Mormon Baptism for the Dead

ldsbaptism.: Is Baptism for the Dead a Christian Practice?

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?”


Latter-day Saints (Mormons) believe that water baptism by immersion “is the first saving ordinance of the gospel … All who seek eternal life must follow the example of the Savior by being baptized and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost” (True to the Faith, 2004, p. 21). Baptism, according to Mormonism, is the prerequisite to receiving the “gift of the Holy Ghost” and is a necessary step in the process of being exalted to the highest level of heaven. Believing that non-Mormon dead relatives will have an opportunity to receive the Mormon restored gospel in spirit prison, Latter-day Saints take it upon themselves to help “save” them by engaging in proxy baptism on behalf of their dead ancestors. Mormon Apostle Bruce R McConkie explains:

“Though held captive in the spirit prison, these prisoners of hope looked forward with desire and expectation to their redemption…a redemption that would be complete only after baptism for the dead had been performed for them in this mortal sphere where there is water.” (Mormon Doctrine, p. 601)

Appealing to 1 Corinthians 15:29 and Hebrews 11:40 for Biblical support, Joseph Smith claimed that:

“The greatest responsibility in this world that God has laid upon us [Mormons] is to seek after our dead … every spirit in the eternal world can be ferreted out and saved … And so you can see how far you can be a savior … This doctrine was the burden of the scriptures. Those Saints who neglect it in behalf of their deceased relatives, do it at the peril of their own salvation.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 1976, by Joseph Fielding Smith, p. 356-357, 193)


Contrary to the claims of Mormonism, physical baptism is not a pre-requisite for salvation. At Luke 23:43, we read that Jesus assured the thief on the cross (who had not been baptized), that he would be “with” Him in paradise that day, simply because he believed. The apostle Paul made a distinction between the gospel and baptism when he proclaimed to the Corinthian believers: “I thank God that I baptized none of you … For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect” (1 Corinthians 1:14, 17). Not only does Paul reject the notion that baptism was part of the gospel, but he repeatedly affirmed salvation by faith apart from works (see Romans 4:5, 11:6). Furthermore, we see that baptism is not a requirement to receive the Holy Ghost. At Acts 10:44-47, we read of an incident where believers received the gift of the Holy Ghost before they were baptized.

Just as Biblical Scripture presents water baptism as a sign (not seal) of salvation, there is no indication in Scripture that early Christians engaged in the practice of “baptism for the dead.” The only place the practice is mentioned is in 1 Corinthians 15:29. It is important to note that in this passage, Paul excluded himself and the Christian believers he was speaking to by his use of the terms they and them in reference to the practice. It is likely that Paul had in mind heretical groups such as the Corinthians who practiced a form of baptism for the dead. It appears that Paul was pointing to groups such as these as examples of those whose practice would be futile if Christ had not indeed raised from the dead. If such practice is indeed essential for salvation, we ask why the lack of emphasis in the Bible and Book of Mormon? With genealogical research being a necessary activity for “baptism for the dead,” we ask why the Bible warns against this practice when it states:

“But avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain.” (Titus 3:9)

“Neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith: so do.” (1 Timothy 1:4)

Thus, we conclude that contrary to the Mormon notion that we all can be saviors by redeeming our dead ancestors though baptism, the Bible proclaims:

“None of them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him:” (Psalm 49:7)


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