How may one deal effectively with the Latter-day Saints' (or Mormons') contention on vicarious baptism for the dead, which they base on 1 Corinthians 15:29?
In any discussion of the question of baptism 'IL for the dead, John 3:5 will come up for consideration. This verse reads: "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." If this birth by water had reference to baptism, then it would seem that no man could be saved unless he was baptized. There are other waters mentioned, however, besides the water of baptism. Jesus as "the living water," or "the water of life," is brought to view in John 4. The "Word" was also likened unto water by the apostle Paul. In Ephesians 5:26, he says, "That He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the Word."
Thus we see that in the Bible "water" does not always refer to the kind of water we drink, or the kind in which we are baptized. But for the sake of the argument let us grant that the water birth of John 3:5 means baptism, and with such a conclusion consider certain other verses. One verse over which there has been much Mormon discussion is 1 Corinthians 15:29: "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?" It may be a little difficult to give the full meaning of this verse. But it will not be so difficult to tell what the verse does not mean.
When Mormons teach the doctrine of baptism for the dead by this verse, they are asserting that one person can be baptized vicariously for another. It is true, and it can be proved from the Scriptures, that works of righteousness can be transferred from one being to another; but those works cannot be imparted by one human being to another human being. Scriptural proof for this statement is found in Ezekiel 14:14, 20. "Though these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it," "as I live, saith the Lord God, they shall deliver neither son nor daughter; they shall but deliver their own souls by their righteousness." These expressions certainly teach that it is impossible for works of righteousness to be transferred from one human being to another. The same truth is taught in the parable of the ten virgins:
"And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil ; for our lamps are gone 'out. But the wise answered, saying, Not so ; lest there be not enough for us and you : but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves." Matt. 25 :8, 9.
These verses show that each one must buy for himself or herself. There is but one source for this supply. The apostle Peter understood this. His words, as recorded in Acts 4:12, can be understood in no other way. "Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved." Consequently, if anyone is to receive works of righteousness vicariously from another, he must receive them from Jesus, for He is the only one who can thus impart to another, Jesus was not a sinner. He did not need to, be baptized, except that He might, be an example to those who would believe on His name, and that He thus might be able vicariously to impart baptism to those who were unable to be baptized after they had believed. The thief on the cross fell into this class of those who are in need of a vicarious impartation of baptism.
The Mormons believe in the impartation of baptism vicariously, seeing that they apply Corinthians 15:29 as they do. But their argument is faulty. After a man is dead, it is impossible for him to hope for the truth. Isaiah 38:18 records this: "For the grave cannot praise Thee, death cannot celebrate Thee: they that go down into the pit cannot hope for Thy truth." Thus, vicarious baptism, performed in an attempt to impart it to a man after he has died, would do no good. But when a man accepts Christ, and dies before he has had an opportunity to fulfill his Christian privileges in the strength of Jesus, he must, before his death, accept vicariously from Jesus these works of righteousness, including baptism.
All righteousness is accepted vicariously. Some have time to walk in the righteous acts which have been accepted by faith, while others die before opportunity is offered to walk in such acts. The dying thief was one who had no such opportunity to walk in the "works, which God hath before ordained," wherein a believer should walk. (See Eph. 2:1o, Newberry's version.) Thus the thief had to accept Jesus' baptism without himself being baptized. The baptism was imputed to the thief, and the verse in John 3:5 was thus fulfilled for the thief.
Whatever the interpretation of 1 Corinthians 15:29, it must be one that will agree with other Scriptures. From the foregoing argument, regardless of what interpretation is placed upon this text, one thing is certain, and that is that no living human being can be baptized or do any other act of righteousness for another living human being, much less for a dead one. Our righteous acts, even baptism, performed for another would be like "filthy rags." Whatever we accept must be accepted from the perfect One, Jesus Christ, and that while we are still alive.
Paul O. Campbell. [Evangelist, Oakland. California.]