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Sunday, November 18, 2007

Ancient Baptism for the Dead: Some Resources

Ready for a deep dive into one of the most fascinating elements of Mormonism? And one of the many powerful indicators that a divine Restoration of truth, knowledge, and sacred ordinances has occurred? It's time for a deep dive into baptism for the dead. Here are some resources that I find helpful (updated slightly, Sept. 2012):
  • "The Harrowing of Hell: Salvation for the Dead in Early Christianity" by Kendel J. Christensen, Roger D. Cook, and David L. Paulsen. A thorough scholarly exploration of an often-forgotten early Christian theme. Quoting from the conclusion of this paper: "God 'sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved' (John 3:17). The doctrine of the harrowing of hell explains how this can be despite the fact that so many have died without hearing the Son's message of salvation. This doctrine was present in apocalyptic Judaism and in apocalyptic Christianity, and Christ taught the doctrine to his disciples. It was also confirmed by the church fathers and in the Apostles' Creed. Subsequently, it was rejected first by Augustine and later by Reformers such as Calvin and Luther, This led, regrettably, to its almost universal disappearance from the teachings of modern-day Christendom."

  • "Baptism for the Dead in Early Christianity" by David L. Paulsen, and Brock M. Mason. They provide evidence that the practice of baptism for the dead existed in some early Christian6 communities. They show that early Christians, including New Testament writers, taught that baptism is essential to salvation. Because of this belief, vicarious baptisms were performed to ensure that the unbaptized dead would not be denied access to salvation. They also examine 1 Corinthians 15:29 and support what some modern scholars call the "majority reading,"  which understands 15:29 as a reference to vicarious baptism. They also explore the historical practice of proxy baptisms by early Christian communities which, of course, are now labeled "heretical." Fascinating paper.

  • "Baptism for the Dead in Early Christianity" by John A. Tvedtnes, from The Temple in Time and Eternity, pp. 55-78. Excellent survey of related practices and teachings that we know of from several early Christian groups.

  • "Baptism for the Dead: The Coptic Rationale" - a scholarly review by Dr. John A. Tvedtnes of the early Christian practice of baptism for the dead, as understood by Coptic Christians. This paper was presented at a 1981 symposium in Jerusalem, sponsored by the L.A. Mayer Memorial Museum of Islamic Art and the Israel Ministry of Education and Culture and later published in Special Papers of the Society for Early Historic Archaeology, No. 2 (September 1989). The Jerusalem symposium marked the opening of an exhibit of Coptic art at the museum, where Dr. Tvedtnes one of two American scholars invited to speak.

  • Baptism for the Dead in Ancient Times - an early, groundbreaking article by Dr. Hugh Nibley. More evidence has been found since this scholarly exploration was first published in 1948, but it's still valuable today. Nibley provides many exciting leads and reviews a variety of ancient sources not available to Joseph Smith.

  • "Does the Bible Teach Salvation for the Dead?" - A review of an anti-Mormon publication by the inimitable John Tvedtnes in FARMS Review of Books, Vol. 10, No. 2, 1998.

  • The Apostolic Fathers comment on Christ's visit to the Spirit World - a page at the Chapman Research site.

  • "Temple Imagery in the Epistles of Peter" by Daniel B. McKinlay, an excellent and scholarly essay that includes treatment of passages in Peter about the preaching of the Gospel to the dead (including a discussion of alternate interpretations that others have offered). Available at FARMS, reprinted Temples of the Ancient World: Ritual and Symbolism (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1994, pp. 492-514).

  • Views of a Non-LDS Scholar, Krister Stendahl, on the Ancient Practice of Baptism for the Dead - Brief comment written by Bishop Stendahl, a Lutheran, formerly the Dean and Professor of Divinity at the Harvard Divinity School.
  • "Redeeming the Dead: Tender Mercies, Turning of Hearts, and Restoration of Authority" by David L. Paulsen, Kendel J. Christensen, and Martin Pulido. This paper (1)reviews historical responses to this doctrine until the Reformation; (2) examine modern treatments of postmortem preaching of the Gospel and vicarious ordinances for the dead; (3) details the sequences of Joseph Smith’s revelations related to redemption for the dead; and (4) explains how the doctrines of the Restoration solve the soteriological problem of evil.

34 comments:

Jayleen said...

This is one of the keys that helped me to know this was the True Church.

I attended other churches for 20 years and always had a problem with thier explanations for the passage of 1 Cor 15:29.

I took New Testament Greek for a semester and when we looked at this passage the Pastor who was teaching the course tried to explain it away like all the others had; Paul was being sarcastic; the subject was resurrection, not baptism for the dead, he was simply citing a pagan practice, yada, yada, yada.

But that day something happened when I read it and when I got home I read it about 50 times, the whole chapter. And what was bothering me finally hit home. If Paul were being sarcastic or simply citing a 'pagan' practice, this passage makes ZERO sense. And if it were a 'pagan' practice, surely Paul would have spent a little time explaning that as well.

You cannot support a true principle by using a false one to support it. And in that verse he is very serious as he follows it with vs 30) "and why stand we in jeopardy every hour?"

It would be like saying, 'The pagans practice baptism for the dead, therefore the dead rise.'

I came to realise that although I didn't understand what baptism for the dead was, I knew that we as Christians should not only understand it, but be practising it.

Baptism for the dead was one of the things that helped me to understand at one point in time that the churches I had been attending all those years were the ones Paul spoke of teaching every wind of doctrine.

That all prepared me to be open to talking to the Sister Missionaries when they found me. Thank God for the Holy Ghost which leads and guides into all truth!

Mormanity said...

Thanks, Jayleen!

It really is a pivotal doctrine pointing to the reality of the Restoration. I just love this revealed principle and am so grateful for the beauty of it. What more powerful manifestation of the GRACE of Jesus Christ? How could God be merciful and graceful if all those who never had a chance to hear of Christ were simply doomed without hope? But the Bible teaches that Christ ministered to those who had died, and we know from revelation that their salvation is possible, and that they can learn of Christ, believe in Him, and accept Gospel covenants such as baptism to enjoy the same blessings it brings us. Now that's GRACE!

Mormanity said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

It did not take me 20 years nor did I know 1 Cor 15:29 existed, but when christians told me only those that except Jesus Christ could be saved I almost lost my mind. What about all those that live before Him or all that had never even heard His Holy name? The along came the missionaries with the GOOD NEWS of the RESTORATION. Thank you missionaries from Joseph Smith on down. I owe you my life.

Jayleen said...

Yes, that was another thing that always bothered me... 1 Peter clearly says Christ preached the Gospel to the dead. Gospel in Greek means GOOD NEWS... well how could the news be good if He were only there to say, nyah, nyah, you're going to hell! That is not good news!

So clearly they could be saved even after death.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget the catholic practice.

SteSmo said...

I too love the doctrine of Baptism for the Dead. I cannot imagine a loving God who would deny his love and grace to some people but not others. As a loving God, he would, according to the dictates of his nature, grant his love to EVERYONE. Baptism for the Dead is a true Christian doctrine that, along with the doctrine of theosis or exaltation, is in many instances an "incovienent truth" for many professing Christians.

On another note, I have a question for any Catholic reader or someone who might know: is it true that Catholics perform Mass and the Rosary for the Dead? I don't mean to challenge the Catholic faith, I just would like to know. If it is true, then it seems to me that there is an obvious parallel between that and the Latter-day Saint doctrine of vicarious works for the dead.
Any information would be appreciated.

Steve Smoot

NM said...

Is 'baptism for the dead' similar to Catholicism's purgatory state as described here by the mighty wikipedia?

And what's all this about Rosary for the dead?!

It's all very interesting stuff...

Anonymous said...

It is possible to interpret v. 29 in terms of its context (vs. 12–32) as another proof of the resurrection: (1) The word “else” refers to the argument of vs. 12–28 and might be paraphrased, “but if there is no resurrection …” (2) The word “baptized” is used figuratively of braving extreme danger or death, as in Matt. 20:22; Luke 12:50. (3) “They … which are baptized” refers to the apostles, constantly facing death as they proclaimed the hope of the resurrection (1 Cor. 4:9–13; cf. Rom. 8:36; 2 Cor. 4:8–12). Of his own experiences at Ephesus—where Paul wrote this epistle—he declared that he stood “in jeopardy every hour” (1 Cor. 15:30), “despaired even of life” (2 Cor. 1:8–10), and, as it were, died “daily” (1 Cor. 15:31). (4) “The dead” of v. 29 are the Christian dead of vs. 12–18, and, potentially, all living Christians, who, according to some at Corinth, had no hope beyond death (vs. 12, 19). According to this interpretation, v. 29 could be paraphrased thus: “but if there is no resurrection, what shall the messengers of the gospel do, if they continually brave death on behalf of men who are destined to perish at death anyway?” It would be folly (v. 17) for them to face death to save others, “if the dead rise not” (vs. 16, 32). The continued courage of the apostles in the face of death is thus excellent evidence of their faith in the resurrection.
That it is not possible, as some teach, for Christians to be baptized vicariously on behalf of deceased relatives and friends is apparent from the many Scriptures which declare that a man must personally believe in Christ and confess his sins in order to profit by baptism and be saved (Acts 2:38; 8:36, 37; cf. Eze. 18:20–24; John 3:16; 1 John 1:9). Even the most righteous of men can “deliver but their own souls” (Eze. 14:14, 16; cf. Ps. 49:7). Death marks the close of human probation (see Ps. 49:7–9; Eccl. 9:5, 6, 10; Isa. 38:18, 19; Luke 16:26; Heb. 9:27, 28).

Anonymous said...

Jayleen,

The Bible passage 1 Peter 3:18-20 : The preaching was done "by the Spirit" (verse 18) in Noah's day--to people who were then living (verses 19, 20). The "spirits in prison" refers to people whose lives were in bondage to Satan. (See Psalm 142:7; Isaiah 42:6, 7; 61:1; and Luke 4:18.)

Zera said...

"The word “baptized” is used figuratively of braving extreme danger or death, as in Matt. 20:22; Luke 12:50. (3)"

Uhh dude the matthew scripture isn't using it figuratively. A woman comes to Christ asks him to let her Sons sit on his left and right hand in the kingdom. He then asks them if they are willing to be baptized they say yes, and he says that they when will be (which is also a promise of their resurrection), he then says he cannot promise them a place at his left or right hand, because that is his fathers (GOD) decision not his.

as for luke
he isn't referring to danger, he is referring to his calling to be the first resurrected being. Which was his duty after all baptism does and always has represented Christs death Burial and Resurrection so what better way to refer to it than as his baptism, which as well as in matthew was promised to those who follow him.

So in other words using those verses this is how it would read in simple modern english

If the dead don't rise then why are they resurrected for the dead? And how much sense does that make? Not very much. Seriously and people accuse us of stretching the scriptures.

Anonymous said...

That it is not possible, as some teach, for Christians to be baptized vicariously on behalf of deceased relatives and friends is apparent from the many Scriptures which declare that a man must personally believe in Christ and confess his sins in order to profit by baptism and be saved.

Baptism is nessary the whole christian world condems all that have never heard about Christ. They can an will here about after death in the spirit form but can not be physicaly baptised. Therefore, the friends and families can help them.

Anonymous said...

Uhh Zera,

When one is baptised what does THAT represent? Doesn't it represent DEATH to 'old self' and rebirth to 'new self' as Jesus taught Nicodemus to be re-born ? Or are you a miracle literal re-birth? Isn't this more simply the public demonstration of the justification process of dealing with one's previous sin ?

Jesus was already baptised by John the Baptist when He said this, so what baptism was coming to him ? He was referring to His DEATH!

That is what the verses that Anon referred to, are meaning. That is the connection.

Did you happen to read the other Bible verses ?

In twisting Bible verses, I could suggest the same in relation to this topic. One could live exactly how one wants in this life, make a family connection with the LDS at one point in their lives, die and then rely on that family member to baptise on their behalf - really, where is the personal touch of one ownership for responsibility in salvation?
++++++++++++++++++++++
The Christian world (which is quite large) does not condemn anyone that has not heard about Jesus. I don't, neither do any of my friends that also believe in Jesus. That right of condemnation belongs to Jesus only. He will seperate the 'sheep from the goats'. Or the righteous from the wicked ...

dave d said...

Anon,

Apparently you do not understand LDS doctrine with respect to vicarious work for the dead.

Say someone had every chance to accept the gospel in its fulness and decided to live a wild life instead, expecting to have vicarious baptism performed in their behalf after they died and thinking that was all they needed to be saved. They would have wasted their chance and vicarious baptism in their behalf would do no good.

On the other hand, another individual that lived in 3rd century B.C. Mongolia and lived the best life they knew how but never heard of Christ (or even of Judaism). That person dies and after Christ's death, is taught the gospel and accepts it with all his heart, desiring baptism and every other blessing the gospel brings. For that person, vicarious baptism would be valid and useful.

Another scenario - great-grandpa dies a staunch _____. He dies and those preaching the gospel in the next world have no luck convincing him. Vicarious baptism is performed in his behalf. He doesn't accept it. It does him no good.

So, in fact, there is a very personal aspect of salvation for everyone, even the dead.

Pops said...

The question, "When one is baptized what does THAT represent?" strikes me as curiously irrelevant. It isn't a question of what baptism represents. It's a question of the ordinance of baptism, which is a requirement for salvation, and why that ordinance would be performed for those who had died if there were no resurrection. Basically, it means what it says.

Anonymous said...

I have just one question to the Christian world.

IF BAPTISM IS REQUIRED THEN WHAT HAPPENS TO ALL THE PEOPLE AROUND THE WORLD THAT HAS NEVER OR WILL NEVER HERE ABOUT JESUS CHRIST?

Darion Alexander said...

Awesome question Anon! That is such a great question to ask. Too many times, we forget that there are countless millions of people and babies who have never heard of Christ or the Gospel and have died. I am sorry all of you 700 Club watchers, but they don't see your show in the boonies of say...China or Guatemala, I know because I have been there. Also, to say that God condemns them, regardless if you say it or not, is unmerciful and unjust.

So, we can't say that everyone will get that opportunity, no matter what Revelation says about all kindred,tongues, and people.

That particular revelation is fulfilled when we think outside the box and realize that Peter was on the ball when he mentioned that Christ taught to the spirits in prison. Doesn't that make sense? Doesn't that prove how merciful God really is? Not only that, we can act in their stead and can be baptized for them. Yes, they have to want it on the other side, but it's done for them if they want it.

Anonymous said...

Second question to my fellow Christians.

If you were never given the chance to learn of the Good News of Jesus Christ, what would you give to have a family member, friend, or a stranger to do something for you that you were never given a chance to do, but was nessary for salvation?

I would fall at their feet and wash their feet with my tears.

Anonymous said...

Dear Anon,

This identifies the craziness (apologies for this word) of this whole concept.

Here you are willing to wash their feet with your tears. These are SIMPLE words without merit.

How many times do you do this physically every day in LOVE? If you loved Jesus as much as you claim, then you would do this for your family, loved ones, friends and neighbours on a daily basis IN GOD'S LOVE, until they believed.

The fact that I can read into your comment that you don't makes you a hypocrite. You prefer to wait until they have died, to baptise vicariously on their behalf.

If someone has died in the Spirit, they will be resurrected in the Spirit. Baptism for the dead changes nothing once an individual has breathed his last breath. How can you claim to baptise for anyone or everyone on the presumption that they would want to have 'that final chance'? Or are you in communication with their spirit too, so that they can identify what they DO want to happen ?

Anonymous said...

"If you loved Jesus as much as you claim, then you would do this for your family, loved ones, friends and neighbours on a daily basis IN GOD'S LOVE, until they believed."

I am not sure where you got the idea that I have not preached the name of Jesus Christ daily to my family, friends, and heighbours but was content to wait until they died. My statement was that if someone could go through a required baptism for me, because I missed out during the time I lived on this earth then I would be most grateful. This goes to the point that most Christians don't believe that baptism is nessary for salvation. And again this does not address what happens to all those people that have never heard of Jesus Christ and need to be baptised. This ofcorse, unless you believe that you do not need to believe in Jesus Christ and baptism is not required and when you die you just sleep and die in the spirit and G-d just winks at you because you died without the knowledge of Jesus Christ and you just don't to worry your little head about such matters.

Anonymous said...

"If someone has died in the Spirit, they will be resurrected in the Spirit."

This is a new one on me; I have never heard of a spirit being resurrected. Chris came back in a resurrected physical form not in a spirit. Also other saints were resurrected and went among the people.

Anonymous said...

Anon,

You blatantly missed the emphasis in the capital 'S' for Spirit. This denotes God the Holy Spirit.

Please re-read :

"If someone has died in God, they will be resurrected in God."

In other words, if an individual truly is a child of God and one of the 'saints' then they will be resurrected as a child of God.

I never mentioned anything about the state of matter or being.

Please understand this comment for what it says - not for what YOU want to criticise.

Anonymous said...

Anon,

"because I missed out during the time I lived on this earth then I would be most grateful."

This applies to you.

What about those many people who openly profess to reject Jesus and want nothing to do with Him ? Do you respect their wishes after they die or baptise yourself anyway for them. What respect are you giving yourself or their wishes? Also how can you presume that you know any dead person wants this baptism.

It is a mixed up, carry on.

You are restricting God in His infinite glory, by stating that He does not know a person by his character and whether or not he is worthy in the judgement.

Will a baptism by proxy help in this case or is each individual responsible for events in their lifetime?

I would not want my salvation resting in the balance like this - thank you ! It is far too critical an issue for me to take any such chances like you describe.

Anonymous said...

"Will a baptism by proxy help in this case or is each individual responsible for events in their lifetime?"

Both. What you did during your life, plus baptism by proxy which shows that you are except Jesus Christ as you Savior and will follow Him.

Anonymous said...

You blatantly missed the emphasis in the capital 'S' for Spirit. This denotes God the Holy Spirit.

Please re-read :

"If someone has died in God, they will be resurrected in God."

As usual you have covered all those that die in G-d but not those that never had a chance to be baptised. For those that understand that baptism is nessary for salvation then what is to be done with all those that have never been baptised?

Anonymous said...

"You are restricting God in His infinite glory, by stating that He does not know a person by his character and whether or not he is worthy in the judgement."

If God knows the character, whether hes is worthy or not, why have baptism at all?

Anonymous said...

"What about those many people who openly profess to reject Jesus and want nothing to do with Him ? Do you respect their wishes after they die or baptise yourself anyway for them. What respect are you giving yourself or their wishes? Also how can you presume that you know any dead person wants this baptism."

Sure, they then have the chance to except the baptism done on their behalve or not.

Anonymous said...

"I would not want my salvation resting in the balance like this - thank you ! It is far too critical an issue for me to take any such chances like you describe."

How do you think those people that never got to be baptised would feel being left out with a chance to be baptised?

Anonymous said...

Anon,

This is the problem.

Anyone who is convicted of their sin, is committed to Jesus, repents of their sins and comes out of their 'old self', they realise the importance of following their Saviour.

You are grouping together too may parameters into one area - baptism for all the dead. This is the issue. When someone is dead, they are dead (or have you personally experienced a 'spirit world'? There is no 'dead' camp where they can say - 'oh that's nice, because John X has baptised by proxy, I get a second chance!'

It doesn't happen like this.

There is NOTHING that any living individual can do physically or prayerfully to change the judgement to be proclaimed on those that have already passed away.

Jesus is the ONLY way for them to have received salvation in their lifetime. In Him lies the judgement.

Live through faith that His divine decisions in judgement are pure, just, true and infinitely Holy.

Baptism is symbolically the public declaration and recognition to empty oneself of the 'old' in a symbolic 'death', then 'resurrection' into a new life with Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit.

That is why in times of ignorance 'God winks' is such a powerful advantage that God has in His mercy for those that have never had the opportunity to hear the Good News.

Anonymous said...

When you die your spirit leaves your body and you go to a place called spirit prison where you are instructed about the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. However, if you have gone through all the ordinances by someone with the proper authority then you may be resurrected and obtain your glory.
Dead is not dead: dead is only the beginning and it is this lifes last great adventure and the beginning of the next. So i'll see ya all on the other side.

Anonymous said...

Dead is not dead: Christ showed us when He came back to His deciples and other saint were resurrected.

Anonymous said...

Matt. 27:53
They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus' resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people.

NM said...

This conversation is SO DIFFICULT to follow. Would both anonymouses please consider taking up handles? Please?

Anonymous said...

NM,


Do you believe that baptism is nessary for salvation?

Hand el