BAPTISM FOR THE DEAD
1 Corinthians 15:29
C. W. Penrose, former head of the Mormon Church, says, “The living may
be baptized for the dead. One who has received the ordinances of the
Gospel can stand proxy for departed ancestors who will receive benefit
of the earthly ordinances on obedience to the Gospel in spirit. As the
Spirit of Christ preached to the spirits in prison while His body was
in the sepulcher, so His servants, bearing His authority, preach to
“the dead” after finishing their work on earth. Ordinances for and in
behalf of the dead are administered in temples built after a pattern
revealed from heaven. Thus the living become saviors to the dead under
Jesus Christ the Captain of their salvation.” (What the Mormons
Believe, President Charles W. Penrose, p. 8).
This belief and practice is founded upon three fundamental errors:
1. That there is a second chance for salvation after this life.
2. That Christ preached to physically dead sinners in his death.
3. That baptism on behalf of the dead is taught in the Bible.
We will analyze these mistaken notions in the light of God’s Word.
1. A second chance for salvation after death contradicts many plain
Biblical statements, Notice the following: Prov. 11;7, “When the
wicked man dieth, his expectation shall perish; and the hope of unjust
men perish.” John 8:21, Ye “shall die in your sin; whither I go, ye
cannot come.” Luke. 16:26, “Between us and you there is a great gulf
fixed, that they would pass from hence to you may not be able, and
that none may cross over from thence to us.” Hebrews 9:27 states, “it
is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgement.”
Even the Book of Mormon refutes this error. In Alma 34:32-35 (p.283)
we read: “For behold, this life is the time for men to prepare to meet
God; yea, behold the day of this life is the day for men to perform
their labors. And now, as I said unto you before, as ye have had so
many witnesses, therefore, I beseech of you that ye do not
procrastinate the day of your repentance until the end; for after this
day of life, which is given us to prepare for eternity, behold, if we
do not improve out time while in this life, then cometh the night of
darkness wherein there can be no labor performed. Ye cannot say, when
ye are brought to that awful crisis, that I will repent, that I will
return to my God. Nay, ye cannot say this; for that same spirit which
doth possess your bodies at the time that ye go out of this life, that
same spirit will have power to possess your body in that eternal
world. For behold, if ye have procrastinated the day of your
repentance even until death, behold, ye have become subjected to the
spirit of the devil and doth seal you his; therefore, the Spirit of
the Lord hath withdrawn from you, and hath no place in you, and the
devil hath all power over you; and this is the final state of the wicked.”
From the above, even a little child could see that not only the Bible,
but even the Book of Mormon itself teaches against a second chance
2. Did Christ preach to the dead sinners in the interval between his
death and resurrection? Those who so affirm this, base their teaching
upon a misunderstanding of two scriptures in I Peter: I Peter 4:6
reads, “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.” The “dead” here spoken of are
described by Paul in Eph. 2:1. He writes, “and you did he make alive
when ye were dead through your trespasses and sins.” The gospel is
preached to those dead in sin that they might be “born again” and
“live accordingly to God in the spirit.”
I Peter 3:18 states, “Christ…being put to death in the flesh, but
made alive by the spirit; in which also he went and preached unto the
spirits in prison.” In His crucifixion, Christ’s physical body was
killed. But the Holy Spirit of God made him alive through the
resurrection as is explained by Paul in Romans 8:11. “But if the
Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwelleth in you, he
that raised up Christ Jesus from the dead shall give life also to your
mortal bodies through his Spirit that dwelleth in you. We will be made
alive just as Christ was, through the power of the Holy Spirit.
I Peter 3:19: “By which he want and preached unto the spirits in
prison. They are called spirits because at the time Peter wrote they
were dead and their spirits lived in a disembodied state in Hades.
They were in prison because they had died in disobedience, in sin and
rebellion. In Jude 6, rebellious angels are said to be kept in
everlasting bonds in Tartarus or Torment in Hades (see Luke 16:22-31).
Jesus went and preached to these spirits. When? Not after they were
dead, but “in the days of Noah.” when they lived. Jesus preached unto
them in or through the Holy Spirit (vs. 18-19). It has always been the
Holy Spirit that conveyed the heavenly message to man. “Men spake from
God being moved by the Holy Spirit” (II Pet. 1:21).
The Spirit never addresses sinners directly, but through men or
angels. Noah was the preacher of righteousness through whom Christ
preached to the sinful people of the antediluvian world (II Peter
2:5). “It should be noted that Peter does not declare that these who
were the objects of this preaching were in a disembodied state and in
prison when the preaching was done; such was their condition he wrote”
(Commentary on the New Testament Epistles of Peter, John and Jude,
G.N. Woods, p. 101). This does not teach that Christ gave them a
second chance by preaching to them after death!
3. That God teaches us to baptize people on behalf of those who died
unbaptized is a false teaching arising from a misunderstanding of I
Corinthians 15:29. Paul writes, “else what shall they do that are
baptized for the dead?”
A study of the pronouns and “grammatical persons” in the context will
help solve this passage.
* In verse I we have the “I” referring to Paul who wrote.
* In the same verse we have the “you” meaning the Corinthian Christians.
* Verse 19 gives us “we”, alluding to Paul and the Corinthians.
* Verse 25 speaks of “He,” the Christ.
* Verse 29 introduces “they,” they who baptize for the dead. It cannot
refer to Paul, Christ or the Corinthian brethren, but to another group
of religious teachers who practiced this rite.
The meaning of verse 29 is seen by surveying the thought of the whole
chapter. A group of false teachers denied the resurrection of the dead
(vs. 12). In refuting their false doctrine, Paul showed:
a. If there is no resurrection, then Christ has not been raised (vs.
b. If there is no resurrection, then our preaching and your faith is
vain (vs. 14).
c. If there is no resurrection, the apostles were all false witnesses
because they preached the resurrection (vs. 15).
d. If there is no resurrection then they that are dead have forever
e. If the dead are not raised, what do they, the false teachers mean
(who deny a resurrection and future life) in being baptized on behalf
of the dead? (vs. 29).
f. If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink for tomorrow we
In this passage, he was not teaching that Christians should be
baptized in behalf of others, rather he was showing the gross
inconsistency of that sect of false teachers who denied that there
would be a resurrection, then turned and baptized living persons on
behalf of those who were dead, thinking it would benefit them.
Now is the acceptable time, behold, now is the day of salvation (II
Cor.6:2). Those accepting Christ and obeying His gospel will be saved.
Those who let death overtake them without preparation must face
judgement in their sins (Heb. 9:27).