The Nature of Translated Beings

Daniel H. Ludlow

One of the beliefs of the Latter-day Saints that help to make them a “peculiar people” in the eyes of others is that concerning translated beings; that is, Latter-day Saints believe there are people now living on the earth whose physical bodies have been changed or “translated” into another order or state of existence. Although this doctrine is almost unique with Latter-day Saints, it should not be so, for it is clearly taught in the New Testament. After his resurrection, Jesus Christ appeared to some of his disciples at the sea of Tiberias. He counseled his disciples and commanded Peter to “feed my sheep.” Then Peter asked the Master concerning the future mission of John the Beloved. The account of the conversation is written in the book of John as follows:

Peter … saith to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do?

Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me.

Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die: yet Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? (John 21:21-23.)

A more complete account of this experience is given in the Doctrine and Covenants (section 7), but the New Testament account is sufficiently clear to indicate that John the Beloved was to live on the earth until the Savior should come in his glory.

The Savior gave the three Nephite disciples in the Book of Mormon the same promise he had given earlier to John: “… ye shall never taste of death; but ye shall live to behold all the doings of the Father unto the children of men, even until all things shall be fulfilled according to the will of the Father, when I shall come in my glory with the powers of heaven. And … ye shall be changed in the twinkling of an eye from mortality to immortality; and then shall ye be blessed in the kingdom of my Father.” (3 Nephi 28:7-8.)

This statement has raised the question in the minds of some readers as to whether or not John and the three Nephite disciples are still mortal—that is, must these men still suffer a physical death? The answer to this question is “Yes; they are still mortal, for they still must die.” The Savior clearly indicated this when he told the three Nephite disciples, “when I shall come in my glory ye shall be changed in the twinkling of an eye from mortality to immortality.” (3 Nephi 28:8. Italics added.) Thus their spirits will be separated from their bodies (which is physical death) but will come back into their bodies (which is their resurrection) in the “twinkling of an eye”—that is, almost immediately.

Some people are confused on this subject by the following two statements by the Savior: “… ye shall never taste of death … ye shall never endure the pains of death.” (3 Nephi 28:7-8.) These statements do not mean the same as though the Savior had said “Ye shall never die.” This is made clear in a revelation by the resurrected Jesus Christ to the Prophet Joseph Smith: “And it shall come to pass that those that die in me shall not taste of death, for it shall be sweet unto them; And they that die not in me, wo unto them, for their death is bitter.” (D&C 42:46-47. Italics added.) In other words, death will be either a sweet or a bitter experience for people: if they are righteous, death will be a sweet experience—they will not taste of death nor feel the pains of death; if they are wicked, death will be a bitter experience. But both groups of people must die. As Paul stated, “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” (1 Corinthians 15:22.)

Joseph Fielding Smith has written the following concerning the present mortal condition of John the Beloved and the three Nephite disciples: “… translated beings are still mortal and will have to pass through the experience of death … although this will be instantaneous… . Translated beings have not passed through death; that is, they have not had the separation of the spirit and the body.” (Answers to Gospel Questions, 1:165; 2:46.)

And finally, the Prophet Joseph Smith has indicated that translated beings have future missions to perform: “Translated bodies cannot enter into rest until they have undergone a change equivalent to death. Translated bodies are designed for future missions.” (History of the Church, 4:425.)

A Companion To Your Study of The Book of Mormon