Answering Challenging Mormon Questions (Chapter Excerpts)

Which is the correct Sabbath day—Saturday or Sunday?

Some denominations today believe that much of Christianity is observing the wrong day of the week as the Sabbath. They contend that Saturday is the seventh day and should, according to Bible scripture, be observed as the true Sabbath (Ex. 16:29-30; 20:8-11; Lev. 23:1-3; Deut. 5:12-15). There are several flaws with this assertion:

1. The research of Samuel Walter Gamble, a Methodist minister, suggests that the original Hebrew calendar was not like our modem calendar. His findings published in a study called “Sunday, the True Sabbath of God” (reprinted in Kenneth E. Coombs, The True Sabbath—Saturday or Sunday), indicate that differences in the Hebrew calendar caused a one day shift in the Sabbath each year when compared to our modern calendars. He points out that the Hebrew calendar was composed of a system of fixed-date Sabbaths each seventh day until the day of Pentecost (a high holy day). At that point, a 48-hour Sabbath was celebrated. This double Sabbath effectively shifted the Sabbath one day each year when compared to our own calendar (see also Mormon Doctrine, p. 658, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 1:841; 3:440-441). 

2. It appears that the Sabbath day was changed by early Christians to the first day of the week to commemorate the resurrection of the Lord (Matt. 28:1; Mark 16:2, 9; Luke 24:1; John 20:1, 19; Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2). Note that the resurrection day is referred to in all Greek Testaments as “Sabbath” [sabbaton] and was translated in the King James Version as “the first day of the week” to avoid confusing the two Sabbaths. John thereafter referred to it as the Lord’s day to differentiate it from the Jewish Sabbath (Rev. 1:10). Both Old and New Testament scripture foretold this change (Hos. 2:11; Heb. 4:7-9; 10:9) and early Christians affirmed it.

Ignatius, in about AD 110, said that Christians were “no longer keeping the Sabbath but . . . the Lord’s day on which our life also arose through him” (Letters of Ignatius, 2:9). Barnabas (ca. 75 to 130 AD) declared, “This is why we spend the eight day in celebration, the day which Jesus both arose from the dead and . . . ascended into heaven” (Epistle of Barnabas, 15:8). Justin Martyr (ca. 140 AD) also recorded that Christian services were held on Sunday “because Jesus Christ—our Redeeming Savior—rose from the dead on the same day” (First Apology, pp. 65-67; quoted more fully on p. 132 of this text).

If this is not sufficient proof that the Sabbath day was changed, we can add the testimonies of Bardaisan (b. 154 AD); Irenaeus (ca. 178 AD); Clement of Alexandria (ca. 194 AD); Cyprian (200-258 AD); Origen (201 AD); Eusebius (ca. 315 AD); Peter, Bishop of Alexandria (ca. 300 AD); and the author of the Didache (80-120 AD). Each of these men affirmed that early Christians observed the “Lord’s day” on the first day of the week rather than the Jewish Sabbath (see also LDS Bible Dictionary, pp. 725, 765; LeGrand Richards, A Marvelous Work and a Wonder, pp. 342-50).

3. The Latter-day Saints keep the Sunday Sabbath because the Lord so commanded them by direct revelation (D&C 59:9-13-Note: this rev- elation was given on Sunday; see also James E. Talmage, Articles of Faith, pp. 451-52; Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions, 2:58-63).

4. Paul taught that we should let no man judge us with respect to observance of Sabbath days (Col. 2:16).

The above demonstrates two things relative to revelation: first, not all revelations given to the early Church were recorded in the Bible; and second, without modern revelation, men can err in interpreting scripture and God’s will today.

Does the Bible speak of more than one kingdom in heaven (degrees of glory)?

Paul, while speaking of visions and revelation, tells of a man who was “caught up to the third heaven” (2 Cor. 12:2) or “paradise” and “heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter” (2 Cor. 12:4).

Both Latter-day Saints and Orthodox Protestants are fond of quoting this scripture. Latter-day Saints use it to show that there are at least three heavens, and Protestants use it in an attempt to show that the thief on the cross was given instant salvation since, they say, the paradise he was promised is, according to this scripture, heaven (see pages 142-143 of this text).

On the subject of paradise, the Cambridge Bible Dictionary informs us that the New Testament word translated as paradise is actually “a Persian word meaning a park. It is not found in the Old Testament. In the New Testament, Luke 23:43 and 2 Corinthians 12:4, it denotes that region of Hades (Sheol) in which the spirits of the blest await the general resurrection, the name being borrowed from the story of our first parents in the ‘Garden of Eden’, Gen. 2:8. We also find the word used in Rev. 2:7 to denote the place where they who ‘overcome’ will eat of the ‘tree of life”’ (Cambridge Bible Dictionary—Paradise, p. 77). Thus, paradise is a general term and does not always refer to the same place.

Protestants object to the LDS view that Paul was implying that there is more than one heaven (see D&C 76 and 88). They generally believe that the “third heaven” spoken of by Paul was the one and only heaven where God the Father dwells. The other two unmentioned heavens, by their reasoning, are the atmospheric heaven (Deut. 28:12; Ps. 147:8) and the heaven of the sun, moon and stars (Gen. 1:16-17). Before proceed- ing further, we should note that Latter-day Saints also believe that there is only one heaven wherein God the Father dwells. Other heavens or kingdoms are presided over by Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost (D&C 76:77, 86). The Celestial Kingdom is God the Father’s abode (D&C 76:62).

Bruce R. McConkie informs us in Mormon Doctrine (under the subject of Heaven, pp. 347-48) that the term “heaven” has been applied in scripture in at least seven ways:

1. Atmospheric heaven—Isa. 65:17; D&C 87:6; 89:14; 117:6
2. Sidereal heavens—Gen. 22:17; Ps. 19:1
3. God’s dwelling place—Matt. 6:9; Luke 10:18; John 6:38; D&C
4. The dwelling place of translated beings—2 Kings 2:11; D&C

The Plan of Salvation 163

5. Paradise—Luke 16:19-31; Alma 40:11-14
6. All kingdoms of glory—D&C 76, section heading
7. The celestial kingdom of God—D&C 131:1

Thus, the biblical word heaven, like paradise and hell, is a general term which may be applied to many places. This conclusion is further illustrated by the original Hebrew and Greek words which were trans- lated as heaven in the King James Version of the Bible. The original Hebrew words meaning heaven were also used to refer to the sky, clouds, dust, expanse (even of land), and the horizon (Strong’s Concise Dictionary of Hebrew). Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible indicates that three Greek words were translated as heaven: (1) ouranos (also meaning air or sky), (2) mesouranema (translated as midst of heaven and possibly meaning mid-sky), and (3) epouranios (meaning above the sky or celestial). Though this alone would seem to affirm the Protestant view of three heavens, careful study of the usage of these words in scripture does not. For all practical purposes, the word “ouranos” is the only word used to denote God’s heaven, as in Matthew 6:9, Luke 11:2, 2 Corinthians 12:2, Revelation 3:12; the sidereal heavens as in Revelation 6:13, 9:1, 12:4; and the atmospheric heavens as in Matthew 24:30, 26:64, Acts 14:17, James 5:18. The word ouranos was the only word translated as heaven in the gospels and Acts (if the word “heavenly” is excluded). The word mesouranema was translated as “heaven” or “midst of heaven” only in Revelation 8:13, 14:6, and 19:17. The word epouranios was most often translated as “heavenly,” but with the added meaning of being high or exalted (Eph. 1:3, 20; 2:6; Heb. 3:1; 9:23; 12:22) and was nearly always employed by Paul; epouranios was translated as heaven only in Philippians 2:10. Therefore, Hebrew and Greek usage confirms that most biblical references to heaven were general in nature and must be considered to be subject to interpretation based on context. Thus, the Hebrew or Greek provide no definitive easy answers.

Members of the LDS Church often cite 1 Corinthians 15:40-42 to illustrate that men will be resurrected into various glories all differing in degree. They compare the glories of the sun, moon and stars to the celestial, terrestrial, and telestial kingdoms mentioned in modern revelation (D&C 76). Protestants counter that the main idea of these verses is the difference between our natural (terrestrial or earthly) body and the glorious spiritual or celestial body we shall receive in the resurrection (see verse 44). Although this argument has merit, it ignores verse 41, which differentiates between three or more glories. Why didn’t Paul just mention the glory of the sun as compared to that of the stars if this was his purpose? Even though he is discussing bodies and not kingdoms, it is clear that we shall be glorified on many levels as determined at the judgement and shall receive rewards according to our works (Matt. 16:27; Rom. 14:10-12; 1 Cor. 3:8; Rev. 20:12-13). 

The Prophet Joseph Smith stated that, “it was apparent that many important points touching the salvation of men, had been taken from the Bible or lost before it was compiled. It appeared from what truths were left, that God rewarded every one according to the deeds done in the body [and] the term Heaven as intended for the Saints eternal home must include more kingdoms than one” (Teachings, pp. 10- 11).

It is interesting that the vision found in D&C 76 was received after the above statements were made, while the prophet was making an inspired revision of the gospel of John (Ibid.). Although direct reference is made to John 5:29 (D&C 76:15), it would also seem probable that the statement by Jesus that “In my Father’s house are many mansions” (John 14:2) also led Joseph Smith to ponder whether there might be more kingdoms than one. Joseph referred several times to this verse of scripture (Ibid., pp. 311, 331, 359, 366), often saying it could have been translated more clearly. The concept of many kingdoms in heaven, according to him, was the original intent, though this meaning has been nearly lost (Ibid., p. 366).

Other Bible passages also hint that there is more than one kingdom in heaven (1 Kings 8:27; Matt. 25:21, 23, 34; 2 Peter 3:13; Rev. 5:10), but the parable of the sower deserves further comment. Very few today have noted that among the seeds that “fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some [multiplied] and hundredfold, some sixtyfold, [and] some thirtyfold” (Matt. 13:8). The fact that these numbers are significant is accentuated by the next verse, “Who hath ears to hear, let him hear” (Matt. 13:9).

Eugene Seaich cites several of the first fathers on the subject of kingdoms, but two of the most convincing relate to the parable of the sower. He observed that:

The very early Church Father, Papias [AD 160], who (according to the first- hand account of Polycarp; Against Heresies, V, 33, 4) had it personally from John (Jean Danielou, The Theology of Jewish Christianity, p. 46), writes that “as the Elders say, Those who are deemed worthy of an abode in heaven shall go there, others shall enjoy the delights of Paradise, and others shall possess the splendor of the city [Rev. 22:14]; for everywhere the Savior will be seen, according as they shall be worthy who see him [Rev. 22:4]. But that there is this distinction between the habitation of those who produce an hundredfold, and that of those who produce sixtyfold, and that of those who produce thirtyfold; for the fruit will be taken up into heaven; the second class will dwell in Paradise, and the last will inhabit the city; and that on this account the Lord said, ‘In my house are many mansions’; for all things belong to God, who supplies all with a suitable dwelling place, even as his word says, that a share is given to all by the Father, according as each is or shall be worthy” (Relics of the Elders, 5). . . . 

Other early Church writers also taught that there were “three degrees of glory,” for example, Irenaeus [AD 178], who says in Against Heresies: “The Elders, the disciples of the Apostles, affirm that (the thirtyfold, the sixtyfold, and the hundred- fold) are the gradation and arrangement of those who are saved, and that they advance through steps of this nature” (V, 36, 2)” (Ancient Texts and Mormonism, pp. 43-44).

On this same subject, Hugh Nibley notes that Peter explained to Clement that the Lord “has commanded us to go forth to preach, and to invite you to the supper of the heavenly king . . . and to give you your wedding garments, that is to say, the privilege of being baptized . . . you are to regard this as the first step of three, which step brings forth thirty commandments, as the second step does sixty, and the third one hundred, as we shall explain to you more fully at another time” (Clementine Recognitions, III, 34) . . . The very early Testament of Our Lord Jesus Christ opens with the admonition that the document is to come into the hands “only of proven saints who dwell in the third order (or level) next to the mansion of my Father who sent me” (Test. Dom. n. J. Christi, Rah- mani, ed., 1:xviii, p. 22) (Hugh Nibley, Since Cumorah, pp. 110-11).

From the above comments by the first fathers, it is apparent that the doctrine of “degrees of glory” was taught and recorded by the apostles, though the surviving statements in the Bible do not clearly convey this today. Though the Bible does not contain a clear description of the man- sions within God’s house (John 14:2), reason should convince even the skeptic that a just God could not divide all mankind into two general categories, one destined for heaven and the other destined for hell. Clearly, the LDS view is a more just solution befitting a loving Heavenly Father.

Joseph Smith once stated “Could you gaze into heaven five minutes, you would know more than you would by reading all that was written on the subject” (Teachings, p. 324). He truly knew more than any Bible scholars on the subject. That Joseph Smith was instrumental in restoring these truths without any knowledge of the above statements, testifies of his divine calling as a prophet of God (see also Richard Lloyd Anderson, Understanding Paul, pp. 127-28, 142-45).