Literal Confusion (about D&C 137)

I’m not usually a literalist about the scriptures, but I’m a little baffled by a verse I read today and the Doctrine and Covenants, Section 137. This section is the account of a vision Joseph Smith had of the celestial kingdom. He names Adam and Abraham, as well as his parents, as inhabitants, likely those who were saved “by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.

And then he mentions his brother, Alvin. Joseph “marvels” that his brother Alvin is there, “seeing that he had departed this life before the Lord had set his hand to gather Israel the second time, and had not been baptized for the remission of sins.” And then the great revelation that “All who have died without a knowledge of this gospel, who would have received it if they had been permitted to tarry, shall be heirs of the celestial kingdom of God.” Of course, this revelation plays a big part in understanding why we do work for the dead in our temples…right?

Here’s my question: What was Alvin doing there in the celestial kingdom when his work hadn’t been done yet?

Okay, so that’s just one question among many questions that I could ask about this scripture: Has he already been resurrected? Is that a requirement of being the celestial kingdom? Why have I been taught that people are waiting for their chance to “accept the gospel” when it looks like doing so doesn’t necessitate our doing their work vicariously? Are the ordinances not really a requirement to get there? If not, will Alvin and people like them want them anyway?.

In the end, I think what I’m really asking is this: If I take this section literally – and Alvin Smith was actually in the celestial kingdom – then once I have received all my living ordinances, what am I doing when I go back to the temple?

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14 Responses

  1. I wouldn’t worry too much about the chronology. We humans are bound by linear time, but God is not.

    Alma 40:8: “Now whether there is more than one time appointed for men to rise it mattereth not; for all do not die at once, and this mattereth not; all is as one day with God, and time only is measured unto men. “

  2. What JDD said.

    The vision was of a future day. Joseph saw his parents in the Celestial Kingdom, but they were very much alive and in the room with him when he had the vision.

    Resurrection is a prerequisite to entering any of God’s postmortal kingdoms.

  3. Joseph saw it as a vision of the future, not as the present. At least that is how I read it.

  4. Considering that Joseph’s parents were alive at the time of the vision (as Bryan has mentioned), there clearly are problems with seeing this revelation as a literal manifestation of the present.

    However, to say that it is a vision of the future may not be entirely correct either. What did Joseph really see? Did he see the future exactly as it would happen? In other words, this revelation confirmed that his parents would, without question, end up in the Celestial Kingdom.

    Or, did Joseph see the future as it exists in the here and now? Meaning, he saw a vision of the future, which based on present realities, would unfold. From this interpretation, his parents were currently on the path and so therefore the image of the future (presumably that is before God) includes them in the kingdom. However, from this view, it could be possible that one or both of his parents could deviate from the path and then a more updated vision of the same thing would not include them.

    Let’s take a look at a couple of things from this same vision but were not canonized:

    I also beheld Elder McLellen [McLellin] in the South, standing upon a hill surrounded with a vast multitude, preaching to them, and a lame man standing before him, supported by his crutches, he threw them down at his word, and leaped as an heart, by the mighty power of God.

    And

    I finally Saw the 12 in the celestial Kingdom of God.

    Well, Elder McLellin apostasized and this preaching scene in the South never occurred. Still, I would hold that Joseph saw “the future,” it’s simply that he saw the future as reflected in the here and now. When McLellin changed, so did the future.

    Concerning the Twelve in the celestial kingdom, the phrase is fairly ambiguous, but considering the unrepentant apostasies of several of them, it’s hard to know what to make of this. We could certainly make the same interpretation as the McLellin vision, but there are other explanations. Maybe this refers to the Twelve in general (or a later 12 or a former 12), rather than the specific twelve men living at the time.

    Might this interpretation say something about what it means for God to have the past, present, and future before Him? Is it possible that the future that God sees changes depending on our actions?

  5. I’ve always been struck by the words “who would have received it if they had been permitted to tarry.” I’m not sure I fully understand what that means. Is God’s knowledge of how these people would have reacted sufficient for these people?

  6. Some of this sounds an awful lot like the conversation I had on time travel in the sci-fi discussion forums. lol.

  7. What Dennis said. I think he was shown possible futures which were meant to be instructive. Similar to the way Wilford Woodruff reports being shown what would have happened were it not for the manifesto. I don’t think Alvin was actually in the celestial kingdom at that moment.

  8. The easiest explanation I can come up with is that Joseph Smith was privileged to see that people still had a chance to get to the celestial kingdom even if they didn’t get a chance at hearing the gospel during their mortal life. But Joseph F. Smith had the privilege of revealing that the souls in spirit prison were preached to and had a chance to accept the gospel. And of course the acceptance means they would want their vicarious ordinances done..

    I think this is a matter of truth being revealed line upon line.

  9. There is no time in heaven. Or rather, it is ‘one eternal round.’ A vision of heaven would be disorienting for folks used to linear time.

  10. On the other hand, it could all be a pack of lies.

  11. Not sure that Christopher’s claim that there is no time in heaven squares with D&C 130:4-5. There’s more than one way to understand the phrase “one eternal round” without assuming that God is atemporal in nature.

  12. It raises an interesting comparison between Lehi’s Dream (1 Nephi 8) and Nephi’s version.

    Lehi saw Laman and Lemuel not coming to the tree and feared that they would not embrace eternal life and therefore warns them and pleads with them that God might change that seeming destiny.

    Nephi sees the entire destruction of his people, and just gets depressed, nothing (at least in this record) about pleading with his descendants to avoid this destiny. (Nor does it seem like other elements of Nephi’s version were as flexible, ie Columbus coming to America…)

  13. Technically, the celestial kingdom doesn’t exist yet. This earth is to be transformed into the CK at a future date. Joseph saw a vision of what will be.

  14. Not literal , but instructive.

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