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MECAELA - Hello, I’ve been talking to an Evangelist preacher recently about some of our beliefs. He had written a report in college about Mormons and baptisms for the dead, claiming that it was a false teaching. I understand that God, being a just God, wants everyone to be on the same level, and that it would be unfair for those who never heard the gospel or never knew right from wrong to just go to “hell” because of their ignorance.
He brought up Alma 34:33, stating that this verse contradicts the idea of someone “changing their mind” after death, that the work is done and there’s nothing that can be done about the state that you are in. That nothing more can be learned. Why would Christ preach to those in (spirit) prison if nothing more could be learned?
He also brought up 1 Corinthians 15:29, stating that baptisms for the dead was never performed by early Christians, and if it was, it was considered a pagan act, and they chastised and were corrected.
Again, it seems unfair that a loving Heavenly Father would not give one of His children the chance to repent, and I see nothing wrong with the practice of baptisms for the dead. How can I resolve the issue of this “contradiction”?
JOEL - Such preachers like to pick Mormon scriptures out of context to make them look contradictory to other doctrines.
Here's the Alma scripture in it's context:
33. 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 our time while in this life, then cometh the night of darkness wherein there can be no labor performed.
34 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. (Alma 34: 33-34)
This scripture does not say that everyone that does not repent will definitely go to hell forever; but that it is very likely that you will if you don't repent now. Amulek explains in Verse 34, "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."
Amulek is saying that if you won't change now you probably won't change in the next life, since you will posses the same personality and attitudes that you have now. For a few truly wicked people there may be a point of no return. But most people are somewhere in between good and completely wicked.
What Amulek explains presupposes that a person has actually been given the opportunity to repent. In this scripture he is talking to people who have already heard the word of God and have been given this opportunity. Earlier in the chapter Amuleck said the following:
"My brethren, I think that it is impossible that ye should be ignorant of the things which have been spoken concerning the coming of Christ, who is taught by us to be the Son of God; yea, I know that these things were taught unto you bountifully before your dissension from among us." (Alma 34: 2)
So he was not talking to or about people who have never had the chance to hear and accept it. There are millions of people who have died without ever having heard about the Gospel, or Jesus, or God and therefore did not truly realize that they were doing anything wrong. God would not be a just God if He did not give them a chance. Therefore they will be given a chance in the next life (1 Pet 3:19-20).
And even those who might have heard of the gospel; did they really get a sufficient chance to hear all of it so they could make an informed inspired decision? Only God can be the judge of that.
With regards to baptism for the dead the New Testament tells us:
"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?" (1 Cor. 15:29)
It is evident that even in Paul's day there were saints who were beginning to fall away from the gospel; even doubting the resurrection of the dead. Earlier in that chapter we read:
"Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead?
But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen:
And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain." (1 Cor. 15: 12-14).
Paul's words in 1 Cor. 15:29 were directed at those doubting saints, who may also not have understood why some of the more faithful saints were being baptized on behalf of their dead. I believe it is the more faithful saints who are the "they" he is refering to. Paul was not distancing himself from the practice, he was using the faithful's practicing of the ordinance as proof to the unbelievers of the reality of the resurrection.
I don't know of any other way to explain this. Once you identify who Paul is speaking to and who "they" are, as I have explained above, there shouldn't be reason for further argument.
The Smith and Goodspeed translation of the Bible makes Paul's position on the subject a little clearer:
"Otherwise what do people mean by having themselves baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead do not rise at all, why do they have themselves baptized on their behalf?" (1 Cor. 15:29)
This translation puts it more in the third person, which makes it easier to include Paul as one who could also support the practice. It seems to more clearly explain that, of course there is a resurrection, otherwise why would these people be baptized for their dead?