Our ministry is designed to help people with faith problems. Most of our focus in on the scientific evidence for the existence of God and the credibility of the Bible. Unfortunately, we have to spend a significant amount of time dealing with people who have lost their faith in God because of the actions and/or teachings of people who claim to be Christians. Sometimes things are presented in the name of Christianity that are so outlandish that people can see they don’t make sense. When that happens, we find it’s something that isn’t in the Bible or is a distortion of what the Bible says.
In 1 Corinthians 15:29 the King James translation of the passage reads: “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?” The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, which is the top governing body of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (known as the Mormon Church), teaches that modern day Mormons should be baptized for dead ancestors who didn’t receive baptism while they were alive. On April 1-2, 2017, the Quorum met at a conference in Salt Lake City, Utah, that was broadcast in 90 languages throughout the world. They urged members of the Mormon church to participate in the “Baptism for the Dead” ritual.
We have already received some challenges from atheists and skeptics about this practice. The skeptics say that the concept of people choosing to believe in Christ and having the freedom to reject God is destroyed by this practice. We have to side with the atheists here and say that such a practice is ludicrous and makes a mockery of the purpose of baptism. God never forces people to believe or to accept a religious practice and no person can do so on behalf of someone else.
The Mormon baptism is a long way from the baptism described in the Bible. Romans 6 explains baptism as a dying to sin in complete repentance to no longer be a slave to sin. It is an act of becoming a “new person.” Baptism is never portrayed as a ticket to heaven done without understanding or choice. To correctly understand 1 Corinthians 15:29 we need to take it in context. The phrase “for the dead” in the original Greek is “huper nekroon.” This is more accurately translated “on account of.” In the context, beginning in verse 12 the Apostle Paul is writing about the resurrection of Christ. He is challenging those who say that Christ has not been raised from the dead. Then in verse 29, Paul is simply saying, “Why be baptized if there is no resurrection?” In verse 19 Paul points out the fact that if there is nothing after this life, Christians have no hope and should be pitied. But in the entire passage he is insisting that the resurrection of Christ is real, and therefore so will be the resurrection of Christ’s followers who have been baptized. (Examine Romans 6:3-5.) The notion that we can somehow do a proxy baptism flies in the face of everything Paul taught in the rest of the chapter and the rest of the New Testament.
If you are an atheist or a skeptic, it is important to be sure you know what the Bible actually says. Inaccurate translations or human misrepresentations of what the Bible says cannot be attacked as a part of the Christian system. Each of us must answer to God for ourselves. No one can do it for you while you are alive or when you are dead.
The Mormon teaching was reported in an AP news story by Brady McCombs carried in newspapers on Sunday, April 2, 2017.
–John N. Clayton © 2017