Mormonism and temples/Baptism for the dead
|FAIR Wiki Topical Guide|
|FARMS web site|
This page is based on an answer to a question submitted to the FAIR web site, or a frequently asked question.
- What is baptism for the dead?
- Is there any evidence baptism for the dead is an authentic ancient Christian practice?
In response to a letter "received at the office of the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints" in 1912, Charles W. Penrose of the First Presidency wrote:
- Question 12: Baptism for the dead—How do we know which of our deceased relatives are to be baptized for, and how do we know when we are to be baptized for them?
- Answer: If instead of "we" the questioner had used the word "you," we would answer: Often by personal revelation, always by the law of kindred and genealogy, and the direction of those divinely appointed to administer the ordinances commanded.
As one Church leader noted:
- The principle of vicarious service should not seem strange to any Christian. In the baptism of a living person, the officiator acts, by proxy, in place of the Savior. And is it not the central tenet of our faith that Christ’s sacrifice atones for our sins by vicariously satisfying the demands of justice for us? As President Gordon B. Hinckley has expressed: “I think that vicarious work for the dead more nearly approaches the vicarious sacrifice of the Savior Himself than any other work of which I know. It is given with love, without hope of compensation, or repayment or anything of the kind. What a glorious principle.”
- Refusing baptisms for the dead—
I don't want proxy baptisms or other LDS temple work performed for my deceased family. What can I do to "undo" such baptisms and temple work? In the case of individuals who have recently died, members are encouraged to be considerate of the feelings of the closest living relatives: "If the person was born within the last ninety-five years, obtain permission for the ordinances from the person’s closest living relative. This relative often wishes to receive the ordinances in behalf of the deceased or designate someone to receive them. In some instances, the relative may wish to postpone the performance of the ordinances. Also, be aware that acting in conflict with the wishes of the closest living relative can result in bad feelings toward you and the Church." There is no ceremony for "undoing" a proxy baptism for the dead. (Link)
- Template work as a form of "ancestor worship"—
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. (Link)
What is baptism for the dead?
Explained Elder G. Todd Christopherson:
- Christian theologians have long wrestled with the question, What is the destiny of the countless billions who have lived and died with no knowledge of Jesus? There are several theories concerning the “unevangelized” dead, ranging from an inexplicable denial of salvation, to dreams or other divine intervention at the moment of death, to salvation for all, even without faith in Christ. A few believe that souls hear of Jesus after death. None explain how to satisfy Jesus’ requirement that a man must be born of water and spirit to enter the kingdom of God (see John 3:3-5). Lacking the knowledge once had in the early Church, these earnest seekers have been “forced to choose between a weak law that [allows] the unbaptized to enter heaven, and a cruel God who [damns] the innocent.”
- With the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ has come the understanding of how the unbaptized dead are redeemed and how God can be “a perfect, just God, and a merciful God also.” 
- While yet in life, Jesus prophesied that He would also preach to the dead [see John 5:25]. Peter tells us this happened in the interval between the Savior’s Crucifixion and Resurrection [see 1 Peter 3:18-19]...
- Some have misunderstood and suppose that deceased souls “are being baptised into the Mormon faith without their knowledge”  or that “people who once belonged to other faiths can have the Mormon faith retroactively imposed on them.”  They assume that we somehow have power to force a soul in matters of faith. Of course, we do not. God gave man his agency from the beginning. (See fn11) “The dead who repent will be redeemed, through obedience to the ordinances of the house of God,”  but only if they accept those ordinances. The Church does not list them on its rolls or count them in its membership.
- Our anxiety to redeem the dead, and the time and resources we put behind that commitment, are, above all, an expression of our witness concerning Jesus Christ. It constitutes as powerful a statement as we can make concerning His divine character and mission. It testifies, first, of Christ’s Resurrection; second, of the infinite reach of His Atonement; third, that He is the sole source of salvation; fourth, that He has established the conditions for salvation; and, fifth, that He will come again. 
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?
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 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 Marcionites of the fourth century, Epiphanius wrote:
- “In this country—I mean Asia—and even in Galatia, their school flourished eminently and a traditional fact concerning them has reached us, that when any of them had died without baptism, they used to baptize others in their name, lest in the resurrection they should suffer punishment as unbaptized.” (Heresies, 8:7.)
Thus, baptism for the dead was banned about four hundred years after Christ by the church councils. Latter-day Saints would see this as an excellent example of the apostasy—church councils altering doctrine and practice that was accepted at an earlier date.
- In early Judaism, too, there is an example of ordinances being performed in behalf of the dead. Following the battle of Marisa in 163 B.C., it was discovered that each of the Jewish soldiers killed in the fight had been guilty of concealing pagan idols beneath his clothing. In order to atone for their wrong, Judas Maccabaeus, the Jewish high priest and commander, collected money from the survivors to purchase sacrificial animals for their dead comrades:
- “And when he had made a gathering throughout the company to the sum of two thousand drachmas of silver, he sent it to Jerusalem to offer a sin offering, doing therein very well and honestly, in that he was mindful of the resurrection: for if he had not hoped that they that were slain should have risen again, it had been superfluous and vain to pray for the dead. And also in that he perceived that there was great favour laid up for those that died godly, it was an holy and good thought. Whereupon he made a reconciliation for the dead, that they might be delivered from sin.” (2 Maccabees 12:43–46.)
- [note] Charles W. Penrose, "Peculiar Questions Briefly Answered," Improvement Era 15 no. 11 (September 1912). off-site
- [note] D. Todd Christofferson, "The Redemption of the Dead and the Testimony of Jesus," Ensign (November 2000), 9.; citing “Excerpts from Recent Addresses of President Gordon B. Hinckley,” Ensign (Jan. 1998): 73. off-site
- [note] 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.
- [note] Hugh W. Nibley, 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. ISBN 0875791271.
- [note] Alma 42:15
- [note] See Ben Fenton, “Mormons Use Secret British War Files ‘to Save Souls,’ ” The Telegraph (London), 15 Feb. 1999.
- [note] Greg Stott, “Ancestral Passion,” Equinox (April/May 1998): 45.
- [note] DC 138:58.
- [note] D. Todd Christofferson, "The Redemption of the Dead and the Testimony of Jesus," Ensign (November 2000), 9. off-site (Footnotes have in places been integrated into the main text; citation for has been slightly modified.
- [note] John A. Tvedtnes, "Proxy Baptism," Ensign (February 1977), 86. off-site
- [note] John A. Tvedtnes, "Proxy Baptism," Ensign (February 1977), 86. off-site