More Scripture Fun: Baptism as Baptism for the Dead

Letter from Joseph Smith to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Nauvoo, Illinois, September 6, 1842. History of the Church 5:148-53.

D&C 128:1 As I stated to you in my letter before I left my place, that I would write to you from time to time and give you information in relation to many subjects, I now resume the subject of the baptism for the dead, as that subject seems to occupy my mind, and press itself upon my feelings the strongest, since I have been pursued by my enemies.  I wrote a few words of revelation to you concerning a recorder…

Now, we’ve been told this recorder is to give us the names, dates, and other mundane information, as certified by another, and stamped by some other authority.  Yet, these are no mere accounting books:

128:5 You may think this order of things to be very particular; but let me tell you that it is only to answer the will of God, by conforming to the ordinance and preparation that the Lord ordained and prepared before the foundation of the world, for the salvation of the dead who should die without a knowledge of the gospel.  And further, I want you to remember that John the Revelator was contemplating this very subject in relation to the dead, when he declared, as you will find recorded in Revelation 20:12—And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.

Let’s leave out why Joseph would quote from Revelation, and suppose he is speaking to them through their idols.  What Joseph says about the scene, the dead being judged according to their works, and writing and not writing on earth or on heaven, is important.  Yet the linking of heaven and earth by books is not simply to keep track of who did what to whom in a ritual.

128:9 It may seem to some to be a very bold doctrine that we talk of—a power which records or binds on earth and binds in heaven. Nevertheless, in all ages of the world, whenever the Lord has given a dispensation of the priesthood to any man by actual revelation, or any set of men, this power has always been given. Hence, whatsoever those men did in authority, in the name of the Lord, and did it truly and faithfully, and kept a proper and faithful record of the same, it became a law on earth and in heaven, and could not be annulled, according to the decrees of the great Jehovah.

So far, we can read this description of “a power” as the sealing power so often spoken of by General Authorities of the LDS Church, and by others using their words.  But maybe not?  Maybe these men did things which became law, say, giving laws (e.g., Moses) or making promises?  The secret of the whole matter—how to write here and have it law there, and vice versa—is something they, the Mormons, are to seek for; not something they had even in 1842.   Moreover, this power is not simply to unite me and my great-granddaddy into some sort of heavenly church quorum.

128:11 Now the great and grand secret of the whole matter, and the summum bonum of the whole subject that is lying before us, consists in obtaining the powers of the Holy Priesthood.

Not “in obtaining the Holy Priesthood,” but Joseph clarifies, “the powers of…”  What are these powers?  The letter has been versified, and so the following sentence is presented as if clarifying the preceding line about the grand secret.  Yet it follows more closely as introducing “glory and honor”:

For him to whom these keys are given there is no difficulty in obtaining a knowledge of facts in relation to the salvation of the children of men, both as well for the dead as for the living. Herein is glory and honor, and immortality and eternal life:

The ordinance of baptism by water, to be immersed therein in order to answer to the likeness of the dead, that one principle might accord with the other;

To be immersed in the water and come forth out of the water is in the likeness of the resurrection of the dead in coming forth out of their graves;

Hence, this ordinance was instituted to form a relationship with the ordinance of baptism for the dead, being in likeness of the dead.

Now, here we’ve taken a rather surprising turn, but maybe not noticed?  If we read carefully, we’ll find Joseph saying something like, “the ordinance of baptism by water” was instituted “in order to answer to the likeness of the dead,” and that immersion in water, as an ordinance, “was instituted to form a relationship with the ordinance of baptism for the dead, being in likeness of the dead.”  Well, you are probably saying, that would make baptism in the water something done after baptism for the dead?  Yes, I think it would.  So, Joseph explains, as if not simply reciting something Christians had said for a thousand years:

128:13 Consequently, the baptismal font was instituted as a similitude of the grave, and was commanded to be in a place underneath where the living are wont to assemble, to show forth the living and the dead.

After stating how important this matter was, for their own salvation and for the dead, Joseph brings in Elijah and his priesthood (“personages”), who will bind.  So, what is the entire “curse of the earth” hinging upon?  Not baptism.  Baptism for the Dead.  It is this which will make just men perfect.

128:18 I might have rendered a plainer translation to this, but it is sufficiently plain to suit my purpose as it stands. It is sufficient to know, in this case, that the earth will be smitten with a curse unless there is a welding link of some kind or other between the fathers and the children, upon some subject or other—and behold what is that subject? It is the baptism for the dead. For we without them cannot be made perfect; neither can they without us be made perfect.

Baptism by water was instituted, it seems, in likeness of the Baptism of the Dead, maybe to remind by re-enactment of their burial (by water), and their hoped-for resurrection from the earth where the dead are assembled.  This particular Dead.  Not simply everyone who is dead.  Those Dead in Peter’s letter, discussing those who are dead, and have waited since the days of Noah,  having perished in a flood.   Their brethren maybe are that priesthood, say, residing in Zion; and their resurrection long awaited, when they can be judged by the books yet to be written concerning their works.

We are told: Baptism by water was the rule, and then the rule was applied to the dead who weren’t baptized.  They must all be baptized, right?  Why?  Because…its symbolic of blah blah.  Wouldn’t it have been smarter to simply have a rule that everyone must be baptized the moment they are born?  Oh, yeah, that’s been done…All sorts of elaborate but ultimately nonsensical explanations have been given for the ordinance (rule) concerning the ordinances (like baptism) and the rules around their necessity and operation.

Yet, why are the dead baptized, if the dead rise not at all?  They must come forth from the grave, and so, must be baptized.   Why baptized?  Not because the living must be baptized, but because the baptism for the dead was the agreed upon link for the exercise of the powers of the priesthood in Zion.  Our baptisms for the dead are in the image of some (future) baptisms for the Dead, and our baptisms by water merely instituted in likeness of the baptism of the dead (in water).   The living, it seems, are baptized in the image of the dead, in relationship to the baptism of the dead, which is the welding link.  Perhaps this was cause of dispute in Bountiful, they having a tradition of baptism by water which had been severed from the more ancient baptism of the dead?  Maybe Moses introduced a ritual cleansing, and this became confused with baptism?  And Alma having giving a “law” concerning baptism as a rite of fellowship, also introduced a ritual which confused the matter, only to be resolved by Jesus, after he visited the Dead waiting since the days of Noah, being resurrected?

What do you mean????  Won’t you make it plain???

Let me try, a little.  The sons and daughters of God who were imprisoned after a flood in the days of Noah, and the men who perished in another flood, were left to perish by the City of Enoch.  But Enoch must return, and with him will come the priesthood (and Michael, the most high god).  In the right place they will baptized for their dead, who will finally rejoin their brethren, being resurrected by the same “ordinance.”  Someone wrote this as a law (presumably Enoch or Michael), and so it became a rule: baptism for the dead was the welding link across generations of men and the fathers.  Later, various cleansing practices, like bathing, also became understood as a “baptism” (or dipping).  Jesus then simplified the matter by being baptized for the dead, descending under the water and returning a resurrected man.  In Bountiful he gave it as a law that all (perhaps those he addressed) must be baptized, even as men must be baptized in the Name, in the Spirit, and so on.  Yet, by our age of the world, we lost the original welding link and instead practiced baptism as a rite of a church, offered by priests who would claim to clean us of sin, so that Jesus-God wouldn’t torment us in Hell forever.  I don’t know if that is more plain, but sometimes we have to figure it out own our own.


  1. This is some damn fine work.

    I won’t pretend I’ve ever thought of “baptism for the dead” in this way, but what you’ve said here makes a lot of sense of a completely misunderstood topic. I have wondered before if water represents the veil, for a lot of reasons. If it does, couldn’t it simply mean that the baptism for the dead really just equates to them passing through the veil to the presence of God? I don’t know how that might or might not fit into the paradigm you’ve just offered, but then might our own baptisms only be symbolic of the same thing? If so, are the baptism and the endowment the same ordinance described in varying degrees of detail? Moses and Israel supposedly passed through the Red Sea and encountered God on the other side. Noah entered an ark, descended into the midst of the sea and encountered God on the other side (like Adam he began creation anew). Moses entered an ark which transmitted him to the house of Pharaoh where he was enthroned as an adopted heir. Nephi saw a great gulf that separated the wicked from the tree of life, and he passed over it via a straight and narrow path. Nephi built a boat to pass over great waters to “the promised land.” There is something to the symbol of water I think.

    Could our baptisms simply symbolize a return to God’s presence? And if our baptisms are an outgrowth of the baptisms for the dead, might that teach us something about resurrection (or at least about the renewal of our bodies, ie. wearing robes in an “endowment” context)?

    What say ye? Am I being too “imaginative”?

  2. Very deep, yet should be plain to see.

    A question i have is, who exactly is Jehovah?

    From your writing, i don’t think it seems obvious that Jehovah is Jesus. If so, i haven’t read correct. If Jehovah is not Jesus, who exactly is this personage?

    1. I would have to know where you mean Jehovah? I mean, from what text are you drawing, when speaking of Jehovah? I might be able to answer your question, if you’ll give me some text to work with.

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