You may have wondered about the Mormon practice called baptism for the dead. The members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints do this work in temples throughout the world.
But why do they do it? Why does it matter? Let’s talk about it. 2000 years ago, Jesus went to the Jordan River and was baptized by immersion, lowered fully under the water, by John the Baptist.
By doing this, Jesus showed us two things: first, that each of us needs to be baptized as He was; second, a baptism must be performed by somebody with authority from God.
But here’s the problem. What about those millions of people who died without baptism, or who were baptized but without proper authority? That is where Mormon temples and the practice of baptism for the dead come in.
Jesus Christ taught that baptism is essential to the salvation of all who have lived on earth (see John 3:5). Many people, however, have died without being baptized. Others were baptized without proper authority. Because God is merciful, He has prepared a way for all people to receive the blessings of baptism. By performing proxy baptisms in behalf of those who have died, Church members offer these blessings to deceased ancestors.
Some people have misunderstood that when baptisms for the dead are performed, deceased persons are baptized into the Church against their will. This is not the case.
It is important to understand that individuals can choose to accept or reject what has been done in their behalf, so the baptism for the dead doesn’t “force” anybody to accept it. Each individual has agency, or the right to choose. The validity of a baptism for the dead depends on the deceased person accepting it and choosing to accept and follow the Savior while residing in the spirit world. The names of deceased persons are not added to the membership records of the Church.
It is similar to the sacrifice that Jesus Christ did for each one of us. He did what we couldn’t do for ourselves, but we can decide to accept his sacrifice or reject it. The same happens with the baptism for the dead: the person ultimately decides whether to accept it or not.
But Jesus Christ said, “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). Even Jesus Christ Himself was baptized (see Matthew 3:13–17).
Because He is a loving God, the Lord does not damn those people who, through no fault of their own, never had the opportunity for baptism or their baptism was done without proper authority. He has therefore authorized baptisms to be performed by proxy for them.
A living person, often a descendant who has become a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is baptized in behalf of a deceased person. This work is done by Church members in temples throughout the world.
The New Testament indicates that baptisms for the dead were done during the time of the Apostle Paul (see 1 Corinthians 15:29). This ordinance was restored with the establishment of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.