Telestial: The Farthest Away or Lowest World

At an address given in 1982, Hugh W. Nibley pointed out that the word telestial means the farthest away or the lowest world. Previous articles discussed Paul’s letter to the Corithians about the three degrees of glory as well as Joseph Smith’s vision of these glories.1 In context of these statements, the following may provide additional insight into the meaning of the word telestial:

The Telestial, Terrestrial, and Celestial RepresentedI was told that there were supposed to be three talks, and naturally I immediately thought of everything falling into three in the gospel and tradition. In the Old Testament there is the idea of the three degrees, which may rightly be designated as telestial, terrestrial, and celestial. For example, the ancient Gnostics, the early Christians, always talked about the pneumatic, the psychic, and the hylic types of human beings. The pneumatic is the spiritual, the psychic is the mixture of the two (body and spirit), and the hylic are those that are grossly and purely physical. But this actually reflects the early Jewish teachings of the neshamah, which is the highest of the spirit; the ruakh, which is in between; and the nefesh, which is the lower spirit in this world. We are taught in the Kabbalah a great deal about the three Adams. There is the celestial Adam, who was Michael before he came here; the terrestrial Adam, who was in Eden; and the telestial Adam, after he had fallen, who was down low. The Kabbalah also tells about Jacob’s ladder. Joseph Smith taught that it represented the three stages of initiation in the temple, the three degrees of glory, which are designated as telestial, that is, the lowest order; and then astronomical, or dealing with the physical world, which is higher up still; and then finally the world which is beyond. Particularly interesting is the designation in some of the newly discovered apocalyptic writings about the upper or hidden world, the Eden, and the lowest world. The only way you can translate it is to use Joseph Smith’s word, which is telestial (from the Greek telos), which means farthest removed, as distant as you can get, what the Arabs call the aqsa. Joseph Smith coined that word, and he couldn’t have used a better one—the telestial, the farthest away of all the worlds.2

While some may view this statement from a purely mechanistic point of view in relationship to Kolob, it could also be viewed in the context of organization, or, in the words of Joseph Smith, “government”.3

Sources:

  1. D&C 76: The Poetic Rendition.
  2. Nibley, Hugh W. “Three Degrees of Righteousness from the Old Testament”. Approaching Zion. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1989. 308.
  3. Facsimile 2. Book of Abraham. See Explanations 1, 2, and 5.

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  1. Mike’s avatar

    Very thought provoking post Greg. As always, thanks so much for sharing.

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