Bumbled Baptism

This from Peter LLC.

Our ward had a convert baptism today. A worthy Melchizedek Priesthood holder performed the ordinance by

1. Standing in the water with the person to be baptized.
2. (For convenience and safety) holding the person’s left wrist with his right hand; the person being baptized held the priesthood holder’s right wrist with his or her right hand.
3. Raising his left arm to the square.
4. Stating the person’s full name and saying, “Having been commissioned of Jesus Christ, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.”
5. Having the person hold his or her nose with the right hand (for convenience); then the priesthood holder placing his right hand high on the person’s back and immersing the person completely, including the person’s clothing.
6. Helping the person come up out of the water.

Now, the Basic Manual for Priesthood Holders, Part B indicates that “all ordinances must be performed with their necessary procedures such as using specified words or laying on hands,” and regarding baptism in particular says that “the baptism must be repeated if the prayer was not stated accurately or if part of the body or clothing of the person being baptized was not immersed completely.”

In this case, the prayer was accurate and the person being baptized was immersed fully. Nevertheless, the baptism was determined to be invalid and was repeated. Can you figure out why? Do you agree? Why or why not? How would you explain the (need for a) repetition to the not-quite new member?


  1. sister blah 2 says:

    If the witnesses were observing it in the mirror, it should be ok. ;-)

  2. Left Field says:

    Wrong hand.

  3. I believe that the authority to baptize comes with the office of Priest in the AP. Could it be that this person was never ordained to that office and so never received that authority?

  4. Left Field says:

    The witnesses ought to have corrected the problem before the baptism proceeded. In one case, I saw the officiator begin, “By the authority of the Melchizedek pristhood, I baptize you in the name of the Father…” The witnesses let the entire baptism conclude before having it begin again. In these sorts of cases, I think it is less disruptive to interrupt before the immersion.

  5. Yeah, doesn’t the right hand need to be raised to the square?

  6. I used to be in a ward where one of the guy had lost his right arm in an industrial accident. He baptized his children anyway.

  7. Peter LLC says:



    Wrong hand.

    Seems strange coming from someone named “Left Field” 8)


    That’s an interesting wrinkle I hadn’t thought of, but no, the person had been properly ordained. (Plus all one might need to know is contained in the six steps.)

    Meems and Left Field #4,

    So what is it about that right arm? Does it make a difference if a person is missing it? Left-handed?

  8. #1 – Nice.
    #2 – Check.
    #3 – Nope.
    #4 – Agreed – 100%. If it can’t be stopped prior to the actual immersion, it should be – just like the sacrament prayer being stopped prior to saying, “Amen.”

    I don’t think the right arm being raised is an inviolable aspect, since I can’t imagine a worthy Priesthood holder who is missing his right arm would be denied the privilege of performing a baptism. However, in the “Family Guidebook: Priesthood Ordinances and Blessings: Baptism” the instructions do include:

    “3. Raises his right arm to the square.”

    So, I would say – even if simply in order to avoid misunderstanding and potential conflict among the membership, if the right arm can be raised to the square it should be. If not, I think it should be explained prior to the ordinance by the presiding leader.

  9. In the case of the missing arm, I think the reason is obvious and would not need to be explained. If the arm is not missing but simply can’t be raised to the square, a respectful explanation would be in order, imo – just like an explanation should be given if the ordinance needs to be repeated. This is true especially if there are people there who would not understand the need for the repetition.

  10. Left Field says:

    Since baptism is an Aaronic priesthood ordinance, I always assumed that the right arm thing was [edited for content].

  11. #10 – Even for someone like myself who talks about the temple WAY more than most, that’s at least flirting with a line I’m not comfortable crossing.

  12. Peter LLC says:

    #11- So how do you explain the decision to re-baptize to a person who still has at least a year of membership in front of him or her before any lines are crossed?

  13. If the CHI doesn’t say anything about the right hand, then the ordinance should be valid.

  14. #12 – Simple. Something like:

    “Because baptism is one of the most sacred and important ordinances of the Gospel, we believe it must be done exactly as outlined by the Lord and his modern prophets. We believe there must be no doubt in the minds of those witnessing it that it was done properly and in accordance with the will of God. Our directions for performing baptisms include that the right arm must be raised to the square whenever possible [said while raising the right hand to demonstrate], so this baptism will be performed again in order to make it exactly like we have been instructed to do.”

    #13 – I agree with that, as long as the CHI doesn’t reference any other source – like the guidebooks that the Church publishes explaining how to perform the ordinances. (see #8)

  15. #2 holding the person’s left wrist with his right hand; the person being baptized held the priesthood holder’s right wrist
    #5 then the priesthood holder placing his right hand high on the person’s back and immersing the person completely,

    How did the RIGHT hand of the person doing the ordinance get from the front, holding the the person being baptized’s LEFT hand, to the BACK of the person being baptized?

  16. Earl’s solved the mystery. The ordinance was not valid because the man who performed it was an alien!

  17. sister blah 2 says:

    I didn’t know Adam Greenwood and Peter LLC were in the same ward!

  18. Good question, Earl. I didn’t catch that until I went back and read it again trying to visualize it.

    Peter, did you get the hands mixed up in the description?

  19. Maybe it was invalid because maintaining the grips involved while twisting the man’s arm almost off to place the right hand on his back caused him to lose consciousness – and we all know it’s not kosher to baptize the unconscious.

  20. For Pete’s sake, just delete #11. Not everybody has the advantage of being able to walk into the front office and ask Left Field what he wrote.

  21. Left Field says:

    Who knew that a vague reference to “temple symbolism” was forbidden on BCC? Oops… Sorry, I did it again.

  22. LF, what made me uncomfortable was not “a vague reference to temple symbolism”. It was what I took to be a rather direct reference to temple form that brought actual visual detail to mind. We obviously see it differently, and perhaps I read more into it than you intended, but it immediately took me to details that include the very few things we are asked directly not to discuss.

    I didn’t mean to imply your comment should be edited, but I can’t say I disagree with the decision to do so.

    I don’t want to turn this into an argument; I just wanted to clarify my reaction.

  23. I believe that while it is important to try to perform the ordinance perfectly, it is sincerity of the covenant which is really vital. It is like the hung over priest that gets the sacrament prayer perfect but isn’t worthy to administer. My personal baptism was performed by someone who 30 years later confessed and was exed for something done before I was baptized. Do I need to be rebaptized because the ordinance wasn’t 100% perfect. If this will still be honored in heaven then why the need for perfection at the point of disrupting the ordinance. I wonder if John the Baptist repeated any ordinance when someones dress or foot came up out of the water.

  24. Peter LLC says:

    #18 Yes, the description of the hands got mangled when I attempted to describe the situation.

    When the flurry of hands and arms settled, the left arm was doing the raising.

    Unfortunately no aliens were sighted and the only ones who went unconscious during the service happened to be the witnesses.

    For what it’s worth, the CHI is basically the same as the page linked in the post as well as Ray’s reference in #8. All sources agree that the right arm is raised in step 3 and all sources agree that the baptism must be repeated for two reasons, neither of which have to do with right arms (unless it is poking above the surface of the water).

  25. Peter LLC says:

    I believe that while it is important to try to perform the ordinance perfectly, it is sincerity of the covenant which is really vital…why the need for perfection at the point of disrupting the ordinance.

    That’s what I was thinking. As mentioned above, the CHI is explicit about which arm is to be raised but is also explicit about reasons for re-doing the ordinance, so an appeal to the handbook could go either way. The scriptures are silent on the matter and the general authorities have not addressed the matter from the pulpit, so what do you do?

  26. Peter LLC says:


    For Pete’s sake

    Please, not for my sake.

  27. #23 – We are asked to do all we can do. We can’t control the hidden unworthiness of a Priest or other PH holder; we can control the form of the ordinance.

    Fwiw, I have no problem whatsoever with the idea of performing baptism in different forms than our standard form. I can envision any number of alternatives that would be acceptable, as long as it involved the proper prayer and full immersion. However, since we have been asked to follow one particular form whenever possible, I have no problem supporting that particular form.

  28. Latter-day Guy says:

    Re 23,

    Wow, after 30 years? Whatever it was must have been pretty serious; I was under the impression that with a long history of good behavior, most Bishops/SPs would kind of let a lot of stuff slide if it was way in the past.

  29. The witnesses weren’t doing a very good job here. As soon as the positioning took place they should have signalled to the priesthood holder to use the correct hand rather than wait until after the immersion.

    Often people talk about the sinceroty being the main thing, which of course it is. However The Lord has given us clear instructions in performing ordinances and therefore shouldn’t be comprimised because the “sincerity” was there.

  30. Floating hair? Toe popped up before the rest of the body was completely down? Everything was immersed just not at the same time? One of the witnesses is a narcoleptic and conked at exactly the wrong time? One of the kids up front jumped in and began yelling “Marco!” and the priesthood holder couldn’t resist his primal training and responded “Polo” right in the middle of the prayer? The person being baptized said, “Dude, that’s not my middle name.” As soon as the person was baptized it became shockingly obvious that they had bright red undies on?

    I give. What?

  31. re: 23, 28
    The current CHI makes the case that sometimes confession closes, rather than opens, the repentance process for major transgressions. Based on the amount of time that has elapsed and the behavior of the person in the intervening years, penalties are often waived. It’s up to the SP and HC of course, but to be ex’d after 30 years suggests something very serious indeed. I don’t know how long this has been the policy suggestion, though, so it may have been different in previous decades.

  32. #30 – Best comment of the thread, imo.

  33. Mark B. says:

    Spencer Palmer spoke at my missionary farewell, and told about a baptism he performed on his mission. It was in a motel swimming pool. He said the prayer correctly, while having his right arm at the square. But then the lady (a rather large woman, especially compared to the young, skinny Elder Palmer) started backing away from him. Maybe she was afraid he couldn’t get her back up out of the water once he put her under. When he couldn’t get her to stop backing away, he just dived under the water, grabbed her ankles and pulled them out from under her, immersing her. She came up, happy to be a new member of the church. It counted.

  34. Some Guy says:

    There is a painting in the lobby of the Provo MTC of the baptism of Christ, with John just having brought Christ out of the water.

    The hands in the painting are backwards.

    When I was in the MTC, I always got a kick out of seeing if the other missionaries could figure out what was wrong with that painting. Nobody ever did.

  35. Oh, did he dunk ’em forwards instead of backwards? Did he go down too?

  36. Some Guy says:

    Also, I’ve always heard that if the witnesses mess up and don’t notice problems with the ordinance and it’s recorded anyway, then it’s taken as having been done properly. You never hear of a later re-baptism having to be done because years later a videotape shows a toe poking up.

    Or is that the real reason why we don’t allow baptism to be filmed? Anyway, you can always fix it in the millennium.

  37. Some Guy says:

    Jami, switched left-to-right, with John just having put down his left arm. A swan dive from the top of John’s raised hands would have been more dramatic, but alas.

  38. when I was baptized as a teenager, my dad who is not a member of the church, took a picture of me, while I was in the water. I was not rebaptized. However, my sis was baptized after me, and someone must have gently said something, for no photo was taken w/her.

    I would guess that for sure it would be fine to use one’s left arm if the right arm has either been amputated or is weak/notfunctional (ie if impacted by a severe stroke). I think the spirit of the law is what matters in these situations.

    One question: I am guessing there must be wheelchair accessible baptismal fonts. (ie there are special seats that can go into swimming pools).

    Two related questions, kind of:

    ~ If someone has a very severe disability where it is difficult/impossible to go in water, is there any way special exception for them to be baptized out of the water?

  39. eta: i decided not to ask the second question, it is something I’ve wondered about for awhile but will wait for another time

  40. Sorry Some Guy, I forgot to refresh, so I wasn’t referring to your backwards picture. I was actually just adding to my list of guesses/reasons that the baptism was re-done. Soon I’m going to be reduced to making guesses that involve space aliens.

  41. #38 – No, immersion is required, but there are ways to work it out so that the baptism still could occur. That would have to be approved and structured by the Bishop/Branch President and/or Mission President.

    If your question is related to a specific situation, e-mail me at fam7heav at juno dot com. I’d be happy to give you some suggestions you can take to your presiding priesthood leader.

  42. Sorry, nita, I should have said there are ways for SOME of these situations to be arranged so that baptism still can occur. It depends on the nature of the specific disability.

  43. Peter LLC says:


    Soon I’m going to be reduced to making guesses that involve space aliens.

    If you do, you will be standing on the shoulders of giants. See Brad’s #16.

  44. Eric Boysen says:

    #23: I believe ordinances performed by the unworthy are still valid. The validity depends more on the recipient than the administrator. It is the administrator who ultimately will suffer for unworthily acting in the name of Christ.

    #6, et al: I would think that a person performing an ordinance who was missing the appropriate limb should try to use (imagine using) the missing limb. His spirit body is still whole! The same would apply to a non-functional limb. In cases where one has to do something physically, say take the sacrament, that obviously won’t work and then an accomodation of some sort is necessary.

  45. 43. Yep.


    All sources agree that the right arm is raised in step 3 and all sources agree that the baptism must be repeated for two reasons, neither of which have to do with right arms (unless it is poking above the surface of the water

    I’m not good with suspense, Peter; please just email me the answer. I promise not to tell anyone! mom2fivelittlemonkeys at yahoo

  46. I would think that a person performing an ordinance who was missing the appropriate limb should try to use (imagine using) the missing limb. His spirit body is still whole! The same would apply to a non-functional limb. In cases where one has to do something physically, say take the sacrament, that obviously won’t work and then an accomodation of some sort is necessary.

    And with which limb limb is it appropriate to take the sacrament? The right leg?

  47. Inigo Montoya: I must know.
    Man in Black: Get used to disappointment.
    Inigo Montoya: OK.

  48. Peter LLC says:


    The reason for repeating the baptism was the raised left arm.
    I asked the BCC powers to post my query because the open source information on the necessity for doing so is ambiguous. On the one hand (no doubt the right) the CHI says the right arm is to be raised, on the other raising a different one is not one of the two stated reasons for repeating a baptism.
    I had hoped that the collective wisdom of the Bloggernacle could shed some light on the efficacy of limbs in priesthood ordinances, but it looks like the answer falls into the category of “Things we do in public but are not at liberty to talk about.”

  49. What a kind response. You could have smushed me.

  50. Post 38 – I witnessed my father baptise his grand daughter after suffering a stroke. He only had control on his left arm. He was assisted by his son in law who was a less active member. Everyone was wearing white and although my father performed the baptism there was three of them in the font.

    Very special experience for all concerned!

  51. One of my daughters and one of my granddaughters are 6 weeks apart in age so we decided to have them baptized the same day by my husband’s son who was the only one in the family able to do it. About 30 minutes after we returned home for a post-baptism celebration, the Bishop showed up and said they had to do it all over again. Seems my stepson had started the prayer off the way he would have if it were a baby blessing which is not the same as a baptism! Since the girls were the first baptisms after a long line of blessings which he had also done, it was easy to understand how it could happen. So, on a cold November evening, the girls got dunked twice! Seemed to me then, and still does now, that someone could have noticed a little more quickly.

  52. Elouise says:

    I think I’ve told this story here before, but it so much fits the theme I’ll risk repeating it. Two French mission elders came dashing into President Rulon Hinckley’s office one Sunday evening, red-faced, out of breath and befuddled. They had performed a baptism that morning, only to find out later in the day that the boy was NOT eight years old, as they had thought. He was only going to BE eight, some months in the future. What to do, what to DO?

    President Hinckley, such a deeply courteous man, tried hard not to chuckle. (He wouldn’t have laughed in their faces if he could avoid it.) Then he said, in his very slow way of speaking, “Well, elders, if the Brethren have given us an unbaptism ordinance, I’m afraid I’m not aware of it. We’ll just have to let the boy grow into the one he’s had.”

  53. Peter LLC says:

    President Hinckley sounds like an eminently reasonable man.

  54. Ultimately the Bishop has the authority to declare an incorrectly performed Aaronic Priesthood ordinance “valid”. That is the nature of his office. And if the witnesses declare it was done correctly, wouldn’t it be “steadying the ark” to imply otherwise?

  55. Mendenhall says:

    Scripture uses the phrase “Hand of God” as an idiom for “the strength of God” which I would associate with priesthood power. The Hebrew phrase is “yamin elohiym”. “Yamin” is the right hand which was understood to be the stronger hand (no offense to left handers like myself) as opposed to “yad” in Hebrew which is simply “the hand”. The right hand is probably a traditional symbol of the priesthood power and should be used in ordinances like baptism.

  56. Ultimately, it seems to me that there is a very straight forward answer to this situation. There are two reasons for a rebaptism which are stated as such and apply to every situation. There is no reason why the prayer shouldn’t be stated correctly and why a person being baptised should not be fully emerged (with the exception raised by #38 and I think #41 covered that situation correctly).

    It is not, however, always possible to raise the right arm as instructed. Many reasons have been given in this post as to way. Accomodations must be made in those situations (as they are done in Holy Places; I personally experienced this when my arm was in a sling because of an injury).

    Because of the posibility of an accomodation when it is not possible to raise the right arm, I don’t believe it should be listed as an absolute reason for redoing a baptism. At the same time, if no accomodation is necessary then every sincere effort should be made to follow the instructions given in the CHI.

  57. I am proud of DTL, this is his first comment on any blog, EVER! Well done DTL, well done… ;)

  58. sister blah 2 says:

    There is no reason why the prayer shouldn’t be stated correctly and why a person being baptised should not be fully emerged

    I think there are bigger problems than needing to redo the ordinance if the person does not emerge from the water. 8-)

  59. DTL peeks out from the cave and SB2 is waiting there to club him. Classy, SB2. REAL classy.

  60. Sorry. Fat fingers and all, but I hope you all knew what I “really” meant.

  61. sister blah 2 says:

    [hanging head in shame] Sorry DTL!

  62. heh heh heh. I confess, I threw SB2 under the bus on that one. All too easy.

  63. I was recently in the Temple for a sealing, acting as witness. It was an incredible experience that I was drinking in deeply. So much so that I failed to realize that the officiator was sealing Jack and Jo-Ann instead of Jack and Joan. The second time around I realized it and stopped him.

    These recent converts had apparently been paralyzed, unable to know what to do. Do we really interrupt a temple ceremony to correct the sealer?

    They still got eternally hitched and all was well.

  64. Left Field says:

    Is there anything in the handbook mandating white clothing? There certainly is not anything in scripture.

    It seems to me that once the witnesses give their OK and everyone goes home, the baptism by definition has been done properly. However, Spencer W. Kimball was rebaptized at age 12 because there was some question raised about the validity of his original baptism. He was baptized at age 8 in a large bathtub, and the officiator was not in the water with him. The scripture (and the handbook) does say that the officiator should be in the water, although the handbook does not list that as a reason for repeating the ordinance.

  65. Dan Knudsen says:

    While on my mission there were two times that I baptized someone and had a third person in the font to help get them out of the water; one, was a rather large woman (I was about 115 pounds dripping wet) and when two or three children’s baptisms before hers had to be redone, she looked down at me and said that I needed someone to help me; second, was with a rather large man, about 6’4″ and about 250 pounds, and as we got into the font he said, “Oh yes, my right hip is stiff and I can’t bend it.” So a strong kid got into the font to help get him up out of the water. I did the baptisms the proper way, receiving help only to keep them from drowning.

    On the issue of a missing right arm–I asked the temple president this morning about that. He said that the ordinances in the temple had to be performed correctly, by one who could do so, and that we make allowances for patrons who can’t do certain things, but temple workers have to be able to do the ordinances correctly. His opinion was that baptisms for the living should be done likewise.

    Sincerity doesn’t make the ordinance valid–if the authority to do it isn’t there, it’s invalid. Perhaps one of the projects during the millennium will be correcting ordinances incorrectly, but sincerely done, which the witnesses failed to correct.

    #63–I have interrupted sealers more than once when a mistake was made and they were glad for it–witnesses are to make sure the ordinance is done correctly, and, thus, should be familiar with the ordinance being performed.

    My dad said that when he was baptized, they all went up the canyon to s secluded spot, where his uncle stripped to his garments and took him into the river and baptized him. (There were no women present.) He didn’t have on white clothing as such was not available in Bluewater, New Mexico, in 1918. We aren’t in such primitive conditions now.

  66. I was baptized at dawn in August 1974, when we were all a bit sleepy, if excited. So far as I know, we did it correctly. The one missionary baptized me, the other watched to see if it was okay. We’d had a “dry run” … good idea, by the way. A number of branch members also attended. IF someone blinked … and there was a minor slip-up, and nobody caught it, don’t you think it would have been recorded as “Done!” in Heaven anyway? Or was everything I did following that invalid, all these years?

    Fascinating to read (#64) President Kimball was originally baptized in a bathtub, however large, with the officiator outside. SURELY someone, at the time, must have wondered about that. Lovely to read President Hinckley’s words of wisdom on the under-age baptism (#52). I’ve come across that story before and hope it is true. Such GOOD sense!

  67. Excuse me, first time on BCC, but among all the erudite and well-meaning, and well-educated comments, no one has pointed out, that ordinances are “merely” means to an end. In both ancient and modern times, they are largely derived from (borrow from) ancient, or at least past, traditions and ceremonies. They are meant to be meaningful, memorable ceremonies that strengthen our commitment to live up to the covenants (excuse the temple reference) we are making. But, ultimately, the ordinance is not the objective. Helping us to become righteous is the objective of ordinances.

    Some presiding authorities grasp this and some do not, this is evident in how some place more (even exclusive) emphasis on the form than on the function (although, this is not an argument to be lackadaisical about the form) when the two are in seeming conflict. So, I would disagree with temple presidents that won’t allow left hand to the square ordinances, for example.

    A minor example: I have seen some bishops require a young Priest to repeat the sacrament prayer over and over again (not just 2-3 times) in order that it be word perfect. And, I have seen others validate a prayer that had minor errors in order to spare the young man further embarrassment.