“Baptized for the Dead”

R. L. Whiteside

Dear Brother Whiteside: Please explain 1 Pet. 4:5-6; also 1 Cor. 15:29. I have a neighbor who is a Mormon. I am enclosing her literature which will explain why I want to you explain the above references… They believe in faith, repentance, and baptism, just as we do; but they also teach baptism for the dead. She sent money to their headquarters in Utah, and had her deceased mother baptized!

From the literature sent, I copy the following:

Here the seeker after truth may properly inquire, ‘If it is necessary for all men and women to be baptized, what will become of the good people who have died without that privilege?’ To this the reply of the Scriptures is that the dead who died without hearing the gospel will have it preached to them (1 Pet. 4:5-6). They who obey it will be saved, but they who reject it will be condemned, as though they were in the flesh.

‘But the dead person cannot be baptized,’ says one. Very true; but God is just. In His wisdom He has provided a way in which the dead can be baptized for, by those who are in the flesh, as shown by the apostle Paul in his question, ‘Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead…’ (1 Cor. 15:29). His question plainly shows that ‘baptism for the dead’ was both believed in and practiced by the early Christians.

According to the foregoing excerpt, the dead will have the gospel preached to them. “They who obey it will be saved, but they who reject it will be condemned.” Evidently, then, if a dead person rejects the gospel, he will be lost, no matter what is done on earth among the living. Here, then, is a puzzle: How can the Mormon know whether the dead person, for whom he is being baptized, accepted or rejected the gospel? Surely baptism for a dead person who rejects the gospel would do such dead person no good, for they plainly say that the dead person who rejects the gospel will be condemned. In trying to solve this puzzle the Mormon will involve himself in some others. But, to the passages cited:

“Who shall give account to him that is ready to judge the living and the dead. For unto this end was the gospel preached even to the dead, that they might be judged indeed according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.” (1 Pet. 4:5-6 ASV). Macknight gives this translation of verse 6: Besides, for this purpose the gospel hath been preached even to the dead, that although they might be condemned indeed by men in the flesh, yet they might live eternally by God in the spirit.”

It is repeatedly said, as in verse 5, that God will judge the living and the dead; but it is plainly taught that the dead will be raised before they are judged. Peter says the gospel was preached to the dead. Notice the difference between Peter’s was preached and the Mormon’s “will be preached.” What Peter was talking about had already been done. But even if it were said that the gospel will be preached to the dead, it would not necessarily mean that the gospel would be preached to them while they are dead. The dead will be judged, but not till they are raised from the dead.

But the doctrine of preaching to the dead is absurd. Preach to the dead? Who but a crazy person would stand over the graves of dead people and preach to them? “Oh, but the gospel will be preached to the spirits of these dead bodies.” I know what is claimed, but I also know that the spirits of these dead bodies are not dead—the body is dead. Preaching to living spirits is not preaching to dead folks! Peter was talking about dead folks to whom the gospel had been preached while they were living. The story of the rich man and Lazarus (Lk. 16:19-31) shows that the fate of a person is settled when he dies. There can be no crossing over from the state of torment to the state of bliss.

First Corinthians 15:29 has already been quoted. Paul was proving that there is to be a resurrection of the dead. In this verse he raises the question, “If the dead are not raised up, what shall they do who are baptized for the dead?” To make it fit the Mormon practice, it should read like this: “If the dead are not raised, what shall the dead do for whom someone has been baptized?” But the question does not concern the dead, but those who have been baptized for the dead—what shall they do? Well, even if the dead are not raised, the Mormon could keep on collecting money for being baptized for them! It appears that that is one thing those who are baptized for the dead do.

The Mormons make a mess of the passage, and go contrary to all the rest of the teaching of the Bible concerning baptism. Some of the trouble is cleared away if we notice the fact that the term the dead is often used to signify the dead state—that is, death. “Resurrection from the dead” is a resurrection from death—from the dead state. For the Jews to accept Christ is as life from the dead—their state of spiritual death (Rom. 11:15). The reader will notice that there is a difference between the resurrection of the dead and the “resurrection from the dead.”

People who are baptized are baptized for, or in respect to, the dead state. Now, if the dead are not raised, what do they do, or what do they accomplish, by being baptized for this dead state? This view of the matter harmonizes with all that the Bible says about baptism.

The following facts should have weight:

  1. Christianity is an individual matter. No one can believe for another, nor repent for another, nor be baptized for another.

  2. If the fact that baptism is necessary makes it necessary for a living person to be baptized for a dead person, then someone must believe and repent for a dead person, for they are as necessary as baptism.

  3. We are commanded to baptize penitent believers, but no where are we commanded to be baptized for dead people.

  4. There is no historic evidence for such a practice as the Mormons advocate existed at Corinth. If it had existed, and Paul used it as an argumentum ad hominem, that would not prove the practice correct. He used war, the equivalent for war, the races, and even boxing, as illustrations, but did not endorse such things.

It is hardly correct to say that the Mormons believe in faith, repentance, and baptism, just as we do. Their faith is not the same as my faith. They have fixed up a sort of material god, and they believe in Joe Smith as a prophet, and the Book of Mormon as an inspired book; and they believe that there are now inspired prophets, and that no part of the Bible is binding upon any generation, save as it may be taught or bound by some living inspired prophet.

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