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Joseph Smith taught that seeking the dead in this manner is a Mormon's greatest responsibility - Marvelous Work and a Wonder, p. 189.
Each person will be saved or lost based on his own conduct, not the conduct of others - Ezek. 18:20; Phil. 2:12.
Each person will be judged and eternally rewarded for his own conduct, not the conduct of others - Rom. 2:6-11; Rev. 22:12; Matt. 16:27; Rom. 14:10-12
In particular, each individual who believes in Jesus as a result of hearing the gospel must also himself obey the gospel. See Heb. 5:9; James 1:22-25; 2:14,18,24; 2 Thess. 1:8,9.
Specifically, each individual who believes and repents must himself be baptized for the forgiveness of his own sins. No one else can do it for him. See Acts 2:38; 22:16; Mark 16:15,16; Gal. 3:26,27; Acts 8:12.
2 Corinthians 5:10 - Each one will be judged for what HE has done in the body.
Luke 16:26 - After death, there is a great gulf fixed between the wicked and the righteous, so that no one can cross from one side to the other.
Hebrews 9:27 - After death comes, not another chance, but judgment.
Mormons spend vast amounts of money and keep mountains of records in order to determine which of their dead relatives they need to be baptized for. But the Bible forbids such emphasis on genealogies in the name of religion.
See 1 Tim. 1:4; Titus 3:9.
Even the Book of Mormon (BofM) agrees on this. Nephi refused to give his genealogy saying, "such things are not of worth to the children of men" - 1 Nephi 6:6.
2 Nephi 2:21 - Men must repent "while in the flesh" (called "probation").
2 Nephi 33:9 - There is no hope for Gentiles unless they be reconciled to Christ and continue in that way "until the end of the day of probation."
Alma 34:32-35 - This life is the time for repentance, so don't procrastinate until death, because then the devil seals you his and that is the final state of the wicked!
Clearly, Smith later changed his doctrine on this point. Current Mormon practice contradicts both the BofM and the Bible!
1 Corinthians 15:29 says, "Otherwise, what will they do who are baptized for the dead, if the dead do not rise at all? Why then are they baptized for the dead?"
If the Mormon doctrine is not taught here, then it is not taught anywhere in the Bible. Yet, Smith called this practice the greatest responsibility given by God. It is supposed to be essential to the salvation of millions. They continually speak about it and compile huge genealogies to facilitate it. Such can hardly be the proper conclusion of just one passage.
Since the Mormon view contradicts so many other Scriptures, if there is any other view of 1 Cor. 15:29 that harmonizes with the language of the passage and with other passages, then we ought to accept that alternative view.
Note that, in order to disprove Mormonism, we need not know for certain which view of the passage is correct, so long as we know a possibility that fits the passage and other passages. To illustrate, if a man sees a woman across the street, he does not need to know who she is in order to be able to tell she is not his wife. Likewise, here is a possible explanation which does no violence either to this passage or to any other passage.
"For" (Greek huper) can mean "of the impelling or moving cause; on account of, for the sake of any person or thing" - Grimm-Wilke-Thayer. Cf. Rom. 15:9; Eph. 5:20; Phil. 1:29; 1 Cor. 15:3; 2 Thess. 1:5; 2 Cor. 1:6; Eph. 3:1,13. We glorify God "for" His mercies and give thanks "for" His blessings. Likewise, one can be "imprisoned for a crime" or "punished for disobedience." The significance is not that one substitutes for something else, but rather that one thing is the cause that motivates the other conduct.
In what sense could the "dead" be the cause that motivates people to be baptized?
The example and teaching of faithful people, now dead, may motivate us to be baptized and live for God even as they were baptized and lived for God - Heb. 10:39-12:4; 13:7; 6:11,12; James 5:10f. If they served God faithfully, then we should try to be like them, so we can be rewarded as they will. This fits the context of 1 Cor. 15: If there is no resurrection of the dead, these dead people will not be rewarded, so where is the motivation to us to be baptized and serve as they did?
The example of unfaithful people, now dead, should also motivate us to be baptized and live for God so we do not endure the punishment they will face - 1 Cor. 10:1-11; Heb. 3:7-14. But if there is no resurrection, they will not be punished after this life, so where is the motivating cause to lead us to be baptized?
So, "baptism for the dead" may simply mean that dead people become an impelling or moving cause who help motivate us to be baptized. People who are now dead may have, during their lifetime, set an example of faithfulness to God, including being baptized. Their example and teaching may serve to motivate or move us to be baptized. If so, we are "baptized for the dead" - we are impelled or motivated by their example and teaching.
There may be better explanations, but this one is the most likely in my view. It fits the language of the passage and fits the discussion in context. And unlike the Mormon view, it does no violence to any other passage.
Copyright 2007,David E. Pratte; www.gospelway.com
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Mormonism and the Bible
Individual Responsibility in Salvation
Is Baptism Essential to Salvation?
Evidences for God, Jesus, & the Bible
The Inspiration of the Bible
The Preservation of the Bible
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Scripture quotations are generally from the New King James Version (NKJV), copyright 1982, 1988 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. used by permission. All rights reserved.