Baptized for the dead
Otherwise, what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf? 1 Cor. 15:29 RSV
Later this month will be the 200th anniversary of the birth of Joseph Smith, founder of the Church of the Latter Day Saints, commonly known as the Mormons. In 1840 Joseph Smith declared that those who had died before hearing the LDS gospel could have vicarious baptisms performed on their behalf. Today the Mormons still celebrate a ceremony wherein members stand in for deceased friends and relatives as a proxy for them that they may be baptized.
Interestingly, as important as baptism for the dead is for Mormons, there is no basis for it within the Book of Mormon. The Mormons cite as their authority for this practice the verse from First Corinthians and the practice of infant baptism where the parents answer for their baby. If parents can answer for the baby, why can’t proxies answer for the deceased?
Baptism for the dead was practiced among the German sectarians in Ephrata Pennsylvania and surrounding communities for about 100 years into the 1840’s. Although Joseph Smith lived in Pennsylvania as a young married man, no one has argued, let alone demonstrated, that the Mormon practice is based upon the Ephrata practice.
However, this verse about the baptism of the dead is part of series of arguments addressed to those “some among you” who are denying the resurrection. It appears that these “some among you” although they deny the resurrection practice the ritual of baptizing the dead. To these, Pauls says: “If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf?” Thus Paul’s rhetorical question is the only way to understand the context of Paul’s argument in support of the resurrection.
Additionally, Luke would not support such a baptism. Luke believed “The soul that sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son; the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.” (Ezek. 18:20, RSV). To him, Jesus plainly taught that “there is a great chasm has been fixed” between the two states, so that “none may cross from there to us” (Lk. 16:26).
Gospel of Luke