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Baptism for the Dead – So What?

Recently, there has been some news where Jews object to the Mormon practice of baptism for the dead, especially for Holocaust victims.  Catholics have also objected to the Mormons use of old church records for the purpose of baptism for the dead.   I came across an Irish Columnist who basically says, “Why do they care?”

I want to point out some interesting things from his article–questions which Mormons should also start asking.  You can see the full article here.

What’s the difference, anyway, between baptising the dead and baptising babies? A tiny infant will have as much understanding as a dead person — none at all — of the complex philosophical belief-system it’s being inducted into when baptised, say, a Catholic. Transubstantiation? There’s daily communicants go to their deaths without any clear understanding of the concept. So what chance the mewling tot?

Indeed, given that all Christian Churches believe that the soul lives on after death and retains understanding and consciousness of self, doesn’t it make more sense to baptise dead adults than live babies?

Apart from which, if the Catholic bishops hold that the beliefs of the Mormons are pure baloney (as they must), and their rituals therefore perfectly meaningless, how can it matter to them what mumbo-jumbo Mormons might mutter over Catholic cadavers?

Let’s look at the facts as understood by the early followers of Christ. For more than 300 years after the Crucifixion, baptism of the dead was widely accepted, its biblical basis located in 1 Corinthians 15, 29: “Otherwise, what shall they do who are baptised for the dead if the dead rise not again at all? Why are they then baptised for them.” In other words, a deceased person could be baptised by proxy: otherwise, how could such a person be included in the Resurrection? A good question.

The radical Cerinthians and the Marcionites were especially energetic baptisers of the dead. It was to wrong-foot these sects, seen as competitors with the official Church at a time when it was consolidating its position as the State religion of the Roman Empire, that the Synods of Hippo (393) and Carthage (397) voted, after bitter debate, to condemn the practice.

He makes the case that the decision to stop baptism for the dead was to marginalize these other Christian sects.  At this point, I wanted to learn more about this practice.  I was aware of the 1 Corinthians reference, but didn’t know that the practice went on for 4 centuries.  So, I decided to see what I could find on this.

John A. Tvedtnes, a Hebrew and early Christian scholar at BYU, writes:

That baptism for the dead was indeed practiced in some orthodox Christian circles is indicated by the decisions of two late fourth century councils. The fourth canon of the Synod of Hippo, held in 393, declares, “The Eucharist shall not be given to dead bodies, nor baptism conferred upon them.” The ruling was confirmed four years later in the sixth canon of the Third Council of Carthage. (John Tvedtnes. “Baptism for the Dead: The Coptic Rationale”. Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research. )

Check out my posts on Marcionism and Gnosticism to learn more about these movements.  Here’s another post on Gnosticism and another on Montanism.  (My 2 gnostic posts are ranked #2 and #8 of my most viewed posts–funny because there aren’t many comments on them.)  There’s also an interesting link to Barry Bickmore‘s site and Jeff Lindsay’s site.

Finally, I like his reasoning here.

What if Mormons are right and Catholics and Protestants wrong?

In that scenario, shouldn’t all members of all other religions be literally eternally grateful to the Mormons for sharing their saving grace even unto and after death?

If, on the other hand, it isn’t the Mormons at all, those who turn out to have been right can wave a merry farewell to the crestfallen followers of Brigham Young as they trundle downwards to their eternal comeuppance.

What’s the problem?

2 comments on “Baptism for the Dead – So What?

  1. Very good points!!! I linked to you on my most recent post…( a brief mention on my religiously neutral blog…)

    Very interesting indeed.

  2. April, thanks for the link!

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