Three Levels of Heaven?
by James White
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter- day
Saints teaches that there are three levels of heaven: the
celestial (the highest), the terrestial (the middle), and the
telestial (the lowest). The clearest teaching concerning this
is found in section 76 of the Doctrine and Covenants. Mormons
refer to 1 Corinthians 15:40-41 as Biblical support for
this teaching. But did Paul believe in three levels of heaven?
Lets examine that.
The King James Version translates this passage
“There are also celestial bodies, and bodies
terrestial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the
glory of the terrestial is another. There is one glory of
the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of
the stars: for one star differeth from another star in
The Mormon church has latched on to the terms
“celestial” and “terrestial” in its teaching of various levels
of heaven. The third word, “telestial” is not even an English
word, but was created by the imagination of Joseph Smith by
combining the first two letters of “terrestial” with the last
seven letters of “celestial.” A much clearer translation of
the above passage is provided by the New American Standard
“There are also heavenly bodies and earthly
bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one, and the glory
of the earthly is another. There is one glory of the sun,
and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the
stars; for star differs from star in glory.”
No Bible text can be understood outside of the
context in which it is found. Such is also the case here. 1
Corinthians 15 is known as the “resurrection chapter.” Paul is
here discussing the topic of the resurrection of believers.
Notice the two questions he has addressed in this chapter so
far; verse 12 addresses those who did not believe in
resurrection, and verse 35 asks the question, “with what kind
of body do they come?” Paul is still answering this question
in verses 40 and 41. What, then, is Paul’s point?
Paul is here discussing the connection between
our physical body, and the spiritual body we will have at the
resurrection. He maintains that there is definitely a
connection between the two, but the future, glorified body
will far transcend our current physical body in so many ways.
To make his point, he brings in a number of illustrations. One
is the seed and the plant (vs. 36-38), another that of the
flesh of the animal kingdom (v.39). When we come to the verses
under discussion here, we see that he is continuing with the
same train of thought
-here comparing the
glory of heavenly bodies with the glory of earthly bodies.
This verse simply continues his comparison - there is no
reason to believe that all of a sudden he decides to talk
about different levels of heaven! The very next verse
substantiates this quite well:
sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body;
it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in
weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body,
it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body,
there is also a spiritual body.”
“So also is the
resurrection of the dead.
Notice the continued parallelism - perishable,
imperishable; dishonor, glory. Since it is therefore obvious
that Paul is describing the nature of the resurrection body,
and not different levels of heaven, what about the passage at
2 Corinthians 12:2?
This passage reads, in the New American
Standard Bible, “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago
- whether in the body I do not know, or out of the body I do
not know, God knows - such a man was caught up to the third
heaven.” Then, in verse 4 Paul identifies this “third heaven”
as “Paradise.” What is the third heaven?
The Bible does describe three heavens. The
first heaven is that of the sky above us - the atmosphere of
the earth. The second heaven is the abode of the stars and
earth - “space” as we know it. The third heaven, however, was
always the abode of God Himself, “heaven” as we would use the
phrase. This was a common conception in Paul’s time, and was a
convenient way of describing things. Hence, Paul was caught up
into the presence of God, into the “third heaven.”
The teaching that there is a special place
reserved only for people who have completed certain ceremonies
and endowments in a temple on earth, who themselves will
progress to becoming gods themselves, is completely without
support in the Bible, and in fact is flatly and utterly
contradicted by the teachings of God’s Word, the Bible.