One of the questions Mormons are asked about is why we make a practice of baptizing the dead in our temples. Some have the misconception that we’re actually baptizing dead people, which is not the case, but we practice proxy baptisms where someone living is baptized for and in behalf of someone who has passed away that never had the chance to receive baptism from an authorized priesthood holder in this life.
To understand this Biblical doctrine, one needs to turn to the New Testament. In the writings of Paul the apostle to the Corinthians, in the 15th chapter we find Paul explaining the doctrine of the resurrection and how Christ’s atonement paved the way for our receiving a body again.
1 Corinthians 15:21-22
20 But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.
21 For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.
22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.
He then makes a strange argument. The Corinthian saints were baptizing people for their dead relatives and friends, but they had issues believing in the resurrection. He asks them why they are baptizing for the dead if the dead aren’t going to rise from the dead? It would be pointless.
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?
Paul didn’t condemn them for the practice, he used the practice to show them that there was an ultimate reason why they were doing it. That the resurrection (was real and they were helping their ancestors).
Peter taught that there are many people who died without knowing Christ, but God being someone that loves all of His children, provided means for them to be taught the gospel even after death so that they could accept and have faith in Christ and move toward returning to God’s presence. In this passage we see the example of some of these people being those that rejected Noah’s teachings and died in the flood. The same applies to all others who never had an opportunity in this life to accept the gospel teachings.
1 Peter 3
18 For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit:
19 By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison;
20 Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.
And 1 Peter 4:6
6 For for this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.
So in the LDS faith today, we do genealogy work to research our ancestors that never had a chance to hear the gospel in this life and then participate in the Biblical practice of being baptized on their behalf. This is not something forced upon them. In a revelation to a modern day prophet, he saw that those who had the gospel taught to them in the spirit world:
Doctrine & Covenants 138
33 …were taught faith in God, repentance from sin, vicarious baptism for the remission of sins, the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands,
34 And all other principles of the gospel that were necessary for them to know in order to qualify themselves that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.
35 And so it was made known among the dead, both small and great, the unrighteous as well as the faithful, that redemption had been wrought through the sacrifice of the Son of God upon the cross.
Then those in the spirit prison, having been taught the doctrine of vicarious baptism (someone else being baptized for them as a proxy) for the remission of their sins and that Christ had wrought redemption for them, if they then accept the proxy baptism performed for them on earth by a mortal in one of God’s holy temples, they are able to then leave the spirit prison and enter into paradise to await the judgment and resurrection, as if they had been baptized on earth. They will still be judged according to the light and knowledge they had and used on earth, but they are able to ultimately progress forward on their eternal journey.
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