A Rescue for the Dead: The Posthumous Salvation of Non-Christians in Early Christianity

Latter-day Saint scholars have reason to take note of and to be grateful for this recent addition to the Oxford Studies in Historical Theology. Author Jeffrey A. Trumbower has previously published Born from Above: The Anthropology of the Gospel of John (Tübingen: Mohr, 1992) and is chair of the Department of Religious Studies at St. Michael’s College in Colchester, Vermont.

In the introduction to the present book, Trumbower succinctly defines his subject. In Christianity at large, he points out, “belief in salvation for the faithful has usually meant non-salvation for others.” But, he notes, exceptions to this general principle can be found in ancient Christianity, and “the principle itself was slow to develop and not universally accepted in the Christian movement’s first four hundred years.” Two of the ancient exceptions, recorded in the Acts of Paul and Thecla and in the Passion of Perpetua and Felicitas, are briefly mentioned in the introduction and are discussed in depth later in the volume. Posthumous salvation, Trumbower is well aware, was allowed for in modern times in Shaker theology and practice and is an important, while sometimes controversial, part of Latter-day Saint belief and practice. He acknowledges that Latter-day Saints are motivated by love and compassion and a belief in God’s justice in giving everyone a chance; “no doubt,” he says, “these factors apply as well in the early Christian contexts.” He also remarks that “everyone in the world who is interested in family history and genealogy has benefited from the enormous resources the latter day saints have put into research for saving the dead.

Published in BYU Studies Quarterly 41:2
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