Abstract of Paulsen, David L., Kendel J. Christensen, and Martin Pulido. “Redeeming the Dead: Tender Mercies, Turning of Hearts, and Restoration of Authority.”

Paulsen, David L., Kendel J. Christensen, and Martin Pulido.  “Redeeming the Dead: Tender Mercies, Turning of Hearts, and Restoration of Authority.” Journal of Book of Mormon and Other Restoration Scriptures 20, no. 1 (2011): 28-51. [Mormon/Salvation of the Dead/Priesthood]

In collaboration with two students, Professor Paulsen has done a four part study of salvation for the dead.  This one looks at the period of early Christianity up through the Restoration.  It begins by describing the “soteriological problem of evil” which is the question of what happens to those who die without hearing the gospel.  The problem arises from three postulates held by Christians which apparently do not have a solution without modifying one of the postulates.  Early Christians dealt with the problem in different ways.  The paper begins by examining Christian responses from the beginning through the Medieval period, followed by a review of Christian responses up to the 19th century.  The authors then turn to Joseph Smith.  They show that he learned line upon line regarding the salvation of the dead.  The Book of Mormon hosts two apparently independent views about the unevangelized, which was an interesting and insightful section.  They then walk us through some of the earliest statements in revelation about the unevangelized and then the coming of Elijah.  The history of baptism for the dead in Nauvoo is reviewed followed by a very brief section on additional vicarious ordinances.  I encountered a number of new statements which they had extracted mainly from early church periodicals and the analysis of a number of passages in the D&C were also useful.  The article concludes that Joseph Smith did not have to modify any of the three postulates, but he added a fourth, namely that God brings about the salvation of the dead as they are allowed to hear the gospel in the spirit world, repent, and accept it as the necessary ordinances are done for them vicariously.

At least two critical issues marked this article as an incomplete overview.  1) It assumes the necessity of ordinances, but does not explore the origins of this idea to the same degree done with the overall concept of salvation for the dead.  Therefore, the authors do not include the Prophet’s statement that we are born again through ordinances and there is no discussion of the endowment or marriage though the initiatory is briefly mentioned.  Thus, D&C 131 and 132 are not included in the discussion.   2) A second problem is an assertion made twice in the paper to the effect that “Joseph studied the scriptures, meditated, and prayed fervently for further light, which came gradually from heaven over a period of fourteen years.” (see pp. 45 and also 34).  While this may be correct, they do not substantiate the assertion with evidence or references.  This is critical in view of Sam Brown’s book the following year (In Heaven as It is On Earth: Joseph Smith and the Early Mormon Conquest of Death.  New York: Oxford University Press, 2012. ),which offers a quite different view of the origin of these ideas. Both Paulsen and Brown mention that Joseph’s interest in this problem may have arisen at the time of the death of his brother Alvin and persisted through several other deaths in the family, but each offers a different explanation of how this interest played out in the subsequent view of the plan of salvation of the dead.  I am much more inclined toward Paulsen’s view and for this reason would like to have seen more than an a priori assumption.

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