A writer to
Contender Ministries once asked why Mormons are so
interested in genealogies.
The answer lies in their most prolific temple
ceremony – baptism for the dead.
LDS members are directed to research their ancestry,
so that they might be baptized “by proxy” for those
members of their family who died without having received a
Mormon baptism during their lifetime.
This includes people who died before Joseph Smith
instituted Mormonism, as well as all those who died without
having accepted the LDS Church as the “one, true
this article, we’ll examine this odd ritual, and see what
the Bible has to say about it.
The practice of
water baptism started with the ministry of John the Baptist.
Some claim that baptism as a Jewish practice
pre-dated John, but that’s not entirely accurate.
The ritual cleansing with water in Judaism (called
the Mikvah), was reserved for priests who cleansed
themselves before approaching the altar in the temple to
perform sacrifices. This
is not the same as the baptism that accompanied conversion
in Christianity. In the Bible, baptism took the form of full immersion into a
body of water (the Greek baptizo actually means “to
Catholics, Lutherans, Episcopalians, and Eastern Orthodox
typically use a form of sprinkling, where other Protestant
denominations favor full immersion.
act of baptism does not confer salvation.
The Bible is clear that salvation is gained from
faith apart from works (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Mormons and several other cultic or aberrant
movements don’t agree.
As works-based religions, they include baptism as a
means for gaining salvation.
To buttress this doctrine, they love to point to Acts
verse, part of Peter’s proclamation of the gospel on the
day of Pentecost, reads, “Then Peter said unto them,
Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of
Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive
the gift of the Holy Ghost.”
It is important
to note that in those days, baptism usually occurred shortly
after conversion. To
say that Acts 2:38 joins baptism with repentance as co-equal
works of gaining salvation is to misinterpret this verse in
light of other scripture.
The Book of Acts demonstrates that baptism is a sign
of conversion, not a means to salvation. In Acts 10:47, believers were indwelt by the Holy Spirit prior
to being baptized. In
Acts 16:30-31, when the jailer asked Paul and Silas, “What
must I do to be saved?” they told him, “Believe
on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy
we have an act of belief – faith – alone, without the
performance of rituals or sacraments.
Another example is given in Luke 23:43, when Jesus
conferred salvation to the thief on the cross after the
thief’s confession of faith, with no baptism involved.
Paul aptly pointed out that our righteous standing
before God is “by faith from first to last”
(Romans 1:17). Those
who recognize the true source of our salvation recognize
that baptism is a sign of obedience and an outward
confession of our faith.
It symbolizes the washing away of our old nature.
Yet the substance of salvation is not water; it is
the blood of Jesus Christ that cleanses our hearts and our
minds, and renders us new creations.
let’s move on to the LDS practice of baptism for the dead.
Former LDS President Joseph Fielding Smith wrote:
greater than all this, so far as our individual
responsibilities are concerned, the greatest is to become
saviors, in our lesser degree which is assigned us, for the
dead who have died without a knowledge of the Gospel.
Joseph Smith said, ‘The greatest responsibility in
this world that God has laid upon us, is to seek after our
dead’…It will suffice here to say that the Lord has
placed upon us this responsibility of seeing that our dead
receive the blessings of the Gospel.
Said Joseph Smith: ‘Those saints who neglect it, in
behalf of their deceased relatives, do it at the peril of
their own salvation.’”1
else needs to be said regarding the importance of this
practice by the LDS faithful. Nobody wants to be in “peril of
own salvation.” Interestingly,
as important as baptism for the dead is, there is no basis
for it within the Book of Mormon.
In fact, the LDS Church readily admits that the only
scriptural support for this practice is 1 Corinthians 15:29,
which reads, “Else
what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the
dead rise not at all? Why are they then baptized for the
But is this really a support for baptism for
the dead? Not
if we read this verse in context.
As we begin to
read this chapter, we see Paul testifying to the fact that
Jesus was resurrected from the dead, and after doing so,
appeared to many people.
After listing Christ’s post-resurrection
appearances, Paul presents a question in verse 12, “Now
if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say
some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead?”
Here, Paul is addressing a group of people in the
Church at Corinth (“some among you”) that are
obviously denying the doctrine of resurrection from the
dead. In verses
13 through 19, Paul lays this heresy on the line by saying
that if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Jesus did
not rise from the dead, and we are all in deep trouble.
Our eternal hope would be lost if there is no
resurrection, Paul rightly contends. In verse 20, Paul turns from describing the consequences of
this heresy to reasserting the truth of Christ’s
we arrive at verse 29.
Far from condoning baptism for the dead, Paul
distanced himself from this practice by saying, “Else
what shall they do which are baptized for the
dead…. Why are they then baptized for the dead?”
If Paul condoned the practice of baptism for the
dead, he should have used the pronoun we instead of they.
who is the “they” to whom Paul refers?
Context dictates that Paul must have been referring
to the same fringe element of the Corinthian church that he
mentioned in verse 12.
Apparently, this group that denied the resurrection,
was astonishingly being baptized by proxy for the dead.
Paul pointed out the dichotomy between their
disbelief in the resurrection, and this heretical practice
that is pointless without the resurrection.
In exposing the opposing belief and practice, Paul
also set himself apart from both.
for the dead would not be practiced if its practitioners did
not believe that the souls of unbelievers might somehow be
saved after their death. Yet this belief is contrary to very clear scripture.
For instance, Hebrews 9:27 says, “And as
it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the
difficult to fathom a verse that more clearly explains that
we choose our eternal destiny before our death, not after.
Another compelling passage of scripture is found in
Luke 16:19-31. The
words of Jesus here are too important to not quote in
was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine
linen, and fared sumptuously every day:
And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which
was laid at his gate, full of sores, And desiring to be fed
with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table:
moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.
And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was
carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom: the rich man
also died, and was buried; And in hell he lift up his eyes,
being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus
in his bosom. And
he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and
send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in
water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime
receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil
things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented.
And beside all this, between us and you there is a
great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence
to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that [would
come] from thence.
Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that
thou wouldest send him to my father's house: For I have five
brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come
into this place of torment.
Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the
prophets; let them hear them.
And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went
unto them from the dead, they will repent.
And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the
prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose
from the dead.” [emphasis added]
here that choices made during our lifetime cement our
eternal destination with no options for parole.
There is a “great gulf fixed” between the saved
in Heaven and the unsaved in hell, and no amount of baptism
for the dead will enable anyone to bridge that gulf.
I understand the
feelings of those who mourn the passing of a loved one who
never chose to submit to Jesus Christ while they were alive.
Yet baptism by proxy for the dead is still as
heretical as it was in 1st century Corinth.
It is imperative that we as Christians approach our
living friends and relatives with the great news of the
gospel, before death takes them to the wrong side of the
impassable gulf. Paul
spoke of this great news in the same chapter of his letter
to Corinth: “O
death, where [is] thy sting? O grave, where [is] thy
sting of death [is] sin; and the strength of sin [is] the
thanks [be] to God, which giveth us the victory through our
Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:55-57,