Archive | May, 2013

Salvation for the Dead

14 May

The doctrine that ordinances can be performed through proxy for those that have died without having the gospel is a unique doctrine of the church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Partly because of this we are frequently criticized and the claim is made that the doctrine is not taught anywhere in the Bible. Despite the fact that it is mentioned directly by Paul the critics come up with many reasons as to why that reference cannot mean that such was practiced by the early saints. So, I have decided to write this article explaining not only how this one reference means exactly what it says, and proves that this was practiced in the early years of the Christian era, but also to show just how frequently the Bible references this doctrine and thus teaches it clearly, if not plainly to those who seek to criticize. In this article I will begin with the Old Testament, showing how the work of Salvation for the dead has been prophesied of by the ancient prophets. Then I will address those references in the New Testament that taught this doctrine to the early saints, and which teach it to us.

In the Old Testament there is six times in which Salvation for the Dead is prophesied. Not all of them are in the same context, but let us consider each of them one by one.

Isaiah 24: 22 “And they shall be gathered together, as prisoners are gathered in the pit, and shall be shut up in the prison, and after many days shall they be visited.” This chapter is a prophecy of the second coming, detailing what will happen. In verse 21 Isaiah states the wicked will be punished, and then states they will be gather into the prison in verse 22. However, you will notice that he does not prophecy that they will be left there, but clearly states that they will eventually be visited. Now, this is talking of those who will be destroyed at the second coming, but can we honestly say that if they will be visited that the wicked who died before that event won’t be?

Isaiah 42: 7 “To open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house. Isaiah again prophecies that the prison will be opened, and this makes a direct statement that the prisoners will be brought out. This time we have a direct statement that the dead who died in wickedness will have the opportunity to be brought out of that damnation that they will have to endure, at least for a time.

Isaiah 49: 9 “That thou mayest say to the prisoners, Go forth; to them that are in darkness, Shew yourselves. They shall feed in the ways, and their pastures shall be in all high places.” Once again a direct prophecy that the prisoners will go forth from the prison, and will be in the high places.

Isaiah 61: 1 “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound” The opening of the prison to them that are bound. This is the third time that Isaiah prophecies that the prison will be open, and Christ even quoted this verse in a declaration of who he was and what he was to do (namely, the opening of the prison).

Obadiah 1: 21 “And saviours shall come up on mount Zion to judge the mount of Esau; and the kingdom shall be the Lord’s.” I take note that this verse cannot be speaking of Christ, as it declares that saviors, or many acting in the capacity of savior will be called on to judge Esau. In this verse Esau becomes symbolic of the wicked nations, and thus many will be called to bring salvation to the wicked. Of course, we don’t really get the idea of salvation for the dead unless we read in context back a few verses back where it says “and there shall not be any remaining of the house of Esau” in verse 18. Thus this is also a prophecy of the second coming, when the wicked will be cast off the earth, and then saviors will come to judge them and bring them salvation.

Zechariah 9: 11 “As for thee also, by the blood of thy covenant I have sent forth thy prisoners out of the pit wherein is no water.” Here we not only have the direct prophecy of the prisoners coming forth, but are told they are coming forth from the pit, a clear reference to hell.

These verses all clearly teach that those who died in wickedness and were cast into the pit, or hell, or prison, will be given the chance to repent and come forth from their prison, and even attain to the high places. This was a principle looked forward to by the ancient prophets.

Then, in the days of Christ and His apostles this same principle is taught, not only as a future event, but also a past event that had already happened as well as a practice that they followed. There are five verses total that speak to this principle, two of which are Christ teaching it.

Luke 4: 18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised,” Christ here is quoting Isaiah (see above) and is declaring that this prophecy is fulfilled. Now, this does not mean that he has already opened the prison, but that he is the one that has been given power by God to do so. He is declaring that now there is one on whom the Spirit of the Lord rests sufficiently to enable these things to happen.

John 5: 25 “Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live.” Christ is here declaring that shortly thereafter the dead (meaning those who had died before his ministry and were not in the world of spirits) would hear his voice; or in other words, would have the gospel preached to them.

1 Corinthians 15: 29 “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? Here is the only verse in the Bible that mentions this practice by name. In order to understand this verse let us consider the context. Chapter 15 of First Corinthians is a discourse of the resurrection. Paul declares that this was the first thing he taught to the Corinthians (verses 3-4) in regards to Christ. In fact the first eleven verses of the chapter are Paul’s reaffirmation of the resurrection of Christ. Then in verse twelve he gives his reason for addressing this subject; “Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead?” Everything he says after this is to prove and teach the doctrine of the resurrection. Thus verse 29 is given as a proof of this doctrine. What is Paul saying regarding the Baptism for the Dead? He is pointing out that if the resurrection was not a reality than there would be no point in performing such an ordinance. Now, many people come up with creative ways to explain this verse away. The most popular I’ve seen is that Paul was referring to a Pagan group which lived north of Corinth, and was arguing that the saints should believe in the resurrection considering that these pagans obviously did, considering their practice. This makes no sense, as why would Paul reference a false sect to prove the truth of the gospel?

1 Peter 3: 19 “By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison;”

1 Peter 4: 6 “For, for this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.” I include these two verses together as they are truly part of the same discourse from Peter. The first declares the prophecy that the wicked would be visited and taught the gospel has been fulfilled, as Peter states plainly that Christ visited the spirits in prison. Actually, in verse 20 he declares that many of these spirits were those who were killed in the great flood at the time of Noah. He continues his discourse and in chapter four he declares why this was necessary and what it accomplished. The gospel was preached to them to give them the same chance than men in this life have, being judged as if in life, but through the mercy of Christ.

All of these passages from the Bible teach the reality that the gospel would go, and now has gone to the dead who died in wickedness. Christ has breached the gulf that once separated the spirits of the righteous from the spirits of the wicked (see Luke 16, the parable of Lazarus and the rich man) and the great commission is carried out not only in the world of the living, but in the world of the dead. The ancient prophets knew this would happen, and the early saints performed the work that was prophesied of many years previous. It is an eternal principle directly attached to the mercy of God.