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Did Jesus Establish Baptism for The Dead?

Copyright ©1996 Institute for Religious Research. All rights reserved.

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“Mormons do not believe baptism by proxy is just "a" Biblical doctrine. Actually, the Mormon church has said this is one of the most important duties of the church today. This, along with Temple marriages (actual and by proxy), are the main work that goes on inside of Mormon Temples. The found a verse that uses the words baptism for the dead, and even though no verse in the Bible says Paul or any other Christian did baptism by proxy, they are satisfied.

Pretend for a minute that the Mormons were right. John had three disciples we know of, Ignatius, Papias, and Polycarp. All three wrote voluminously, though much of Papias' work as been lost. None of these uttered a peep about this "most important work." Polycarp had a disciple, Irenaeus, who never mentioned this "most important work". All the other post-New Testament writers never mentioned baptism for the dead. The apostles, including Paul, never commanded or mentioned specifically that Christians baptized for the dead. If this was a "most important work", how come nobody was ever told about it?” (www.biblequery.org/)

Also See Current Practice: The Mormons (below) and Baptism


The view that deceased human beings can hear and receive the gospel of Jesus Christ in the spirit world, and through proxy baptism performed for them on earth, attain eternal life in the presence of God, is one of the distinctive doctrines of Mormonism that separates it from historic, Biblical Christianity. The question of whether or not this practice has a basis in the Bible and was practiced by the early church is the subject of this article.

An overview of the differences between Mormon and historic Christian teaching on the subject of salvation for the dead is presented in a companion article Does the Bible Teach Salvation for the Dead? It surveys the Biblical grounds offered by the LDS church for its teaching that the gospel of Jesus Christ is preached in the spirit world, especially 1 Peter 3:19-20 and 4:6. It concludes that the official LDS interpretation of this Bible passage, found in Doctrine and Covenants 138, is based on flawed exegesis, and further, that the doctrine of salvation for the dead is incompatible with the general Biblical teaching that our eternal destiny is fixed at death.

This article now focuses specifically on the related practice of baptism for the dead. The question we ask is, does it have a basis in the Bible? Was it taught and practiced by Jesus and his first century apostles?

The premise of the article is that if baptism for the dead is truly a Christian rite, it must have an organic, historical connection to the earthly ministry of Jesus and his first century apostles.(1)

 Although the Book of Mormon is described as containing “the fullness of the everlasting gospel” (Doctrine and Covenants 27:5), and although baptism for the dead is a central teaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ, according to the LDS church, the Book of Mormon contains no reference whatever to the practice, either direct or indirect. This can easily be verified by checking under “Baptism for the Dead” in the LDS church’s Topical Guide to the Scriptures or the Index to the Triple Combination — the only references given there are from four sections of the Doctrine and Covenants (124,127,128,138 (2)). This point can also be verified by looking in the Index provided at the back of the Book of Mormon; it has no entry for baptism for the dead.

Thus, there is no evidence that the people described in the Book of Mormon practiced, or knew of, baptism for the dead. In fact, Book of Mormon teaching seems to clearly preclude the practice on several counts; the evidence on this point is considered later in the article.

A Single Verse
The silence of the Book of Mormon on baptism for the dead is an important fact, for it means that a single verse in the Bible — 1 Corinthians 15:29 — constitutes its sole mention in ancient Christian Scripture. This is acknowledged by the Encyclopedia of Mormonism (a 1992 work published under the supervision of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the LDS church (3)) — “He [Paul] refers to a practice of vicarious baptism, a practice for which we have no other evidence in the Pauline or other New Testament or early Christian writings.” (4) 1 Corinthians 15:29 reads: 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? (KJV used here and throughout).

The first thing to notice about this verse is that baptism for the dead is only mentioned, it is not actually taught. Given the scanty nature of the evidence, it is especially important to follow sound principles of Scriptural interpretation in seeking to understand this verse. Two basic principles relevant to this task are: (1) do not read a verse in isolation, but carefully consider it in its context, and (2) use clear, unambiguous Scriptural passages to interpret what is obscure or less clear, not the other way around.

A superficial reading of 1 Corinthians 15:29 in isolation from its context may suggest support for baptism for the dead. However, a careful study of the verse in its context and in the light of other relevant Biblical passages, shows that this support it is anything but obvious.

Following the principles described above, we should ask several diagnostic questions: (1) Is there anything earlier in 1 Corinthians (the broader context) that throws light on the mention of baptism for the dead in 15:29? (2) What is the theme and line of argument in the verses leading up to mention of the rite (the immediate context)? (3) How does its mention verse 29 fit into this line of argument? (4) What about the teaching on baptism in other epistles of Paul and elsewhere in the New Testament (Biblical theology) — is the view that the apostle is here giving approval to baptism for the dead consistent with that teaching, and with that of Jesus and the other New Testament writers?

Questions such as these will help us arrive at an accurate interpretation of verse 29, and avoid the pitfall of reading into it our own preconceived ideas.

The broader context

There are three other references to baptism in 1 Corinthians — 1:14-17, 10:2, and 12:13. In 1:14-17 Paul raises the subject of baptism in the context of expressing his concern about contention and party factions among the Christians at Corinth:

    I thank God that I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Gaius; Lest any should say that I baptized in my own name. And I baptized also the household of Stephanas: besides, I know not whether I baptized any other. For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect.

By his words, “Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel,” Paul is reminding the Corinthians that it is the message of Christ’s death for our sins (received in heartfelt faith) that can regenerate and transform the inner person, not the external rite of baptism, important though it is as an outward sign of faith and obedience. The fact that the Corinthians Christians needed this reminder indicates that they over-rated the importance of baptism, and that the apostle felt the need to steer them back to a correct, balanced understanding of its significance.

Then in 10:2 the apostle uses the word “baptized” in describing the Israelites’ crossing of the Red Sea: “all were baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea.” Though this is a figurative use of the term, Paul uses it to build on his earlier reminder of the priority of faith and inner regeneration over baptism (1:14-17). To the Corinthians with their inflated view of baptism, he makes the point that though all the Israelites who came out of Egypt were figuratively “baptized,” they were not thereby insured of God’s favor: “But with many of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness” (10:5).

Finally, in 12:13 Paul mentions baptism as an argument for Christian unity: “For by one Spirit we are all baptized into one body.” Here again, it is not the rite of baptism itself that is critical, but the reality of union with Christ which baptism pictures (Romans 6:3-4), wrought not by water but by the Spirit.

The Corinthians’ inflated view of baptism holds an important clue to the meaning of 1 Corinthians 15:29. For as we shall see, baptism for the dead is linked by the apostle to an errant group within the Corinthian church, whose false teaching the entire fifteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians — including verse 29 aims to correct.

The immediate context

The best way to understand any single verse in Scripture is to examine the verses surrounding it. And when we read 1 Corinthians 15:29 in its context, it is clear that resurrection, not baptism, is the single, dominating theme throughout chapter 15.

In verses 1-11, Paul declares that Christ, after he died for our sins, was raised from the dead, a fact amply attested by “above 500” witnesses, most of whom he says are still alive as he writes.

Then in verses 12-49 the apostle marshals a series of arguments for the importance and reasonableness of the doctrine of the resurrection of the body. Here, the modern reader needs to keep in mind that the Hebrew-Christian doctrine of the resurrection, which we take for granted, was considered foolishness in ancient Greek culture (and of course Corinth was a Greek city). (5) What is important to see is that Paul’s mention of baptism for the dead in verse 29 is one of this series of arguments introduced to serve his purpose of defending the reasonableness of resurrection.

The real question to ask then is, who is it at Corinth that is practicing baptism for the dead, and do they and the practice have the apostle’s approval?

“Some Among You”
Paul’s blunt rhetorical question in verse 12 expresses the burden of the chapter: “Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead?” An important thing to notice is that the entire series of arguments in verses 13-49 is specifically aimed at refuting these false teachers within the Corinthian congregation (“some among you”) who are openly denying the resurrection. The following outline gives an overview of the passage:

1. If there is no resurrection, Christ is not risen (vv. 13,16)

2. Our preaching is vain, we are yet in our sins (vv. 14,17)

3. We are false witnesses (v. 15)

4. The dead in Christ are perished (v. 18)

5. Christians are of all people most miserable (v. 19)

6. As death came by one man (Adam) upon all who descended from him, so resurrection to life is brought by one man (Christ) to all who belong to Him (vv. 20-22)

7. The order of resurrection: Christ first, then those who are Christ’s at His return (vv. 23-28)

8. The false teachers who deny the resurrection are inconsistent when they baptize for the dead, for the practice is based on the hope of resurrection (v. 29)

9. Why suffer abuse for the gospel if there is no resurrection? (vv. 30-34)

10. Resurrection analogous to a seed, which through death brings forth more abundant life (vv. 35-38)

11. The nature of the resurrection body is different from the mortal body, as the flesh of humans, mammals, and fish are different from each other (v. 39)

12. The resurrection body is of greater glory than the mortal body, as the sun is of greater glory than moon (vv. 40-41)

13. Various contrasts between the resurrection body and our mortal bodies (vv. 42-49)

Verse 29 takes the form of another rhetorical question: “Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all?” Here the Paul points up the fact that since it is the human body that is baptized, those who perform such a rite in proxy for a deceased person must do so because they have the hope of future resurrection for that person. Thus, the primary function of the verse is as yet another argument in support of resurrection. (6)

See Section on The Resurrection   and That Earth Shattering Seventh Trumpet

Did Paul Endorse The Practice?
The fact that Paul’s mention of baptism for the dead is not an endorsement is signaled by the impersonal manner in which he refers to the practitioners: “Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? Why then are they baptized for the dead?” If the rite was a legitimate part of apostolic teaching, we might have expected the apostle to say “what shall you do . . .” or “what shall we do . . .” (7)

It is clear from Romans 9:1-3 and 10:1-4 that Paul was acutely conscious that many among his own Jewish kinsmen were outside the gospel fold. He speaks of having “great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart” for his Hebrew brethren (9:2), and declares that “my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved” (10:1). Certainly there would have been some from the apostle’s own extended family who had gone to their graves unbaptized. If Paul taught baptism for the dead, it is inexplicable that he would exclude himself from those who practiced the rite, as he surely does when he writes, “what shall they do which are baptized for the dead . . .”

Notice too that in verses 30-32 the apostle immediately contrasts the fringe group practicing baptism for the dead with himself and the broader Christian community: “And why stand we in jeopardy every hour . . . what advantageth it me if the dead rise not.” Indeed, the impersonal “they” contrasts markedly with Paul’s practice throughout 1 Corinthians 15, where he consistently addresses his readers as “you” (vv. 1,2,3,11,12,14,17,31,34,36,51,58), or, (including himself) “we” or “us” (vv. 3,15,19,30,32,49,51,52).

Who Are “They”?
If we ask who the “they” in verse 29 refers to, the context clearly points us back to verse 12. It is those within the Corinthian congregation who are denying the resurrection, and whom the entire passage is written to refute. Then the biting aspect of Paul’s argument becomes clear. These false teachers are inconsistent: they deny the resurrection, yet engage in a practice  —  baptism for the dead   —  which is based on the hope of resurrection.

This is exactly the understanding of the text held by the early Christian writer Tertullian. Writing about A.D. 180, he makes this comment on 1 Corinthians 15:29 — “His [Paul’s] only aim in alluding to it was that he might all the more firmly insist upon the resurrection of the body, in proportion as they who were vainly baptized for the dead resorted to the practice from their belief of such a resurrection.” (8)

Ironically, the Encyclopedia of Mormonism espouses this same interpretation of the verse: “. . . Paul clearly refers to a distinct group within the Church, a group that he accuses of inconsistency between ritual and doctrine.” (9)

Thus, far from endorsing the baptism for the dead, Paul associates it with a group whom he has already identified as being in deep spiritual error.

Why Didn’t Paul Refute The Practice?
But would the apostle Paul use a practice of which he disapproved (baptism for the dead) to support something he wanted to affirm (resurrection)? On thoughtful study, this objection proves to have much less basis than first meets the eye. There are at least four grounds for answering “yes” to this question, and for explaining why the apostle does not stop to refute the practice of baptism for the dead.

First, Paul has already associated the rite with false teachers. So in this sense, it has no positive standing and needed no special refutation.

Second, history has amply vindicated the apostle Paul’s inspired judgment. The practice of baptism for the dead in fact never became widespread, which even the Encyclopedia of Mormonism acknowledges, as noted earlier. Only a few isolated sects have practiced it, including the heretical Marcionite sect in the second century, and the Ephrata Society, a Christian occult group in Pennsylvania in the 1700s. (10) These two groups have little in common with each other, and even less with Mormon teaching, (11) so the claim that baptism for the dead was part of original Christianity that was lost, lacks any historical or logical basis.

Third, Paul’s statement at the beginning of 1 Corinthians, noted earlier — “Christ sent me not to baptize but to preach the gospel” (1:16) — is a reminder that baptism does not have the same indispensable importance that faith in Christ has. This is an indirect slap at the logic of baptism for the dead, which implies that baptism is indispensable for resurrection to eternal life.

Fourth, Paul does elsewhere use something with which he disagrees to make a theological point. In 1 Corinthians 8:10 the apostle refers to eating meat in an idol’s temple without showing it to be wrong in itself; however, that he believed it is wrong is clear from what he says later in 1 Corinthians 10:21ff. (12)

Is Baptism Necessary For Salvation?
The premise of baptism for the dead is the absolute necessity of water baptism for forgiveness of sins and eternal life. However, recall the words of the apostle Paul cited earlier — “Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel” (1 Corinthians 1:16). This statement surely implies that baptism does not have equal importance with faith in Christ.

The New Testament certainly teaches that baptism is an important step of obedience for Christians, but it does not teach its absolute necessity for forgiveness of sins and eternal life. [See Baptism]

John 3:5. This is one of the passages which the LDS church points to as teaching the absolute necessity of water baptism. There Jesus says to the Jewish religious leader Nicodemas, “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.”

We would agree that the words “born of water” probably refer to baptism. The context of the Gospels point us to the ministry of John the Baptist, who called people to prepare for the coming of Jesus the Messiah by the outward, public act of water baptism signifying an inner, heartfelt attitude of repentance. Thus we read in Matthew 3:5-6, “Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judea, and the region around about Jordan, and were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins.”

It is notable that according to Luke 7:29-30, the Pharisees (the strict religious party of which Nicodemas was a member), refused John’s baptism. Thus, to the Pharisee Nicodemas, Jesus’ words “except a man be born of water and the Spirit,” emphasize that repentance and new birth go hand in hand, as the only way of gaining eternal life.

Yet notice that when Jesus restates his message in the next verse, he says, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6). Notably he does not say, “That which is born of water and the Spirit.” (13) Repentance a true acknowledgment of one’s deep spiritual need before a holy God — will normally be followed by the outward sign of water baptism (though we can think of some extreme cases where it is not, such as that of the thief on the cross — Luke 23:42-43). But it is the inner attitude of repentance, not the outward rite of baptism, that is essential.

Acts 2:38.
This is another verse, which the LDS church points to as teaching the absolute requirement of water baptism. It reads, “Repent, and be baptized for the remission of your sins.” Several things should be noted here. First, as we saw in considering John 3:5, baptism is an outward, public testimony to the inner decision of repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. Thus, it is the inner reality that is strictly essential. In this regard, notice that in Acts 3:19 Peter says, “Repent, therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out” — baptism is not mentioned. As one commentator has noted of Acts 2:38, “it would be a mistake to link the words ‘unto the remission of your sins’ with the command to be baptized to the exclusion of the prior command ‘Repent ye.’” (14)

Second, in Acts 10:43 Peter says to the non-Christian Cornelius and his household, “whoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.” While Peter is still preaching, the Holy Spirit is poured out on this group. That this must mean they were born of the Spirit as they responded in simple faith to the preaching of the gospel is confirmed by Peter words in Acts 11:16-18. Only afterward, when the reality of God’s work of salvation in their hearts has already been confirmed, are they baptized. (Compare the sequence in Ephesians 1:13 of hearing the gospel, responding in faith, and receiving the Holy Spirit.)

Third, the New Testament presents baptism as the virtual equivalent of the Old Testament rite of circumcision (Colossians 2:12-13), and it states explicitly that circumcision did not have saving value. If we follow the logic of this biblical parallel, it sheds a great deal of light on the question of the absolute necessity of the external rite of water baptism. For example, in Romans 2:28-29, the apostle Paul declares:

    For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.

Then in Romans 4:10-11 the he makes the point that Abraham was declared righteous through faith before he was circumcised, so that circumcision was not strictly necessary for his salvation: “And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had being yet uncircumcized.” And finally, in Galatians 6:15 the apostle says that it is a changed heart (the new birth), not an outward rite that saves: “Neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.”

Since baptism and circumcision are near equivalents, as signs of the Old and New Covenants, respectively, it follows that one could say in the same sense, “baptism counts for nothing,” except as an outward sign of the inward reality of repentance and faith in Jesus Christ alone.

It goes beyond Biblical teaching to say that baptism is an absolute necessity, in the sense of having saving value. To teach this is to wrongly place a religious institution and its rituals between God and the believer, and to attribute saving value to the outward ritual of baptism, rather than to the inward reality of repentance and faith, which it pictures.

Having now surveyed the Biblical evidence put forth in support of baptism for the dead, we believe it is clear that there is no organic, historical connection between this practice the early church. This being the case, baptism for the dead can not accurately be called a Christian practice.

However, there is one additional bit of evidence against baptism for the dead: it is unsupported even by the Book of Mormon.

Conflicts With Book Mormon Teaching
It was noted at the beginning of the article that the Book of Mormon is completely silent about baptism for the dead. However, there is also positive evidence from the Book of Mormon against the practice on at least two counts: (1) it teaches that those who die without hearing the gospel (the primary candidates for baptism for the dead) are alive in Christ, and therefore do not need baptism, and (2) it teaches that baptism is specifically a covenant for this mortal life, so that it would be completely meaningless to baptize for the dead.

On the first point, notice that Moroni 8:22 explicitly declares that the state of those who die without a knowledge of the gospel is like that of children who die in infancy:

    For behold that all little children are alive in Christ, and also they that are without the law. For the power of the redemption cometh on all them that have no law; wherefore, he that is not condemned, or he that is under no condemnation, cannot repent; and unto such baptism availeth nothing.

Therefore, on the same grounds by which the Book of Mormon rejects infant baptism, (15) baptism for the those who die in ignorance of the gospel would have to be rejected.

The next verse goes even further, specifically condemning baptism for these two classes of individuals as vain and a mockery: “But it is mockery before God, denying the mercies of Christ, and the power of his Holy Spirit, and putting trust in dead works” (Moroni 8:23).

Baptism for the dead also conflicts with the Book of Mormon teaching that baptism is a covenant for mortal life. Mosiah 18:13 states, “And when he had said these words, the Spirit of the Lord was upon him, and he said, Helam, I baptize thee, having authority from Almighty God, as a testimony that ye have entered into a covenant to serve him until you are dead, as to the mortal body.”

According to these Book of Mormon passages, those who die in ignorance of gospel do not need baptism, and further, since it is a covenant for mortality, it could have no relevance to those in the spirit world.

Taken together with the silence of the Book of Mormon on baptism for the dead, these positive objections from its teaching on baptism constitute a serious contradiction between Latter-day scripture and practice.

“Some Things Hard To Be Understood”
We do not claim that Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 15:29 is easy to understand. Already in his own day, his contemporary Peter acknowledged that in the epistles of “our beloved brother Paul” there are “some things hard to be understood” (2 Peter 3:15-16). Nevertheless, we do believe that the careful and prayerful student of Scripture will be led by the clear preponderance of evidence to conclude that the apostle Paul does not in this verse give or imply his approval for baptism for the dead.

What is abundantly clear in Paul’s epistles and throughout the Bible is the fact that we cannot save ourselves. Nor does any religious institution or ritual have the power to save us. Like an insurance policy from a bogus company, these institutions and rituals may give some assurance in life, but those who trust in them are bound to be bitterly disappointed when the day of reckoning comes. It is in the power of God alone, and in His rich mercy and grace in Christ, that we can have hope that will not disappoint.

 Luke P. Wilson
Copyright ©1996 Institute for Religious Research. All rights reserved.


1 According to Robert J. Matthews, professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University, writing in the LDS church’s publication the Ensign (“I Have a Question,” September 1981, p. 16), Joseph Smith “obtained the doctrine of salvation for the dead by revelation and not from the printed pages of the Bible.” Matthews explains that this is true of Mormon doctrine in general: “the Bible was not the source of the doctrines the Prophet Joseph Smith taught. Rather, the Bible, so far as it is translated correctly, is tangible evidence that the doctrines he received by revelation were the same as those the ancient prophets obtained by revelation.” 

Consider the implications of this statement: the Bible can be used to support Latter-day revelation, but not to critique it. But this then means that the distinctive doctrines of Mormonism have no organic, historical connection to the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ and his apostles. It is this disturbing fact which undermines the LDS church’s claim to preach the “restored” gospel. 

2 The 1977 edition of the Topical Guide to the Scriptures does not list Doctrine and Covenants 138:33 under its entry for “baptism for the dead,” though the practice is explicitly mentioned there: “These were taught faith in God, repentance from sin, and vicarious baptism for the remission of sins . . “

3 Elders Neal A. Maxwell and Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve “worked closely with” the committee that prepared it, according to an article in the Ensign (March 1992, p. 79), a monthly magazine published by the LDS church. The article heralded the Encyclopedia of Mormonism as a “landmark reference work.”  4 “Baptism for the Dead - Ancient Sources,” in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 4 vols. (New York: Macmillan, 1992), 1:97. 

5 This is illustrated by the story in Acts 17:18-34, where Paul is preaching to the philosophers in the Greek city of Athens. His audience listens attentively until he mentions the resurrection of Christ: “And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked . . .” (Acts 17:32). It was a common view of many Greek philosophers that the body was the prison-house of the soul. It was thought that death would bring the soul’s release from the enslaving passions and evil impulses of the body. In this view resurrection was unthinkable, and in any case quite undesirable. In the words of a prominent contemporary New Testament scholar, “Whether they were sophisticated intellectuals or simple artisans, Greeks had one feature in common: resurrection was totally foreign to their worldview.” — Murray J. Harris, From Grave to Glory: Resurrection in the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Academie Books/Zondervan, 1990), 41. 

6 This is precisely how Ambrose (A.D. 339-397), the bishop of Milan, understood 1 Corinthians 15:29. He wrote, “[Paul] wishes to show how fixed and firm is the resurrection of the dead, by giving the example of those who were so sure of the future resurrection that they would even baptize for the dead who died before they could be baptized . . . . This example is not an approbation of what they did but merely shows their firm faith in the resurrection . . . By saying ‘why do we stand in jeopardy?’ he is making a distinction of persons which shows that those who were baptized for the dead were not catholics.” Note that the Roman Catholic church did not exist at this time. By “catholic,” Ambrose simply means the orthodox or universal church. Ambrose, Commentary on 1 Corinthians, as cited by Bernard M. Foschini, Those Who Are Baptized for the Dead - 1 Cor. 15:29 (Wecester, Mass., Heffernan Press, 1951), p. 32. The Roman Catholic church did not exist until centuries later. 

7 In an Ensign article on baptism for the dead (“I Have a Question,” August 1987, p. 19), it appears that Robert L. Millet tried to shade this point by restating 1 Corinthians 15:29 and changing the pronoun “they” to “we.” 

8 Tertullian, The Five Books Against Marcion, V,10 in The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, no date), 3:449. 

9 Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 1:97. This is also the view of many other New Testament scholars, including G. R. Beasley-Murray, Baptism in the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1973), p. 190-91, Leon Morris, The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians (London: Tyndale Press, 1958), p. 219, and James A. Walther, 1 Corinthians - Anchor Bible, vol. 32 (Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Co., 1976), p. 337. 

10 Regarding the 18th century Pennsylvania group, see Mormon historian D. Michael Quinn, Mormonism and the Magic World View (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1987), p. 181. 

11 Marcion, believed the body and material world are evil, and were created by the god of the Old Testament, who is an inferior being. He was excommunicated in A.D. 144 for these heresies. The Ephrata community practiced celibacy and Sabbath worship. See The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church, revised ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1974,1978), pp. 345,629-30. 

12 Morris, pp. 218-19. 

13 Beasley-Murray, p. 303. 

14 F. F. Bruce, Commentary on the Book of Acts (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1954), p. 77. 

15Mormon writer Gregory A. Prince wonders at the coincidence that the book of Moroni, which contains this sole Book of Mormon reference to infant baptism, was produced in 1829, one year after the death at birth of Joseph and Emma’s firstborn child in 1828. Power From on High (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1995), p. 85.


Current Practice: The Mormons
By Al Maxey
Excerpt From ‘Baptism for the Dead’ An Exegesis of 1 Corinthians 15:29

“  ... Joseph Smith, Jr., the founder of the LDS movement, 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, then 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 the fullness of it" (Scott G. Kenney, Wilford Woodruff's Journal, vol. 2, p. 165). According to B.H. Roberts, the major historian for the Mormon Church, Joseph Smith declared, "A man may act as proxy for his own relatives .... we may be baptized for those whom we have much friendship for ..." (History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, vol. 6, p. 366).

In 1959, Stephen L. Richards, who was First Counselor in the First Presidency of the Salt Lake Church, wrote, "All men are equal before the law and all are to have the opportunity, even the dead, to accept the Gospel and receive the promised blessings, but all must know and understand, and the dead who have gone on into the spirit world without knowledge of the Gospel are to be hereafter given an election to embrace it through vicarious works done for them by their descendants and other friends in the brotherhood of the Church" (About Mormonism, p. 11). Richard E. DeMaris, in the Journal of Biblical Literature, noted the view of the Mormons was that "the living were thought to be obligated to help the deceased become integrated into the realm of the dead." This they sought to accomplish via acts of proxy obedience, which included baptism for the dead.

    · One Mormon scholar phrased it this way -- "Millions of earth's sons and daughters have passed out of the body without obeying the law of baptism. Many of them will gladly accept the word and law of the Lord when it is proclaimed to them in the spirit world. But they cannot here attend to ordinances that belong to the sphere which they have left. Can nothing be done in their case? Must they forever be shut out of the kingdom of heaven? What then is the way of deliverance? The living may be baptized for the dead. Other essential ordinances may also be attended to vicariously. This glorious truth was hid from human knowledge for centuries" (C. Penrose, Mormon Doctrine Plain and Simple, p. 48).

The first recorded public affirmation of this doctrine of baptism for the dead in the Mormon Church came in August, 1840. The occasion was the funeral of Seymour Brunson in Nauvoo, Illinois. Joseph Smith delivered the funeral sermon, in which he stated to a woman, whose son had died without having been baptized, that this doctrine would prove to be for her, and also for the departed lad, "glad tidings of great joy." The first recorded baptisms for the dead were performed in the Mississippi River near Nauvoo.

In the early years of Mormonism, vicarious baptisms were performed only for direct blood relatives who were deceased. They would also baptize for their ancestors, although usually not more than four generations back. Today proxy baptisms are far more sweeping. They will even collect names of persons unrelated, sometimes even unknown, to them, and members of the Mormon Church will be baptized for these dead persons so that they might receive the remission of their sins and be saved. When they began collecting the names of Jewish Holocaust victims a few years ago, and began being baptized for these persons, then listing them as "Mormons" in their International Genealogical Index, an outcry arose! Ernest Michel, chairman of the New York based World Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, said the number of names collected by the Mormons, for whom they had performed proxy baptisms, was in "six figures." Michel stated, "We are very hopeful that we will be able to convince the church to stop!" In point of fact, the Mormon Church did indeed agree to cease this practice with respect to the Holocaust victims. Mormon Church spokesman Michael Leonard stated that future baptisms of such Holocaust victims would only occur if it could be demonstrated the deceased was a direct ancestor of a living member of the Latter Day Saints or if the Mormon Church had written permission from all the living members of the deceased person's immediate family. As one can quickly perceive, not only is this practice a major theological problem, but it can quickly become a delicate social issue as well.

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