Can Shakespeare Really Become a Mormon?

By Joe R. Price

According to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, not only has Shakespeare been given a chance to become a Mormon, but so have many of the world’s renown statesmen, religious dignitaries and just plain folk who never heard of Joseph Smith, Jr. and the Book of Mormon. That is because they have been baptized by proxy in one of the 44 LDS temples throughout the world. If the Mormon doctrine of baptism for the dead is true, literally millions of dead sinners can be saved if a Mormon will be baptized for them.

Mormons are very committed to temple work for the dead. Joseph Smith, Jr., founder of the LDS church, warned that “Those Saints who neglect it in behalf of their deceased relatives, do it at the peril of their own salvation” (History of the Church, IV:426; cited in Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, compiled by Joseph Fielding Smith, p. 193; see Doctrine & Covenants 128:15,18). On another occasion he taught that “the greatest responsibility in this world that God has laid upon us is to seek after our dead” (History of the Church, VI:313). This is why the LDS Church operates the largest genealogical library in the world. Mormons are expected to research their ancestry at least four generations back so the names of their ancestors can be submitted for temple work for the dead. Several thousand baptisms for the dead are performed daily in Mormon temple ceremonies.

But, not every dead person can have a proxy baptism performed for them. According to Mormonism, those who did not have an opportunity to hear the “fulness of the gospel” in this life will have the gospel preached to them in the next life. Vicarious baptism provides these unfortunate souls with an opportunity to accept salvation for themselves. (It’s hard to imagine that a sinner who is experiencing torment for his sins would reject such an astonishing offer [read Lk. 16:24-25]!) Too bad if you had an opportunity to hear Mormonism’s message in this life and rejected it. You already had your chance. I wonder, why does the Mormon Church send 25,000 missionaries into the world to give people an opportunity to reject the “fulness of the gospel” and be lost forever? By rejecting the opportunity given them, these sinners will never get to progress to the “celestial kingdom!” The LDS Church should abandon its missionary program so that no one on earth will have an opportunity to reject the “fulness of the gospel.” That way, every dead person will want to be saved after experiencing the punishment of sin for a while!

Mormonism attempts to base its practice of baptizing for the dead upon several Bible passages (Mal. 4:5-6; Heb. 11:39-40; 1 Pet. 3:18-20; 4:6). The most apparent of these is 1 Corinthians 15:29:

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?

However, Mormonism’s effort to find its practice in this passage fails. The word “for” is the Greek word huper, and can properly carry the meaning “on account of” (cf. Acts 15:26; Rom. 1:5). Some people were being baptized on account of the dead ones (plural, a class of people – see vv. 13,15-16,18-20). The apostle raises the question: Why should they let the dead ones influence them to be baptized “if the dead are not raised at all?”

Paul’s whole context of the resurrection of the dead in 1 Corinthians 15:12-34 supports the conclusion that verse 29 does not teach proxy baptism. In this context where Paul affirms that the dead will be raised, he makes a progressive argument in verses 29-34. “If the dead are not raised at all, then:

1. Why be baptized (v. 29)? It is pointless.

2. Why stand in jeopardy every hour (vv. 30-32)? It is mad.

3. What profit is there in a God-fearing lifestyle (v. 32)? It is useless.

However, do not be deceived by evil companions who, through a lack of knowledge, deny the resurrection (vv. 33-34). You see, there will be a resurrection from the dead! Therefore:

1. Being influenced by the dead ones to be baptized is not pointless (v. 29).

2. Jeopardizing one’s life for Christ is not in vain (v. 30-32).

3. There is profit in a God-fearing life (v. 32).

Other Problems With Mormonism’s Baptism for the Dead

1. It ignores the individual nature of responsibility before God. “The soul that sinneth, it shall die . . . The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him” (Ezek. 18:20).

Neither sin nor righteousness will be imputed from one person to another, including a family member. Nowhere in the Bible can you find a Christian’s obedience offered to a sinner to thereby save the sinner. It simply cannot and will not be done.

2. It ignores the fact that opportunity to obey God ends at death. “It is appointed unto men once to die, and after this cometh judgment” (Heb. 9:27). After death comes a judgment of how we lived in this life (2 Cor. 5:10), not a chance to obey the gospel in the spirit world. A “great gulf” is fixed separating the righteous and the wicked in the place of departed spirits, and it allows for no crossing over (Lk. 16:26). LDS baptism for the dead must wash away the “great gulf” before it can wash away any sins.

3. It adds another baptism to God’s divine plan. “There is . . . one baptism” (Eph. 4:4-5). The Great Commission baptism is for the living, it is personal and direct (on behalf of oneself), and it removes the participant’s sins (Mk. 16:15-16). LDS baptism for the dead is for dead people, it is substitutionary (on behalf of others), and it only gives one the choice of having his sins removed. One Mormon told me that these two baptisms are one and the same! Undoubtedly, one is biblical and the other is an addition of men. Care to guess which is which?

No, Shakespeare cannot become a Mormon. The LDS Church cannot save millions of souls who have already died by their practice of baptism for the dead. Christ is the only means of salvation, and his gospel must be preached to the living (Acts 4:12; Rom. 1:16). Use your opportunity in this life to be baptized and saved by Christ from your sins (2 Cor. 6:2; Acts 22:16; Rom. 6:3-4; Gal. 3:26-27)!

Guardian of Truth XXXV: 23, pp. 723-724
December 5, 1991