Abraham Chapter 3 The Visions of Abraham
Abraham 3 Astronomy and the Premortal World
Abraham 3:2-4 Kolob and God=s Time. And I saw the stars, that they were very great, and that one of them was nearest unto the throne of God; and there were many great ones which were near unto it. Kolob was after the manner of the Lord, according to its times and seasons in the revolutions thereof; that one revolution was a day unto the Lord, after his manner of reckoning, it being one thousand years according to the time appointed unto that whereon thou standest.
Abraham 3:17 There is nothing that the Lord thy God shall take in his heart to do but what he will do it.
Abraham 3:22-25 Now the Lord had shown unto me, Abraham, the intelligences that were organized before the world was; and among all these there were many of the noble and great ones. We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell.
Abraham 3:27-28 And the Lord said: Whom shall I send? And one answered like unto the Son of Man: Here am I, send me. And another answered and said: Here am I, send me. And the Lord said: I will send the first. And the second was angry, and kept not his first estate; and, at that day, many followed after him.
It has become a well-established tradition in commentaries on this chapter to entirely miss both the point and purpose of Abraham's revelation. Faith in Christ and an understanding of the gospel are essential to salvation. a knowledge of astronomy and the rotation of various planets is not. Why then was this revelation given to Abraham? Why in the providence of God was it preserved to come forth as a special treasure to faithful Saints of the last days? Surely all truth is profitable, but not all truth is of equal worth. We would expect a revelation specially preserved to come forth in this day to be more than an invitation for the student of the scriptures to contemplate the heavens. In short, why all the fuss about stars and their rotations? The answer is that Abraham 3 is a prototypical example of the principle of "likening." Abraham is teaching about the Savior, but he does it by the mechanism of likening the heavens to him.
This chapter divides itself into very natural parts: the first seventeen verses deal with planets and their relationship one to another; the last eleven verses speak of pre-earth spirits and their relationships one to another. At first glance, it may appear that Abraham is dealing with two separate ideas, each deserving a chapter of its own. A more careful reading, however, reveals that the second part of the chapter is a deliberate restatement of the first. Each principle describing the relationship of one star or planet to another proves to be equally descriptive of the nature and relationship of pre-earth spirits one to another and each to the Savior. The revelation on planets ends in the eighteenth verse where the revelation on pre-earth spirits begins. The two parts of the revelation are welded at that point with the words "as, also," which is simply to say what is true of the stars is "also" true of the spirits.
Chapter 3 contains several visions experienced by Abraham, none of which appears in the Bible. These visions disclose three fundamental doctrinal concepts that are unique to the Church. They are found in no other Christian denomination. These are:
1. This earth is only one of innumerable worlds that God has created as dwelling places for his children, and these worlds are ordered in a hierarchical manner (verses 1-17).
2. The primal essence of man, here called intelligence, is uncreated and eternal (verses 18-21).
3. All mankind dwelt in God's presence prior to this mortal earth life and there participated in councils where we deliberated about our future state (verses 22-28). The doctrine of the premortal existence of man is one of those fundamental concepts that set Latter-day Saints apart from other Christian denominations. It is an exalting and motivating doctrine that helps answer the critically important questions of where we came from and why we are here. Each of us is not simply one of God's creations-one of his creatures-rather we are his literal spirit sons and daughters with the innate, inherited potential to ultimately become like him.
We will discuss how all three of these doctrines have far-reaching and profound philosophical and theological implications.
verses 1-17 Abraham is shown, through the Urim and Thummim, the structure and hierarchy of God's universe.
One major issue that plagues the student of the scriptures as he begins to grapple with the cosmology of God's universe is that we have no way of knowing the extent of this round of the Father's creations. Does it consist, for example, of only the Milky Way Galaxy? Or, is it much larger, perhaps consisting of the millions of galaxies now identified by scientists through the use of the Hubble Telescope? Intuitively, many would like to believe the former possibility since it would be simpler for us to conceptualize. For example, if our round of creation consists of only the Milky Way Galaxy, then it would be easier to propose a central location for Kolob and the other governing "stars" about which we will read in chapter 3.
It is obvious from Abraham 3 that Abraham was shown by revelation from God much about the heavens. One interesting question, however, is whether or not the average man in Abraham's day knew anything about astronomy. This question is discussed by Dr. R. Grant Athay under his subtitle, "Pastoral Astronomy," in his article "Worlds Without Number: The Astronomy of Enoch, Abraham, and Moses" (BYU Studies 8 [spring 1968], 258-63). Part of his discussion is included here because of its informative nature.
The history of civilization is filled with folklore of the moon, sun, and stars. The farmer is alerted for frost when the moon is full. He plants by the moon and harvests by the Harvest Moon. A month later he harvests game by the Hunter's Moon under the constellation of Orion the Hunter. In the spring we celebrate Easter on a date set in accordance with the full moon following the spring equinox, a practice stemming from ancient tradition identifying the spring moon with the rejuvenation of earth life following the winter's death-like sleep. These and other traditions have carried over into our day.
We associate summer and winter with the annual excursion of the sun. We are vaguely aware that the moon is periodically full then absent from the night. The stars somehow look different in the winter than in the summer. Aside from these vague associations, however, most of us are oblivious to the regular calendar-like changes of the moon and stars. How many of us have noticed, for example, that the full moon is high in the northern sky during winter and low in the southern sky during summer, just out of phase with the sun? Or, having noted this, how many of us have also noted that for nine or ten successive years the full moon in the dead of winter moves progressively further north, then for the next nine or ten years swings back to the south, repeating the cycle in approximately 18.6 years?
Chances are that few if any of us have noticed these curious, but regular wanderings of the moon. Suppose, however, that you were a shepherd or a farmer living in Abraham's day anxiously watching the deadened pasture of winter or a dwindling food supply. You have no calendar on the wall to keep track of the passage of weeks and months. But you do have a moon whose phases mark off the months and whose position on the horizon at full moon marks off the seasons as well. This, then, is your calendar, reliable, mysterious, and carefully watched.
At rather frequent intervals, as our ancient pastoral ancestors ritually mark off the position of the full moon, an alarming event takes place. The full moon is slowly eaten away by an ominous, invisible something. Soon, however, the moon gradually reappears unharmed. The shepherd boy soon notices that this happens only when the moon is full. He hears stories from neighboring villages and travelers that sometimes the sun is similarly eaten away. Perhaps once during his life he sees this awesome, terrifying event. He is profoundly moved by its gravity and its beauty. What if the sun didn't reappear? Surely his life would end. What if some powerful god were doing this to demand a sacrifice?
One of this shepherd boy's friends noted, sometime after the sun had been eclipsed, that it happened at new moon. He learns from others who have experienced or heard of an eclipse of the sun that it too happened at new moon. He now knows two very important facts: the moon is eclipsed at full moon and the sun is eclipsed at new moon. Sooner or later our ancient shepherd friends decide to appoint an official family moon and sun watcher. . . . [Eventually] our official observer begins to chart the daily locations of the sun and moon among the constellations.
Dr. Athay then describes these lay astronomers' eventually having success in predicting the eclipses of the sun and moon, before they happened, using the records which they had created. Such developments lay behind the building and rebuilding of the great Stonehenge monument in England over a period of about 300 years in Moses' era. This monument is now believed by many astronomers to be a giant observatory designed to foretell eclipses. The original builders of this amazing bronze-age observatory are unknown. Biblical man was forced to have an interest in astronomy and was far better informed than we are prone to believe.
1 And I, Abraham, had the Urim and Thummim, which the Lord my God had given unto me, in Ur of the Chaldees;
verse 1 "I, Abraham, had the Urim and Thummim" We have previously discussed the Urim and Thummim (called "interpreters" in the Book of Mormon) in the commentary for Mosiah 8:13. For review and for the convenience of the reader, we will repeat that discussion here.
We understand the "Urim and Thummim," or the "interpreters," to be two special stones prepared by God and used by prophets for receiving revelations and for translating scriptural records written in a language unknown to the prophet. God's prophets who are allowed to use the Urim and Thummim have been referred to as "seers." The term "interpreters" is unique to the Book of Mormon. The name "Urim and Thummim" is the transliteration of two Hebrew words which mean "lights" and "perfections." The -im ending on both words apparently represents the Hebrew masculine plural suffix. The term "Urim and Thummim" is not found in the Book of Mormon text. For a detailed physical description of the interpreters, see Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 2, Appendix A, The Process of Translating the Book of Mormon.
Is there more that one set of interpreters in ancient scripture? There are at least two and possibly three or more. The brother of Jared was the first to receive a set (Ether 3:22-28). Joseph Smith, of course, possessed the interpreters, and we are told that his were the same given to the brother of Jared (D&C 17:1). King Mosiah in the Book of Mormon had a set (see Mosiah 8:13). Where did king Mosiah get his? There is no mention of Lehi and his party's bringing these stones with them. Some have suggested that Mosiah obtained his from his father and grandfather, Benjamin and Mosiah. This idea originates with the account of the older Mosiah's translating the Mulekite's large stone "by the gift and power of God" (Omni 1:20-21). Were King Mosiah's interpreters the same as those given to the brother of Jared? It is possible, but it seems unlikely they were, unless the early Mulekites found them among the artifacts previously belonging to the Jaredites and handed them down to eventually be delivered by the people of Zarahemla to Mosiah. In this verse-verse 1 of Abraham 3-we learn that Abraham received a set. Either Abraham's set was passed along or Moses received another (Exodus 28:30). The fate of this set or these sets is unknown. There are several other mentions of this type of device in the Old Testament (Leviticus 8:8; Numbers 27:21; Deuteronomy 33:8; 1 Samuel 28:6; Ezra 2:63; Nehemiah 7:65).
Other devices for receiving revelation include the Liahona (see the commentary for 1 Nephi 16:10) and Joseph Smith's "seerstone" which, according to Martin Harris, Joseph sometimes used in translating (Roberts, Brigham H., Comprehensive History of the Church, 1:128-9), and which President Wilford Woodruff later "consecrated upon the altar" during the private dedicatory services of the Manti Temple (Ibid., 6:230).
The planet on which God dwells is also described as being "a great Urim and Thummim" (D&C 130:8), and the earth itself in its "sanctified and immortal state" will also be a Urim and Thummim (D&C 130:9). Finally, a white stone will be given to each inhabitant of celestial glory which is a Urim and Thummim "whereby things pertaining to a higher order of kingdoms will be made known" (D&C 130:10).
2 And I saw the stars, that they were very great, and that one of them was nearest unto the throne of God; and there were many great ones which were near unto it;
verse 2 "I saw the stars" Both biblical and latter-day prophets (including Enoch, Moses, Abraham, and Joseph Smith), have been shown visions of the heavenly realms to orient them to God's dominion and eternal purposes.
From the outset, there are difficulties and ambiguities in trying to place Abraham's writings on astronomy in a modern perspective. One is that he seems to use the words star and planet interchangeably for the same object, but they denote vastly different objects in modern usage. In other words, he may be using the word star or planet for any heavenly body. Another difficulty is his use of the term revolution and revolutions in verse 4. Today, we say that a heavenly globe rotates or spins on its axis, for example the earth rotates on its axis once per day. We also say that a heavenly globe revolves around another heavenly body. For example, the earth revolves around the sun in one year. Abraham does not use the term rotate or rotation, and his use of the terms revolution and revolutions in verse 4 seems to refer to what we would call today rotation.
"stars . . . were very great, and . . . one of them was nearest unto the throne of God" Our modern concept of the heavens is that there are many stars that are sometimes surrounded by planets which revolve around the stars. The stars themselves rotate on their axes and revolve in space about other stars according to "set periods" of time. Thus stars belong to star systems, and there are central governing stars.
Our Milky Way Galaxy contains several billions of stars much like our sun. Most of these stars may not have a planet similar to that of earth, but millions undoubtedly do. Since science has no way, at present, of knowing exactly what fraction of the stars have planets, we must rely upon intelligent guesses. In order for a planet to sustain life there are certain conditions which must be met. Consider some of the more obvious ones. The planet must be at such a distance from its star that water remains liquid most of the time. If the planet is too far away, the water will freeze; if it is too close the water will evaporate. Thus, the planet must have a nearly circular orbit at a proper distance from its star. The gravity at the surface of the planet must not be too large or too small. If it is too large, land masses will not rise above the oceans. Even if they did, animals would not be able to move about erect. If the gravity is too small, the atmosphere will escape into space. The planet we seek must therefore be approximately the size of the earth. A substantial portion of a life-sustaining planet must be alternately exposed to sunlight and darkness at a reasonable frequency. Otherwise, the dark side will be unbearable cold. The atmosphere would cool into liquid form and drain off the atmosphere from the hot, exposed side. This means that the planet must have its axis of rotation nearly at right angles to the plane of its orbit. Furthermore, it must rotate at such a rate that the days and nights are of reasonable length. In other words, for a planet to sustain life similar to that found on earth, it must be similar to the earth in several essential respects. In all, about nine such requirements can be identified. Each requirement decreases the chance of finding such a planet, and nine is a rather large number. Suppose, for example, that the probability of fulfilling any one of these requirements is one in ten; that is, for each star with planets the chance of finding a planet at the proper distance is one in ten, then the chance of finding a star with a planet having all nine of the required characteristics would be (1/10)9, or one chance in a billion. Only one star of each billion would have such a planet and only a few would be found in our galaxy. On the other hand, suppose that each of the requirements imposed on the planet we seek has a probability of occurrence of one in two. Then one out of each 500 stars will have such a planet, and millions would be found in our galaxy. Overall the requirements for a life-sustaining planet are each believed to occur with a relatively high probability. Our best available evidence indicates that our single galaxy has millions of planets similar to earth.
Intuitively, the stars themselves would seem to be inhospitable places for any of the intelligences of this round of creation to dwell. We would rather think that some of the planets are suitable and likely habitations of intelligences at all stages of their progression. A mortal world revolving around its star seems the ideal dwelling place for morals like us. On the other hand, we have no idea of the ideal physical nature of an exalted and celestialized world.
The combination of a star plus its planets is referred to as a solar system. It may well be that the celestial planet where lives our Father in Heaven is a glorified, celestialized planet that revolves around the greatest star Kolob and is thus part of Kolob's solar system (see verse 3). Might it be that God's celestial planet is the star Kolob itself?
This particular verse, verse 2, speaks of "many great" stars that seem to exceed our own star in hierarchical importance. In the following verse, we will learn that these many great stars have "governing" function. For the moment, we will assume that these "stars" are, indeed, stars in the modern sense. Unfortunately we are not given to understand the nature of these many great stars. Many questions arise in the mind of the student of the gospel for which we are not given answers. For example, are there mortal earths revolving around these "many great" stars? Or, perhaps there are terrestrial millennial planets in their solar systems? Might there be perfected exalted celestialized planets revolving around them? And might these celestialized planets function as the abodes of the human intelligences who have been resurrected with celestial bodies who are awaiting the exaltation of their own home planets?
And what of the governing function of these stars? Does this mean that by the force of their gravity these great stars provide the natural force to maintain the cosmic organization of God's created universe, and therefore govern the universe? Or are the planets revolving around these many great starts the site for human priesthood administration of God's universe?
3 And the Lord said unto me: These are the governing ones; and the name of the great one is Kolob, because it is near unto me, for I am the Lord thy God: I have set this one to govern all those which belong to the same order as that upon which thou standest.
verse 3 "These are the governing ones" The antecedent for the pronoun these is the "many great" stars that are near to the greatest star Kolob discussed in the previous verse.
"the name of the great one is Kolob" Some members of the Church have assumed that Kolob is the dwelling place of God. We have mentioned, in the commentary for verse 2, the fact that we cannot be sure that Abraham was able to accurately distinguish between a true star, by a modern scientific definition, and a planet. A star, of course, emits its own light which results from a nuclear fusion reaction, while a planet is seen in the heavens only by virtue of reflected light. We will assume that Kolob is, in fact, a true star, but the reader should keep in mind that this assumption is by no means certain. While it is not impossible to imagine that God dwells on a star, it is more likely that Kolob is the star around which revolves the celestial planet where God dwells. Thus, the star Kolob is, indeed, "near unto" God. The actual location of Kolob has not been revealed.
In the introduction to this chapter, we made the point that Abraham utilizes the technique of "likening" and that his major purpose in this chapter is not to teach astronomy, but rather to teach of Christ and his purposes. It seems clear that Kolob is utilized as a symbol or type of Jesus Christ. Let us summarize the characteristics of Kolob that will be taught in this chapter. The reader should take note of the fact that these are also characteristics of the Savior:
1. "It [Kolob] is near unto [God]" (verse 3).
2. Kolob is "after the manner" or in the likeness of the Lord (verse 4). The apostle Paul taught that Christ is in the "brightness" of God's "glory, and the express image of his person" (Hebrews 1:3).
3. Kolob is the "first creation" (Facsimile 2:1). "I was in the beginning with the Father," Christ said, "and am the Firstborn" (D&C 93:21).
4. Kolob is the "nearest unto the throne of God" (verse 2; Facsimile 2:1). Christ is described as being "in the bosom of the Father" (D&C 76:25).
5. Kolob is "first in government" (Facsimile 2:1) and is "to govern all those which belong to the same order" (verse 3). Christ has promised, "I will be your ruler when I come" (D&C 41:4). Prophesying of his coming, Isaiah said, "the government shall be upon his shoulder" (Isaiah 9:6). He is "Lord of lords, and Kings of kings" (Revelation 17:14).
6. Kolob holds "the key of power" (Facsimile 2:2). It is Christ who holds the keys of all power. All who hold keys in the kingdom of God here on earth received them under his direction (D&C 132:45), and an accounting of how all keys and authority have been utilized will yet be made to him (see Daniel 7:9-14).
7. There are "many great ones" near Kolob; these are the governing ones (verses 2-3). Joseph and Hyrum Smith, along with Brigham Young, John Taylor, and Wilford Woodruff, are specifically mentioned as being "among the noble and great ones who were chosen in the beginning to be rulers in the Church of God" (D&C 138:55).
8. Kolob is the source of light for others (Facsimile 2:5). Christ is the source of "light which is in all things, which giveth life to all things, which is the law by which all things are governed" (D&C 88:13).
9. "Kolob is the greatest of all the Kokaubeam [stars] . . . because it is nearest unto [God]" (verse 16). Christ was the greatest of all the pre-earth spirits. He is described as being "like unto God" (Abraham 3:24).
The other part of the symbolism or likening in this chapter is concerned with the parallels between the planets and stars and the "noble and great ones [spirits]." We can summarize these likenesses as follows:
1. "The stars . . . were very great" (verse 2). There were "many great ones . . . near unto" Kolob (Christ) (verse 2). Abraham was shown that among the great hosts of premortal spirits many had-through "exceeding faith and good works" (Alma 13:3)-merited the designation "noble and great" (verse 22).
2. These stars were the "governing ones" (verse 3). Of these "noble and great" spirits the Lord said, "These I will make my rulers" (verse 23).
3. All stars are to sustain or be governed by "the great one" (verse 3). Each ruling star has a "set time" for its revolutions. Those spirits who rebelled at the choice of Christ as their Redeemer were cast out (verses 27-28).
4. The star with the longer "set time" rules above the star with the lesser "set time" (verses 4-7). All prophets of God were subject to the discipline of the house of God. None knew this principle better than Abraham.
5. Anytime there is a star with a set time that has another star above it, then there will be another "planet whose reckoning of time shall be longer still" (verse 8). That is, for every star there is a greater star until we come to Kolob (Christ), for Kolob (Christ) "is set nigh unto the throne of God, to govern all those planets which belong to the same order" (verse 9). Abraham was also told that whenever there were two spirits, one more intelligent than the other, "then there shall be another more intelligent than they" (verse 19).
6. To Abraham the Lord said: "It is given unto thee to know the set time of all the stars that are set to give light, until thou come near unto the throne of God" (verse 10). Though it is not recorded for us, Abraham undoubtedly had revealed to him some knowledge of the destiny and mission of his fellow prophets. Such experiences were common to the ancient seers.
"I have set this one to govern all those which belong to the same order as that upon which thou standest" The Lord declares that the star Kolob performs a function vital to the governance of this mortal earth and all of the mortal earths in his universe. As discussed in the previous verse, this function could be purely to provide the essential cosmic gravitational force for cosmic stability. Or, the environs of Kolob could be the place of priesthood administrative governance of the universe ("those which belong to the same order as that upon which thou standest"). The control that Kolob exerts over the earth and the sun is simply not stated explicitly enough to have physical scientific meaning.
"the same order as that upon which thou standest" This expression refers to worlds on which mortals dwell, like our earth in its present state.
4 And the Lord said unto me, by the Urim and Thummim, that Kolob was after the manner of the Lord, according to its times and seasons in the revolutions thereof; that one revolution was a day unto the Lord, after his manner of reckoning, it being one thousand years according to the time appointed unto that whereon thou standest. This is the reckoning of the Lord's time, according to the reckoning of Kolob.
verse 4 "Kolob was after the manner of the Lord, according to its times and seasons in the revolutions thereof" This phrase suggests that Kolob is being utilized by Abraham as a likeness of Christ-"Kolob [is] after the manner [or likeness] of the Lord.
This phrase also suggests that God does exist in an environment where time is an element. Judeo-Christian concepts of God generally see him as independent or outside of time, but God makes it clear to Abraham that he also exists in time. He has a past, a present, and a future. Indeed, the concept of eternal progression requires such a concept of time-progression means improving over time.
Credit is given to Kent E. Robson for the following delightful discussion of the concepts of time and eternity ("Time and Eternity" in Encyclopedia of Mormonism [4 volumes], 1479).
In Latter-day Saint understanding, time and eternity usually refer to the same reality. Eternity is time with an adjective: It is endless time. Eternity is not, as in Platonic and Neoplatonic thought, supratemporal or nontemporal. In religions where eternity is radically contrasted with time, time is seen as an illusion, or utterly subjective, or an ephemeral episode. God and the higher realities are held to be "beyond" [time]. . . . This is still the premise of much classical mysticism, [and] . . . it is written into many Christian creeds. But scriptural passages that ascribe eternity to God do not say or imply that God is independent of, or outside of, or beyond time. Nor do they say, with Augustine, that God created time out of nothing. In context they stress that he is everlasting, that he is trustworthy, that his purposes do not fail. The view that time and eternity are utterly incompatible, utterly irreconcilable, has taxing consequences for theology. If God is supratemporal, for example, he could not have been directly related to the Creation because being out of time-and also beyond space and not subject to change-he could not enter this or any process. . . . In LDS understanding, God was and is directly involved in creation. The creative act was a process (the book of Abraham speaks of creation "times" rather than of "days"). His influence on creation, then and now, is not seen as a violation of his transcendence or of his glory and dominion but a participative extension of them. The dogma of a supratemporal eternity led to another set of contradictions in postbiblical thought, the paradoxes of incarnation. The coming of Jesus Christ was recast within the assumptions of Greek metaphysics: God the universal became particular; God the nontemporal became temporal; God, superior to change, changed; God, who created time, now entered it. Most Christian traditions have embraced these paradoxes, but LDS thought has not. In LDS Christology, Jesus was in time before he entered mortality, is in time now, and will be forever. . . . Several assurances are prominent features of LDS understanding: (1) Time is a segment of eternity. One may distinguish eternities, long epochs of time, within eternity. . . . In any case, time itself had no beginning and will have no end. (2) Time unfolds in one direction. It extends rather than repeats precisely. The view of eternal recurrence common in the Far East . . . is rejected. Worlds and world systems may come and go, as civilizations may rise and fall, but history does not exactly repeat itself. Individual creative freedom modifies the outcomes. (3) Eternity, as continuing time, is tensed: past, present, and future. God himself, eternal in identity, self-existent, and therefore without beginning or end, is nevertheless related to time. At his own supreme and unsurpassable level, he has a past, a present, and a future. Neither he nor his creations can return to or change the past. He has become what he is through eons of time gone by. He is now in relation to, and responsive to, his creations. Response implies time and change. (4) In a cosmic sense, the reckoning of time is according to the rotations of the spheres. It is presumed that God, angels, men, and prophets reckon time differently (see Abraham 3; D&C 130:4). . . . The eternal is sometimes contrasted to time as the permanent is contrasted to the transitory. "Every principle proceeding from God is eternal" (TPJS, 181). The phrase "for time and eternity" is equivalent to "now and forever." LDS thought is uncommon in the Christian world in its affirmation that intelligence, truth, the "principles of element," priesthood, law, covenants, and ordinances are eternal. Time is occasionally used in scripture as a synonym for mortality. In this sense, the time will come when "time shall be no longer" (D&C 84:100; 88:110). The mortal probation will end. But another segment of measurable existence will follow, namely, the Millennium. Time and eternity also function as place names or situations as in such expressions as "not only here but in eternity," or "the visions of eternity" (heaven). Eternal is also the name of God-"Endless and Eternal is my name"-hence, eternal life is God's life, as it is also everlasting life (HC, 1:136; cf. D&C 19:10-12; Moses 1:3; Moses 7:35).
The thesis that God is beyond time has sometimes been introduced to account for God's omniscience or foreknowledge. Only if God is somehow transtemporal, it is argued, can he view past, present, and future as "one eternal now." This position is assumed by much postbiblical theology. But, again, this leads to contradiction: What will happen in the infinite future is now happening to God. But "now" and "happening" are temporal words that imply both duration and change. For Latter-day Saints, as for the Bible, God's omniscience is "in time." God anticipates the future. It is "present" before him, but it is still future. When the future occurs, it will occur for the first time to him as to his creatures. The traditional concept of "out-of-time" omniscience does not derive either from the Old or the New Testament but is borrowed from Greek philosophy.
"that one revolution was a day unto the Lord" The "revolution" here seems to be the apparent visual movement of the star Kolob in the sky of the planet where God dwells, which is the result of the rotation of that celestial planet about its own axis, just as the sun appears to "revolve" about the earth, indicating the passage of a day for us.
"after his manner of reckoning, it being one thousand years according to the time appointed unto that whereon thou standest" This phrase simply means that one complete rotation of the celestial planet on its axis ("a day unto the Lord") takes one thousand earth years.
"This is the reckoning of the Lord's time, according to the reckoning of Kolob" God reckons time in a manner analogous to the way we do.
5 And the Lord said unto me: The planet which is the lesser light, lesser than that which is to rule the day, even the night, is above or greater than that upon which thou standest in point of reckoning, for it moveth in order more slow; this is in order because it standeth above the earth upon which thou standest, therefore the reckoning of its time is not so many as to its number of days, and of months, and of years.
verse 5 "The planet which is the lesser light, lesser than that which is to rule the day" Here, Abraham refers to the moon which he calls the "lesser light," meaning that it provides less (reflected) light than the sun (the sun's light is, of course, generated by a nuclear fusion reaction). The sun is referred to as "that which is to rule the day."
Even though the concept of the "set time" will not be introduced until the following verse, this verse compares the "set time" or mechanism for reckoning time of the moon and the earth. The difficulties and the ambiguities of the concept of the "set time" in the book of Abraham are mentioned above in the commentary for verse 2. In this particular verse, we can safely assume that the time parameter being referred to for both the moon and the earth is the time of one rotation of the body about its axis. The earth requires one day; the moon, one month (actually 29 days).
"even the night" This phrase simply refers again to the moon, the "planet" which "rules" the night.
Abraham is in the process of describing a hierarchy of heavenly bodies-especially the earth, the moon, and Kolob. He has a definite and clearly defined paradigm for creating this hierarchy, but it is hardly scientific and it is based on misconception. It is therefore confusing to the modern reader. His idea seems to be that the hierarchy is measured by two things-(1) the location in the heavens (the "lowest" body being the lowest ranking and the "highest" body being the highest ranking), and (2) the length of the day (the body with the shortest day being the lowest ranking and the body with the longest day being the highest ranking).
"The planet which is the lesser light . . . is above or greater than that upon which thou standest in point of reckoning" The "point of reckoning" being referred to is the same as the "set time" in verse 6, and both refer to the time required for the body to rotate about its axis. This phrase simply states that the moon requires longer to rotate about its axis (29 days) than does the earth (one day).
"for it moveth in order more slow" The referent for the pronoun it is the moon. This phrase simply reiterates the idea that the moon rotates more slowly about its axis than the earth.
"this is in order because it standeth above the earth upon which thou standest" Thus, one reason the moon ranks higher in the hierarchy than the earth is because of its location-"it standeth above the earth."
"therefore the reckoning of its time is not so many as to its number of days, and of months, and of years" The other reason the moon ranks higher in Abraham's hierarchy than the earth is because its "day" (the time for the moon to rotate about its axis) is longer than the time for the earth to rotate about its axis. Because its day is longer, fewer days, months, and years pass relative to those same parameters of time on the earth.
In the ensuing verses, Abraham will continue on with his description of the hierarchy of heavenly bodies, indicating that the hierarchy has to do with the governance of the heavens. By verse 9 he will describe the highest ranking body, Kolob, which by his paradigm is found in the "highest" location and has the longest day. I think we may take from this the truth that the planet or star called Kolob somehow has a "governing" function over the solar systems like ours. As stated previously, this governing function may be one of physical gravitational governance or one of priesthood administration governance. The obvious misconceptions in Abraham's paradigm are that there is such a thing as "higher" and "lower" in the universe, which there is not, and the idea that the moon has any sort of governing function over the earth. The converse is true, in that the moon is gravitationally "governed" by the earth.
6 And the Lord said unto me: Now, Abraham, these two facts exist, behold thine eyes see it; it is given unto thee to know the times of reckoning, and the set time, yea, the set time of the earth upon which thou standest, and the set time of the greater light which is set to rule the day, and the set time of the lesser light which is set to rule the night.
verse 6 "these two facts exist" The two facts that exist are (1) the "times of reckoning" and (2) the "set times" for the earth, the sun, and the moon. Commentary on these two "facts" follows.
"the times of reckoning" "the set time" The Lord tells Abraham that he is given in vision to know the "times of reckoning" and "the set time" for the earth, the sun, and the moon. Abraham's "times of reckoning" seems to refer to that physical parameter which may be used to determine the passage of time on a given heavenly body. It is basically the same as "the set time," specifically it seems to probably be the time required for a heavenly body to rotate or spin about its axis. This is the basis for the determination of the passage of time on any given heavenly body. This is the "set time."
The "set times" for the earth, the sun, and the moon are as follows: The earth takes one day to rotate on its axis. The sun rotates on its axis once in about 25 days, and the moon rotates once every lunar month or every 28 or 29 days.
Though it is of interest to learn that each planet has its "set time," it is of infinitely greater importance for us to recognize that order is the first law of heaven. Here, again is evidence of the likening which Abraham and the Lord intended to be found in Abraham 3. It is absolutely essential that the Lord's house be a house of order (D&C 132:8) and, similarly, that this principle be brightly reflected in our own households. The heavens are the pattern for the Church. The Church is the pattern for the home. The home is the pattern for the individual. The principle of unity and order is equally important in each sphere. Further, Abraham's vision illustrates that without gradation of assignment and responsibility, there can be no order. Two people cannot occupy the same position at the same time any more than can planets. All are to function according to their divine ordination. In the Church, all are to serve as they have been called. All are to stand in their own office and labor in their own calling. In the family, women are not to act as men, and men are not to act as women. Each is to assume his or her own divinely given sphere of responsibility. All serve in capacities in which there are those who are greater and lesser in authority. If we have been called to preside over someone, then someone else has been called to preside over us, and so on until we come to the very throne of heaven itself. As the stars are governed, so the heavens are governed. As the heavens are governed, so the kingdom of heaven is governed. So, all who would be its citizens must learn to govern themselves.
7 Now the set time of the lesser light is a longer time as to its reckoning than the reckoning of the time of the earth upon which thou standest.
verse 7 A "day" on the moon (the time required for the moon to spin on its axis) is 28-29 days.
8 And where these two facts exist, there shall be another fact above them, that is, there shall be another planet whose reckoning of time shall be longer still;
verse 8 "where these two facts exist" The "two facts" are (1) the set time of the moon and (2) the set time of the earth.
"there shall be another fact above them" Abraham seems to simply be saying that the earth and the moon belong to a larger hierarchy of heavenly bodies of increasing importance or governing potential.
9 And thus there shall be the reckoning of the time of one planet above another, until thou come nigh unto Kolob, which Kolob is after the reckoning of the Lord's time; which Kolob is set nigh unto the throne of God, to govern all those planets which belong to the same order as that upon which thou standest.
verse 9 And the most important heavenly body (star or planet) in this hierarchy is Kolob.
10 And it is given unto thee to know the set time of all the stars that are set to give light, until thou come near unto the throne of God.
verse 10 Abraham is assured by the Lord that he has seen in vision the entire hierarchy of heavenly bodies all the way up to Kolob, the throne of God. The allusion here to "set time" is a reference to the hierarchy, since it is by the set time that heavenly bodies are ranked.
"the stars that are set to give light" It would seem unlikely that this phrase tries to distinguish between actual stars and planets, as all heavenly bodies are seen as bright objects in the night sky. This phrase also implies an element of the Lord's deliberately "setting" the stars in the heavens that they may be useful to man upon the earth.
11 Thus I, Abraham, talked with the Lord, face to face, as one man talketh with another; and he told me of the works which his hands had made;
verse 11 "I, Abraham, talked with the Lord, face to face" Abraham's vision began with his receiving revelation through the Urim and Thummim (verse 1), but now the Lord is actually speaking to him face to face.
12 And he said unto me: My son, my son (and his hand was stretched out), behold I will show you all these. And he put his hand upon mine eyes, and I saw those things which his hands had made, which were many; and they multiplied before mine eyes, and I could not see the end thereof.
verse 12 "My son, my son . . . behold I will show you all these" The spirit of this interaction between the Lord and Abraham, is that Abraham, the literal son of God with potential to become as God is, is being shown what he might one day create.
13 And he said unto me: This is Shinehah, which is the sun. And he said unto me: Kokob, which is star. And he said unto me: Olea, which is the moon. And he said unto me: Kokaubeam, which signifies stars, or all the great lights, which were in the firmament of heaven.
verse 13 "Shinehah, which is the sun" Shinehah may be related to Hebrew (sanah), Akkadian (santu), and Arabic (sana), all meaning "year."
"Kokob, which is star" Kokob is clearly Hebrew (kokab), "star" of which Kokaubeam (see also Abraham 3:16) is the plural (kokabim). If we exchange the k for l, we have Kolob.
"Olea, which is the moon" Olea may be related to Hebrew (yareah)-if we exchange the r for l-or Akkadian (arhu) "moon"-if we exchange the r for l.
14 And it was in the night time when the Lord spake these words unto me: I will multiply thee, and thy seed after thee, like unto these; and if thou canst count the number of sands, so shall be the number of thy seeds.
verse 14 "I will multiply thee, and thy seed after thee, like unto these; and if thou canst count the number of sands, so shall be the number of thy seeds." Here is another mention of one of the provisions of the Abrahamic covenant-the Lord's promise of posterity (cf. Genesis 13:16; Genesis 15:5; Genesis 17:2; Genesis 22:17; this promise was reiterated to Isaac in Genesis 24:60; Genesis 26:4; Genesis 26:24, and to Jacob in Genesis 28:3; Genesis 28:24; Genesis 35:11; Genesis 48:4). See also Abraham 2:9.
15 And the Lord said unto me: Abraham, I show these things unto thee before ye go into Egypt, that ye may declare all these words.
verse 15 "before ye go into Egypt, that ye may declare all the words" Abraham was the head of a dispensation, the man through whom all peoples of the earth in that day were to receive the saving principles of the gospel. When the Lord says to Abraham in this verse, "I show these things unto thee before ye go into Egypt, that ye may declare all these words," did the Lord have in mind that Abraham would be a visiting professor of astronomy, or a witness of Christ? Surely it is of lesser importance what the Egyptians knew about the revolutions of planets if they had no idea of how they are to receive a remission of sins or become citizens in the kingdom of God. Yet, as is often the case, the great difficulty in missionary work is simply getting people to listen to the message. And what better way to captivate the attention of the Egyptians than to first teach them of Kolob and the stars, and then having done so to say, "Now, behind all that I have taught you about the heavenly bodies there stands an even greater truth, a truth through which you become the inheritors of endless blessings-this is the truth about God and his eternal plan for the salvation of all his children."
16 If two things exist, and there be one above the other, there shall be greater things above them; therefore Kolob is the greatest of all the Kokaubeam that thou hast seen, because it is nearest unto me.
17 Now, if there be two things, one above the other, and the moon be above the earth, then it may be that a planet or a star may exist above it; and there is nothing that the Lord thy God shall take in his heart to do but what he will do it.
verse 17 "there is nothing that the Lord thy God shall take in his heart to do but what he will do it" In Abraham 3:1-17, the Lord has not just been teaching Abraham a lesson in astronomy, but rather he is showing him that the universe and all that is in it is the result of God's creative activity. He has organized it all and continues to control and sustain it for his ultimate purpose of exalting his children.
18 Howbeit that he made the greater star; as, also, if there be two spirits, and one shall be more intelligent than the other, yet these two spirits, notwithstanding one is more intelligent than the other, have no beginning; they existed before, they shall have no end, they shall exist after, for they are gnolaum, or eternal.
verse 18 This verse states simply that the intelligences which were made available to the Father to include in this round of his creation have already existed, and they vary in their "intelligence." Let us explore these concepts a bit further.
Abraham does not always make the careful distinction between a spirit and an intelligence that we are inclined to do today, and it is likely here that he is referring to two intelligences. An intelligence is the essence of man-that part of him that is eternal. For a discussion of intelligences, see "The Building Blocks of Creation" in Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 1, chapter 3, The Creation. Following the spirit birth of an intelligence, that is following the divine process of birth which involves our heavenly Parents-during which the intelligence is embodied with a body of spirit matter-we then refer to the individual as a spirit. We may thus say that our spirit had a beginning, that is, the spirit was born to the Father and Mother at a finite point in time in the past. Our intelligence, however, had no beginning. It has always existed; there was never a time when it did not exist. Though we may easily utter these words, we must acknowledge that, given our finite minds, we cannot completely comprehend this concept.
The noun intelligence in the scriptures has two separate meanings. First, it may refer to the individual uncreated essence of each individual as described in the previous paragraph. Second, it may refer to the amount of spiritual growth that each individual has made. Hence, the adjective intelligent in the scriptures is figuratively, and roughly, analogous to the secular adjective intelligent. In a secular sense, the word intelligent refers to an individuals capacity for learning-his I.Q. In the scriptures, intelligent refers to the divine attributes which an individual possesses through his obedience to gospel law. The more intelligent a person is spiritually, the more divine attributes he possesses.
"Howbeit that he made the greater star; as, also, if there be two spirits, and one shall be more intelligent than the other" The Lord says, just as there is a hierarchy in the stars, that is, just as one star is greater or more important than another, so do spirits vary in their intelligence. There is a gradation or a hierarchy of intelligences. This gradation exists because they vary in their "intelligence"-their spiritual progress.
The reader may wonder what application of the principle the Lord intended to emphasize by pointing out that there is a hierarchy of intelligences based on their spiritual progress or "intelligence." The first application is that there is one intelligence or spirit that is more intelligent than all of the other spirit children of the Father-the man Jesus Christ. The other application of the principle is that there is an endless chain of exalted beings, an eternal family of Gods.
"these two spirits . . . have no beginning; they existed before, they shall have no end" These two hypothetical intelligences being referenced in this verse have no beginning and no end (see D&C 93:29). There never was a time in the past when they did not exist; they have always existed. Also, they will never cease to exist.
"they are gnolaum, or eternal" Gnolaum is the Hebrew 'olam which means "eternity."
19 And the Lord said unto me: These two facts do exist, that there are two spirits, one being more intelligent than the other; there shall be another more intelligent than they; I am the Lord thy God, I am more intelligent than they all.
verse 19 "These two facts do exist" Here, the two facts that exist are (1) there is a gradation in the intelligence of the intelligences, and (2) God is more intelligent, or spiritually accomplished, than all of the other intelligences included in this round of creation. Here the Lord Jehovah may certainly be speaking of himself. Also he may be speaking as though he were the Father, by the principle of the divine investiture of authority. Certainly the Father is the supreme intelligence of our universe.
20 The Lord thy God sent his angel to deliver thee from the hands of the priest of Elkenah.
verse 20 It would seem that this verse serves to identify, for Abraham, the God to whom he is speaking as the very same individual who intervened to save Abraham when the priest of Elkenah sought to sacrifice him on the altar. That God is the Lord Jehovah (see Abraham 1:15-16).
21 I dwell in the midst of them all; I now, therefore, have come down unto thee to declare unto thee the works which my hands have made, wherein my wisdom excelleth them all, for I rule in the heavens above, and in the earth beneath, in all wisdom and prudence, over all the intelligences thine eyes have seen from the beginning; I came down in the beginning in the midst of all the intelligences thou hast seen.
verse 21 "I dwell in the midst of them all" Here the Lord Jehovah identifies himself as one of the nearly infinite number of intelligences in this round of the Father's creation.
"I now . . . have come down unto thee" The Father and the Son are now preparing for a great family council prior to the physical creation of the earth and the rest of God's universe. This great council will be described in verses 24-28 of this chapter and verses 1-25 of chapter 4. This statement suggests that this council may have been held on the spirit earth, and that the Lord therefore came "down" from the celestial planet for that council.
22 Now the Lord had shown unto me, Abraham, the intelligences that were organized before the world was; and among all these there were many of the noble and great ones;
verse 22 "the intelligences that were organized before the world was" We commented previously that Abraham does not always make the careful distinction between a spirit and an intelligence that we make today, and in this verse it is difficult to know whether he is referring specifically to intelligences or spirits. Most students of the scriptures have concluded that his use of the word intelligences here simply means spirits. However, let us suspend this question for a moment.
The organization of these "intelligences" has two possible interpretations. It may refer to the spirit birth of intelligences, that is, the intelligences were organized when they were embodied with spirit bodies. In this case, Abraham may be referring here specifically to intelligences since in the following verse he will say that he "stood among those that were spirits." This implies that the process of spirit birth was not complete at the moment when Abraham was shown the premortal world, and that some individuals still existed as intelligences, while others had been born as spirits.
Alternatively, the organization of these intelligences may refer to their foreordination to various earthly callings (see Acts 17:26). Joseph Smith explained, "At the first organization in heaven we were all present, and saw the Savior chosen and appointed and the plan of salvation made, and we sanctioned it" (TPJS, 181). After Joseph Smith's death, he appeared to Brigham Young and explained, "Be sure to tell the people to keep the Spirit of the Lord; and if they will, they will find themselves just as they were organized by our Father in Heaven before they came into the world" (Brigham Young, "Manuscript History of Brigham Young, 1846-47," located in the archives of the Church).
"among all these there were many of the noble and great ones" Among these spirits which Abraham was blessed to see, were those, like Abraham, whom the Lord would "make [his] rulers."
23 And God saw these souls that they were good, and he stood in the midst of them, and he said: These I will make my rulers; for he stood among those that were spirits, and he saw that they were good; and he said unto me: Abraham, thou art one of them; thou wast chosen before thou wast born.
verse 23 "And God saw these souls that they were good" In his latter-day vision of the spirit earth, the prophet Joseph F. Smith saw that the "noble and great ones" not only included Abraham, but the prophet-leaders of every gospel dispensation. He also saw that it included "other choice spirits who were reserved to come forth in the fulness of times to take part in laying the foundations of the great latter day work" (D&C 138:53).
"Abraham . . . thou wast chosen before thou wast born" For a discussion of the principle of foreordination, see the commentary for Alma 13:3. For a more complete discussion, see Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 2, chapter 15, Foreordination. Joseph Smith explained, "Every man who has a calling to minister to the inhabitants of the world was ordained to that very purpose in the Grand Council of heaven before this world was" (TPJS, 365).
We will learn in Abraham 4:1 that these "noble and great ones" are given the assignment to help organize the physical earth and that each is granted the title of "god" or creator.
verses 24-28 Abraham now begins his account of the physical creation by describing a family council in "heaven." This is actually the fourth Grand Council in the heavens of which we are aware. This council is attended by the spirit family of the Father. Note that the Lord is required to "come down" (verse 21) to meet with the Father's spirit family. This means the council was possibly held on the spirit earth (which is sometimes referred to as "heaven" in the scriptures) and not on the celestial planet. However, the celestial planet is also a strong possibility for the venue of this council (see verse 24). Two important subjects were on the agenda. First, someone had to be chosen to direct the creation of the physical earth. Second, we needed to consider the creation of the physical earth itself. This physical earth was to be a carefully designed planetary environment where the human family could obtain a physical body and experience for themselves the lessons of mortality. Little did we know that this family council would provoke an all-out war.
It has been suggested by some that Abraham 4:1-25 is actually an account of the "minutes" of this fourth Grand Council, but since all of the items on the agenda were in fact accomplished, they consider it to be an account of the physical preparatory creation of the earth, the second creation epoch. While this is possible, the verb tenses in Abraham 4:1-25 suggest that Abraham is describing a creative process as it is actually occurring.
24 And there stood one among them that was like unto God, and he said unto those who were with him: We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell;
verse 24 "there stood one among them that was like unto God" Presiding over this assembly of noble and great creators was a pre-eminent personality "like unto God." This was the pre-mortal Jesus Christ.
"he said unto those who were with him" Here he announces to his companions-some of "the noble and great ones"-that the time had arrived for them to leave their celestial planet and "go down" to an area of space to obtain unorganized matter. There they will command the unorganized physical elements-"these materials"-to combine with the myriad spirit bodies which make up the spirit earth, resulting in a brand new physical earth whereupon the spirit children of the Father-"these"-will work out their mortal probation.
25 And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them;
verse 25 "we will prove them herewith" The word herewith means "by means of this"-here referring to the physical earth. The purpose of our mortal existence is to see whether we can truly be obedient to the commandments of God in a telestial environment of opposition and evil outside of the Lord's presence.
26 And they who keep their first estate shall be added upon; and they who keep not their first estate shall not have glory in the same kingdom with those who keep their first estate; and they who keep their second estate shall have glory added upon their heads for ever and ever.
verse 26 "they who keep their first estate shall be added upon" The "first estate" refers to our lives as spirits in the premortal existence. To "keep" one's first estate is to progress satisfactorily there and to agree to follow the Lord Jehovah and come to the mortal earth. The only biblical reference to the "first estate" is Jude 1:6, which refers to "the angels which kept not their first estate" which seems to refer to the third of the hosts of heaven who chose to not come to the mortal earth. The expression "added upon" has reference to our spiritual growth.
"they who keep not their first estate shall not have glory in the same kingdom with those who keep their first estate" Those of our Father in heaven's children who chose to follow Satan rather than God have forfeited the opportunity to enter a kingdom of glory. All who kept their first estate, with the exception a relatively few sons of perdition, will eventually enter a kingdom of glory (celestial, terrestrial, or telestial).
"they who keep their second estate shall have glory added upon their heads for ever and ever" The "second estate" begins with mortal birth and ends with resurrection. Thus, it includes mortal life and life in the postmortal spirit world. To "keep" one's second estate is to progress satisfactorily in mortality and in the spirit world and qualify to be judged worthy of celestial glory. There the inhabitants of the celestial kingdom will progress forever.
27 And the Lord said: Whom shall I send? And one answered like unto the Son of Man: Here am I, send me. And another answered and said: Here am I, send me. And the Lord said: I will send the first.
verse 27 "And the Lord said: Whom shall I send?" The "Lord" in this verse is the Father. Here the Father is selecting the individual to head the process of the creation of the universe under the Father's direction. The "first," of course, is Jesus Christ. The second is Lucifer. The Father based his judgment on his intimate knowledge of the two volunteers. This incident took place during the fourth Grand Council of the Gods, and is not the same incident described in Moses 4:1 which took place later at the fifth Grand Council of the Gods. For a summary of all of the premortal councils, see the introductory discussion for Moses 4:1-4.
28 And the second was angry, and kept not his first estate; and, at that day, many followed after him.
verse 28 "the second was angry" This is Satan. The scriptures make it plain that Lucifer aspired to this office of creator. He was an angel "in authority in the presence of God" and was called a "son of the morning" (D&C 76:25-27). The title "son of the morning" probably implies that he was among the first children to be born into the Father's spirit family. Ironically his character was seriously flawed. He was both a "liar from the beginning" (D&C 93:25) and a "murderer . . . from the beginning" (John 8:44). His anger at being passed over for this assignment has led to jealousy of the Son and resentment and hatred for both the Father and the Son.
"the second . . . kept not his first estate; and, at that day, many followed after him" Satan "kept not his first estate" in that he failed to progress satisfactorily, and he refused to come to the mortal earth to be tried and tested. A third of the hosts of heaven were also reluctant to come to the mortal earth and were persuaded by Satan. They were sealed up to outer darkness and cast out of heaven to become angels of the devil (see Revelation 12:4; D&C 29:36; Moses 4:1-4).