Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Salvation Unto the Ends of the Earth

Reading the prophecies in Isaiah 49 last night, I was impressed with the scope Messianic passage in verse 6:
And he said, It is a light thing that thou shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth.
The scope of the Messiah's mission extends not just to redeeming the tribes of Israel, but to brining the gift of salvation to the entire world, to Jews and Gentiles, to everyone. The unlimited geographical scope--"to the end of the earth"--and the unlimited cultural or ethnological scope--Israelites and non-Israelites--should raise an obvious question for Christians who believe Jesus Christ is the Messiah and the only source of salvation: What of the temporal scope? What of the absolute scope? Is salvation only offered to those few who lived after the time of Jesus Christ and had a chance to hear the message of the Gospel?

This is one of the issues where the beauty of the Restoration really shines (the "Restoration" referring to our belief that God has brought back or restored the original Church of Jesus Christ and the "fullness" of the Gospel). We now know, as some early Christians apparently knew, that the Gospel is being preached to those that have physically died to also give them a chance to hear the Gospel message. For those that wish to accept, there is even the opportunity to accept valid baptism done for those individuals by proxy, in their name, as if they had been baptized physically (this is the controversial LDS but authentic ancient Christian practice of baptism for the dead). Related biblical passages include 1 Peter 3:18-20:
For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit:

By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison;

Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.
Also 1 Peter 4:6:
For for this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.
And the faint hint in 1 Corinthians 15:29:
Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?
Today I'd like to call your attention to the very important topic of Christ's ministry to the dead. We have amazing details in a modern revelation given to the prophet Joseph Field Smith in 1918 in Section 138 of the Doctrine and Covenants. We learn that Christ, during the three days that his body was dead, visted the spirit world and organized missionary work among the souls of the righteous to take the Gospel message to all those who had lived and died without the privilege of hearing and accepting the Gospel of Jesus Christ (or the Gospel of the Messiah, if you will).

The concept of Christ visiting the spirit world and preaching there is again just hinted at in the Bible. It's really because of modern revelation that we have these doctrines. But modern scholarship suggests that many ancient Christians understood that Christ during his three days between his death and resurrection visited the souls of those who had died and preached to the them, and that the concept of salvation for the dead is not just a Mormon invention. Here is a new work on the topic that I recommend: "The Harrowing of Hell: Salvation for the Dead in Early Christianity" by Kendel J. Christensen, Roger D. Cook, and David L. Paulsen, Journal of the Book of Mormon and Other Restoration Scripture, vol. 19, no. 1, pp. 56-77, 2010. What I especially enjoyed about this scholarly work is tracing the history of the loss of the precious doctrines of salvation for the dead. Augustine's rejection of that concept played an important role in this unfortunate process, for example.

How grateful I am for the Restoration, not just of authority and organization, but of core truths dealing with the fairness and justice of God and the scope of salvation. The Atonement of Jesus Christ and the love and mercy of God are so powerful that they can extend not only to a few privileged souls within earshot of Christian preachers in mortality, but truly to the ends of the earth. Breaking past barriers of geography, lineage, language, and even time, the gift of salvation is offered to all who will accept it, and preaching is being done to reach the whole human family with the message of Christ's infinite Atonement. Hallelujah!

6 comments:

Bridget said...

Amen!

Two-Edged Sword said...

Jeff,

Surely the 'end of the earth' as mentioned in the Biblical prophecy is a timeline prophecy as opposed to a geographical prophecy?

Then I don't see your connection between this and the doctrine of baptism for the dead.

1Peter 3 refers to Noah and his preaching to those folk that were lost in the flood. The message offered by Noah was one from the Holy Spirit, yet it was ignored and they perished.

If these verses really relate to some hellish underworld where Jesus went for his 3 death days, the why was it exclusively for the antideluvian people and not for those who died after the flood?

No, it just relates that the Spirit that was ignored in Noah's preaching to those people imprisoned by their sins, is the same Spirit that gave life back to Jesus. No hellish nonsense and certainly no afterdeath-life that you claim as doctrinal. Unless of course you are the exceptional zombie that can give us the all important first hand testimony of truth?

Jeff Lindsay: said...

The NIV and NKJV, among others, use "ends of the earth" instead of "end". I don't think it's a reference about the earth ending in time. The "end" is from the Hebrew קצה ("qatseh") with the following meanings listed:
1) end, extremity

a) end, mouth, extremity

b) border, outskirts

c) the whole (condensed term for what is included within extremities)

d) at the end of (a certain time)

Since it is used in connection with a spatial object (earth) and not a reference to a time (like "at the end of three days"), the meaning of extremity in space is most reasonably inferred. See Gesenius' Lexicon for qatseh.

Jeff Lindsay: said...

The phrases "end of the earth" and "ends of the earth" occur several times in the Bible and are typically references to geographical scope, as in Jeremiah 25:31-33:
31 A noise shall come even to the ends of the earth; for the LORD hath a controversy with the nations, he will plead with all flesh; he will give them that are wicked to the sword, saith the LORD.

32 Thus saith the LORD of hosts, Behold, evil shall go forth from nation to nation, and a great whirlwind shall be raised up from the coasts of the earth.

33 And the slain of the LORD shall be at that day from one end of the earth even unto the other end of the earth: they shall not be lamented, neither gathered, nor buried; they shall be dung upon the ground.

Jeff Lindsay: said...

Two-Edged, you argue that 1 Peter 3 is about Noah preaching to the spiritually dead. Look at the scripture again: it's clearly Christ that went to the dead spirits and preached to them.

18 For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit:

19 By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison;

20 Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.

21 The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ....

In every translation I've seen, there is no room for confusion about who went and preached: it was Christ. He went in the spirit - as a spirit - in the time between his death and resurrection. This is the great early Christian tradition references in the article I encouraged my readers to read in my post.

As for the meaning of 1 Peter 3, again, please read that article on the Harrowing of Hell.

Some people have argued that Christ just went to the dead to essentially rub their doom into their faces and make them feel bad. This seems to be a case of wrestling with the scriptures. The context of 1 Peter 3:18-22, which speaks of Christ going to preach to the dead while He was physically dead, is one of rescuing the sinners, not damning them all the more. "He, the just, suffered for the unjust, to bring us to God" (1 Peter 3:18, New English Bible). That His mission was to rescue and not torment is further clarified a few verses later in 1 Peter 4:6: "Why was the Gospel preached to those who are dead? In order that, although in the body they received the sentence common to men, they might in the spirit be alive with the life of God" (New English Bible). The spirits of the dead, including those who died long before Christ was born, had the Gospel preached to them - not to add to their torment, but to make it possible to enjoy the life of God.

Jeff Lindsay: said...

As the article on the Harrowing of Hell shows, this theme of Christ rescuing the souls of the dead by descending into Hades is an ancient and widespread theme in Christianity, one that persisted into the Middle Ages but seems to have been more fully lost since the Reformation.

Christ's mission of rescuing souls in hell is sometimes called the Descensus or the "Harrowing of Hell" or the "Descent into Limbo." Daniel C. Peterson provides support for the Descensus as a standard Christian theme for centuries with abundant references and images of Christian artwork in "Skin Deep," his review of Rudiger Hauth's anti-Mormon work, Die Mormonen in FARMS Review of Books, Vol. 9, No. 2, 1997, pp. 99-146 (see esp. 131-139). Christ's spiritual descent into hell is mentioned in several versions of the Apostles Creed and the Athanasian Creed, and other Christian documents. It is even found in Dante's Inferno (IV.52-63), which mentions how Christ rescued the spirits of Adam, Abel, Moses, Noah, Abraham, David, Rachel, and others. After referring to many other examples, Peterson summarizes:

There seems little point in further multiplying references. "Most Christian theologians," says the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church of the so-called Descensus, "believe that it refers to the visit of the Lord after His death to the realm of existence, which is neither heaven nor hell in the ultimate sense, but a place or state where the souls of pre-Christian people waited for the message of the Gospel, and whither the penitent thief passed after his death on the cross (Lk. 23.43)."

[F.L. Cross and E.A. Livingstone, eds. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983), 395, as cited by Peterson, p. 137; Peterson also cites extensive treatments on the Descensus in other books.]