The Fate of Judas Iscariot and the Number of the Sons of Perdition

By Loyal to the Word


         It may not be known generally among the membership of the Church, but there is some controversy over the fate of Judas Iscariot, the infamous apostle of Christ who became his deliberate betrayer. In Mormon theology, hell is suffered by all those who lived wicked and unclean lives (D&C 76:103-105) but is usually temporary in duration (D&C 19:6-12; 76:106-107). There are a certain number, however, who because they have turned away from God and “suffered themselves through the power of the devil to be overcome, and to deny the truth and defy [God’s] power” will never escape hell for all eternity. These are the sons of perdition (D&C 76:31-37). 

         Was Judas Iscariot a son of perdition? The answer is not as unequivocal as one might think, and that is because two respected and influential prophets have taught varying opinions on the matter. Joseph F. Smith, the President of the Church from 1901 to 1918, made an interesting statement regarding the fate of Judas. In the Improvement Era in the year 1918, he wrote:


                                                                  Now, if Judas really had known God’s power, and had partaken
                                                                  thereof, and did actually “deny the truth” and “defy” that power,
                                                                  “having denied the Holy Spirit after he had received it,” and also
                                                                  “denied the Only Begotten,” after God had “revealed him” unto
                                                                  him, then there can be no doubt that he “will die the second death.”
                                                                  That Judas did partake of all this knowledge—that these great 
                                                                  truths had been revealed to him—that he had received the Holy
                                                                  Spirit by the gift of God, and was therefore qualified to commit the 
                                                                  unpardonable sin, is not at all clear to me. To my mind it strongly
                                                                  appears that not one of the disciples possessed sufficient light, 
                                                                  knowledge nor wisdom, at the time of the crucifixion, for either
                                                                  exaltation or condemnation; for it was afterward that their minds were
                                                                  opened to understand the scriptures, and that they were
                                                                  endowed with power from on high; without which they were only
                                                                  children in knowledge, in comparison to what they afterwards 
                                                                  become under the influence of the Spirit.
                                                                  (Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, p. 433)


         That being said, the circumstances become more interesting and it is clear that this is not yet an open and shut case. In the great classic, Jesus the Christ, published in 1915 and of which Joseph F. Smith was the head of the editorial board, Elder James E. Talmage of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles stated:


                                                                  The crowning deed of perfidy in the career of Iscariot was his
                                                                  deliberate betrayal of his Master to death; and this the infamous
                                                                  creature did for a price, and accomplished the foul deed with a 
                                                                  kiss. He brought his guilty life to a close by a revolting suicide and
                                                                  his spirit went to the awful fate reserved for the sons of perdition.
                                                                  (James E. Talmage, Jesus the Christ, p. 210)


         There can be no doubt that President Smith was aware of this statement by Talmage in Jesus the Christ, for he authorized the book as part of the editorial board and had it read to him by Elder Talmage. Yet President Smith himself held a differing view from Talmage. President Smith’s permitting of Elder Talmage classifying Judas unequivocally as a son of perdition allows us to suppose that there is room for disagreement on the issue. As well, there happens to be compelling scriptural evidence which leads to the conclusion that Judas Iscariot did become a son of perdition just as Elder Talmage indicated.


The Case for Judas as a Son of Perdition

         It seems rather clear from the scriptures that Judas Iscariot was in fact a son of perdition. Why? It is because Jesus Christ himself seemed to indicate that. In John 17 Christ is giving the great intercessory prayer prior to going to Gethsemane on that fateful night. In it he speaks of his apostles, beginning in verse 6, as “the men which thou gavest me out of the world” (John 17:6). He says that “they have received [the words of God] and have known surely that I came out from thee” (John 17:8, emphasis added). It should be noted here that a qualification for a son of perdition is that they “know [God’s] power, and have been made partakers thereof” (D&C 76:31, emphasis added).

         Further, Jesus prayed for his disciples to be one (John 17:11), and then made a very important statement: Speaking of his apostles, he said, “While I was with them in the world, I kept them in thy name: those that thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition; that the scripture might be fulfilled” (John 17:12, emphasis added). Who was this son of perdition among the apostles of whom Jesus spoke? Surely it was none other than Judas Iscariot, for he was the only apostle to be dropped from the twelve (Acts 1:22-26), and at this point in John’s narrative Judas had already committed the foul betrayal (John 13:21-30).

         There is another instance in scripture where Jesus refers to Judas Iscariot as “the son of perdition.” In 3 Nephi 27:32, while speaking of the generation of Nephites that would turn away from the Gospel, Jesus said, “for they are led away captive by [the devil] even as was the son of perdition; for they will sell me for silver and for gold” (3 Ne. 27:32, emphasis added). This, of course, makes a clear reference to Judas Iscariot, who delivered (or sold) Jesus to his enemies for thirty pieces of silver (Matt. 26:14-15).

         Also, God has said of sons of perdition that “They are they who are the sons of perdition, of whom I say that it had been better for them never to have been born” (D&C 76:32, emphasis added). It is worthy of note that Christ said of Judas “woe unto that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! it had been good for that man if he had not been born” (Matt. 26:24, emphasis added).

         Because of the foregoing evidence in the scriptures, and because President Smith allowed for difference of opinion on this matter, this author feels that Judas Iscariot was most definitely a son of perdition.


One Major Obstacle


         There is one glaring, major obstacle to identifying Judas Iscariot as a definite son of perdition. As the Prophet Joseph Smith taught, “I said, no man can commit the unpardonable sin…until he receives the Holy Ghost” (Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 357). That is, a person must properly receive the gift of the Holy Ghost before they can sin against it. President Joseph F. Smith phrased the problem this way: “No man can sin against light until he has it; nor against the Holy Ghost, until after he has received it by the gift of God through the appointed channel or way…Did Judas possess this light, this witness, this Comforter, this baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost, this endowment from on high? If he did, he received it before the betrayal, and therefore before the other eleven apostles” (Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, p. 434). In other words, since the rest of the apostles apparently received the gift of the Holy Ghost on the day of Pentacost after the death of Judas Iscariot (Acts 2:1-4), it follows that the only way that Judas could have committed blasphemy against the Holy Ghost is if he received the gift of the Holy Ghost separately from the rest of the Twelve at an earlier time. This is admittedly an unlikely circumstance. However, since Judas is specifically designated by Christ as “the son of perdition” (John 17:12), and as shown above, was otherwise spoken of Christ in terms suggestive of that status (“it had been good for that man if he had not been born” - Matt. 26:24; compare D&C 76:32), we may still proceed with scriptural confidence in this matter, and assume that by some anomaly, Judas Iscariot received the gift of the Holy Ghost prior to the betrayal.


How is One Made a Son of Perdition?

         We are told a fair amount about the fate of sons of perdition, but we do not know quite as much about how a person becomes one. This makes for an interesting situation, because we know what fate awaits such persons, but we do not know where exactly to draw the line of when a person becomes one. But as much as we know is given in the scriptures and the teachings of Joseph Smith. Let us quote from the scriptures first on this matter:


                                                                  Thus saith the Lord concerning all those who know my power, and
                                                                  have been made partakers thereof, and suffered themselves through
                                                                  the power of the devil to be overcome, and to deny the truth and
                                                                  defy my power—They are they who are the sons of perdition, of
                                                                  whom I say that it had been better for them never to have been
                                                                  born; For they are vessels of wrath, doomed to suffer the wrath of 
                                                                  God, with the devil and his angels in eternity; Concerning whom I
                                                                  have said there is no forgiveness in this world nor in the world to 
                                                                  come—Having denied the Holy Spirit after having received it, and 
                                                                  having denied the Only Begotten Son of the Father, having
                                                                  crucified him unto themselves and put him to an open shame.
                                                                  These are they who shall go away into the lake of fire and 
                                                                  brimstone, with the devil and his angels—And the only ones on
                                                                  whom the second death shall have any power [i.e. after they are
                                                                  resurrected]; Yea, verily, the only ones who shall not be redeemed
                                                                  in the due time of the Lord, after the sufferings of his wrath. For all
                                                                  the rest shall be brought forth [to a state or degree of glory] by the 
                                                                  resurrection of the dead, through the triumph and the glory of the 
                                                                  Lamb…Who glorifies the Father, and saves all the works of his
                                                                  hands, except those sons of perdition who deny the Son after the
                                                                  Father has revealed him.
                                                                  (D&C 76:31-43).


         Here in section 76 we learn that sons of perdition 1) “know [God’s] power, and have been made partakers thereof” (D&C 76:31). This would suggest a testimony of the gospel and receipt of the priesthood or its blessings. This is also evident from the fact that those who break the oath and covenant of the priesthood “shall not have forgiveness of sins in this world or in the world to come” (D&C 84:41), suggesting that the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost also constitutes breaking the oath and covenant of the priesthood. 2) They “suffered themselves through the power of the devil to be overcome, and to deny the truth and defy [God’s] power” (D&C 76:31). This implies a total yielding to temptation in anticipation of what worldly powers or lusts the devil can offer. In Cain’s case he made a pact with Satan (Moses 5:29-31). Whether this formality is required in every case seems doubtful, however. The rest of the above passage gives information regarding the fate, rather than the prerequisites of sons of perdition.

         There is another instructive passage relating to sons of perdition in the Doctrine and Covenants which discusses what qualifies them as such. In the revelation on celestial marriage, God has said:


                                                                   The blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, which shall not be
                                                                   forgiven in the world nor out of the world, is in that ye commit
                                                                   murder wherein ye shed innocent blood, and assent unto my death, 
                                                                   after ye have received my new and everlasting covenant, saith the
                                                                   Lord God; and he that abideth not this law can in nowise enter into
                                                                   my glory, but shall be damned, saith the Lord
                                                                   (D&C 132:27).


            Here we learned that the sin against the Holy Ghost is similar to murder because it is “wherein ye shed innocent blood, and assent unto [Christ’s] death.” Murder is a conscious malicious act, and there is no question when a murderer kills that he has committed the crime. We may assume that blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, once committed, is likewise known to the guilty one. God warned Cain that he was in danger of committing the sin against the Holy Ghost, “thou shalt be called Perdition” he warned (Moses 5:24). When Cain did finally commit the sin he said, “my punishment is greater than I can bear. Behold, thou hast driven me out this day from the face of the Lord, and from thy face shall I be hid” (Moses 5:38-39). Likewise Judas Iscariot, ridden with guilt, went and killed himself (Matt. 27:3-5). Surely he knew that his situation was hopeless.
            What does it mean that sons of perdition “assent unto [Christ’s] death” and therefore have “shed innocent blood” (D&C 132:27)? It means that their hearts are murderous, and that given the chance, they would attempt to kill Christ. It means that they were pleased that Christ suffered and died in an ignominious manner, and would have been among those anciently who worked to see it happen.

            It is also instructive that D&C 132:27 mentions that sons of perdition commit their sin “after [they] have received my new and everlasting covenant.” That means that only members of the Church are eligible to become sons of perdition. One must receive of the light before they can sin against it.

            Next we have instruction from Joseph Smith regarding how a person becomes a son of perdition. He gave in very plain terms how a person becomes a son of perdition and he illustrated it with a very interesting and famous analogy. What follows is the best instruction in existence regarding how a person commits the sin against the Holy Ghost:          


                                                                  All sins shall be forgiven, except the sin against the Holy Ghost;
                                                                  for Jesus will save all except the sons of perdition. What must a
                                                                  man do to commit the unpardonable sin? He must receive the Holy
                                                                  Ghost, have the heavens opened unto him, and know God, and then
                                                                  sin against Him. After a man has sinned against the Holy Ghost,
                                                                  there is no repentance for him. He has got to say that the sun does 
                                                                  not shine while he sees it; he has got to deny Jesus Christ when the
                                                                  heavens have been opened unto him, and to deny the plan of 
                                                                  salvation with his eyes open to the truth of it; and from that time he
                                                                  begins to be an enemy.
                                                                  (Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 358)


How Many Sons of Perdition Are There?

         The question that follows immediately from “How do you become a son of perdition?” is “How many sons of perdition are there?” An answer to this question will help determine how hard or easy it is to become a son of perdition. There is a prevailing notion among many members of the Church that the sons of perdition can be “counted on the fingers of one hand” because it is so hard to qualify as one. Though this might be a comforting thought to some, there is good evidence that suggests otherwise. First, we have this statement from Joseph Fielding Smith:


                                                                   I think we, most of us, have made a dreadful, but not
                                                                   unpardonable, mistake in thinking that the sons of perdition will be
                                                                   very few. I have heard some say they can be “counted on the
                                                                   fingers of one hand.” Where this thought originated I do not know.
                                                                   In my thinking there will be a large number, exceedingly large, 
                                                                   that will become sons of perdition.
                                                                   (Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions, 5:108).


         Just how many “a large number, exceedingly large” translates into is not clear. In truth it cannot be known with accuracy how many sons of perdition there are/were. But it is clear that President Smith, a foremost gospel scholar of our generation, thought it prudent to consider the number to be significantly more than five fingers’ worth.

         That being said, it does not follow that virtually every person in the Church who apostatizes becomes a son of perdition. President Kimball taught, “The sin against the Holy Ghost requires such knowledge that it is manifestly impossible for the rank and file to commit such a sin. Comparatively few Church members will commit murder wherein they shed innocent blood, and we hope only few will deny the Holy Ghost” (Spencer W. Kimball, The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p. 23).

         Most members of the Church are not at the level of spiritual maturity that is required to become a son of perdition. But many are. No doubt readers of this article are at least personally acquainted with someone who is eligible to become a son of perdition. How do we know that there are that many sons of perdition? A remark from the Prophet Joseph Smith gives us good reason to reject the “fingers of one hand” idea. When discussing those who have committed the unpardonable sin, Joseph said, “This is the case with many apostates of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” (Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 358). Here Joseph indicates that in 1844, at a time when the Church was really still in its infancy, many of its apostates were sons of perdition. If that was true in 1844, how many more sons of perdition have there been since then, especially now that Church membership is numbered in the millions?


Who Are the Sons of Perdition?

         Now we come to another tricky question: who are the sons of perdition? Specifically what individuals in the scriptures or Church history do we have sufficient information that we can justifiably label them as sons of perdition? There are many who would disapprove of such speculation, but as long as it is based on good evidence and an open mind regarding the fallibility of our judgment is maintained, there is really no harm. This author can think of three individuals of whom he is convinced are sons of perdition:


1)      Cain. He is universally recognized as a son of perdition. That is because the scriptures explicitly designate him as such (Moses 5:24).

2)      Judas Iscariot. For reasons explained in this article, it seems evident that Judas is a son of perdition (John 17:12; D&C 76:32 & Matt. 26:24; D&C 76:31 & John 17:8).

3)      William Law. Who was William Law? He was an associate of Joseph Smith, who for a brief time was held in such confidence with the Prophet that he was a member of the First Presidency as Second Counselor. When William Law apostatized, he sought Joseph’s death and was instrumental in the events that ultimately led to the martyrdom (Ivan J. Barrett, Joseph Smith and the Restoration, p. 591, 593). Regarding the apostates from the Church who have become sons of perdition, Joseph declared, “When a man begins to be an enemy to this work, he hunts me, he seeks to kill me, and never ceases to thirst for my blood.” Here again we have the idea that sons of perdition are murderous in their hearts (D&C 132:27). Joseph continues, “He [the son of perdition apostate] gets the spirit of the devil—the same spirit that they had who crucified the Lord of Life—the same spirit that sins against the Holy Ghost. You cannot save such persons; you cannot bring them to repentance; they make open war, like the devil, and awful is the consequence” (Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 358). 

         Further evidence for William Law being a son of perdition is found in the teachings of Willford Woodruff. He mentioned the Higbees and the Laws in the next breath after discussing sons of perdition. He said:

“When the vision of my mind is opened and I gaze abroad upon this generation, I many times feel to mourn in my spirit to see the darkness and unbelief and the carelessness of man with regard to his future and eternal state. Instead of seeking with all their powers to secure to themselves eternal life they seem to be doing their utmost to turn the last key to seal their condemnation and to make themselves the sons of perdition. They will labor to shed innocent blood and to destroy the Church and kingdom of God on the earth. This is one of the promptings of the evil one.
“There are two things which have always followed apostates in every age of the world, and especially in our day. In the early days of the Church, in Kirtland, as soon as men apostatized from the Church and kingdom of God, they immediately began to fear their fellow men, and to fancy their lives were in danger. Another peculiarity common to apostates was that they desired to kill those who had been their benefactors. This was the case with the Higbees, Laws and others with regard to the Prophet Joseph, when they turned against him, they sought with all their powers to take away his life. Not only were they afraid of their own lives, but they sought to take his, and they eventually succeeded, and woe is their doom. What would they not give in exchange for their souls? But no matter, they cannot redeem them.”
(Wilford Woodruff, Journal of Discourses, 13:168, December 12, 1869, emphasis added).

Are There Daughters of Perdition?

         It only makes sense, since women are entitled to all of the blessings which flow from the priesthood, that they are also subject to the penalties associated with turning from it. God is equitable with his children and “he inviteth them all to come unto him…and he denieth none that come unto him…male and female” (2 Ne. 26:33). If this is true then the corollary is also true. Women have the ability to become exalted and reach the greatest heights. Therefore they must also have the possibility of falling to the greatest depths. Acceptance of this fact is part and parcel of the basic tenet that God is no respecter of persons (Lectures On Faith 3:17, Acts 10:34).


What is the Bodily Fate of Sons of Perdition?

          It is interesting to note that Brigham Young apparently taught that after the resurrection, the bodies of the sons of perdition would not endure, but that they would be dissolved and the elements return back to the unorganized matter of the universe. President Young taught:


                                                                   God is the Father of our spirits; He begat them, and has sent them
                                                                   here to receive tabernacles, and to prove whether we will honour
                                                                   them. If we do, then our tabernacles will be exalted; but if we do 
                                                                   not, we shall be destroyed; one of the two - dissolution or life. The
                                                                   second death will decompose all tabernacles over whom it gains
                                                                   the ascendancy; and this is the effect of the second death, the
                                                                   tabernacles go back to their native element.
                                                                   (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, 4:54)

                                                                   They will be decomposed, both soul and body, and return to their 
                                                                   native element. I do not say that they will be annihilated; but they
                                                                   will be disorganized, and will be as though they never had been,
                                                                   while we will live and retain our identity, and contend against
                                                                   those principles which tend to death or dissolution. I am after life; I
                                                                   want to preserve my identity, so that you can see Brigham in the 
                                                                   eternal worlds just as you see him now. I want to see that eternal
                                                                   principle of life dwelling within us which will exalt us eternally in
                                                                   the presence of our Father and God. If you wish to retain your
                                                                   present identity in the morn of the resurrection, you must so live
                                                                   that the principle of life will be within you as a well of water 
                                                                   springing up unto eternal life.
                                                                   (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, 7:57-58)


         It is also interesting to note that Joseph F. Smith, a counselor to Brigham Young in his early apostolic days and later the sixth president of the Church, seemed to teach the exact opposite of this. President Smith taught:


                                                                   And so it will be when we come forth out of the grave, when the 
                                                                   trump shall sound, and these our bodies shall rise and our spirits
                                                                   shall enter into them again, and they shall become living souls, no
                                                                   more to be dissolved or separated, but to become inseparable, 
                                                                   immortal, eternal.
                                                                   (Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, p. 450)


                                                                   It matters not whether we have done well or ill, whether we have
                                                                   been intelligent or ignorant, or whether we have been bondsmen or
                                                                   slaves or freemen, all men will be raised from the dead; and, as I
                                                                   understand it, when they are raised from the dead they become
                                                                   immortal beings, and they will no more suffer the dissolution of
                                                                   the spirit and the body.
                                                                   (Joseph F. Smith as quoted in Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of
, 2:276)


         Here we have one respected Church leader, Brigham Young, teaching the “dissolution” of the bodies of sons of perdition, and another respected Church leader, Joseph F. Smith, teaching that “our bodies shall more to be dissolved.” In light of this apparent contradiction, whose word are we to believe on the matter? The answer is: what do the scriptures say? If the scriptures can be shown to favor one view or falsify another, then we have our answer. So, what do the scriptures say on this matter? The Book of Mormon teaches:


                                                                  Now, this restoration shall come to all, both old and young, both
                                                                  bond and free, both male and female, both the wicked and the 

                                                                  Now, behold, I have spoken unto you concerning the death of the 
                                                                  mortal body, and also concerning the resurrection of the mortal
                                                                  body. I say unto you that this mortal body is raised to an immortal 
                                                                  body, that is from death, even from the first death unto life, that
                                                                  they can die no more; their spirits uniting with their bodies, never
                                                                  to be divided
; thus the whole becoming spiritual and immortal, that
                                                                  they can no more see corruption.
                                                                  (Alma 11:44-45, emphasis added)


         In light of the scriptural evidence at hand, it appears that President Smith is more in line with the standard works, and so it is therefore Loyal to the Word’s opinion that President Smith is correct in this matter. The scriptures say that “the body without the spirit is dead” (James 2:26), which would certainly be the case with dissolution - the spirit without a body would be considered to have died physically again. But the scriptures unequivocally declare that after the resurrection, “they can die no more; their spirits uniting with their bodies, never to be divided” (Alma 11:45). Elsewhere the scriptures say of sons of perdition after the resurrection: “they shall be as though there had been no redemption made; for they cannot be redeemed according to God’s justice; and they cannot die, seeing there is no more corruption” (Alma 12:18, emphasis added). It seems evident that sons of perdition will be cast out into outer darkness with their bodies forever intact, where they will “rule over” Satan eternally (Moses 5:23), since “all beings who have bodies have power over those who have not” (Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 181). 




         In summary, it seems evident that Judas Iscariot, famous for his betrayal of Christ, is also a son of perdition as a result of the misdeed. This is made clear by careful study of the scriptures. There is a greater chance of members of the Church becoming a son of perdition than is often thought. Most members are not on a spiritual plane sufficient to become a son of perdition, but for those who are greatly excelling in spirituality, it is a real possibility. There are also many more sons of perdition than is commonly thought. This may prove to be a revolutionary idea to the minds of many, and cause them to have to adjust their understanding of God’s plan of salvation.



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