Question:

1 Corinthian 15: 40-41 states there are different levels of heaven (Telestrial, Terrestrial and Celestial (being the highest level). Do you think there are “levels” or just Heaven and Hell?

Reply:
1 Cor. 15:40-41 says, “There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. 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.” Here the Apostle is comparing the celestial and terrestrial bodies, the heavenly and the earthly.

Readers may be wondering where our questioner finds the word, “Telestrial,” in these verses; it is not there. Professor Brad Price in his Commentary on the Epistle to the Corinthians says, “Mormons have attempted to use verses 40-41 to teach their belief about three kingdoms of glory in the next life. According to Mormon theology and as discussed in the commentary on verse 50, there is the “Celestial Kingdom,” the “Terrestrial Kingdom,” and the “Telestial Kingdom” and a person’s faithfulness determines which kingdom he receives. If people would just read the text they would see that Paul did not use the word telestial in verses 39-41, let alone anywhere in this chapter. Also, as shown in the preceding comments, Paul was speaking about heavenly (celestial) planetary bodies and how these stand in contrast to the various earthly (terrestrial) bodies made by God. He told the Corinthians a similar thing will be true for man; in this life the human body is weak and greatly impacted by sin (verses 42-44). In the resurrection people will receive a new body from God that is eternal and perfect (2 Cor. 5:1-4).”

The Amplified Version makes the Apostle Paul’s meaning in these verses clear: “There are heavenly bodies (sun, moon, and stars) and there are earthly bodies (men, animals, and plants), but the beauty and glory of the heavenly bodies is of one kind, while the beauty and glory of earthly bodies is a different kind. The sun is glorious in one way, the moon is glorious in another way, and the stars are glorious in their own [distinctive] way; for one star differs from and surpasses another in its beauty and brilliance. So it is with the resurrection of the dead. [The body] that is sown is perishable and decays, but [the body] that is resurrected is imperishable (immune to decay, immortal). [Dan. 12:3.] It is sown in dishonor and humiliation; it is raised in honor and glory. It is sown in infirmity and weakness; it is resurrected in strength and endued with power. It is sown a natural (physical) body; it is raised a supernatural (a spiritual) body. [As surely as] there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus it is written, The first man Adam became a living being (an individual personality); the last Adam (Christ) became a life-giving Spirit [restoring the dead to life]. [Gen. 2:7.]” (1 Corinthians 15:40-45) The doctrine of the resurrection has been called the centerpiece of Christianity.

Professor Brad Price points out, “In the first chapter of the Bible (Gen. 1:20-27) there is an ascending “scale of creation” (fish, fowl, beast, and man). Paul used this same scale here, but he reversed it (i.e. this list is given in descending order). Paul’s list also omits reptiles…The key point in [1 Corinthians 15] verse 39 as well verses 40-41 is that God designed an almost unbelievable number of different “bodies.” He has designed the various bodies for seeds (verse 38), as well as the numerous bodies for “fleshly creatures” (verse 39) and the “heavenly bodies” (verses 40-41). Based on what God has done in the past, we can have confidence in His ability to produce a resurrection body.”

How magnificent! Dr. C. H. Mackintosh exclaims: “What are death, the grave, and decomposition in the presence of such power as this? Talk of being dead four days as a difficulty! Millions that have been mouldering in the dust for thousands of years shall spring up in a moment into life, immortality and eternal glory, at the voice of that blessed One.”

Regarding the question of “levels” of heaven or hell, the Bible does not teach that there are either levels or compartments of hell (or of a supposed “purgatory”) as some believe, but it clearly teaches that there is a judgment for works, and therefore appropriate degrees of reward or punishment according to our deeds. Although salvation itself is a finished work of Christ and received by faith, yet God is not so unjust as to leave our labors for Him unrewarded in the life to come. Otherwise, why would there be a judgment for our works? Matthew 10:42 says, “And whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward.” He added in Matthew 16:27, “For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory (majesty, splendor) of His Father with His angels, and then He will render account and reward every man in accordance with what he has done.”

We read in Revelation 22:12, “Behold, I am coming soon, and I shall bring My wages and rewards with Me, to repay and render to each one just what his own actions and his own work merit. [Isa. 40:10; Jer. 17:10.]”

The Apostle Paul said, “For He will render to every man according to his works [justly, as his deeds deserve.]” (Rom 2:6)

Again Paul told us in Romans, “For it is written, As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall confess to God [acknowledge Him to His honor and to His praise]. [Isa. 45:23.] And so each of us shall give an account of himself [give an answer in reference to judgment] to God.” (Rom. 14:11-12)

In the Book of Revelation we are told of the Great White Throne judgment. “Then I saw a great white throne and the One Who was seated upon it, from Whose presence and from the sight of Whose face earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. I [also] saw the dead, great and small; they stood before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is [the Book] of Life. And the dead were judged (sentenced) by what they had done [their whole way of feeling and acting, their aims and endeavors] in accordance with what was recorded in the books. And the sea delivered up the dead who were in it, death and Hades (the state of death or disembodied existence) surrendered the dead in them, and all were tried and their cases determined by what they had done [according to their motives, aims, and works].” (Rev 20:11 -13)

See also Christ’s own words in Matthew 10:14-15 and 11:21-22. Bracketed remarks within Biblical quotations above are from the Amplified Version.

Finally, it is fascinating to read the pithy remarks of early Christian writer Origen concerning 1 Corinthians 15:40-41, “Even among earthly bodies there are no small differences. Take the human race, for example. Some are Greeks and some are barbarians, and among the barbarians, some are wilder than others. Some have higher laws. Some lower ones, and some follow savage customs which are not laws at all.” (On First Principles 2.9.3). It is sad to say, but the same observation holds just as true today!