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Christianity TodayAugust 10August 10 1998

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Directions: Did Paul Baptize for the Dead?
The most plausible interpretation is that some in Corinth were getting baptized vicariously for the dead.

Q:I've heard Mormons criticized for getting "baptized for the dead," but in 1 Corinthians 15:29, Paul writes: "Now if there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized for them?" (NIV). Did Jews or early Christians practice this? Why do we believe it's wrong to practice it today?

—Janice Showalter
Flint, Michigan

A:In Mormon doctrine, no one can enter the "celestial" heaven without being baptized. But those who have died can gain admittance if others are baptized for them. Today, Mormon doctrine requires that the dead person for whom someone else is baptized must be named (hence their interest in genealogical research), and proxy baptism is considered one of the most important elements of Mormon "temple work." So it is surprising to discover that the Book of Mormon never mentions the doctrine—even more so knowing that the Bible and the Book of Mormon are between them believed to contain "the fullness of the gospel" and that the Book of Mormon ostensibly contains "the fullness of the everlasting gospel." Still, this does not prevent the Mormon's Doctrines of Salvation from boldly asserting, "The Prophet Joseph Smith declared, 'The greatest … commandment given us, and made obligatory, is the temple work in our own behalf and in behalf of our dead.' " Presumably, this is the biblical basis for 1 Corinthians 15:29.

Mormon teaching aside, how should we understand this verse? Christian leaders have long been leery of imposing on the consciences of believers as being crucial what is mentioned in only one verse. It's not that something becomes "truer" or more binding if it is repeated many times. Rather, when something is mentioned ...



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