Baptism for the Dead is practiced by the LDS. It is also mentioned by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:29. This is one of those Mormon beliefs where a person would do well to pay attention to the context. It would also be wise to compare it to other scripture to make sure one is interpreting it correctly. LDS genealogy is done for the purpose of baptizing for the dead. Neither of these practices are condoned in the Bible.
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Overview of content in this section is as follows:
BAPTISM FOR THE DEAD
Quotations from L.D.S. Authorities
One can be “Saved” without being baptized
Salvation comes through Faith; it is a Matter of the Heart
No Biblical Reference Regarding Genealogical Work
Born of water does not mean baptized
There is no 2nd chance after death
The context of 1 Corinthians 15 is Resurrection, not Baptism
The Apostle Paul was sent to preach the gospel not to baptize
Baptism for the dead is a very old idea that is still practiced by some groups in the era in which we live today. Mormons usually think that this idea is unique to their religion; however, this is not entirely true, as you can see in the quote from the Encyclopaedia Britannica below.
“New Apostolic Church: church organized in Germany in 1863 as the Universal Catholic Church, by members of the Catholic Apostolic Church who believed that new apostles must be appointed to replace deceased apostles and rule the church until the Second Coming of Christ. The present name was adopted in 1906. Its doctrines are similar to the parent church, but the new church was influenced by continental Protestantism, and over time its worship services and tendencies became less Catholic and more Protestant.
The church emphasizes the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which include prophecy, speaking in tongues, and miraculous healing. Sacraments are baptism, Holy Communion, and holy sealing (the ‘dispensing and reception of the Holy Spirit’). Sealing can only be conferred by the laying on of hands on the head of a member by an apostle, and it assures the member of participation in Christ's rule on Earth for 1,000 years after he returns. Like the Latter-day Saints, the New Apostolic Church teaches that the sacraments can be received by a living member for a dead person.” (Copyright 1994-1998 Encyclopaedia Britannica)
Since baptism for the dead is far more associated with Mormonism, the rest of this study will deal with the Mormon view and what the Bible says. So what does baptism for the dead mean to the Mormon? The best way to answer that is to quote from Mormon authorities.
Smith, Joseph Fielding. Doctrines of Salvation. Compiled by Bruce R. McConkie. 3 vols. Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1954-56. Vol.2, Chapter9, pgs.161-162 (PDF pg. 318-319)
“NO SALVATION WITHOUT BAPTISM. One of the most emphatic and positive statements of our Savior was his saying to Nicodemus: ‘Verily, verily, I say unto thee. Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. ‘That to be born of water means to be baptized is so clear it will not admit of successful dispute. To be born of the Spirit is just as positive a statement in relation to the gift of the Holy Ghost, which is received by the laying on of hands. Nor did the Savior limit his remark by any qualifying clause to refer only to men who are living and with the opportunity of hearing the gospel, or to eliminate from his command those who have passed beyond. The statement is dogmatic, positive, and without qualification: ‘Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God!’ "PERFORMANCE OF VICARIOUS ORDINANCES. Baptism is an ordinance belonging to this life, as also are confirmation and ordination to the priesthood, and the man who does not receive these blessings here cannot receive them in the spirit world. There he may repent and believe and accept the truth, but he cannot be baptized, confirmed, or ordained, or endowed, for these ordinances belong here. What is to be done in the matter? We are going to take substitutes who will act vicariously, which means one acting for another, and in the temples they will stand for those who are dead and there, in the behalf of the dead, receive all these blessings for them. When they do this, if the dead accept the labor performed, it is accounted unto them the same as if they had acted for themselves. The Lord did a great vicarious work for all men, and he has delegated power to us in a lesser degree to perform a vicarious work for the dead. So we, too, may become saviors to our fellow men in this manner, performing work for them that they cannot perform for themselves."
McConkie, Bruce R. Mormon Doctrine. 2d ed. Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1966. pgs. 72-73,
“Baptism For the Dead” (PDF pg. 28-29)
Mormon Doctrine, by Bruce McConkie, “Second Chance Theory”, pgs. 685-687
(PDF pg. 243-244)
To sum it up, Mormons believe that one cannot be saved (enter into the kingdom of God, or what is known as the “celestial kingdom”) unless he or she is baptized. (Note: sometimes L.D.S. also defines “saved” as “being resurrected”; Mormon Doctrine, pg. 671.) People who do not have the opportunity to hear the gospel according to Mormonism can hear and accept it in the life to come. When a person in the L.D.S. church is baptized in someone else’s behalf (as long as that person never had the opportunity to accept the gospel in mortal life), the deceased can then accept the Mormon gospel and enter into the celestial kingdom. This is the reason why the Mormon Church is heavily involved in genealogical research. In the quotes from the Mormon authorities, we are given two Bible references, one reference that mentions baptism for the dead and one that does not mention baptism at all(1 Corinthians.15: 29 and John 3:3-5). It is not wise to build a doctrine on one obscure verse in the Bible, especially if it is in conflict with Scripture that is clear and comprehensible. We should use the clear passages to help us understand those passages that are harder to understand.
The following truths are in conflict with this Mormon doctrine:
If baptism were a requirement for salvation, one would think that we would find people such as Jesus, and the Apostle Paul, baptizing converts on a regular basis. Furthermore, if baptism for the dead were required, surely it would have been an important practice, and we would see Biblical examples of it. Yet, Paul was thankful that he did not baptize many people, and Jesus did not baptize anyone that we know of. This would make no sense, if either of these concepts were true.
1 Corinthians 1:14-17
Take another look at 1 Corinthians 1:17. Paul said, “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel”. Paul separates the act of baptism from the Gospel. Yet the following verse shows that we are saved by the Gospel.
1 Corinthians 15:1-2
Following are two examples of someone who was saved apart from baptism.
In Luke 23:39-43 we read of a thief who was crucified with Jesus. This man rebukes the other thief who was also being crucified, for mocking Jesus. The story concludes in Luke 23:42-43 “And he was saying, ‘Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!’ And He said to him, ‘Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.’” The thief obviously was not taken down from the cross and baptized — yet Jesus declared the thief saved, in that they would dwell together in Paradise.
I should mention that there is a difference of opinion about where the “Paradise” Jesus was referencing was located. Some argue that Paradise was not heaven, but rather Abraham's bosom. Three days after being crucified and buried Jesus said Mary, "Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father” (John 20:17). But remember that three days before this, Jesus told the thief, "today you shall be with Me in Paradise." Some believe Abraham's bosom was a holding place for the righteous dead, separate from Hades. This was before Jesus atoned for our sins. According to Luke 16:19-31, some believed that they could not be in the presence of the Father until Jesus paid the price for their sins. In this sense Jesus meant I am telling you this today that you will be with me in Paradise.
Others argue that Jesus did indeed go directly into the presence of the Father. Right after Jesus told the thief he would be with him in Paradise, Jesus said, "Father, into Thy hands I commit My spirit." The spirit of Jesus went directly into the presence of the Father, but his body went to the grave. Three days after the crucifixion, when Jesus said to Mary, "Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father” (John 20:17), Jesus was referring to His physical body.
According to 2 Corinthians 12:2-4, Paradise was the “third heaven”. The three heavens are
Old Testament saints also went directly into the presence of the Father. Examples of this include Enoch (Genesis 5:24, Hebrews 11: 5), and Elijah (2 Kings 2:1-11).Paul also indicated in 2 Corinthians 5:8 and Philippians 1:23 that Christians who die will enter directly into the presense of the Lord. Whichever view one takes, the thief is still taken into the presence of the Father without the benefit of baptism.
The second example of salvation without baptism can be found in the text below.
The Gentiles in this text were baptized, but this was after they had received the Holy Spirit. Even those who say you must be baptized to be saved recognize that un-saved people do not have the Holy Spirit. These people were saved first and even speaking in tongues — which is a gift of the Holy Spirit — before they were baptized. If they were saved first, and baptized later, baptism cannot be the act that provided their salvation.
There are a few other texts that some may use to show we are saved by baptism, so we should look at those texts as well.
The key in this passage for those who shall be saved is their belief. This verse shows that unbelief is the reason for being condemned — not the lack of baptism.
1 Pet 3:18-21
Noah and his family were saved “through the water” because Noah was obedient and built the ark like he was told. Noah first believed God, and then followed instructions. Corresponding to that, we first put our trust in God, and then follow His instructions to be baptized. Yet it is not the dunking in the water that saves us; rather, our appeal to God for a good conscience through the resurrection of Jesus provides salvation.
Noah would not have been saved if he did not use the ark. Being dunked in water does not save without the heart first being purified by the Holy Spirit. Baptism alone, with an unregenerate heart, saves no one. Conversely, the thief on the cross shows that one can be saved without baptism, if his heart has been spiritually reborn.
When we read Matthew 19:16, we learn that a rich young man was specifically asked Jesus how to gain eternal life. He was told to sell his possessions and follow Jesus. This is a matter of the heart!
Again in Luke 10:25, a lawyer specifically asks Jesus how to gain eternal life. He was told, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself." Love is certainly a matter of the heart.
In Acts 16:30, a jailer asks Paul and Silas what to do in order to gain salvation. The answer, in Acts 16:31: “They replied, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved — you and your household.’”
Page Index . LDS genealogy
If baptism for the dead were a true doctrine, it certainly would be important enough to be clearly taught in the Bible; a reading of the New Testament shows that it is not. And, as genealogy is a necessary step preceding baptism for the dead, we would also expect to find reference to it in the Bible. Aside from the genealogies of Jesus, which are included to show that He is the Messiah referenced in the Old Testament, genealogy is only mentioned twice in the New Testament.
1 Timothy 1:3-4
Granted, these texts have nothing to do with baptism for the dead. They are, however, the only references to genealogy in the New Testament, and certainly in no way encourage anybody to do genealogical work.
In our first quote on this subject from the L.D.S In Doctrines of Salvation we are told that “born of water” means to be baptized.
The word "baptized" is not in this passage. Although the Jewish mind may connect baptism with the use of the word "water", I believe the usage of the word is much deeper than that. The passage is referring to someone who is born again. We are first born physically. Before we are born spiritually we are said to be dead in our trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1-5, Colossians 2:13). Until you are born again, even though you are physically alive, you are spiritually dead. The second birth is spiritual.When you are "born again" you are both physically and spiritually alive. Mormons focus on the part of the text that reads: “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God".
We will take this in two parts.
The Greek word translated as "born" in this passage is defined by Strong'sin the following manner:
KJV— bear, beget, be born, bring forth, conceive, be delivered of, gender, make, spring.”
The Greek word translated as “water” in this passage is defined by Thayer’sas:
"Water" is not a reference to baptism. The word "water", in this passage, by definition can mean literal water. The Greek word, however, is not bound only to this literal definition. This same Greek word for "water" is found in John 3:5, and is also used in the following passage in Ephesians.
(The next two verses give us a little more insight.)
1 Pet 1:23 for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and abiding word of God.
Titus 3:5 He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but
according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit,
Notice the proceeding verse declares that we are not saved by deeds done in righteousness. In the following text we will see that Jesus declares his baptism is a deed to fulfill all righteousness.
Matt 3:13-15 Then Jesus arrived from Galilee at the Jordan coming to John, to be baptized by him. But John tried to prevent Him, saying, "I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?" But Jesus answering said to him, "Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness." Then he permitted Him.
Furthermore Jesus when asked about doing the works (or deeds) of God he simply says they must believe in him as you can see in the following text.
John 6:28-29 They said therefore to Him, "What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?" Jesus answered and said to them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent."
Let us consider again 1 Pet.1:23 we find that these ones that have been born again have done this through the word of God. How are they born again? They are born again through the word of God. Remember Jesus was talking to Nicodemus about being born again in John CH.3.
Take special notice of how Eph 5:25-27 said that Christ cleansed his church. (Having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word) Water in this case is used in reference to the word of God. Christ church is cleansed by the washing of water with the word. The Church in Eph. 5:25-27 is made up of "born again believers" Since Jesus said that "unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God" John 3:3 we can conclude that his church is born again. Christ's church is born again through the word of God by the washing of water with the word as well as the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit Titus 3:5.
In the very next chapter after the discussion between Jesus and Nicodemus we find Jesus talking to a Samaritan woman. Here again we see Jesus using water as an illustration that does not mean baptism, but rather Jesus is referring to eternal life which is salvation.
John 4:14 but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life."
Isa 12:3 Therefore you will joyously draw water from the springs of salvation.
Jesus talked to Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman using "water" as an illustration. In both cases Jesus was talking about eternal life. The word "baptism" is not in either text. Jesus certainly knew that a Jewish mind might connect baptism with the use of the word "water". However, the Bible also shows us that the usage of the word "water" is much more than the act of baptism. The Jewish mind would be very aware of that as well. The Bible shows us that the term "water" has to do with our regeneration by the Holy Spirit through the word of God. Baptism is our act of obedience to God's command and our proclaiming to the world that we have been regenerated through the Holy Spirit and the word of God.
The term “born again” is only found four times in Scripture.
1 Peter 1:3
1 Peter 1:23
The term “born of water” is only found once in Scripture.
None of these texts clearly connect baptism with being born again. There are writings in which some of the early church fathers did connect the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus with baptism. In a similar fashion, “works” are tied to “saving faith”, as James points out in his letter. Still, we are told that our works do not save us (this was covered under the subject heading "Grace vs. Works" Our “works “are the fruit showing that we are saved. Baptism is not a suggestion; it is a command. The true believer who has been regenerated by the Holy Spirit acts in obedience to this and identifies himself with Jesus Christ. The believer is not saved merely because he has been dunked in water. He has been dunked in water as an act of obedience that confesses he has been regenerated and identifies with the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
There are examples in Scripture of people finding salvation before baptism and apart from baptism. There are no examples of anyone being saved without a change in heart. The Bible shows us that genuine faith will produce works, while it clearly states that we are not saved by our works.
After death comes the judgment. Even those who have not heard the genuine Gospel (or the Mormon version of the Gospel), there will be no second chance. There is no record in the entire Bible of anyone receiving salvation after he or she had already died. Once a person is judged, there is no record of an appeal, such as we have in our earthly courts.
According to the first chapter of Romans, people are held accountable for knowing there is a God, because of creation. Creation itself tells us that God exists. Therefore, Man is responsible for what he has done with this knowledge of knowing that God existed.
This accounts for those who have not heard the Gospel. Creation itself testifies of God's existence. These people are held accountable for what is done with that knowledge of God and as the text states, "they are without excuse".
Many Mormons have a testimony declaring that deceased people have appeared to them, thanking them for being baptized on their behalf. To this I must state that our experiences should be interpreted through the Bible — the Bible should not be interpreted through our experiences. Baptism for the dead and its implications are in conflict with what the Bible teaches. It is not wise to accept even what a spirit may have said concerning this. Demons have been around for a long time, and can easily deceive people by masquerading as a deceased person, to help promote that which is contrary to the word of God (the Bible). We are, in fact, warned not to believe every spirit (1 John 4:1, Galatians 1:8).
Having said that we will now examine the context of 1 Corinthians Chapter 15.We will see that Paul is aware of some people who practiced baptism for the dead. Paul argued that it was not logical for those people to believe in baptism for the dead and then deny the resurrection. (The following Scripture is from The New American Standard version of the Bible, and I added my commentary in boxes throughout the text.)
1 Corinthians 15
“1) Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand,2) by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.3) For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,4)and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures…
Verses 1-4 Paul tells us the Gospel is that Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.
Verses 5- 10 Paul gives an account of the appearances of Jesus after He was resurrected.
Verses 11-12 Paul brings up the fact that some among the Corinthians did not believe in the resurrection of the dead.
Verses 13-19 Paul declares that if Jesus did not rise from the dead, then they are false witnesses and our faith is worthless because we are still in our sins.
Verses 21-23 We are told Jesus has indeed risen from the dead. Through Adam mankind receives death, but through Jesus we will live. Jesus is the first fruits of the resurrection; those that belong to Jesus will be resurrected at His return.
Verses 24-28 After the return of the resurrected Christ and the resurrection of the saints, the end will come. That is the end of this age then Christ shall abolish all authority and He shall reign until all enemies are subject to Him. Jesus will conquer even death.
Verses 29-30 Paul asks why certain people (who he simply refers to as "they") do baptism for the dead if they do not believe in the resurrection. He is pointing out that these two beliefs are inconsistent with each other.
Paul asks also why he and other Christians would stand in jeopardy; since they were persecuted for teaching the resurrection, it would be inconsistent and irrational to also declare there was no resurrection.
Did you notice the contrast between verses 29 and 30? In verse 28 Paul refers to some people that he does not include as being in unity with himself or other Christians. These people practice baptism for the dead and he refers to them as "they"(KJV) or "they and those" (NAS). Then in the next verse Paul includes himself with other Christians who proclaim the resurrection. In verse 30 Paul uses the word "we".The contrast is between "they" and "we". One group includes himself and others who proclaim the resurrection ("we"). The other group of people Paul makes no connection with between himself and other Christians. Paul simply states that "they" practice baptism for the dead.
In Acts 17:23-33 we see that Paul used an idol with the inscription of an unknown god to proclaim the true God. Paul did not believe in the idol anymore than he believed in baptism for the dead in Corinthians. Paul only pointed to the people’s own false belief as a reference they could relate to, to teach them about the truth of God and the resurrection.
Verses 31-34 Paul declares that unless there is a resurrection there is no reason to undergo persecution for proclaiming the resurrection. Without the resurrection he might as well adopt the heathen philosophy of "let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die." Paul then tells them not to be deceived by this teaching from those who have no knowledge of God, thus denying the resurrection. This corrupt doctrine denying the resurrection promotes sin which they are to abstain from.
Verses 35-50 Paul explains concerning the bodies of the resurrected dead.
Verses 51-58 Paul explains concerning the bodies of the translated living.
CAREFULLY CONSIDER THE PURPOSE AND DEPTH OF THE APOSTLE PAUL'S MINISTRY.
1 Timothy 1:11
1 Corinthians 1:17
All scripture is indeed inspired by God (2 Timothy 3:16). Dealing with the subject of salvation, some people seem to look at only a few obscure and hard to understand passages, ignoring the rest of the teachings on the subject. We need to remember that when Scripture appears to contradict itself, this means that we do not understand something, and need to dig a little deeper for answers. This has always been the case in my own studies.
I certainly do not want to say that we should ignore any Scripture, but I would like you to follow me along a line of logic and reasoning for a moment. Those who believe that baptism or works are conditions of salvation should carefully consider the purpose of the Apostle Paul's ministry. Paul was set apart by God to preach the Gospel. He declares that the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation. He did not shrink back from declaring the whole purpose of God or anything that was profitable. Paul wrote thirteen of the twenty-seven books in our New Testament. Paul said he did not come to baptize. Paul never connects baptism as a condition of salvation.Paul was very clear that we are saved apart from works (Romans.3:28, Ephesians 2:8-9, 2 Timothy 1:9, Titus 3:5). There are some passages in Scripture that are hard to understand. It is best to let the clear passages shed light on the harder to understand passages. Paul never taught that works or baptism were conditions of our salvation. His whole purpose was to preach the Gospel so that we might be saved.