Baptism For The Dead
It is often erroneously reported that without exception only The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints practices or has practiced the sacred rite of proxy Baptism for the Dead in support of their belief in Salvation for the Dead. This is not so.
Non-Christian baptism For The Dead
Outside of Christianity, proxy baptisms are practiced by the Mandaeans of Iraq and Iran.
Non-Mormon Christian Baptism For The Dead
Some scholars suggest that baptism for the dead was practiced by some Early Christian groups, continuing until at least the late fourth century, which must be correct in light of the ruling of the Roman Catholic Church.
As part of their Sacraments, the New Apostolic Church and Old Apostolic Church also practices Baptism for the Dead, as well as Communion and Sealing to the Departed. In this practice a proxy or substitute is baptised in the place of an unknown number of deceased person. According to NAC and OAC doctrine the deceased do not enter the body of the substitute.In the Reformed Old Apostolic Church it is believed that all deceased persons that are baptised reside within the body of the substitute.
Fourth Century Baptism for the Dead
A fourth-century Christian custom of baptizing dead bodies and giving the Eucharist to them as Baptism of the Dead, give support for modern Baptism for the Dead. Hebrew and early Christian scholar Dr John A Tedvetnes formerly of Brigham Young University writes:
“That baptism for the dead was indeed practiced in some orthodox Christian circles is indicated by the decisions of two late fourth century councils.
The fourth canon of the Synod of Hippo, held in 393, declares, "The Eucharist shall not be given to dead bodies, nor baptism conferred upon them."
The ruling was confirmed four years later in the sixth canon of the Third Council of Carthage.”
John Chrysostom describes a similar practice among the Marcionites of the same century: if one of their followers who was being prepared for baptism died before receiving baptism, the dead person's corpse was addressed with the question whether he wished to be baptized, whereupon another answered affirmatively and was baptized for the dead person.
In the same passage, Chrysostom, a speaker of the language (Koine Greek) in which Paul the Apostle wrote, explained Paul's mention of people being "baptized for the dead" as a reference to the profession of faith in their own future resurrection that Christians made before being baptized.
Some interpret "baptized for the dead" as a metaphor for martyrdom, as in Mark 10:38 and Luke 12:50 baptism is a metaphor for suffering or martyrdom; accordingly they would translate it as "being baptized with a view to death".
In this interpretation, the phrase is closely linked with what Paul says immediately afterwards of the suffering that he himself faces and is enabled to endure precisely because of his faith in his resurrection which is similar to John Chrysostom's idea.
More Explaining Away
Martin Luther regarded the biblical reference to 'baptism for the dead' as a practice of being baptized above [ὑπέρ] the tombs of the unconverted dead whereas John Calvin thought it a reference to being immersed when close to death.
In Praise of Good Sense
The third and for many the most natural interpretation sees the phrase as referring to vicarious baptism on behalf of dead people performed in the belief that the dead were thereby benefitted in some way. This belief is put forward as the reason why, when Paul compares the Corinthians' experience to that of the Israelites in crossing the Red Sea and being fed on manna, he insists that the Israelites were not thereby prevented from sinning.
The Search For Truth Rages
The Tyndale Bible Dictionary concludes that Paul probably did not approve the practice of baptism for the dead. He refers to its practitioners as "they", not as "you" (the Corinthian Christians to whom he wrote).
The note in the Catholic New American Bible is more cautious:
"Baptized for the dead: this practice is not further explained here, nor is it necessarily mentioned with approval, but Paul cites it as something in their experience that attests in one more way to belief in the resurrection."
This is similar Tertullian who wrote in 207 CE, that Paul's aim in alluding to the practice of baptism for the dead, "whatever it may have been", was "that he might all the more firmly insist upon the resurrection of the body, in proportion as they who were vainly baptized for the dead resorted to the practice from their belief of such a resurrection."
Blame It On Gnosticism!
The practice of baptism for the dead, according to Professor Elaine Pagels is easily explained by gnostics who argued that the text was an allegory and that, therefore baptism for the dead refers to pneumatics (i.e. gnostics) taking the place of psychics (i.e. literalists), who were dead to gnosis.
Irenaeus, a disciple of Polycarp, wrote about the gnostics as being heretical in his work On the Detection and Overthrow of the So-Called Gnosis.
Or on the Marcionites
The doctrines of Marcion were similar enough to those of Gnosticism to cause Irenaeus in the to consider Marcion one of their number. Eventually Marcion was excommunicated for his views.
Tertullian wrote about gnostics in his work Against Marcion indicating that there was another aberrant Christian sect who believed in baptism for the dead.
Clement of Alexandria in his Excerpta ex Theodoto against paganism and deviations from Christianity, cites baptism for the dead as a doctrine peculiar to Christian gnostics.
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