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Baptisms for the dead

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Were there baptisms for the dead before the resurrection of Christ?

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints believe that the molten sea in Solomon's Temple was a baptismal font. As explained by apostle Bruce R. McConkie:

In Solomon’s Temple a large molten sea of brass was placed on the backs of 12 brazen oxen, these oxen being symbolical of the 12 tribes of Israel. This brazen sea was used for performing baptisms for the living. There were no baptisms for the dead until after the resurrection of Christ.

It must be remembered that all direct and plain references to baptism have been deleted from the Old Testament (1 Nephi 13) and that the word baptize is of Greek origin. Some equivalent word, such as wash, would have been used by the Hebrew peoples. In describing the molten sea the Old Testament record says, "The sea was for the priests to wash in." (2 Chron 4:2–6). This is tantamount to saying that the priests performed baptisms in it.[10]

 

This is what I've always been taught and still believe but I have someone telling me otherwise and that  Elder McConkie was pretty good at teaching false doctrine.

Actually they are debating gramps from Ask Gramps.   Same thing.  :)   

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Elder McConkie arguably has his occasional flaws; but I think he was a spiritual and intellectual giant overall and fundamentally right on this one.

—Baptism for the dead, until very recently, was reserved for the Melchizedek Priesthood; and even now it occurs only at the direction of MP holders.  The Levitical priests held the Aaronic Priesthood only.  

—Even assuming the Levitical Priests could do proxy baptisms, they certainly couldn’t do proxy confirmations.  Baptism without confirmation still has practical advantages for a living person, who is doing the ordinance as a token of a covenant that the person intends to keep for the rest of their natural life; the advantages of a proxy baptism without a proxy confirmation for someone whose mortal probation is already over, are less clear.

Now, I suppose it’s possible that proxy baptisms were done among the Nephites or in patriarchal times where the Melchizedek Priesthood was present and functioning.  But as far as ancient Israel goes, I’m inclined to stick with Elder McConkie.

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I agree with Elder McConkie.  Before the chasm between spirit prison and paradise was bridged by Christ, there was no missionary work going on in the spirit world.  Without that, I don't think the spirits would not be able to repent and be prepared to receive baptism.

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Originally I felt/believed the temple font was evidence for baptisms for the dead. It wasn't until recently (maybe even Gramps answer) that I had to search myself if that was accurate. The Church's website seems to be directing members to understand that there wasn't any baptisms for the dead before Christ's resurrection.

We understand it wasn't until Christ went and visited that others were able to teach to those who have slept. Would ministering and teaching to the spirits in prison be required before baptism by proxy for them?

We don't just baptize people, living, without first being taught. I think that principle is evidence that baptism for the dead did not occur until Christ visited those in prison and opened the way for ministering and teaching to the dead.

There are other thoughts that could be for proxy baptisms in the Old Testament, but I think it still doesn't negate teaching comes before baptism.

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2 hours ago, dprh said:

I agree with Elder McConkie.  Before the chasm between spirit prison and paradise was bridged by Christ, there was no missionary work going on in the spirit world.  Without that, I don't think the spirits would not be able to repent and be prepared to receive baptism.

2 hours ago, Vort said:

Not sure that proxy baptisms for the dead would have had any practical meaning before Christ's resurrection.

While it's pretty established doctrine, I'm still not clear on what the reasoning was.

Why couldn't the pre-mortal Christ marshall the forces in previous dispensations?  I'm not sure what that was about.

Why was repentance and baptism for the living taught before His mortal ministry, but the same ordinance was allowed for the dead after His mission?

I've asked various religion professors and institute instructors.  All they've said was that for some reason the closing of the chasm was reserved for that period between death and resurrection.

Well, "for some reason."  If it hasn't been revealed, it hasn't been revealed.

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2 hours ago, Carborendum said:

While it's pretty established doctrine, I'm still not clear on what the reasoning was.

Why couldn't the pre-mortal Christ marshall the forces in previous dispensations?  I'm not sure what that was about.

Why was repentance and baptism for the living taught before His mortal ministry, but the same ordinance was allowed for the dead after His mission?

I've asked various religion professors and institute instructors.  All they've said was that for some reason the closing of the chasm was reserved for that period between death and resurrection.

Well, "for some reason."  If it hasn't been revealed, it hasn't been revealed.

Your questions reminded me of Pres. Oaks talk last October.  

I believe a BYU religion professor’s article on this subject had it right: “When we ask ourselves what we know about the spirit world from the standard works, the answer is ‘not as much as we often think.’”

https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2019/10/17oaks?lang=eng

There is much more speculation than there is revelation about the spirit world.  

Your question about why pre-mortal Christ couldn't marshal the forces of previous dispensations, made me think of the Saturday's Warrior play/movie where pre-mortal spirits and post-mortal spirits could be together and communicate.  I speculate that isn't the case.  

Edited by dprh

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6 hours ago, pam said:

Were there baptisms for the dead before the resurrection of Christ?

No.  Several church materials have stated this. 

See here for example under Temples:

https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/scriptures/bd/temple?lang=eng

From Adam to the time of Jesus, ordinances were performed in temples for the living only. After Jesus opened the way for the gospel to be preached in the world of spirits, ceremonial work for the dead, as well as for the living, has been done in temples on the earth by faithful members of the Church. Building and properly using a temple is one of the marks of the true Church in any dispensation, and is especially so in the present day.

Edited by Scott
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I believe that Old Testament baptisms--and even that of John the Baptist--were a means of believers repenting of sins, not as a rite of conversion. So, if there was any kind of proxy baptism, it would have had a different meaning. My understanding is that if a scribe were making a copy of a passage of scripture and made a mistake the page would be destroyed and he would have to undergo a type of baptism before returning to the scribe work.

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6 minutes ago, prisonchaplain said:

I believe that Old Testament baptisms--and even that of John the Baptist--were a means of believers repenting of sins, not as a rite of conversion. 

That's not what our Church believes, but traditional Christians do.

Our church believes that baptisms have always been performed, with the exception of during the great apostasy.

In Moses 6, for example, Adam was baptized unto Christ.

Our church believes that baptism is needed for salvation, regardless of the time period and that it is part of our conversion unto Christ.

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22 minutes ago, Scott said:

No.  Several church materials have stated this. 

See here for example under Temples:

https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/scriptures/bd/temple?lang=eng

From Adam to the time of Jesus, ordinances were performed in temples for the living only. After Jesus opened the way for the gospel to be preached in the world of spirits, ceremonial work for the dead, as well as for the living, has been done in temples on the earth by faithful members of the Church. Building and properly using a temple is one of the marks of the true Church in any dispensation, and is especially so in the present day.

You are awesome Scott.  This is just what I needed.  It's perfect.  

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38 minutes ago, prisonchaplain said:

I believe that Old Testament baptisms--and even that of John the Baptist--were a means of believers repenting of sins, not as a rite of conversion.

In LDS thought, these two ideas are inextricably intertwined.

We all agree that in order to be saved, we must accept Jesus as the Christ and our Redeemer. But what does it mean to accept Christ? Is it enough simply to say, "Jesus, I accept You! Be my Savior!"? In many Christian sects, that is exactly what is believed. In contrast, the Restored Church teaches that to accept Christ means to obey him. We accept Christ not merely by what we say, but by what we do, which ultimately determines what we become.

Jesus commanded us to be baptized, even as he was baptized. In doing so, we gain a remission of sins—not through the baptism itself, of course, but through the acceptance of Christ's grace that the baptism embodies. Furthermore, after the baptism of water, we receive as a part of that same covenant a baptism of fire through the laying on of hands. In this "confirmation", we are authorized and directed to "receive the Holy Ghost", and as a necessary part of that invocation, we are confirmed as members of Christ's kingdom.

tl;dr—In LDS thought, the baptism for repenting of sins and the baptism for conversion are of necessity the same thing. You can't have one without the other.

Edited by Vort

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2 minutes ago, Vort said:

In LDS thought, these two ideas are inextricably intertwined.

We all agree that in order to be saved, we much accept Jesus as the Christ and our Redeemer. But what does it mean to accept Christ? Is it enough simply to say, "Jesus, I accept You! Be my Savior!" In many Christian sects, that is exactly what is believed.

Part of this, of course, is that the Old Testament is written about/by/for a converted community of faith. Also, while it may be that a few Christian sects actually do not believe repentance is a part of conversion, the reason this heresy seems more prominent is that Evangelicals try to convert LDS from 'works salvation,' and so emphasize grace and salvation and de-emphasize redemption and progressive sanctification (growing in holiness). Further, due to pressure from the culture, I suspect that too many Christian individuals (and some churches) actually do believe repentance is negative and archaic. So, no argument... perhaps some minor quibbling about degree.  

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23 minutes ago, Scott said:

Our church believes that baptism is needed for salvation, regardless of the time period and that it is part of our conversion unto Christ.

I suppose this could be an Old Testament reality. Those baptized were already converted, but could undergo multiple 'baptisms' in a lifetime, to repent of particular sins. So, I'm not really addressing the is-baptism-required-for-salvation debate, but rather just saying that for the OT Jews conversion sort of came at birth. Baptisms were almost akin to what we Evangelicals sometimes call recommitting our lives to Christ (I was saved, but lost my way, and am now back on track).

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4 minutes ago, prisonchaplain said:

Part of this, of course, is that the Old Testament is written about/by/for a converted community of faith. Also, while it may be that a few Christian sects actually do not believe repentance is a part of conversion, the reason this heresy seems more prominent is that Evangelicals try to convert LDS from 'works salvation,' and so emphasize grace and salvation and de-emphasize redemption and progressive sanctification (growing in holiness). Further, due to pressure from the culture, I suspect that too many Christian individuals (and some churches) actually do believe repentance is negative and archaic. So, no argument... perhaps some minor quibbling about degree.  

If it’s not too much of a threadjack, @prisonchaplain, would you mind talking a bit about what you mean by “repentance”, both in mainline Christian teaching and in your interpretation of ancient Jewish praxis?

I have a feeling there maybe some nuanced ways in which we’re talking past each other without quite knowing it. :D 

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@Just_A_Guy, I'm not Baptist, but I keep thinking of a phrase they use:  Jesus is my Savior AND Lord.  So, when they/we are not trying to convert LDS, there is a clear understanding that Jesus saves me from my sins (and hell), but in so doing I submit to Him. He is my Lord and King. He gets to tell me what to do now. So, when I am repenting for conversion I am admitting that I have done wrong before God and asking that He forgive me and cleanse me and liberate me from those sins and consequences, so that I may live a life of obedience to Him. We are often told that to repent is to 'turn away' from our sin. The old-time preachers would never have called someone who 'asked Jesus into his heart' a convert unless repenting was part of it. I understanding that the front row at Methodist revivals (1800s) was called the mourners bench. It was common to hear crying--travailing before God, only then to be followed with the joyous release that comes as one feels the weight of sin against God being lifted.

Of course, even as a Christian I must repent of sins. To repeatedly resist the Holy Spirit's conviction could lead me to the unpardonable sin--blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. The LDS idea that Evangelicals do not repent during conversion, or afterwards, comes largely from our side failing to communicate. We want to distinguish conversion from good works so we fail to explain repentance to you. We want to seem empathetic and non-judging to modern culture, so we too often neglect mentioning repentance (this is flat-out heresy, btw). Thanks for letting me clarify.  

Edited by prisonchaplain

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1 hour ago, pam said:

You are awesome Scott.  This is just what I needed.  It's perfect.  

If you're looking for "debate fodder" recognize that there will be counters to this.

The statement that "ordinances were for living only" will be challenged.  There were "prayers" said in the temple (lighting incense, making an offering and so forth to pray for the souls of the dead).  While it really bears little resemblance to what we call "vicarious ordinances" that kind of disconnect is what they hang their hat on.  There really is no way to convince someone of something that they are already convinced of.  How many times do we see that played out here?

Edited by Carborendum

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9 minutes ago, Carborendum said:

If you're looking for "debate fodder" recognize that there will be counters to this.

The statement that "ordinances were for living only" will be challenged.  There were "prayers" said in the temple (lighting incense, making an offering and so forth to pray for the souls of the dead).  While it really bears little resemblance to what we call "vicarious ordinances" that kind of disconnect is what they hang their hat on.  There really is no way to convince someone of something that they are already convinced of.  How many times do we see that played out here?

I get that but this person is adamant that as a restored church we are doing them today just like in ancient times.    We have tried to explain that it didn't start until after Christ's resurrection but they just won't have it.

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And they brought up that we are doing them just as was done in Solomon's temple.

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51 minutes ago, pam said:

I get that but this person is adamant that as a restored church we are doing them today just like in ancient times.    We have tried to explain that it didn't start until after Christ's resurrection but they just won't have it.

34 AD is still fairly ancient times.  :D 

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1 hour ago, dprh said:

34 AD is still fairly ancient times.  :D 

You knew what I meant silly.  :P   

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12 hours ago, dprh said:

I agree with Elder McConkie.  Before the chasm between spirit prison and paradise was bridged by Christ, there was no missionary work going on in the spirit world.  Without that, I don't think the spirits would not be able to repent and be prepared to receive baptism.

If this statement/idea is true it would mean that in the post mortal spirit world, there would be people who knew and lived the gospel in mortality  but who, for some reason, were commanded not to, or were somehow restrained or prevented, from preaching the gospel to those who did not have it. This seems like an unlikely scenario to me, and somewhat contrary to the great majority of God's dispayed desires, intentions, and actions elsewhere. I understand that Doctrine and Covenants 138: 18 - 37 explains Christ's involvement in preaching the gospel in the post mortal spirit world but I don't see anything in Section 138 or any other scriptures, that eliminates the possibility that Moses or Elijah, or Abraham, or Jacob, or Alma or any other prophet might also have been preaching to the dead before Christ showed up. It appears that section 138 is limited to showing how Christ organised the preaching of the gospel to the dead, but I'm not sure why we should presume that this is the only occasion on which someone organised the preaching of the gospel to the dead. Given that there were many prophets before Christ who spent much of their lives preaching the gospel in mortality, it would be a bit surprising if they had not continued doing the same thing post mortality.  

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