Redemption of the Dead:
Continuing Revelation after Joseph Smith
Redemption of the Dead:
Continuing Revelation after Joseph Smith
Continuing Revelation after Joseph Smith
David L. Paulsen, Kendel J. Christensen, Martin Pulido, and Judson Burton
revelations and teachings shed new light on long-standing questions concerning
the salvation of the dead.1 Joseph taught that
all men would be judged according to their obedience to the measure of light
given them, that “eternal punishment” was not necessarily unending,
that the dead could receive the gospel, and that living Saints could do vicarious
ordinance work on their behalf. Baptisms, among other temple ordinances, were performed—as in ancient times—by living
proxies on behalf of the deceased to ensure their opportunity to partake of
salvation in God’s kingdom. Joseph’s illuminating and comforting revelations
largely resolved the soteriological problem of evil and added a distinctly
loving element to postmortem salvation: the dead and living are saved together through temple work.2
After Joseph’s death, church leaders further elaborated upon many
of these themes. While the Saints recognized that the principal element of the
soteriological problem of evil had been resolved (namely, the damnation of those
who did not have the opportunity to receive the gospel in this life),
nonetheless, the Saints continued to probe and ponder questions still not fully
1. What was the nature of Christ’s visit to the spirit world, and what precisely did the harrowing of hell accomplish?
2. Who was commissioned to preach the gospel to the departed spirits, and when did they do so?
3. What are the repercussions for neglecting the gospel in
this life? Can one who understands and ignores the gospel in mortality repent and progress after death?
4. Why are temple ordinances performed for those who do not warrant celestial glory?
In this concluding article of our four-part series, we
will explore responses Latter-day Saint leaders have made to these and related
questions. We will also provide context for Joseph F. Smith’s vision concerning
the spirit world now canonized as section 138 of the Doctrine and Covenants. We
will then consider the implications of this vision on our restored doctrine and
practice of salvation for the dead.
The Harrowing of Hell: Post Joseph Smith
In the wake of Joseph Smith’s death, Latter-day Saint leaders
were left to sort out and elaborate on the many statements left by the Prophet.
While rich and revealing, these statements nevertheless left open a broad array
of questions concerning the exact nature of Christ’s personal visit to the
spirit world. For example, did Christ personally visit both the righteous and
the wicked? And how many of the wicked were actually redeemed at the time of
his visit?3 Did postmortal evangelism continue after Christ’s
descent to the spirit world? If so, how and by whom? Current Latter-day Saints,
familiar and satisfied with Joseph F. Smith’s vision, give little thought to
these questions, but before his vision these questions were of serious concern,
as the salvation of the vast majority of mankind rests upon these issues. The
early responses to these questions were diverse and not always in full
agreement with each other. However, by examining the initial variety of
responses, as well as subsequent agreement among church leaders, we can begin
to understand how important and revealing Joseph F. Smith’s vision was for the
To begin with, nearly all church leaders following Joseph
continued to emphasize the salvific nature of the Savior’s visit to the spirits
in prison.4 At a funeral in 1855, Apostle
Orson Pratt (1811–81) described the message Christ gave to the spirits in prison:
What did he preach? Did he preach, “You must remain here to
endless ages without hope of redemption?” If this were the proclamation,
what was the use of going to proclaim it? What would be the use of telling
those beings that they were to remain in misery, and that there was no chance
of escape? No use of proclaiming such news in the ears of any one.
. . . This was the object, then, that they might have the same Gospel
that men have in the flesh.5
Further, Elder Pratt later asserted, representing Jesus’s message
to the spirits in prison as one of damnation was an apostate sectarian notion: “What
would you think [Jesus] preached? Says one—’If he followed the examples
of our sectarian preachers, he would go and tell them that their doom was
irrevocably fixed, that they were cast down to prison, never to be recovered.’ ”6 Thus Pratt demonstrated the incomprehensibility of
Thomist and Lutheran orthodox theologians’ belief that Christ’s message to the imprisoned had been a rebuke or declaration of their damnation.7
Pratt was not alone in
stressing the salvific nature of Christ’s postmortal ministry. In November 1884
President George Q. Cannon (1827–1901) expressed his belief that this
joyous message of the Savior to the dead “penetrated the depths of hell,
the gloom of darkness, and it awakened hope within their hearts.”8 In a message on the necessity of temples, Elder
James E. Talmage (1862–1933) concurred:
His preaching must have been purposeful and positive; moreover,
it is not to be assumed that His message was other than one of relief and
mercy. Those to whom He went were already in prison, and had been there long.
To them came the Redeemer, to preach, not to further condemn, to open the way
that led to light, not to intensify the darkness of despair in which they
The Brethren taught that Christ’s message was not only joyous but
efficacious in releasing the repentant souls of the dead.10 On 12 June 1853, Elder John
Taylor (1808–87) taught that “[Christ] preached to [the spirits in
prison], and they came forth out of their confinement.”11 On 14 November 1877, as president of the Quorum
of the Twelve, John Taylor asked regarding these spirits, “Were they
redeemed? Yes, if Jesus preached the Gospel to them, and which he most assuredly did.”12
In his Articles of Faith, written in 1899, James E. Talmage
reechoed these sentiments: “Upon all who reject the word of God in this
life will fall the penalties provided for such act; but after the debt has been
paid, the prison doors shall be opened, and the spirits once confined in
suffering, now chastened and clean, shall come forth to partake of the glory provided
for their class.”13 Such was the case for
the wicked of Noah’s day. Yet Talmage clarified that “deliverance from
hell is not admittance to heaven [meaning the celestial kingdom].”14 Nonetheless, the repentant spirits were clearly
redeemed and liberated by Christ in a significant manner. Hence, as Elder
Parley P. Pratt’s (1807–57) Autobiography makes clear, after
the Savior’s death, Christ “could descend to the dark and gloomy abodes of
the spirits in prison and preach to them the gospel—bursting off their
shackles and unlocking their prison doors; while these once dark abodes were
now brilliant with light, and, instead of prison groans, were heard joyful
acclamations of deliverance to the captive, and the opening of the prison to
them that are bound.”15 Elder Talmage’s Jesus the
Christ affirmed that Christ’s redeeming message applied to the
imprisoned of all times and dispensations, that “all whose wickedness in
the flesh had brought their spirits into the prison house were sharers in the possibilities of expiation, repentance, and release.”16
So it was clear that Christ visited and liberated the spirits in
prison. This, however, led the Saints to another question: Did Christ also
minister to the righteous in paradise? And if so, what was the nature and
purpose of his visit to them? Some church leaders affirmed the former and
believed that Christ organized the missionary work for the dead while visiting
the righteous in paradise. For instance, in November 1884, President George Q.
Cannon asserted that while Christ was in the spirit world,
[he,] doubtless, chose His ministers, the men who had the
authority of the Holy Priesthood, and set them to the same labor that was
commenced on the earth, the labor of preaching His everlasting Gospel to all
the spirit world, to the millions of spirits who had died either in
disobedience to the Gospel of Christ, or in ignorance of that Gospel, never
having heard the sound of it.17
While this concept is common and even second nature in
the church today, it had not yet been conclusively settled by revelation in
Cannon’s day. Yet, Cannon was not alone in his feelings. In October 1887, Elder
Erastus Snow of the Twelve (1818–88) concurred:
[Christ] visited the spirits in prison and preached the gospel
unto them, and without doubt organized the labor among the dead the same as he
organized it before his crucifixion among the living, by the appointment of
apostles and seventies and elders of Israel and others to be as witnesses to continue
the work upon the earth which he commenced, to be his fellow-laborers and to
carry the gospel to the ends of the earth. So, without doubt, he organized his
work and ministered among the dead.18
On 2 February 1884, Elder Snow shared that “[Christ] opened
the door and offered the message of life and salvation, and having done this,
His fellow laborers—the Seventies, Elders and others whom He ordained to
the ministry—as fast as they finished their ministry in the
flesh—continued their work among the spirits in prison.”19 At a funeral in 1911, President Joseph F. Smith
expressed a similar sentiment: “I have always believed, and still do
believe with all my soul, that such men as Peter and James, and the twelve
disciples chosen of the Savior in His time, have been engaged all the centuries
that have passed since their martyrdom for the testimony of Jesus Christ, in
proclaiming liberty to the captives in the spirit world and in opening their prison doors.”20
This topic of missionary work led to another question: “How
many were redeemed at the time of the Savior’s visit?” Some believed the
number of spirits prepared for the Lord’s ministration was small. For example,
on 2 February 1884, Elder Snow taught the Saints that “while [Jesus’s]
body lay in the tomb his spirit visited the spirits in prison, turned the key
and opened the door of their prison house, and offered unto them the Gospel of
salvation. How many of them were prepared to avail themselves of it at that time? Comparatively few.”21
Other authorities expressed a different view. For example,
Wilford Woodruff in the April 1894 general conference declared a general
principle relating to acceptance of the gospel in the spirit world. He claimed
that “there will be very few, if any, [in spirit prison] who will not
accept the Gospel. Jesus, while his body lay in the tomb, went and preached to
the spirits in prison, who were destroyed in the days of Noah. After so long an
imprisonment, in torment, they doubtless gladly embraced the Gospel, and if so
they will be saved in the kingdom of God.”22 Church Patriarch Eldred G. Smith agreed with President Woodruff. Speaking in
the April 1962 conference, well after President Joseph F. Smith’s vision,
Patriarch Smith proclaimed that a great many continue to receive the gospel in
the spirit world and that this success in the spirit world has been taking place since Christ first introduced the gospel upon his postmortal visit.23
The wide array of ideas following Joseph’s death concerning the
nature of Christ’s visit to the spirit world is not completely surprising.
After all, Joseph’s revelations, while rich and numerous, did not fully clarify
all these issues. Importantly, these are the very matters that would receive
clarification in Joseph F. Smith’s vision.
Vicarious Temple Work and Kingdoms of Glory
In conjunction with the doctrine of postmortem evangelism and the
consequent redemption of the dead, Latter-day Saint temple work has been
understood, since the Nauvoo era, as a necessary component in availing mankind
with the fulness of gospel blessings.24 In
Elder Orson Pratt’s September 1856 tract, “Water Baptism,” he taught
that by accepting the gospel in the hereafter rather than in mortality when
they first were given the opportunity, spirits in prison could be redeemed into
the terrestrial but not into the celestial kingdom, for they had not accepted
the ordinance of baptism when first offered to them.25 Baptism had been taught as a necessary requirement for entrance into the
celestial kingdom (see Mark 16:15–16; John 3:5; D&C 76:51).26 Doctrine and Covenants, section 76, taught that
the heirs of the terrestrial kingdom include spirits in prison who did not
accept the gospel during mortality but did when it was preached to them in
prison (see D&C 76:72–75). On 31 December 1876 John Taylor
elaborated on this passage by saying that these spirits would inherit the
terrestrial glory: “because they were found not worthy of propagating their species, they were not worthy to become fathers and mothers of lives.”27
If so many were to receive a lesser kingdom of glory, were those
who were known to be wicked or to have rejected the gospel while in the flesh
to be baptized? In 1901, President Joseph F. Smith was aware that in the
process of performing vicarious temple work, the ordinances would be done for
many unworthy persons. He explained that “it does not follow, however,
that they will receive any benefit therefrom, and the correct thing is to do
the work only for those of whom we have the testimony that they will receive
it. However, we are disposed to give the benefit of the doubt to the dead, as
it is better to do the work for many who are unworthy than to neglect one who
is worthy.”28 Furthermore, some Saints were not sure whether
baptism was a requirement only for the celestial kingdom or whether it was also
a requirement for the terrestrial kingdom. Given this uncertainty, it was not
clear whether temple work for wicked spirits in prison would be needed. The issue was undecided.29
Besides the question of the efficacy of priesthood ordinances for
salvation in kingdoms lower than the celestial, there was also the question of
the possibility of eventual progression between kingdoms of glory in the
eternities. If such progression were possible, would not the ordinances of
salvation still need to be in place? While no church leaders during this time
period claimed revelation regarding such progression, most who considered it
were favorable toward it. Ironically, later church leaders would doubt the
possibility of progression between kingdoms for the same reasons that many
traditional Christians had rejected postmortem evangelism: the potential
negative impact it would bring upon gospel living within mortality.30 Additionally, many members maintain that
progression from one kingdom to another is not possible due to the fixed nature
of our resurrected bodies. Paul taught that some would be resurrected with celestial
bodies, other terrestrial, and still others telestial; latter-day revelations
seem supportive of that notion. If the resurrected body constitutes an eternal
and immutable union of spirit and flesh, then it seemingly would be
unchangeable and therefore would prevent an individual from progressing to a
higher kingdom. While this seems a strong argument, specific revelation has not
been received on this matter. As a matter of policy, the church has announced
at two separate times, occasioned by inquiring members (in 1952 and again in
1965), that General Authorities have accepted many positions but that officially
the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has no definite doctrine on the matter.
Brigham Young, B. H. Roberts, Lorenzo Snow, and James E. Talmage
accepted the possibility that over eons of time and with much effort, there
could be progression between kingdoms.31 If
so, universal exaltation remained an open possibility in the eternities. In
November 1910, President Joseph F. Smith explored the the possibility of
progress between kingdoms.32 He believed there
is eternal progress along different tracks in the different kingdoms of glory.
Nonetheless, he admitted that it “may be possible for especially gifted
and faithful characters” to pass from one kingdom to another. While Joseph
Smith’s vision of the three kingdoms taught that partakers of the telestial
glory cannot go to where God and Christ dwell, “worlds without end,”
President Joseph F. Smith asked, “Who knows but in the providences of
God there may be exceptions, because all his judgments are not made known to
us?”33 The ultimate answers to such questions have not yet been provided by authoritative sources.
Sentiments such as these left the question concerning ordinance
work for telestial and terrestrial heirs wide open. However, as President
Joseph F. Smith explained, it is better “to give the benefit of the doubt
to the dead, as it is better to do the work for many who are unworthy than to
neglect one who is worthy.”34 Ultimate resolution
will await future direction through continuing revelation. That is why the Lord gives us prophets.
Social Consequences and Gospel Neglect
Both Saints and people of other faiths had expressed concern that
the possibility of salvation after this life may weaken the incentive to
embrace the gospel in mortality.35 They worried
that people would indulge in carnal pleasures while on earth and ignore the
gospel until they received an opportunity to accept it in the spirit world.
Some thinkers, as we explored in our previous article, thought that postmortem
evangelism would consequently take “the wind out of the sails of missions.”36 This concern is closely linked to the above
eschatological issues (namely, do vicarious ordinances bring everyone into the
celestial kingdom or will some individuals, regardless of receiving ordinances
posthumously, inherit a lesser glory? And if so, then why perform the
ordinances for all individuals?). However, in this context the eschatological
question becomes an ethical one—namely, should we teach this doctrine if it encourages indifference toward the gospel?
To address this concern the Saints first carefully distinguished
the kingdoms of glory from the temporary abode of the world of spirits. This
distinction was drawn to answer those who thought the penitent thief on the
cross was received directly into heaven upon death due to the Savior’s promise
that they would be together in paradise (see Luke 23:43).37 Many Christians disagreed with the Latter-day
Saint Church about the necessity of baptism and other ordinances of the gospel
because of this interpretation of the consoling words of the Savior, to which
the Saints responded that paradise is not the same as the kingdom of heaven. As
Elder Orson Pratt observed in November 1848, “We have no evidence to believe the thief was taken into heaven or into the celestial kingdom of God.”38
The Saints cited the scriptures to distinguish between paradise
and heaven. First, both the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants
describe paradise not as God’s heaven, but as a place of rest where spirits
await resurrection (see Alma 40:12; Moroni 10:34; compare D&C 77:5). The
New Testament, in their eyes, also proved this point. In the New Testament, the
Savior told the thief he would be with him in paradise that day (see Luke
23:43). However, three days later, the resurrected Jesus told Mary he had not “yet
ascended to [his] Father” (John 20:17).39 Assuming that heaven is the place where God dwells, the Saints considered this
proof that the Savior and the thief had not gone there, but to a different
realm. As evidenced by an article in the Gospel Reflector, the Saints
believed as early as 1841 that “it was not improbable . . . that
this paradise is synonymous with the prison that Peter mentions.”40 According to Wilford Woodruff, Joseph Smith made similar remarks during a sermon on 11 June 1843:
I will say something about the Spirits in prison. There has been
much said about the sayings of Jesus on the Cross to the thief, saying this day
thou shalt be with me in paradise. The commentators or translators make it out
to say Paradise but what is Paradise? It is a modern word. It does not answer
at all to the original that Jesus made use of. There is nothing in the original
in any language that signifies Paradise. But it was this day I will be with
thee in the world of spirits & will teach thee or answer thy inquiries. The
thief on the Cross was to be with Jesus Christ in the World of Spirits.41
Many church leaders later echoed Joseph’s explanation.42 By clarifying the nature of Christ’s liberation
of the wicked and the distinction between the spirit world and the kingdoms of
glory, church leaders were equipped to address the question concerning whether
postmortem evangelization maintained the needed incentive for gospel living in mortality.
Church leaders’ response to the question of a “second chance”
was tripartite. Intentionally delaying acceptance of the gospel until the
postmortem spirit world results in:
1. Suffering many of the consequences of sin during mortal life,
2. Ineligibility for a celestial resurrection, and
3. Longer imprisonment and sorrow in the spirit prison.
In respect to the third consequence, resisting the gospel in
mortality results in being separated longer from one’s body than is the case
for celestial resurrection, or receiving “a fulness of joy” (D&C
93:33). In 1855, Elder Parley P. Pratt noted how the righteous Saints were
resurrected shortly after the resurrection of Christ, while the wicked were
confined to the spirit world to wait thousands of years. Likewise, he observed
that at the second coming of Christ, the righteous will be resurrected at the
sound of a trump, while the obstinate, wicked, and ignorant will have to wait in the spirit world another thousand years.43
On 12 June 1853, Elder John Taylor spoke about those who felt
comfortable neglecting or rejecting the gospel in this life because of the
Savior’s mercy and mission to the spirits in prison. Taylor denounced this
attitude and mentioned the imprisonment and punishment that would come upon
those who procrastinate the day of their repentance.44 Some Saints looked at the suffering in the hereafter of the rich man who had
slighted Lazarus as a type for the wicked (see Luke16:19–31).45 Still, the bondage of the antediluvians was the
clearest indicator of the consequences of rejecting the gospel taught by God’s prophets.46
Elder Pratt described another likely outcome of rejecting the
gospel in mortality: the opportunity to receive the gospel in the spirit world
would not be available as soon as many might expect. In April 1853, he
discussed whether people who died without the gospel hear it soon after
arriving in the spirit world. To provide an answer, Pratt thought we should refer
to our experience in this world. He asked, “Do all the people in this
world hear the Gospel as soon as they are capable of understanding? No, indeed,
but very few in comparison have heard it at all.”47 He observed that many peoples and nations were ignorant of the gospel even when
it was present in their midst. From this, Pratt reasoned analogously that the
situation in the spirit world is similar. Pratt declared, “I have not the
least doubt but there are spirits there who have dwelt there a thousand years,
who, if we could converse with them face to face, would be found . . . ignorant
of the truths, the ordinances, powers, keys, Priesthood, resurrection, and
eternal life of the body.”48 Pratt further thought
that the most wicked in the spirit world have not heard the gospel yet, as they are unworthy of gospel instruction.49
On 6 October 1875, Elder Joseph F. Smith told the Saints at
general conference that “if we do not conform to [God’s] will, obey his
laws and yield to his requirements in this world, we will be consigned to the ‘prison
house,’ where we will remain until we pay the debt to the uttermost farthing.”50 In May 1893, George Q. Cannon taught that the
sentence of punishment was strictly enforced for those who reject the gospel in
mortality. He believed that only after Christ’s mission to the wicked of Noah’s
day did they have “the opportunity of repenting.”51 Elder James E. Talmage shared tersely how failure
to respond to the gospel’s call and to repent in this life would not be easily
repaired in the next. In his book Articles of Faith, he explained, “As
the time of repentance is procrastinated, the ability to repent grows weaker;
neglect of opportunity in holy things develops inability.”52 In addition, the terms of repentance in the next
life may be less favorable, and repentance becomes harder after a life of sin
where we have continually placed ourselves in the power of the adversary. Later
Elder Talmage explained that “refusal to hear and heed the word of God is
no physical deafness, but a manifestation of spiritual disease resulting from
sin. Death is no cure for such. The unrepentant state is a disorder of the
spirit, and, following disembodiment, the spirit will still be afflicted
therewith. What ages such an afflicted one may have to pass in prison confines before he becomes repentant and therefore fit for cleansing, we may not know.”53
Furthermore, rejecting the gospel in the flesh may have the
lasting consequence of inheriting, at best, the terrestrial kingdom. In May
1898, Elder Orson F. Whitney (1855–1931) taught that “they who
reject the Gospel here, and put off the day of their salvation, and have to be
preached to in the spirit world, . . . they who put off the day of their
salvation, and think ‘we will have a good time here and will obey the Gospel
hereafter,’ they must answer for this neglect, and after they have answered for
it and realized what they have lost, they will be saved—not in the celestial kingdom, but in a lesser kingdom called the terrestrial.”54
The Brethren also explained that even if the prospect of
postmortem evangelism encouraged a few people to procrastinate their repentance
until the spirit world, the doctrine was nevertheless undeniably consistent
with the Lord’s tender mercies. In an 1899 article for the Latter-day
Saints Southern Star, Elder Matthias F. Cowley asserted that even if
some people would refuse to take the gospel seriously here, thinking they would
accept it later, “the evil results following are incomparably less than
would be those which offer salvation to some and deny it to others.”55 If people thought loved ones, friends, and many
innocent persons were truly damned by lacking a mortal opportunity to hear the
gospel, they would lose faith in the justice and mercy of God. Cowley likewise
thought it repugnant that a murderer could be saved for accepting Christ on his
deathbed while the victim lacked the opportunity and so went to hell. How could
anyone take that gospel message seriously? Comparing these two options, Cowley considered postmortem evangelism a morally superior position.
Joseph F. Smith: Prevision Teachings
Joseph Smith’s revelations and teachings are by far the salient
influence in guiding church practice and doctrine regarding the redemption of
the dead. After Joseph Smith, one next instinctively thinks of Joseph F. Smith
and his grand vision of the redemption of the dead. However, before turning to
this revelation, we will explore some important teachings President Joseph F.
Smith had presented prior to his well-known vision. For several decades,
President Smith had given long, thoughtful consideration to the salvation of
the dead. Interestingly, some of his earlier teachings on the subject were
confirmed by the revelation, while others were overturned.
One of these early teachings is the distinction Elder Joseph F.
Smith, then an apostle, made between Christ’s mission to the antediluvians who
died in the flood and Christ’s mission to apostates. In contrast with his later
vision, Elder Smith expressly taught that the erring antediluvians were “actually
visited in the ‘prison house’ by the Savior himself, and heard the Gospel from
his own mouth after he was ‘put to death in the flesh.’ ”56 They would be released from prison when they performed the first works of
salvation—faith and repentance, which they had rejected while in the
flesh—and through temple work would receive a glory according to their
merits. Joseph F. Smith felt that preaching to them likely occurred because
they had not been taught the fulness of the gospel. In December 1901, as president of the church, he wrote:
We are not told to what extent the gospel of Christ, in its
fullness, was proclaimed to them, but are left to suppose that the message of
Noah was not the fulness of the gospel, but a cry of repentance from sin, that
they might escape destruction by the flood. They hardened their hearts against
Noah’s message, and would not receive it, and were punished for this
disobedience in their destruction by the flood; thus in part, paying the
penalty for their disobedience; but, not having received the light, they could
not be condemned as those . . . who had all the commandments of God given unto them.57
However, President Smith questioned whether apostate Saints would
have the same opportunity to receive the gospel as the antediluvians, since
they had denied the fulness of truth. In 1901, he taught:
He that believes, is baptized and receives the light and
testimony of Jesus Christ, and walks well for a season, receiving the fullness
of the blessings of the Gospel in this world, and afterwards turns wholly unto
sin, violating his covenants, he will be among those whom the Gospel can never
reach in the spirit world; all such go beyond its saving power, they will taste
the second death, and be banished from the presence of God eternally.58
Earlier, on 8 April 1876, Elder Smith echoed the Prophet Joseph’s
teaching that the spirits of deceased Saints would preach the gospel to the
spirits in prison: “To those who have not heard the Gospel in the flesh,
if they have not already heard it preached in the spirit, they most assuredly
will, and that, too, by men who have previously preached it on the earth, who
have died faithful servants, they will continue their labors in the spirit
world.”59 Two years later, Elder Smith explained that the Saints’ work was not done until they have saved
“all depending upon [them].”60
On 4 July 1892, President Smith, then second counselor in the
First Presidency, elaborated:
The millions and millions that have lived upon this earth and
have passed away without the knowledge of the Gospel here, will have to be
taught them there, by virtue of the authority of this holy priesthood that you
and I hold. The Church of God will be organized among them by the authority of
President Smith also taught
more specifically that the group of “faithful servants” sent to teach
the spirits in prison would include prophets, worthy priesthood holders, and
Five months later, Elder Smith would declare, as he would in his
later vision, how church leaders were aiding in the ministering of the gospel
in the hereafter:
Not one dead or living person will pass beyond the Father’s
notice, or will be left without hope. They will be brought to where they may
receive the fullness of the Gospel, that they may be saved and exalted in the
presence of God; or, rejecting that, they become the sons of perdition and
heirs of destruction. . . . There are millions on millions that have died
without the knowledge of the Gospel who are as worthy of salvation as you or I
are worthy. . . . As Jesus went to preach the Gospel to the antediluvians while
his body lay in the tomb, so are Joseph the Prophet, President Young, President
Taylor, and the Apostles that have died in this age in possession of the
testimony of the truth, today preaching to the millions that have passed behind
the veil without the knowledge of the Gospel.62
During a conference for the youth of the church, President Smith
would proclaim that those who preach the gospel in the next life would include
all faithful priesthood holders: “Not only are [prophets and church leaders]
engaged in that work but hundreds and thousands of others; the Elders that have
died in the mission field have not finished their missions, but they are continuing
them in the spirit world.”63 At a funeral
President Smith followed Orson Pratt in expanding the preaching of the gospel in the spirit world to the sisters of the church.
Who is going to preach the Gospel to the women? Who is
going to carry the testimony of Jesus Christ to the hearts of the women who
have passed away without a knowledge of the Gospel? Well, to my mind, it is a
simple thing. These good sisters who have been set apart, ordained to the work,
called to it, authorized by the authority of the holy priesthood to minister, for
their sex, in the House of God for the living and for the dead, will be fully
authorized and empowered to preach the Gospel and minister to the women while
the elders and prophets are preaching it to the men.64
Joseph F. Smith’s Vision
With these earlier teachings in mind, we can better understand
the doctrinal context of President Smith’s vision in 1918. It is also
interesting to note the historical context. President Smith received the
revelation at a time when the world was suffering pains and death almost
unprecedented in its history. The Great War (World War I) and the deadly
Spanish flu were raging across the world, combining to claim tens of millions
of lives. It was in October 1918, to that point the deadliest month in American
history,65 that President Smith received what
is now known as section 138 of the Doctrine and Covenants. Perhaps the weight
of world fatalities and the recent loss of family members motivated President
Smith to reflect “upon the great atoning sacrifice that was made by the
Son of God, for the redemption of the world,” and ponder “over the
. . . writings of the apostle Peter.” Consequently, it was
during this deep contemplation that the “eyes of [his] understanding were
opened,” and he beheld a vision of the Savior’s work among the spirits of
the dead during the interval between the crucifixion and resurrection (D&C 138:1, 2, 5, 11).
The vision of the redemption of the dead offers several key
insights into Christ’s role in the missionary work among the departed spirits
and the way in which postmortem evangelization is performed. Initially,
President Smith saw Christ ministering to the “innumerable company of the
spirits of the just,” an observation directly affirming the popular
Christian tradition. President Smith saw the disembodied Savior preaching to
the spirits of the righteous “the everlasting gospel” and such
doctrines as “the resurrection and the redemption of mankind from the fall”
(D&C 138:19). Thus the vision affirmed the teachings of previous church
leaders that Christ himself was the initiator of the redemptive work beyond the
veil and that this work was commenced while his body lay in the tomb.
This is similar to the tradition held in the first and second
century and preserved today in the Apostle’s Creed,66 but it has one important distinction: The biblical statement that Christ “went
and preached unto the spirits in prison” (1 Peter 3:19), which
President Smith had earlier accepted and taught, received clarification in the
vision. God revealed that Christ “went not in person among the wicked,”
the unrepentant, and those who rejected the prophets’ testimonies. “He
could not go personally, because of their rebellion and transgression”
(D&C 138:29, 37). Instead, the Savior “organized his forces and appointed
messengers . . . and commissioned them to go forth and carry the
light of the gospel to them that were in darkness” (D&C 138:30).Thus
Christ personally visited the righteous spirits and there organized the
missionary work that was to be conducted over these many centuries among the unrighteous
spirits, effectively answering the question posed by Elder John W. Taylor and others about whom Christ actually visited.
Additionally, this key insight made all questions concerning the
numbers of those saved by Jesus’s visit to the spirit world moot. After all,
his visit was one of organization. The harvest would not be quantified in the
brief period between his death and resurrection. Instead, his visit would
organize the work that would subsequently last for millennia. Perhaps many or
perhaps few were ready for the message at that time. Either way, Christ’s
mission was one of establishment, not one of direct and personal ministration
to the potential recipients of the gospel.
The vision can also still be interpreted to support the view that
the Savior preached unto “the spirits in prison.” As Elder Bruce R.
McConkie (1915–85) taught, much like the early conception of Sheol being
the abode of both the righteous and the wicked, “it is clearly set forth
that the whole spirit world, and not only that portion designated as hell, is
considered to be a spirit prison.”67 Likewise, Joseph F. Smith’s vision noted how the righteous “acknowledged
the Son of God as their Redeemer and Deliverer from death and the chains of
hell” for “the dead had looked upon the long absence of their spirits
from their bodies as a bondage” (D&C 138:23, 50). In this sense,
President Smith placed the Mormon position on the harrowing of hell much more
in line with those who admitted a limbus patrum, a place of waiting
for the Old Testament patriarchs and prophets until Christ freed them from death and hell and opened the way to heaven.68
In addition to the above insights, President Smith also saw
that, upon passing through the veil into the spirit world, the righteous dead
actively pursue missionary labors among the spirits in bondage (see D&C
138:57). As he and many other Saints had communicated in earlier sermons, not
only were the prophets of old commissioned in the postmortem evangelism, but
also his father Hyrum Smith, the Prophet Joseph Smith, other modern-day
prophets, and “many of [Mother Eve’s] faithful daughters who had lived
through the ages” were involved (D&C 138:53, 39). Thus President Smith
confirmed the intimate link between the doctrine of salvation for the
unevangelized and the undeniably strong missionary spirit of the church.
However, Christ’s visit to the righteous was not only a time of
organization and instruction; Jesus also provided them with the means to their
salvation. The Savior “gave them power to come forth, after his
resurrection from the dead, to enter into his Father’s kingdom, there to be
crowned with immortality and eternal life, . . . and be partakers of
all blessings which were held in reserve for them that love him” (D&C 138:51–52).
Joseph Smith and subsequent church leaders provided an answer to
the soteriological problem of evil that advanced substantially beyond the
position of early and contemporary Christians.69 While the doctrine of the harrowing of hell had not been totally “lost”
to the Christian world, Mormon leaders, through revelation, clarified the
nature and extent of the Savior’s redemptive mission to the spirit world and
the postmortem evangelism that followed. These clarifications are better
appreciated in the context of the long Christian dialogue on soteriology and Peter’s writings.
In addition to this, Joseph’s
restoration of baptism for the dead resolved the tension between the Lord’s
mercy and the necessity of obeying the Lord’s admonition concerning saving ordinances.
The practice provided a means by which the dead could learn correct principles,
repent, exercise Christian faith, and also comply with all of God’s gospel
requirements, including being “born of water and of the Spirit” (John
3:5), to qualify for salvation in the celestial kingdom. The soteriological
teachings of Joseph Smith and subsequent leaders certainly established for
Latter-day Saints the possibility of universal, eternal salvation.
In contrast to theologians’ faith-weakening doctrines of an
extremely limited salvation of mankind, God, through Joseph Smith, Joseph F.
Smith, and other church leaders, provides a plan that truly is big enough for
all his children. As Joseph F. Smith’s son, Joseph Fielding Smith
(1876–1972), explained, “In the great plan of salvation nothing has
been overlooked. The gospel of Jesus Christ is the most beautiful thing in the
world. It embraces every soul whose heart is right and who diligently seeks him
and desires to obey his laws and covenants.”70 These modern-day revelations not only explain how salvation is brought to pass,
but also enable the redemptive work for every man, woman, and child, including those who died without receiving the saving ordinances of the gospel.
“Are there few that be saved?”71 Through the triumphant salvific descent of our Savior below all things, it need
not be so. Through the revelations of his prophets a greater picture of love
and completeness has emerged as to the salvation of God’s children, whereby no
soul will pass the eternities unnoticed or unjustly condemned. Instead, all
people will receive the ministry of the gospel, whether in this life or in the
next, and receive the opportunity to accept the blessings of salvation. Through
proxy ordinances by the living on behalf of the dead, and through the dead’s
acceptance of these vicarious ordinances, salvation for the dead is made
efficacious in an eternally palpable link between this world and the next. How
great are the tender mercies of the Lord, and how blessed are those who receive
David L. Paulsen retired in September after serving nearly forty years as a professor in the Philosophy Department at Brigham Young University. He earned a BS degree in political science from BYU, a JD from the University of Chicago Law School, and a PhD in philosophy from the University of Michigan. He has published in the areas of philosophy of religion and Mormon studies.
Judson Burton is a senior at Brigham Young University studying philosophy. Judson’s academic interests vary from religious philosophy to metalogic, metaethics, epistemology, philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, and philosophy of artificial intelligence. He is from Payson, Utah, and currently resides with his wife in Orem, Utah. Judson plans to attend law school in 2012 with the intention of pursuing a career as a professor.
Kendel J. Christensen recently graduated from BYU with a BS in sociology and a minor in philosophy. His interests range from technology to theology, and he shares his most useful discoveries on his website, www.kendelc.com. He is currently teaching Spanish as a Teach for America corps member in Philadelphia and is pursuing a master’s degree in education at the University of Pennsylvania, after which he plans to study law.
Martin Pulido is a recent BYU graduate and independent scholar, with bachelor’s degrees in philosophy and English. He has published philosophical articles on the logical structure of language and the nature of space, and theological articles on theodicy, divine embodiment, and the Mormon belief in a heavenly mother.
Thornell and Brock Mason, current BYU undergraduate philosophy majors, helped
bring this project to fruition. The authors gratefully acknowledge the skillful
editing of Laura Rawlins, managing director, and Caitlin Schwanger of the BYU
Faculty Editing Services, and of Shirley Ricks of the Maxwell Institute.
1. This is the final installment of a
four-part series dealing with the redemption of the dead. The first article
focused principally on the doctrines surrounding the “harrowing of hell”
and salvation for the dead from apocalyptic Judaism through the time of
Augustine; see David L. Paulsen, Roger D. Cook, and Kendel J. Christensen,
“The Harrowing of Hell: Salvation for the Dead in Early Christianity,” Journal
of the Book of Mormon and Other Restoration Scripture 19/1 (2010):
56–77. Our second installment examined the doctrine and practice of proxy
ordinances on behalf of the dead, particularly baptism, in the early Christian
church; see David L. Paulsen and Brock M. Mason, “Baptism for the Dead in
Early Christianity,” Journal of the Book of Mormon and Other Restoration Scripture 19/2 (2010): 22–49. Our third piece surveyed the teachings of the
restoration through June 1844 on the issue of salvation for the dead; see David
L. Paulsen, Kendel J. Christensen, and Martin Pulido, “Redeeming the Dead:
Tender Mercies, Turning of Hearts, and Restoration of Authority,” Journal of the
Book of Mormon and Other Restoration Scripture 20/1 (2011):
Paulsen, Christensen, and Pulido, “Redeeming the Dead,” 28–51.
question was related to and inspired by a far more wide-ranging
curiosity—namely, a desire to understand how many will accept the gospel
in the spirit world. It may seem strange to us that this question hovers around
Christ’s visit to the spirit world. However, in the pre–Jospeh F. Smith
era, before much had been revealed about the nature of missionary work on the
other side of the veil, it was natural for the Saints to turn their thoughts
toward that which was thought to be all encompassing: Christ’s initial
Joseph’s emphasis on the positive nature of the Savior’s visit, see Paulsen,
Christensen, and Pulido, “Redeeming the Dead,” 42–43.
Pratt, in Journal
of Discourses, 2:371–72. Pratt reiterated these remarks on
7 April 1872. See further Orson Pratt, in Journal of Discourses,
15:52–53. In 1895, B. H. Roberts (1857–1933) agreed with Pratt. He
argued that “we can scarcely suppose that Messiah would preach the gospel
to them if it could do them no good. He did not go there to mock their
sufferings or to add something to the torture of their damnation by explaining
the beauties of that salvation now forever beyond their reach. Such a
supposition would at once be revolting to reason, insulting to the justice of
God, and utterly repugnant to the dictates of mercy.” See B. H. Roberts, A New Witness
for God (Salt Lake City: Cannon and Sons, 1895), 1:381. Anthon H.
Lund (1844–1921) noted how “some have held that [Christ visited the
spirits in prison] to tantalize them over what they had lost. Oh, no! That was
not the mission of Jesus. He preached glad tidings unto them, and He opened
their prison doors. An opportunity was given in the spirit world for them to
receive and obey the Gospel.” Lund was second counselor in the First
Presidency at the time. See Anthon H. Lund, in Conference Report, October
Pratt, in Journal
of Discourses, 18:54.
Paulsen, Christensen, and Pulido, “Redeeming the Dead,” 31–32.
Q. Cannon, in Journal of Discourses, 26:84. During this time Cannon
was the first counselor in the First Presidency.
E. Talmage, The
House of the Lord: A Study of Holy Sanctuaries Ancient and Modern (Salt
Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day
Saints, 1912), 69. Later Talmage would write that “progression, then, is
possible beyond the grave. Advancement is eternal. Were it otherwise, Christ’s
ministry among the disembodied would be less than fable and fiction. Equally
repugnant is the thought that though the Savior preached faith, repentance and
other principles of the Gospel to the imprisoned sinners in the realm of
spirits, their compliance was impossible.” See James E. Talmage, The Vitality
of Mormonism: Brief Essays on Distinctive Doctrines of the Church of Jesus
Christ of Latter-day Saints (Boston: Gorham, 1919), 255.
1830 revelation concerning Enoch’s ministry had already shown how Christ’s
harrowing of hell had freed the righteous Saints from the prison of death and
allowed the repentant spirits in prison to “c[o]me forth, and st[an]d on the right hand of God” (Moses
Taylor, in Journal
of Discourses, 1:158. John Taylor was a member of the Quorum of the
Twelve Apostles during this time.
Taylor, in Journal
of Discourses, 19:159. In April 1904, Anthon H. Lund shared similar
sentiments. He taught: “No doubt [the spirits of those who had earlier
rejected the gospel] received with gladness [Christ’s] message, and were
liberated from the prison.” Anthon H. Lund, in Conference Report, April
E. Talmage, Articles
of Faith (Salt Lake City: The Deseret News, 1899), 151. Talmage held
the office of high priest when Articles of Faith was written, but
he was later called to the apostleship. St. Augustine struggled with this
concept, in particular with the allusion in Matthew 5:26. See Paulsen, Cook,
and Christensen, “Harrowing of Hell,” 68–69.
14. Talmage, Vitality
of Mormonism, 266. We learn from latter-day revelation that among
the inhabitants of the terrestrial kingdom are “they who are the spirits
of men kept in prison, whom the Son visited, and preached the gospel unto them,
that they might be judged according to men in the flesh; Who received
[accepted] not the testimony of Jesus in the flesh, but afterwards received
[accepted] it” (D&C 76:73–74).
P. Pratt, The
Autobiography of Parley Parker Pratt (New York: Russell Brothers,
1874), 40–41. Parley was an apostle from 1835 to 1857. Pratt also
expressed the same concept in his Key to the Science of Theology (Liverpool: Richards, 1855), 61–62. Pratt’s writings echo many of the
same sentiments of early Christians in the Odes of Solomon, as shown in our
first article in this series. See Paulsen, Cook, and Christensen, “Harrowing
of Hell,” 62–65.
E. Talmage, Jesus
the Christ (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day
Saints, 1915), 673.
Q. Cannon, in Journal of Discourses, 26:82–83. On
23 December 1894, Cannon reaffirmed his earlier teaching: “[Christ]
opened the prison doors and led captivity captive, and He authorized His servants
who had the authority to go and preach salvation to those who had so long been
in darkness and torment, so that if they would believe in Him as their Savior
and repent of their sins they might receive deliverance.” See George Q.
Cannon, “Prophet of the Nineteenth Century,” in Collected
Discourses, ed. Brian H. Stuy, 5 vols. (Burbank, CA: BHS,
Snow, “Resurrection and Work for the Dead,” in Collected
Snow, in Journal
of Discourses, 25:33.
F. Smith, Gospel
Doctrine: Selections from the Sermons and Writings of Joseph F. Smith (Salt
Lake City: Deseret Book, 1978), 460.
Snow, in Journal
of Discourses, 25:33. It is not clear whether Elder Snow meant they
would never accept the gospel or that they simply were not prepared to accept it in the
moment in which it was offered to them.
Woodruff, “The Law of Adoption,” in Collected Discourses, 4:74.
G. Smith, in Conference Report, April 1962, 66.
ancient Christians held similar beliefs. See Paulsen and Mason, “Baptism
for the Dead in Early Christianity,” 22–49.
Pratt, “Water Baptism” (Liverpool, 1856), 45.
his writings, under a section entitled “Gospel Ordinances for Celestial
Kingdom Only,” Elder Joseph Fielding Smith wrote: “Will those who
enter the terrestrial and telestial kingdoms have to have the ordinance of
baptism? No! Baptism is the door into the celestial kingdom. The Lord made this
clear to Nicodemus.” In a follow-up section entitled “Baptism Saves
Men from Lower Kingdoms,” Elder Smith claims, “The First Presidency
have said in answer to a similar question: ‘We know of no ordinances pertaining
to the terrestrial or the telestial kingdom. All of the ordinances of the
gospel are given for the salvation of men in the celestial kingdom and pertain
unto that kingdom.’ ”
Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R.
McConkie (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1955), 2:329–30. See also
Paulsen, Christensen, and Pulido, “Redeeming the Dead,” 38–39.
Elder Smith clarified: “We are not preaching a salvation for the
inhabitants of the terrestrial or the telestial kingdoms. All of the
ordinances of the gospel pertain to the celestial kingdom, and what
the Lord will require by way of ordinances, if any, in the other kingdoms he
has not revealed.” Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 2:329;
emphasis in original.
Taylor, in Journal
of Discourses, 18:331.
F. Smith, “Redemption beyond the Grave,” Improvement Era, December
1901, 147. He was president of the church at the time.
a discussion in the 1903 Improvement Era, John Nicholson (1830–1909)
thought it was probable that baptism was required for entrance into the
terrestrial kingdom. John Nicholson, “Questions and Answers,” Improvement
Era, September 1903, 859–61.
Bruce R. McConkie, “The Seven Deadly Heresies,” fireside given at
Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, 1 June 1980, who lists as his fifth
heresy progression between kingdoms.
5 August 1855, Wilford Woodruff recorded that President Brigham Young taught in
the temple that “none would inherit this Earth when it became celestial
& translated into the presence of God but those who would be Crowned as
Gods & able to endure the fulness of the Presence of God, ex[cept?] they
might be permitted to take with them some servants for whom they would be held
responsible. All others would have to inherit another kingdom even that kingdom
agreeing with the law which they had kept. Yet He thought they would eventually
have the privilege of proveing themselves worthy & advanceing to a
Celestial kingdom but it would be a slow progress.” Wilford
Woodruff’s Journal, ed. Scott G. Kenney (Midvale, UT: Signature
Books, 1983), 4:333–34. Young conceived of all life as being in a process
towards digression or advancement. “All organized existence is in
progress, either to an endless advancement in eternal perfections, or back to
dissolution [. . .] where is there an element, an individual living thing, an
organized body, of whatever nature, that continues as it is? It cannot be found”
of Discourses, 1:349). Young explained that “righteousness tends
to an eternal duration of organized intelligence, while sin bringeth to pass
their dissolution” ( Journal of Discourses, 10:251; cf. 7:138–39). In
October 1893, Lorenzo Snow (1814–1901) told faithful parents that “if
you succeed in passing through these trials and afflictions and receive a
resurrection, you will, by the power of the Priesthood, work and labor, as the
Son of God has, until you get all your sons and daughters in the path of
exaltation and glory. This is just as sure as that the sun rose this morning
over yonder mountains.” Lorenzo Snow, “Preaching the Gospel in the
Spirit World,” in Collected Discourses, 3:364.
H. Roberts, in New Witness for God, 1:391–92, said he could “conceive
of no reason for all this administration of the higher [kingdoms] to the lower
[kingdoms, as described in D&C 76], unless it be for the purpose of
advancing our Father’s children along the lines of eternal progression. Whether
or not in the great future, full of so many possibilities now hidden from us,
they of the lesser glories after education and advancement within those spheres
may at last emerge from them and make their way to the higher degrees of glory
until at last they attain to the highest, is not revealed in the revelations of
God, and any statement made on the subject must partake more or less of the
nature of conjecture.”
his first edition of Articles of Faith, James Talmage, who was not an
apostle at the time, suggested that progress between kingdoms may be possible.
of Faith (1899 ed.), 420–21.
F. Smith, “Priesthood Quorum’s Table:
About Passing from One Glory to Another,” Improvement Era,
November 1910, 87–88.
“Priesthood Quorum’s Table,” 87.
F. Smith, “Redemption beyond the Grave,” 147. He was president of the
church at the time.
was not a new concern. It was a primary concern throughout the history of
Christianity. Unsurprisingly, the theologians who expressed such concerns did
not view biblical scriptures pertaining to Christ’s decent into hell as having
salvific force for those who were visited. In some interpretations ancient
Christian thinkers rejected the literal nature of the passages altogether. See
Paulsen, Cook, and Christensen, “Harrowing of Hell,” 68–70.
Other Name: An Investigation into the Destiny of the Unevangelized (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2001), 209.
Thatcher, “Salvation of the Dead,” Contributor 4/12 (September 1883):
449; Orson Pratt, in Journal of Discourses, 7:265; Talmage, House of the
Kingdom of God, part 3 (Liverpool: Richards, 1848), 7.
Unsurprisingly, Luther, who gutted the Catholic doctrine of purgatory, would
most likely have interpreted this passage as referring to heaven. See Paulsen,
Cook, and Christensen, “Harrowing of Hell,” 69–70.
the Saints’ interpretations, see George Reynolds, “The Thief on the Cross,” Improvement
Era, February 1898, 228; James E. Talmage, A Study of the
Articles of Faith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1984), 133 (in
section “The Gospel Preached to the Dead”); George Q. Cannon, in Journal of
Discourses, 14:317; 15:120, 295–96.
and Answers,” Gospel Reflector 1/4 (15 February 1841): 74; emphasis
41. The Words of
Joseph Smith, comp. and ed. Andrew F. Ehat and
Lyndon W. Cook (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1980), 213 (punctuation and
capitalization standardized). In Willard Richards’s account, Joseph also
addresses Hades and Sheol and concluded that they and like-minded terms all
referred to the same world of spirits: “Hades . . . Sheol—who are
you? God reveals [that it] means a world of spirits. [. . . D]isembodied
spirits all go [there].—good bad & indiferent.—misery in a
world of spirits is to know they come short of the glory others
enjoy—they are their own accusers one universal heaven.—& hell.
& supose honorable & virtuous & whoremonger—all hudled
together.” See Words of Joseph Smith, 211.
of God, 2:8. See also George Q. Cannon, “Editorial Thoughts,” Juvenile
Instructor 26/2 (1 June 1891): 354; Pratt, Key to the
Science of Theology, 127.
43. Pratt, Key
to the Science of Theology, 130–31. In 1888, Elder B. H. Roberts (First Council of the Seventy) likewise
observed how the situation of “those who reject the Gospel in the days of
the coming of the Son of Man” will mirror the imprisonment of the spirits
who rejected the gospel in Noah’s day. They too will be shut up for at least a
thousand years. See B. H. Roberts, The Gospel: An Exposition of Its First
Principles and Man’s Relationship to Deity, 4th ed. (Salt
Lake City: Deseret Book, 1913), 245. Importantly, the spirit prison, in Mormon
doctrine, is viewed as a place of purification from sin, a place where the
wicked who rejected the gospel in mortality must suffer to prepare themselves
to bow the knee and confess the Christ following the end of his millennial
reign (see D&C 76:81–85). This is roughly analogous to the Catholic
doctrine of purgatory. See Paulsen, Cook, and Christensen, “Harrowing of
Taylor, in Journal
of Discourses, 1:158. As an apostle at general conference in October
1900, Anthon H. Lund addressed this complaint and argued that “this
doctrine of salvation for the dead does not have the effect, as some say, to
make men neglect the present opportunity, thinking that there will always be a
chance for them. For there is punishment meted out to those who reject the
Gospel. It was a long time for the antediluvians to wait before the door of
grace was opened unto them.” See Anthon H. Lund, in Conference Report,
October 1900, 25. See also John Taylor, in Journal of Discourses, 15:270.
C. Cutler (president of the Curlew Stake of Zion), in Conference Report,
October 1918, 97.
Pratt wrote that all who die without the gospel “will be punished
according to their works, and will be shut up in prison like those who perished
in the flood, and will eventually have the gospel preached to them;
. . . those who receive the gospel in prison will be redeemed
therefrom; and those who reject it will be sent down to hell with those who
reject the same while in the flesh.” Prison is an intermediate state.
Those who did not hear the gospel while in the flesh are placed in prison and
offered the gospel, but those who heard it and rejected it will be damned, he
asserted. Pratt also believed those who came to this earth during the apostasy
received the opportunity to hear the gospel in the spirit world before the
restoration. Orson Pratt, “Questions and Answers on Doctrine,” Seer 2/1
(January 1854): 207.
P. Pratt, in Journal
of Discourses, 1:10.
P. Pratt, in Journal
of Discourses, 1:10.
P. Pratt, in Journal
of Discourses, 1:12. An additional argument to support Pratt’s
assertion is that the gospel ministers in the spirit world likely go first to
those best prepared to accept the gospel, in order to build up the corps of
F. Smith, Gospel
Q. Cannon, “Editorial Thoughts,” Juvenile Instructor 28/10 (15 May
1893): 318. He was first counselor in the First Presidency at the time.
52. Talmage, Articles
of Faith (1984 ed.), 104 (in section “Repentance Not Always
53. Talmage, Vitality
of Mormonism, 259.
F. Whitney, “The Three Great Teachers,” in Collected Discourses, 5:432.
Compare also D&C 76:71, 74. Of note, p. 53 of the missionary manual of the
My Gospel, states: “People who do not accept the fulness of
the gospel of Jesus Christ but live honorable lives will receive a place in the
terrestrial kingdom.” Similar language of finality is used by Joseph
Fielding Smith in Doctrines of Salvation, 2:183–84.
F. Cowley, “Salvation for the Dead,” Latter-day Saints Southern Star 1/24 (13 May 1899): 187 (comma deleted for readability).
F. Smith, in Journal
of Discourses, 18:92. He would teach this again on 18 June 1882,
of Discourses, 23:172.
F. Smith, “Editor’s Table: Redemption Beyond the Grave,” Improvement
Era, December 1901, 146.
F. Smith, in Journal
of Discourses, 18:93. President Smith made similar remarks in the
December 1901 Improvement Era while serving as the first counselor in
the First Presidency under Lorenzo Snow. He stated, “It is evident that
[those who have received and rejected God’s law] have no chance for redemption,
no matter what may be done for them in hope or by faith, for they will have
sinned against life and knowledge, and are, therefore, worthy of damnation. It
is nowhere revealed that such as these will ever be forgiven, although we are
informed that all of God’s judgments are not given unto men.” J. F. Smith,
“Editor’s Table,” 145.
F. Smith, in Journal
of Discourses, 18:274. These remarks were delivered in 1876 at the
46th Annual General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day
Saints when Joseph F. Smith was serving as a counselor in the First Presidency
under Brigham Young. Later as president of the church, he preached, “When
we shall have finished our mission here and go behind the veil, with the Priesthood
that has been conferred upon us here and its keys, authority and power, we will
continue to administer for the redemption of those that have died without a
knowledge of the truth, in the world of spirits, until every son and daughter
of God that has lived upon the earth shall have had the privilege of hearing
the sound of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and of embracing it, that their prison
doors may be opened, and that liberty may be proclaimed unto them, the liberty
of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, wherewith we are made free.” See President
Joseph F. Smith, in Conference Report, April 1904, 5.
Joseph F. Smith, in Journal of Discourses, 19:264. These remarks were
delivered at the funeral of Emmeline B. Wells when Joseph F. Smith was a member
of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
F. Smith, “Rights and Order of the Priesthood,” in Collected
Discourses, 3:99. These remarks were made at the conference of the
four stakes of Zion in Arizona, held at Pinetop, Apache County, Arizona.
F. Smith, “The Desert Blossoming as a Rose,” in Collected
Discourses, 3:219. These remarks were delivered at the Tabernacle in
Salt Lake City on 8 January 1893.
F. Smith made these remarks during an MIA Conference on 4 June 1910. See “Officers’
Notes: Report of the Fifteenth Annual Conference of Y. M. and Y. L. M. I. A.,” Young
Woman’s Journal 21/8 (August 1910): 458.
F. Smith, “Address of President Joseph F. Smith,” Young Woman’s
Journal 23/3 (March 1912): 129–30.
George S. Tate, “ ’The Great World of the Spirits of the Dead': Death, the
Great War, and the 1918 Influenza Pandemic as Context for Doctrine and
Covenants 138,” BYU Studies 46/1 (2007): 27, 33.
the controversies discussed throughout our four-part series, to this day the
Catholic Church continues to interpret the creed to mean that “the
crucified one sojourned in the realm of the dead prior to his resurrection
(Acts 3:15; Rom. 8:11; 1 Cor. 15:20; cf. Heb. 13:2),” and that “he
descended there as Savior, proclaiming the Good News to the spirits imprisoned
there.” See Catechism of the Catholic Church, part 1, section 2, chapter
2, article 5, p. 632.
R. McConkie, “A New Commandment: Save Thyself and Thy Kindred!” Ensign,
August 1976, 11.
Paulsen, Cook, and Christensen, “Harrowing of Hell,” 66–68.
Paulsen, Christensen, and Pulido, “Redeeming the Dead,” 45–46.
Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions (Salt Lake City: Deseret
Book, 1957), 2:37.
13:23, cited in Paulsen, Cook, and Christensen, “Harrowing of Hell,”
57. This was the quandary of the sages throughout the ages of time.