The Resurrection and Baptisms for the Dead
How Paul Taught
I’ve often heard many people criticize the LDS Church for doing proxy baptisms for our deceased ancestors and claim that there’s no Biblical basis to do so. Using the resurrection and 1 Corinthians 15, however, Paul strongly alluded to the fact that there is a basis to doing so. In fact, he used three examples in that chapter to back up the doctrine of the resurrection, one of which was baptisms for the dead. This reasonably shows that baptisms for the dead are legitimate doctrine.
The first illustration of the resurrection that Paul uses in chapter 15 is by comparing the resurrection to Jesus’s resurrection itself. 1 Corinthians 15:12-14 says:
“Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen: And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.”
This is a powerful tool to understanding the resurrection. Paul compares the resurrection of all to the resurrection of Christ. There had been so much doubt concerning the resurrection. The people had doubted that the resurrection was legitimate so Paul speaks of it and compares it to Christ. If Jesus was resurrected, then the dead can be resurrected. If Jesus wasn’t resurrected, however, then all of their preaching is in vain; without a resurrected Savior then there was no Atonement—right?
Paul uses a second example to illustrate the resurrection. He speaks of Adam in verse 22, saying:
“For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.”
Through Adam, we had spiritual death, and we are dead creatures. Through Christ, we have spiritual life, and are living creatures. Through Adam, we began to age, grow old, and our bodies die. Through Christ, we will live, can be eternal, and our bodies will never be lost but shall be resurrected again. This is a powerful teaching and would have rung true with many of the individuals. The death that came as a result of the Fall of Adam was not just spiritual, but also physical. In the Garden of Eden, there were two trees: the tree of knowledge of good and evil and the tree of eternal life. Genesis 2:9:
“And out of the ground made the Lord God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.”
Two trees! The only tree that Adam and Eve were forbidden to eat from was the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Genesis 2:16-17:
“And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.”
This means that they could have freely eaten from the tree of life, thus being immortal without any end. When they were expelled from the Garden, they were then cut off from both trees, meaning that their life would end.
When Jesus died for us, however, it was to satisfy that sin, it was to pay for that death, and because He is resurrected, He is countering that which was done in the Garden. We lost physical and spiritual immortality in the Garden, but with Christ, we’ve gained it back. There is no end to life now thanks to what the Savior has done for us. The dead shall rise again!
The third example that Paul uses to explain the resurrection is that of baptisms for the dead. Verses 29-30 say:
“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? And why stand we in jeopardy every hour?”
This is very interesting and is also where we get notice that baptisms for the dead are legitimate and should be observed.
Prior to discussing baptisms for the dead, Paul dedicated two examples to explain why the resurrection was valid. He spoke of the resurrection of Christ and how it was necessary for salvation and he spoke of the fall of Adam and how Christ counteracts that.
Then, to wrap up his argument, he speaks of baptisms for the dead.
There is no way, absolutely no way, that Paul would ever have used a false doctrine to bolster his argument for a true one. Paul always vehemently spoke out against false doctrines so why in the world would he use false doctrine to illustrate a true one?
Allow me to compare this analogy to something today… If baptisms for the dead are a false doctrine, then when Paul said, “Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all?” it would be comparable to one of us saying, “Else what shall the leprechauns do with their pots of gold, if there aren’t any rainbows?” Are rainbows real? Yes. Is the resurrection real? Yes. We know that leprechauns with pots of gold at the end of rainbows aren’t real, though, so why would we cite that as evidence that the rainbow exists? If baptisms for the dead weren’t real doctrine, then why would Paul cite them as evidence of true doctrine? It doesn’t make any sense.
The Torah often spoke out against any kind of pagan or false doctrines and allowing them to be anywhere near true doctrine. Deuteronomy 18:9-14 says:
“When you come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominable practices of those nations. There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer or a charmer or a medium or a necromancer or one who inquires of the dead, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord. And because of these abominations the Lord your God is driving them out before you. You shall be blameless before the Lord your God, …”
“They set up their abominations in the house that is called by my name, to defile it.”
Paul himself later spoke out against being too close to false people and doctrine in 2 Corinthians 6:17:
“Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you.”
Why would Paul let the true doctrine of the resurrection even touch the false doctrine of baptisms for the dead?
…He wouldn’t. Which means that baptisms for the dead are true doctrine. There’s no way to get around it. Paul would not have been so foolish as to compare a true doctrine to a false one in a good way, or to use false doctrine in good light as evidence of a true one. He compared two true doctrines to the resurrection to bolster the truthfulness of it (Jesus and Adam) and then he used a third to do the same (baptisms for the dead).
Based on 1 Corinthians 15 alone, we can discern that baptisms for the dead were a legitimate thing in the early Church. Paul would not have spoken of them in a positive way, not even just to use them as an example. He always drew the line between what was true and what was false and if baptisms for the dead were false then he unnecessarily blurred the line there.
Jesus Christ wanted for us to be baptized. He stated it explicitly as recorded in John 3:5:
“Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”
We need baptism to be saved and so, for that reason, the doctrine of proxy baptisms for the deceased was introduced. This is not a bad thing—it is a good thing! It should how our Father has given us every way for everyone to get back to Him and it is something wonderful we should always remember.
I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ—Amen.