The Plan of Salvation

As a Latter-day Saint, I believed that one of the greatest proofs of Joseph Smith’s prophetic status was the Plan of Salvation. To me, the idea of multiple degrees of glory made much more sense than the traditional concepts of heaven and hell. I was grateful for added information about the spirit world and was comforted by the doctrine of eternal families.

The knowledge of this plan served to reinforce my testimony that Joseph Smith really was a prophet, seer, and revelator. After all, the role of a prophet is to be the sole mouthpiece of God, revealing things that were heretofore unknown. Not only did it give me comfort, it also gave me a sense of pride among other Christians who didn’t have “the fullness of truth.”

That is, until I came across the name, Emanuel Swedenborg.

Emanuel Swedenborg

Emanuel Swedenborg was a world-renowned inventor and scientist in the 1700s. At age 53, Swedenborg began experiencing visions and dreams, in the which he claimed to have been appointed by God to reform Christianity. For the rest of his life, he published the information he received through his frequent visits to the spirit world.

Now, Swedenborg is not the only visionary to have claimed such marvelous manifestations. The history books are filled with such people. What stood out to me about him was some of the doctrine he taught.

For instance, at a time when most of Christianity believed in only heaven and hell, Swedenborg taught there were three degrees of glory, comparable to the sun, the moon, and the stars — the highest being called the Celestial Kingdom.

This puzzled me. What was a Christian visionary doing teaching the three degrees of glory almost a century before Joseph Smith? Wasn’t the prophet the one who revealed that?

The more I read about him, the more intrigued I became. Not only did Swedenborg lay out the three degrees of glory and a version of the spirit world very similar to LDS tradition, he also taught that eternal marriage was necessary for a person to enter the highest kingdom of glory (Swedenborg, Conjugial Love, pg. 155) and that little children were free of sin. In other words, Joseph Smith’s most treasured doctrines didn’t even originate with Joseph Smith.

S0 did Joseph Smith simply borrow the doctrines from Swedenborg? It’s highly possible. Swedenborg was a well-known name at the time. Joseph Smith’s contemporary, Ralph Waldo Emerson declared, “This age is Swedenborg’s,” and referred to him in Representative of Man as “The Mystic.”

A library near the Smith home carried the book, Sibly’s Complete Illustration of the Occult Sciences. Historian Michael Quinn has already demonstrated that this book is the likely source for the Smith family’s magic parchments. 

Hyrum Smith's Magic Parchment

Hyrum Smith’s Magic Parchment

Besides containing occult rituals practiced by the Smiths, this book also contains a 20-page summary of Swedenborg’s teachings regarding the “three heavens” and the “spirits and departed souls of men.”

Other information about Swedenborg was also available to Joseph. Quinn notes that in 1826, just 9 miles from the Smith farm, the Canandaigua newspaper advertised Swedenborg’s publications for as little as 37 cents. (Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, pg. 153)

Joseph himself acknowledged his familiarity with Swedenborg. In 1839, Edward Hunter, a convert from Swedenborgianism, recorded a conversation with Joseph:

 “I asked him if he was acquainted with the Sweadenburgers. His answer I verially believe. ‘Emanuel Sweadenburg had a view of the world to come but for daily food he perished.’” (William E. Hunter, Edward Hunter: Faithful Steward, pg. 316, original spelling).

Is the similarity between Swedenborg’s teachings and the Plan of Salvation mere coincidence? If, as Joseph said, Swedenborg truly had a view of the world to come, then doesn’t that negate the idea of a universal apostasy and the need for the heavens to open again? How special are Joseph’s revelations if they were already given through another visionary before his time?

I’ll leave it to you to decide.


Tanner Gilliland is a writer, artist, and jazz hands enthusiast based in Salt Lake City, UT. Check out his art on Instagram: @tanner_gilliland, his jokes on Twitter: @tgilliland789, and his poverty on Venmo: Tanner-Gilliland
  • This is an awesome find. I wish so bad that my wife would recognize the significance of these kinds of things. Joseph Smith plagiarized from many sources to piece Mormonism together. There is no need to base our lives on a lie.

  • fecklessderek

    How did you come across Swedenborg?

    • Richard R. Lyman

      I believe I saw a reference to him in the LDS Freedom Forum back in the day.

      • A friend

        Ah the Great AussieOi himself. Who taught young Rock at his knee and found those 3 words taken from the Lorenzo Snow manual….. “who has means” inspiring Truth About Tithing

  • Mike

    Although there is the argument that Both Swedenborg and Joseph Smith were influenced by the below biblical passages as well: ( From the wiki page section -> Influence on JS and Mormon Theology: “Many of the similarities are rooted in Biblical language and by interpreting Biblical texts. For example, the general view of three Heavens in the resurrection appears to have its root from the writings attributed to the apostle Paul found in the New Testament, 1 Cor 15:40–42:

    “There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead.”

    Allegorically, Swedenborg likens both the nature of each heaven as well as the illumination in the sky of each heaven to the sun, moon, and stars. He states that the sun of the celestial heaven and the moon of the spiritual kingdom is the Lord. In Mormonism’s view of I Cor 15:40–42, the resurrected bodies of those in three degrees of glory (celestial, terrestrial, and telestial heavens) are likened to the Sun, Moon, and stars.

    Others who acknowledge parallels, including Mormon historian Richard Bushman, propose that the similarities between the revelations of Smith and Swedenborg are due to the influence of Paul’s writing on both of them.”

  • TigranMetz

    Entering Mormon whisperer mode:

    “So what? God is no respecter of persons. It seems that he imparted the spiritual truth of the 3 Kingdoms of Glory to Swedenborg as well as Joseph Smith.”

  • Brady Tolley

    If you keep reading on the Wikipedia entry, it looks like he taught eternal marriage as well. That’s another big blow.

  • Brother_Joseph

    Joseph also plagiarized the notions of apostasy and dispensatialism as well as the Dispensation of the Fullness of Times. Both concepts originated with a preacher by the name of John Nelson Darby who also founded the idea of ongoing revelation.

  • albertinamel

    Gotta say, Zelph, the title is pretty click-baity. First off, Swedenborg was a prolific philosopher, and it’s pretty inaccurate to boil down his main ideas to a mere three-degrees paradigm plus eternal marriage. There was a lot more to it than that. His Wikipedia page is pretty lengthy and only scratches the surface of the man. Swedenborg even claimed “he conversed with spirits from Jupiter, Mars, Mercury, Saturn, Venus, and the Moon, as well as spirits from planets beyond our solar system.” So he was a big-time mystic and theorized on the many planets and celestial bodies when writing his beliefs, not solely the sun/moon/stars. Sure, this does get to be a little Kolobesque, but my point is that there were lots of different philosophers during and preceding Smith’s life, and I would be much more inclined to say that Smith was influenced by them rather than to say that he “plagiarized” them. There’s nothing to suggest a verbatim theft of ideas. Also, the notion that a book was advertised in a newspaper nine miles from Smith’s home is hardly proof. That’s the kind of “connect-the-dots-man!” conspiracy theory that doesn’t hold up under strict scrutiny.

    For the record, I think JS made up pretty much everything he taught under the guise of revelation. And he was almost surely familiar with Swedenborg’s ideas. But I think it’s much more accurate to say he incorporated various philosophies of his time into his own than to say he “stole” an existing idea. To do so is to short-change Smith the credit he is due for starting his own (wacky, bizarre, charismatic, utopian, fill-in-your-adjective) religion.

  • daydream

    A good example of people with inferior knowledge and understanding thinking they’re on the same level as a being with perfect knowledge and understanding. Why?

    God has always shown more than one person the same vision. But He only allows one person to bring this knowledge forth. Even His own Son, Jesus Christ was not allowed to baptize because John the Baptist was the one called to bring it forth. Does that diminish Jesus’ life and accomplishments? Does that take away from who He is? No. We still revere Jesus more and probably don’t give John the Baptist his due. Mr. Swedenborg was probably shown something similar, just like any of us could be shown it, if God so desired, but the difference being in how God works: by order. Also, Joseph explained why Mr. Swedenborg saw and nothing more, “‘Emanuel Sweadenburg had a view of the world to come but for daily food he perished.’” (William E. Hunter, Edward Hunter: Faithful Steward, pg. 316, original spelling).

    Mr. Swedenborg, like so many of us, in the face of temptation are so quick to sell our birthright.

    That’s why many are called but few are chosen.

    We need to be on God’s level before we can start claiming who/what is right or wrong.

    • GoodWill2

      This is a mistake. Both Jesus and John baptized. Read the JST.

      • daydream

        Right. But Jesus couldn’t baptized until he was baptized by John who was authorized to baptize Jesus. Who had the authority to perform the work? Who had the authority first? John with water. Christ then could baptize with the Holy Ghost. That was Johns mission, his calling. To baptize with water. After Jesus was baptized then He could introduce and baptize with His spirit. Baptism by immersion (Johns mission) and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands (Jesus’ mission). Jesus couldn’t perform John’s work and vice versa for John not being able to perform Jesus’ work. Order. Not chaos. They both have the power but not the authority. My whole point in the beginning. They both saw the glories but only Joseph had the authority to reveal it.

  • Neil Hetzel

    I remember when I ran across this information by accident while speaking with a member of The New Church, which is based on Swedenborg’s teachings. I was just listening to what she had to say and suddenly she starts talking about the three degrees of heaven etc etc. I was floored. As with most ex-mo’s there were several “final straws” for me. This was one of them.

  • GoodWill2

    The Lord has poured His Spirit upon many. The idea that only one man (Joseph Smith) was privy to revelation from heaven is, itself, an apostate doctrine. That others, too, enjoyed the same visions that Joseph experienced does not negate his contribution to our understanding. Demonstrating that the LDS Church now embraces fables does not invalidate the prophetic ministry of Joseph Smith; it merely shows that the Church departed from the truth at some point.

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  • Michael Duval

    So Joseph Smith apparently had an such an intimate knowledge of Swedenborg… Since the determination is that all of his ideas must be plagiarism, we should add this vast body of literature to his alleged knowledge of Milton, Shakespeare, Solomon Spaulding, Zarathustra, the Ante-Nicene Fathers, and the III Book of Enoch (which was not available in English or Hebrew in his life time)–just to name a few. Well that was one sharp guy! Almost all of those authors are now available for free, in english, online and I don’t know anyone–even among the religious scholars at Notre Dame where I am studying–who has read them all. Do you? But supposing that a relatively poor 19th century farmer could effortlessly weave Swedenborg and Zarathustra together sure seems like something a reasonable person would conclude. Under the cloak of critical thinking, let’s just ignore the fact that his own publicly available papers show that he had only a rudimentary grasp of the English language until years after he had published these ideas. After all, it seems much more believable to suppose that such a young man would have had an immense and intimate knowledge of several complicated compendiums of literature which I doubt most PhD graduates possess…

    And you say I have faith.

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