Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Telestial Etymology

      Mormonism contemplates a more nuanced view of the afterlife than the traditional view divided between a blissful heaven and a miserable hell. Joseph Smith wondered how such a simplistic afterlife could accommodate all of humanity. In response to his inquiries, he received a revelation in 1832 now recorded as Section 76 of the Doctrine and Covenants.

The revelation paints a very merciful picture of the afterlife, with all but a few being saved in one of three "kingdoms" or "degrees of glory." Individuals who attain the highest degree will dwell in the presence of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, while those who only reach the second may enjoy the presence of the Son and the Holy Spirit but not the Father, and those assigned to the lowest kingdom will only receive the ministrations of the Holy Spirit. A very small number of "sons of perdition" (John 17:12), those who have committed the unpardonable sin (Matthew 12:31), will go to a place with no glory at all referred to as "outer darkness."
      As with most of the modern revelations, passages in the Bible were later identified as supporting the ideas in the revelation. In this case, Paul seems to refer to the various kingdoms of heaven when he compares their relative glory to the sun, moon, and stars in 1 Corinthians 15:40-42.
      The revelation in Section 76 refers to the highest kingdom of glory as the Celestial Kingdom and to the next one as the Terrestrial Kingdom, corresponding to 1 Corinthians 15:40. But the third kingdom is called the "Telestial" Kingdom, a word that does not occur in the Bible or anywhere else, for that matter. Critics of Joseph Smith claim that "telestial" is a nonsense word that he made up, and does not mean anything in any language.
      Without bothering to question what prevents a prophet (or the Lord, for that matter) from making up a new word where mortal language lacks, we can consider the word itself to figure out what it means. The claim that the word "telestial" has no roots in Latin or in any other language is quite a remarkable one, since the prefix tele- is fairly common in English. It derives from Greek and means "far." Examples include telescope (to see far), telepathy (to think or perceive from afar), television (far sight), and telephone (far sound). The obvious conclusion is that the word "telestial" conveys the idea that it is the kingdom farthest from the presence of God.

In summary
Argument: The word "telestial" is not a real word in any language. Joseph Smith made it up, as well as the entire doctrine of the three degrees of glory.
Response: Either the Lord or Joseph Smith coined a new word to describe the lowest of the degrees of glory, but that does not make the doctrine false. The root tele- is Greek and indicates that the Telestial Kingdom is the farthest removed from the presence of God.


israel gonzalez said...

Read this, it's interesting about the topic.

israel gonzalez said...

Read this first.

Anonymous said...

It is possible the order of the names of the "kingdoms of glory" is present wrongly.

In giving this matter a great deal of thought, I think the "telestial" is acutally between the terrestial and the celestial. Terrestial being the material, temporal level of physical matter, celestial being the spiritual, divine, level of much finer more pure substance. The telestial would be the level between the two, "tele" being the greek root of english words meaning "from afar".

The terrestial and celestial are far apart. The telestial is the level which communicates between them.

Travis Brinton said...

To Anonymous: That's an interesting idea, but it contradicts the revelation in Section 76 of the Doctrine and Covenants. We understand that the current state of the earth is a telestial one, which may be confusing because "terrestrial" means "of the earth," not "telestial." Perhaps the key is to remember that the earth was originally in a terrestrial state before the Fall, when it fell to its present telestial state. We understand that the earth will eventually "receive its paradisaical glory" and be elevated to a celestial state. Hence, "terrestrial" refers to the middle level of glory, because that was the original state of the earth.

Brendan said...

Thankyou for sharing that insight Travis! I have been trying to figure out how terrestrial fit in the progression of kingdoms because of the word's meaning. Your thought seems very plausible and helfpul, thanks!

Anonymous said...

Reading what has been said, does this mean that the "Telestial" Kingdom is right here on this earth?

Travis Brinton said...

In response to the anonymous comment:

No, the Telestial Kingdom is not right here on this earth, nor will it ever be. Currently, the spirits of deceased persons reside in the "spirit world," which *is* right here on earth. But the spirit world is not the Telestial Kingdom. The spirit world is a temporary condition that will only exist until Final Judgment; and it is at that day of judgment when the resurrected spirits of all mankind will be sent to the Celestial, Terrestrial, or Telestial Kingdoms.

Perhaps the source of confusion was that I said the earth is currently in a telestial state. That means its current state is roughly analogous to what conditions will be like in the lowest of the three kingdoms of glory, the Telestial Kingdom. It does not mean that the Telestial Kingdom is or will be on this earth.

Thanks for the question.