Is it possible to baptize a person who has died and thereby impart salvation to them? There are many people today who believe that this is possible. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints holds this doctrine as one of their principle teachings. This principle states that a person may be baptized on behalf of one who has died, thereby granting them the opportunity for salvation and eternal life. The person who has died may either accept or reject this offer of salvation.
The truth of this doctrine can be known from the New Testament scriptures. At the time that the Apostle Paul wrote his two letters to the Corinthian church, this question was addressed and defined. In 1 Corinthians chapter 15, Paul is validating the resurrection based upon the resurrection of Jesus. At verse 12 we see that some of the believers in this church believed that there was no resurrection.
Now if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? —1 Corinthians 15:12
Paul is using their unbelief in the resurrection to illustrate an error in their thought process. If Jesus rose from the dead, then the resurrection is also true. If Jesus did not raise from the dead, then the entire point of Christianity has been invalidated.
It was the Sadducees who held that there was no resurrection from the dead. Perhaps some of the believers at Corinth had been influenced by this doctrine. It is also possible that there were former Sadducees who had believed in Jesus in the Corinthian church. Paul uses this opportunity to teach the certainty of the resurrection, while correcting the false doctrine that there was no resurrection. He accomplishes this effort by showing two opposites. Since Jesus resurrection from the dead is the very foundation of the Christian church, if Jesus has not risen then the entire reason for Christianity is false and all those who are trusting in Jesus are wasting their time. Paul confirms that since Jesus has risen from the dead, and was seen by over five-hundred witnesses, then all those who have placed their trust in Him for their salvation, can also have confidence in their own future resurrection.
In Matthew 22:23-33, Jesus had confronted the Sadducees regarding their position that the resurrection was not possible. In this text Jesus explains and affirms that those who die believing in the salvation that Jesus accomplished for us, will also be raised. The Sadducees had presented an impossible scenario to Jesus regarding the laws of Moses which require the brother of a man who has died, to marry his brother’s widow in order to secure her right to their property and carry on the family name.
“If brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son, the widow of the dead man shall not be married to a stranger outside the family; her husband’s brother shall go in to her, take her as his wife, and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her.” —Deuteronomy 25:5
In the scenario that the Sadducees present, each of seven brothers die, they all end up married to the same women. These men ask Jesus who will be married to this woman if there is a resurrection from the dead. Jesus declares that they are ignorant of the scriptures. After the resurrection, in heaven, we will not be married any longer. Then Jesus tells these men that they have forgotten the words of God in Exodus 3:6, 15:
“Jesus answered and said to them, “You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God. 30 For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels of God in heaven. 31 But concerning the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God, saying, (Exodus 3:6, 15:32) “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’ ? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” —Matthew 22:29-32
Paul is addressing two false teachings that were prevalent in the Corinthian church; the doctrine of no resurrection and the baptism of the dead. In both of these instances he contrasts the results of these assertions a being in opposition to the entire body of scripture. Paul contrasts their doctrine of no resurrection with what Jesus accomplished in His own resurrection, by stating: “Now if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?” In the same way, he highlights their false assumption of a baptism for the dead..
“Otherwise, what will they do who are baptized for the dead, if the dead do not rise at all? Why then are they baptized for the dead?” —1 Corinthians 15:29
Paul neither affirms nor teaches baptism for the dead, just as he does not affirm or teach the false assumption that there is no resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15:13. The Corinthian church was filled with false doctrine and for this reason Paul writes to correct two of these errors in chapter 15. By using their belief that there is no resurrection, Paul asks how they could believe in the baptism of the dead, since the dead do not rise. Logically, if the dead do not raise, what would be the point of a baptism for those who have died? In doing this, he demonstrated the flaw in their thinking.
There is no other place in the Bible where the baptism for the dead is taught. In fact, the certainty that salvation is not possible after death is affirmed by Jesus Himself, as well as the writers of the New Testament.
“And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment…” –Hebrews 9:27
This simple statement by Paul to the Hebrew Christians, removes all doubt that any person may obtain a second chance at salvation after their death. Men die once, then they face judgement for their actions while alive. If they obeyed God’s command to repent of their sins and believe in Jesus for their salvation, they are saved. If, during their life, they denied Jesus and His salvation, they are lost. There is no second chance.
In the 16th chapter of Luke’s gospel, Jesus describes the rich man and Lazarus, both who had died. One is comforted, the other tormented. Both are conscious and aware that they have died. Jesus addresses the rich man in his request that someone from the dead should be sent to his family to warn them about hell. Jesus clarifies these important issues of life, death, salvation and judgement in His statements to the rich man. Jesus said that no one from hell may leave that place and cross over the great gulf that is fixed. Once death has occurred, the eternal state of a person is sealed forever.
“Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.” –Luke 16
Regardless of what a particular church or person might assert; that salvation can be obtained by the baptism for the dead, Jesus impeaches this doctrine by His clarification of this issue in the Parable of the Rich man and Lazarus in Luke chapter 16. Jesus said that no one can pass from hell to heaven after their death has occurred. No one on earth has the authority to baptize the dead and give them a second chance at salvation because this is in opposition to what God has said.
No place in the Bible is the baptism of the dead taught, nor is the opportunity for salvation after death, affirmed. In fact, the certainty that we may only change our eternal destiny before we die is affirmed over and over again in the scriptures.