Do Mormons Believe in Hell, and Do They Think Baptists Are Going There?


Although my family joined the LDS Church when I was a young child, I was raised around people of many different Christian faiths.  My father’s family were Catholics (if you really pressed the issue).  My grandfather on my mother’s side was a Methodist minister (with a curious agnostic streak).  Much of the rest of my mother’s family leaned towards various Evangelical churches (or, in a pinch, sometimes set up their own).

Despite this religious diversity, my family members had at least one thing in common:  Their view of Heaven or Hell.  More accurately, although they might differ about the nature of Heaven and Hell, they at least agreed that those were the only two options after this life.  If you lived a good life, you went to Heaven, doing heaven knows what, but it most likely involved harps.  If you lived a bad life, you went to Hell, which promised some combination of fire, brimstone, and bad Chinese food.

In truthfulness, everything I have heard from other Christian churches about what happens to us after this life is unsettling, either because it is vague or because it seems…well…unfair.  Even at a young age I wondered why God wouldn’t give us a better picture of the benefits of keeping his commandments.  But I was more troubled by the notion of a God that would, if Christian beliefs about the qualifications for Heaven are accurate, consign the vast majority of his creations to an eternity of fire and horror.  Couldn’t a perfect, all-knowing God come up with a better plan than that?

The Mormon view of the afterlife is considerably different and distinctly more hopeful.  It is based upon Christ’s promise that in His Father’s house there are many mansions, the writings of Paul, and most centrally upon a revelation given to Joseph Smith and Sydney Rigdon in 1832.  This revelation can be found now in the 76th Section of the Doctrine and Covenants, which is a collection of revelations given to LDS prophets, primary Joseph Smith.  You can read it at www.lds.org, if you are curious about the full text.

In this revelation, Joseph Smith was shown three “degrees of glory” much as Paul records being caught up into the “third heaven” in the 12th chapter of his second epistle to the Corinthians.  These he designated as “Celestial,” “Terrestrial,” and “Telestial,” with the Celestial being the highest.  Paul described the resurrection in similar terms of differing types of glory (See 1 Cor. 15:40-42).

Given the length of the revelation, I won’t try to drill down to too many details here.  But there are two basic principles that will help you understand Mormon doctrine on this issue.

First, we believe that virtually all mankind will receive some kind of glory in the resurrection.  There is a discussion of “outer darkness,” to which Satan and those who with him were cast from God’s presence ultimately will be consigned.  We believe that only a small number of mortals risk such a faith.  Everyone else receives some level of reward in the afterlife.   Even people who drive and text at the same time.  What’s remarkable is that Joseph Smith taught that the glory of the even the lowest kingdom “supasses all understanding.”  (D&C 76:89).

Second, we believe that people will receive different rewards based upon their faithfulness.  Those who have fully accepted the gospel of Jesus Christ and have lived valiant lives of obedience will receive a celestial glory, compared figuratively to the light of the sun.  Here they dwell with Father in Heaven and Jesus Christ and are able to continue in their progression throughout eternity.  They also will have the blessing of having their earthly family relationships continue forever.  Those who do not accept the fulness of the gospel receive a terrestrial glory, where they can receive the presence of Christ, who presides there (although himself a Celestial being).  This is compared to the light of the moon.  Those who live disobedient lives receive a telestial glory, outside the presence of the Father or the Son.

So, what the heck happened to Hell in Mormon theology?  Well, if you are looking for something akin to Dante’s Inferno, you won’t find it.  However, there may be a corollary if you step back a bit from the final judgment.  Mormons believe that between the time of death and resurrection,  our spirits are separated from our bodies and go to one of two places, which we call Paradise and Spirit Prison. Paradise is  where those who have accepted and lived the Gospel will go, and there they happily await the resurrection, and may perform other work, such as teaching the gospel to those in the Spirit Prison.

Those who don’t meet these conditions go to the Spirit Prison, the nature of which admittedly isn’t perfectly clear.  What we do understand is that the spirits in this “prison” are taught the gospel and given an opportunity to accept or reject it.  (See I Peter 3:18-20, which discusses Christ preaching to the “spirits in prison”).  This is the basis of our belief in proxy baptisms for the dead, because we believe that those who receive the gospel after this life still need the benefit of ordinances, like baptism, that only can be performed here on Earth.

Those who reject the atonement of Christ, we are told, do have to endure some of form of suffering, which is figuratively compared to a lake of fire and brimstone.  Here, then, is something analogous to Hell, but Mormons believe that any such suffering will have an end, and that ultimately such persons would receive the lowest degree of glory.  As a consequence, the Mormon view of life after death contains some degree of hope for pretty much everybody.

So what about those Baptists?  Or Methodists, or any other Christian sect?  This is the point at which Mormons and other Christians might not be aware that they agree.  In the Mormon view, good people who do not accept the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ will inherit the Terrestrial Kingdom, where they will live as resurrected beings in the presence of Christ, free from earthly worries or cares, but with no expectation of anything more.  In other words, they receive almost exactly what they were expecting.

The difference in Mormon theology is the concept that there is something more that our Father in Heaven has in store for us (which I discuss in more detail in the two posts on “Do Mormons Really Think They Can Become Gods?”).  In all honesty, Mormons cannot really dispute that other Christian Churches can deliver on their promises.  We just think those promises are more narrow than what our Father in Heaven has prepared for us.

This brief discussion hardly does justice to the subject, but I hope it provides at least a basic understanding of Mormonism’s unique view of the afterlife.  It is a doctrine that, in my view, gives us a glimpse of a loving God who set up a Plan of Happiness, by which there would be some degree of hope for all of His children.  It is a Plan by which we have the hope for glorious blessings that, prior to the revelations given to Joseph Smith, we might never have imagined.

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12 Responses to “Do Mormons Believe in Hell, and Do They Think Baptists Are Going There?”


  1. 1 1of10boyz May 18, 2012 at 1:51 am

    Reblogged this on middlekingdom1of10boyz and commented:
    Thanks to Rob again, I wish that I could explain it as well. I hope it helps you answer some of your questions about Mormons.

  2. 2 Steph May 18, 2012 at 4:46 am

    This could be from a lack of full understand and coming from an outside prospective, so please do not take this question in offense…

    The separation of the Father and Christ in two different degrees of glory baffles me somewhat. Is there any particular reason why the Celestial would not inhabit both Christ and the Father? It just seems to me, to separate the glory of the Father and the Son…and to say that I (hypothetically) could inherit a higher level of glory than Christ, that this descriptions implies Christ sits lower in Gods Kingdom even though He himself is part of the Godhead. Unless I am grossly misunderstanding, which is definitely possible, to set Christ lower than potentially you or I is seems a little misplaced given the story of the Gospel.

    Sorry if that didn’t make sense.

    • 3 R.S. "Rob" Ghio May 18, 2012 at 7:39 am

      Sorry. Looking back I can see where I made that confusing by trying to simplify things. The revelation speaks of each of the kingdoms being presided over by a member of the Godhead. Certainly Christ is a Celestial being, equal in glory to our Father in Heaven. But one of his roles in the eternities will be to preside over the Terrestrial Kingdom. I didn’t mean to imply that Christ is “stuck” there.

      Thanks for asking a great question so that I can clarify this. I’ll go back and tweak the post to try to avoid the confusion.

      • 4 1of10boyz May 20, 2012 at 2:05 am

        Even Rob’s response makes this hard to understand and the reply section is a hard forum to explain concept without getting into PhD level discussions. The Father and Son do both reside in the Celestial Kingdom. Those in the other lower levels are not able to stand His (The Father) presence and thus it is the Son that presides in the Terrestrial Kingdom.
        Those that reside in the Celestial Kingdom are blessed with the presence of the Father and the Son. I think that analogy to the Sun, Moon, and Stars is again very appropriate when taken with the context of who is present and presiding in those Kingdoms. As glorious as Christ’s presence might be the presence of His (our) Father’s presence makes it look quite pale and the related Kingdom’s glory and reward would be equally as different.

      • 5 Steph May 20, 2012 at 3:33 am

        1of10Boyz,

        I appreciate your response. I understand things can’t be fully explained in a forum like this. I didn’t think what my interpretation was at first was accurate, and that’s why I asked for clarification. I have a fairly non-mainstream belief about the afterlife as well, which is as follows:

        Pretty much 3 levels of resurrection after Christ’s coming and God’s Kingdom is established on earth…the 1st allowing the faithful to reign with Christ for 1,000 years learning how to become “teachers”. The second for everyone else, at which time they have the opportunity to learn and accept the truth. And the third being a “resurrection of death” in which those who denied the truth after having received revelation in this life, or those who still refuse to accept it after Christ’s coming and the second resurrection. The third is simply separation from God (and Christ) through spiritual death. But all those who accept Christ (now or then) have the opportunity to live with both the Father and the Son…The first resurrection allowing the faithful to live with him for the “millennium” and to receive a certain level of glory not available to others.

        So, I understand the concept written here as there seems to be a certain level of similarity. However, I do not believe Christ’s glory would “pale in comparison” to that of the Father. Christ even said “If you have seen me then you have see my Father that is in heaven”. Also, we can speculate that when prophets in the OT spoke of “seeing the Lord” (Such as Isaiah in Isaiah 6) it was Christ they were witnessing (See John 12:41)…The level of Glory described in these visions seem to illustrate the level of Christ’s glory.

        Also, I’m not entirely familiar with Joseph Smith’s vision, but if I recall he did witness the Father and the Son side by side? And unless I am mistaken, I do not think there was a lot of emphasis on the differences in glory between the two, and if there was a significant difference (that would later help explain a part of doctrine) I would imagine that there would be mention of it.

        Personally, I believe that Christ and the Father are equal members of the Godhead. And it was this particular belief of mine that led to my question. I hope this clarifies my perspective and I certainly apologize if my initial response seemed critical. I appreciate your answer.

        Sincerely,
        Steph

      • 6 R.S. "Rob" Ghio May 20, 2012 at 5:25 pm

        Had no idea we were in for a long discussion on this, but I’m glad that it has developed.

        I knew I might get myself in trouble trying to simplify such a complicated topic. Let me see if I can help clear up some of this.

        Always helps to go back to the source, and in this case I think it helps a great deal. In the revelation given to Joseph Smith, the description of the Celestial Kingdom includes this: “These shall dwell in the presence of
        God and his Christ forever and ever.” (D&C 76:62). Contrast that with the description of the Telestial Kingdom: “These are they who receive of his glory, but not of his fulness. These are they who receive of the presence of the Son, but not of the fulness of the Father.” (D&C 76:77). Now, we can’t say for a certainty what that means, but there are a couple of distinctions that are informative. First, those who inherit the Celestial Kingdom “dwell” in the presence of the Father and the Son, whereas those who inherit the Telestial Kingdom “receive” of the presence of the Son. This suggests that the Celestial Kingdom is the dwelling place of the Father and the Son, but that the Telestial kingdom is occasionally visited by the Son. This is consistent with what we are told later in the revelation, which is that those dwelling in the higher kingdoms “minister” to those of the lower kingdoms. (D&C 76:86-88). What the nature of such a ministry might be is beyond me, but it certainly indicates that Celestial beings (most notably Christ) can minister to those in a lower kingdom.

        Now, with respect to a comparison of the glory of the Father and the Son, Steph brings up a great point. Joseph Smith’s accounts of the First Vision do not distinguish between the glory of the Father and the Son. Instead (I’m working from memory here), he describes them as “exactly similar.” This, along with the precise language of the vision of the three degrees of glory, suggests to me that the difference in the “glory” of each kingdom reflects the level of righteousness of the resurrected beings inhabiting it, as opposed to the glory of who presides over it.

        It’s all fascinating stuff. and I think I need to tweak the post again to make sure that what I am saying is consistent with the scriptures.

        The nature and order of the Resurrection of the dead is a great topic for a future post. Revelations given to Joseph Smith are very helpful in putting the various “resurrections” spoken of in the Bible and the Book of Mormon into a coherent chronology.

        Again, I appreciate folks taking the time to provide thoughtful comments, insights and questions. This kind of discussion is exactly what I hoped to encourage on this blog.

  3. 7 mormon May 19, 2012 at 1:08 pm

    Thanks for letting me know. It enlightens me about this.

  4. 8 Michael Christenson May 23, 2012 at 6:58 pm

    You are on to something in contrasting celestial “dwelling” with terrestrial (note: not telestial) “presence” or visitation. That is key–the permanence.

    The way I see it, in the celestial glory you get all three members of the Godhead–Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. As you go down “the ladder,” if you will, you lose access to them, one by one, until you get to outer darkness wherein no godliness is to be found.

  5. 10 R.S. "Rob" Ghio August 12, 2012 at 8:09 am

    Ben, if you want to believe that God’s intent has been to consign the vast majority of His children to Hell, that’s certainly your right. But I will never be able to get my head or heart around that notion, and I certainly cannot reconcile that idea with the love of Christ presented in the New Testament. I’ve listened to some Christians describe in near ecstasy the tortures of Hell that are waiting for other people (sometimes its me). In my view, finding joy in other people’s misery stands Christianity on its head.

  6. 11 J. Bronson Haley May 6, 2015 at 11:48 am

    My name is Bronson Haley. I am a Christian Author, The Depth of Grace…Finding Hope at Rock Bottom. I appreciate the author of the original post opening this humble dialog among believers in Jesus Christ. I’ve been studying the different belief systems for Christianity for ten years and there is one message that is clear to me. The apostle Paul gives clear instruction that we are not to cast judgement on disputable matters. He calls both who eat meat (who have strong faith) and those who only eat vegetables to humble themselves (Romans 14). There is no question that some doctrines are closer to other finding the absolute truth than others. However, disputable matters will always be among us as they were even in the early church.

    I had always judged the Mormon Faith before I had met with them and began learning what they believe. Everything you have shared in this post is in fact what they believe and I appreciate your humble approach to the topic. The Christian churches have been shooting fiery darts at one another as if we are in a shooting contest and will be rewarded accordingly.

    The clear message that I have for all Christian denominations is that we are all preparing ourselves for a wedding ceremony. When Jesus Christ returns He is coming for His bride and His bride is not an individual person, but the body of Christ. The demon of religion has divided the body to no end, but I can tell you that the body was not divided on the cross and disappeared from the tomb. Its the image of His body that has been distorted by religion. In Paul’s story we see the perfect picture of deliverance from the demon. Jesus had referred to the religious scribes of His day as demon possessed. They ended up crucifying Him. Saul of Tarsus sought the same punishment for the followers of Christ after the resurrection. He was under the power of this same demon of religion. Prior to Paul being converted a bright light shined on Him revealing all the false teachings of religion. At that point Saul had to recognize that there were things He had missed about Jesus after all. After all was said and done Jesus turned out to be Immanuel who he himself and been waiting on all along.

    This story represents the picture of deliverance from religion. God will shine a bright light on the church and we will all need to humble ourselves before Him and confess that there may have been things about Jesus that we missed after all. We will need to confess that our doctrine might not be bullet proof as we once thought. God will restore the church through this act of humility and religion will be exposed. The point isn’t to expel any who teach by flawed doctrines, but to humble ourselves with our brothers and sisters from all Christian denominiations and confess to each other that there actually could be things that we have missed about Jesus. And through this humility God will restore the church.

    A prophet does not cause additional division in the body as there was no division when He was on the cross. However, there have been cracks in the walls. “You have not gone up to the breaches in the wall to repair it for the people of Israel so that it will stand firm in the battle on the day of the LORD.” Ezekiel 13:4 Ezekiel was exposing false prophets in Israel. If the prophets are not speaking against the division in the body of Christ he is no prophet at all. “I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.” Ezekiel 11:19 God will give the people a undivided heart–He Himself. This only comes through humility.

    I’m not speaking against any Christian man or woman of God or institution. I feel in my heart that I have been called to humble myself before Him to avoid any opposition by Him. Pride in our doctrine is the biggest problem in the body of Christ today. We don’t have to agree on everything. But if we judge one another and discuss our differences as if its most important that we are right, we are in trouble. Through a sincere display of humility God will begin restoring the church for the ceremony 🙂 We are to love one another and thank God for everything we do have in common. In this act of obedience any false teaching will be exposed and God will shine the light. We will be restored and unified!!!!

    • 12 Alex September 5, 2016 at 12:07 am

      Thank you. This was most helpful. I was wondering what Mormans believed.
      In my past I have been judgemental towards religions. I have spent all my 50 years as a Chritian of Christianity founded on the Bible. The King James bible.
      I have loved many people of different faiths yet at times I have been very defensive of mine. Declaring my God as the the true God.
      I have been lead to relax. Jesus does not need me to defend Him. I need Him to defend me.
      However, it is my understanding which only comes from my personal experience that God sends no one to hell. That choice is up to man. We all have sinned and the wages of sin is death. This death is eternal. It is not the Father’s will that any one should parish. That is the reason for the cross.
      Jesus offers every one deliverance from hell. He is the rescue.
      This, to my opinion is the only thing we must agree on. When we put our faith in Christ believing that the work of our salvation was done through Him; I believe in sincerity that the Holy Spirit will give truth to those who put thier faith in Christ.
      So I agree. God will put together what has been devided.
      Amen
      And I too appreciate the original post.


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