A single reference to baptism for the dead exists in the New Testament, 1 Corinthians 15:29. A modern religious organization has taken this verse and created a doctrinal system that includes baptism by proxy. Is this a valid doctrine? If so, the majority of religious organizations must change their practices and begin baptism by proxy. If not, this doctrine is of men and must be discarded by those who practice it before their worship is anything other than vain (Matthew 15:9).
Let's consider what must be true before baptism by proxy for the dead can be valid. First, the dead must have unforgiven sin. Else why would one who is living be baptized for them by proxy? Second, the unforgiven sin of the dead must be capable of being forgiven. Again, if their sin cannot be forgiven, baptism by proxy is a waste of time. Third, the dead must be capable of fulfilling the requirements for baptism as outlined in the NT. As we studied earlier, the NT has specific requirements one must fulfill before baptism can be valid. The dead must also be capable of fulfilling these requirements if baptism by proxy is a valid doctrine.
Let's look at each of these necessities as we evaluate baptism by proxy. Are there those who die in an unforgiven state? Most certainly so. Jesus tells us in John 8:24 that "ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am He, ye shall die in your sins." Clearly there are those who have died and will die in a sinful state.
Next, are the unforgiven sins of the dead capable of being forgiven? Let's move back a few verses in John 8 as we consider this question. Notice what Jesus says in verse 21: "I go my way, and ye shall seek me, and shall die in your sins: whither I go, ye cannot come." What did Jesus say?!! "Whither I go, ye cannot come." Where was Jesus going? Jesus tells us in John 14:12: He was going to His Father! Where is His Father? He tells us in Matthew 7:21: in heaven! So, Jesus tells us in John 8:21 that those who die in their sins cannot go to heaven with Him! We use the word "cannot" frequently in the English language. What does it mean? Merriam-Webster defines cannot as "to be unable to do otherwise than." What does "unable" mean? Within the definition for this word we find the word "incapable." Merriam-Webster tells us that one who is incapable lacks the capacity, ability, or qualification for the purpose or end in view. So, Jesus tells us that the one who dies in their sins is unable to enter into heaven. Let's look at the Greek words used in John 8:21. The verse is transliterated as "Where I go away you are not able to come." The Greek word translated "able" is dunamai and means, "to be able", or "to be capable." However, this word is preceded by the absolute negative ou, which means "no" or "not". Ou represents an absolute denial, while another Greek word, mee, expresses qualified negation. Consider Jesus' words in John 3:18. "He that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God." Here the word translated "not" is mee. So if one believes (pisteuo) in the name of the only begotten Son of God, one may escape condemnation. The negative is qualified. However, Jesus does not use the qualified negative in John 8:21. He uses the word expressing absolute denial. So Jesus tells us that those who die in their sins will be absolutely unable to go where He is. This verse tells us that those who die in their sins have their eternal destiny already determined--they will be absolutely unable to go to heaven (where He is)! Since the sinner who dies unforgiven cannot enter heaven, the answer to question number 9 has already been discovered. We should not be baptized for the dead, since the sinner who dies unforgiven cannot enter heaven. But let's continue with our analysis of this doctrine (which we now know to be false).
Can the dead fulfill the requirements for baptism as outlined in the NT? When Paul tells us that faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (Romans 10:17), how is it that one hears? A few verses earlier Paul tells us that one hears the word spoken by a preacher (Romans 10:14). Do preachers preach to living or dead individuals? To living individuals. Is an unforgiven sinner who dies capable of developing the faith necessary prior to baptism? No! We know that eventually everyone will believe as they stand before God at the day of judgment. Is this the belief one must have prior to baptism? No! Consider again the definition of the word translated "believe" in the gospels. Vine's tells us pisteuo signifies reliance in, not mere credence. Jesus clarifies the need for belief prior to death in Mark 16:16 when He tells us "he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved." Baptism by proxy is not authorized in this verse, and is actually shown to be a false doctrine. Consider carefully the words of Jesus: he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved. So the one who is to be saved must fulfill two requirements: believe and be baptized. How can one who is dead fulfill the second requirement? Jesus doesn't say, "he that believeth and is baptized for shall be saved." He states clearly that the one who is to receive salvation is the one who must be immersed! We've spent a fair amount of time discussing baptism by proxy, but what exactly does the word "proxy" mean? As you might deduce, the word is not found in the New Testament. How does Merriam-Webster define the word? "The agency, function, or office of a deputy who acts as a substitute for another." So a proxy is one who acts in the place of another. But Jesus does not authorize this practice when He states that the one who is to be saved is the one who must be immersed! Where does a proxy fit into this equation? He/she doesn't! Baptism by proxy is a man-made doctrine.
Jesus illustrates to us the fates of the dead sent to torment and to the place of comfort in the account of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). As you recall, the rich man fared sumptuously during his life, and Lazarus was a beggar. After their deaths we see the rich man in torment and Lazarus in Abraham's bosom. We learn much about the relationship between the place of torment and the place of comfort in this account. We see clearly that one in the place of comfort cannot pass to the place of torment, as the one in torment cannot pass to the place of comfort. Jesus tells us that even should one wish to pass from comfort to torment they cannot (verse 26)!! So, one desiring to pass from torment to the place of comfort is absolutely unable to do so!! (See our discussion of "cannot" above) Below you will see the doctrine of the Mormon church as it relates to the fate of the dead. Based on the verses we've studied, whom are you going to believe, Jesus or Joseph Smith? Again consider what Jesus tells us regarding all authority. He has it! What did Paul tell the Galatian Christians (Galatians 1:6-9)? Since the doctrine preached by Joseph Smith is contrary to that preached by Jesus, what can we say about Joseph Smith (and about any man who preaches anything different than that we have revealed in the scriptures)? The answer lies in Galatians 1:8,9.
What can we say about 1 Corinthians 15:29? In verse 15 of the same chapter Paul reveals a problem the Corinthians Christians were having. Some among them were saying there was no resurrection of the dead. Paul uses his logical manner of thinking over the next several verses to refute this teaching. Notice his progression of thought from verses 13-30. Paul begins with the resurrection of Christ (verse 13). What is a major problem with the doctrine of no resurrection? Christ was not resurrected! If Christ was not resurrected, then Paul's preaching was in vain, their faith was vain, ministers of Jesus were false witnesses since they testified that God raised Jesus from the dead, they were still in sin, those who died in Christ have perished, and they are the most miserable of men since they have no hope in Christ after this life. If Jesus wasn't raised from the dead, there was no need for the church since there was no hope for forgiveness of sins. As we can see, the teaching that the dead will not be resurrected is not compatible with the teaching of Paul and the other ministers of Jesus. Belief in this teaching reveals a basic contradiction in those who are members of the church--Jesus' resurrection was the source of the hope one has in the church. If He wasn't raised, it is pointless to continue with the worthless exercises of worship since one has no hope anyway. One might as well enjoy the pleasures of the flesh rather than suffer for a worthless cause. Paul states that his fighting beasts in Ephesus was of no advantage if the dead are not raised. "Let us eat and drink; for tomorrow we die." (1 Corinthians 15:32)
As one can see, some among the Corinthians were teaching one thing (no resurrection) that was not compatible with other beliefs they practiced. As part of his refutation Paul shows them the contradiction present within another practice of theirs. They were teaching one thing, but practicing another. If the dead are not raised, why are some baptized for the dead? (verse 29) If the dead are not raised, it is pointless to be baptized for the dead. Notice the language Paul uses in verse 29. Throughout the verse he uses the 3rd person plural pronoun (they) when referring to those who baptize for the dead. At no time did he include himself as part of this group! Paul was not making a doctrinal statement to which we must adhere in order to be pleasing to God. He was simply showing them the contradiction between their teaching and their practice!
Pasted below is a page from a Mormon web site. As you can see, they use the verse we've been studying as justification for their elaborate practices of genealogy and baptism by proxy.
by H. David Burton
Baptism for the dead is the proxy performance of the ordinance of baptism for one deceased. Joseph Smith taught, "If we can baptize a man in the name of the Father [and] of the Son and of the Holy Ghost for the remission of sins it is just as much our privilege to act as an agent and be baptized for the remission of sins for and in behalf of our dead kindred who have not heard the gospel or fulness of it" (Kenney, p. 165).
The first public affirmation of the ordinance of baptism for the dead in the Church was Joseph Smith's funeral sermon for Seymour Brunson in Nauvoo in August 1840. Addressing a widow who had lost a son who had not been baptized, he called the principle "glad tidings of great joy," in contrast to the prevailing tradition that all unbaptized are damned. The first baptisms for the dead in modern times were done in the Mississippi River near Nauvoo.
Revelations clarifying the doctrine and practice have been given from time to time:
1. This was a New Testament practice (1 Cor. 15:29; cf. D&C 128; see Baptism for the Dead: Ancient Sources).
2. The ministry of Christ in the spirit world was for the benefit of those who had died without hearing the gospel or the fulness of it (1 Pet. 4:6; see Salvation for the Dead).
3. Such baptisms are to be performed in temple fonts dedicated to the purpose (TPJS, p. 308; cf. D&C 124:29-35). In November 1841 the font in the unfinished Nauvoo Temple was so dedicated.
4. The language of the baptismal prayer is the same as for the living, with the addition of "for and in behalf of" the deceased.
5. Witnesses are to be present for proxy baptisms and a record is to be kept in Church archives (D&C 128:3, 8).
6. Women are to be baptized for women and men for men.
7. Not only baptism but confirmation and the higher temple ordinances may also be performed by proxy (TPJS, pp. 362-63).
8. The law of agency is inviolate in this world and the world to come. Thus, those served by proxy have the right to accept or reject the ordinances.
In the early years of the Church, proxy baptisms were performed only for direct blood ancestors, usually no more than four generations back. Today, Latter-day Saints are baptized not only for their own forebears but also for other persons, unrelated to them, identified through the name extraction program. The practice reflects the yearning of children for their parents and of parents for their children, and charitable feelings for others as well, that they receive the fulness of the blessings of the gospel of Jesus Christ. In LDS perspective, whatever else one may do to mourn, give honorable burial to, cherish, or memorialize the dead, this divinely authorized ordinance of baptism is a demonstration of love and has eternal implications.
(See Basic Beliefs; Teachings About Temples; Early Christian Temple Rites home page)
Kenney, Scott G., ed. Wilford Woodruff's Journal, Vol. 2. Midvale, Utah, 1983.
Widtsoe, John A. "Fundamentals of Temple Doctrine." Utah Genealogical and Historical Magazine 13 (July 1922):129-35.
Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol. 1, Baptism for the Dead Copyright © 1992 by Macmillan Publishing Company
The Mormons admit who taught this doctrine: Joseph Smith. Nothing about Jesus teaching this doctrine is mentioned. Only two verses from the New Testament are referenced in the above discourse. We've dealt in detail with 1 Corinthians 15:29. Does 1 Peter 4:6 say what they claim it does? Please link to the verse and consider what it says. Next, look at Ephesians 2:1-8. Paul was preaching to living individuals (the Ephesian Christians). But, he tells them that at one time they were dead in trespasses and sins (verse 1). He stresses this point again in verse 5 where he says they were dead in sins, but quickened with Christ. Now reconsider 1 Peter 4:6. Peter states that the gospel was preached (again consider how the preacher preaches to living individuals, not dead ones) to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit. Consider Paul's words in Galatians 2:20: "I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me." What was the purpose of the cross? Was it a burden people carried around with them during their lives, which they endured because of their faith in God (a common misrepresentation when people say they just "have to bear this cross" they've been given)? No! It was a form of torture and capital punishment. When a man was placed on a cross he was expected to die! But Paul tells us he is crucified with Christ, but yet he lives? What part of Paul died with Christ? His inner self (his own will). Now Christ lives in place of Paul's inner self and desires. So Paul can accurately say that he has died, but yet he lives. However, it is Christ living within him (Paul is no longer following the desires of his inner self as he once did). Peter is saying the same thing in his first epistle. The gospel was preached to living individuals who were dead in sin, so that they might die to self and live thereafter according to God. They will be judged according to the works they performed, as will all men (Revelation 20:13). So, the only two verses mentioned in the Mormon treatise pasted above do not support the doctrine they preach. Notice how many references to human works are mentioned (I counted seven that I could look up if I had the documents referenced). In the bibliography two references to human works are listed. The Bible is not included within the bibliography! Again consider the source of this doctrine, is it of man or of God? I believe we all know the answer.
This concludes our study on baptism for now. As I encounter different questions regarding baptism I'll address them and add them to this page. Please visit often and look for an "updated" flag after the link to "baptism." If one is present you will know that I have added more material to this study. Thank you for your attention to this vital topic.