Does baptism for the dead have a basis in the Bible? Was this Mormon temple rite originally established by Jesus, and taught and practiced by His apostles?
Chapter 14 is a continuation of Paul’s teachings dealing with – gifts of the Spirit in Chapter 12 – and charity in Chapter 13. It would seem, that many of the Corinthian believers had gone overboard with speaking in tongues. Paul had a lot to say in Chapter 14 about speaking in tongues – but we aren’t going to spend any time on it today – because the next Chapter has so much content to discuss.
Chapter 15 is one of the most doctrinally important chapters in all the New Testament. From Acts 17:32, we know that among some of the Greeks, the doctrine of the resurrection was regarded as ridiculous. We know from the Gospel accounts that there were Jews who denied it. As a means to counteract these errors, and to put the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead on a firm foundation of irrefutable truth – Paul addresses it – head on.
Verse 1 “Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand;” He’s saying, I Paul, an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ declare unto you – believers in Corinth – THE GOSPLE. The Good News! What is the Good News Paul’s referring to here? The things that he will include in the package of the Good News is given in Verses 3-4 “how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures.” That is the definition of the Gospel – it’s that concise and simple. When asked what is, the Gospel of Christ – you can go to 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 to find the answer. In this passage, we see three essential elements to the gospel message. First, that Jesus “died for our sins.” Second, that “he was buried.” And, third, Jesus “rose again the third day.” These are the concise essential elements of the gospel: the death of Christ on the cross to pay for our sins, the resurrection of Christ to provide life everlasting for those who will follow Him, and the offer of the free gift of salvation to all. This is the foundation upon which Christians have to “stand.”
Now isn’t it interesting that Paul himself doesn’t include anything includes today – for the Good News to have power to save? He says nothing about baptism, being member of a church, having a priesthood authority, having a man calling himself a prophet, temple ordinances and rituals. Nothing about doing works or being worthy. These things are the non-essentials in the Gospel – which men have embraced and made part of the Good News. But the Good News according to Paul here – stand on the works of Jesus Christ for the redemption of the world. Paul warns in Galatians 1:6-9 “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any many preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.“
Paul now adds the following in reference to Jesus rising on the third day – which is the general topic of this chapter – the resurrection – first of Christ and secondly of others. So speaking of His rising after three days, Paul writes 1 Corinthians 15:5-8 “And that he was seen of Cephas (who was Peter), then of the twelve: After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren (not counting women) at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep (meaning they have died). After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen of me (Paul) also, as of one born out of due time.” So, the material resurrection of Jesus was based on credible, verifiable witnesses and not given to us in a vacuum. There in Corinth some were denying the resurrection and Paul gives them conclusive evidence that His resurrection was a reality. It is without question the Jews believed, over the course of their history, that there would be a resurrection. But, by the time we get to Jesus’ day, there were some of the House of Israel who rejected the resurrection entirely. They were the Sadducees.
Skipping forward in this chapter a bit, Paul puts a lot of weight on the resurrection of Christ by saying, Verse 14 “And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.” Paul is simply saying to the believers at Corinth that it is useless to even believe in Jesus – if He wasn’t resurrected. Paul adds, Verse 15 “Ye, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not.” If Christ did not rise – then Paul is a false witness. Remember, those Apostles gave their lives to be eyewitnesses of the Lord. If Jesus died for our sins – then it was in the raising of Christ – that the proof that sins had been remitted is seen. Anyone can claim to be the Messiah and that they are going to be put to death for the sins of the world. But to rise from the dead once put to death – is the proof. So, no resurrection – Paul says – no pardoning of sin. Then Paul makes the all familiar statement, Verses 21-22 “For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.”
We now come to an obscure isolated passage found in 1 Corinthians 15:29 “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?” Baptism for the dead, is one of the more controversial doctrines in Mormon theology. It is unique to the LDS and has no actual basis in the Bible, Book of Mormon, or Pearl of Great Price. Mormons believe that individuals who have died – can hear and receive the Mormon gospel in the spirit world. And, through proxy baptism performed for them in an LDS temple – they can attain eternal life and even exaltation. However, that belief contradicts the Book of Mormon doctrine taught in Alma 34:34-35 that teaches – if people procrastinate their repentance until after they die – meaning in the “Spirit World” – they would have NO need for proxy baptism. Their fate is ALREADY determined.
The important question here is – does baptism for the dead have a basis in the Bible? Was this Mormon temple rite originally established by Jesus, and taught and practiced by His apostles? The best way to understand any single verse in Scripture is to examine the verses surrounding it. When we read 1 Corinthians 15:29 in its context it is clear, that resurrection – not baptism – is the dominating theme throughout the chapter. False teachers had infiltrated the church at Corinth – teaching that there was no resurrection of the dead. The whole chapter is devoted to reasons why this is a false teaching. A close reading of Verse 29 reveals that Paul is pointing out an inconsistency in the practice of these false teachers. They did not believe the dead would rise, but they practiced proxy baptism for those who were dead. Paul asks, “if the dead rise not at all, why are they then baptized for the dead?” Why bother? Notice – my LDS friends – this ritual was not taking place inside a temple located in Corinth. It appears these baptisms were taking place in a public venue.
By carefully noticing the third-person pronouns in the verse, one can see who was practicing baptisms for the dead. Paul says, “…what shall THEY do which are baptized for the dead… Why are THEY then baptized for the dead?” Paul didn’t say, “Why are YOU – Corinthian Christians – then baptized for the dead?” He was asking a rhetorical question – “Why these false teachers – who did not even believe in the resurrection – would want to baptize for the dead if the dead will never rise?”
The most important question to ask in the first place would be – Is baptism necessary for salvation? Because that would be the premise of baptism for the dead. The New Testament certainly teaches that baptism is an important step, but it does not teach it is necessary to receive forgiveness of sins and to receive eternal life. A claim that baptism for the dead was part of original Christianity that was lost and needs to be restored – lacks any historical, scriptural, or logical basis. Despite all the manuscript writings and archaeological discoveries of early Christianity, absolutely no evidence has been found to show that anyone practiced proxy baptism in the early church. This lone account in Verse 29 was reference to an isolated event, limited to either some misinformed Corinthians – or possibly a pagan cult.
And now, Paul steps directly into teaching about the resurrection that some were denying, saying in Verse 35 “But some man will say, How are the dead raised up? And with what body do they come?” And Paul responds by first giving a brief lesson in Verses 36-41 on different bodies as seen in nature. The Latter-day Saints view these passages as evidence of the doctrine of the three degrees of glory or kingdoms of glory. Verses 38-41 “But God giveth it a body as it hath pleased him, and to every seed his own body. All flesh is not the same flesh: but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts, another of fishes, and another of birds. There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory.” Paul’s description of different celestial and terrestrial bodies isn’t a reference to bodies in the resurrection – as suggested in D&C 76:78. Rather it simply points to the fact that the world is composed of celestial (meaning heavenly) types of bodies – like the sun, stars, angels, etc. And terrestrial (meaning earthly) types of bodies – like humans, animals, birds, fish, etc. Joseph Smith’s addition of a “telestial” type of body mentioned in JST 1 Corinthians 15:40 doesn’t really fit into Paul’s division of the world – since it would have to be something other than heavenly and earthly bodies. Paul’s analogy seems only intended to show that bodies are adapted to the purposes for which God intended and, therefore, one should not be surprised to learn that resurrected bodies are different from mortal bodies.
Verses 42-44 “So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it raised in power: it sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body.” Here, Paul explains that the weak, corrupt, non-glorious, natural body of mortality is transformed in the resurrection into a powerful, incorrupt, glorious, spiritual body.
A Latter-day Saint might ask – What about Paul’s vision in which he was caught up to the “third heaven” 2 Corinthians 12:2? Doesn’t that imply multiple heavens? Yes, but in a different sense from the LDS concept of degrees of glory. It was a familiar Hebrew tradition that there were three different heavens. The first heaven was the atmospheric heaven of clouds and birds, etc. The second was the heaven consisting of the moon, stars, and planets. The third heaven was the heaven where God dwelt, also referred to in Scripture as the heaven of heavens. Paul says that he was caught up to the third heaven where God is (2 Corinthians 12:2) and 2 Corinthians 12:4 calls that place “paradise.”
Okay, we’ll wrap up this lesson by addressing 1 Corinthians 15:46 “Howbeit, that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual.” LDS theology teaches in the Pearl of Great Price, Book of Moses 3:5 that all human beings were created with a spiritual body first in a pre-mortal world. Then, we all take on mortal tabernacles of human flesh when we came to earth. But Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 15:46 that we are created first physically, and later are resurrected with a glorious, spiritual body.
One last comment – Paul was plagiarized by a Book of Mormon character named Abinadi in about 148 BC. Compare 1 Corinthians 15:54-57 with Mosiah 16:7-8. It is obvious that Joseph Smith had the New Testament in front of him as he drew upon Paul’s epistle to form the Book of Mormon passage.
And, this concludes our study of 1 Corinthians. Don’t forget, we are on YouTube, iTunes podcast and Spotify podcast.
Until next time, God Bless!