Question: Why is baptism for the dead not mentioned in the Book of Mormon?

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Question: Why is baptism for the dead not mentioned in the Book of Mormon?

The Church has no official answer to this question

The Church has, of course, no official answer to this question. There are several factors which should be considered. There are textual and editorial reasons to suspect that Mormon would not include vicarious ordinances: most of the history predates Christ, and little about Nephite worship after Christ is discussed.

On a more basic level, however, baptism for the dead is not discussed because it is not germane to the Book of Mormon's purpose: to teach the fulness of the gospel, which involves the basics of faith in Christ, repentance, baptism, the gift of the Holy Ghost, and endurance to the end. The readers of the Book of Mormon are promised that they will learn more once they have passed these first steps.

There are additional factors, however, which lead us to suspect that vicarious baptism would not be included in the Nephite record.

#1: Baptism for the dead may not have been preached before Christ

This ordinance of baptism for the dead would perhaps not be practicable prior to the atonement of Christ, for Christ is the one who broke the bands of death and hell and inaugurated the preaching of the Gospel to the Spirit World (see 1 Peter 3:18-20, 1 Peter 4:5-6, DC 138:). Since most of the Book of Mormon account precedes the resurrection of Christ, we should perhaps not expect vicarious ordinances to be mentioned prior to 3rd Nephi. Third Nephi is concerned with the teachings of Christ, and Mormon specifically tells us that only the lesser portion of Christ's teachings are recorded (see 3 Nephi 26:8-12). The Book of Ether likewise predates Jesus' resurrection, and so the performance of vicarious ordinances might be premature.

#2: Mormon's abridgement does not tell us much about Nephite worship after Jesus' departure

This leaves only the books of 4th Nephi, Mormon, and Moroni as potential sources for baptism for the dead among the Nephites. It is clear, however, that during this time that Mormon and Moroni were both heavily engaged with an apostate people. Both Mormon and Moroni were teaching repentance to their people, rather than temple ordinances.

This leaves us with only 4th Nephi, about which very little is written other than to say that the people enjoyed almost 200 years of peace. The text tells us nothing about the practices and worship of this period—partly because the record has been created retrospectively. Mormon's goal as editor in 4th Nephi is clearly to illustrate the collapse and ruin of the Nephites because of worldliness and pride. He makes it clear, however, that there were many other things revealed to the Nephites (Mormon 5:16-17).

#3: Some preparatory scripture is included

Though we have no record of Jesus teaching baptism for the dead in 3 Nephi, He did command the inclusion of material from Malachi about the coming of Elijah and hearts turning from the children to the fathers (see 3 Nephi 25:1-6). This is a classic text for the doctrines of temple work and vicarious ordinances, so this may be a hint that further teachings were given about these matters of which we do not have record, as discussed in point #2 above.[1]

Notes

  1. Sidney B. Sperry, "Third Nephi (Continued)," in Book of Mormon Compendium (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Co., 1968), 427–430. GospeLink (requires subscrip.) GL direct link