Saturday, January 3, 2015

Baptism For the Dead

The following is copied from the tract booklet, “Baptism for the Dead: Dead Works,” which was published by the Utah Christian Tract Society.  Utah Christian Tract Society was founded in 1956 and continued until 1990, when UCTS merged with Mormonism Research Ministry, who gave me permission to post it here.


The Mormon church embraces a creed they entitle "Baptism For The Dead."  This Mormon doctrine is a complicated system of performing vicarious "proxy labor" for the dead which is supposed to give the dead a "second chance."  The ordinances are performed only in the Mormon temples.  The involvement of the multi-million dollar genealogical program is an integral and essential part of the Mormon "Baptism For The Dead" doctrine.


The earliest reference to the practice of baptizing a living person in behalf of a dead person, perhaps, was that of Tertullian (160-220 A.D.).  He referred to the movement as heretical.

The Cerinthians probably were the first to practice the ritual.  The group may have evolved from those the Apostle Paul was addressing in 1 Corinthians 15:12.  Although accepting the Christian faith and belief of the immortality of the soul, they could not accept a belief in the bodily resurrection of the dead.  They began to rearrange the Christian teaching on the subject to better fit their own ideas, perhaps not realizing that by tampering with the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead, they were falling into serious heresy.

St. John Chrysostom (345-407 A.D.) gives an account of the practice of baptizing a living person in the stead of a dead person which existed amongst a heretical sect, called the Marcionites, in the second century.  He said; "This custom possibly sprang up among the Jewish converts, who had been accustomed to something similar in their faith. If a Jew died without having been purified from some ceremonial uncleanliness, some living person had the necessary absolution performed on him, and the dead were so accounted clean."

The ritual of baptizing a living person for a dead person was condemned by the Council of Hippo in 393 A.D.  The sects which practiced this vicarious work for the dead gradually died out.


There is no historical evidence whatsoever that there was any baptism for the dead until the days of Tertullian.  Nor was it a practice that in any way persisted down through the ages until we come to the nineteenth century and the founding of the Mormon movement.

On January 19, 1841, the Mormon prophet Joseph Smith resurrected the dead works doctrine of “baptism for the dead” which was practiced by the heretical sects of the second century, the Cerinthians, Montanists and Marcionites.

The Mormon prophet claimed the second chance baptism was taught by the Apostle Paul.  He cites 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 baptizing for the dead?

At this point we would ask a question, for it seems there is a paradox concerning Joseph Smith’s teaching.  “Why would the Mormon prophet refer to the Bible when he should be referring to his Book of Mormon for instruction?”


Joseph Smith in his story , page 51, verse 34, claims a book (the Book of Mormon, P.56:67) contained “the fulness of the everlasting Gospel,” and in many of his “revelations” the statement that the Book of Mormon contained the everlasting gospel in its fulness is found.  (See Doctrine and Covenants, Sections 20:8, 9; 27:5 & 13; 35:12 & 17; 133:36 & 57; 135:3).

Also, in one of Joseph Smith’s “revelations” the following declaration is found:  “…and in an especial manner this most glorious of all subjects belonging to the everlasting gospel, namely, the baptism for the dead;” (See Doc. & Cov., Sec. 128:17).

Now, why did not Joseph Smith cite instructions from the Book of Mormon (the Mormon gospel in its fulness) concerning baptism for the dead — “this most glorious of all subjects belonging to the everlasting gospel”?


The question is a fair one to ask; certainly the Book of Mormon should be the text-book on the subject of “baptism of the dead.”  However, herein lies the paradox.  Nowhere within its 522 pages can there be found any mention of, or any instructions given, concerning “this most glorious of all subjects belonging to the everlasting gospel, namely the baptism for the dead.”  In fact, the Book of Mormon teaching is in direct contradiction to the Mormon second chance doctrine of baptism for the dead.  On page 283, verses 32 through 34 [Alma chapter 34], it states:

“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 labors.  And now, as I said unto you before, as ye have had so many witnesses, therefore, I beseech you that ye do not procrastinated the day of your repentance until the end; for after this day of life, which is given us to prepare for eternity, behold, it we do not improve our time while in this life, then cometh the night of darkness wherein there can be no labor performed.  Ye cannot say, when ye are brought to the 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.”

It is quite obvious why the Mormon “elders” do not refer to the Book of Mormon as a text book on the subject.


The involvement of the Mormon multimillion dollars genealogical program and their temples are an integral part of the second chance baptism for the dead doctrine.  However, the Bible makes it very plain that genealogies were never used for the purpose of establishing or bolstering a religious doctrine.  Biblical genealogies in the main were to set forth the line of the promised Redeemer.  After the Cross, genealogies serve no Scriptural purpose and are to be avoided because they are unprofitable and vain.  The Bible says: “Neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith; so do.” (1 Timothy 1:4).  Also, “But avoid foolish questions and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law, for they are unprofitable and vain.” (Titus 3:9).

The Mormon temples also are in violation of Biblical teaching.  The temple was ordained to perform a very specific ordinance which was completely and forever eliminated at the Cross when the Lord cried: “It is finished.”  The Shekinah departed, the temple lost the Glory of God, and He no longer dwells “in temples made with hands.”   The veil of the temple was “rent in twain from the top to the bottom,” abolishing all temple work forever!  The Bible again states: “God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that He is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands.”  Acts 17:24.


The Bible does not teach a second chance after death, or a do-it-yourself salvation.  Every person is either saved or lost — there is no middle ground.  In the Gospel of John 3:36 it plainly declares:

He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.” (See also Revelation 3:15, 16)

In Luke chapter 16 verses 19 through 31 we are given a vivid picture of the state of the saved and the lost dead, and in verse 26 it states:  “And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence.

The text definitely reveals that doing vicarious “proxy labor” for the dead is deception and can only raise false hopes.


Let us now thoughtfully examine 1 Cor. 15:29 in its textual setting to determine what the Apostle Paul was teaching when he said:  “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?

In this great resurrection chapter (1 Cor. 15) the Apostle Paul was discussing the bodily resurrection and its meaning for the believer.   They key to Paul’s meaning is found in his own description of what baptism signifies in Romans 6:3, 4:

“Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?  Therefore, we are buried with him in baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father even so we also should walk in newness of life.”

These verses throw a tremendous amount of light on 1 Cor. 15:29.  Else what shall they do — the “they” are the doubters in vs. 12 who were being baptized into the Christian faith but did not believe in the resurrection.  They were being baptized “for the dead” or into Christ’s death, “Buried with him in baptism.” (Col. 2:12 and Rom. 6:3).  IF the dead rise not at all, then Christ would still be counted among the dead (vs. 16).  Why are they, the doubters in vs. 12 then baptized for the dead, or into Christ’s death? (vs 17)

In addressing the Christians in the church at Corinth, Paul rebukes this faction that, although accepting and being baptized into the new Christian faith that Paul was proclaiming, did not believe in the resurrection of the dead.  In verse 12 Paul says: 

“Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say come among you that there is no resurrection of the dead?”

Then in verses 13, 14, 15 Paul reasons that if there is no resurrection, then Christ is not risen and his preaching is vain and their faith is also vain.  And, in verses 16, 17, that if Christ is not risen then He is still to be counted among the dead, and they would still be in their sins.

Then, in verse 29, Paul is asking those who do not believe in the resurrection, why are they being baptized?

“ELSE WHAT SHAL THEY DO…” the “they” are the doubters in vs.12 who were being baptized into the Christian faith but doubted the resurrection
“WHICH ARE BAPTIZED FOR THE DEAD…” into Christ’s death - “Buried with him in baptism…” Col. 2:12 and Rom. 6:3
“IF THE DEAD RISE NOT AT ALL?…”  then Christ would still be counted among the dead, vs.16
“WHY ARE THEY…”  The doubters in verse 12
“THEN BAPTIZED FOR THE DEAD?”  into Christ’s death, verse 17.

So the natural question involved in vs. 29 is basically this:  Why be baptized at all?  If there is no resurrection, then baptism is just for the dead because that is all you are — if there is no resurrection.  What is the point?

So the essence of Paul’s argument in verse 29 is:  Your belief or unbelief in the resurrection is more than just an academic matter.  It involves your very baptism into the fellowship of the Body of Christ.  If you question the resurrection, you empty the sacrament of baptism of all its meaning both with respect to Christ and with respect to your own experience in Christ.  But when you believe with Paul that “…Now is Christ risen from the dead and become the first fruits of them that slept…” (Vs. 20) then the sacrament of baptism becomes one of the most beautiful and meaningful of experiences.

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