Bible References About
Salvation for the Dead
All Christians generally believe that a person must have faith in Jesus Christ to be admitted into God's Kingdom, because there is no other name under heaven given for salvation. (Acts 4).
Subsequently, people often wonder what will become of those individuals that had never had the opportunity to hear and accept Christ's teachings. Will they be saved? Will they be damned? What about baptism? If, as the bible teaches, we must be baptized to enter God's kingdom, what happens to the billions of people that were never baptized?
Because of the Restoration of the Gospel and the Priesthood, we learn that those who had no opportunity in mortality to receive and either accept or reject Jesus Christ as their Savior will be taught in the spirit world. Then they can either accept or reject Jesus and His gospel of their own free will and choice, and seal their eternal destination. This is a belief unique to the LDS Church.
If you really think about it, it makes perfect sense. If God is a just, consistent, and merciful God, then why would He place a requirement on all humankind and not provide a way for it to be fulfilled? Anything else would be sadistic and cruel.
The LDS Church is not the only Christian denomination that believes in acting on behalf of deceased persons. For example, Roman Catholics will offer prayers and light candles on behalf of their dead loved ones to help reduce their time in purgatory. For more information on the historical record of this topic please click here.
The following are the biblical references to this doctrine, (yes, it is biblical).
"Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord:
And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse."
The hearts of the children are turned to the fathers by doing family history and genealogy work to trace back family lines to know who needs the saving ordinances of baptism and other ordinances performed on their behalf.
"And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."
Jesus is conferring the Melchizedek Priesthood along with the sealing keys upon Peter. These keys give him the authority to perform priesthood ordinances, like baptisms and marriages, that aren't just symbolic or shadows. They have real efficacy on Earth and carry over into Heaven. These keys and authorities were restored back to the earth and are in effect today.
" 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.
Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice,"
Jesus is proclaiming that soon the dead will hear His voice and His teachings. Unlike what some religions teach, He is not talking symbolically of living people who are spiritually dead. He talks about those in the graves, so we're talking the literal stone cold dead. After His imminent crucifixion, those who have not heard his teachings will have an opportunity to hear Him and either accept or reject him.
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?"
This is the verse that gets problematic for my Protestant friend's. They point out that Paul isn't teaching them about baptizing for the dead, he's just mentioning it in passing. One friend of mine even convinced himself that Paul was being sarcastic. Yup, because we all know the scriptures and apostles were famous for their sarcasm. *wink*
The thing is, they are right. Paul isn't teaching the principle, he is just mentioning it in passing. That's because the Church was already performing baptisms for the dead! It was such a common practice then that he used the practice to illustrate why they believe in a literal resurrection. He is asking them why they're doing all those baptisms on behalf of their deceased relatives if there is not a resurrection. Well, they're doing it because there is a resurrection! Further, why would an Apostle of the Lord, whose job it is to teach true doctrine, allow a corrupt practice to go on? If Paul, or the other Apostles, did not approve of baptisms for the dead, they would have stopped the practice in its tracks. The point is they didn't, because they were given the authority to bind on Earth and in Heaven and the knew baptism was necessary for salvation.
Let's look at this practice logically for just a moment. Christ taught that all people must be baptized or they will not enter into the Kingdom of God. Jesus was not a liar, and God is not a liar so they cannot allow people in who have not been baptized. As mentioned in the preface, what happens to all those who lived and died without knowing Jesus or baptism? Is God going to damn those people for something that wasn't available to them? Of course not. In his omniscience and benevolence, He provided a way for them to have a chance if they didn't get it in this life. This is why baptism for the dead is a necessary ordinance. The early Christian church actively practiced proxy baptisms for the dead until it was officially discontinued by the Catholic Church in 397 A.D. during the Council of Carthage. The only modern Christian church that continues this practice of baptizing by proxy for our kindred dead today is the LDS church. This was another true priesthood ordinance that was part of the restoration.
"And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect."
Paul is teaching that there have been many righteous people died that were not able to receive the promise in life. Paul said that God provided a way for us to do the things necessary (i.e. baptisms for the dead) so that they won't be denied the blessings God has for them. Hence, that last line, "they without us should no be made perfect." Tie that to Malachi, and without this work for salvation for the dead, the whole earth would be smitten with a curse. We need them and they need us.
1 Peter 3: 18-19
"For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison;"
This verse is another problematic one for my Protestant friends because they have a hard time reconciling why Christ would be proselytizing in the spirit world if people were already doomed to hell. Some have tried to interpret this verse as Jesus suffering in hell. But this is very improbable. Even if Jesus were in hell, why would He be teaching people who have no hope of salvation? That would be cruel to tease them like that. This verse corroborates John 5, when Jesus said he would soon be teaching the dead.
LDS doctrine teaches that those who died without a knowledge of Christ go to a "spirit prison" (as was stated in this verse) where they will be taught the gospel by those who did believe and went to a "spirit paradise". If people accept Jesus Christ then they are released from their spiritual prison and enter paradise. This is one of the many truths restored to us by latter day prophets.
1 Peter 4:5-6
"Who shall give account to him that is ready to judge the quick and the dead. 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."
Once again, Peter makes another reference to the dead being taught the gospel so that all can be judged by the same standards. God is consistent and is no respecter of persons. The have varying standards for different groups would make him a respecter or persons. The ministry to the dead also answers the old question of, "what happens to people in countries who have never heard of Jesus Christ?" This is their opportunity.
As a side note:
It's obvious how this all ties together. The dead are being taught the gospel in the spirit world, but are unable to be baptized because that's an ordinance that must be done on Earth. The Priesthood has the keys to bind on Earth and in Heaven, so ordinances performed by Priesthood Authority on Earth are recognized in Heaven. The spirit of Elijah, compels us to do family history and genealogy research to identify ancestors that didn't receive the saving ordinances. Baptisms for the Dead are performed by proxy for those on the other side under authority of the Priesthood so the deceased can be made perfect and be able to enter the Kingdom of God.
An important question about this practice is, "how do we know who to be baptized for? Surely, all that are baptized won't necessarily accept the teachings in the spirit world." This is true. Not all of those that are baptized will accept the baptism, just like people who are baptized on earth don't stay faithful. They still have their free agency to choose or reject Christ. The baptisms are done so that those who do choose Christ can receive their reward, and those who don't choose him will still face judgment anyway.