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Today in Latter-day Saint history: Joseph Smith explains why baptisms for the dead need a recorder

Joseph Smith wrote a clarification letter on why a recorder was needed for baptisms for the dead

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The entrance to the baptismal font in the Hamilton New Zealand Temple.

The entrance to the baptismal font in the Hamilton New Zealand Temple.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Joseph Smith wrote a letter on Sept. 6, 1842, from Nauvoo, Illinois, that was later published in Times and Seasons on Oct. 1. In this letter, he further explained his revelation about needing a recorder for baptisms for the dead.

What are baptisms for the dead?

Baptisms for the dead are a practice of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that now take place in temples. Since Latter-day Saints believe that everyone has to be baptized to receive the blessings of salvation associated with baptism, they perform proxy baptisms. A church member will be baptized on behalf of a deceased person and Latter-day Saints believe that the deceased person will have the agency to accept or deny the blessing.

Joseph Smith introduced baptisms for the dead at the funeral of Seymour Brunson, which was held on Aug. 10, 1840. Simon Baker later recorded about the funeral that Smith read 1 Corinthians 15 and commented, “He (Joseph) also said the Apostle was talking to a people who understood Baptism for the dead, for it was practiced for their friends who had departed this life, and that the plan of salvation was calcul<a>ted to save all who were willing to obey the requirements of the law of God.”

What did his letter say?

In this letter, Joseph Smith wrote about the importance of having a recorder for baptisms for the dead. He said that the recorder should certify what he believes to be true about what takes place in these ordinances.

After explaining the importance of the recorder, he added, “You may think this order of things to be very particular, but let me tell you that they are only to answer the will of God, by conforming to the ordinance and preparation that the Lord ordained and prepared before the foundation of the world, for the salvation of the dead, who should die without a knowledge of the gospel.”

Joseph Smith further explained that the record binds the ordinance to both heaven and earth. Baptisms for the dead were performed after his initial discourse at the funeral, but were stopped until Latter-day Saints could perform them in the temple.