"Baptism For The Dead"

“The doctrine that the living can provide baptism and other essential ordinances to the dead, vicariously, was revealed anew to the Prophet Joseph Smith. He learned that the spirits awaiting resurrection are... offered individual salvation” (Todd Christofferson, “The Redemption of the Dead,” Ensign, Nov. 2000, 9).

I wish I could tell you I gathered that quote from a science-fiction magazine of some sort, but I can’t. It is an actual statement from an elder in the Latter-Day-Saints organization as he explained the church’s belief on baptism. He and his fellow Mormons are convinced, through the writings of Joseph Smith (Book of Mormon; Doctrines and Covenants), that God approves of the baptism for the dead. “For their salvation is necessary and essential to our salvation,” said Joseph Smith of those who died without being baptized, “...that they without us cannot be made perfect—neither can we without our dead be made perfect” (D. & C. - Section 124:15,16). He then referenced the apostle Paul in support of this belief--“And now, in relation to the baptism for the dead, I will give you another quotation of Paul, 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?”

Aside from the fact that Paul was inspired to teach God’s word and Joseph Smith was not (Galatians 1:8,9), can we look at the context of First Corinthians 15 and conclude that Paul taught a vicarious baptism to save the dead? Absolutely not.

When Paul asked the rhetorical question of why people were baptized for the dead, he was asking that in deference to the Christians at Corinth who doubted the validity of the final resurrection of the dead (vs. 12). One of the several arguments he made in support of the resurrection was baptism--“Why are people baptized for the dead, if the dead do not raise?” In other words, if Christians are not raised from the grave to receive eternal life, why then did they become Christians?

The point is well taken. The very foundation of Christianity is the promise of life beyond the grave. Take this away, and you take away the reason people are baptized into Christ. We need the final resurrection of life in order for obedience to Christ to make any sense. Else, “Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished” (vs. 18). And yet, if those who were baptized into Christ do not receive what they were promised, which is life after death, what was the point in them becoming Christians?

I realize there are other explanations for verse 29, such as its punctuation or how baptism frees us from the fear of death, but I believe Paul was referring to why people are baptized into Christ: to receive life through death.

Regardless of what Paul meant in teaching a baptism for the dead, we know what he didn’t mean. We know through his other writings that he knew people could only be saved through obeying the gospel from the heart (Romans 6:17)--no one else could do it for them. And the only thing awaiting people after death is judgment (Hebrews 9:27), a statement even the Mormons make in their writings (Mosiah 2:38,39). (Where’s the consistency?)

I can’t do anything to alter your relationship with God, and you can’t do anything to alter mine with Him. If I die without obeying the gospel, I die unprepared to meet God (2 Thessalonians 1:7,8). This is why Paul felt the urgency to preach the gospel, “Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men” (2 Corinthians 5:10). If we could obey the gospel for others, why preach the gospel at all, let alone fret over those who don’t obey it (Romans 9:1,2; 10:1)? If human behavior in this life affects the eternal condition of the dead, then all we need is one person to do all the obeying for everyone for all time--something even Jesus knew was impossible (Matthew 23:37). Instead, we must each resolve within our minds to give our lives to God before we die--for He is the judge of “the living and the dead” (2 Timothy 4:1).

Besides, if I could transport you from hell to heaven through my actions here, would I not also be able to jerk you out of heaven into hell? If not, why not?

Article written by Mike Thomas of Owensboro, KY

Return to the Questions page

Home / Bible studies / Bible Survey / Special Studies / General Articles / Non-Bible Articles / Sermons / Sermon Outlines / Links / Questions and Answers / What Saith The Scriptures /Daily Devotional / Correspondence Courses / What is the Church of Christ / Book: Christian Growth / Website Policy / E-mail / About Me /