“The Fingers of One Hand”

Recenly, I read a comment that the realm of “Outer Darkness” does not really qualify as “Hell” because there will be “so few” who inherit it, probably about 6 or 7 people in total. Not only does this border on unitarian universalism, but we would be making a mistake, I believe, in completely dismissing the word “Hell” from our vocabulary as a substitute for “Outer Darkness.” The word “Hell” comes in handy when teaching discussions as a missionary and in discussing soteriology with non-Mormons. Among other members, the term “Outer Darkness” functions just fine.

But why the idea that so few will go there? I scoured the scriptures and the teachings of JS and came up empty-handed on this idea. Furthermore, I believe that there will be many who wind up in that dreadful place (maybe even me), and that to indicate that one knows the exact number of folks who go there is not only passing judgment on others (and therefore putting judgment in God’s mouth where none was invited), but also an admission that God’s punishment is fixed and knowable to the finite mind.

Here are some of the tidbits that I found:

“Evidently many among us have made a dreadful mistake, but not unpardonable, in thinking that the sons of perdition will be very few. We have heard it said at times that they will be so few that they probably could be “counted on the fingers of one hand.” Where this thought originated we may not know. From the reading of the scriptures it appears that there will be a large number; far too many even if there were but one, for their punishment is most severe without any question.” Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions, 5 vols. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1957-1966), 1: 78.

And again:

44 Wherefore, he saves all except them—they shall go away into everlasting punishment, which is endless punishment, which is eternal punishment, to reign with the devil and his angels in eternity, where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched, which is their torment—
45 And the end thereof, neither the place thereof, nor their torment, NO MAN KNOWS;
46 Neither was it revealed, neither is, neither will be revealed unto man, except to them who are made partakers thereof;
47 Nevertheless, I, the Lord, show it by vision unto many, but straightway shut it up again;
48 Wherefore, the end, the width, the height, the depth, and the misery thereof, they understand not, neither any man except those who are ordained unto this condemnation.(Doctrine and Covenants | Section 76:44 – 48)

It seems from this that for one to know how many people are going to be in Outer Darkness serves as a qualifier for candidacy therein.

It is commonly believed, and I think correct to say, that those who find themselves in this place have commited the unpardonable sin. About that JS said that “this will be the case with many apostates of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” (TPJS, 358).

Regardless of who qualifies as an apostate doomed for outer darkness, it seems clear that in the early days of the church, this notion that one could count the people who will wind up in that place on the fingers of one hand did not exist. Perhaps this notion ought to be re-examined.

67 Replies to ““The Fingers of One Hand””

  1. I agree completely with your post. I’ve heard the one hand thing and like other “comments” in the church it’s not true. I guess you can count the same fingers over and over again on the same hand and come up with any number you want. I like the priesthood will save the government and the yellow dog “prophecy”.

  2. I read the same comment you’re referring to and had a similar thought. But I must say that I really, really hope that Outer Darkness has a very small population. (Aside from the 1/3 part that didn’t keep their first estate.) I really like the Universalist feel that lingers around our heaven theology.

  3. In my own little calculus, I can imagine quite a number that could end out in Outer Darkness. I take pretty much Section 76 at face value plus maybe a little section 19 and 88. What you get in the telestial kindom is a bunch of folks who paid for their own sins, but ultimately were “willing to receive” the grace of grace through resurrection. I can imagine quite a number that refuse that grace out of rebellion, shame, or hate.

  4. One thing that once struck me as I was reading D&C 76 is how the Telestial Kingdom is reserved for those who are thrust down to hell (verses 84 and 106). This made me wonder if it’s actually more accurate to classify the Telestial Kingdom along with Outer Darkness as “hell” which then leaves the Celestial and Terrestrial Kingdoms as “heaven”, instead of classifying all three kingdoms of glory as “heaven” thereby only leaving Outer Darkness as “hell”.

    While this classification probably doesn’t make much of a difference in the eternal scheme of things, it may be useful pedagogically. When talking to non-members about our views on the final fate of souls, we can claim to believe in a heaven (the destination for those who are essentially good) and hell (the destination for those who are essentially bad) just as much as they do. We just believe that through the restoration, God has revealed more details concerning how heaven and hell are set up, in that both have two major divisions (Celestial/Terrestrial for heaven and Telestial/Outer Darkness for hell). This doesn’t change anything else we teach or believe about these kingdoms, but I think it allows us to better build on common beliefs.

    I’ve used this set up with non-members a couple of times already, and it does seem to help. They can see how it relates to what they already believe so it doesn’t come across as so strange. (If you’re so bold, you can also try describing the Spirit World as a kind of Purgatory.)

  5. Nice research, David J, but you really have to do better than that to carry the day. I’m surprised everyone else is giving up so easily. What Joseph Fielding Smith said in some book before he was President of the Church carries no particular weight. For some, him having said it is even an indication it is an unreliable position.

    And if you’re going to cite D&C 76 about hell, the clearest citation is D&C 76:81-85: “[W]e saw the glory of the telestial …. These are they who deny not the Holy Spirit. These are they who are thrust down to hell. These are they who shall not be redeemed from the devil until the last resurrection.”

    Clearly, the Mormon view is that hell (or spirit prison) lasts a thousand years, after which its inhabitants are redeemed and resurrected to a kingdom of glory, the telestial. This is in contrast to the Christian view (at least as caricatured in Mormon thinking, see D&C 19:1-12) in which hell lasts forever. See also D&C 76:106.

    I think this corresponds with the early Mormon understanding of LDS doctrine and D&C 76, which 19th-century Mormons understood to repudiate the sectarian notion of hell as a place of everlasting punishment for those who weren’t Christian or weren’t baptized in this life. In the LDS view, not only those who weren’t Christian but even those who did very bad deeds (see D&C 76:103) will get a kingdom of glory.

    Only those who work hard to become “sons of perdition” will be eligible for some sort of punishment that will not be terminated. Obviously, saying it is 6 or 7 people is an exaggeration, but I think the LDS view is that it is relatively few, relative both to the standard Christian view and to the Mormon view of the absolute number saved to a kingdom of glory. So I’ll up my guess to … two or three dozen. A hundred max.

    The best source for the modern LDS view is “Hell” at All About Mormons, which includes the EOM entry and Bruce R. McConkie’s Mormon Doctrine entry on hell.

  6. The discussion of Hell reminded me of the Gospel of Nicodemus, where it talks about Jesus after suffering on the cross going to Hell to liberate the patriarchs. I really don’t know the importance of the Gospel in the grand scheme of things, but it seems (besides the character of the Prince of Hell) as a fairly Mormon-like conception of Hell.

  7. Dave, discussing “hell” as the core issue might just be side-stepping here. The real problem, and the motive behind the post, is that the idea that the number of the OD population will be small enough for anyone to count is contrary to scripture. Does that “carry the weight” or not?

  8. I am with Dave on this. There seems to be some question about where this doctrine comes from, which I can hardly believe coming from Joseph Fielding Smith, but oh well.

    Joseph Smith said the following in the KFD:

    I know the Scriptures I understand them–no man can commit the unpardonable sin after the dissn. of the body but they must do it in the World–hence the Saln. of J. C was wrought out for all men to triumph over the devil–for he stood up for a Savior–J. contd. that there wod. be certn. souls that wod. be condemned & the d[evil] sd. he cod. save them all–as the grand council gave in for J. C. so the d l fell & all who put up their heads for him. All sin shall be forgiven except the sin agt. the H. G. he has got to say that the Sun does not shine while he sees it he has got to deny J. C. when the heavens are open to him. & from that time they begin to be enemies like many of the apostates of the Church of J.C. of L.D.S. (The Words of Joseph Smith pg. 353, Bullock report.

    So, the idea seems to come simply enough from this one quote. According to Joseph Smith, a person must have the heavens opened to him, they must say the Sun does not shine while they see it, and they can only do this during this life (not after the dissolution of the body).

    Not very many people who have lived on earth qualify because not many people have had the heavens opened to them. J. Stapley’s “little calculus” above ignores this statement from Joseph that the unpardonable sin cannot be commited after the dissolution of the body.

    The quote you cite in the post (from TPJS) about this being the case with “many apostates” is also answered by seeing the rest of the context, which I included above. The reason it was the case with many apostates is that Joseph was referring to others who he had experienced visions and heavenly manifestations with who had turned against him. It is totally unjustified to assume that this statement from Joseph is accurate in reference to the current apostates of the church, unless they had experienced the kinds of manifestations Joseph experienced with others of the early brethren who turned against him.

    According to D&C 76 there will be many who are cast down to hell, but all will eventually be saved from the power of the devil except the sons of perdition, and very few who have ever lived on earth are even in the running.

  9. I really like the Universalist feel that lingers around our heaven theology

    Hear, hear! From Rev 20:14:

    Then Death and Hell were thrown in the lake of fire. (This lake of fire is the second death.)

    Happy thought, indeed, as the English Dork would say. And then there’s the perpetually open doors of the new Jerusalem, which sometimes get read in a universalist vein.

    But then there’s Rev 21:8…

    But as for cowards, the unfaithful, the depraved, murderers, the unchaste, sorcerers, idol-worshipers, and deceivers of every sort, their lot is in the burning lake of fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”

    Sounds like the potential for a healthy number there, doesn’t it?

  10. Jacob, I have a feeling that Joseph was talking about those who receive the fullness of the priesthood and then commit the unpardonable sin, hence the discussion of “this life.” No question that that is perdition.

  11. J., even if you are correct in your suspicion, wouldn’t that still argue in favor of there being very few people who are cast into OD permanently?

  12. Mogget: Rev 21:8… Sounds like the potential for a healthy number there, doesn’t it?

    This group in Rev 21:8 sounds suspiciously similar to the telestials described in D&C 76 thusly:

    103 These are they who are liars, and sorcerers, and adulterers, and whoremongers, and whosoever loves and makes a lie.
    104 These are they who suffer the wrath of God on earth.
    105 These are they who suffer the vengeance of eternal fire.
    106 These are they who are cast down to hell and suffer the wrath of Almighty God, until the fulness of times, when Christ shall have subdued all enemies under his feet

    DMI Dave’s point all along has been that, according to D&C 76, the second death in Rev 21:8 is only temporary. So, while it has the potential for a healthy number who suffer there for some period of time, D&C 76 says all of them will be saved in the due time of the Lord and only the small group of sons of perdition will remain there after that (although, as the post points out, we are explicitely not told what ultimately happens to those few).

  13. J., even if you are correct in your suspicion, wouldn’t that still argue in favor of there being very few people who are cast into OD permanently?

    If that were the only way, sure it would. I think that there are likely more than one way to skin this torment of a cat.

  14. J., The quote from the KFD says specifically that there is only one way. Thus, “All sin shall be forgiven except the sin agt. the H. G.” Likewise from the Vision:

    43 Who glorifies the Father, and saves all the works of his hands, except those sons of perdition who deny the Son after the Father has revealed him. (D&C 76)

    That seems to limit things pretty clearly to only one way to torment this cat.

  15. Fine. That’s not what I was getting at at all. We could do an unpardonable sin post later. The fact of the matter is, the “fingers of one hand” thing is dead wrong and based on folklore, myth, tradition, etc. Just call it anything but SOUND DOCTRINE. It makes no sense to reserve so much ink and space in scripture for only a handful of people.

    Universalism is wrong too. There is a Hell, and people will go there.

  16. David J,

    If your point is that lots of people will go to hell temporarily, then I totally agree, and I think everyone does, for that matter. The reason I brought up the unpardonable sin is the same reason you brought it up in your post–it is the actual origin and context for the “fingers of one hand” idea. The theological heterodoxy introduced by Joseph was not that there was no hell, but that hell was only a temporary abode for all but a very small group, whose number could be counted on the fingers of one hand.

  17. David J,

    When you say “Joseph never said that it was a small group,” are you talking now about the group that goes to OD as a final destination or the group that goes there for a sojourn? Making this distinction seems to be at the heart of the issue.

  18. according to D&C 76, the second death in Rev 21:8 is only temporary

    Unfortunately, Revelation is quite clear that it’s forever.

    But my larger point is this: as others have intimated, all of this is historically and contextually conditioned. Speculation about the afterlife has a remarkable record of shifting over the ages. Just read it in its context and then file it away.

    Very unwise to speculate about this sort of stuff and numbers and all that. Whatever the merits of the numbers, David J. is right about letting it die.

    Yes, universalism would be nice but it doesn’t seem to be indicated.

  19. Admin (is that you Mogget?),

    Fine, Revelation is quite clear that it’s forever (I assume it is clear in a verse you didn’t cite). 2 Ne 9:16 also says it goes on forever and has no end. But then, we have modern revelation which adds further light and knowledge on the topic, namely, D&C 19:7 and D&C 76. If you want to pit these scriptures against one another, okay, but then are you going to believe Rev 21:8 in the teeth of D&C 19 and D&C 76? I choose to interpret previous scriptures in light of modern revelation rather than rejecting modern revelation in favor of previous scriptures. And despite the declarative statements here that universalism is not indicated, I have yet to see any back up for that view.

    You can’t just say David J is right about letting it die until you demonstrate that David J is, in fact, right. The truth is that the post either intentionally cooked up a strawman of Dave’s position, or it fundamentally misunderstood the meaning of Dave’s statement. I gave the benefit of the doubt and assumed it was a genuine misunderstanding. After a couple of responses in a row of just declaring the post to be right after it has been demonstrated that the post fails to make the critical distinction upon which the whole disagreement hangs, I am starting to wonder. You see, this post has a context, just like the scriptures, and that context should not be ignored either.

  20. Ah Jacob, I am sorry to have irritated you, perhaps by a less fulsome explanation than is appropriate to the topic. Let me apolgize by way of trying again.

    There are many different and differing views about the afterlife and the life therein. Provided the two vice lists are reasonably similar, the difference in this matter between the Apocalypse of John and the Apocalypse of Joseph is not best described as a matter of interpretation.

    Not to worry. There are other places where a similar situation obtains. In those cases, as in this one, I’d just report that John said “X” while Paul said “Y” or whatever and leave it at that. As you say, it is inappropriate to pit scripture against scripture.

    Now then, if Dave is right and JS was reacting against the ideas of his day that Hell was filled with those who didn’t believe/behave exactly right, then that is an excellent bit of information in support of diachronic exegesis. Now we somewhat understand the shift and that’s always good.

    Beyond that, my agreement with David J. is based on my opinion that any speculation about numbers and rewards except in the most general terms is unhelpful. I had never heard this one before DAvid J. wrote about it. Instead, the one I’d heard was that the number of people who’d make to the highest level of the CK could be counted on one’s fingers. That is really unhelpful!

    As far as the merits of the numbers in either the KFD, the AGQ, or anyother source ancient or modern, I think I’m going to declare myself agnostic. Hence my thought, in agreement with David J., is to just let the whole issue die.

    And I don’t think it’s either illogical or faithless. Practical is how I’d like to characterize it.

    And beyond that, it’s good to see you around again…

    Mogs the Stealth Admin

  21. David J,

    I agree that there is no revelation that says the sons of perdition will be numbered in single digits. (In fact, since I believe the future is open I don’t think the final tally even could be foreknown.)

    However, you seem pretty certain that there will be a lot more than that. You said “The fact of the matter is, the “fingers of one hand” thing is dead wrong”. Since there is no clear revelation on the number who will “qualify” for outer darkness what makes you so sure there won’t be 1-5 sons of perdition? Isn’t a final total of 5 just as likely as, say, 10,005 as far as we know?

    I should note that we still don’t even know what outer darkness entails. Some people think it is a forever of torment for spirits in their current form. Others have opined that it is an obliteration of a spirit in current form — sort of a deconstruction of the soul. There are other ideas as well but we have very little actual revelation on the subject to help us sort the theories out so we are left to speculate.

  22. outer darkness

    Three references, all in Matthew and all associated with mourning and anger.

    8:12 but the children of the kingdom will be driven out into the outer darkness, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.”

    22:13 Then the king said to his attendants, ‘Bind his hands and feet, and cast him into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.’

    25:30 And throw this useless servant into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.’

    Davies and Allison cite a lengthy list of citations for this in apocalyptic literature and other intertestamental stuff.

    If anybody wants the list, say so and I’ll type them in so that you can go take a look.

    Their take: Hell is dark despite the fires and wherever it is, it’s as far from God as you can get.

  23. Thanks Mog. The question is whether the modern Mormon concept of outer darkness actually maps to the NT usage of the term. I find it unlikely that it does.

    (On a related note: I posted a long time ago on the idea that there is never a time when a free-willed person could not choose to repent and return to God. The post was about the idea that Lucifer could theoretically still repent.)

  24. David,

    We’ve had some epic blog debates and discussions on the free will vs. foreknowledge subject over at the Thang. (One post generated 370 comments) In answer to your question, yes I am pretty closely aligned with Open Theism thinkers on this subject. You can see the development of my opinions in those posts actually.

  25. Geoff, no time to peruse volumes on NTC — in 50 words or less, why open theism? What’s wrong with traditional/classical omniscience? 50 words or less, now!

    Since there is no clear revelation on the number who will “qualify” for outer darkness what makes you so sure there won’t be 1-5 sons of perdition?

    Scripture doesn’t intimate this. The language of those passages would have mentioned this as some sort of gloss or unimportant side-bar comment if that were the case. That the number is so few is pure folklore, speculation, myth, call it what you want. Again, it makes no sense for a doctrine to even exist if it touches so few, and yet the Bible (much more than the BofM) is saturated with the idea of hell. That’s the indirect evidence. Opining from evidence from absence, I’d say that the fact that nothing authoritative states that there will be 5 or so folks doomed to OD is indicative enough that this notions is BS.

    Isn’t a final total of 5 just as likely as, say, 10,005 as far as we know?

    Perhaps, but D&C 76 seems to read that hell’s influence will be felt among many. Although no exact numbers are given for any of the tiers of salvation (or damnation), the text reads as if to suggest that each compartment plays a major part in Mormon soteriology. I would submit that 5 or 6 rebels is not a major piece of any soteriology, and that it is so few, that if this notion were true, it probably would have been largely ignored by the authors of scripture, if even revealed. Yet it is revealed, and it is discussed at great length, and therefore has implication for all who read it, which is much more than just a handful of “speakers against the Holy Spirit.”

  26. Mogget,

    See, I knew we would end up agreeing. I readily concede that putting a definite number on it is unwise. I wouldn’t personally try to put a number on it. I took Dave’s original statement that sparked the post (in which he said 6 or 7) to be rhetorical, so I didn’t get too bent out of shape over it, but still, I accept and agree with your point.

  27. David J,

    Obviously you don’t want to discuss this with me, which is fine, but your last comment was interesting, so I’ll say one more thing.

    I agree with you that the Bible and the BofM are full of the doctrine of hell. I also agree that this would not be the case if hell was unimportant. I don’t think D&C 19 or 76 say that hell is unimportant or that it will only touch a very few. On the contrary, D&C 19 says the terribleness of hell is the reason we should repent now (that makes it pretty important). D&C 76 talks about an “innumerable” (vs. 109) number of people will be thrust down to hell until the last resurrection (vs. 85).

    So, it still seems to me that you’re missing the point. The “hell” as conceived of in Christianity generally (like that Bertrand Russell would be refering to) is a place where sinners go to burn forever. According to that definition of hell, D&C 76 is very clear that only the sons of perdition are even in the running. This limits the number to a relatively small number of people.

    That the number is so few is pure folklore, speculation, myth, call it what you want.

    You can keep saying this as many times as you want, but it is not folklore, it is based very clearly on the scriptures and the statement of Joseph Smith I quoted originally. If you really think lots of people will go to OD forever, you’ll need to account for these scriptures and statements from Joseph Smith.

  28. Geoff, no time to peruse volumes on NTC — in 50 words or less, why open theism?

    It’s pretty simple really. For the exact details of the future to be exhaustively known the future must be fixed and unchangeable. If the future is fixed we are all fated to our fixed future. If we cannot change our fate we are not really free to choose. If we can choose to change our “fate” the future is not actually fixed and thus cannot be exhaustively known (predidicted perhaps, but not exhaustively known).

  29. That the number is so few is pure folklore, speculation, myth, call it what you want.

    I agree with Jacob on this. That number is no more folklore or speculation or myth than the higher numbers you are speculating about. Proponents of lower or higher numbers can point to scriptures to make a pretty good case.

  30. whether the modern Mormon concept of outer darkness actually maps to the NT usage of the term

    Yeah, from the way Jesus is using it, it appears to be a stereotyped term even in the first century. I have , however, heard the idea that OD is a separation from God, which does show up in things like the Apocalypse of Peter. (OK, well actually in AofP, it’s “futherest darknesss”)

    Proponents of lower or higher numbers can point to scriptures to make a pretty good case.

    You know, I was thinking about this very point. I can think of places where the author thinks that lots of people will be “saved” in all its varieties. And I can think of places where the author thinks that lots of people are going to get a divine hammering. But I can’t think of any place in scripture where both are mentioned together. Can you?

    The reason this interests me is because I’m still working on the reasons behind speculating on the numbers thing. I cannot escape the sense that it’s manipulative to one degree or the other. And it seems to me that the LDS ideas that few will end up in OD are pretty unique.

    And BTW, I have been reading about Open Theism and its scriptural basis. It does seem to be a hot debate, but limited to the evangelicals. What originally brought it to your attention, if I may ask?

  31. Geoff, that was more than 50 words. Mogget, I think some of the views of Open Theists (like a denial of impassability and timelessness) are pretty standard for Mormonism. As to God’s lack of absolute foreknowledge, Blake Ostler’s first book is what turned me on to that idea. Like everyone, I had my suspicions that there was something incompatible about absolute foreknowledge and free-will, but it was not until Blake’s book that I really signed up as a person who doesn’t believe in absolute foreknowledge.

  32. Mog: What originally brought it [the idea of limited foreknowledge] to your attention, if I may ask?

    Blake Ostler and his the first volume in his Mormon Theology series.

    BTW – Blake mentioned that he had been doing work in this area before there was a large Open Theism movement.

  33. Thanks. I’ve flipped through Blake’s book but not read it. My take is that the objections to the co-existence of absolute foreknowledge and freewill are philosophical. What biblical support there is for Open Theism mostly comes from the OT and its rich theological diversity.

    As an exegete, I’m interested in it as a critic of the biblical position. However, I haven’t finished with it and won’t get back to it for a year or more, so I’m just curious. Mainstream theologians in the denominational traditions seem content with their Augustine, Aristotle, etc., etc. We shall see. Stuff like this plays out over decades.

    But I must say that the Evangelicals are quite hot on the subject. Some of the rhetoric is pretty amazing.

  34. I don’t understand the hullaballoo about timelessness and foreknowledge. It seems to me the basic argument is we don’t understand how these things can be true and us still have free will. Do we really even understand what time even is. Maybe you just think knowing the future requires it to be fixed and unchangeable. Maybe a mind unbound by time has a much clearer understanding of how this is false. Just because we don’t understand how two things exist doesn’t mean they can’t. Then to say it is standard for Mormonism, whoa there, hold up. I don’t recall the reference for that in the Doctrine & Covenants. I have not read Ostler’s work however, so maybe I am just being stubborn. I am just a little skeptical that the mysteries of God can be worked out by philosophy applied to the scriptures alone, finite trying to understand the infinite, leaning on the arm of flesh and all that.

  35. One you can add to your list is an allusion to what the KJV calles “under darkness” in Jude 6. This obscure bit of English is more helpfully rendered as “nether gloom” in the RSV.

  36. is more helpfully rendered as “nether gloom”

    LOL! That’s a great one.

    I think that even in the absence of positive descriptions suitable for the 21st century mind, it’s becoming clear that the distinction is between an afterlife that’s something of a party and one that’s not.


    Yes, I have many of the same reservations about Open Theism. This business of Truth is the stuff of philosophy and theology but it would seem subject to some limitations of its own. However, if you read really good theologians, they’re very careful about that sort of thing. It can be very interesting.

  37. Doc: Then to say it is standard for Mormonism, whoa there, hold up.

    Surely you agree that denying impassibility is standard for Mormonism, right? That seems to be beyond dispute.

    You seem to be more concerned with my inclusion of timelessness. I am not saying Mormonism is of one mind on the issue of timelessness, but I stand by my statement that claiming God to exist inside of time is “pretty standard” (by which I mean it is common). If you do a survey of the philosophically minded Mormon publications from Brigham Young’s day until the present, I am claiming that you will find far more people who deny the timelessness of God than who affirm it. Do you disagree?

  38. I’ve read some of the OT “plugs” for open theism, and they’re quite weak. What is probably a simple anthropomorphic idiom to the ancient writer is now transformed into the swallowing of a camel.

    So, even if God knows all things, why do you feel that strips you of your freedom? Why the assumption that omniscience implies control, compulsion, or coersion?

  39. Why the assumption that omniscience implies control, compulsion, or coersion?

    I never implied it did. I said a fixed future is incompatible with free will.

  40. I agree, the persuasive part of the argument against exhaustive foreknowledge is philosophical rather than scriptural. I have much the same reaction you do to the OT “plugs.”

    The problem with God knowing the future can be illustrated in a multitude of different ways. One way that seems straightforward to me is that if God knows the future (no matter how he knows it), then my future choice is already set by the fact that he knows it. For example, if he has known from all eternity that tonight I would choose X instead of Y, then I can’t choose Y without making God incorrect, and obviously I can’t make God incorrect (it’s contrary to the premise that God knows the future exhaustively). Thus, Y is not a real option, and the “choice” between X and Y which I think I have is actually an illusion. Without real choice, there is no real free will (i.e. libertarian free will).

    Now, the problem with the free will / foreknowledge debate is that you will undoubtedly feel I have missed some option by which you can escape the conclusion. You could argue that I am able to choose Y because this would simply change what God knew before (backward causation), or maybe you could argue that free will doesn’t require a genuine choice between alternatives. There are tons of angles and avenues, which can’t possibly be addressed here. That is why Blake’s book is so valuable, he goes through all the different “solutions” people have worked out shows in painstaking detail how each one fails to resolve the inherent incompatibility between exhaustive foreknowledge and free will. It is a thick book.

  41. that denying impassibility is standard for Mormonism,

    I suspect that most of the Saints don’t really know what impassibility is in the context of Biblical theology. That has a great deal to do with its rejection. I myself don’t have a problem with it when it is correctly defined and limited.

  42. Jacob,
    I was referring more to timelessness than to impassibility, though I am not really entirely sure what you are referring to by the term. It seems to me that the agency absolutely exists because WE are bound by time and knowing a choice does nothing to change that it was, in fact, a choice. I don’t know that God is timeless, but I don’t agree with the assertion that he cannot be so either.

  43. then my future choice is already set by the fact that he knows it.

    I don’t see why this is a necessity. The future could possibly be something that unfolds to us in the moment, but unfolds to God all at once, but I don’t see how that removes one’s freedom of choice. Assuming my neighbor is God and knows me so well that he knows which cuss word I’ll choose tomorrow when I stub my toe (most likely the “s” word, BTW) doesn’t necessarily mean he’s robbed me of that choice. It just means he knows it and I don’t. I guess I just don’t have a problem with someone else’s omniscience robbing the universe of its freedom of choice as the open theists do. So what if God knows all of it? That doesn’t necessarily mean he’s the one who made it that way. Just because he knows it all doesn’t necessarily mean he’s the author of it all.

  44. … the freewill of all participants in the universe could be what dictates the future, and God happens to know what all of it will be as a participant in it.

  45. Jacob: then my future choice is already set by the fact that he knows it.

    This is actually not quite accurate. If he knows it, it logically must be set (so it can be known). The future is not set because he knows it.

    David: Assuming my neighbor is God and knows me so well that he knows which cuss word I’ll choose tomorrow when I stub my toe (most likely the “s” word, BTW) doesn’t necessarily mean he’s robbed me of that choice.

    I “knew” we’d end up here in this discussion. (We always do in these conversations.) Look, your neighbor does not “know” which cuss word you’ll choose. He might accurately predict it, but you could always surprise him because the future is open and you have free will.

    Here is a better example: If God knows you are going to hell, it is a fixed fact. You cannot avoid it no matter how much you want to. God knows that events will transpire that will culminate with you in hell. The worst part about such foreknowledge is that neither you nor God can do anything about it. If you could, then God does not know it will happen after all. Therefore, exhaustive foreknowledge would be utterly useless to God anyway since he is an actor in our future and not just an observer. If he has exhaustive foreknowledge of our future he has foreknowledge of his participation in it too. It is all part of pernicious fatalism.

    Ever see the movie 12 Monkeys? That is a good example of this paradox.

    I contend that God is indeed like your neighbor in the example. He is the ultimate predictor of an open future. But the future is open and we do indeed have free will so some surprises can happen.

  46. I’ve read through the thread and I’m with Jacob (sorry David!) The problem seems to be that David is conflating “hell” with “Outer Darkness” when (in Mormon theology at least) there’s a clear difference.

    Hell is where the wicked suffer for their sins before being redeemed into the Telestial Kingdom.

    Outer Darkness is the home of the Sons of Perdition, those who refuse to ever accept Jesus’ grace. (i.e. it’s not the punishment of a vindictive God, but the natural state of the ultra-rebellious.)

    All the talk of “eternal punishment” is rendered void by D&C 19 where Jesus basically says, “Just kidding!”

    Now, I agree that Outer Darkness/Hell are probably synonymous in the New Testament, but in Joseph Smith we have new wine.

    To David’s point: we have no idea how many people will go to Outer Darkness.

  47. Mogget, please help me out with the correct definition and limits which make impassibility acceptable? Any hint would help.

    Doc, as I mentioned above, God’s knowning what choice we will make does indeed do something to prevent it from being a choice. It makes it impossible for you to choose anything but the option he knows you will choose. It’s sort of like when people got a choice of who to vote for in communist countries where there was only one person on the ballet. Not a compelling choice when there is only option.

    David, no one is saying that God’s knowledge of the future implies that he is the author of it or that he made the future what it is (see Geoff’s last comment). You didn’t address the argument I made for why God’s knowledge of the future makes choice between alternatives impossible. This argument is valid regardless of the mechanism by which God knows the future. Thus, your follow-up solution (that God knows me so well he can predict what I will do) misses the point and ignores the argument. All the same, your suggestion that God knows us so well he can perfectly predict our future behavior implies a form of determinism and entails that we cannot change whatever part of us that God knows in order to predict our behavior (if it were to change, the predictions based on the old self would end up being wrong, and it is no use saying God can predict the change we will make because an action necessitated by who we were previously cannot be considered a change).

  48. Oh, and David’s gleeful desire for the eternal damnation of the wicked (= non-Protestant) is explained by one thing: that infernal Protestant seminary of his.

  49. in Joseph Smith we have new wine

    In old bottles. Can’t be repeated often enough.

    make impassibility acceptable

    Oh, cmon man. I flushed that stuff four years ago! Uneccessary, all of it… And I love telling that to Catholics. 😉

    It’s weaker than the classical variety. It just follows the biblical line that God is faithful to his creation but I don’t remember all the details. Maybe I’ll dig it out over the weekend.

  50. Geoff: “This is actually not quite accurate. If he knows it, it logically must be set (so it can be known). The future is not set because he knows it.”

    True, I was sloppy in my language, I agree with your point. What I meant was that we can deduce that my future choice is already set by the fact that he knows it. I made the same sloppy mistake when I said to Doc that God’s knowing does “something to prevent it from being a choice.” Please read those with this caveat in mind, sorry for the slop.

  51. Mog, I always thought Joseph was new wine in new bottles. On impassibility, it sounds like you are going to end up saying impassibility is fine and dandy as long as it doesn’t mean what all the theologians have argued that it means since the time of Augustine. That’s quite possible.

  52. was new wine in new bottles

    Yeah, you’re supposed to put new wine in new bottles. And I think in Matthew you can put your old wine in old bottles, too. Fermentation, ya know.

    The “new wine in old bottles” is what happens when JS reuses the lexical stock of the OT/NT without quite using the same meaning.

    as long as it doesn’t mean what all the theologians have argued that it means since the time of Augustine

    See! You catch on quick! First thing we do, let’s kill all the theologians and philosophers… 😉 (nice chaste mogget kisses to all, actually!)

    We don’t worry about defending things like trinitarianism, original sin, or a host of lesser ideas. When we talk about God’s impassibility, it means he still loves us even when we’re naughty. Or something like that. I don’t remember all the logic.

    I am actually interested in how some of this plays out, but it’s hard to find time to do the work it takes. It’s a ways from my normal pastures.

    Jurgen Moltmann is one name that comes to mind in this regard. His contribution was to suggest that God suffers because he wills it so… And if God can suffer then he can love… But I may have it wrong.

    What’s your angle on impassibility?

  53. The one thing I’m surprised no one has speculated on is who would be one of those fingers? Are there any early church apostates that would seem likely? (And, particularly, who gets the middle finger?)

    Honestly, you guys are so quick to hop into lofty philosophical debates and just miss low hanging fruit like this. Tsk, tsk.

  54. Here is how I see it.
    From a timeless God’s perspective we’ve already made the choices we are going to make. From our perspective bound by time, the choices we make are our own. God simply sees it all as past. We don’t. We have choice, and he sees it all at once.

    Our finite minds cannot comprehend how this can be and try to say with our weak understanding that if he sees it, it must have been the only possible way things could have shook down, because he saw it that way. However, things shook down that way because we chose it from his perspective, will choose from ours. It is still a choice.

    Of course we could have chosen differently, then God would see it the other way, the bottom line is the way we eventually choose it, that is what God sees. There is no affront to agency, only an affront to our finite time bound minds.

  55. As an corellary, we don’t get upset that God has made it so we can’t change the past, nor do we see the past as taking away our agency because it is set, why should God knowing the future be different when we don’t and are moving through time even if he is not?

  56. Doc: From a timeless God’s perspective we’ve already made the choices we are going to make.

    You’re in trouble from the get-go here. “Already” is a time-dependent term so you this sentence makes no sense. Are you saying that our choices on this earth life have existed from all eternity? If so then we are fated and are only under the illusion that we make choices here.

    God simply sees it all as past.

    Which means he is not a free-willed actor on the earth either. He can only powerlessly observe the already existing time line. Under such a reality, if you are fated to hell neither you or God can change that.

    As an corellary, we don’t get upset that God has made it so we can’t change the past

    We and God are powerless to change the past. But you are proposing a view of reality that makes us and God powerless to change our fates as well. What is the upside of that? It flies directly in the face of Mormon doctrine in my opinion.

    Also, God is moving through time with us — that is why he is an actor in time and not some timeless observer (like a non-personified platonic Universal or something.)

  57. Okay, so say he sees it as all past but can change the past. He doesn’t move through time, but to a moment in time to intervene.

    I know, that doesn’t seem to work either because then he can erase our choices and alter our choices, from his perspective until we choose what is best, thus leaving no agency at all. Except that, from our perspective, we do have agency. We are making the choices. God is just changing the choices we are faced with. I guess the heart of the matter is what is our agency for. It is for our growth. God’s work and glory is the eternal life of Man. So it is all good.

  58. Hey Doc,

    If this stuff interests you, find a university or seminary and take an introductory course or two. Just stay away from the fundies.

    If you do, you’ll find that there really aren’t many either/or positions in theology. Most of the time there’s a spectrum and theologians positions themselves along it to their best advantage.

    For example, there’s a spectrum of what we might call God’s involvment. At one pole, God is hopelessly tangled in history. At the other, he’s totally aloof. Folks tend to pick a point between the two extremes and then work out the consequences.

    For example, there’s a great critique of Karl Rahner by Hans Ur von Balthasar on whether or not God changes in response to what happens “in history.” Von Balthasar thinks that unless Rahner’s idea of God’s unchangingness means that God is always loving and wills to reconcile us to him, then Rahner has gone too far toward the aloof side.

    The real deal, in non-theodork language is this: if God doesn’t change, how did the Christ have any impact? God was wrathful or whatever before hand and now we’re reconciled. So what changed? God? Or did God change us? Or what?

    So you see, you’ll really enjoy the subject more if you get a bit of an intro and a wider view of the options and implications. And some familiarity with the secondary literature, as well.

    –Mogget the AT, who really knows just about ZIP on this whole topic…

  59. Doc,

    Have you considered what it would mean for God to be timeless? Change, of any kind, cannot occur outside of time, because the very definition of a change is for something to be one way at time t and a different way at time t+1. So, if God is outside of time, he cannot change. That means he cannot change his location (very problematic in Mormonism where God is said to have a body), he cannot change what he is thinking, he cannot decide things, he cannot discuss things in a council, and so forth.

    Also, a very serious problem arises in trying to imagine how a timeless being interacts with things and people that exist in time. How does a timeless God (Christ, for example) enter into time and then go back to being timeless? There is no time at which God can come down to earth because there is no time at all. These are some of the reasons timelessness is usually rejected in Mormonism.

  60. David: if God knows I’m going to hell, he also knows I made the choices that would lead me there

    Just to clarify… The problem isn’t that God knows it, the problem is that in such a scheme the future already exists to be known and that you cannot avoid it. You cannot choose a different future if the future is fixed — just like we cannot choose a different past. Free will requires an open and non-fixed future by definition.

  61. Jacob,

    That’s a great summary! Thanks for your time and effort.

    It also makes me glad I’m an exegete rather than a theologian. Aye, yi, yi. The stuff you guys have to put up with….


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