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Mormonism and temples/Baptism for the dead/Authentic Christian practice
Baptism for the dead as an authentic ancient Christian practice
Jump to Subtopic:
- Question: What is baptism for the dead?
- Question: Are the dead being "baptized into the Mormon faith?"
- Question: Does the practice of baptism for the dead have ancient roots?
- Question: Does the Bible condemn genealogical research?
- Question: Is temple work a form of "ancestor worship"?
- Charles Penrose (1912): "Baptism for the dead—How do we know which of our deceased relatives are to be baptized for"?
- D. Todd Christofferson (1998): "The principle of vicarious service should not seem strange to any Christian"
Question: What is baptism for the dead?
Proxy baptism is a way to provide redemption for those who died without hearing the Gospel
Explained Elder G. Todd Christopherson:
- Christian theologians have long wrestled with the question, What is the destiny of the countless billions who have lived and died with no knowledge of Jesus?  There are several theories concerning the “unevangelized” dead, ranging from an inexplicable denial of salvation, to dreams or other divine intervention at the moment of death, to salvation for all, even without faith in Christ. A few believe that souls hear of Jesus after death. None explain how to satisfy Jesus’ requirement that a man must be born of water and spirit to enter the kingdom of God (see John 3:3-5). Lacking the knowledge once had in the early Church, these earnest seekers have been “forced to choose between a weak law that [allows] the unbaptized to enter heaven, and a cruel God who [damns] the innocent.” 
- With the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ has come the understanding of how the unbaptized dead are redeemed and how God can be “a perfect, just God, and a merciful God also.” 
- While yet in life, Jesus prophesied that He would also preach to the dead [see John 5:25]. Peter tells us this happened in the interval between the Savior’s Crucifixion and Resurrection [see 1 Peter 3:18-19]...
Question: Are the dead being "baptized into the Mormon faith?"
The ordinance is provided but is only contingent upon the dead accepting it
- Some have misunderstood and suppose that deceased souls “are being baptised into the Mormon faith without their knowledge”  or that “people who once belonged to other faiths can have the Mormon faith retroactively imposed on them.”  They assume that we somehow have power to force a soul in matters of faith. Of course, we do not. God gave man his agency from the beginning. (See fn11) “The dead who repent will be redeemed, through obedience to the ordinances of the house of God,”  but only if they accept those ordinances. The Church does not list them on its rolls or count them in its membership.
- Our anxiety to redeem the dead, and the time and resources we put behind that commitment, are, above all, an expression of our witness concerning Jesus Christ. It constitutes as powerful a statement as we can make concerning His divine character and mission. It testifies, first, of Christ’s Resurrection; second, of the infinite reach of His Atonement; third, that He is the sole source of salvation; fourth, that He has established the conditions for salvation; and, fifth, that He will come again. 
Question: Does the practice of baptism for the dead have ancient roots?
There is considerable evidence that some early Christians and some Jewish groups performed proxy ordinance work for the salvation of the dead
The most obvious of these is 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?
There have been attempts to shrug this off as a reference by Paul to a practice he does not condone but only uses to support the doctrine of the resurrection. These claims are indefensible. Paul's statement makes no sense unless the practice was valid and the saints in Corinth knew it. This is easily demonstrated if we just imagine a young Protestant, who doubts the resurrection, who goes to his pastor with his problem. The pastor answers him, saying, "But what about the Mormons who baptize for the dead? If the dead rise not at all, why are they then baptized for the dead?" You know what the young doubter would say. He would say, "Pastor, they're Mormons! What's your point?"
In fact, we know that baptism for the dead was practiced for a long time in the early church. As John A. Tvedtnes has noted:
- ... historical records are clear on the matter. Baptism for the dead was performed by the dominant church until forbidden by the sixth canon of the Council of Carthage in A.D. 397. Some of the smaller sects, however, continued the practice. Of the [Cerinthians]> of the fourth century, Epiphanius wrote:
- “In this country—I mean Asia—and even in Galatia, their school flourished eminently and a traditional fact concerning them has reached us, that when any of them had died without baptism, they used to baptize others in their name, lest in the resurrection they should suffer punishment as unbaptized.” (Heresies, 8:7.) 
Thus, baptism for the dead was banned about four hundred years after Christ by the church councils. Latter-day Saints would see this as an excellent example of the apostasy—church councils altering doctrine and practice that was accepted at an earlier date.
- In early Judaism, too, there is an example of ordinances being performed in behalf of the dead. Following the battle of Marisa in 163 B.C., it was discovered that each of the Jewish soldiers killed in the fight had been guilty of concealing pagan idols beneath his clothing. In order to atone for their wrong, Judas Maccabaeus, the Jewish high priest and commander, collected money from the survivors to purchase sacrificial animals for their dead comrades:
- “And when he had made a gathering throughout the company to the sum of two thousand drachmas of silver, he sent it to Jerusalem to offer a sin offering, doing therein very well and honestly, in that he was mindful of the resurrection: for if he had not hoped that they that were slain should have risen again, it had been superfluous and vain to pray for the dead. And also in that he perceived that there was great favour laid up for those that died godly, it was an holy and good thought. Whereupon he made a reconciliation for the dead, that they might be delivered from sin.” (2 Maccabees 12:43–46.) 
Collection of Other Sources that Can Support the Latter-day Saint Position
Other sources can give credence to the Latter-day Saint position on this matter. Below we list a selective compilation of quotes from scholars that can demonstrate that:
- Vicarious baptism was practiced by the ancients
- The practice wasn't condemned by Paul (even though that would be a natural thing to do given the corrective purposes of the first letter to the church at Corinth).
- The best translation of the original Greek refers to a practice of vicarious baptism.
The passage in the Bible is, at the very least, very short and cryptic. We can't know much about the practice accept the preceeding three assertions. Thus the following scholars would not affirm that the practice of vicarious baptism matches the modern Latter-day Saint conception of it i.e. that it was done on such a massive scale, for salvific purposes, etc. Some argue on linguistic grounds that this only had to do with catechumens (prospective converts to Christianity who died without baptism) but that is not fully substantiated by the text nor the historical context of the passage. Furthermore, as is noted by several scholars (a couple of which are included below), it is complicated by the fact that Paul spoke approvingly of believing Christians becoming vicarious, sanctifying vessels for non-believing spouses. This could naturally be extrapolated to all kindred, non-believing dead.
There is much that we can't know from the text of the Bible itself following an exegetical approach. At some point, additional revelation is necessary to illuminate and expand on previous revelation. That would be the Latter-day Saint position. As Joseph Smith has said concerning the Restoration, it occured so that "a whole and complete and perfect union, and welding together of dispensations, and keys, and powers, and glories should take place, and be revealed from the days of Adam even to the present time. And not only this, but those things which never have been revealed from the foundation of the world, but have been kept hid from the wise and prudent, shall be revealed unto babes and sucklings in this, the dispensation of the fulness of times." Latter-day Saints need not feel compelled to defend every last element of their theology from antiquity. Some elements may appear in seed and then be expanded on later by those "things which never have been revealed from the foundation of the world[.]" What 1 Corinthians 15:29 can tell us without a doubt is that the practice is ancient and that it wasn't rejected by Paul or others of the earliest Christians. The Greek of the passage is unequivocally said to support the notion that vicarious baptism was performed. Other revelation outside of the Bible can expand on it in the Restoration.
Following is our selective listing of sources. All bolded text has been added by the editor of this article:
- Søren Agersnap: "It cannot be denied that Paul is here [1 Cor 15:29] speaking of a vicarious baptism: one is baptised for the dead to ensure for them a share in the effect of baptism, and this must relate to a post-mortal life. It is also clear that Paul himself refers to this baptismal practice, and without distancing himself from it (This is the embarrassing perception which is the reason for some (comparatively few) interpreters making an imaginative attempt to ignore that this relates to a vicarious baptism).".
- Charles Kingsley Barrett: "The primary reference is to Christian baptism: certain people (οί βαπτιζόμενοι suggest a particular group, not all Christians) undergo the rite of Christian baptism—in what appear to be very strange circumstances. They are baptized on behalf of the dead. The second part of the verse follows clearly enough. If the dead are dead and are beyond recall, there is no point in taking this or any other action on their behalf. But what was the practice of baptism for the dead, and did Paul approve of it? An account of the history of the interpretation of this passage is given by M. Rissi, 'Die Taufe für die Toten (1962)'...It is very unlikely that with the adjective dead (νεκρός) a noun such as works (cf. Heb. vi. I) should be supplied. Throughout this chapter (and in Paul usually) ‘the dead’ are dead men. It is equally unlikely that on behalf of (ὺπέρ) is to be taken in a local sense, and that the reference is to baptism carried out over the dead, that is, over their graves. The most common view is that Paul is referring to some kind of vicarious baptism, in which a Christian received baptism on behalf of someone, perhaps a friend or relative, who had died without being baptized. There is evidence for some such rite among various heretics (among other quotations Lietzmann cites Chrysostom, on this passage: ‘When a catechumen among them [the Marcionites] dies, they hide a living man under the dead man’s bed, approach the dead man, speak with him, and ask if he wished to receive baptism; then when he makes no answer the man who is hidden underneath says instead of him that he wishes to be baptized, and so they baptize him instead of the departed), and there were precedents in Greek religious practices, though not close precedents (see Schweitzer, 'Mysticism', pp. 283 f.). Stauffer lays great stress on 2 Acc. xii. 40-5. Apart however from 1 Corinthians there is no evidence that a rite of this kind arose as early as the 50’s of the first century. This does not make it impossible; many strange things happened in Corinth. But would Paul have approved of it? It is true that in this verse he neither approves nor disapproves, and it may be held that he is simply using an argumenatum ad hominem: if the Corinthians have this practice they destroy their own case against the resurrection. This is the view held by some, and it is possible; but it is more likely that Paul would not have mentioned a practice he thought to be in error without condemning it. Of those who accept this position some draw the conclusion that vicarious baptism cannot be in Paul’s mind, others that, if he did not practice the custom himself, he at least saw no harm in it, since he too held an ex opere operato view of baptism that bordered on the magical…The idea of vicarious baptism (which is that most naturally suggested by the words used) is usually supposed to be bound up with what some would call a high sacramental, others a magical, view of baptism. Immersion in water is supposed to operate so effectively that it matters little (it seems) what body is immersed. The immersion of a living body can secure benefits to a dead man (at any rate, a dead catechumen). This however was not Paul’s view. He did not himself give close attention to baptism (i. 14-17), and though it is probable that most of the members of his churches were baptized it is quite possible that some of the Corinthian Christians had not been baptized, and by no means impossible (even if we do not, with Rissi, think of an epidemic or an accident) that a number of them may have died in this condition. There was no question of making these persons Christians; they were Christians, even though unbaptized. But baptism was was powerful proclamation of death and resurrection, and in this setting it is not impossible to conceive of a rite—practiced, it may be, only once—which Paul, though he evidently took no steps to establish it as normal Christian usage, need not actively have disapproved. And what would be the sense of it, if the dead are not raised?"
- Stephen C. Barton: "…Paul adds further ad hominem arguments against those who deny the resurrection of the dead (cf. 15:12). …the Corinthians’ own ritual practice (of surrogate baptism on behalf of the dead, a suggestive analogy for which appears in 2 Acc 12:43-45) testifies abasing denial of the resurrection of the dead and would be rendered meaningless apart from resurrection faith (15:29)."
- Richard E. Demaris: "The isolated character of 1 Corinthians 15:29 in its literary context and the lack of indicators in the verse as to the nature of the rite make it all too easy to propose a range of grammatically possible translations. But the highly speculative interpretations that result only underscore the need to place the text (and practice described therein) in the fullest possible context. Behind all attempts to remove vicarious action from baptism for the dead, one senses uneasiness about Paul or the early church’s association with a rite that appears to be 'superstitious' or 'magical' (Raeder 1955: 258–9; Rissi 1962: 89–92). (Understood vicariously, the practice would affirm that the living can ritually affect the dead.) But who is feeling the discomfort? Paul himself maintained that family members could act vicariously for each other (1 Cor 7:14), and he recognized an efficacy in eucharist that certainly appears to be 'magical' (Sellin 1986: 278; M. Smith 1980: 248): 'Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves. For this reason many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.' (1 Cor 11:28–30)...[The culture of Greco-Roman society was one] in which aiding the dead was all-important and which assumed that the world of the living could affect the world of the dead. In such a culture baptism undertaken by the living for the dead would have made perfect sense…At the very least, the adaptability of funerals to non-funerary situations opens the door to finding baptism other than where we might expect to find it, at the threshold of the church. Furthermore, two extraordinary types of funeral are noteworthy for how they elucidate baptism on behalf of the dead: (1) a replacement or substitute rite performed vicariously for the dead; and (2) funerals for the living. Both applications are imaginary rites, whose context indicates whether we further qualify them as honorary or mock. This, then, is the language for baptism on behalf of the dead that is both contextually and ritually sensitive: it was an imaginary rite of the honorary type...Isolating baptism for the dead, as Meeks did, made it mystifying to him (Meeks 1983: 162), but placing it in context has the opposite effect. Set alongside funerals for the living – those of Turannius and Pacuvius – baptism for the dead does not appear mysterious. In terms of who undergoes them, both rites reverse ordinary practice. Likewise, in light of surrogate or replacement funerals in which a person or community carried out a rite for someone in absentia – for Pertinax and the Lanuvium burial club member whose body could not be recovered – baptism on behalf of the dead falls within the typical range of ritual variation in the Greco-Roman world. In the context of other rites, therefore, baptism for the dead is, contrary to what New Testament scholars claim, not obscure."
- James D.G. Dunn: "Similarly he accepts a diversity of belief about baptism (1.10-16; 15.29). He does not insist on the sole legitimacy of his own view or of a particular view of baptism. Instead he plays down the role of baptism; it is kerygma that matters not baptism (1.17). And though in 10.1-12 he is probably arguing against a magical view of baptism, in 15.29 he shows no disapproval of the belief in vicarious baptism, baptism for the dead; on the contrary he uses the practice as an argument for the belief in resurrection...I Cor. 15.29 probably refers to a practice of vicarious baptism whereby the baptism of one was thought to secure the salvation of another already dead. Here then is indication of influences shaping the theology of baptism and developing views of baptism which are far removed from anything we have already examined. And yet Paul addresses those who held such views as members of the Christian community in Corinth – these views were held also by Christians. In other words, as soon as we move outside that sphere of Christianity most influenced by the Baptist’s inheritance the diversity of Christian thinking about baptism broadens appreciably."
- Gordon D. Fee: "First, as already noted (n. 15), this unusual use of the third person plural, when elsewhere Paul always turns such references into a word to the community as a whole (e.g., vv. 12-13, 35-36), suggests that it is not the action of the whole community. On the other hand, there is no reason to deny that it was happening with the full knowledge of the community and probably with their approval. Second, Paul’s apparently noncommittal attitude toward it, while not implying approval, would seem to suggest that he did not consider it to be as serious a fault as most interpreters do. On the other hand, it is difficult to imagine any circumstances under which Paul would think it permissible for living Christians to be baptized for the sake of unbelievers in general. Such a view, adopted in part by the Mormons, lies totally outside the NT understanding both of salvation and of baptism.[Fee is an evagelical scholar and thus is less open to scholarship that would support Latter-day Saints. There actually isn't evidence to support this view. See how he hedges in suggestion "(b) below.] Therefore, the most likely options are (a) that it reflects some believers’ being baptized for others who either were or were on their way to becoming believers when they died (e.g., as in 11:30), but had never been baptized; or (b) that it reflects the concern of members of households for some of their own number who had died before becoming believers. What they may have expected to gain from it is not quite clear, but one may guess that at least they believed baptism to be necessary for entering the final eschatological kingdom. In any case, and everything must be understood as tentative, this probably reflects the Corinthian attitude toward baptism in general, since 1:13-17 and 10:1-22 imply a rather strongly sacramental stance toward baptism on their part, with some apparently magical implications. Perhaps they believed that along with the gift of the Spirit baptism was their 'magical' point of entrance into the new pneumatism that seems to have characterized them at every turn. If so, then perhaps some of them were being baptized for others because they saw it as a way of offering similar spirituality to the departed. But finally we must admit that we simply do not know.[Interesting thing to conclude with considering his assertion before about Latter-day Saints.]
- Rolf Furuli: "There can be no question that the most natural rendering of 'baptizomenoi huper tōn nekrōn' would be 'being baptized for the dead' or 'being baptized in behalf of the dead.' In almost every other context, such a rendering would have been chosen."
- David Bentley Hart: "The practice of Christians receiving baptism on behalf of other persons who died unbaptized was evidently a common enough practice in the apostolic church that Paul can use it as a support of his argument without qualification. And the form of the Greek (ὑπὲρ τῶν νεκρῶν [hyper tōn nekrōn]) leaves no doubt that it is to just such a posthumous proxy baptism that he is referring."
- Scott M. Lewis: "Verse 29 is one of the most vigorously disputed passages in the NT. On the surface, it seems rather simple. Using the statement of the opposition as a springboard—there is no resurrection—Paul points to the inconsistency and futility of a practice of the Corinthians, i.e., being baptized on behalf of the dead. Despite the numerous attempts to explain this passage away, or get out of the difficulties and discomfort it causes, it seems better to accept the obvious surface meaning of the passage: Some Corinthians practiced a form of vicarious baptism. What is meant exactly by that, and when and under what circumstances it was practiced is impossible to answer…"
- Andrew T. Lincoln: "With regard to the problematic verse 29 it is likely that the Corinthians’ confusion is at the root of the practice which has produced an even greater confusion among later commentators. One could guess that with their bewilderment about the fate of those who had died and their strong faith in the efficacy of baptism, some Corinthians were practising a baptism for the dead which they believed might still somehow ensure a place in the kingdom for deceased believers. An ad hominem argument by the apostle points out the futility of such a practice if the dead are not raised."
- Steve Mason and Tom Robinson: "The only reference among 1st-century Christian writings to proxy baptism on behalf of those who have died without having been baptized. Myriad alternative explanations that have been proposed reflect more the interpreters’ discomfort with the plain meaning of the words than any linguistic ambiguity. Paul simply uses this example without explanation and quickly discards it (see the angels of 11:10). We have no opportunity to determine what he thinks of the custom."
- Leon Morris: "This reference to baptism for (hyper) the dead is a notorious difficulty. The most natural meaning of the expression is that some early believers got themselves baptized on behalf of friends of theirs who had died without receiving that sacrament. Thus Parry says: 'The plain and necessary sense of the words implies the existence of a practice of vicarious baptism at Corinth, presumably on behalf of believers who died before they were baptized.' He stigmatizes all other interpretations as 'evasions . . . wholly due to the unwillingness to admit such a practice, and still more to a reference to it by S. Paul without condemnation.'
- John J. O'Rourke: "Nevertheless many ancient and most modern writers understand this as a vicarious baptism received by baptized Christians on belief of deceased catechumens. The obvious difficulty is that Paul does not appear to offer any objection to this practice, so prevalent later among heretics."
- William F. Orr and James A. Walther: "The allusion to the idea and/or practice of baptism on behalf of the dead is unique in the New Testament in this passage. . . . Close inspection of the language of the reference makes all attempts to soften or eliminate its literal meaning unsuccessful. An endeavor to understand the dead as persons who are 'dead in sin' does not really help; for the condition offered, if the dead are not being raised at all, makes it clear that the apostle is writing about persons who are physically dead. It appears that under the pressure of concern for the eternal destiny of dead relatives or friends[,] some people in the church were undergoing baptism on their behalf in the belief that this would enable the dead to receive the benefits of Christ’s salvation. Paul remarks about the practice without specifying who or how many are involved and without identifying himself with them. He attaches neither praise nor blame to the custom. He does take it as an illustration of faith in a future destiny of the dead."
- Stephen E. Potthoff: "Cult of the ancestral dead in classical Greece has been thoroughly documented, and scholars have also identified the early Christian ritual of baptism for the dead mentioned by the apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 15.29) as an outgrowth of the longstanding cult of the departed in Corinth (Garland 1985: 107–120; Johnston 1999: 36–81; DeMaris 1995: 663–671)."
- Thomas R. Schreiner and Shawn D. Wright: "One of the most controversial and difficult texts in all of Pauline literature is the reference to baptism for the dead. It is not my purpose to canvas the various interpretations proposed, nor does the view argued for in this essay depend in any way upon the interpretation proposed here. What the verse suggests, however, is that baptism was considered to be indispensable for believers. The plethora of interpretations indicates that the original meaning of the verse is not easily accessible to modern readers. The difficulty of the verse is not entirely surprising, for Paul does not explain the meaning of baptism here, but instead appeals to the baptism of the dead in support his theology of the resurrection. Any baptism performed for the sake of the dead is superfluous, Paul argues, if the dead are not raised. Strictly speaking, Paul does not praise or condemn the practice of baptism for the dead, and hence a theology of baptism for the dead can scarcely be established from this verse. It seems most likely, in my judgment, that baptism for the dead was practiced when someone became a believer and died very quickly thereafter—before baptism was possible. What this verse suggests, despite its obscurity, is the importance of baptism. Baptism was considered to be the standard initiation rite for early Christians, and hence some believers at Corinth thought that baptism should be done for the sake of the dead."
- John Short: "The point is that there would be no sense in the procedure if there were no resurrection. Whatever doubts some members of the church had concerning it, there were others who were such firm believers in the Resurrection that they submitted to this rite of vicarious baptism on behalf of certain of the brethren, probably catechumens, who had passed away before they had been baptized and received into the full membership of the church. Perhaps also they had a feeling, natural enough at that stage of Christian understanding among those who had so recently been pagans, that unbaptized believers at the resurrection would not be so near to their Lord as those who had undergone the rite. Or they may have done it to ensure as far as possible that nothing would be lacking in respect of the eternal bliss of the redeemed. At its best, the vicarious ceremony was a tribute to the spirit of fellowship, of unity, and of solidarity in the community, and as such it would be sure to commend itself to Paul. There are still some survivals of this ancient Christian practice, though in the main it has fallen into disuse. In a sense it might be compared with prayers offered for the dead. They too may for some signify the deep spiritual solidarity of the Christian fellowship in heaven and on earth, in which all are one in Christ Jesus. Whatever the effect of such practices on the joy of the saints in heaven, they do reflect a kindly, generous, and Christian spirit on the part of those on earth in the desire for the continued and increasing wellbeing of those who have passed beyond the veil. Perhaps it is well to leave the matter there. Paul is content to do so, merely pointing to this ancient rite, and incidentally giving us another glimpse into the customary procedures of the early Christian fellowship as they illustrated the truth of the Resurrection. If Christ is not raised, and if therefore no resurrection of the dead, what could such baptism mean?"
- William Tabbernee: "In mainstream Christian circles, 'vicarious baptism' may have been practiced as early as the time of St. Paul (1 Cor 15:29). It was almost certainly practiced, from the second century C.E. onwards, by the Cerinthians.
- James D. Tabor: "For Paul baptism is not a symbolic ritual but a powerful spiritual activity that effected real change in the cosmos. Paul, for example, refers to some who 'baptized in behalf of the dead,' evidently referring to a practice of proxy baptism for loved ones who had died before experiencing their own baptism (1 Corinthians 15:29). Whether Paul endorsed the practice or not we cannot be sure, but it would be unlike Paul to refrain from condemning a practice he did not at least tolerate. After all, there is a sense in which all baptism is 'for the dead' since it represents a 'burial' of the dying mortal flesh in preparation for receiving the life-giving Spirit. Whatever the case, this practice of 'baptism for the dead' shows just how efficacious the activity was understood to be as a means of invoking the Christ-Spirit—even for those who had died!"
- Jeffrey A. Trumbower: "Paul alludes to a practice of some Corinthian Christians in 1 Cor. 15:29, 'Then what are they doing, those who are baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised, why are they baptized on their behalf?' Paul does not here object to this practice, whatever it is, and he uses it to convince the Corinthians that if they are baptized on behalf of the dead, they must also believe in the resurrection as Paul understands it. Enormous vats of ink have been emptied in both pre-critical and critical scholarship speculating on precisely what those Corinthian Christians were doing, why they were doing it, and Paul’s attitude toward it. A thorough 51-page survey of opinion from the second century down to 1962 was assembled by Mathis Rissi; there is no need to rehearse that entire history here. I agree with Rissi and Hans Conzelmann (and, for that matter, with Mormon prophet Joseph Smith), that the grammar and logic of the passage point to a practice of vicarious baptism of a living person for the benefit of a dead person."
This thorough treatment of the mention of baptism for the dead in 1 Corinthians 15:29 gives a meticulous analysis of Paul’s Greek argument, and lays out the dozens (or perhaps hundreds) of theories that have been put forth with respect to its interpretation. Barney concludes that “the most natural reading” and the “majority contemporary scholarly reading” is that of “vicarious baptism.” Therefore, “the Prophet Joseph Smith’s reading of the passage to refer to such a practice was indeed correct.”
Question: Does the Bible condemn genealogical research?
The Bible rejects the use of genealogies to "prove" one's righteousness, or the truth of one's teachings
The Bible does not condemn all genealogy per se. Rather, it rejects the use of genealogy to "prove" one's righteousness, or the truth of one's teachings. It also rejects the apostate uses to which some Christians put genealogy in some varieties of gnosticism.
Latter-day Saints engage in genealogical work so that they can continue the Biblical practice of providing vicarious ordinances for the dead
Latter-day Saints engage in genealogy work so that they can continue the Biblical practice—also endorsed by Paul—of providing vicarious ordinances for the dead, such as baptism (See 1 Corinthians 15:29) so that the atonement of Christ may be available to all who would choose it, living or dead. See: Baptism for the dead
The Bible clearly does not reject all uses of genealogy
The condemnation of "genealogies" in Timothy and Titus likely came because:
- the Christians perceived a Jewish tendency to be pre-occupied by "pure descent" as a qualification for holding the priesthood. Since only pure descendents of Levi could hold the priesthood, there was endless wrangling about one's pedigree—since Paul considers the Aaronic Priesthood to have been superceded by Christ, the great High Priest like Melchizedek (see Hebrews 5), this probably strikes him as pointless.
- some Jewish scribes and other teachers claimed that their "traditions" were directly descended from Moses, Joshua, or some other prominent leader, and thus superior to the Christian gospel.
- some gnostic sects had involved accounts of the descent of the Aeons (up to 365 "generations" in one scheme) and other mystic or pagan variations thereon.
Since all these genealogies were either speculative or fabricated, they could cause endless, pointless debate. Rather Paul wants the faith (in Christ) which builds up ("edifying") testimonies and lives.
Question: Is temple work a form of "ancestor worship"?
Baptism for the dead does not in any way represent "ancestor worship"
Critics Jerald and Sandra Tanner claim that Church members' "obsession with the dead approaches very close to ancestral worship." In support of this, they quote Elder Adney Y. Komatsu, Assistant to the Council of the Twelve, Ensign May 1976, p.102. The critics wish to show that baptism for the dead is a form of "ancestor worship." In order to accomplish this, they extract phrases from a story told by Elder Komatsu about a couple that wished to be married, but were denied permission by the boy's parents. The use of genealogical research was the key that opened the door to allowing the couple to eventually be married. The authors carefully extract the phrases that they want to use, thereby making it impossible to see what Elder Komatsu was actually talking about. Baptism for the dead does not in any way represent "ancestor worship," and the authors had to search pretty hard to find a quote that they could butcher sufficiently to support this conclusion.
|Reference||Original quote...||Mined quote...||Use of sources|
|The Changing World of Mormonism p. 517. "This obsession with the dead approaches very close to ancestral worship."||May I share with you this afternoon an experience that happened to a young couple who were members of the Church in Japan. They wished to be married, and as is the custom in Japan, they sought permission from their nonmember parents for the marriage to be performed. The boy’s parents refused to give permission. With concern and disappointment, the young couple prayerfully sought ways to fill their lives with meaningful Church activities and trusted that permission would be forthcoming later.
At this time Church members were planning a trip to the Hawaii Temple, and much emphasis was made and was being placed on the importance of genealogical research. So the couple joined with others in seeking out their ancestors and in planning to have the temple work done for them. The girl searched diligently through shrines, cemeteries, and government record offices, and was able to gather seventy-seven names. The boy’s uncle, who was a respected and influential member of the family, heard of this and was deeply impressed with and interested in her work. He noted the intense devotion of the girl to honoring her ancestors and suggested that such a young lady would be a good wife for his nephew. Permission was granted for the young people to be married, and the marriage was performed. Later they were sealed in the Hawaii Temple.
It is a Japanese tradition that families gather together for special holidays in January and August. As this young couple joined their family members on these special occasions, they displayed their book of remembrance, and much interest was generated in their work and in the reasons for it. They discussed with those relatives assembled their ancestral lines and the importance of completing the genealogical research. It was difficult for their nonmember families to understand the reasons for a Christian church teaching principles such as “ancestral worship,” for this was a Buddhist teaching and tradition.
Today many young men and women are completing their family group sheets and are teaching the gospel of Jesus Christ to their parents and their relatives by this method. Through genealogical research and through doing temple work for their progenitors, and especially with a temple now becoming available in Tokyo, members can so live that the gospel will yet be embraced by many more in the Orient. This great work has just begun. —Elder Adney Y. Komatsu, May 1976
|May I share with you this afternoon an experience that happened to a young couple who were members of the Church in Japan.... the couple joined with others in seeking out their ancestors and in planning to have the temple work done for them. The girl searched diligently through shrines, cemeteries, and government record offices, and was able to gather seventy-seven names.... As this young couple joined their family members ... they displayed their book of remembrance.... They discussed with those relatives assembled their ancestral lines and the importance of completing the genealogical research. It was difficult for their nonmember families to understand the reasons for a Christian church teaching principles such as "ancestral worship," for this was a Buddhist teaching and tradition.... Through genealogical research and through doing temple work for their progenitors, and especially with a temple now becoming available in Tokyo, members can so live that the gospel will yet be embraced by many more in the Orient||Elder Adney Y. Komatsu, Assistant to the Council of the Twelve, Ensign May 1976, p.102|
Charles Penrose (1912): "Baptism for the dead—How do we know which of our deceased relatives are to be baptized for"?
Charles W. Penrose, "Peculiar Questions Briefly Answered," Improvement Era Vol. 15, Num. 11 (September 1912):
Question 12: Baptism for the dead—How do we know which of our deceased relatives are to be baptized for, and how do we know when we are to be baptized for them?
Answer: If instead of "we" the questioner had used the word "you," we would answer: Often by personal revelation, always by the law of kindred and genealogy, and the direction of those divinely appointed to administer the ordinances commanded.
D. Todd Christofferson (1998): "The principle of vicarious service should not seem strange to any Christian"
D. Todd Christofferson:
The principle of vicarious service should not seem strange to any Christian. In the baptism of a living person, the officiator acts, by proxy, in place of the Savior. And is it not the central tenet of our faith that Christ’s sacrifice atones for our sins by vicariously satisfying the demands of justice for us? As President Gordon B. Hinckley has expressed: “I think that vicarious work for the dead more nearly approaches the vicarious sacrifice of the Savior Himself than any other work of which I know. It is given with love, without hope of compensation, or repayment or anything of the kind. What a glorious principle.
To see citations to the critical sources for these claims, click here
- John Sanders, introduction to What about Those Who Have Never Heard? Three Views on the Destiny of the Unevangelized, by Gabriel Fackre, Ronald H. Nash, and John Sanders (1995), 9.
- Mormonism and Early Christianity (Vol. 4 of Collected Works of Hugh Nibley), edited by Todd Compton and Stephen D. Ricks, (Salt Lake City, Utah : Deseret Book Company ; Provo, Utah : Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1987), 101.
- Alma 42:15
- See Ben Fenton, “Mormons Use Secret British War Files ‘to Save Souls,’ ” The Telegraph (London), 15 Feb. 1999.
- Greg Stott, “Ancestral Passion,” Equinox (April/May 1998): 45.
- D&C 138:58
- D. Todd Christofferson, "The Redemption of the Dead and the Testimony of Jesus," Ensign (November 2000), 9. off-site (Footnotes have in places been integrated into the main text; citation for has been slightly modified.
- John A. Tvedtnes, "Proxy Baptism," Ensign 7 (February 1977): 86. The source erroneously refers to the "Marcionites" instead of the "Cerinthians".
- 1 Corinthians 7:14.
- Doctrine and Covenants 128:18
- This obviously requires a rejection of the doctrine of sola scriptura and the affirmation of continuing revelation outside the Bible. For the best treatments of those from a Latter-day Saint perspective, see Robert S. Boylan, Not By Scripture Alone: A Latter-day Saint Refutation of Sola Scriptura (Charleston, SC: CreativeSpace, 2017). See also Robert S. Boylan, After the Order of the Son of God: The Biblical and Historical Evidence for Latter-day Saint Theology of the Priesthood (Charleston, SC: CreativeSpace, 2018).
- FairMormon thanks Jaxon Washburn for his compilation of these sources.
- Søren Agersnap, Baptism and the New Life: A Study of Romans 6:1-14 (Aarhus, Denmark: Aarhus University Press, 1999), 175–76.
- Charles Kingsley Barrett, A Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians (Harper & Row Publishers Inc, 1987), 362–364.
- Stephen C. Barton, “1 Corinthians,” Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible, James D.G. Dunn, ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2003), 1348.
- Richard E. DeMaris, The New Testament in its Ritual World (London: Routledge, 2008), 59, 63–64.
- James D.G. Dunn, Unity and Diversity in the New Testament: An Inquiry into the Nature of Earliest Christianity (London: SCM Canterbury Press, 2006), 25, 172.
- Gordon D. Fee, "The First Epistle to the Corinthians,” The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987), 766–767.
- Rolf Furuli, The Role of Theology and Bias in Bible Translation With a Special Look at the New World Translation of Jehovah’s Witnesses (Murrieta, CA: Elihu Books, 1999), 289.
- David Bentley Hart, The New Testament: A Translation (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2017), 297.
- Scott M. Lewis, So That God May Be All in All: The Apocalyptic Message of 1 Corinthians 15:12-34 (Rome, Italy: Editrice Pontificia Universitá Gregoriana, 1998), 70–71.
- Andrew T. Lincoln, Paradise Now and Not Yet: Studies in the Role of the Heavenly Dimension in Paul’s Thought with Special Reference to His Eschatology (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1981), 36.
- Steve Mason and Tom Robinson, Early Christian Reader: Christian Texts from the First and Second Centuries in Contemporary English Translations Including the New Revised Standard Version of the New Testament (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2013), 70.
- Leon Morris, The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1960), 218.
- John J. O'Rourke, "1 Corinthians,” A New Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture, Reginald C. Fuller, Leonard Johnston, and Conleth Kearns, eds. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson and Sons Ltd., 1969), 1159.
- William F. Orr and James A. Walter, 1 Corinthians: A New Translation (New York: Doubleday, 1976), 337.
- Stephen E. Potthoff, The Afterlife in Early Christian Carthage: Near-Death Experience, Ancestor Cult, and the Archeology of Paradise (London: Routledge, 2017), 3.
- Thomas R. Schreiner and Shawn D. Wright, Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ (Nashville: B&H Publishing, 2006), 130–131.
- John Short, "Exposition of First Corinthians," The Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 10, 12 vols., George Arthur, ed. (Abingdon, UK: Pierce and Washabaugh, 1953), 240.
- William Tabbernee, “Initiation/Baptism in the Montanist Movement,” Ablution, Initiation, and Baptism: Late Antiquity, Early Judaism, and Early Christianity, David Hellholm, ed. (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2011), 941.
- James D. Tabor, Paul and Jesus: How the Apostle Transformed Christianity (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010), 277–278.
- Jeffrey A. Trumbower, Rescue for the Dead: The Posthumous Salvation of Non-Christians in Early Christianity (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), 35.
- George H. Fudge, "I Have a Question: How do we interpret scriptures in the New Testament that seem to condemn genealogy?," Ensign (March 1986), 49.
- John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible, 1811-1817, New Testament, "1 Timothy 1:4" & "Titus 3:9"
- Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, and Roland E. Murphy, eds., The Jerome Biblical Commentary (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1968), 353.
- Charles W. Penrose, "Peculiar Questions Briefly Answered," Improvement Era 15 no. 11 (September 1912). off-site
- D. Todd Christofferson, "The Redemption of the Dead and the Testimony of Jesus," Ensign (January 1998).