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Baptism for the dead and the Book of Mormon
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- Question: Why is baptism for the dead not mentioned in the Book of Mormon?
- Question: How can the Book of Mormon contain the "fulness of the Gospel" if it does not speak of ordinances such as baptism for the dead or celestial marriage?
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.
Question: How can the Book of Mormon contain the "fulness of the Gospel" if it does not speak of ordinances such as baptism for the dead or celestial marriage?
The Book of Mormon does not contain detailed descriptions of many religious topics and ordinances, such as eternal marriage or baptism for the dead
Is it possible that the Book of Mormon cannot contain "the fulness of the gospel" because it doesn't teach certain unique LDS doctrines, such as baptism for the dead, the Word of Wisdom, the three degrees of glory, celestial marriage, vicarious work for the dead, and the corporeal nature of God the Father?
There are many religious topics and doctrines which The Book of Mormon does not discuss in detail (e.g., the premortal existence—see Alma 13:), and some which are not even mentioned (e.g., the ordinance of baptism for the dead).
This is unsurprising, since the Book of Mormon's goal is to teach the "fulness of the gospel"—the doctrine of Christ.
Harold B. Lee: "our scoffers say, 'How can you say that the Book of Mormon has the fulness of the gospel when it doesn't speak of baptism for the dead?'"
Of this criticism, Harold B. Lee said:
Now, our scoffers say, "How can you say that the Book of Mormon has the fulness of the gospel when it doesn't speak of baptism for the dead?" Some of you may have asked that question.
What is the gospel as it is defined? Let me give you how the Lord defines the gospel, in these words: "And verily, verily, I say unto you, he that receiveth my gospel receiveth me; and he that receiveth not my gospel receiveth not me. And this is my gospel—repentance and baptism by water, and then cometh the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost, even the Comforter, which showeth all things, and teacheth the peaceable things of the kingdom." (DC 39:5-6.)
Wherever you have a restoration of the gospel, where those fundamental ordinances and the power of the Holy Ghost are among men, there you have the power by which the Lord can reveal all things that pertain to the kingdom in detail, don't you see, including baptism for the dead, which He has done in our day. That is what the Prophet Joseph Smith meant when he was questioned, "How does your church differ from all the other churches?" and his answer was simple, "We are different from all the other churches because we have the Holy Ghost." (See History of the Church 4:42.) Therein we have the teachings of the fulness of those essentials in the Book of Mormon upon the foundations of which the kingdom of God is established.
BYU professor Noel Reynolds wrote:
The gospel of Jesus Christ is not synonymous with the plan of salvation (or plan of redemption), but is a key part thereof. Brigham Young stated that the 'Gospel of the Son of God that has been revealed is a plan or system of laws and ordinances, by strict obedience to which the people who inhabit this earth are assured that they may return again into the presence of the Father and the Son.' While the plan of salvation is what God and Christ have done for mortals in the creation, the fall, the atonement, the final judgment, and the salvation of the world, the gospel contains the instructions--the laws and ordinances--that enable human beings to make the atonement effective in their lives and thereby gain salvation.
To see citations to the critical sources for these claims, click here
- 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
- Harold B. Lee, Teachings of Harold B. Lee (Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1996), 156. GospeLink (requires subscrip.)
- Noel B. Reynolds, "The Gospel of Jesus Christ as Taught by the Nephite Prophets," Brigham Young University Studies 31 no. 3 (Summer 1991), 33.