts of the children of men, altogether for my name’s glory. . . . Behold, the mystery of godliness, how great is it! For, behold, I am endless, and the punishment which is given from my hand is endless punishment, for Endless is my name. Wherefore—Eternal punishment is God’s punishment. Endless punishment is God’s punishment.’ [D&C 19:6–12.]
“The laws of God are immutable, and from this explanation we learn that the same punishment always follows the same offense, according to the laws of God who is eternal and endless, hence it is called, endless punishment, and eternal punishment, because it is the punishment which God has fixed according to unchangeable law. A man may partake of endless torment, and when he has paid the penalty for his transgression, he is released, but the punishment remains and awaits the next culprit, and so on forever” (Doctrines of Salvation, 2:228).
Of all the LDS resources I have poured over (which is a lot; I only list a few), I have not found one example of a Mormon leader interpreting D&C 19 like you have, that it somehow is reinforcing the eternal duration of post-resurrection hell (outer darkness) instead of implicitly ascribing temporality to the pre-resurrection hell of spirit prison. I have even found examples of Mormons using D&C 19 to imply that outer darkness may not be truly everlasting (cf. Brigham Young’s belief that the spirits of men were recycled in outer darkness), but have found none that use the passage to reinforce the everlasting length of one’s time in outer darkness. Again, the majority of sources I have found use it to argue instead for the temporality of the pre-resurrection spirit prison hell.
All that said, I still think you need to explain the part in 19:6 which states, “it is not written that there shall be no end to this torment”. What was the point, the meaning, in writing that?
I sympathize with your desire to take the terms “everlasting” and “eternal” and “endless” at face-value, but that is not what Mormonism has traditionally done in this case. In interacting with Mormons who take the traditional position (that “eternal punishment” refers to a temporary punishment meted out by an eternal God), I wrote elsewhere recently:
It’s hard for me to take a religion seriously when they move the modifying direction of adjectives around like a magician with a ball and three stackable cups. “Eternal life” describes, directly, life. “Eternal punishment” describes, directly, punishment. Mormons (and anyone else) should tremble when garbling God’s grammar.
GB asks, “Could you provide Biblical support for the assumption that Gehenna is a post-resurrection hell? And also that it is ‘the only main’one ‘described as eternal/everlasting and “forever and ever”.
Thanks for asking the fair question.
When the Bible uses the terms Hades or Tartaros, it never describes them with phrases translated as “eternal”, “everlasting”, “endless”, or “day and night forever and ever”, etc. Revelation 20:13-15 teaches that, after the resurrection, those negatively judged out of Hades are thrown along with Hades and Death into the lake of fire, which was described earlier in verse 10 as where people are tormented “day and night forever and ever”. Fire and burning sulfur are the content of the metaphor of Gehenna used (derived from the Valley of Hinnom; read more on the background of that here).
Also, intertestamental Jews considered Gehenna (not Sheol or Hades) as the place of final punishment for the wicked. The first century, Palestinian (somewhat Hellenized) Jewish context of the New Testament is the backdrop and context for the language and cultural categories Jesus appeals to to teach theology.
All that said, I think one is textually and historically driven to make a clear distinction between Hades and Gehenna. The only way one could begin to correlate Mormonism with this distinction is to parallel Hades/Tartaros with spirit prison and Gehenna with outer darkness. I know of no other viable alternatives. Please suggest one. Mormons need one, because correlating Gehenna with outer darkness poses all sorts of theological problems for Mormonism.
Please tell me if I’m not making sense.