BAPTISM FOR THE DEAD

The following are sections out of Bill McKeever’s book In their Own Words: A Collection of Mormon Quotations. The full book of 400 pages is available at Mormonism Research Ministry or Amazon.com.

Standard Works

“And again, in connection with this quotation I will give you a
quotation from one of the prophets, who had his eye fixed on the
restoration of the priesthood, the glories to be revealed in the last
days, and in an especial manner this most glorious of all subjects
belonging to the everlasting gospel, namely, the baptism for the
dead; for Malachi says, last chapter, verses 5th and 6th: Behold, I
will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful
day of the Lord: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children,
and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth
with a curse” (Doctrine and Covenants 128:17).

Joseph Smith

“This doctrine presents in a clear light the wisdom and mercy of
God in preparing an ordinance for the salvation of the dead, being
baptized by proxy, their names recorded in heaven and they
judged according to the deeds done in the body. This doctrine was
the burden of the scriptures. Those Saints who neglect it in behalf
of their deceased relatives, do it at the peril of their own salvation”
(Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 193. See also
Ensign, “The Doctrine of Temple Work,” p. 60).

“The greatest responsibility in this world that God has placed
upon us is to seek after our dead” (Joseph Smith, Teachings of the
Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 356).

2nd President Brigham Young

“This doctrine of baptism for the dead is a great doctrine, one of
the most glorious doctrines that was revealed to the human family;
and there are light, power, glory, honor and immortality in
it” (Brigham Young, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham
Young, 1997, p. 308).

“Our fathers cannot be made perfect without us; we cannot be
made perfect without them. They have done their work and now
sleep. We are now called upon to do ours; which is to be the greatest
work man ever performed on the earth. Millions of our fellow
creatures who have lived upon the earth and died without a knowledge
of the Gospel must be officiated for in order that they may
inherit eternal life (that is, all that would have received the Gospel).
And we are called upon to enter into this work” (Brigham Young,
Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young, 1997, p. 311).

4th President Wilford Woodruff

“The dead will be after you, they will seek after you as they have
after us in St. George. They called upon us, knowing that we held
the keys and power to redeem them. I will here say, before closing,
that two weeks before I left St. George, the spirits of the dead
gathered around me, wanting to know why we did not redeem
them. Said they, ‘You have had the use of the Endowment House
for a number of years, and yet nothing has ever been done for
us. We laid the foundation of the government you now enjoy,
and we never apostatized from it, but we remained true to it and
were faithful to God.’ These were the signers of the Declaration
of Independence, and they waited on me for two days and two
nights. I thought it very singular, that notwithstanding so much
work had been done, and yet nothing had been done for them.
The thought never entered my heart, from the fact, I suppose,
that heretofore our minds were reaching after our more immediate
friends and relatives. I straightway went into the baptismal font
and called upon brother McCallister to baptize me for the signers
of the Declaration of Independence, and fifty other eminent men,
making one hundred in all, including John Wesley, Columbus,
and others; I then baptized him for every President of the United
States, except three; and when their cause is just, somebody will
do the work for them” (Wilford Woodruff, September 16, 1877,
Journal of Discourses 19:229).

“If the dead have not heard the Gospel, the Lord is not going to
send them to hell because they have not received it. The Lord is
the Father of all. He is merciful to all…. Millions of people have
been born in the flesh, have lived and have gone to the grave, who
never saw the face of a prophet in their lives; never saw a man that
was called of God and had power to administer in one of the ordinances
of the House of God. Will God condemn them because
they did not receive the Gospel? Not at all” (Wilford Woodruff,
Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Wilford Woodruff, 2004, p. 186.
Ellipsis in original).

“Our forefathers are looking to us to attend to this work. They
are watching over us with great anxiety, and are desirous that we
should finish these temples and attend to certain ordinances for
them, so that in the morning of the resurrection they can come
forth and enjoy the same blessings that we enjoy” (Wilford Woodruff,
Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Wilford Woodruff, 2004,
p. 190).

“How would I feel, after living as long as I have, with the privileges
I have had of going into these temples, to go into the spirit world
without having done this work? I meet my father’s house, I meet
my mother’s house, I meet my progenitors, and they are shut up
in prison; I held the keys of their salvation, and yet did nothing
for them; what would be my feelings, or what would be their feelings
toward me?” (Wilford Woodruff, Teachings of Presidents of the
Church: Wilford Woodruff, 2004, p. 192).

6th President Joseph F. Smith

“We will not finish our work until we have saved ourselves, and
then not until we shall have saved all depending upon us; for we
are to become saviors upon Mount Zion, as well as Christ. We are
called to this mission. The dead are not perfect without us, neither
are we without them [see D&C 128:18]. We have a mission
to perform for and in their behalf; we have a certain work to do
in order to liberate those who, because of their ignorance and
the unfavorable circumstances in which they were placed while
here, are unprepared for eternal life; we have to open the door
for them, by performing ordinances which they cannot perform
for themselves, and which are essential to their release from the
‘prison-house,’ to come forth and live according to God in the
spirit, and be judged according to men in the flesh [see D&C
138:33–34]” (Joseph F. Smith, Teachings of Presidents of the Church:
Joseph F. Smith, 1998, p. 410. Brackets in original).

9th President Harold B. Lee

“This work for the dead performed in holy temples by members of
the Church does in reality make of them who do this work ‘saviors’
to those who have died without a knowledge of the gospel, for
thereby they may claim the complete gift of the Savior promised
to all mankind through his atonement” (Harold B. Lee, Teachings
of Presidents of the Church: Harold B. Lee, 2000, p. 103).

10th President Joseph Fielding Smith

“Since the requirement of obedience to the Gospel ordinances is
made of all men, and since they cannot enter into the kingdom
without complying with the law the Lord has given, a work must be
done in behalf of those who have died without a knowledge of the
Gospel and its requirements, and who never had the opportunity
of repentance and remission of sins” (Joseph Fielding Smith, The
Way to Perfection, p. 152).

“But greater than all this, so far as our individual responsibilities
are concerned, the greatest is to become saviors, in our lesser degree
which is assigned us, for the dead who have died without
a knowledge of the Gospel, Joseph Smith said: ‘The greatest responsibility
in this world that God has laid upon us, is to seek after
our dead.’ Why is this such a grave responsibility? For two reasons.
First, because we cannot enter into the perfect life without
our worthy dead who have not been blessed as we have with the
Gospel. Second, because they who have lived worthy lives, but in
darkness, because the Gospel did not come to them in life, are
also heirs of salvation” (Joseph Fielding Smith, The Way to Perfection,
p. 153).

“SALVATION FOR DEAD IN LATTER-DAYS. The work of saving
the dead has practically been reserved for the dispensation of
the fulness of times, when the Lord shall restore all things. It is,
therefore, the duty of the Latter-day Saints to see that it is accomplished.
We cannot do it all at once, but will have the 1,000 years
of the millennium to do it in. In that time the work must be done
in behalf of the dead of the previous 6,000 years, for all who need
it. Temples will be built for this purpose, and the labor in them
will occupy most of the time of the saints” (Joseph Fielding Smith,
Doctrines of Salvation 2:166).

“MILLENNIUM: GREAT ERA OF SALVATION FOR THE DEAD.
Some people may think that it is impossible for us to do this work
for the dead because we have not the names of people who lived
in ancient times. We have not the records, we do not know how
to reach them from anything we have in this life, and there have
been millions of people who no doubt were honest, and did the
best they knew, but died without a knowledge of the gospel, whose
names it is impossible for us to obtain. How are they going to be
saved? It is our duty to go to the temple and take our records
and work for the dead of our own lineage as far back as we can
go, but what about these others? I will tell you. The great work of
the millennium, of 1,000 years, will be for the salvation of these
souls. Now let us keep it clearly in our minds that we do not enter
into exaltation until after the resurrection. We do not enter into
exaltation in the spirit world. We have privileges there, of course,
based upon faithfulness and obedience to the gospel, but during
the millennium-and that is the great purpose of the millennium–we
will go into the temples” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of
Salvation 2:166-167).

“One very significant thing in this revelation, which should be remembered,
is the fact that the Lord did not say that all who are
dead are entitled to these blessings in the celestial kingdom, if
they hear the gospel in the spirit world, but all who would have
received the gospel had they been given the opportunity in this
mortal life. The privilege of exaltation is not held out to those who have
had the opportunity to receive Christ and obey his truth and who have
refused to do so” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation 2:182.
Italics in original).

“SOME NOT ELIGIBLE FOR VICARIOUS SALVATION. There
are too many people in this world, who have heard the message
of the gospel, who think they can continue on to the end of this
mortal life, living as they please, and then accept the gospel after
death and friends will perform the ordinances that they neglect
to perform for themselves, and eventually they will receive blessings
in the kingdom of God. This is an error. It is the duty of men
in this life to repent. Every man who hears the gospel message is under
obligation to receive it. If he fails, then in the spirit world he will be
called upon to receive it, but he will be denied the fulness that will
come to those who in their faithfulness have been just and true,
whether it be in this life or in the spirit world” (Joseph Fielding
Smith, Doctrines of Salvation 2:183. Italics in original).

“SECOND CHANCE LEADS TO TERRESTRIAL KINGDOM.
Moreover, we learn that those who rejected the gospel when it was
offered them in ancient times, but afterwards accepted the ‘testimony
of Jesus’ in the spirit world when it was declared to them,
and who were honorable men of the earth, are assigned to the
terrestrial glory, not the celestial” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines
of Salvation 2:183. Italics in original).

“It was revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith in a vision in the
Kirtland Temple, January 21, 1836, that ‘all who have died without
a knowledge of this gospel, who would have received it if they had
been permitted to tarry, shall be heirs of the celestial kingdom of
God; also all that shall die henceforth without a knowledge of it,
who would have received it with all their hearts’; also, that little
children ‘who die before they arrive at years of accountability, are
saved in the celestial kingdom of heaven.’ He did not see, however,
the rebellious, the ungodly, the corrupt and filthy, and those
who love and make a lie, as heirs of that kingdom. There is another
place provided for them. Men cannot be thrust into the kingdom
of God, irrespective of their worthiness or unworthiness, just because their
relatives or friends perform labor for them after they are dead” (Joseph
Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation 2:186-187. Italics in original).

“VICARIOUS ORDINANCES NOT FOR REBELLIOUS. I have
known of cases where individuals have died who were bitterly
opposed to the Church, and had denied the faith and left the
Church, and hardly had they died when relatives have appealed to
the First Presidency for the privilege of having their work done for
them in the temple. Such appeals have been made at times so that
relatives of the person, who passed away under such unfavorable
circumstances, might be able to give the deceased a burial according
to the rites and customs of the Latter-day Saints. Now, all this
is wrong. What good is it going to do for us to perform in the temples
ordinances for those who die with an unrepentant attitude of
this kind? If they had the opportunity and would not receive the
truth while living, can we force it upon them when they are dead?
Is it within our power, because we labor in the vicarious work as
proxies for them, to make them heirs of the celestial kingdom?
No, it is not! But, one will say: ‘Perhaps they will not receive these
blessings now, but later they may do so, and therefore our labors
will not be in vain.’ Let me ask you these questions: Where in the
scriptures, or where in the revelations from the Lord, is it found
written, that the man who dies in rebellious opposition to the gospel,
who has once had the light and through transgression turned
from it, or who rejected it after it was presented to him and who
has been familiar with it all his life, shall become an heir of the
celestial kingdom even though he repents in the world of spirits?
Has the Lord promised that the rebellious, the wicked, these who
reject this truth shall eventually, after repentance, become heirs of
the celestial kingdom? I do not gather any such conclusion from
my reading of the scriptures” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of
Salvation 2:187. Italics in original).

“The scriptures make it very clear that Elijah was to come to someone;
why not then to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery? It is like-
wise very clear that he has not come to anyone else. No one else
has laid claim to having received such a manifestation and commission.
Moreover, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery declared
that the turning of the hearts of the fathers to the children and
the hearts of the children to their fathers was in relation to the
vicarious work which the living children are privileged to perform
for the salvation of their dead fathers, who died without the opportunity
of accepting Jesus Christ” (Joseph Fielding Smith, The
Restoration of All Things, 1964, p. 177).

“It is a damnation (stopping) and (denying) progress (toward)
exaltation to all those who refuse to receive the light. We will never
be baptized for all the dead. Baptism for the dead is for those
who died without the knowledge or the privilege of having the
knowledge of the gospel, and then it will apply only to those who
are dead who are willing to accept the gospel in the spirit world
(Joseph Fielding Smith, Selections from Answers to Gospel Questions: A
Course of Study for the Melchizedek Priesthood Quorum 1972-73, p. 157).

12th President Spencer W. Kimball

“It must be remembered that vicarious work for the dead is for
those who could not do the work for themselves. Men and women
who live in mortality and who have heard the gospel here have
had their day, their seventy years to put their lives in harmony,
to perform the ordinances, to repent and to perfect their lives”
(Spencer W. Kimball,, The Miracle of Forgiveness, p. 314).

13th President Ezra Taft Benson

“The temple work for the fifty-six signers of the Declaration of
Independence and other Founding Fathers has been done. All
these appeared to Wilford Woodruff when he was president of the
St. George Temple. President George Washington was ordained a
high priest at that time. You will also be interested to know that,
according to Wilford Woodruff’s journal, John Wesley, Benjamin
Franklin, and Christopher Columbus were also ordained high
priests at that time” (Ezra Taft Benson, The Teachings of Ezra Taft
Benson, p. 604).

14th President Howard Hunter

“Furthermore, the dead are anxiously waiting for the Latter-day
Saints to search out their names and then go into the temples
to officiate in their behalf, that they may be liberated from their
prison house in the spirit world” (Howard W. Hunter, “A Temple-Motivated
People,” Ensign, March 2004, p. 41).

15th President Gordon B. Hinckley

“Through living proxies who stand in behalf of the dead, the same
ordinances are available to those who have passed from mortality.
In the spirit world they then are free to accept or reject those
earthly ordinances performed for them, including baptism, marriage,
and the sealing of family relationships. There must be no
compulsion in the work of the Lord, but there must be opportunity”
(Gordon B. Hinckley, Be Thou an Example, p. 131).

Apostles

“The Labor for the Dead is Twofold—That performed on earth
would be incomplete but for its supplement and counterpart beyond
the veil. Missionary labor is in progress there, whereby the
tidings of the Gospel are carried to the departed spirits, who thus
learn of the work done in their behalf on earth. So far as the divine
law has been revealed, it requires that the outward ordinances,
such as baptism in water, the laying on of hands for the bestowal
of the Holy Ghost, and the higher endowments that follow, be attended
to on earth, a proper representative in the flesh acting as
proxy for the dead. The results of such labors are to be left with
the Lord. It is not to be supposed that by these ordinances the departed
are in any way compelled to accept the obligation, nor that
they are in the least hindered in the exercise of their free agency.
They will accept or reject according to their condition of humility
or hostility in respect to the Gospel; but the work so done for them
on earth will be of avail when wholesome teaching and real penitence
have shown them their true position” (James E. Talmage,
Articles of Faith, 1984, p. 138).

“Let it not be assumed that this doctrine of vicarious labor for the
dead implies even remotely, that the administration of ordinances
in behalf of departed spirits operates in any manner to interfere
with the right of choice and the exercise of free agency on their
part. They are at liberty to accept or reject the ministrations in
their behalf; and so they will accept or reject, in accordance with
their converted or unregenerate state, even as is the case with
mortals to whom the Gospel message may come” (James E. Talmage,
The House of the Lord, p. 68).

“A person can believe and repent in the spirit world, but cannot
be baptized there. This makes necessary baptism by proxy” (Orson
F. Whitney, Saturday Night Thoughts, p. 254).

“For instance, baptism, the symbol of obedience to God and acceptance
of his love, is not necessarily an ordinance that belongs
elsewhere than on earth. It is unlikely that water baptism is essentially
an ordinance of and for this earth. If it be true, then all
who enter upon the earth-career, and who desire at the years of
discretion the perfected joy derived from the Gospel, must have
baptism on this earth. Should some of the spirits refuse, while on
earth, to accept the Gospel, or fail to hear it, baptism, belonging
to the earth, must be done for them, vicariously, on earth, so
that they, having had the work done for them here, may accept or
reject the ordinance in their life beyond the grave. This is the motive
of the work for the dead” (John A. Widtsoe, Rational Theology,
1915, p. 41).

“There is no water baptism in the next estate, nor any conferring
of the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of earthly hands. The
equivalents of these ordinances prevail no doubt in every estate,
but only as they are given on this earth can they be made to aid,
in their onward progress, those who have dwelt on earth. For that
reason those who have departed this life without having accepted
the earthly ordinances, which constitute in part the conditions of
entrance to the Church, must have that work done for them on
earth. By proxy they must be baptized by water, receive the laying
on of hands and accept of the temple ordinances” (John A. Widtsoe,
Rational Theology, 1915, p. 142).

“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. It is true that there may be a second chance to
hear and accept the gospel, but those who have thus procrastinated
their acceptance of the saving truths will not gain salvation in
the celestial kingdom of God. Salvation for the dead is the system
by means of which those who ‘die without a knowledge of the gospel’
(D. & C. 128:5) may gain such knowledge in the spirit world and
then, following the vicarious performance of the necessary ordinances,
become heirs of salvation on the same basis as though the
gospel truths had been obeyed in mortality. Salvation for the dead is
limited expressly to those who do not have opportunity in this life to accept
the gospel but who would have taken the opportunity had it come to them.
…Thus the false and heretical doctrine that people who fail to live
the law in this life (having had an opportunity so to do) will have a
further chance of salvation in the life to come is a soul-destroying
doctrine, a doctrine that lulls its adherents into carnal security
and thereby denies them a hope of eternal salvation” (Bruce R.
McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 1966, pp. 685-687. Italics in original.
Ellipsis mine).

“There are those who believe that the doctrine of salvation for
the dead offers men a second chance for salvation. This is false,
false, false. I know a man, now deceased, a non-member of the
Church, who was a degenerate old reprobate who found pleasure,
as he supposed, in living after the manner of the world. A cigarette
dangled from his lips, alcohol stenched his breath, and profane
and bawdy stories defiled his lips. His moral status left much to be
desired. His wife was a member of the Church, as faithful as she
could be under the circumstances. One day she said to him, ‘You
know the Church is true; why don’t you be baptized?’ He replied,
‘Of course I know the Church is true, but I have no intention of
changing my habits in order to join it. I prefer to live the way I do.
But that doesn’t worry me in the slightest. I know that as soon as I
die, you will have someone go to the temple and do the work for
me and everything will come out all right in the end anyway.’ He
died and she did and it was a total and complete waste of time”
(Bruce R. McConkie, “The Seven Deadly Heresies,” an address
given at Brigham Young University on June 1, 1980. Transcribed
from actual speech).

“Even the merciful doctrine of salvation for the dead contains no
provision that men will have a second chance to gain salvation
by repenting in the spirit world. (Mormon Doctrine, pp. 617-619.)
Those who have opportunity to accept the gospel in this life must
do so or forfeit the hope of salvation. (Alma 34:31-36.) Even if
such persons do repent in the spirit world, the highest reward
they can ever attain is the terrestrial kingdom. (D. & C. 76:71-74.)
There is no escaping the awful consequences attendant upon the
rejection of the Lord or of his legal administrators who carry his
message to the world” (Bruce R. McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament
Commentary 1:435).

“Many of your deceased ancestors will have received a testimony
that the message of the missionaries is true. When you received
that testimony you could ask the missionaries for baptism. But
those who are in the spirit world cannot. The ordinances you so
cherish are offered only in this world. Someone in this world must
go to a holy temple and accept the covenants on behalf of the
person in the spirit world. That is why we are under obligation to
find the names of our ancestors and ensure that they are offered
by us what they cannot receive there without our help” (Henry B.
Eyring, “Hearts Bound Together,” Ensign (Conference Edition),
May 2005, p. 78).

“One of the characteristics that sets us apart from the rest of the
world and identifies us as the Lord’s Church is that we provide
baptism and other ordinances for our deceased ancestors” (Boyd
K. Packer, “Come to the Temple,” Ensign, October 2007, p. 22).

Seventies

“What happens if the deceased person doesn’t want to repent or
doesn’t want the blessings of baptism? We believe that everyone is
free to choose, both in this life and in the spirit world. This freedom
is essential to the plan of our Heavenly Father. No one will
be coerced into accepting ordinances performed on his or her
behalf by another. Baptism for the dead offers an opportunity, but
it does not override a person’s agency…We simply do not know
who among the dead will turn their hearts to the Lord and repent”
(Spencer J. Condie, “The Savior’s Visit to the Spirit World,”
Ensign, July 2003, p. 36. Italics mine).

Church Manuals

“As you receive priesthood ordinances in behalf of those who have
died, you become a savior on Mount Zion for them (see Obadiah
1:21). Your effort approaches the spirit of the Savior’s atoning sacrifice—you
perform a saving work for others that they cannot do
for themselves” (True to the Faith: A Gospel Reference, 2004, p. 63).

“The Lord desires that all who have lived upon the earth past the
age of eight have the privilege of receiving baptism, the endowment,
and the sealing ordinances. He has provided a way for the
living to perform these ordinances in behalf of those who have
died. As members of the Church, we have the responsibility to
provide the saving ordinances of the gospel for our ancestors
who died without them” (The Latter-day Saint Woman Part B, 2000,
p. 163).

“The people in the spirit world can exercise faith and accept the
gospel message, but they cannot receive the ordinances of the
gospel, such as baptism, the endowment, and sealings, for themselves.
The Lord has directed us to perform these ordinances for
them” (Introduction to Family History Teacher Manual Religion 261,
2005, p. 7).

“Each of us can play a vital role in providing ordinances for the
dead. We can identify those who have died and see that temple
ordinances are performed in their behalf. As we serve those who
wait in the spirit world, we can come to know the blessing of assisting
the Savior in the great work of salvation” (Introduction to Family
History Teacher Manual Religion 261, 2005, p. 7).

“Jesus has provided for everyone to hear the gospel, whether on
earth or after death. Between His death and Resurrection, Jesus
went among the spirits of those who had died. He organized missionary
work among those who were dead. He appointed righteous
messengers and gave them power to teach the gospel to all
the spirits of people who had died. This gave them an opportunity
to accept the gospel. (See 1 Peter 3:18–20; 4:6; D&C 138.) Living
members of His Church then performed ordinances in behalf of
the dead (see 1 Corinthians 15:29). Ordinances such as baptism
and confirmation must be done on earth” (Gospel Principles, 2009,
pp. 90-91).

Other Sources

“In Nauvoo, the Prophet Joseph taught for the first time that it is
the privilege of Latter-day Saints to act as agents in behalf of their
kindred dead. After receiving their own temple Endowment, Latter-day
Saints return to the temple frequently to participate in the
Endowment ceremony as proxies for, and in behalf of, deceased
persons. Consistent with the law of agency, it is believed that those
so served have complete freedom in the spirit world to accept or
reject the spiritual blessing thus proffered them” (Encyclopedia of
Mormonism 2:455-456).

“Worthy young men and young women ages 12 and older can visit
the temple to be baptized for their ancestors who have died without
being baptized” (“Making the Temple a Part of Your Life,”
Ensign, October 2010, p. 77).

“There is no indication in the Book of Mormon that Christ introduced
the doctrine of salvation for the dead during his visit to the
Nephites—even though, according to LDS doctrine, he had just
visited the spirits in prison and opened the door for their salvation.
On the contrary, the Book of Mormon people were taught
not to worry about those who die without having heard the gospel
in this life since they are redeemed automatically through
the Atonement. The whole notion of vicarious work for the dead
seems incongruous with Book of Mormon theology” (BYU Professor
Charles R. Harrell, ‘This is my Doctrine’: The Development of
Mormon Theology, p. 361).