Scriptures

Baptism For The Dead

Introduction

‘Now if there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized for them? And as for us, why do we endanger ourselves every hour? I face death every day—yes, just as surely as I boast about you in Christ Jesus our Lord. If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus with no more than human hopes, what have I gained? If the dead are not raised, ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.’ 1 Corinthians 15:29-32

One of the fundamental beliefs of the Mormon Church is the doctrine of baptism for the dead, vicarious baptisms. The following are statements of belief by members of the LDS church take from H. David Burton.

‘Baptism for the dead is the proxy performance of the ordinance of baptism for one deceased’. Joseph Smith taught, ‘If we can baptize a man in the name of the Father [and] of the Son and of the Holy Ghost for the remission of sins it is just as much our privilege to act as an agent and be baptized for the remission of sins for and in behalf of our dead kindred who have not heard the gospel or fullness of it’.

The first public affirmation of the ordinance of baptism for the dead in the Church was Joseph Smith’s funeral sermon for Seymour Brunson in Nauvoo in August 1840. Addressing a widow who had lost a son who had not been baptized, he called the principle ‘glad tidings of great joy,’ in contrast to the prevailing tradition that all un-baptized are damned.

The first baptisms for the dead in modern times were done in the Mississippi River near Nauvoo. Revelations clarifying the doctrine and practice have been given from time to time. This was a New Testament practice, 1 Corinthians 15:29.

In an article by Elder Bruce R. McConkie, we further see their beliefs.

‘There is no death, and there are no dead, unto the Lord — all are alive unto him. ‘God is not the God of the dead, but of the living’, Matthew 22:32, our Lord said with reference to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who had long before died as men count death, but who were alive as the Lord views things in his eternal perspective. Since the Lord views man’s progress from the pre-existent state to an eventual inheritance in one of the degrees of glory as one continuing course, it is not material, from the eternal perspective, whether the opportunity to accept the gospel of salvation comes in this mortal sphere or in the spirit world hereafter. Sometime after birth into this life and before the resurrection and judgment, every living soul will hear the gospel message and be judged by his reaction thereto. The millions who pass to the spirit world without receiving an opportunity during mortality to hear the truths of salvation will receive their chance subsequent to what men call death. The great principles and procedures whereby the saving truths of the gospel are offered to, accepted by, and made binding upon the departed dead, comprise the doctrine of salvation for the dead. Pursuant to this doctrine the principles of salvation are taught in the spirit world, leaving the ordinances thereof to be performed in this life on a vicarious-proxy basis. By accepting the gospel in the spirit world, and because the ordinances of salvation and exaltation are performed vicariously in this world, the worthy dead can become heirs of the fullness of the Father’s kingdom. Salvation for the dead is the system where under those who would have accepted the gospel in this life had they been permitted to hear it, will have the chance to accept it in the spirit world, and will then be entitled to all the blessings which passed them by in mortality’. Doctrines of Salvation, vol. 2, pp. 100-196.

Let us consider these things in light of 1 Corinthians 15:29 which states,

‘Else what shall they do that are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why then are they baptized for them?’

The first rule in proper exegesis of Scripture is to follow context.

What is the context surrounding verse 29?

1. Christ is the first fruits of all the resurrected dead.

2. All rule and authority will be put under Christ even death.

3. The only one not subjected to Christ is God.

4. All those who have died will also be raised when Christ comes again.

5. The context is one of order!

6. If this order is false, then why be baptized is what Paul is saying.

The word ‘else’, if all that is stated in the preceding is not fact. ‘What shall they do that are baptized for the dead’, ‘hoi baptizomenoi huper ton nekron.’ The Greek phrase is literally translated

‘what will they do the ones being baptized on behalf of the dead? If actually dead persons are not raised’.

The key word is ‘for’, ‘huper’, as in behalf of, for the sake of a person or thing. If we are baptized for the sake of or on behalf of dead people being raised from the dead and the dead are not really raised then the question is, ‘why be baptized’ at all? Paul is simply writing in a rhetorical form as he is known for.

The thought is why even be baptized if the resurrection is not true? Will you be baptized to be numbered among the dead who will never raise?

The Greek reads a bit different as to how we express ideas in the English but suffice it to say that Paul can certainly not be speaking of a ‘vicarious baptism’ on the part of one Christian for another due to the fact that he had also said at Romans 14:12,

‘So then each one of us shall give account of himself to God.’

A ‘vicarious baptism’ takes away personal responsibility, a thought that is foreign to the New Testament Scriptures, Revelation 20:12.

The point is further carried out in 1 Corinthians 15:30-32. If the dead will not raise why risk our lives preaching the message of resurrection? If the dead are not raised why not just eat, drink and live it up because when we die that is all there is to existence!

However, because of the reality of the resurrection of the dead, Paul preached in hazardous situations and daily risked his own life to so preach to others.

Paul even fought with beast at Ephesus because of his teaching of the resurrection of the dead. It may be that this was literal beasts such as one being thrown to the lions as was Daniel, 2 Timothy 4:17. Secondly, it may be that Paul was delivered from beastly men such as Demetrius in Ephesus, Acts 19:23ff.

Why go through such heartaches and pain in life if there is no such thing as the resurrection of the body?

‘Do not be misled: ‘Bad company corrupts good character.’ Come back to your senses as you ought and stop sinning; for there are some who are ignorant of God—I say this to your shame.’ 1 Corinthians 15:33-34

Paul knew there was more to life than mere death and thereby states,

‘be not deceived.’

To be ‘deceived’, ‘planao’, is to lead astray, mislead, deceived. The context demands that Paul’s admonitions are pointed at the brethren being deceived and led astray by false teachers who were teaching that there is no resurrection of the dead.

Here it is clear that the false teacher is doing the deceptive work of Satan though he would never admit to doing such work. Don’t make companions of false teachers who believe and teach doctrines that are opposed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. These people have the ability to lead people astray.

‘Soberness’, ‘eknepho’, to return to one’s self from drunkenness, become sober. This passage clearly teaches the intoxicating effects of false teaching. Paul desired that the Corinthians would sober up from the intoxicating effects of the false teaching regarding the resurrection of the dead.

Those who had taken the erring doctrine regarding there being no resurrection were in sin. These sinners were to feel the sting of shame for their departure from truth and return to their original hope.

Conclusion

1 Corinthians 15:29 has many extravagant interpretations, including that which allows Mormons to be baptised for their relatives who have died not having adopted the Mormon beliefs.

I used to think the verse can’t be referring Christ because the word, ‘dead’ is in plural but the context is speaking about confidence in Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection, Romans 1:4 / Acts 26:23.

So, when Paul uses the word, ‘dead’ here, he’s speaking about Jesus because the context is about Jesus, resurrection is assured because Jesus did it first, resurrection is such a plural thing because everybody is going to share in it.

So, the context of 1 Corinthians is speaking about Jesus’ death and resurrection, we ought to be baptised because although Jesus died, He lives and because He lives, we can be confident of our baptism, our burial, identifying with His death.

Some of the Corinthians were denying the resurrection of the dead. Paul shows them the inevitable consequences of such a doctrine. It meant the denial of the resurrection of Christ.

The word for ‘Huper’, translated as concerning, on account of, with a view toward. The main possible views to this verse are as follows.

1. It could refer to those who, considering the teaching and pleading of departed friends, or loved ones, are baptised into Christ.

2. It could refer to those who are being baptised with a view to the resurrection of the dead body.

No Proxy Baptism

There is no proxy baptism, as there is no proxy faith, each will give account of themselves to God. Romans 14:12

‘Wherefore, do the things which I have told you I have seen that your Lord and your Redeemer should do; for, for this cause have they been shown unto me, that ye might know the gate by which ye should enter. For the gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water; and then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost.’ 2 Nephi 31:17

‘All those who humble themselves before God, and desire to be baptized, and come forth with broken hearts and contrite spirits, and witness before the church that they have truly repented of all their sins, and are willing to take upon them the name of Jesus Christ, having a determination to serve him to the end, and truly manifest by their works that they have received of the Spirit of Christ unto the remission of their sins, shall be received by baptism into his church.’ Doctrine and Covenants 20:37

In Mormon doctrine it’s taught that baptism is essential for salvation.

‘For behold, this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labours. And now, as I said unto you before, as ye have had so many witnesses, therefore, I beseech of you that ye do not procrastinate the day of your repentance until the end; for after this day of life, which is given us to prepare for eternity, behold, if we do not improve our time while in this life, then cometh the night of darkness wherein there can be no labour performed. Ye cannot say, when ye are brought to that awful crisis, that I will repent, that I will return to my God. Nay, ye cannot say this; for that same spirit which doth possess your bodies at the time that ye go out of this life, that same spirit will have power to possess your body in that eternal world. For behold, if ye have procrastinated the day of your repentance even until death, behold, ye have become subjected to the spirit of the devil, and he doth seal you his; therefore, the Spirit of the Lord hath withdrawn from you, and hath no place in you, and the devil hath all power over you; and this is the final state of the wicked.’ Alma 34:32-36

Notice how it’s stressed in the Book of Mormon that the individual must prepare in this life for the life to come. All these statements flatly contradict their teaching on baptism for the dead.

 

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