Baptism for the Dead
Baptism for the dead, also known as "vicarious baptism" or "proxy baptism," is based on a single verse, 1 Corinthians 15:29, which speaks of baptism for the dead. However, it is essential to mention that Paul refers to its practitioners as "they", not as "you" (the Corinthian Christians to whom he wrote),and it's mention does not imply that Paul approved of it. Baptism for the dead is a religious practice of baptizing a living person on behalf of one who is dead, with the living person acting as the deceased person's proxy. Those who practice this rite usually view baptism as an indispensable requirement to enter the Kingdom of God, and thus practice Baptism for the Dead to give those who have died without ever having had the opportunity to receive baptism the opportunity to receive it by proxy if they wish. Baptism for the Dead is best known as a doctrine of the Latter Day Saint movement" (a.k.a. the Mormon church or the LDS Church), where it has been practiced since 1840. 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 baptized in the place of an unknown number of deceased person. In the Reformed Old Apostolic Church it is believed that all deceased persons that are baptised reside within the body of the substitute.
It appears that this practice was always forbidden by the Church. It was addressed formally in the 4th century by 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." 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. Tertullian wrote about gnostics in his work Against Marcion (in 5.10) indicating that there was another aberrant Christian sect who believed in baptism for the dead. Clement of Alexandria warned in his writings Excerpta ex Theodoto (in Excerpt 22) against paganism and deviations from Christianity, mentioning baptism for the dead as a doctrine particular to gnostics. So it is pretty clear that baptism for the dead was only practiced by the Gnostics, cults like the modern-day Mormons, and other religious groups like the Mandaeans of Iraq and Iran.
Another theory I have is that some in the early church were able to interact with dead people in the spirit, lead them to Christ, and then baptize them, either by proxy or in the spirit. This is a stretch for some but it is true that there are lingering human spirits (not demons) in this realm. I even know many people who evangelize them and direct them to heaven. Sometimes they get trapped here for various reasons, sometimes they are given a break from hell and are directed by demons to be human interjects/soul invaders for a time. So baptism for the dead was and is a practice, but probably something we shouldn't be doing.
Information on other types of baptisms can be found on their respective pages by clicking on the related pages to the right.FOOTNOTES:
1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baptism_for_the_dead Accessed April 4, 2011
2. Karl Joseph von Hefele, A history of the councils of the church, from the original documents, Volume 2. Pg. 397
3. John Chrysostom, Homily XL on 1 Corinthians
4. "A Brief Note on the Mandaeans: Their History, Religion and Mythology". Mandaean Society in America.
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