But how much Joseph Smith said about the preaching to the dead needs to be stressed–for in no sense was proxy baptism ever cheapened into mechanical salvation without faith and repentance of the one for whom baptism was done.(2)
Brother Anderson makes another very important point relative to Mormonism’s doctrine of salvation for the dead. Joseph Smith did not simply cobble together the doctrine of salvation for the dead from disparate but related scriptural passages scattered hither and yon through the New Testament.(6) Anderson argued that Joseph received these doctrines by revelation and quoted the Prophet as saying in reference to these very doctrines, “The only way to obtain truth and wisdom, is not to ask it from books, but to go to God in prayer and obtain divine teaching.”(7) He pointed out that Joseph wrote two “formal letters to the Church on the subject, using the language of revelation.”(8) Here is his most insightful statement on the topic:
Joseph Smith was far from anti-intellectual, but he employed a method beyond scholarship. In writing to the Church on baptism for the dead, he gave an inspired synthesis, a revealed correlation of important scriptures that throw greater light on the practice (D&C 128), not to mention the passages from 1 Peter 3 and 4 cited throughout his discourses. The Prophet had a synoptic view of his subject, not an isolated interpretation of 1 Corinthians 15:29. He eloquently pictured God’s concern with the salvation of all his children.(9)Orson Pratt said this was true of the Restoration in general.
Like the Church of God in all former ages, we receive no new ordinances, neither old ordinances, only by new revelation. Did we presume to baptize with water on the authority of old revelation? No. Did we presume to lay hands upon the people to confirm upon them the Holy Ghost, by the authority of ancient revelation? No. Did we presume to establish the Church of Jesus Christ, or organize it, about fifty years ago, because they established one eighteen hundred years ago and upwards? No. Did we presume to officiate in any order of the priesthood by virtue of any ancient revelation given to the ancient Saints? No. We did not undertake to do any of these things by virtue of the former revelation; but all we have done in this Church has been done by direct communication and revelation from heaven; all the ordinances that we administer have been directed by new revelation; all the priesthood that this people hold this day was given by new revelation; all the various duties of the priesthood to be performed by us in our day were given by new revelation....(10)
After having received many visits from the angels of God unfolding the majesty, and glory of the events that should transpire in the last days, on the morning of the 22d of September A.D. 1827, the angel of the Lord delivered the records unto my hands.(11)
6. Anderson, Understanding Paul, p. 412. Anderson’s words are: “History is implied in reestablishing any principle, but divine reconstruction is not dependent on fragmentary sources....”
7. Joseph Smith, “Minutes of a Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Held in Nauvoo, Ill, Commencing Oct. 1st, 1841,” Times and Seasons 2 (15 October 1841), 577, emphasis added.
8. Anderson, Understanding Paul, p. 412, see D&C 127:6-8.
9. Anderson, Understanding Paul, p. 412.
10. Orson Pratt, Conference Report, April 1880, p. 26. Upon considering Pratt's statement, it seems logical to me that if there was a complete and total apostasy, then everything would have to be revealed anew–all the doctrines, principles, teachings, ordinances, and practices. God virtually revealed everything again to him, plus a whole lot of other new information.
Finally, Bushman says nothing about the tutoring done during more than twenty visits with Moroni, which I believe I can make a documentary case to show went a long way to prepare Joseph to understand his calling as a prophet. For example, what about the meaning of Isaiah 11 (especially 11:10-11) which Moroni cited to him four different times, and which is explained in D&C 113? It would be enough to provide him with a significant identity and confirm him in his role as a prophet just to know that Isaiah spoke of him, that he was a foreordained heir to the priesthood, much power, and the keys of the kingdom, and that is confirmed in his blood lineage and worthiness. I think Moroni solved any possible identity crisis the very first day he appeared. Interestingly, in contrast to the feeling you get from Bushman, after Moroni’s visits and tutoring Joseph never looked back or quivered. He never doubted, his knees never buckled, and he never said, “Maybe I didn’t see what I thought I saw.” There must be some explanation. Moreover, Joseph's parents didn’t know what was needed to prepare him as a prophet, and it is difficult to believe that the Lord left that to chance discovery by reading and translating scripture. He sent Moroni as a surrogate father figure to prepare Joseph by numerous visits during those four years. That being said, doubtless he also learned much about being a prophet from his extensive work in the scriptures.