"Baptism For The Dead"

Donald P. Ames
Aurora, Illinois

The question of what Paul meant when he said "Else what shall they do that are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why then are they baptized for them?" (I Cor. 15:29), has led to all kinds of speculation, and become a real problem to some. Some have claimed that this was merely a practice carried over from paganism, and later dropped. Others, as the "Mormons" or Latter-day Saints, claim it was a baptism for deceased loved ones by those left behind on this earth and should still be a recognized practice of the church today. In support of this, they go to I Pet. 3:18-19, where they claim Christ, in the spirit-before His resurrection, went to Hades and preached to the lost souls so they could be saved as we are today (I Pet. 4:6). This is, supposedly, the fulfillment of Isaiah's statement, "And they shall be gathered together, as prisoners are gathered in the pit, and shall be shut up in the prison; and after many days shall they be visited" (Isa. 24:22). (See THE ARTICLES OF FAITH, by James E. Talmage -- one of their 12 living apostles, pp. 115, 148-150). However, the problem remains: What did PAUL mean?

That Paul did NOT mean the doctrine taught by the Latter-day Saints is readily evident by the fact it is too plainly contradicted by too many plain statements of the Word of God, the Bible; as well as contradicting statements within their own Book of Mormon. But, why doesn't it teach their position? First, their doctrine would make God a Respecter of persons, for, as anyone knows, those in the tormenting flames of punishment would not hesitate for one instant to obey the gospel and escape their punishment (Luke 16:19-31). Yet, God requires us to endure all kinds of persecution here in the flesh, even to the giving of our lives, that we might endure, and be found acceptable in the end (Rev. 2:10, Jas. 1:12, 1 Cor. 9:27, etc). In fact Christ himself said, "For whosoever would save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel's shall save it" (Luke 8:35). Again, He says, "For what is a man profited, if he gain the whole world, and lose or forfeit his own self?" (Luke 9:25). But, now along comes Joseph Smith and says, "Not so! You can lead any kind of life you want, openly flaunting the word of God, and seeking all the lusts and pleasures of this world, and still have eternal life!" That is, according to their doctrine. For, after all, after you die, Christ will give you a second chance (see THE ARTICLES OF FAITH, p. 115) and after someone is baptized for you here, you'll still get both the worldly pleasures and eternal life. Thus, there is no need for either a Hell, nor Peter's admonition in 2 Pet. 3:9. But, Paul says, "There is no respect of persons with God" (Rom. 2-11 ). Either we will have obeyed Him, or all is lost (2 Thess. 1:7-9, Heb. 5:9, etc.). God is no respecter of persons-all men will have the same opportunity, or failure. There is no second chance!

Secondly, we know this is not what Paul had in mind, because it is not what Peter had in mind. Peter isn't teaching that Christ, as a spirit between the time of His death and resurrection, descended down to the brink of Tartarus and preached to them from the edge of the great gulf (Luke 16:26-incidently, have you ever wondered how they'd manage to cross this gulf God said couldn't be crossed). A careful analysis of the passage in I Pet. 3:18-19 shows that Peter is here talking of Christ being made alive by the Holy Spirit, the same spirit by which He had earlier preached through Noah with (I Pet. 1:11, 2 Pet. 2:5, Gen. 6:4f), preaching to them the gospel (good news) of repentance (Gal. 3:8, 2 Pet. 3:8-9-not the gospel of the N.T., Eph. 3:5, 1 Pet. 1:10-12). And when did this preaching take place? "In the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing" (I Pet. 3:18). And were they obedient? No! So, where are they NOW? "In prison" awaiting the final judgment (2 Pet. 2:4, 9; Jude 6). As for I Peter 4:6, properly taken in its context, it offers Latter-day Saints little support either. Along with I Pet. 3:18-19, the thought is: as Christ was judged (condemned and finally killed-I Pet. 4:1) in the flesh, so also will those be who obey the gospel. They too will be judged (condemned by men in the flesh and many killed), but the same Spirit which restored Christ will also "quicken" or revive us in a spiritual relationship with the Lord. This then, taken in its context, reaffirms the promise of the Lord, "And be not afraid of them that kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul" (Matt. 10:28).

Thirdly, I know this is not what either Peter or Paul had in mind because this is not what Isaiah had in mind. Reference to Isa. 24:22 shows the typical misapplication of scripture by these Latter-day Saints. Let us pause here and note the entire context of Isaiah's statement, noting the word "punish" and "visited" (verses 21 & 22 respectively) are the SAME words; and fully agree with 2 Pet. 2:4,9 and Jude 6:

And it shall come to pass in that day, that Jehovah will punish the host of the high ones on high, and the kings of the earth upon the earth. And they (that is, those to be punished-D.P.A.) shall be gathered in the pit, and shall be shut up in the prison; and after many days shall they be visited. Then the moon shall be confounded, and the sun ashamed (a day of deliverance?-D.P.A.) ; for Jehovah of hosts will reign in Mount Zion, and in Jerusalem; and before his elders shall be glory (Isa. 24:21-23).

I believe that is "nuff said."

Lastly, I know this is not what Paul had in mind because the Scriptures plainly teach that in the day of judgment EACH man will have to, answer for what HE ALONE has done "in the flesh"-not for what others might do, or after we are "out of the flesh" (2 Cor. 5:10, Rom. 14:12, Ezek. 18, Rev. 20:13 etc.). This is also, one of the many inconsistencies of the Book of Mormon. For, although they readily teach the above doctrine of a baptism for the dead, deceased loved ones, by those still living here on the earth, and that there will be a second chance to, repent after death, their own Book of Mormon also states on pages 283-284:

And now, as I said unto you before, as ye have had so many witnesses, therefore, I beseech you that ye do not procrastinate the day of your repentance until the end; for AFTER THIS DAY OF LIFE, WHICH IS GIVEN US TO PREPARE FOR ETERNITY, behold, if we do not improve our time while IN THIS LIFE, then cometh the night of darkness WHEREIN THERE CAN BE NO LABOR PERFORMED. Ye cannot say, when ye are brought to that awful crisis, that I will repent, that I will return to my God. Nay, ye cannot say this; FOR THAT SAME SPIRIT WHICH DOTH POSSESS YOUR BODIES AT THE TIME THAT YE GO OUT OF THIS LIFE, THAT SAME SPIRIT WILL HAVE POWER TO POSSESS YOUR BODY IN THAT ETERNAL WORLD. For behold, if ye have procrastinated the day of your repentance even until death, behold, ye have become subjected to the spirit of the devil, AND HE DOTH SEAL YOU HIS; therefore, the Spirit of the Lord HATH WITHDRAWN FROM YOU, AND HATH NO PLACE IN YOU, AND THE DEVIL HATH ALL POWER OVER YOU; and this is the FINAL state of the wicked.-Alma 34:33-35 (Caps mine, D.P.A.)

But, without these other passages, I Cor. 15:29 must now stand alone, and so the question remains, what did PAUL mean here? It's my conviction, and I offer it for your consideration and study (Acts 17:11, 2 Tim. 2:15), that Paul here has no reference whatsoever of one being baptized for a deceased loved one, but rather is dealing with two kinds of deaths. To paraphrase the entire context: "Else what shall they do that are baptized for the dead man of sin? If the physically dead are not raised at all, why then are they baptized for the dead spiritual body with a view of a future resurrection? Why do we also stand in jeopardy every hour? . . . If the physically dead are not raised, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die" (I Cor. 5:29-32). In support of this, I offer the following passages wherein Paul speaks of the dead man of sin being discarded, and a new spiritual body being put on: Rom. 6:3-7, 13; 2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 2:19-20, 3:27; Eph. 2:1, 12; and I Tim. 5:6. As Paul says in Eph. 2:1, "And you did he make alive, when we were dead through your trespasses and sins." But, if there be no resurrection, why suffer all the persecution of being a baptized follower of the Lord? Why be baptized for the dead man of sin? After all, if there be no resurrection, "then neither hath Christ been raised: and if Christ hath not been raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. . . If we have only hoped in Christ in this life, we are of all men most pitiable" (I Cor. 15:16-19). Therefore, "if the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die. Be not deceived: Evil companionships corrupt good morals. Awake to soberness righteously, and sin not;" for "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (I Cor. 15:32-34, Heb. 10:31).

Truth Magazine V:1; pp. 17-19
October 1960