What is salvation in Mormon doctrine?

I have been a little frustrated in recent years by the various ways in which knowledgeable Latter-day Saints use the term “salvation.” Since joining the Church as a high school senior in 1963 before my 18th birthday, I have always used it to mean “eternal life” or “exaltation” which means receiving a fullness of the Father and a “continuation of the seeds” in the highest of three degrees in the Celestial Kingdom which is the highest of three kingdoms of glory. (See D&C 76 and 131). Every other reward or punishment in the next life is some form of “damnation.”

I use my definition for salvation because of my studies of the scripture, the writings of Joseph Fielding Smith and Bruce R. McConkie, the writings of Robert L. Millett of the Religion Department at BYU, and the official Church manual True to the Faith which has been through correlation and is distributed to new members of the Church.

Other knowledgeable members with an interest in doctrine insist on using the term “salvation” to mean any inheritance in a kingdom of glory whether it be be telestial, terrestrial or celestial. They reason that any “kingdom of glory” must be considered a form of salvation regardless of whether or not it involves exaltation and eternal life. After all, only the Atonement of Jesus Christ makes such a reward possible, and the Prophet Joseph Smith is reported to have said that the telestial kingdom is so glorious and so much better than the life we live here in mortality that we would commit suicide to get there if we could see what we are missing. What the prophet’s actual words were, and whether or not they were reliably recorded, I cannot say.

While I have never read anything in True to the Faith that I clearly disagree with, and I accept it as an authoritative statement on official Church doctrine, I also believe the Book of Mormon to be the Word of God and the “most correct book on earth” as proclaimed by Joseph Smith. And the other day I ran across this passage which I found interesting because of my frustration over the varying and sometimes conflicting definitions of salvation used by Latter-day Saints. Here is the passage, and it clears things up for me:

40 And he shall come into the world to redeem his people; and he shall take upon him the transgressions of those who believe on his name; and these are they that shall have eternal life, and salvation cometh to none else. (Alma 11:40)

What does this mean for us? In the vast majority of cases where the words “saved” or “salvation” are used in scripture, it is a reference to eternal life and exaltation. There are a tiny number of instances where these words are used to mean something else. But those instances are so few that when we use these terms to mean anything other than eternal life and exaltation, we ought to carefully explain our definitions. Otherwise, many will be confused. Our meaning will not be clear. We must not use these terms willy-nilly and just assume that others understand. Remember, even the Sons of Perdition will be “saved” in the sense of being restored to resurrected, physical bodies before they are cast into Outer Darkness with the devil and his angels. And the resurrection could never take place without the Atonement of Jesus Christ either. But no one would suggest that the Sons of Perdition are “saved” or inherit “salvation.”

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9 Responses to What is salvation in Mormon doctrine?

  1. Of course there is no salvation without Jesus Christ AND Joseph Smith. Jesus Christ chose Joseph Smith to be his prophet and spokesman. Can a man reject a prophet sent by God without rejecting he who sent him? Of course not.

    In ancient times God asked Moses to be his prophet and spokesman. Do you think it was possible in those days to reject Moses without rejecting God? Same thing.

    When Jesus Christ (God) sends an authorized spokesman and messenger to us, and we reject his messenger, we are rejecting Jesus Christ. How can we be followers of Jesus Christ if we reject those he sends to us?

    Those who reject Joseph Smith have rejected Jesus Christ whether they know it or not.

  2. Bill says:

    Are Mormons Christian?
    This article explains why Mormons are Christian, one of the most common accusations that members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints contend with.
    Answer: Yes, Mormons are Christian.
    Speaking on this topic, President Ezra Taft Benson stated:
    “The question is sometimes asked, Are Mormons Christians? We declare the divinity of Jesus Christ. We look to Him as the only source of our salvation. We strive to live His teachings, and we look forward to the time when He shall come again on this earth to rule and reign as King of kings and Lord of lords.

    “In the words of a Book of Mormon prophet, we say to men today, ‘There shall be no other name given nor any other way nor means whereby salvation can come unto the children of men, only in and through the name of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent.’ (Mosiah 3:17.)”

    What President Ezra Taft Benson stated sounds great. However, what he did not tell you is there can be no salvation without accepting Joseph Smith as a true prophet of God.

    [There is] “no salvation without accepting Joseph Smith. If Joseph Smith was verily a prophet, and if he told the truth…no man can reject that testimony without incurring the most dreadful consequences, for he cannot enter the kingdom of God” Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, vol. 1, p.190

    “If we get our salvation, we shall have to pass by him [Joseph Smith]; if we enter our glory, it will be through the authority he has received. We cannot get around him [Joseph Smith]” Apostle George Q. Cannon, as quoted in 1988 Melchizedek Priesthood Study Guide, p. 142

    “Whosoever… does not confess that God has sent Joseph Smith, and revealed the everlasting Gospel to and through him, is of Antichrist…,” Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, Vol. 8, p. 176

    “It is because the Lord called Joseph Smith that salvation is again available to mortal men…. If it had not been for Joseph Smith and the restoration, there would be no salvation,” Bruce McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, p. 396, 670

  3. Trevor says:

    Elder Oaks gave a talk in General Conference clarifying this exact question. I take his comments to mean that salvation and damnation have opposite degrees with the Sons of Perdition on one extreme and the Children of God (those who obtain Exaltation and become members in the heavenly Church of the Firstborn) on the other. In between are those that accept and live portions of light and gospel truths that enable them to be “saved” or raised in the resurrection to a particular glory less than Exaltation (i.e. being a ministering angel instead of a god). “Salvation” in the scriptures must be read in context to what degrees of salvation are being referenced. Many scriptures and modern prophets (Oaks being one) refer to those of the telestial glory as being saved, which in deed they are saved from being cast out completely because inspite of not receiving the testimony of Christ or the saving ordinances of Celestial glory, they refrained from completely quenching the light of Christ given to them and abide in some degree of resistance to the Evil One. They won’t have any part with Christ though which is terribly sad. just like those in the Terrestrial glory won’t have any part with God the Father, which is sad as well. There are some scriptures which use the word redemption or redeemed in place of salvation… most often these scriptures are referring to being saved from physical death (i.e. resurrection to all) but not always. So, sometimes the two are interchangeable and sometimes separate (salvation being used more often to refer to spiritual death being overcome not physical). Still I try not to get too hung up on making absolute definitions that limit the meaning of words used in scripture to satisfy my need for certainty. There is ample evidence to suggest that the words of God are meant by Him to have many levels of meaning that can be taken concretely and metaphorically, and be applied to many different peoples, places or situations. God will bless us to understand His meanings if we seek it from Him with an open mind willing to receive all His truths and knowledge and light.

  4. Zerin Hood says:

    Funny, I was just thinking of this subject and how mostly we have created a false salvation – exaltation dichotomy. Because the salvation usually spoken of in the scriptures is eternal life or exaltation. Note that when we perfrom the ordinances in the temple for our ancestors, we call it “salvation for the dead,” not eternal life or exaltation for the dead. Salvation really is eternal life. When we take the scriptures as a whole, we also see that it is more than mere belief that is required, as well. Belief, faith, works…

  5. Rusty Taylor says:

    Hey guys! Long time no see. My take on the passage is that the Lord offers eternal life / salvation to those who “believe” on his name. Who believes on his name? Isn’t it those who repent and follow Him and partake of the saving ordinances and endure to the end? Or, if they lived without the law, without ever receiving the gospel during their mortal lives, those who would have received it, repented and followed the Lord, etc. So, if “eternal life” and “salvation” are code words for life in the celestial kingdom, then this fits right into the doctrines of the Doctrine and Covenants section 76. Is it more complicated than that?

  6. Ron Scott says:

    John, I meant only to suggest that Mormon Doctrine emphasizes the postive. Therefore, “damnation” is as incidental to a discussion of salvation and exhaltation as it is an unlikely outcome to most people– all, arguably — you know. For fear that you will twist my words again, I go at this matter from the standpoint of “what would a loving father do for his children.” To me, the ultimate answers are plain enough to see, although, as you know, some children require more patience and teaching and dope slaps than others. My wife tells me I’m in need of one right now. Bye

  7. Greg, I agree that in no sense are the Sons of Perdition heirs of “salvation” or “saved.” I used them as an example of how foolish it is to think that resurrection is in any way the “salvation” referred to in scripture which nearly always refers to eternal life and exaltation.

    Ron, to teach salvation without also teaching damnation is dishonest and untrue. Only the devil and those who follow him want men to suppose the absurdity that everyone is going to be saved regardless of what they do or believe. If there is no such thing as damnation, the very concept of salvation loses all of its meaning. As for excluding or including, that too shows silly thinking on the thought of many. If many are included, those who are not are by definition excluded. The vice versa is also true. But if everyone is included, then the whole idea of inclusion becomes unnecessary and redundant. If no one is excluded, then why even mention inclusion?

    If there are no requirements or prerequisites for salvation, why even think of salvation? The whole topic becomes unnecessary.

    Consider the real world. Are all included in the category of those who have driving privileges? Do the admission requirements at Harvard exclude anyone? Is everyone included in the category of American citizens? When God was passing out brains, did he pass them out to everyone, or did he exclude some? I really don’t understand your objection to me on the basis that my definitions “exclude.” Of course they do. So do yours.

  8. Greg says:

    Hello John. Who’d have thunk we’d use the same blogging platform. 🙂

    A few points.

    1) By definition, sons of perdition do not inherit a kingdom and receive no share of salvation.

    2) There is some effort to distinguish between the effects of physical and spiritual death, and all degrees of glory are an inheritance – greater or lesser depending on obedience and when repentance occurred.

    3) That said, as a general rule I would agree the “salvation” spoken of scripturally as our goal is and should be exaltation. Consider the definition for the term given on the Church’s own website:

    “Deliverance from sin and death. Salvation is made possible by the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Through the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, everyone will overcome the effects of death. We can also be saved from the effects of sin through faith in Jesus Christ. This faith is manifested in a life of repentance and obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel and service to Christ.”

  9. Ron Scott says:

    I would be interested to read what you make of the passage, John. Without intending to put words in your mouth, you do have a history of looking for doctrines that exclude rather than include. I suspect that’s what you think you’ve stumbled upon here. This scripture needs to be read in context with the other scriptures that deal with salvation and exhaltation. Do that and I’m sure you will understand this passage better.

    Best Wishes,

    RB Scott
    Boston, MA.

    P..S. I’m horrified that a good Latter-day Saint like you would set up a repository for scriptures entitled “Salvation & Damnation scripture, doctrine.” Some might say that trying to figure out what gets you damned is a hell of a way to approach the gospel of Jesus Christ, especially the version presented by Joseph Smith and most of his successors, the recent ones especially.

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