More on the Limits of “Endless” and “Eternal” in the Book of Mormon: Awaking from “Endless Sleep” and the “Eternal Band of Death”

In a recent previous post, “‘From Whence They Can No More Return’: What Lehi Teaches Us About the Book of Mormon’s Harsh Language on Hell,” I noted that a passage in Lehi’s farewell speech gives insight into the limits on the “eternal” nature of hell that has confused many readers of the Book of Mormon. Such limits, of course, are consistent with an important revelation given to Joseph Smith Section 19 of the Doctrine and Covenants where we learn that while God’s punishment can be called eternal since He is eternal, that does not mean that those who experience eternal punishment are never freed from their pains. 

The Book of Mormon provides another example that should immediately help us calibrate the intent behind some uses of the words “eternal” and “endless” in the scriptures. In Mormon 9:13, Moroni writes, 

And because of the redemption of man, which came by Jesus Christ, they are brought back into the presence of the Lord; yea, this is wherein all men are redeemed, because the death of Christ bringeth to pass the resurrection, which bringeth to pass a redemption from an endless sleep, from which sleep all men shall be awakened by the power of God when the trump shall sound; and they shall come forth, both small and great, and all shall stand before his bar, being redeemed and loosed from this eternal band of death, which death is a temporal death. 

All men must die, and by so doing, we enter into a state that Moroni describes as “endless sleep” where we are bound with the “eternal band of death.” It would last forever were it not for the redemption from death made possible by the Resurrection of Christ. Though the state of death, a function created by the Eternal God, can be called an eternal and endless state because He and His works are endless and eternal, it will be temporary for all of us.  If physical death can be called endless and eternal and yet be temporary, entrance into hell, spiritual death, can also be temporary. You may disagree with the way those words are used, but the Book of Mormon itself makes it clear that these words in the context of death and hell may need to be understood in the way they are explained in Section 19 of the Doctrine and Covenants.  

Update, Jan. 11, 2020: Robert Boylan has provided some valuable articles dealing with the meaning of “eternity” in the scriptures that can add further context to some of the issues raised here. Please see his “Resources for ‘We Agree with Moroni 8:18’ day (18 August)” at Among these, be sure to see “Moroni 8:18, Psalm 90:2, and the Latter-day Saint Understanding of Deity.”

Author: Jeff Lindsay

6 thoughts on “More on the Limits of “Endless” and “Eternal” in the Book of Mormon: Awaking from “Endless Sleep” and the “Eternal Band of Death”

  1. Doctrinally speaking, your examples are not apples to apples. The example you provide in this post in Mormon 9 is regarding resurrection, “from which sleep all men shall be awakened.” It’s “a redemption from an endless sleep.” It’s a free gift to all mankind. The sleep would be “endless” were it not for Christ’s resurrection.

    The examples you provide in Mosiah 2 as well as 3 Ne 27, are assignations resulting from a final judgment. There is no indication from the text for any hope of redemption. In fact the text explicitly rules out any hope of redemption after this final judgment “into a state of misery and endless torment, from whence they can no more return.” Note that this description comes after the author tells us it is a state assigned “at the judgment day; whereof they shall be judged, every man according to his works, whether they be good, or whether they be evil.” We are told there is no more chance at redemption for “mercy could have claim on them no more forever.” You are reading hope into a text where none is present.

    Comparing BoM language of judgment to D&C language is an exercise in demonstrating Joseph Smith’s evolving sense of the afterlife from a traditional Christian view, to a kinder, gentler, more modern view.

  2. Anon@6:01, there certainly are absolutely final states for all of us. What the Book of Mormon teaches is that we are either in the presence of God forever, or cast out of his presence. We are out of His presence now and will be forever if we don't repent at some point. But the book does not teach that the torments of hell last forever for those who must pay for their own sins and endure hell.

    A key point here is the meaning of the language the Book of Mormon uses. In the modern world, "eternal" means infinite in duration. That's not really it meant in ancient Israel and Egypt, as Robert Boylan illustrates, and not what it means in light of Doctrine and Covenants 19. The Book of Mormon is consistent with that 1829 revelation. In Alma 36:12 Alma was "racked with eternal torment," as are souls in hell. Alma's eternal torment lasted less than 3 days.

    The usage of "endless" is also important. Death is described as an endless sleep — and then we arise and are resurrected. Hell is also endless and eternal, even though our suffering the pains of hell's eternal torment may be as short as 3 days, or many years for others. But not necessarily infinite.

    You refer to 3 Nephi 27 as if it means infinite duration in hell for the wicked. But that's not what it says. It says that those who are cast into the first do not return. Return to what? The presence of God. It does not say they spend eternity in hell. It says they never return to the presence of God. Now yes, being out of the presence of God for eternity is damnation and can be described in harsh terms, as it should be to motivate repentance, but it does not mean literally suffering in hell endlessly. Here it's important to recognize how Lehi's use of "from whence no traveler can return" to describe death makes perfect sense when you consider the location implied for the return: there's no return to mortality, but the endless sleep of death is still temporary. We don't return from death (to our mortal life) and we don't return (to the presence of God in the Celestial Kingdom) once cast out on the day of judgement. It's an endless doom, yes, but those so cast out, with the apparent exception of the sons of perdition, will all be released from both the endless sleep of physical death and eternal hell.

    Mosiah 2 likewise says that the wicked shrink into a state of endless torment, from when they can no more return. Return to what? The presence of God. But it does not require that their time experiencing endless torment in hell be "endless" or "eternal" in the modern sense of the word. It may be deliberately worded to stir up motivation to repent, but it's not proper to expect our modern formula of endless/eternal = infinite duration. Again, eternal torment was under 3 days for Alma, and "endless sleep" is also obviously temporary. The clear limits in the meanings of those words in the Book of Mormon must be understood both on light of what that text shows us, and also in light of Doctrine and Covenants 19. But yes, there are final states involved: the final state of being cast out of the presence of God.

  3. "But the book does not teach that the torments of hell last forever for those who must pay for their own sins and endure hell."

    What? Is it possible to pay for your own sins? Awesome, sign me up! I declare the person that pays for their own sins morally superior to the person that lets someone else pay for theirs.

  4. Jeff @ 7:02

    “It says that those who are cast into the first do not return. Return to what?”

    “Mosiah 2 likewise says that the wicked shrink into a state of endless torment, from when they can no more return. Return to what?”

    You are wrong—this is an unreasonable reading. You are inserting your own outside hopes that are not present in the text. You’re ignoring that the text tells it is not a return to anywhere, but a return from somewhere—from whence there is no return. We’re told there is no escape. The starting point is irrelevant. The same applies to Lehi’s description. There is no return from the path of death. We are told there is a redemption from death through Christ, but your own doctrine tells you that this is not a return, but a transferral to a different sort of body and way of existing.

    “You refer to 3 Nephi 27 as if it means infinite duration in hell for the wicked.”

    I refer to it that way because the text refers to it that way. I’m not sure what else “cast into the fire, from whence there is no return” would be referring to.

    There is a difference between eternal and endless. God’s judgement is eternal judgment, which could be a period of time or could be descriptive of the type of judgment. Endless, like the root words imply, is without end. It’s a description of duration, not a qualifier of a type.

  5. A number of former prominent LDS leaders have said that there will be an end to hell. That is not denying the material in Mosiah 2 or many other places. The punishment itself is of an eternal nature, but for individuals it has an end. No unrepentant evil person “gets away” with a slap on on the wrist in God’s eternal plan. However, we should not take any smug pleasure in envisioning somebody suffering through all eternity. That is not consistent with the concept of a just and merciful God. The existence of various kingdoms of glory where virtually all of God’s children will end up is one of the shining examples of the just theology of the LDS faith. Consider Adolf Hitler, one of the most wicked murderous tyrants who ever lived. If he has to suffer horribly for a thousand years in the spirit prison (as he undoubtedly will) for his atrocities why should we want him to suffer more than that? We should not be smug in the belief of a literal endless torment for anyone!

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