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1 Corinthians 15:39-41 (KJV)

39 All flesh is not the same flesh: but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts, another of fishes, and another of birds. 40 There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. 41 There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory.

Many people talk about Heaven and Hell as singular nouns; however, it doesn't seem to make sense that everyone will receive the same reward.

Some people are more righteous than others. Some people live good, honorable lives and help others, but they don't give as much to the kingdom of God as someone else might.

This verse seems to suggest that there are different levels of glory (sun, moon, stars).

Are we to understand that there are separate levels of glory? If not, what are we to understand by this passage?

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I am digressing a bit here, I wanted to point out that it seems there will be different measures of Glory even in heaven, see Daniel 12:3 " 3 Those who are wise[a] will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever. –  Paddington Sep 28 '12 at 6:43
    
I think this may be getting taken out of context. If you read 1 Cor 15:35-58, you'll note that Paul is talking about our earthly body dying and us receiving a ressurected body to enter God's Kingdom. He points out that a seed of wheat is going to die and produce more wheat, not something else. "and to each kind of seed He gives its own body." The sun is not the moon. Each is distinct. Each star is different. Following that train of thought, he goes on to say that the body that dies will be different from our ressurected body. "Flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of Heaven." –  PMII Jul 20 at 12:18

8 Answers 8

up vote 14 down vote accepted

To my knowledge, neither the Catholic church nor most protestant denominations believe in multiple "levels" of Heaven. (Of course the Catholic church believes in Purgatory, which is a third locality, distinct from both Heaven and Hell). However, many Christians do believe in varying degrees of reward in Heaven (and possibly varying degrees of punishment in Hell). There are many verses used to defend this view. One popular one is Matthew 16:27:

For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.

The argument is that this verse (and many others with similar terminology) is using the phrase "according to what they have done" to indicate that deeds done on Earth will affect the degree of reward received in Heaven.

For a more complete discussion of this topic, and many other supporting verses, go here.

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I don't think that reward each person according to what they have done is the same as different levels of heaven. That could mean everything they have done, or just one thing they have done and the reward could be different levels, or just a singular reward that you either receive or don't receive. I just thought I would point out how that could be interpreted. –  styfle Aug 25 '11 at 6:03
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@styfle: My personal view is that it certainly does not mean multiple levels of heaven, and that it does not necessarily even mean different degrees of reward. The point of my answer was more to explain one common view. –  Flimzy Aug 25 '11 at 6:12
    
I like this answer. It does open a slight can of worms in pinning down what "Heaven" actually means, but it seems to be generally acceptable among Christians, and that's what I was looking for. –  tjameson Aug 29 '11 at 5:51

This answer is the doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (the "Mormon" Church).


There are more than two places people ultimately end up after judgement. There are three Degrees of Glory (and there is Outer Darkness, see next section). The three degrees of glory (in descending order of glory) are the Celestial kingdom (compared to the sun), the Terrestrial kingdom (compared to the moon), and the Telestial kingdom (compared to the stars).

Life in each of the Terrestrial and Telestial kingdoms is better than this life, but neither is as good as life in the Celestial kingdom. In the Celestial kingdom, people can live with God and their family (meaning the people in their family in this life).


Most people on earth will end up in one of these degrees of glory. Even most people guilty of some terrible and despicable things and not repented of them will.

Ending up in Outer Darkness takes something that most people on earth are not capable of: rebelling against God after knowing (not only having faith) of the truth of the gospel. The vast majority of people, including me, do not. If you have any wonders about if you do, you don't.

Satan will end up in outer darkness for his wilful rebellion against God with such a knowledge.

LDS Scriptural Ref:

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Well put. Are there any other denominations that have similar beliefs? In other words, is this localized to the LDS faith or are there others with similar views? –  tjameson Aug 25 '11 at 4:37
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Can you provide scripture references for these views? –  Flimzy Aug 25 '11 at 5:17
    
@Flimzy - besides 1 Corinthians 15:39-41, as mentioned in the original question, you also have 2 Corinthians 12:2 "I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. " –  JustinY Aug 25 '11 at 15:06
    
@Flimzy the LDS faith has specific scripture that expounds on this, is that what you're looking for? –  KronoS Aug 31 '11 at 6:14
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@KronoS: Since the answer is from an LDS viewpoint, I think that would be completely appropriate, yes. –  Flimzy Aug 31 '11 at 6:14

The first thing that came to my mind is the parable of the workers in the vineyard from Matthew 20:1-16.

For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.

[...]

The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’

But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’

(emphasis mine)

Everyone who works for the kingdom of heaven receives the same reward regardless of how long or how well they have worked. The reward may simply be salvation/eternal life, which would still allow for multiple levels of heaven. However, the parable does refer to a singular kingdom of heaven, and chastises those who want better pay than they signed up for (a higher level of heaven, when one has claimed to be satisfied with Jesus and his salvation?). While different levels of recognition within heaven and hell are hinted at in Matthew 16:27 and throughout the New Testament, multiple levels of heaven seem unlikely.

As for the verses you quoted (1 Corinthians 15:39-41), they would probably best be considered within their context (at least 1 Corinthians 15:35-43). The verses just before and after discuss the differences between perishable and imperishable bodies, and thus your verses are probably referring to difference in glory between immortal and mortal bodies. There does seem to be an allowance for some bodies to have a greater degree of glory/splendor than others, but I don't see how this can be stretched beyond bodies to imply different degrees of heaven or hell, when neither is mentioned in the passage.

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What does this mean for those who were faithful, but not baptized? (like Tibetan monks, or devout Muslims). Are they consigned to Hell because they did not qualify for heaven? What about those who were baptized, but weren't 100% obedient, yet were still pretty good people? –  tjameson Aug 26 '11 at 4:26

Apparently, whenever "heaven" refers to what we think of as Heaven, it is singular. The times that it is used in a plural form are in cases like the clouds or space. Reference: Blue Letter Bible.

When it comes to varying levels of rewards, not only is there that verse that Flimzy referred to (Matthew 16:27 [NLT]), but there are even at least three different kinds of crowns that we can receive in Heaven.

There is the Crown of Life:

James 1:12 (NLT)
"God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him."

Revelation 2:10 (NLT)
"Don’t be afraid of what you are about to suffer. The devil will throw some of you into prison to test you. You will suffer for ten days. But if you remain faithful even when facing death, I will give you the crown of life."

There is the Crown of Righteousness:

2 Timothy 4:8 (NLT)
"And now the prize awaits me—the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the day of his return. And the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to his appearing."

There is the Crown of Glory:

1 Peter 5:4 (NIV)
"And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away."

Hence, even though there seems to be only one Heaven, you can still get different levels of rewards.

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In contrast to Sapphireimage's parable, see the Parable of the Pounds (Luke 19) where those who work harder in the service of the Lord are given a greater reward, proportionate to the quality of their work.

The apparent contradiction can be explained by looking carefully at what's being measured. In the parable of the hired servants, all of the workers showed up ready to work, and can be assumed to have all worked faithfully once they were hired; they simply served for different lengths of time. But in the parable of the pounds, the different servants all served for the same length of time, but displayed wildly different degrees of faithfulness and dedication to their Lord's cause.

Also, Paul explicitly stated that there is a "third heaven" (1 Corinthians 12:2). He speaks of it in a passing way, as if referring to something that ought to already be familiar to the readers. Unfortunately, the original source for the doctrine has not been preserved for us.

But yes, in light of this, it seems that there is biblical justification for believing that there are at least three levels of heaven.

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The word "heaven" is used several different ways in the Bible - as the earth's atmosphere (ESV Deut.11:11,1 Kings 8:35,Isa. 55:10), interplanetary/interstellar space (ESV Gen.15:5,Ps. 8:3, Isa. 13:10), and also the home of God (1 Kings 8:30, Ps. 33:13-14, Matthew 6:9). I think that Paul used "third heaven" to make it clear that he had travelled to the heaven where God resides, not into the sky. The parallel structure in verses 3&4 ("And I know that this man...was caught up to paradise") seems to imply a singular paradise, such that the 1st and 2nd levels wouldn't match the modern def of heaven –  sapphiremirage Aug 25 '11 at 23:19
    
oops. I forgot to specify which verses I'm claiming are parallel. That would be the verse that mentions the third heaven, 2nd (not 1st) Corinthians 12:2 - "I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven" (NIV) and then the following verses 3 and 4 ("And I know that this man...was caught up to paradise"). Also, I'm not trying to say that there aren't rewards for faithful service to the Kingdom of God. Those are described throughout the Bible, as evidenced by many of the references given in answers here. I'm just skeptical of multiple levels of heaven. –  sapphiremirage Aug 25 '11 at 23:31

According to LDS theology, there are 3 main Regions of existence from the highest to the lowest, and within each of these Regions are many other places, or sub-regions.

Jesus himself speaks about these different Regions including the one He is from which He refers to as "The First Mystery". The Earth is one of 3 places in the lowest Region. This Lowest 3rd Region is the only Region where beings are material .

The beings in the higher Regions are identified by their "Light". This is all recorded in the 'Pistis Sophia', which recorded Jesus instructions to his disciples, as well as Mary his mother, Mary Magdalene, Martha, and others in the 11 year period (or 11 months, as there is some dispute about the actual time period involved) after Jesus's Resurrection from the Dead, and before he Ascended to Heaven for the final time.

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Welcome! To improve the quality of this answer, please state your denominational / religious perspective (eg LDS) and add references to back up your assertions (eg links, like I just did). Also, please read the tour page. –  Wikis Dec 4 '13 at 7:26
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Welcome to C.SE! When you get the chance, please check out our tour and specifically How we are different than other sites. This was a good answer, in that it accurately represents the theological framework (LDS) for which it speaks. In future, clarifying who believes what is being said would be helpful, but good job! –  Affable Geek Dec 4 '13 at 12:41

There was a popular cosmology in neo-Platonist antiquity (the time of Jesus and St. Paul) that described circles of heaven. St. Paul's cosmological view shows forth in a lot of his descriptions. You mentioned the third circle reference in 2Co 12. You also mentioned 1Co 15. He also described "principalities and powers, " which are associated with circles of heaven.

There's an echo of this cosmology in the hymn "Immortal, invisible, God only wise, with light inaccessible hid from our eyes."

Romans 8:38-39 invokes this cosmology (angels, rulers, powers, height, etc) and then says "no" to it. It is not the way God's presence and love for humanity is organized.

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (NRSV)

It's helpful to distinguish St. Paul's culturally inculcated ideas of cosmology (and ours!) from the mysteries of God's creation.

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the reference in Romans herein does not indicate there is a "no" wrt segments of heaven - it says there is no conceivable manner in which anything can separate us from the "love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord". –  warren Sep 28 '12 at 11:03

In Judaism, and in some subsequent Christian cosmologies (specifically Gnostic), there is the concept of "seven heavens." Most modern Christian groups only believe in one and discourage speculation since there is very little Scriptural information on Heaven and so you verge into "just making it up" territory very quickly.

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