Chapter 17: Sealing Power and Temple Blessings

Chapter 17: Sealing Power and Temple Blessings

Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Fielding Smith, (2013), 215–27

During 2014, LDS members will be studying the latest manual published by their church, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Fielding Smith. We will evaluate this book regularly, chapter by chapter, by showing interesting quotes and providing an Evangelical Christian take on this manual. The text that is underlined is from the manual, with our comments following.


President Smith taught that family history is about more than finding names, dates, and places and gathering stories. It is about providing temple ordinances that unite families for eternity, sealing faithful people of all generations as members of the family of God. “Parents must be sealed to each other, and children to parents in order to receive the blessings of the celestial kingdom,” he said. “Therefore our salvation and progression depends upon the salvation of our worthy dead with whom we must be joined in family ties. This can only be accomplished in our Temples.” Before offering the dedicatory prayer in the Ogden Utah Temple, he said, “May I remind you that when we dedicate a house to the Lord, what we really do is dedicate ourselves to the Lord’s service, with a covenant that we shall use the house in the way he intends that it shall be used.”

Unlike the chapels where Mormons regularly meet to conduct worship services, LDS temples are places where worthy Mormons—known as patrons—go to perform “sacred” works for both themselves and those who have already died, including deceased relatives. In fact, most temple work is done on behalf of the dead. As President Thomas S. Monson stated,

“Our job is to search out our dead and then go to the temple and perform the sacred ordinances that will bring to those beyond the veil the same opportunities we have.” (Ensign (June 2014): 4.)

Mormons are taught that God presides over the ceremonies in each of these temples scattered throughout the world and are accessible to most LDS members, as 85% live within 200 miles of a temple. (Ensign (May 2014):46.) These buildings

are literally houses of the Lord. They are holy places of worship where the Lord may visit. Only the home can compare with temples in sacredness. Throughout history, the Lord has commanded His people to build temples. Today the Church is heeding the Lord’s call to build temples all over the world, making temple blessings more available for a great number of our Heavenly Father’s children. (True to the Faith: A Gospel Reference, 170.)

Among the rites are the endowment ceremony, baptisms for the dead, eternal marriages, and “sealings” of families for time and eternity. Temple patrons

“learn more about Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. We gain a better understanding of our purpose in life and our relationship with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. We are taught about our premortal existence, the meaning of earth life, and life after death.” (Gospel Principles, 233, 235.)

Is this really a place where families can be sealed for eternity? Should Christians hold the temple near and dear to their heart? This is the topic of this chapter.

Teachings of Joseph Fielding Smith

Elijah restored the power to seal, or bind, on earth and in heaven.

Malachi, the last of the prophets of the Old Testament, closed his predictions with these words:

“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.” (Mal. 4:5–6.)

It seems to be most fitting that the last of the old prophets should close his words with a promise to future generations, and in that promise predict a time to come when there would be a linking of the dispensations past with those of later times. …

This is what is called taking a passage out of context to fit the presuppositon of the interpreter. It is, in fact, not exegesis (taking the meaning out of a passage) but rather eisegesis (reading a meaning into a passage). It’s not the first time a Latter-day Saint teacher has done this, and I highly doubt it will be the last.

Let’s consider Malachi 4:5-6, which refers to the sending of what appears to be an Elijah-type person “before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.” This figure would “turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers.” So we must ask, Who could this person be?

Turn to Matthew 11:14 and the answer is provided:

11 Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. 12 From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence, and violent people have been raiding it. 13 For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. 14 And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come. 15 Whoever has ears, let them hear.

Jesus continued in relationship to Malachi 4:6:

16 “To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others:

17 “‘We played the pipe for you,

    and you did not dance;

     we sang a dirge,

    and you did not mourn.’

18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ 19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved right by her deeds.”

In case the reader didn’t understand the meaning behind this teaching, Jesus provided more information in Matthew 17:10-13:

10 The disciples asked him, “Why then do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?” 11 Jesus replied, “To be sure, Elijah comes and will restore all things. 12 But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished. In the same way the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.” 13 Then the disciples understood that he was talking to them about John the Baptist.

Indeed, the interpretation that Smith comes up with, seemingly out of the blue, does not hold to what Jesus explained in Matthew as well as Mark (9:11-13), Luke (1:17), and John (1:21).

We have a much clearer interpretation of the words of Malachi given by the Nephite prophet Moroni, who appeared to Joseph Smith September 21, 1823. This is the way the angel quoted them:

“Behold, I will reveal unto you the Priesthood, by the hand of Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.

“And he shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers, and the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers.

“If it were not so, the whole earth would be utterly wasted at his coming.” (D&C 2:1–3.)

Smith pulls this verse out of LDS scripture but only ends up begging the question: What evidence is there that a man/angel named “Moroni” ever existed? Mangling an Old Testament passage and then adding an LDS unique scripture is just not sufficient support for a Christian.

Moroni informed Joseph Smith that this prediction was about to be fulfilled. The fulfillment came some twelve years later, on April 3, 1836. On this day Elijah appeared to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery in the Kirtland Temple and there conferred upon them … the power to bind, or seal, on earth and in heaven. The keys of this priesthood were held by Elijah, to whom the Lord gave power over the elements as well as over men, with the authority to seal for time and eternity on the righteous all the ordinances pertaining to the fullness of salvation.

The passage in Malachi 4 had already been fulfilled! Jesus did not teach that a literal appearance was coming after John the Baptist, for John was the fulfillment. We also have to believe Smith and Cowdery ever had such an experience as they described. Smith is not the most reliable witness (after all, he lied many times), and Cowdery left the church not many years after this event supposedly took place.  If Elijah had appeared to you (as well as John the Baptist and Peter, James, and John, would you have left the LDS Church?) Their credibility is therefore in question.

Some members of the Church have been confused in thinking that Elijah came with the keys of baptism for the dead or of salvation for the dead. Elijah’s keys were greater than that. They were the keys of sealing, and those keys of sealing pertain to the living and embrace the dead who are willing to repent.

Where can this idea be found in the Bible? How does this have anything to do with the need for an LDS temple today (which is the theme of this chapter)?

Elijah came to restore to the earth, by conferring on mortal prophets duly commissioned of the Lord, the fulness of the power of Priesthood. This Priesthood holds the keys of binding and sealing on earth and in heaven of all the ordinances and principles pertaining to the salvation of man, that they may thus become valid in the celestial kingdom of God. …

Why did no other New Testament writer understand this passage in such a way? It is an argument from silence to say that LDS prophets almost two millennia later would realize the importance of Malachi 4 in respect to temples.

It is by virtue of this authority that ordinances are performed in the temples for both the living and the dead. It is the power which unites for eternity husbands and wives when they enter into marriage according to the eternal plan. It is the authority by which parents obtain the claim of parenthood concerning their children through all eternity and not only for time, which makes eternal the family in the Kingdom of God.

Through the improper use of Malachi, we are told that temples for today are necessary. Is it me or is Smith missing references to support his claim that families can be bound as a unit in the next life? I don’t think it is me. Instead of taking passages out of context, we should consider what the Bible really has to say on this issue.

The restoration of the sealing authority saves the earth from being utterly wasted at the coming of Jesus Christ.

If Elijah had not come we are led to believe that all the work of past ages would have been of little avail, for the Lord said the whole earth, under such conditions, would be utterly wasted at his coming. Therefore his mission was of vast importance to the world. It is not the question of baptism for the dead alone, but also the sealing of parents and children to parents, so that there should be a “whole and complete and perfect union, and welding together of dispensations, and keys and powers and glories,” from the beginning down to the end of time [see D&C 128:18]. If this sealing power were not on the earth, then confusion would reign and disorder would take place of order in that day when the Lord shall come, and, of course, this could not be, for all things are governed and controlled by perfect law in the kingdom of God.

Using a unique LDS scripture, Smith argues that it would bring incoherence into the world without the ability for families to be sealed forever.  He says that “confusion would reign and disorder would take place.” Why is that? And why is the family unit so necessary for coherence to reign? Let’s allow Smith to explain.

Why would the earth be wasted? Simply because if there is not a welding link between the fathers and the children—which is the work for the dead—then we will all stand rejected; the whole work of God will fail and be utterly wasted. Such a condition, of course, shall not be.

The restoration of this [sealing] authority is the leaven that saves the earth from being utterly wasted at the coming of Jesus Christ. When we get this truth firmly and clearly fixed in our minds, it is easy to see that there would be only confusion and disaster should Christ come and the power of sealing not be here.

So let me get this straight. If earthy parents and their children were not linked forever, then God’s work “will fail and be utterly wasted.” What support is given to support such a positon?

Certainly Christians should invest heavily in their earthly families, but nowhere does the Bible teach that mom, dad, grandparents, children, or others will live together as a family unit in heaven. Jesus plainly explained the role of marriage and families in heaven in Matthew 22:23–30 and Mark 12:18–27. Answering the question posed to Him by the Sadducees, Jesus explained, “Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven” (Matt. 22:29–30). Mormon apologist Gilbert Scharffs complains about those who use this passage to reject eternal marriage when he writes, “This verse does not say there won’t be any marriage in heaven, only that marriages will not be performed there.” (Scharffs, The Missionary’s Little Book of Answers, 62.) Scharffs provides no evidence to support his point.

In Mormonism, dwelling together as a family unit presupposes that each member of the family was able to follow the whole law during their mortal probation. Mormonism teaches that only those who are truly obedient will be able to qualify for the benefits of the celestial kingdom. According to President Joseph Fielding Smith,“To enter the celestial and obtain exaltation it is necessary that the whole law be kept.”(The Way to Perfection, 206.) For the sake of argument, suppose that keeping the whole law is possible. Where will all the billions and billions of family members from the beginning of time physically reside? Are we to assume that the God of Mormonism continues to reside with his extended earthly family? Does he worship the God who preceded him? And since Jesus is our spirit brother from the preexistence, will He become “Uncle Jesus” to the offspring of a Mormon who becomes a god? Will the heavenly Father be known as “Heavenly Grandfather” to these offspring?

What about those members of a Mormon family who do not qualify for celestial glory? Mormonism teaches that a person can’t reach the celestial kingdom on the coattails of another faithful member; each person must individually qualify. Even if this concept ended up being true, the odds are that most LDS families will be incomplete because some of their loved ones will fail to live up to the proper standards during their mortal probation.

It is a misnomer to say that Christians don’t believe in an eternal family structure since all forgiven humans are a part of God’s family. As such, all redeemed believers will live in the presence of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God will be the focus of our attention in eternity, not us. Sadly, Christians will not experience eternity with unforgiven loved ones. However, in Mormon teaching this same situation exists. Faithful Mormons will not be joined by family members who were unfaithful in mortality.

On the surface, the idea of eternal family units may sound very appealing to some, but once the LDS concept is carried to its logical conclusion, it breaks down quickly.

To prepare for salvation in its fullest, we must receive temple ordinances through the sealing power.

The Lord [has] given unto us privileges and blessings, and the opportunity of entering into covenants, accepting ordinances that pertain to our salvation beyond what is preached in the world, beyond the principles of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, repentance from sin and baptism for the remission of sins and the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost; and these principles and covenants are received nowhere else but in the temple of God.

I invite you to read an article by Bill McKeever titled “Sacred Promises that will always be broken.”We must understand that the Latter-day Saint is in a precarious positon by promising to keep covenants that he or she knows will certainly be broken.

As far as “accepting ordinances that pertain to our salvation,” we must also understand that what happens in the temple is not what the biblical temple was all about. There were no marriages, baptisms, or promises made in this place. Instead, slaughter was the main attraction. Call it a slaughterhouse, if you will, as the throats of animals were slit as substitution for the people who gave the animals. If the temple is supposed to be based on biblical truth, why are none of these rites found in the pages of the Bible? To see a newspaper that we typically hand out at temple open house events, go here.

Temple work is so interwoven with the plan of salvation, that one cannot exist without the other. In other words, there can be no salvation where there [are] no temple ordinances peculiarly belonging to the temple.

Where is the biblical support? This certainly doesn’t align with the New Testament book of Hebrews. Consider the following two chapters from the New Testament Book of Hebrews:

Hebrews 9:1-10

Now the first covenant had regulations for worship and also an earthly sanctuary.A tabernacle was set up. In its first room were the lampstand and the table with its consecrated bread; this was called the Holy Place. Behind the second curtain was a room called the Most Holy Place,which had the golden altar of incense and the gold-covered ark of the covenant. This ark contained the gold jar of manna, Aaron’s staff that had budded, and the stone tablets of the covenant.Above the ark were the cherubim of the Glory overshadowing the atonement cover. But we cannot discuss these things in detail now.

When everything had been arranged like this, the priests entered regularly into the outer room to carry on their ministry. But only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance.The Holy Spirit was showing by this that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still functioning. This is an illustration for the present time, indicating that the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper. 10 They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings—external regulations applying until the time of the new order.

What we learn: The Day of Atonement—held once a year when the High Priest went into the Holy of Holies to present the sacrifice on behalf of all the people—was crucial in Old Testament times. This was only a sign of things to come and were unable to cleanse the people for their sins. It merely symbolized what was to come.

Hebrew 9:11-28:

11 But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. 12 He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. 13 The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. 14 How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!

15 For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.

16 In the case of a will, it is necessary to prove the death of the one who made it,17 because a will is in force only when somebody has died; it never takes effect while the one who made it is living. 18 This is why even the first covenant was not put into effect without blood. 19 When Moses had proclaimed every command of the law to all the people, he took the blood of calves, together with water, scarlet wool and branches of hyssop, and sprinkled the scroll and all the people. 20 He said, “This is the blood of the covenant, which God has commanded you to keep.”21 In the same way, he sprinkled with the blood both the tabernacle and everything used in its ceremonies. 22 In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.

23 It was necessary, then, for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these sacrifices, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these.24 For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with human hands that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself now to appear for us in God’s presence.25 Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. 26 Otherwise Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But he has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment,28 so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.

What we learn: The old system before Christ merely typified the true Lamb of God. For a sacrifice to take effect, there must be a death. The blood symbolizes life. In effect, the blood of Jesus has been sprinkled in the Holy of Holies. This sacrifice was once and for all and needs not be repeated. His sacrifice was efficacious for the believers, bringing salvation and the forgiveness of sins. Thus, Jesus continues to be the mediator between us and God (1 Timothy 2:5).

Hebrews 10:1-16:

The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. Otherwise, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins. It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said:

“Sacrifice and offering you did not desire,

    but a body you prepared for me;

with burnt offerings and sin offerings

    you were not pleased.

Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll—

    I have come to do your will, my God.’”

First he said, “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them”—though they were offered in accordance with the law. Then he said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will.” He sets aside the first to establish the second. 10 And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

11 Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God,13 and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool.14 For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.

15 The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says:

16 “This is the covenant I will make with them

    after that time, says the Lord.

I will put my laws in their hearts,

    and I will write them on their minds.”

What we learn: Because the blood of animals could never take away our sins, we needed something more. His name is Jesus! This gift from heaven offered himself, once for all, so no future animal sacrifices would be needed. And he has perfected those who are forgiven and are in the process of sanctification.  But my favorite part comes at the end in the next two verses:

Hebrews 10:17-18:

17 Then he adds:

“Their sins and lawless acts

    I will remember no more.”

18 And where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary.

What we learn: Ahhh, bingo. The believer can know he/she is truly forgiven. The physical temple is obsolete. Jesus fulfilled it all!

I have biblical support for my view about why the dozens of LDS temples are not needed. If you are a Latter-day Saint, what is your biblical support for why you think they are?

There are thousands of Latter-day Saints who … are willing to go to meeting, willing to pay their tithing and attend to the regular duties of the Church, but they do not seem to feel or understand the importance of receiving the blessings in the temple of the Lord which will bring them into exaltation. It is a strange thing. People seem to be content just to slide along without taking advantage of the opportunities presented to them and without receiving these necessary covenants that will bring them back into the presence of God as sons and daughters.

When they are first built, Mormon temples are opened to the general public in an “open house” format for a short time. After this, the temple is then dedicated by LDS general authorities and reopened only to worthy members. A member is considered worthy if he or she holds a “temple recommend.” As it has been explained,

To enter the temple, you must be worthy. You certify your worthiness in two interviews—one with a member of your bishopric or your branch president and another with a member of your stake presidency or the mission president. Your priesthood leaders will keep these interviews private and confidential. In each of the interviews, the priesthood leader will ask you about your personal conduct and worthiness. You will be asked about your testimony of Heavenly Father and the Atonement of Jesus Christ, and you will be asked whether you support the general and local leaders of the Church. You will be asked to confirm that you are morally clean and that you keep the Word of Wisdom, pay a full tithe, live in harmony with the teachings of the Church, and do not maintain any affiliation or sympathy with apostate groups. If you give acceptable answers to the questions in the interviews and if you and your priesthood leaders are satisfied that you are worthy to enter the temple, you will receive a temple recommend. You and your priesthood leaders will sign the recommend, which will allow you to enter the temple for the next two years, as long as you remain worthy. (True to the Faith: A Gospel Reference, 172.)

A teacher’s manual adds,

“As you live worthily, the recommend will allow you to enter any temple of the Church as often as you wish during the next two years.” (Endowed from On High: Temple Preparation Seminary Teacher’s Manual, 28.)

Members are told that they can do works on behalf of themselves in the temple, but most of the work is done for the deceased for whom the temple patrons have done genealogical research. Temple-worthy Mormons are also allowed to attend the marriage ceremonies of those relatives or friends who invite them; those without temple recommends—even the parents of the bride and groom—are not allowed to watch the ceremony.

If you want salvation in the fullest, that is exaltation in the kingdom of God, … you have got to go into the temple of the Lord and receive these holy ordinances which belong to that house, which cannot be had elsewhere. No man shall receive the fulness of eternity, of exaltation alone; no woman shall receive that blessing alone; but man and wife, when they receive the sealing power in the temple of the Lord, shall pass on to exaltation, and shall continue and become like the Lord. And that is the destiny of men, that is what the Lord desires for His children.

So far, I have shown that:

a)      What took place in the temple in Jerusalem was not made to do works that would atone for sins;

b)      Only Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection could fulfill this work;

c)       Nothing that was performed in the Jerusalem temple can be linked to ordinances done today in LDS temples.

So why is the Mormon temple needed? How does what takes place there necessary for “salvation in the fullest”?

Because of the sealing power, we can perform saving ordinances for those who have died without receiving them.

Who are the fathers spoken of by Malachi, and who are the children? The fathers are our dead ancestors who died without the privilege of receiving the Gospel, but who received the promise that the time would come when that privilege would be granted them. The children are those now living who are preparing genealogical data and who are performing the vicarious ordinances in the Temples.

Exegetically, this interpretation is impossible. Once again, presuppositions appear to take precedence over the reality of what the Bible says.

All members of the family can participate in family history work.

Elijah came, having the keys of sealing, and the power has been given unto us by which we may reach out after the dead. This sealing power embraces those who are dead who are willing to repent and to receive the Gospel who died without that knowledge, just the same as it reaches out for those who repent who are living.

The Lord has decreed that all of his spirit children, every soul who has lived or shall live on earth, shall have a fair and just opportunity to believe and obey the laws of his everlasting gospel. Those who accept the gospel and live in harmony with its laws, including baptism and celestial marriage, shall have eternal life.

The most often practiced ordinance in the Mormon temple is vicarious baptism for the dead. Since it is claimed that Christianity lost its authority after the time after the apostles until the early nineteenth century, members as young as 12 “can visit the temple to be baptized for their ancestors who have died without being baptized.” (Ensign Special Issue Temples (October 2010): 77.) This doctrine of baptism for the dead teaches that a Mormon can “become a savior on Mount Zion” and that his or her “effort approaches the spirit of the Savior’s atoning sacrifice” because they are performing “a saving work for others that they cannot do for themselves.” (True to the Faith: A Gospel Reference, 63.) These “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.” (Introduction to Family History Teacher Manual: Religion 261 (Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2005), 7.) These souls “do not automatically become members of the Church when someone is baptized as proxy for them. Rather, they are free to accept it or reject it.” (Ridges, Mormon Doctrine and Beliefs Made Easier, 29.)

All of this work takes place in a font resembling the description of King Solomon’s “brazen sea.” We’re unsure why this font is supposed to resemble Solomon’s brazen sea. Smith admitted that “this font, or brazen sea, was not used for baptisms for the dead, for there were no baptisms for the dead until after the resurrection of the Lord.” (Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions, 5:13). Solomon’s brazen sea was destroyed centuries earlier when Babylon captured Judah and did not exist during the time of Christ or after His resurrection.

Normally located in the lower part of the temple, the font is situated on top of twelve life-size oxen, which are said to symbolize the twelve tribes of Israel. According to LDS Church resources, there are certain rules to how this work can be done.

You must provide at least the given name or the surname or your ancestor, the person’s gender, a locality for a qualifying event (such as birth, christening, marriage, death, or burial), and enough additional information to uniquely identify the person. Additional information may include dates, localities, and relationships of other family members. Remember that in order for temple ordinances to be performed, individuals must be deceased for at least one year, and if that individual was born within the last 95 years, permission from the closest living relative must be obtained before temple ordinances are to be performed. (Introduction to Family History Student Manual Religion 261, 30.)

In addition,

Persons who are presumed dead because they are missing in action (for example, in times of war), lost at sea, declared legally dead, or who disappeared under circumstances where death is apparent but no body was ever recovered may have their temple ordinances performed after 10 years have passed since the time of presumed death. In all other cases of missing persons, the temple ordinances may not be performed until after 110 years have passed from the time of a person’s birth (an assumption that if the person was missing but alive, he or she would have died within 110 years). (Introduction to Family History Student Manual: Religion 261, 62. Italics in original).)

Despite the emphasis on this doctrine, Christianity teaches that salvation is offered to the living. The Bible is very clear in Hebrews 9:27 that judgment follows this life. Further hope of attaining favor with God is lost at death. In fact, Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 6:2 that “now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”

Although Mormons like to reference 1 Corinthians 15:29 to support this doctrine, there is no evidence that Christians actually participated in a rite that is similar to that practiced by Mormons. While biblical scholars have noted that heretical groups such as the Cerinthians and Marcionites practiced a form of baptism for the dead, Paul separated himself from such as these when he said, “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?” If baptism for the dead was, as D&C 128:17 puts it, the “most glorious of all subjects belonging to the everlasting gospel,” it seems odd that Paul would not include himself as a participant; Paul neither condones nor condemns the practice, using it mainly as an illustration to support his point of resurrection of the body. Another interesting point comes from D. A. Carson, a research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois. He wrote:

When something is mentioned only once, it cannot be given the same weight of importance as the central themes of Scripture. . . . When something is mentioned only once, there is more likelihood of misinterpreting it, whereas matters repeatedly discussed are clarified by their repetition in various contexts. D. A. Carson, “Did Paul Baptize for the Dead?” (Christianity Today, 10 August 1998, 63. Ellipsis mine.)

BYU professor Charles R. Harrell makes an interesting observation about this teaching:

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. Harrell, “This is My Doctrine”: The Development of Mormon Theology, 361.

On the previous page, Harrell refers to Moroni 8:22-23 (“baptism availeth nothing”) and says that “in the Book of Mormon baptism is a covenant intended to be received only while in morality.” (For more information on baptism for the dead, see chapter 22 (“If there is no baptism for the dead, what about all those who have died without having heard the gospel?”) in our book Answering Mormons’ Questions (Kregel, 2013).)

It is obvious that only a small portion of mankind has so far heard the word of revealed truth from the voice of one of the Lord’s true servants. In the wisdom and justice of the Lord, all must do so. As Peter said:

“For this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.” (1 Peter 4:6.)

First Peter 4:6 states in part, “For this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead.” The New International Version translates the last portion of this, “…the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead.” While the word now is not found in the original Greek, it was used by the translators because the context suggests that the preaching of the gospel had been delivered in the past to those who were now deceased. In order to support the Mormon view of a second chance to hear the gospel message and receive salvation after death, the first verb would need to be present tense (i.e., “for this cause is the gospel preached also to them that are dead”). Peter said in the context (verse 5) that those who were living evil lives and causing problems for these first century Christians were going to be judged. He then moved back into the past tense, explaining that those who were already dead had the truth preached to them when they were alive. While Peter explained in the previous chapter (3:19) how Jesus “made a proclamation to the spirits in prison,” there is no indication that this meant these spirits could accept the gospel.

Those who did not have the opportunity to hear the message of salvation in this life but who would have accepted it with all their hearts if such an opportunity had come to them—they are the ones who will accept it in the spirit world; they are the ones for whom we shall perform the ordinances in the temples; and they are the ones who shall, in this way, become heirs with us of salvation and eternal life.

The turning of the hearts of fathers to children and of children to fathers, is the power of salvation for the dead, by means of the vicarious work which the children may perform for their fathers, and is in every sense reasonable and consistent. I have heard it said many times by those who oppose this work that it is impossible for one person to stand vicariously for another. Those who express themselves in this way overlook the fact that the entire work of salvation is a vicarious work, Jesus Christ standing as the propitiator, redeeming us from death, for which we were not responsible, and also redeeming us from the responsibility of our own sins, on condition of our repentance and acceptance of the gospel. He has done this on a grand infinite scale and by the same principle he has delegated authority to the members of his Church to act for the dead who are helpless to perform the saving ordinances for themselves.

I think sometimes we look at this work for the salvation of the dead rather narrowly. It is a wrong conception to think of the people for whom we are doing work in the temple of the Lord as being dead. We should think of them as living; and the living proxy but represents them in receiving the blessings which they should have received and would have received in this life had they been living in a gospel dispensation. Therefore every dead person for whom work is done in the temple is considered to be living at the time the ordinance is given.

Although it’s not used here, the most referenced verse shared by Latter-day Saints in the context of work for the dead (especially baptism) is 1 Corinthians 15:29. For more information on this verse, go here.

As far as the possibility that decisions can be made after death, even the Book of Mormon itself stands in opposition to such an idea. Alma chapter 34 reads:

 31 Yea, I would that ye would come forth and harden not your hearts any longer; for behold, now is the time and the day of your salvation; and therefore, if ye will repent and harden not your hearts, immediately shall the great plan of redemption be brought about unto you.

 32 For behold, this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors.

 33 And now, as I said unto you before, as ye have had so manywitnesses, therefore, I beseech of you that ye do not procrastinatethe day of your repentance until the end; for after this day of life, which is given us to prepare for eternity, behold, if we do not improve our time while in this life, then cometh the night ofdarkness wherein there can be no labor performed.

 34 Ye cannot say, when ye are brought to that awful crisis, that I will repent, that I will return to my God. Nay, ye cannot say this; for that same spirit which doth possess your bodies at the time that ye go out of this life, that same spirit will have power to possess your body in that eternal world.

 35 For behold, if ye have procrastinated the day of your repentance even until death, behold, ye have become subjected to the spirit of the devil, and he doth seal you his; therefore, the Spirit of the Lord hath withdrawn from you, and hath no place in you, and the devil hath all power over you; and this is the final state of the wicked.

What’s even more interesting is verse 36:

36 And this I know, because the Lord hath said he dwelleth not in unholy temples, but in the hearts of the righteous doth he dwell; yea, and he has also said that the righteous shall sit down in his kingdom, to go no more out; but their garments should be made white through the blood of the Lamb.

Does this verse seem to support the LDS position or the Christian position?

This doctrine of salvation for the dead is one of the most glorious principles ever revealed to man. It is the way in which the gospel shall be offered to all men. It establishes the fact that God is no respecter of persons [see Acts 10:34]; that every soul is precious in His sight; and that all men will, in fact and in reality, be judged according to their works.

Now, I thank the Lord that He has restored His everlasting gospel to us in this day. I thank Him for the sealing power returned to earth by the Prophet Elijah. I thank Him for the eternal family unit, for the privilege we have of being sealed ourselves in his holy temples, and for then making available these sealing blessings to be given to our ancestors who died without a knowledge of the gospel.

Let’s consider all of the teachings discussed in this essay (and in the paragraph above):

  • Sealing power returned by Elijah: Yet Malachi 4 does not teach about a sealing power. Elijah isn’t even referenced; it pointed directly to John the Baptist, who was an Elijah-like character.
  • Eternal family unit: Yet logically, an “eternal” family unit is impossible. See here. http://www.mrm.org/families-forever
  • Sealed in temples: Yet such a practice never took place in the Jerusalem temple.
  • Work for the dead: Yet both the Bible and the Book of Mormon seem to contradict such a viewpoint.

Family history work and temple work for the dead are labors of love.

There are many good, humble souls who have deprived themselves of the comforts, and at times the necessities, of life, in order that they might prepare the records and perform the labor for their dead that the gift of salvation might be taken unto them. These labors of love shall not go for naught, for all those who have worked in this goodly cause shall find their treasure and riches in the celestial kingdom of God. Great shall be their reward, yea, even beyond the power of mortals to understand.

I agree, many Latter-day Saints have made great sacrifices over the years to do work on behalf of the dead. Regardless, if a doctrine is not true, it makes no difference how much was paid. The question, rather, is “how much did it cost?” If it costs your eternal life, would you continue to rely on such a system? Mormonism cannot help people reach God because it is a system built entirely on works. The temple is just one more thing a person must do for the dream of becoming a god.

There is no work connected with the gospel that is of a more unselfish nature than the work in the House of the Lord, for our dead. Those who work for the dead do not expect to receive any earthly remuneration or reward. It is, above all, a work of love, which is begotten in the heart of man through faithful and constant labor in these saving ordinances. There are no financial returns, but there shall be great joy in heaven with those souls whom we have helped to their salvation. It is a work that enlarges the soul of man, broadens his views regarding the welfare of his fellowman, and plants in his heart a love for all the children of our Heavenly Father. There is no work equal to that in the temple for the dead in teaching a man to love his neighbor as himself. Jesus so loved the world that he was willing to offer himself as a sacrifice for sin that the world might be saved. We also have the privilege, in a small degree, of showing our great love for Him and our fellow beings by helping them to the blessings of the gospel which now they cannot receive without our assistance.

For the Latter-day Saint, this might be great motivation. But if the teaching is not true, then there are no “blessings of the gospel” and there is no amount of “assistance” that can help those already gone. See Hebrews 9:27 and 2 Cor. 6:2 for support.

Through family history work and temple work, we complete the family organization from generation to generation.

The doctrine of salvation for the dead and temple work holds out to us the glorious prospect of the continuance of the family relation. Through it we learn that family ties are not to be broken, that husbands and wives will eternally have a claim upon each other and upon their children to the latest generation. However, in order to receive these privileges the sealing ordinances in the temple of our God must be obtained. All contracts, bonds, obligations and agreements made by men shall come to an end, but the obligations and agreements entered into in the house of the Lord, if faithfully kept, will last forever [see D&C 132:7].

If you are a Latter-day Saint, ask yourself, are you keeping your end of the bargain (i.e. all obligations and agreements you make in the temple). If not, when do you think you will start?

I return to Hebrews chapter 10 and verse 14, which reads, “For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” I cannot be made perfect on my own. Neither my intentions nor the good works I perform can do it. Instead, it’s Christ’s work that He has done in me completely who I am in Jesus Christ.

This doctrine gives us a clearer concept of the purposes of the Lord toward his children. It shows his abundant and unlimited mercy and love to all who obey him, aye, even to those who are rebellious, for in his goodness he will grant great blessings even unto them.

Blessings are promised to those who keep the covenants made in the temple.  Yet it’s impossible to keep these promises. What goodness is there in this?

We are taught in the gospel of Jesus Christ that the family organization will be, so far as celestial exaltation is concerned, one that is complete, an organization linked from father and mother and children of one generation to the father and mother and children of the next generation, and thus expanding and spreading out down to the end of time.

So do Mormons hope to be with their immediate family only? Or will there just be one big world where they would be with everyone “expanding and spreading out down to the end of time”? I think many Latter-day Saints hold the idea that grandparents down to children will be together in a cozy family unit, but that’s not what this says. Families are forever appear to go back to Adam and Eve. It sounds like a pretty big environment. How many of those with whom the Latter-day Saint spends eternity will be complete strangers? Does this sound like heaven?

The sealing power of the priesthood “unites for eternity husbands and wives when they enter into marriage according to the eternal plan.”

Of course, this is true in Mormonism unless the couple gets divorced. At that point, “forever” apparently didn’t mean for “eternity.”

There must be a welding, a joining together of the generations from the days of Adam to the end of time. Families will be joined and linked together, parents to children, children to parents, one generation to another, until we shall be joined together in one great grand family with our father Adam at the head, where the Lord placed him. So we cannot be saved and exalted in the kingdom of God unless we have within our hearts the desire to do this work and perform it so far as it is within our power on behalf of our dead. This is a glorious doctrine, one of the grand principles of truth revealed through the Prophet Joseph Smith. We should take advantage of our opportunities and prove ourselves worthy and acceptable in the sight of the Lord, that we might receive this exaltation for ourselves, and there rejoice in the kingdom of God with our relatives and friends in this grand reunion and assemblage of the Saints of the Church of the First Born, who have kept themselves free and unspotted from the sins of the world.

Seriously, who has “kept themselves free and unspotted from the sins of the world”? Is this even possible? (I know I haven’t.) Smith is correct as this is what Mormonism teaches one must do to actually reach the Celestial Kingdom. It is what we call the “Impossible Gospel.”


For more reviews on this manual featuring Joseph Fielding Smith quotes, go here.

I invite you to visit a page on our website dedicated to temples. See if the LDS temple is based on the teachings of the Bible or rather on the teachings of LDS prophets.