The present controversy. The headlines of newspapers have been blazing across America reporting the current hullabaloo over the Mormon Church posthumously baptizing Jewish holocaust survivors. Jews understandably consider it an affront to have their ancestors' names inscribed in Mormon temple records, especially after LDS leaders promised in 1995, as well as signing a pact with the Jewish community in 2010, that they would quit.
"We are outraged that such insensitive actions continue in the Mormon temples," said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, Associate Dean at the Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles.1
"I am a holocaust survivor," says Anti Defamation League's Abe Foxman, also a holocaust survivor. "It is so offensive in the sense that holocaust victims were killed solely because they were Jews. And here comes the Mormon Church taking away their Jewishness, it's like killing them twice."2
"The effort of posthumous conversion stings our collective Jewish soul," says Bernie M. Farber, former CEO of the Canadian Jewish Congress and son of a Holocaust survivor, especially, he explains, "those who were murdered by the Nazis sanctifying God’s name (in the Hebrew faith tradition . . .) as they were sent to their graves."2a
The LDS Church apologized to the Jewish community, saying it is the fault of members who ignore church policy and continue to submit Jewish names. Leaders are sending a letter to all wards instructing members to desist or face disciplinary action, although they admit that no system is foolproof.2b
How many deceased Jews have been baptized? An estimated 600,000 have been posthumously baptized. In January of this year, holocaust victim Anne Frank was vicariously baptized, as was Asher and Rosa Rapp Wiesenthal, the deceased parents of Simon Wiesenthal who survived the Nazi death camps and hunted down perpetrators.
An appeal to Mitt Romney by Nobel Peace Prize winner, Elie Wiesel, a holocaust survivor and an official at the Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, was issued, requesting that he ask LDS leaders to keep their word and quit baptizing Jews. Some sources say that Elie Wiesel's name is in the Mormon database awaiting proxy baptism for when he dies.
Who else besides Jews are being baptized without the family's consent? Mahatma Gandhi's temple work took place between 1996 and 2009. Hindu statesman Rjan Zed, in a statement in Nevada (USA) said, as reported by the Voxy News Engine, that "it was appalling to note that Gandhi, who lived his life as a Hindu and was cremated by Hindu traditions, had been reportedly baptized by proxy by LDS. It was insensitive and hurtful to the feelings of about one billion Hindus spread worldwide."
Celebrities are often baptized. Within two hours of Whitney Houston's death, her name had been entered into the church's computer.3 During the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama's mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, was proxy baptized. Mitt Romney's ancestors were baptized and also included being posthumously married to multiple spouses (evidence that the LDS Church still believes in polygamy in heaven). Others include Princess Diana, Adolph Hitler, Ted Bundy, Timothy McVeigh, Joan of Arc, Charlie Chaplin, Humphrey Bogart, Marilyn Monroe, Rita Hayworth, St. Patrick, George Washington, Albert Einstein, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcom X, and various Catholic Saints
Are you next? Is this a possibility? Yes. Why? Because the LDS Church's monumental undertaking is to search and copy all the world's birth, marriage and death records, and posthumously do proxy baptisms, endowments and marriages for them in the temple. Therefore, with worldwide church genealogists hard at work, at some point after your death your name may be submitted to the Mormon temple.
What can you expect? (if you're watching from heaven)
For each of the following ordinances performed in your behalf, the temple worker will continually state your name aloud.
- A temple worker will be given your name on a piece of paper (women's names to women, and men's names to men)
- You will first be baptized by proxy in the basement of the temple in a huge baptismal font with twelve sculptured oxen surrounding it that represent the twelve tribes of Israel. The person who has your name will say it aloud and be baptized in your behalf. This rite allows you entrance through the gate that leads into the Celestial kingdom.
- You will vicariously be washed and anointed with water and oil for men to become Kings and Priests, the women, Queens and Priestesses.
- You will receive a new name and dressed in special undergarments of the Holy Priesthood that has Masonic markings of the square and compass on them. Then you don white clothes.
- You will participate in the Endowment ceremony, where you will watch (it is believed through the eyes of the person representing you) a drama of the Gods portrayed by actors.
- You are taught secret handshakes and passwords, which you must never reveal to anyone upon penalty of death except to the angels who guard the gates of heaven.
- Lastly, you will be sealed (eternally married) to your deceased spouse (or spouses, as the case may be). Without this marriage ceremony, you cannot become a God (or Goddesses). But with it, men will become Gods, create a new planet, procreate spiritual children with their Goddess wives, and people their new planet with offspring who will enter the physical bodies of babies on the new earth.
Why does the Mormon Church do this? The church believes that proxy baptisms and other ordinances will allow deceased persons to receive the Mormon gospel in the afterlife, thus giving them a second shot at salvation; also exaltation (becoming Gods and Goddesses). The departed, or course, may accept or reject it; but it is believed that once a person passes to the other side he or she will naturally be made aware that the LDS Church is the only true church on earth and will readily accept the vicarious work. The Mormon Church stipulates, however, that there is no second chance for those who rejected Mormonism when they were alive on earth. LDS Spokesman and Apostle Bruce R. McConkie reaffirms this:
"There is no such thing as a second chance to gain salvation by accepting the gospel in the spirit world after spurning, declining, or refusing to accept it in this life."4
Nevertheless, for those particular individuals, vicarious temple work will still be performed; but it will only allow them to avoid Hell and be saved in the second heaven, the Terrestrial Kingdom, never the highest heaven, the Celestial.
Why is the Mormon Church so concerned about the dead? The main reason is that they believe they cannot be saved until all the dead are saved. Joseph Smith said:
Let me assure you that these are principles in relation to the dead and the living that cannot be lightly passed over, as pertaining to our salvation. For their salvation is necessary and essential to our salvation, as Paul says concerning the fathers [Heb. 11:40]--that they without us cannot be made perfect--neither can we without our dead be made perfect." (Doctrine and Covenants 128:15. Emphasis mine.)
Smith uses Heb. 11:40, but totally misinterprets it. The correct interpretation is: The writer of Hebrews is focusing on the promise of salvation through the atonement of Christ, not only to believers in the New Testament, but also those in the Old Testament. Old Testament prophets and believers lived faithful and heroic lives, but the Law could not make them perfect. They died without having seen the fulfillment of the promise of a Deliverer (the Messiah) who could do away with the Law and make them perfect. However, the NT saints did live to see it, and they were made complete and perfect through Jesus' substitutionary atonement. The writer to the Hebrews is saying that NT believers certainly can't be saved by themselves and leave faithful OT believers out in the cold with no salvation. Since the Messiah had come, and Jesus died once for all (I Pet. 3:18) both OT and NT saints would ALL be made perfect together through the imputed righteousness of Christ and receive salvation and inherit the heavenly city as one family of God. The passage has nothing to do with the OT believers' salvation hinging on being baptized vicariously by NT believers or having temple rituals performed in their behalf.
How does the LDS Church validate baptism for the dead? From three sources: (1) Joseph Smith; (2) a single verse in the Bible (I Cor. 15:29), and (3) Apocryphal documents (spurious texts from the periods of the New Testament and first and second century AD that were ruled heretical and not included in the official canon.
(1) Joseph Smith. Here is the revelation claimed by Joseph Smith on January 19, 1841, which members accept as from the Lord. Verses 26-27 consist of the Lord telling Smith to build a temple. Then, beginning with v. 28, the "Lord" says:
"For a baptismal font there is not upon the earth, that they, my saints, may be baptized for those who are dead. For this ordinance belongeth to my house, and cannot be acceptable to me, only in the days of your poverty, wherein ye are not able to build a house unto me. But I command you, all ye my saints, to build a house unto me; and I grant unto you a sufficient time to build a house unto me and during this time your baptisms [for the dead] shall be acceptable unto me. But behold, at the end of this appointment your baptisms for your dead shall not be acceptable unto me; and if you do not these things at the end of the appointment ye shall be rejected as a church, with your dead, saith the Lord your God. For verily I say unto you, that after you have had sufficient time to build a house to me, wherein the ordinance of baptizing for the dead belongeth, and for which the same was instituted from before the foundation of the world, your baptisms for your dead cannot be acceptable unto me . . ." (Doctrine and Covenants, Section 124:28-33. See also D&C Sections 127 and 128. Brackets mine.)(2) I Cor. 15:29. This is the second source that the LDS Church claims validates baptism for the dead. In this verse Paul, in a letter to the Saints at the Corinthian church, is teaching on the bodily resurrection. He says to them: (and note the words I've italicized)
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? (KJ version)
If the dead will not be raised, what point is there in people being baptized for those who are dead? Why do it unless the dead will someday rise again? (NLT version)
Paul's use of the words "they" and/or "people" plainly distinguishes the group practicing this rite from the Christian Saints. If the Corinthian Saints were the ones baptizing for the dead, his sentence would have read: "Why are you being baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all?"
Scholars have studied this passage, and they all agree that Paul was not talking to the true Saints of the Corinthian church. Walter Schmithals, author of Gnosticism in Corinth: An Investigation of the Letters to the Corinthians, suggests that Paul wasn't fully familiar at that time with the beliefs of the group doing the baptizing as he became later on; because, if he had realized that the group doing the vicarious baptisms rejected the idea of the physical body of the dead being resurrected, only the spirit, he could do nothing else but reject it because it would have contradicted all his previous teachings on the resurrection. Other scholars, however, say that Paul was fully familiar with the group, and mentioned baptism for the dead as a slam against their eccentric notions in order to turn their beliefs against them.5 Either way, it was another group, not the Saints, who were baptizing for the dead.
After much research, especially wading through Walter Schmithals scholarly book (a very demanding read), I'm inclined to believe that Paul was only minimally aware of the group's beliefs that was baptizing for the dead. He incorrectly surmised they were doing it because they believed in a physical resurrection. He probably thought, "No harm done—at least they believe in the resurrection," therefore referred to them in order to back up his teaching on the resurrection of the body. But if he had known that the group believed only in the spirit being resurrected, he would not have used it, or else he would have had to undo all his previous teaching on the subject. The dead were guaranteed to rise bodily in the resurrection because of Jesus' redemptive death and His own bodily resurrection. In view of that, there would certainly be no need to perform special baptismal rites for dead people.
I Cor. 15:29 is the only place in the Bible where baptism for the dead is mentioned. Neither is it mentioned in other early "Christian" documents. Mention of these groups were made by Tertullian (160-225 AD) in Against Marcion (5, 10), Clement of Alexandri (153 to 217 AD) in Excerpt 22 of Excerpta ex Theodoto, and church apologist, Irenaeus, provided valuable information for today's scholars on other beliefs of the baptism-for-the-dead groups. John Chrysostom also mentions Christians who left and joined the groups, no longer believing in a bodily resurrection and who wanted to participate in their secret rituals. Certainly, the idea of secret knowledge had a strong appeal.
This group's practice of baptism for the dead and the group's other beliefs spread rapidly throughout the early Christian period, but were consistently considered deviant by the church and denounced as heretical.
(3) Apocryphal documents. This is the third source that the LDS Church uses to validate baptism for the dead, but has only been utilized in recent times due to modern-day findings and publication of the group's documents containing its rituals during the early church period. LDS scholars now eagerly quote from them to not only validate baptism for the dead but their other vicarious temple work for the dead. (These documents are listed in my article, "The Reliability of the Bible.") It is doubtful that Joseph Smith had access to these in his day. (The next post in the series will, however, tell you the local sources that were practicing these concepts.)
Who was this group? The importance of knowing who they were, how their influence grew in the Christian world, and that the church fathers viewed their practices as unbiblical and heretical, is crucial to understanding that those who baptized for the dead did not represent traditional, apostolic Christianity. Who were they? . . . Gnostics!
Did they just suddenly pop up at Corinth? No. Gnosticism dates back before Christianity. They infiltrated the Judean system before Christianity ever arrived on the scene, and Jewish Gnosticism existed alongside of Orthodox Judaism. The mystical Kabbalah of the Jews took many core Gnostic ideas and used them to reinterpret earlier Jewish sources. The Jewish mystics did not, however, use Gnostic terminology, but replaced it with language of the Torah. After Jesus' death, the Gnostic groups that became increasingly popular were the Basilidians, Valentinians, Marcionites, Carpocratians and Marcosians. Therefore, the Gnostics were widespread in the Syrian-Phoenician region, long before Paul's missionary journeys began. (There are also Gnostics groups today)
The Gnostic presence in the Corinthian church. Corinth was a port city on the Mediterranean and the virtual crossroads of commerce between the east and west. The city was morally polluted with unbridled sexual orgies, temple prostitutes, idol worship and doctrinal heresies of all kinds. The city of Elusis, just north of Corinth, was famous for its "Elusinian Mysteries." Baptism in the sea was practiced to guarantee a good afterlife, and in the Temple of Demeter, in their building called the Telesterion, secret rites and mysteries were performed which could not be revealed under penalty of death (similar to the death oaths in the LDS temple ceremony). And as in Mormonism, participants repeated formulaic passwords, sat in seats and watched actors play out the sacred drama of their gods (typical of most mystery religions of the time). Some scholars conclude that some form of Sacred Marriage probably took place at the Mysteries. Libations to the dead were also performed. So, considering the milieu, the Corinthians were heavily influenced by religious customs and beliefs of their environment. Paul had to straighten them out on more than one occasion.6
At the time of Paul's letter, a group of Gnostics had no doubt infiltrated the Corinthian church and influenced, if not confused, the saints. (Why they were attracted to Christianity is explained below.) Four divisive groups developed, each following after someone different. Paul mentions how they referred to themselves:
'I follow Paul'; another, 'I follow Apollos'; another, 'I follow Cephas;' still
another, 'I follow Christ.' (I. Cor. 1:12)
The "I-follow-Christ" group is referred to by scholars as the "Christ party" or "Christ faction." In other words, Gnostics who penetrated the church. They believed in the "Christ Principle" which they acquired through Gnosis, special knowledge for the elite (explained further below). Christianity held a strong attraction for them because of this, so joining the church at Corinth was no problem for them and they merged right in with no one (at first) being the wiser.
On the surface they did not appear that much different from the Corinthian Saints. Merging into the church, they blended in like chameleons, the small lizard whose skin adapts its color to its surroundings. They could speak in tongues like the saints did, and their use of common terms like "salvation," "redemption," "Christ," "gospel," etc. fooled the Saints into believing their terms held traditional Christian meanings (similar to Mormon who use Christian terms but have different meanings).
One of their major problems of the Gnostics was that they did not believe Jesus the man was the Christ. The Christ Principle came into the man Jesus at his baptism, but left at the crucifixion; therefore, Jesus the man was not the Christ. Paul then gave the Saints a test question to distinguish true Christians from Gnostics: "No man speaking by the spirit calleth Jesus accursed." (I Cor. 12:3) Because of the prevalence of this doctrine, John also reiterated it: "Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God." (I Jn 4:2-3. See also 2 John 7)
The Gnostics' other problem was that they considered themselves more elite than the other Christians because they had "Gnosis," special knowledge that brought salvation to their spirits. They were not concerned about the body at all. They believed the flesh was evil and the spirit only was good. They were saved regardless of what their bodies did. To demonstrate (and flaunt) their spiritual elitist salvation to the rest of the church, they allowed their bodies to indulge in incest and eat meat offered to idols (I Cor. 7:1; 8:1-13). This confused the Saints so much, that Paul had to write and set things straight on that matter as well.
Why did the group practice baptism for the dead? Resurrection of everyone's spirit (including the dead's) mattered. All the spirits of the dead had to be saved before they themselves could be saved. Without the ascension of all the spirits of Gnostics, dead and alive, the body of Christ, which is scattered in pieces in all men, would be incomplete in heaven. Vicarious baptisms would set the spirits of the dead free so they could resurrect and merge into the Pleroma of God (more on the Pleroma later); thus hasten the living Gnostics' salvation. Mormons follow suit. They believe they can only be redeemed when all the dead are redeemed through Mormon rites.
How prevalent were Gnostic beliefs? Gnostic beliefs continued throughout the New Testament period and into the early centuries of the church, spread by zealous missionaries and apostles. Irenaeus, early church father and apologist, noted:
At the time of the birth of Christ and thereafter, no religious movement besides the Christian movement organized and executed such an extended and deliberate missionary work as the Gnostic enterprise." (reference unknown)
What were the Gnostics' other beliefs? There were many Gnostic groups in the early centuries, teaching with variations on the teachings. They are very complex and too lengthy to include in this three-post series.
However, in Part 2 I will list the basic beliefs, and include a comparison to The Mormon Church's beliefs. It will show that Joseph Smith adopted Gnostic beliefs into his church, to which LDS scholars readily admit. In fact, they pride themselves on referencing early Gnostic documents to validate their baptism for the dead and other temple rituals.
IN THE NEXT POST, FIND OUT THE SHOCKING GNOSTIC BELIEFS THAT JOSEPH SMITH BORROWED, AND THEN CLAIMED AS REVELATION!
DON'T MISS PART 2!
(March 20th )
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Footnotes:1. "Mormons apologize for posthumous Jewish baptisms" by Jennifer Dobner. Seattle Times, Feb. 14,
2012; also in many other newspapers)
4. Mormon Doctrine, 685-687.)
5. See "Heretics and Baptism for the Dead" by David W. T. Brattston at http://tinyurl.com/7eh8pk7
4. Mormon Doctrine, 685-687.)
5. See "Heretics and Baptism for the Dead" by David W. T. Brattston at http://tinyurl.com/7eh8pk7
6. See "The Elusianian Mysteries" at http://users.erols.com/nbeach/eleusis.html.