Outer Darkness

I recently got an email from one of my readers. He shows a keyword search that he has done which is really quite amazing.

Here is the email I got from him:


Hi Watcher, 

I enjoyed reading your latest post…there is so much value in reasoning out the scriptures, even if participating vicariously. 

That post covered a lot of ground and there are several topics I need to go chew on a bit. But one really caught my attention because I’ve been working on it lately: Outer Darkness. The Outer Darkness I was taught by the LDS Church does not match the Outer Darkness referred to in the scriptures. I’d like to hear your thoughts on my analysis. (I’ve been working this up for a blog post, so if it sounds a little odd in places it’s because I got lazy and just copied and pasted from my work in process. I’ve highlighted in red several key words that are associated with Outer Darkness and they pop up repeatedly in the scriptures.) 

Ask a Mormon, “who goes to outer darkness?”, and you’ll most likely be told “the sons of perdition.”  These people, at the final judgement, will be deemed too wicked to receive a kingdom of glory and will be banished to outer darkness with Satan. Let’s see what the scriptures say. 

Alma teaches what happens after death for both the righteous and the wicked. 

Alma 40:12-17

12 And then shall it come to pass, that the spirits of those who are righteous are received into a state of happiness, which is called paradise, a state of rest, a state of peace, where they shall rest from all their troubles and from all care, and sorrow.

13 And then shall it come to pass, that the spirits of the wicked, yea, who are evil—for behold, they have no part nor portion of the Spirit of the Lord; for behold, they chose evil works rather than good; therefore the spirit of the devil did enter into them, and take possession of their house—and these shall be cast out into outer darkness; there shall be weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth, and this because of their own iniquity, being led captive by the will of the devil.

14 Now this is the state of the souls of the wicked, yea, in darkness, and a state of awful, fearful looking for the fiery indignation of the wrath of God upon them; thus they remain in this state, as well as the righteous in paradise, until the time of their resurrection. 

There’s our first problem. Alma teaches that the wicked are sent to outer darkness BEFORE their resurrection. And he teaches that there are only two groups, the righteous who go to paradise and the wicked who go into outer darkness. He even goes on to clarify that while there are several usages of the term resurrection, when he says they remain there until their resurrection he’s specifically referring to the resurrection when body and spirit are reunited and we are judged.

Alma 40:21

21 But whether it be at his resurrection or after, I do not say; but this much I say, that there is a space between death and the resurrection of the body, and a state of the soul in happiness or in misery until the time which is appointed of God that the dead shall come forth, and be reunited, both soul and body, and be brought to stand before God, and be judged according to their works. 

So Alma seems to think that outer darkness is where the wicked are sent to await the final judgement, not where a handful of really, really bad people are sent after they have been judged. 

In Doctrine and Covenants 133, the Lord is talking about the Second Coming. Near the end, he begins talking about the fate of the wicked who are alive at the time of the Second Coming.

D&C 133:63

63 And upon them that hearken not to the voice of the Lord shall be fulfilled that which was written by the prophet Moses, that they should be cut off from among the people.

64 And also that which was written by the prophet Malachi: For, behold, the day cometh that shall burn as an oven, and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble; and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch.

65 Wherefore, this shall be the answer of the Lord unto them:

66 In that day when I came unto mine own, no man among you received me, and you were driven out.

67 When I called again there was none of you to answer; yet my arm was not shortened at all that I could not redeem, neither my power to deliver.

68 Behold, at my rebuke I dry up the sea. I make the rivers a wilderness; their fish stink, and die for thirst.

69 I clothe the heavens with blackness, and make sackcloth their covering.

70 And this shall ye have of my hand—ye shall lie down in sorrow.

71 Behold, and lo, there are none to deliver you; for ye obeyed not my voice when I called to you out of the heavens; ye believed not my servants, and when they were sent unto you ye received them not.

72 Wherefore, they sealed up the testimony and bound up the law, and ye were delivered over unto darkness.

73 These shall go away into outer darkness, where there is weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth. 

According to D&C 133, those that go away into outer darkness are the ones that did not listen to God or his servants. They will be cut off from the righteous and delivered over unto darkness. While not stated specifically, it would appear that this is the beginning of the Millennium when Satan and his followers are bound for a thousand years. There is no talk of resurrection and judgement before they are sent to outer darkness. 

In D&C 101, the Lord tells the church to importune at the feet of government leaders for protection from their enemies. If the leaders don’t act, the leaders will suffer for their choices.

D&C 101:89-91

89 And if the president heed them not, then will the Lord arise and come forth out of his hiding place, and in his fury vex the nation;

90 And in his hot displeasure, and in his fierce anger, in his time, will cut off those wicked, unfaithful, and unjust stewards, and appoint them their portion among hypocrites, and unbelievers;

91 Even in outer darkness, where there is weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth. 

If only Sons of Perdition, who have had the fullness of the Father and then rejected it, go to Outer Darkness, the leaders of the US government in the 1830s and 1840s definitely don’t qualify as Sons of Perdition. Yet the Lord says those government officials will go to outer darkness. So we’ve got a problem. 

In Matthew 8, when the Centurion has faith for his servant to be healed remotely merely by Christ’s word, he compares the faith of that Gentile to the house of Israel and says:

Matthew 8:12

12 But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 

Surely anyone who lacked adequate faith to have a miracle doesn’t qualify as a Son of Perdition. If so, then I’m doomed. 

When Christ tells the parable of the Wedding Banquet in Matthew 22, the guest who is not wearing the wedding clothes is discovered.

13 Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 

In Matthew 25, Christ tells the story of the unprofitable servant. Whereas the first two servants provide an increase and receive a reward, this third servant, who didn’t squander the Lord’s money but merely didn’t do anything with it, is cast into outer darkness:

30 And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 

So the first question I have is: where in the scriptures does it say that Sons of Perdition go to outer darkness? 

I can’t find a single verse that says that. Section 88:32 only says that sub-telestial people return again to their own place. It doesn’t say what that place is. D&C 88:37 says there are many kingdoms but only mentions the celestial, terrestrial, and telestial specifically. I’m guessing there has to be more than just outer darkness for the Lord to say there are many. 

D&C 76 talks about the Sons of Perdition, but never says anything about outer darkness.  

Now let’s take a look at those word links: weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth. 

D&C 19
2 I, having accomplished and finished the will of him whose I am, even the Father, concerning me—having done this that I might subdue all things unto myself—
3 Retaining all power, even to the destroying of Satan and his works at the end of the world, and the last great day of judgment, which I shall pass upon the inhabitants thereof, judging every man according to his works and the deeds which he hath done.
4 And surely every man must repent or suffer, for I, God, am endless.
5 Wherefore, I revoke not the judgments which I shall pass, but woes shall go forth,
weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth, yea, to those who are found on my left hand. 

Those on the left hand refer to a binary judgement Christ performs at his return: the righteous on his right hand and the wicked on the left hand. No degrees of glory or different kingdoms yet. But those on the left hand receive weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth, which the scriptures uniquely identify with outer darkness. 

Abinadi teaches about those who will weep, and wail, and gnash their teeth…and they aren’t the Sons of Perdition.

Mosiah 16
1 And now, it came to pass that after Abinadi had spoken these words he stretched forth his hand and said: The time shall come when all shall see the salvation of the Lord; when every nation, kindred, tongue, and people shall see eye to eye and shall confess before God that his judgments are just.
2 And then shall the wicked be cast out, and they shall have cause to howl, and
weep, and wail, and gnash their teeth; and this because they would not hearken unto the voice of the Lord; therefore the Lord redeemeth them not.
3 For they are carnal and devilish, and the devil has power over them; yea, even that old serpent that did beguile our first parents, which was the cause of their fall; which was the cause of all mankind becoming carnal, sensual, devilish, knowing evil from good, subjecting themselves to the devil.
4 Thus all mankind were lost; and behold, they would have been endlessly lost were it not that God redeemed his people from their lost and fallen state.

Abinidi is basically saying that all mankind have qualified for outer darkness (where there is weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth) and it is only those who have been redeemed of the Lord who avoid it. That’s consistent with what Jesus taught in Matthew, and what the Lord says in D&C.

This imagery of those on the inside being saved and those cast into outer darkness weeping, and wailing, and gnashing their teeth is common in the scriptures.

Luke 13
24 ¶ Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.
25 When once the master of the house is risen up, and hath shut to the door, and ye begin to stand without, and to knock at the door, saying, Lord, Lord, open unto us; and he shall answer and say unto you, I know you not whence ye are:
26 Then shall ye begin to say, We have eaten and drunk in thy presence, and thou hast taught in our streets.
27 But he shall say, I tell you, I know you not whence ye are; depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity.
28 There shall be
weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out.
29 And they shall come from the east, and from the west, and from the north, and from the south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God.
30 And, behold, there are last which shall be first, and there are first which shall be last.

Matthew 24
45 Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath made ruler over his household, to give them meat in due season?
46 Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing.
47 Verily I say unto you, That he shall make him ruler over all his goods.
48 But and if that evil servant shall say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming;
49 And shall begin to smite his fellowservants, and to eat and drink with the drunken;
50 The lord of that servant shall come in a day when he looketh not for him, and in an hour that he is not aware of,
51 And shall cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites: there shall be
weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Here we have people who don’t appear to have done anything close to what Cain did who are nevertheless sent to where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth (outer darkness). We’re back to the binary judgement that Alma and Abinadi taught. In Matthew 24, these are servants who stop looking for the return of their master. And their sentence is to be with hypocrites. D&C 101 (referenced above) says that hypocrites get sent to outer darkness. If hypocrites go there, there’s going to be a lot of people in outer darkness!  Just look at how many people Christ called hypocrites during his mortal ministry! Or Alma 34:28…yikes!


So help me out here. Am I totally looking straining at gnats or is outer darkness as described in the scriptures different than outer darkness taught by the LDS Church?

I shared the above email with my gospel scholar/ attorney friend in the Denver area and this was his response, which was similar to my own response:

This is awesome! 

I don’t remember ever noticing that the term “outer darkness” was applied to the post-death, pre-resurrection spirit world in the Scriptures, nor did I realize that the term outer darkness is never used in the scriptures directly in relation to the Sons of Perdition! 

Here is my take (buckle up, because this and a $1.50 will get you a cold Orange Fanta if you are at the right machine!):  

The term “outer darkness“ is not a place, or a specific doctrinal term, as we have come to use and think of it in the Mormon church.  Note that it is never capitalized in the Scriptures.  

Rather, it is simply quaint old English we don’t use anymore (kind of like “without a city wall” instead of outside a city wall) and is nothing more nor less than a description of something, in this case, a specific condition or circumstance.  

Looking at other translations of the original text is, in my opinion, again quite enlightening. Here are some other translations of Mathew 8:12 

“will be thrown outside, into the darkness” 

“will be thrown out into the dark” 

“will be thrown out into the darkness” 

“will be thrown into the darkness outside” 

And others that use the term “outer darkness” but add the critical clarifying word “the”-  

“will be thrown out into the outer darkness” 

As such, it applies perfectly well to anyone who finds themselves in the condition or circumstance of being outside of the light, or of a lighted place, and as a result, are literally in darkness.  

This would thus include both those who are in this condition in the spirit world while awaiting resurrection (Group 1), and also those who in the end, after resurrection and judgment, are ultimately found to be “filthy still” and end up in one of the kingdoms of darkness outside of the kingdoms of glory or light, as referenced in Sec 88 (Group 2). Both of these groups find themselves outside of the light, in the dark, i.e., in “outer darkness”. 

There are two places in the NT that  immediately jump to mind that vividly describe this circumstance with powerful imagery. One is the parable of the 10 virgins and the other is the parable of the wedding feast (which is one of the places where the expression is used).  

In both cases one is left with the powerful imagery of being left outside in the cold, miserable dark looking in at a warm, lighted place (symbolically the wedding feast / celebration of Christ and His bride the Church) into which there is no further entry permitted. On the outside looking in, as it were.  

What I believe few people realize, and apropos of the Scriptures we have been discussing recently, is that Group 1 is comprised of (at least) two different subgroups, and Group 2 is comprised exclusively (or almost exclusively) of sons of Perdition who became such not on this earth but as a result of choosing to follow Satan at a time when they were not blinded by any “veil” and they had full access to the Holy Spirit, truth, light and a full understanding of God and His plan of salvation. They “knew of his power” and were made “partakers thereof”. These are the Sons of Perdition.  

Group 1 is comprised of (a) the Sons of Perdition, but also (b) those who freely chose to follow Christ and participate fully in the Plan is Salvation, but then after passing through the veil, were not valiant and did not live either the law of mercy or the law of justice.  Rather, they lived the law of judgment and (will eventually) qualify to be saved in the Telestial Kingdom of Glory by the power of the atonement under the law of judgement. 

This next bit is pure speculation, but upon reflection, I wonder if there might not be a second way that people can qualify as Sons of Perdition in this life, even after having chosen to come and participate in the Plan but without walking by “knowledge” or “sight” here? 

Everyone has the Light of Christ. I wonder if it might be possible that one can continually choose evil over light (reject the Light of Christ within) so willingly, wantonly, knowingly and repeatedly, that it could qualify as putting Christ to an open shame and crucifying him afresh? 

Just a wild thought, but probably can’t standup in light of 76:31. 


BTW I found out that the guy who sent the initial email to me has recently started his own blog. You might find some of his posts interesting. I have not read them all and do not endorse anything he has written, but I am so impressed with his ability to keyword search and parse that I think his site might be worth perusing.

Measuring Doctrine





3 Responses to Outer Darkness

  1. Devin says:

    Outer darkness is not a comfortable place. For a reason. Here might be another way to look at it. The Milky Way galaxy is God’s Domain. In the center the light is brightest, the glory is so bright that from millions and billions of miles away a person can still see that galaxy, which often times is mistaken for a typical star in the night sky. Slightly further out from center (separated by an asteroid belt) is a more terrestrial realm, and further still (once again separated by yet another asteroid belt) is a more Telestial realm. Let’s say the earth goes through phases in a large elliptical orbit starting near the center (near unto Kolob) when created and after Adam and Eve partook of the fruit, the earth (for their sakes) was sent in that elliptical orbit away from God who resides in the center. The earth still remained terrestrial, without rain just a terrarium like atmosphere, but noticeably less glorious than the Garden of Eden. Then as mankind proceeds to get more wicked, and only a handful of righteous remain, Noah is tasked with saving and restarting the human race after a thorough cleansing. At this point the earth has passed through the further asteroid field, the earth which held atmosphere and terrarium like water conditions now has rain, snow, wind, tornados, hurricanes, earthquakes and all manner of Mother Nature anomalies. Most of which is not pleasant to human life. At the furthest distance from God a Savior is born who turns the trajectory of earth back towards God (the literal definition of repentance). As man heeds Christ and remains as a little child he is able to learn line upon line, precept upon precept and progress back toward God. Maybe his life only lasts 40-70 years and there is only so much progression he is capable of during a short lifetime. But the point is that he was increasing and moving in a forward direction. Contrast that now with the average so-called Christian who reads a bit, attends church regularly, gets a few scriptural concepts in his head and thinks he knows it all. As new scripture or revelation is presented to him, which is actually from God, he doesn’t need that. He’s got all he needs. (A bible a bible, we’ve got a bible…) Or better yet, there’s a man on the earth who directs his generation of followers so if that guy speaks, he will listen.

    When we die we are temporarily located either in light and love and paradise with those who have chosen progression, like we did. Or we find ourselves in a darkened place where our choices come back to mind and haunt us, and are a constant reminder that we reside now in darkness because of the way we both treated our fellowmen and the ego he had that we thought we knew it all, thus rejecting further truth. This state of prison is only temporary as there will be a final judgment, but it may seem like an eternity as earth still has the full millennium to go through before we can arrive at the final judgment. Those who choose light and truth go quickly to their reward. Those who have fallen short of the good that was offered them, are left in a darkened time-out corner to remember their shortcomings. Later, when it does come time to be placed in a kingdom, there are many divisions and subdivisions within each realm. You gravitate to the place where you feel most comfortable. For one who progressed and received more light and truth, that person will naturally find his comfortable space in either a terrestrial or celestial realm. But for the person who spent that last 1000 years of the earths existence in a time out corner, this person will be glad to receive even the lowest spot in the Telestial kingdom because there is worse that he can choose. Outer darkness can be a reference to the temporary state of prison, where regret rules the day and this is why one is weeping, wailing and gnashing teeth, because if only they had done _____ better they wouldn’t have ended up here. And likely they are on the outside of paradise where they can see those in paradise who got it right, including some of their friends in mortality, who tried to persuade them to become more childlike and pray and ask God more often, but they insisted they already knew it and didn’t need God to explain it better. Their ego prevented them from obtaining further light, resulted in dwindling in unbelief and ending up in here.

    The outside of the galaxy, which is outside of the gravitational pull of the galaxy, but still close enough to see the different glories of the galaxy in their separations and placement could be the outer darkness spoken of where those who reject God end up. It is a place where that person may be disorganized having failed at progressing and having proven unfit for a human progression condition. This person then gets disorganized. Every cell of their resurrected body is then separated and is merely disorganized matter ready for the next earth experience in which the creation of a planet is needed to begin with taking disorganized matter and forming it into a world. And the process begins anew.

    Each earth process could be like this. Not every one will have a Savior like ours did, in fact very rarely is there a savior assigned to a planet. But when one is, it is both a progression opportunity for him and for each soul who is born into that world. What we do with it determines our next eon of time. The phrase “worlds without end” found in scriptures, hint that we may have many earth opportunities and experiences until we can eventually progress to a point to become a savior of a world and then when we have successfully accomplished all that we saw Christ do, which was what he meant when he said, “I do nothing but what I’ve seen the father do” we can eventually become like our Heavenly Father is.

    Just some thoughts to consider.

    • ryannickelco says:

      I’ve been studying this for a while. Here’s something to consider. D&C 88:24 states there are kingdoms which are kingdoms of no glory. And verse 32 states that those who remain, meaning those that are not resurrected to a telestial glory, are quickened or resurrected and RETURN AGAIN to their own place.

      What place? Could it be outer darkness since they’re returning again?

      Just some thoughts.

  2. In my opinion, verse 24 could be referring to multiple kingdoms without glory or it could be a generic statement referring to a kingdom without glory. I don’t find the verse to reveal a definitive answer on that topic.

    Verse 32 sounds like a temporary “quickening” to me, provided so that they can come forth to be judged but I am not convinced that they are receiving a physical glorified resurrection that they will enjoy throughout eternity.

    You may be right on both accounts but I would personally need additional witnesses from scripture on both topics to be convinced. It seems like there are conflicting passages to those interpretations me.

    Thank you for sharing those thoughts.

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