Criticism of Mormonism/Books/The Changing World of Mormonism/Chapter 22

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Response to claims made in "Chapter 22: Temple Work"

A FAIR Analysis of: Criticism of Mormonism/Books, a work by author: Jerald and Sandra Tanner
Claim Evaluation
The Changing World of Mormonism

Response to claims made in The Changing World of Mormonism, "Chapter 22: Temple Work"

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Response to claim: 512 - Early Mormon leaders were "very confused" about baptism for the dead

The author(s) of The Changing World of Mormonism make(s) the following claim:

Early Mormon leaders were "very confused" about baptism for the dead since they performed a number of them without recording them and had to do them over.

Author's sources:
  1. Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 18:241.

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

Early leaders freely admitted their understanding grew with time; Joseph continued to instruct them (e.g., D&C 128) and they learned more after his death.

Response to claim: 514 - Baptism for the dead was not a doctrine in the early church

The author(s) of The Changing World of Mormonism make(s) the following claim:

Baptism for the dead was not a doctrine in the early church.

Author's sources:
  1. Orson Pratt's Works, 1891, p.205

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

The majority of modern scholars accept that vicarious baptism for the dead was practiced by at least some of the early Church. It is telling that the only reference is from the late 1800s.

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? [1] 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.” [2]
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.” [3]
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: 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.) [4]

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.

Tvedtnes continues:

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.) [5]

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:

  1. Vicarious baptism was practiced by the ancients
  2. 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).
  3. 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.[6] 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."[7] 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.[8]

Following is our selective listing of sources.[9] 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)."[10].
  • 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?"[11]
  • 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)."[12]
  • 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."[13]
  • 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."[14]
  • 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.][15]
  • 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."[16]
  • 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."[17]
  • 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…"[18]
  • 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."[19]
  • 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."[20]
  • 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.'[21]
  • 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."[22]
  • 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."[23]
  • 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)."[24]
  • 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."[25]
  • 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?"[26]
  • 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.[27]
  • 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!"[28]
  • 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."[29]

Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship, "Baptized for the Dead"

Kevin L. Barney,  Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship, (August 31, 2020)
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.”

Click here to view the complete article

Response to claim: 515 - Wilford Woodruff "felt he had saved" all of the presidents of the United States, except for three

The author(s) of The Changing World of Mormonism make(s) the following claim:

Wilford Woodruff "felt he had saved" all of the presidents of the United States, except for three.

Author's sources:
  1. Wilford Woodruff, Journal of Discourses 19:229.

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

Woodruff says nothing about him saving people—he says only that he had a vision in which prominent men from American history requested that their temple work be performed.

Response to claim: 515-516 - The Mormons spend millions of dollars on genealogical research that would be better spent feeding the starving people in the world

The author(s) of The Changing World of Mormonism make(s) the following claim:

The Mormons spend millions of dollars on genealogical research that would be better spent feeding the starving people in the world.

Author's sources:
  • Mormon Doctrine, 1966, pp.308-9
  • 2 Nephi 28:13"

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

Would not the hundreds of hours which the Tanners spend in researching, writing, and selling anti-Mormon propaganda be better spent in feeding starving people, helping the homeless, or any of a thousand other worthy activities? This charge presupposes its conclusion—the authors assume that there is no value in temple work. The criticism also presumes that Latter-day Saints do not spend millions of dollars annually on charitable work for members and non-members. The anti-Mormon bias and animus is on full display here. The scholarly veneer is gone.

Response to claim: 517 - Mormons are very similar to ancient Egyptians regarding their attitude toward the dead

The author(s) of The Changing World of Mormonism make(s) the following claim:

Mormons are very similar to ancient Egyptians regarding their attitude toward the dead.

Author's sources:

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The authors will need to provide some evidence beyond their mere statement. (One recalls Sandra Tanner's equally amusing claim that the Church of Jesus Christ's theology was closer to Hinduism than Christianity.[30])

Response to claim: 517 - The Mormon "obsession with the dead" is close to "ancestral worship"

The author(s) of The Changing World of Mormonism make(s) the following claim:

The Mormon "obsession with the dead" is close to "ancestral worship."

Author's sources:
  1. Ensign, May 1976, p.102

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The idea is absurd. The authors quote mine the Ensign.

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

Response to claim: 517-518 - Paul said to avoid "endless genealogies"

The author(s) of The Changing World of Mormonism make(s) the following claim:

Paul said to avoid "endless genealogies."

Author's sources:
  • 1 Tim. 1:4
  • Titus 3:9

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

The Bible is not condemning genealogical research. The Bible rejects the use of "endless genealogies" to "prove" one's righteousness, or the truth of one's teachings.

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

Critics charge that the Bible condemns genealogy, and therefore the Latter-day Saint practice of compiling family histories is anti-Biblical, often citing 1 Timothy 1:4 or Titus 3:9.

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

This can be seen through its many genealogical lists, including two such lists for Jesus Christ Himself. (See Matthew 1:1–24 and Luke 3:23–38.)

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.[31]
  • 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.[32]

Since all these genealogies were either speculative or fabricated, they could cause endless, pointless debate.[33] Rather Paul wants the faith (in Christ) which builds up ("edifying") testimonies and lives.

Learn more about alleged condemnation of genealogy in the bible
  • Stephen R. Gibson, Why Don't Latter-day Saints Avoid "Endless Genealogy"?off-site
  • George H. Fudge, "I Have a Question: How do we interpret scriptures in the New Testament that seem to condemn genealogy?," Ensign (March 1986):
  • Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, and Roland E. Murphy, eds., The Jerome Biblical Commentary (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1968), 353.
Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

Response to claim: 518 - The Book of Mormon is supposed to contain "the fulness of the Gospel," yet it doesn't teach baptism for the dead

The author(s) of The Changing World of Mormonism make(s) the following claim:

The Book of Mormon is supposed to contain "the fulness of the Gospel," yet it doesn't teach baptism for the dead.

Author's sources:
  1. Pearl of Great Price, p.51, v.34

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The Book of Mormon is correct in the doctrines and principles it teaches, but it does not claim to contain all truth.

Question: What does it mean when it is said that the Book of Mormon contains the "fulness of the gospel?"

The Book of Mormon contains the fulness of the Gospel, for the purpose of convincing Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ

The Lord declared that he had given Joseph Smith "power from on translate the Book of Mormon; which contains a record of a fallen people, and the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles and to the Jews also" (D&C 20꞉8-9; cf. D&C 27꞉5; D&C 42꞉12; D&C 135꞉3).

The Book of Mormon is correct in the doctrines and principles it teaches, but it does not claim to contain all truth. Its own self-described purpose is to "the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that JESUS is the CHRIST, the ETERNAL GOD, manifesting himself unto all nations" (title page), and that these teachings are "plain and precious" (1 Nephi 13꞉35,40; 1 Nephi 19꞉3). For the most part, the Book of Mormon does not concern itself with the deeper mysteries of God.

The book itself admits that it does not contain all the doctrines the Lord wants us to know. The prophet Mormon explained that he only recorded "the lesser part of the things which [Jesus] taught the people," for the intent that "when [the Book of Mormon reader] shall have received this...if it shall so be that they shall believe these things then shall the greater things be made manifest unto them" (3 Nephi 26꞉8-9; compare Alma 26꞉22).

What is the gospel?

In the Book of Mormon, Jesus Christ gave a specific definition of "the gospel":

Behold I have given unto you my gospel, and this is the gospel which I have given unto you—that I came into the world to do the will of my Father, because my Father sent me.

And my Father sent me that I might be lifted up upon the cross; and after that I had been lifted up upon the cross, that I might draw all men unto me, that as I have been lifted up by men even so should men be lifted up by the Father, to stand before me, to be judged of their works, whether they be good or whether they be evil—

And for this cause have I been lifted up; therefore, according to the power of the Father I will draw all men unto me, that they may be judged according to their works.

And it shall come to pass, that whoso repenteth and is baptized in my name shall be filled; and if he endureth to the end, behold, him will I hold guiltless before my Father at that day when I shall stand to judge the world.

And he that endureth not unto the end, the same is he that is also hewn down and cast into the fire, from whence they can no more return, because of the justice of the Father.

And this is the word which he hath given unto the children of men. And for this cause he fulfilleth the words which he hath given, and he lieth not, but fulfilleth all his words.

And no unclean thing can enter into his kingdom; therefore nothing entereth into his rest save it be those who have washed their garments in my blood, because of their faith, and the repentance of all their sins, and their faithfulness unto the end.

(3 Nephi 27꞉13-19, italics added.)

In this passage, Jesus defines "the gospel" as:

  1. Christ came into the world to do the Father's will.
  2. The Father sent Christ to be crucified.
  3. Because of Christ's atonement, all men will be judged by him according to their works (as opposed to not receiving a judgment at all and being cast out of God's presence by default; 2 Nephi 9꞉8-9).
  4. Those who repent and are baptized shall be filled (with the Holy Ghost, see 3 Nephi 12꞉6), and
  5. if they continue in faith by enduring to the end they will be justified (declared "not guilty") by Christ before the Father, but
  6. if they don't endure they will be subject to the justice of God and cast out of his presence.
  7. The Father's words will all be fulfilled.
  8. Because no unclean thing can enter the Father's heavenly kingdom, only those who rely in faith on the atonement of Christ, repent, and are faithful to the end can be saved.

This is "the gospel." The Book of Mormon teaches these concepts with a plainness and clarity unequaled by any other book. It has therefore been declared by the Lord to contain "the fulness of the gospel." The primary message of the gospel, the "good news" of Jesus Christ, is that he has atoned for our sins and prepared a way for us to come back into the presence of the Father. This is the message of the Book of Mormon, and it contains it in its fulness.

Question: How can the Book of Mormon contain the "fulness of the Gospel" if it does not speak of ordinances such as baptism for the dead or celestial marriage?

The Book of Mormon does not contain detailed descriptions of many religious topics and ordinances, such as eternal marriage or baptism for the dead

Is it possible that the Book of Mormon cannot contain "the fulness of the gospel" because it doesn't teach certain unique LDS doctrines, such as baptism for the dead, the Word of Wisdom, the three degrees of glory, celestial marriage, vicarious work for the dead, and the corporeal nature of God the Father?

There are many religious topics and doctrines which The Book of Mormon does not discuss in detail (e.g., the premortal existence—see Alma 13), and some which are not even mentioned (e.g., the ordinance of baptism for the dead).

This is unsurprising, since the Book of Mormon's goal is to teach the "fulness of the gospel"—the doctrine of Christ.

Harold B. Lee: "our scoffers say, 'How can you say that the Book of Mormon has the fulness of the gospel when it doesn't speak of baptism for the dead?'"

Of this criticism, Harold B. Lee said:

Now, our scoffers say, "How can you say that the Book of Mormon has the fulness of the gospel when it doesn't speak of baptism for the dead?" Some of you may have asked that question.

What is the gospel as it is defined? Let me give you how the Lord defines the gospel, in these words: "And verily, verily, I say unto you, he that receiveth my gospel receiveth me; and he that receiveth not my gospel receiveth not me. And this is my gospel—repentance and baptism by water, and then cometh the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost, even the Comforter, which showeth all things, and teacheth the peaceable things of the kingdom." (D&C 39꞉5-6.)

Wherever you have a restoration of the gospel, where those fundamental ordinances and the power of the Holy Ghost are among men, there you have the power by which the Lord can reveal all things that pertain to the kingdom in detail, don't you see, including baptism for the dead, which He has done in our day. That is what the Prophet Joseph Smith meant when he was questioned, "How does your church differ from all the other churches?" and his answer was simple, "We are different from all the other churches because we have the Holy Ghost." (See History of the Church 4:42.) Therein we have the teachings of the fulness of those essentials in the Book of Mormon upon the foundations of which the kingdom of God is established.[34]

BYU professor Noel Reynolds wrote:

The gospel of Jesus Christ is not synonymous with the plan of salvation (or plan of redemption), but is a key part thereof. Brigham Young stated that the 'Gospel of the Son of God that has been revealed is a plan or system of laws and ordinances, by strict obedience to which the people who inhabit this earth are assured that they may return again into the presence of the Father and the Son.' While the plan of salvation is what God and Christ have done for mortals in the creation, the fall, the atonement, the final judgment, and the salvation of the world, the gospel contains the instructions--the laws and ordinances--that enable human beings to make the atonement effective in their lives and thereby gain salvation.[35]

Response to claim: 520 - Jesus "taught the opposite" of eternal marriage when he said that people "neither marry, nor are given in marriage" in the afterlife

The author(s) of The Changing World of Mormonism make(s) the following claim:

Jesus "taught the opposite" of eternal marriage when he said that people "neither marry, nor are given in marriage" in the afterlife.

Author's sources:
  1. Luke 20:34-36

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

This is incorrect.

Question: Does Jesus Christ's statement "they neither marry, nor are given in marriage" contradict the Latter-day Saint doctrine of eternal marriage?

Jesus Christ was responding to the Sadducees, who didn't believe in the resurrection

Matthew 22꞉23-30 (or its counterparts, Mark 12꞉18-25 and Luke 20꞉27-36) is often used by critics to argue against the LDS doctrine of eternal marriage.

The Sadducees, who didn't believe in the resurrection, asked the Savior about a case where one woman successively married seven brothers, each of which died leaving her to the next. They then tried to trip up Jesus by asking him whose wife she will be in the resurrection. Jesus' answer is almost identical in all three scriptural versions.

Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven. (Matthew 22꞉29-30)

The Greek Contradicts Critics' Interpretation of the Verse

The underlying Greek of the passage contradicts our critics' interpretation of this passage. Latter-day Saint apologist Kevin L. Barney observed:

At this point Jesus corrects the mistaken understanding of the Sadducees to the effect that the resurrection is simply a continuation of mortal life as we know it. The time for entering into marriages is mortality; the nature of life in the hereafter will change from that which we are accustomed to here and now. The expressions “marry” [gamousin] and “given in marriage” [gamizontai] translate forms of the related Greek verbs gameō and gamizō, which have to do with the act of becoming married. The first verb is used here to refer to men and the second to women. If Matthew had wanted to report that Christ had said in effect “Neither are they now in a married state (because of previously performed weddings),” the Greek in which he wrote would have let him say so unambiguously. He would have used a perfect tense [gegamēkasin] or a participial form [gamēsas] of the verb. He did not, so that cannot be what he meant. Jesus said nothing about the married state of those who are in heaven. By using the present indicative form of the verb, Matthew reports Jesus as saying in effect “In the resurrection, there are no marriages performed.” Jesus goes on to compare those in the resurrection to the angels of God, for unlike mortals they will never die and, according to Jewish tradition, they do not need to eat. The key point is that, contrary to the misconceptions of the Sadducees, life in the resurrection will be different in many ways from life in mortality. (Jesus then goes on to make an additional argument in favor of the resurrection in the following verses.)

The main point of the passage is not to refute the Saducee's faulty beliefs about marriage in the resurrection, but moreso to demonstrate that their non-belief in a resurrection was faulty. Jesus quickly dismissed their question about marriage by saying that marriages are not performed in the resurrection and then launches into a masterful Old Testament case for belief in the resurrection.

Non-Latter-day Saint scholar Ben Witherington offers exegesis which agrees with Latter-day Saint understandings of this verse.[36]

Latter-day Saint apologist and theologian Robert Boylan has great thoughts on this verse in a blogpost responding to Christadelphian critics.[37]

Early Latter-day Saints did not see any difficulty in reconciling it to their views on eternal marriage: Jesus was talking about marriage for time, not eternity

Latter-day Saint scripture discussed it specifically:

15 Therefore, if a man marry him a wife in the world, and he marry her not by me nor by my word, and he covenant with her so long as he is in the world and she with him, their covenant and marriage are not of force when they are dead, and when they are out of the world; therefore, they are not bound by any law when they are out of the world.
16 Therefore, when they are out of the world they neither marry nor are given in marriage; but are appointed angels in heaven, which angels are ministering servants, to minister for those who are worthy of a far more, and an exceeding, and an eternal weight of glory.
17 For these angels did not abide my law; therefore, they cannot be enlarged, but remain separately and singly, without exaltation, in their saved condition, to all eternity; and from henceforth are not gods, but are angels of God forever and ever (D&C 132꞉15-17) (emphasis added)

Joseph did not need to go back and correct the Bible each time he received a new revelation

So if the Doctrine and Covenants clarifies or corrects a teaching the Bible, then why didn't Joseph go back and correct the Bible as well? Because it simply wasn't necessary for him to continuously revise the Bible based upon new revelation. The Doctrine and Covenants, like the Book of Mormon, is considered to be scripture and an equal companion to the Bible. That is, after all, the purpose of receiving new scripture..

When Joseph Smith performed his inspired "translation" of the Bible, he clarified and revised a number of items. This was a continuous process that involved various portions of the Bible - it was not performed from "start to finish." He did not consider it necessary to revise the Bible every single time he received a new revelation.

Response to claim: 530-534 - The endowment has been changed over the years

The author(s) of The Changing World of Mormonism make(s) the following claim:

The endowment has been changed over the years.

Author's sources:

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim is based upon correct information - The author is providing knowledge concerning some particular fact, subject, or event

The method of presentation of the endowment has changed over the years.

Question: Why would the Church remove or alter elements of the temple ceremony if these ceremonies were revealed by God?

There is a difference between the ordinance of the endowment and the mechanism used in the presentation of the ordinance

Latter-day Saints believe that the Temple endowment is an eternal ordinance that Joseph Smith received by revelation from God. Why, then, have changes been made to it several times since it was first revealed?

People sometimes confuse the ordinance of the endowment with the presentation of the endowment. The presentation has undergone many changes since the time of Joseph Smith as it is adjusted to meet the needs of a modern and ever changing membership.

Joseph Smith restored the endowment ordinance, but the method of presentation of the ordinance is adapted to fit the needs of the times. There would be no point in having continuing revelation, a founding idea of our faith, if we are not permitted to advance and meet new needs. God’s directives and how He deals with His people may vary according to His people’s understanding and needs. God doesn’t tell everyone to build an ark and wait for a flood. Changes sometimes occur as a result of God dealing with His children according to their changing circumstances.

Question: Did ceremonies or practices ever change in the ancient Church?

Major changes in practices took place during Jesus Christ’s ministry

We know that major changes in practices took place during Jesus Christ’s ministry. Christ fulfilled the Law of Moses and practices associated with that law were no longer necessary. Changes also took place after Christ's earthly ministry. For example, Christ originally taught the gospel only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel (Matt. 15:24) and forbade His apostles from going to the Gentiles (Matthew 10:5–6). After Jesus' death Peter was commanded by an angel to take the gospel to all people (Acts 10, Acts 11; Matt 28:19). Following Jesus Christ’s mortal ministry the practice of circumcision also became unnecessary (Acts 15, Galatians 6:15). Changes in the Church are sometimes necessary. Such changes, however, must be done by inspiration or revelation from the head of the Church, who is Jesus Christ.

Relative truths can change, while absolute truths do not

There are absolute truths and relative truths. Absolute truths (such as: God lives and Jesus is the Christ) do not change. Relative truths or practices (such as: circumcision, plural marriage, and age of priesthood ordination) do change. Many relative truths deal with procedural issues, and how absolute truths are presented, rather than the absolute truths themselves. As additional truths are revealed, our understanding of previous revelation is modified to accommodate additional light.

That the temple ceremonies have undergone occasional changes, improvements, and refinements, should cause no concern since—as Joseph Fielding Smith noted—the “work of salvation for the dead came to the Prophet [Joseph Smith] like every other doctrine — piecemeal. It was not revealed all at once.”[38]

President Brigham Young gave a brief definition of the endowment and thereby identified some of its essential elements. He said,

"Your endowment is, to receive all those ordinances in the House of the Lord, which are necessary for you, after you have departed this life, to enable you to walk back to the presence of the Father, passing the angels who stand as sentinels, being enabled to give them the key words, the signs and tokens, pertaining to the Holy Priesthood, and gain your eternal exaltation in spite of earth and hell."[39]

On 4 May 1842, after President Joseph Smith gave the first Nauvoo-era endowment to a small group of Latter-day Saints he told apostle Brigham Young that because of their limited spacial circumstances the overall experience was “not arranged perfectly” and he wanted Brigham to “organize and systematize” the ceremonies. This indicates there were some presentational modifications allowable in the rites while still preserving the core elements of the experience.

Question: Is it ever allowable to modify a religious ceremony?

The ceremony by which the endowment is administered is subject to modification, but the elements of the endowment are not

Harold B. Lee emphasized that the means by which the endowment and its message are presented are subject to modification

Now, you think for a moment—in the upper office over [Joseph Smith's] store, with no equipment like we have in our temples today, the endowment had to be given by lecture. The Prophet Joseph Smith through these, his counselors, and others as you heard their names, attended to the matters that we now have given in various ways. Sometimes our people who go through the temples are a bit startled because of the varied ways in which the endowment is presented. Perhaps, as under inspiration they studied the nature of the endowment, they thought to make it a little more meaningful to the patrons who would come: part by dramatization, part by question and answer, part by lecture, part by picturization on the walls of some of the temples. We have artists who have tried to put those who go through the temple in the mood of the lesson to be taught as they proceed through the temple.
....But it is the same message that was given by lecture by the Prophet Joseph Smith in his office over [his] store. Now, when we have that in mind, we will see why the Prophet, in the beginning of this dispensation, gave certain instructions to have the brethren stimulated in their thinking.[40]

Response to claim: 535-547 - The endowment was derived from Freemasonry

The author(s) of The endowment was derived from Freemasonry make(s) the following claim:

The endowment was derived from Freemasonry.

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

Joseph implemented elements of the endowment prior to his association with Freemasonry, and some elements of Freemasonry were used in the presentation of the endowment.

Question: When did Joseph Smith demonstrate knowledge of the elements of the endowment ritual?

Joseph Smith knew of Nauvoo-era endowment theology early on in his prophetic career

Critics have noted that Joseph's initiation into Freemasonry (15–16 March 1842) predates his introduction of the full temple endowment among the Saints (4 May 1842). They thus claim that Masonry was a necessary element for Joseph's self-generated "revelation" of the Nauvoo-era temple ceremonies.

Joseph demonstrated knowledge of temple theology very early on in his prophetic career. Matthew Brown offered this timeline for consideration:

  • 16 February 1832 (D&C 76:50-70): Joseph Smith learned by vision about being sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise, Kings and Priests, the Church of the Firstborn, and godhood.
  • 22 September 1832 (D&C 84:18-26, 31-34): Joseph Smith learned by revelation that Moses knew of Melchizedek Priesthood ordinances that would enable one to enter into the Lord's presence.
  • 2 February-2 July 1833 (JST Isaiah 34:16): Joseph Smith learned that none of those whose names are written in the book of the Lord "shall want [i.e., lack] their mate," suggesting the permanent sealing together of husband and wife. [46]
  • 5 July 1835 (HC, 2:235-36): The Church acquired several ancient Egyptian papyrus scrolls that contained, among other things, the writings of Abraham and Joseph. It has been demonstrated that some of the material on these scrolls is related to Egyptian temple ceremonies (compare Abraham 1:26; see explanations to Facsimile 2).
  • 20 January 1836 (HC, 2:377-78): The Prophet conducted a marriage ceremony "after the order of heaven." The couple took each other by the hand, and the Prophet invoked upon them "the blessings of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob."
  • 3 April 1836 (D&C 110): Keys pertaining to the temple ordinances that were eventually practiced in the Nauvoo period were restored to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery in the Kirtland Temple.
  • 15 March 1839 (HC, 3:286): Joseph Smith informed a member of the Church" "I never have had [an] opportunity to give [the Saints] the paln that God has revealed unto me."
  • 27 June 1839 (WJS, 6): The Prophet made the first of several known references to methods of discerning between spiritual beings sent from God and deceptive spirits who attempt to pass themselves off as heavenly messengers. These methods were considered to be some of "the keys of the kingdom of God." The Prophet's teachings are now published in section 129 of the Doctrine and Covenants.
  • 18 June 1840 (HC, 4:137): Joseph Smith stated his desire to continue translating the Egyptian papyrus scrolls obtained by the Church in 1835.
  • 15 August 1840 (WJS, 37, 49; HC, 4:231): During a funeral sermon the Prophet read 1 Corinthians 15:29 and announced that baptism for the dead would be practiced in the Nauvoo Temple.
  • 31 August 1840 (HC, 4:184-87): The First Presidency stated in a general letter to all Latter-day Saints that the priesthood was yet to be established in its fullness and the Kingdom of God built up in all of its glory. They announced that they had been given "the pattern and design" to accomplish this and emphasized that everything the Saints had accomplished so far would pale in comparison to what was about to occur. In connection with this they spoke of the necessity of building the Nauvoo Temple.
  • 19 January 1841 (D&C 124:28, 34, 38-41, 95, 97): The Lord revealed that the fullness of the priesthood would be restored and practiced in the Nauvoo Temple, spoke of certain "keys" whereby one could ask for and receive blessings, and provided a detailed outline of what the Nauvoo Temple ordinances would consist of. The Lord also stated that the ordinances that were about to be restored were once practiced in the tabernacle built by Moses and in the temple constructed by king Solomon.
  • 5 May 1841: William Appleby visited the Prophet who showed him the three Egyptian facsimiles that are now published in the Book of Abraham and evidently showed him written explanations of their various parts. These explanations, as recorded in Appleby's journal, closely match the printed explanations that now accompany the Book of Abraham facsimiles. Appleby recorded that one part of Facsimile #2 presented "the Lord revealing the Grand Key Words of the Holy Priesthood to Adam in the Garden of Eden, as also to Seth, Noah, Melchizedek, Abraham, and to all whom the Priesthood was revealed."[41] The note from Appleby is found in his journal a little less than a year before Joseph's initiation into the Masonic Lodge at Nauvoo (15-16 March 1842).
  • 31 October 1841 (HC, 4:443-44): Hyrum Smith informed a group of Latter-day Saints that within the Nauvoo Temple "the key of knowledge that unfolds the dispensation of the fullness of times may be turned, and the mysteries of God be unfolded."
  • 4 March 1842 (HC 4:543): The Prophet gave Reuben Hedlock instructions regarding the "explanations" that were to accompany Facsimile #2 when it was published in the Times and Seasons. These "explanations" made mention of "the grand Key-words of the Holy Priesthood" and also indicated that this Egyptian hypocephalus contained "writings that cannot be revealed unto the world but [are] to be had in the holy temple of God."

In evidence of these fact, we find that upon his initiation into Masonry Joseph Smith was already explaining things which the Masons themselves did not comprehend. According to one witness:

"the Prophet explained many things about the rites that even Masons do not pretend to understand but which he made most clear and beautiful." [42]

Question: Why would Joseph Smith incorporate Masonic elements into the temple ritual?

There are two aspects of temple worship: The teaching of the endowment, and the presentation of the endowment

In order to understand the relationship between the temple endowment and Freemasonry it is useful to consider the temple experience. In the temple, participants are confronted with ritual in a form which is unknown in LDS worship outside of that venue. In the view of some individuals the temple endowment is made up of two parts:

  1. The teachings of the endowment, i.e., the doctrines taught and the covenants made with God.
  2. The method of presenting the endowment, or the "ritual" mechanics themselves.

It is in the ritual presentation of the endowment teachings and covenants that the similarities between the LDS temple worship and Freemasonry are the most apparent. The question is, why would this be the case?

Joseph's challenge was to find a method of presenting the endowment that would be effective

It is the opinion of some people that in developing the endowment Joseph Smith faced a problem. He wished to communicate, in a clear and effective manner, some different (and, in some cases, complex) religious ideas. These included such abstract concepts as

  • the nature of creation (matter being organized and not created out of nothing)
  • humanity's relationship to God and to each other
  • eternal marriage and exaltation in the afterlife

The theory is that Joseph needed to communicate these ideas to a diverse population; some with limited educational attainments, many of whom were immigrants; several with only modest understanding of the English language; all of whom possessed different levels of intellectual and spiritual maturity—but who needed to be instructed through the same ceremony.

Ritual and repetition are important teaching tools

Joseph Smith's very brief experience with Freemasonry before the introduction of the full LDS endowment may have reminded him of the power of instruction through ritual and repetition. Some people believe that Joseph may have seized upon Masonic tools as teaching devices for the endowment's doctrines and covenants during the Nauvoo era. Other people are of the opinion that since these elements were previously present in the worship of the Kirtland Temple they were not 'borrowed' by the Prophet at all.

Regardless, the use of symbols was characteristic of Joseph Smith's era; it was not unique to him or Masonry:

Symbols on buildings, in literature, stamped on manufactured goods, etc. were not endemic to Mormons and Masons but were common throughout all of mid-nineteenth century American society (as even a cursory inspection of books, posters, buildings and photos of the periods will bear out.) So, assuming [Joseph] Smith felt a need to communicate specific principles to his Saints, he might naturally develop a set of easily understood symbols as were already in familiar use about him. [43]

Question: How do the goals of Freemasonry compare to those of the Latter-day Saint endowment?

The goals of Masonry and the LDS endowment are not the same

It is worth noting that some of the similarities between the endowment and Freemasonry which are highlighted by Church critics are only superficial. For example, critics typically focus on the common use of architectural elements on the Salt Lake Temple and in Masonry, even though the endowment makes no reference to such elements. In almost every case, shared symbolic forms have different meanings, and thus should not be seen as exact parallels.

It should also be emphasized that the goals of Masonry and the LDS endowment are not the same. Both teach important truths, but the truths they teach are different. Masonry teaches of man's relationship to his fellow men and offers no means of salvation; i.e., it is not a religion. The temple endowment, on the other hand, teaches of man's relationship to God, and Latter-day Saints consider it to be essential for exaltation in the world to come.

Question: Where did 19th-Century Latter-day Saints believe that Freemasonry came from?

It was a common 19th century belief of both Mormons and Masons that Masonry had it origins in the Temple of Solomon

The Saints of Joseph Smith's era accepted the then-common belief that Masonry ultimately sprang from Solomon's temple. Thus, Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball understood Masonry to be a corrupted form of a pristine ancient temple rite. [44] One author later wrote that masonry as an "institution dates its origins many centuries back, it is only a perverted Priesthood stolen from the Temples of the Most High." [45]

It was a common 19th century belief of both Latter-day Saints and Masons that Freemasonry had it origins in the Temple of Solomon. Some modern Masons continue to hold to this idea, or believe Masonry is (at least in part) derived from other ancient sources. Although this is a minority view that has been forcefully challenged, it was the view held by the early Latter-day Saints and apparently the prophet Joseph Smith himself.

Early Latter-day Saints' views of Freemasonry

Joseph Fielding wrote during the Nauvoo period:

Many have joined the Masonic institution. This seems to have been a stepping stone or preparation for something else, the true origin of Masonry. This I have also seen and rejoice in it.... I have evidence enough that Joseph is not fallen. I have seen him after giving, as I before said, the origin of Masonry. [46]

Heber C. Kimball wrote of the endowment:

We have received some precious things through the Prophet on the Priesthood which would cause your soul to rejoice. I cannot give them to you on paper for they are not to be written so you must come and get them for yourself...There is a similarity of Priesthood in Masonry. Brother Joseph says Masonry was taken from Priesthood but has become degenerated. But many things are perfect. [47]

Thus, to Joseph's contemporaries, there was much more to the LDS temple endowment than just warmed-over Freemasonry. None of Joseph's friends complained that he had simply adapted Masonic ritual for his own purposes. Rather, they were aware of the common ritual elements, but understood that Joseph had restored something that was both ancient and divinely inspired.

Early Church leaders believed that Freemasonry was an "apostate" form of the Endowment

  • Willard Richards (16 March 1842): “Masonry had its origin in the Priesthood. A hint to the wise is sufficient.” [48]
  • Heber C. Kimball (17 June 1842): “There is a similarity of priesthood in Masonry. Brother Joseph [Smith] says Masonry was taken from priesthood.” [49]
  • Benjamin F. Johnson (1843): Joseph Smith “told me Freemasonry, as at present, was the apostate endowments, as sectarian religion was the apostate religion.” [50]
  • Joseph Fielding (December 1843): The LDS temple ordinances are “the true origin of Masonry.” [51]
  • Saints in Salt Lake City (1849–50): “Masonry was originally of the church, and one of its favored institutions, to advance the members in their spiritual functions. It had become perverted from its designs.” [52]
  • Heber C. Kimball (9 November 1858): “The Masonry of today is received from the apostasy. . . . They have now and then a thing that is correct, but we have the real thing.” [53]
  • Church Authorities (1842–1873): “The Mormon leaders have always asserted that Free-Masonry was a . . . degenerate representation of the order of the true priesthood.” [54]

Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship, "Freemasonry and the Origins of Modern Temple Ordinances"

Jeffrey M. Bradshaw,  Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship, (June 5, 2015)
Joseph Smith taught that the origins of modern temple ordinances go back beyond the foundation of the world.1 Even for believers, the claim that rites known anciently have been restored through revelation raises complex questions because we know that revelation almost never occurs in a vacuum. Rather, it comes most often through reflection on the impressions of immediate experience, confirmed and elaborated through subsequent study and prayer.2 Because Joseph Smith became a Mason not long before he began to introduce others to the Nauvoo endowment, some suppose that Masonry must have been the starting point for his inspiration on temple matters. The real story, however, is not so simple. Though the introduction of Freemasonry in Nauvoo helped prepare the Saints for the endowment — both familiarizing them with elements they would later encounter in the Nauvoo temple and providing a blessing to them in its own right — an analysis of the historical record provides evidence that significant components of priesthood and temple doctrines, authority, and ordinances were revealed to the Prophet during the course of his early ministry, long before he got to Nauvoo. Further, many aspects of Latter-day Saint temple worship are well attested in the Bible and elsewhere in antiquity. In the minds of early Mormons, what seems to have distinguished authentic temple worship from the many scattered remnants that could be found elsewhere was the divine authority of the priesthood through which these ordinances had been restored and could now be administered in their fulness. Coupled with the restoration of the ordinances themselves is the rich flow of modern revelation that clothes them with glorious meanings. Of course, temple ordinances — like all divine communication — must be adapted to different times, cultures, and practical circumstances. Happily, since the time of Joseph Smith, necessary alterations of the ordinances have been directed by the same authority that first restored them in our day.

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  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Alma 42꞉15
  4. John A. Tvedtnes, "Proxy Baptism," Ensign 7 (February 1977): 86. The source erroneously refers to the "Marcionites" instead of the "Cerinthians".
  5. Ibid.
  6. 1 Corinthians 7:14.
  7. Doctrine and Covenants 128:18
  8. 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).
  9. FairMormon thanks Jaxon Washburn for his compilation of these sources.
  10. Søren Agersnap, Baptism and the New Life: A Study of Romans 6:1-14 (Aarhus, Denmark: Aarhus University Press, 1999), 175–76.
  11. Charles Kingsley Barrett, A Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians (Harper & Row Publishers Inc, 1987), 362–364.
  12. Stephen C. Barton, “1 Corinthians,” Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible, James D.G. Dunn, ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2003), 1348.
  13. Richard E. DeMaris, The New Testament in its Ritual World (London: Routledge, 2008), 59, 63–64.
  14. 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.
  15. Gordon D. Fee, "The First Epistle to the Corinthians,” The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987), 766–767.
  16. 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.
  17. David Bentley Hart, The New Testament: A Translation (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2017), 297.
  18. 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.
  19. 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.
  20. 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.
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  22. 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.
  23. William F. Orr and James A. Walter, 1 Corinthians: A New Translation (New York: Doubleday, 1976), 337.
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  25. Thomas R. Schreiner and Shawn D. Wright, Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ (Nashville: B&H Publishing, 2006), 130–131.
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  28. James D. Tabor, Paul and Jesus: How the Apostle Transformed Christianity (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010), 277–278.
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  30. See citation in Daniel C. Peterson, "What Certain Baptists Think They Know about the Restored Gospel (Review of The Mormon Puzzle: Understanding and Witnessing to Latter-day Saints by North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention)," FARMS Review of Books 10/1 (1998): 12–96. off-site
  31. 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.
  32. John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible, 1811-1817, New Testament, "1 Timothy 1:4" & "Titus 3:9"
  33. Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, and Roland E. Murphy, eds., The Jerome Biblical Commentary (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1968), 353.
  34. Harold B. Lee, Teachings of Harold B. Lee (Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1996), 156.
  35. Noel B. Reynolds, "The Gospel of Jesus Christ as Taught by the Nephite Prophets," Brigham Young University Studies 31 no. 3 (Summer 1991), 33.
  36. Ben Witherington, The Gospel of Mark: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2001), 328–29
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  38. Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols., (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954–56), 168.
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  43. Allen D. Roberts, "Where are the All-Seeing Eyes?," Sunstone 4 no. (Issue #5) (May 1979), 26. off-site off-site(emphasis added)
  44. See Footnote 30, Matthew B. Brown, "Of Your Own Selves Shall Men Arise, Review of The Mysteries of Godliness: A History of Mormon Temple Worship by David John Buerger," FARMS Review of Books 10/1 (1998): 97–131. off-site
  45. H. Belnap, "A Mysterious Preacher," The Instructor 21 no. ? (15 March 1886), 91.; cited in Matthew B. Brown, "Of Your Own Selves Shall Men Arise, Review of The Mysteries of Godliness: A History of Mormon Temple Worship by David John Buerger," FARMS Review of Books 10/1 (1998): 97–131. off-site
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  47. Heber C. Kimball to Parley P. Pratt, 17 June 1842, Parley P. Pratt Papers, Church Archives, Salt Lake City, Utah, spelling and punctuation standardized.
  48. Letter, 7–25 March 1842, Willard Richards to Levi Richards, published in Joseph Grant Stevenson, ed., Richards Family History (Provo, UT: Stevenson’s Genealogical Center, 1991), 3:90.
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  50. Benjamin F. Johnson, My Life’s Review (Heber City, UT: Archive Publishers, 2001), 113.
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