Baptism for the Dead and the Book of Mormon
Q1. Why is baptism for the dead never mentioned in the
Book of Mormon, if the Book of Mormon is supposed to contain the "fulness
of the Gospel"?
Q2. The Book of Mormon says that both little children
and "all they that are without law", "cannot repent; and
unto such baptism availeth nothing." Doesn't that directly contradict
the concept of baptism for the dead?
Q3. Some passages in the Book of Mormon seem to indicate
that it is too late to change after we are dead. Don't these passages contradict
the idea of baptism for the dead?
Q1. Why is baptism for the dead
never mentioned in the Book of Mormon, if the Book of Mormon is supposed
to contain the "fulness of the Gospel"? (D&C 20:9)
A1. First, we must define what is meant by the phrase, "fulness
of the gospel." In LDS usage, the word "gospel" can have
several definitions (see McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, pp. 331-334.)
In a narrow sense, it might mean "the Good News of Christ's atonement."
In an intermediate sense, it might mean all the doctrines, powers, authorities,
etc., that have been given to the Church. In the most general sense, it
would mean every true principle that exists in the Universe. It is all
part of the "Gospel."
Now,the question is, "Which definition would apply to the phrase
'fulness of the gospel' in relation to the Book of Mormon?" In the
most narrow sense the phrase might mean, "a complete record of the
Atonement of Jesus Christ." Otherwise it might mean "all the
doctrines of the Church" or "every truth in the Universe."
The narrow definition certainly applies to the Book of Mormon, while the
others do not.
What evidence can we find for the narrow definition? The only place
the phrase "fulness of the gospel" is defined in the scriptures
is in D&C 76:11-4:
"We, Joseph Smith, Jun., and Sidney Rigdon, being in the Spirit
on the sixteenth day of February, in the year of our Lord one thousand
eight hundred and thirty-two-By the power of the Spirit our eyes were opened
and our understandings were enlightened, so as to see and understand the
things of God-Even those things which were from the beginning before the
world was, which were ordained of the Father, through his Only Begotten
Son, who was in the bosom of the Father, even from the beginning; Of whom
we bear record; and the record which we bear is the fulness of the gospel
of Jesus Christ, who is the Son, whom we saw and with whom we conversed
in the heavenly vision."
There you have it. The "fulness of the gospel" is defined
as a recorded, true testimony of the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
Second, the Book of Mormon itself does not claim to contain every truth
in the universe, or even all the truth that would ever be revealed to the
Church. In fact, it specifically promises that more truth would be revealed
to those who believe the testimony of the Book of Mormon. Notice Mormon's
comments after he recorded the sayings of Jesus in America:
"And now there cannot be written in this book even a hundredth
part of the things which Jesus did truly teach unto the people; But behold
the plates of Nephi do contain the more part of the things which he taught
the people. And these things have I written, which are a lesser part of
the things which he taught the people; and I have written them to the intent
that they may be brought again unto this people, from the Gentiles, according
to the words which Jesus hath spoken. And when they shall have received
this, which is expedient that they should have first, to try their faith,
and if it shall so be that they shall believe these things then shall the
greater things be made manifest unto them. And if it so be that they will
not believe these things, then shall the greater things be withheld from
them, unto their condemnation. Behold, I was about to write them, all which
were engraven upon the plates of Nephi, but the Lord forbade it, saying:
I will try the faith of my people." (3 Ne. 26:6-11)
Q2. The Book of Mormon says that
both little children and "all they that are without law", "cannot
repent; and unto such baptism availeth nothing." (Moroni 8:22) Doesn't
that directly contradict the concept of baptism for the dead?
A2. No, but this bears some explaining. The first question that must
be asked when interpreting this verse is, "Just who is it that is
'without law?'" If this refers to anyone who has never had the full
gospel message preached to them, then it would, indeed, make baptism for
the dead unnecessary. Paul solved this problem in his epistle to the Romans.
While Paul did state that "where no law is, there is no transgression,"
(Rom. 4:15) he also made clear that the Gentiles still needed the Atonement
of Christ, because their consciences would condemn them. "For when
the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained
in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: which
shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also
bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing
one another." (Rom. 2:14-15) Therefore, even those who have never
had the whole Gospel preached to them will be condemned by their works.
The Book of Mormon goes even further. When Alma cried out that he wished
he were an angel, and could preach the gospel to the whole world, he then
recanted with these words:
"I ought not to harrow up in my desires, the firm decree of
a just God, for I know that he granteth unto men according to their desire,
whether it be unto death or unto life; yea, I know that he allotteth unto
men, yea, decreeth unto them decrees which are unalterable, according to
their wills, whether they be unto salvation or unto destruction. Yea, and
I know that good and evil have come before all men; he that knoweth not
good from evil is blameless; but he that knoweth good and evil, to him
it is given according to his desires, whether he desireth good or evil,
life or death, joy or remorse of conscience. Now, seeing that I know these
things, why should I desire more than to perform the work to which I have
been called? Why should I desire that I were an angel, that I could speak
unto all the ends of the earth? For behold, the Lord doth grant unto all
nations, of their own nation and tongue, to teach his word, yea, in wisdom,
all that he seeth fit that they should have; therefore we see that the
Lord doth counsel in wisdom, according to that which is just and true."
There are several points we should notice in this scripture: 1) Anyone
who doesn't know good from evil is blameless. 2) Good and evil have come
before all men. 3) God grants unto every people to hear as much of the
Gospel as they are able to bear at the time.
So who is it, according to the Book of Mormon, that is "without
law", and thus does not need to repent and be baptized for the remission
of their sins? Manifestly, it is anyone who "knoweth not good from
evil". Who doesn't know good from evil? According to contemporary
LDS thought, little children and those who have mental disabilities have
not reached a state of accountability, and so do not need to repent of
Also, the idea that the Lord grants to every people to hear as much
of the gospel as they are ready for directly leads into the concept of
baptism for the dead. God "commandeth all men that they must repent,
and be baptized in his name... or they cannot be saved in the kingdom of
God." (2 Ne. 9:23) However, not everyone is ready to receive that
covenant, so God is patient with them and gives them as much truth as they
can handle, until at some future date (perhaps even after they have passed
on to the spirit world) they will be ready to accept the covenant of baptism.
"Whom shall he teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand
doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts.
For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line,
line upon line; here a little, and there a little." (Isaiah 28:9-11)
Q3. Some passages in the Book
of Mormon seem to indicate that it is too late to change after we are dead.
Don't these passages contradict the idea of baptism for the dead?
A3. The most often quoted of these passages is Alma 34:32-34:
"For behold, this life is the time for men to prepare to meet
God; yea, behold the day of this life is the day for men to perform their
labors. 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. 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."
There are two things to notice here: 1) The people this was addressed
to were having the gospel preached to them at the time, and we don't believe
baptism for the dead is effective for people who specifically rejected
the Gospel in this life. 2) The passage says that "the 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."
This is entirely consistent with our doctrine that "All who have died
without a knowledge of this gospel, who would have received it if they
had been permitted to tarry, shall be heirs of the celestial kingdom of
God." (D&C 137:7) The point of the passage in Alma was that we
won't magically become different people when we die, so it is not inconsistent
to say that a person who would have accepted the Gospel, but never had
the chance, will still accept it in the spirit world!
Once again, the Book of Mormon leads right into the doctrine of baptism
for the dead, which is one of the "greater things" (3 Nephi 26:6-11)
that Mormon said would be revealed to those who believe in the Book of