One Cannot Be Saved in Ignorance
John A. Tvedtnes
Joseph Smith declared that “It is impossible for a man to be saved in ignorance” (D&C 131:6), and that “There could not anything be given, pertaining to life and godliness, without knowledge . . . Salvation is for a man to be saved from all his enemies; for until a man can triumph over death, he is not saved. A knowledge of the priesthood alone will do this . . . Knowledge is the power of salvation” (History of the Church 5:402-3). He further noted that “A man is saved no faster than he gets knowledge, for if he does not get knowledge, he will be brought into captivity by some evil power in the other world, as evil spirits will have more knowledge, and consequently more power than many men who are on the earth. Hence it needs revelation to assist us, and give us knowledge of the things of God” (History of the Church 4:588). “Salvation is nothing more nor less than to triumph over all our enemies and put them under our feet. And when we have power to put all enemies under our feet in this world, and a knowledge to triumph over all evil spirits in the world to come (History of the Church 5:387).”Knowledge saves a man; and in the world of spirits no man can be exalted but by knowledge. So long as a man will not give heed to the commandments, he must abide without salvation. If a man has knowledge, he can be saved” (History of the Church 6:314).
Ultimately, it is the knowledge of God that saves: “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3; cf. D&C 84:19).[i] The Lord told the prophet Joseph, “If thou shalt ask, thou shalt receive revelation upon revelation, knowledge upon knowledge, that thou mayest know the mysteries and peaceable things-that which bringeth joy, that which bringeth life eternal” (D&C 42:61). Joseph later taught, “It is the first principle of the gospel to know for a certainty the character of God, and to know that we may converse with Him as one man converses with another” (History of the Church 6:305).
While knowing the Lord is our ultimate goal (D&C 93:1), Joseph Smith taught that other forms of knowledge have an eternal purpose. “Whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection. And if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come” (D&C 130:18-19). John of Damascus preserved the following from a lost writing of Justin Martyr: “As the good of the body is health, so the good of the soul is knowledge, which is indeed a kind of health of soul, by which a likeness to God is attained.”[ii]
Joseph Smith’s declaration that a man cannot be saved in ignorance is paralleled by a statement in an early Jewish text, Bahir 185, which says that “An ignoramous cannot be pious.”[iii] The second-century AD Christian theologian Origen expressed a similar idea, suggesting that the righteous will have an advantage in learning in the spirit world and after the resurrection:
“A zeal or desire for knowledge of this kind being conceived by us on earth, the full understanding and comprehension of it will be granted after death . . . I think, therefore, that all the saints who depart from this life will remain in some place situated on the earth, which holy Scripture calls paradise, as in some place of instruction, and, so to speak, class-room or school of souls, in which they are to be instructed regarding all the things which they had seen on earth, and are to receive also some information respecting things that are to follow in the future . . . If any one indeed be pure in heart, and holy in mind, and more practised in perception, he will, by making more rapid progress, quickly ascend to a place in the air, and reach the kingdom of heaven, through those mansions, so to speak, in the various places which the Greeks have termed spheres, i.e., globes, but which holy Scripture has called heavens; in each of which he will first see clearly what is done there, and in the second place, will discover the reason why things are so done: and thus he will in order pass through all gradations, following Him who hath passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God.” (De Principiis 2.11.6).[iv]
The Lord told Joseph Smith that “The glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth. Light and truth forsake that evil one. Every spirit of man was innocent in the beginning; and God having redeemed man from the fall, men became again, in their infant state, innocent before God. And that wicked one cometh and taketh away light and truth, through disobedience, from the children of men, and because of the tradition of their fathers” (D&C 93:36-39). He also noted that “He that keepeth his commandments receiveth truth and light, until he is glorified in truth and knoweth all things . . . Behold, here is the agency of man, and here is the condemnation of man; because that which was from the beginning is plainly manifest unto them, and they receive not the light. And every man whose spirit receiveth not the light is under condemnation” (D&C 93:28, 31-32).
A similar idea is found in 2 Baruch 51:3-4 in he Apocrypha: “Also, as for the glory of those who proved to be righteous on account of my law, those who possessed intelligence in their life, and those who planted the root of wisdom in their hearts-their splendour will then be glorified by transformations, and the shape of their face will be changed into the light of their beauty so that they may acquire and receive the undying world which is promised to them. Therefore, especially they who will then come will be sad, because they despised my Law and stopped their ears lest they hear wisdom and receive intelligence.”[v]
[i] Cf. John 8:32, “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth [a title of Christ] shall make you free.” See the discussion in John A. Tvedtnes, ““Faith and Truth,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 3/2 (Fall 1994).
[ii] Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, eds., Ante-Nicene Fathers (reprint Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1994), 2:302.
[iii] Aryeh Kaplan, The Bahir (York Beach, ME: Samuel Weiser, 1989), 72.
[iv] Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, Ante-Nicene, 4:299.
[v] James H. Charlesworth, ed., The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (Garden City: Doubleday, 1985), 1:638.