Why Do We Redeem the Dead? D&C Lesson 30

Section 2 is largely a quotation of the fathers/children/hearts text from Malachi.  I like this passage for a number of reasons.  It’s graceful in style, to start with.  I also like the image of reciprocity across generational lines that it conveys: new generations get the blessings of old generations, and in return they honor their forebears.  This is a very different image regarding respect for past generations from the sometimes superficial and bureaucratic geneology mode of gathering the bare minimum of information necessary to perform proxy ordinances.

Also, remember last week when I wondered why the temple text in Section 124 was skipped in the lesson manual?  Question answered!  They saved it up for this week.  We suffered last week so that we might have an excess of textual riches this time around.

In reading through the temple-related text in 124, I’m struck by the fact that here, as in the Old Testament, the temple is intimately connected with geographic, bureaucratic, and cultural centralization.  The rise of the Jerusalem temple among Jewish people is key at least in part because it may have corresponded with the delegitimization of sacrificial rituals carried out in any other place, even if those rituals are done in honor of the one God.  To note the change, as well as the way that differing perspectives on the centralization of sacrifice are recorded in the Old Testament, compare these two passages:

The Lord said to Moses: Thus you shall say to the Israelites: “You have seen for yourselves that I spoke with you from heaven. You shall not make gods of silver alongside me, nor shall you make for yourselves gods of gold. You need make for me only an altar of earth and sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and your offerings of well-being, your sheep and your oxen; in every place where I cause my name to be remembered I will come to you and bless you. But if you make for me an altar of stone, do not build it of hewn stones; for if you use a chisel upon it you profane it. You shall not go up by steps to my altar, so that your nakedness may not be exposed on it.”  (Exodus 20: 22-26)

These instructions clearly suggest that animal sacrifices can be made in any location.  At the temple or tabernacle, there’s no need to construct an altar from scratch for each sacrifice, because there’s already an altar.  These instructions would be moot.  Note especially the passage I italicized, which tells people to make sacrifice everywhere that the one true God is remembered and worshiped.

Contrast this with Deuteronomy 12:13-14:

Take care that you do not offer your burnt offerings at any place you happen to see. But only at the place that the Lord will choose in one of your tribes—there you shall offer your burnt offerings and there you shall do everything I command you.

This is a temple text, commanding centralization of ritual and worship, with the necessarily attendant centralization of authority, geography, and culture.  Quite a change, and one reiterated in Mormon history.

For Mormons, this movement from dispersed ritual practice toward centralization through the construction of a temple involves baptisms for the dead, rather than animal sacrifice:

But I command you, all ye my saints, to build a house unto me; and I grant unto you a sufficient time to build a house unto me; and during this time your baptisms shall be acceptable unto me. But behold, at the end of this appointment your baptisms for your dead shall not be acceptable unto me; and if you do not these things at the end of the appointment ye shall be rejected as a church, with your dead, saith the Lord your God. For verily I say unto you, that after you have had sufficient time to build a house to me, wherein the ordinance of baptizing for the dead belongeth, and for which the same was instituted from before the foundation of the world, your baptisms for your dead cannot be acceptable unto me; for therein are the keys of the holy priesthood ordained, that you may receive honor and glory.  And after this time, your baptisms for the dead, by those who are scattered abroad, are not acceptable unto me, saith the Lord. For it is ordained that in Zion, and in her stakes, and in Jerusalem, those places which I have appointed for refuge, shall be the places for your baptisms for your dead.  (D&C 124:31-36)

At the time this revelation is given, it is evidently the case that baptism for the dead is practiced in a decentralized way, but once a temple is built, this will no longer be acceptable.  The centralizing impulse of this change is made explicit in the phrase that “those who are scattered abroad” will not be able to participate in the ritual.  They will have to gather to the centerplace of the church — in Illinois or later the American West, and hypothetically in Jerusalem.

But, of course, we don’t physically gather anymore.  By a neat trick, we have over roughly the last generation allowed centralized decentralization by building temples all over the place.  Quite the evolution!

The rest of the temple text is somber, beautiful, and distinctively Mormon.  A favorite bit for me is this: “If ye labor with all your might, I will consecrate that spot [where the temple is built] that it shall be made holy” (v. 44).  I love the idea that our collective hard work consecrates the product of that work.

The section then turns back once again to the theological problems of Missouri.  Were the Saints cursed because they didn’t build the commanded temple in that state?  Did people who perished in Missouri die there because they were sinful?  What about the people who seem to have gotten away with a genocidal attack on the Saints?  In brief, the answers are: no, not necessarily, and multi-generational cursing.  I will say that this is a more forgiving and merciful aspect of God, with respect to the Mormons, than we saw in earlier chapters on the same theme.

In verse 1 of section 127, Joseph Smith proclaims his innocence.  Well, really, that’s understating it.  He shouts from the rooftops that he’s not just innocent but innocent from any notion of not being innocent.  Specifically:

…my enemies, both in Missouri and this State, were again in the pursuit of me; and…  they pursue me without a cause, and have not the least shadow or coloring of justice or right on their side in the getting up of their prosecutions against me; and… their pretensions are all founded in falsehood of the blackest dye…

It may well be the case that Smith was innocent of the major charges against him, although it’s at least ambiguous.  But to say that he was being pursued and prosecuted “without a cause” is just to go too far.  This letter was written in September 0f 1842, about four months after someone (plausibly Orrin Porter Rockwell) shot and tried to kill former Missouri governor Lilburn Boggs.  John C. Bennett was at the time spreading reports that Joseph Smith had offered a cash prize to anyone who would kill Boggs.  All of this may well have nothing to do with Smith, but it at least gives the Missouri legal system a legitimate reason to be interested in him.

Verses 6-9, which instruct the Saints on how to keep proper records regarding baptisms for the dead, raise a puzzle: why is careful bookkeeping on Earth regarding sacred ordinances so important to God?  The revelation tells us to be careful about witnessing, and so forth, so “that in all your recordings it may be recorded in heaven” (v. 7).  Wouldn’t anything we do be recorded in heaven, in any case?  Section 128 offers some further discussion on this point:

Now, the nature of this ordinance consists in the power of the priesthood, by the revelation of Jesus Christ, wherein it is granted that whatsoever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Or, in other words, taking a different view of the translation, whatsoever you record on earth shall be recorded in heaven, and whatsoever you do not record on earth shall not be recorded in heaven; for out of the books shall your dead be judged, according to their own works, whether they themselves have attended to the ordinances in their own propria persona, or by the means of their own agents, according to the ordinance which God has prepared for their salvation from before the foundation of the world, according to the records which they have kept concerning their dead. (v. 8 )

This seems very strange indeed to me.  We are to be judged out of books written by people, and that which isn’t written down by priesthood holders won’t be written down in heaven?  So anything we do that isn’t written down doesn’t count?  I think we read this as only applying to ordinances, and that’s plausible.  But it’s also problematic; what about ordinances among nonliterate peoples in past ages?

All of this is just superficial, though, compared with the underlying weirdness of proxy ordinances.  According to the passage I just quoted, the dead will be judged according to “their own works,” whether those works are done by them personally or by “their own agents.”  I understand that we can do deeds by proxy; no problem there.  But when a deed is done in our name and we didn’t directly act to bring it about?  How is that our own deed?

I understand that, given the constraint that a certain set of ordinances need to be done by people with mortal bodies in order for a person to be saved, proxy work for the dead appears as a plausible solution to the problem of people who die without the gospel.  Because of that conditional plausibility, the texts in this week’s lesson — as well as much Mormon discourse on the subject — speaks as if proxy ordinances were rationally explicable.  This isn’t really so, and the reason is that the constraint is not currently understandable, I think.

We are told that God prepared ordinances “from before the foundation of the world.”  Why not prepare ordinances that spirits can perform on their own behalf?  Or why not waive ordinances for people who, in some sense, come to the faith after their death?

All of this leads us to the ineffable mechanics of ordinances themselves.  If ordinances are necessary even for the dead, this suggests one of two possibilities.  First, God may be pathologically inflexible, rigidly enforcing His freely and arbitrarily chosen commandments even when they no longer make sense, and when some degree of flexibility would dramatically enhance His children’s prospects for salvation and progress.  Second, the ordinances may be important for salvation in some way that goes beyond the legalistic; God may not have the option of waiving them, because they achieve some kind of transformation without which salvation is impossible.

If the second option is right, what is that transformation?  How does, for example, the process of going under water while some words are said accomplish this irreplaceable change?

Without answers to these questions, baptism for the dead cannot really be put on a rational footing.  Baptism for the living can; one can appeal to the community-forming effects of ordinances, as well as their potential as symbols that help people change their ongoing lives.  Obviously, neither of these effects is particularly present for proxy ordinances.

The whole topic strikes me as a puzzle, one which is of a piece with that of the Atonement.  A key question for many Mormon accounts of the Atonement is: why can’t God just forgive repentant sinners?  Here, the relevant variant of that question is: why can’t God just accept conversion without ordinances when those ordinances aren’t available?  Without an answer to this question, we must instead accept that proxy ordinances are strange and are something that we take purely on faith.


  1. I think it all comes down to us having our physical bodies right now since all of the ordinances require physical interaction in one way or another.

    That makes me think: Can spirits eat?

  2. I think this post is just making fun of the scriptures. And the Church. And God, too. You are subversive and I refuse to talk to you.

    (Hey, I just wanted to be the first one to say it!)

  3. J. Nelson-Seawright says:

    Dave P., I think that’s sort of dodging the question. If God made the ordinances, then He made them require physical interaction, right? Couldn’t He have made a baptism-equivalent that didn’t require physical bodies? Or waived baptism entirely for the dead?

  4. Interesting observation (and novel to me). However, your syllogism has one problem: the importance of the Temple in Jerusalem had human, as well as divine, reasons for its existence.

    The Levites (sons of Levi, son of Jacob) were the only one of the tribes of Israel (i.e. Jacob) who were scattered and did not control land in Israel. Why they were scattered, or whether Levite was just the name given to anyone who chose to leave his father’s land and become a priest, is historically and scripturally in dispute.

    What does seem clear is that the Levites built the Temple (and were given monopolistic control over it) as compensation for the inability to farm. Instead, they collected temple offerings and (if you will, very crudely speaking) sold access to God through their gatekeeper status.

    This was perfectly accepted practice then throughout the last millenium BC, where education was an expensive investment of labor away from the farm or ranch. But Jesus had the idea that no one should get between you and God, and chased the moneychangers out. This was a grave assault on the Levites’ ability to make a living, and we know the rest of that story. Moral: never get between a man and his livelihood.

    In this light, your comparison of the New Temple with the Old is incomplete. Centrality of worship does yield a consistency of doctrine (as you describe), but also leads to a greatly increased importance to its gatekeepers. Perhaps you might discuss this latter topic as well in a follow-on post?

  5. aloysiusmiller says:

    Why do we redeem the dead? In order to bless our children. Read all of D&C 128:18

  6. Way to save yourself from a scolding at the last minute, JNS, by finally reaching the last three words of your post!

    I am often irritated (I know, I know, I’m too easily and too often irritated, and too vocal about it always) by bloggernacle whiners saying “Why can’t we just …” [turn the temples into public wedding chapels / let me dictate how to spend the church’s income / revise the missionary program to suit my views / declare my personal forms of sinning to be sacraments / whatever else we’re complaining about], when the answer is only “because that’s just the way it is.”

    On the other hand, I may be too quick to stop at “that’s just the way it is” — I like how you’re pushing us to think about whether we do know something more that would explain these questions. It may be that we don’t, that we lack the revelation to say more than “it’s a matter of faith.” But it never hurts to think about it, when you’re really asking questions (as you do here) and not merely whining as we (well, not me, but everybody else) so often do.

  7. It seems to me that your your analysis focuses only on the recipient of the ritual and not on all the participants.

  8. J. Nelson-Seawright says:

    J., I think the experience of the participants certainly does matter. But it doesn’t really answer the questions here. There are far less organizationally burdensome ways of getting people to think about their spiritual connections with the past! And indeed other Christian traditions have some of them; candles and prayers for the departed come to mind. The fact that we do basically the same ordinances for the dead as for the living is what I’d like to understand, not just the fact that we ritually celebrate our links with past generations.

  9. J. Nelson-Seawright says:

    Dan, your points about the economic consequences of temple worship are well taken. My post doesn’t really take a stand on the reasons for or consequences of ritual centralization — I’m just making the point that temple-building seems intimately linked with centralization of many forms in both Biblical and Mormon history.

    Ardis, right, the point here isn’t to tell God what to do, but rather to wonder whether we can understand what we’re told about how things are. I think there are a couple of key missing pieces of the puzzle regarding proxy ordinances…

  10. Perhaps some of what J. Stapley is getting at is that there are positive results that come from doing something for someone else who is incapable of doing it for him/herself. For example, vicarious ordinance work brings the mind of the ordinance worker to that other person; it cultivates an attitude of service; it underscores the universal theme of humility (i.e., relying on someone else) and atonement, etc.

    However, none of that gets to the bottom of the issue raised in the OP: WHY redemption of the dead? Certainly there are other ways of accomplishing the results listed above that don’t involve a literal reenactment of an ordinance for a deceased person.

    So, while I am very content with the results of doing the work of redeeming the dead, I have to say that I simply don’t understand the “why” behind it all.

  11. I don’t have much to add other than that I think proxy ordinances are a pattern which have a purpose that extends beyond simply providing a way for our dead to receive the same ordinances. Ordinance by proxy makes may simply be a way of reinforcing the idea in our minds that whether one does something one self or by proxy the end result is the same. Christ managed became exhalted by himself. We can’t do as Christ did, but can be exhalted through Christ’s proxy work also called the atonement.

    Christ’s atonement works automatically for children who die before the age of accountability and the mentally handicapped, so certainly in my opinion it could be extended to those who hadn’t had the opportunity to receive the saving ordinances as well if that’s the way God wanted it. The fact that God wants us to engage in proxy work tells me that the proxy work is more for those doing the proxy work than for the recipients of it.

    Similarly, I doubt the killing of an ox on an alter ever actually saved a single soul, but was a proxy for the actual atonement of Christ at the meridian of time. The proxy offerings fulfilled their purpose, which was as a symbol for the people performing them. Whether they offered an animal during the observance of the law of Moses or came to Christ with a contrite spirit and broken heart, the results were the same.

  12. I think that there is power in ritual. Just as, I suppose, we are baptized as a symbolic way of manifesting renewal and commitment to God–rather than simply signing a piece of paper or making a simple acknowledgement within our heart–I believe that the rituals for our dead (including the genealogical research) are a powerful symbolic way in which we turn our hearts to them.

    I like what Professor Gates (or “disorderly conduct” and White House beer fame) said about connection to family trees, as quoted today in the Deseret News:

    “Because our ancestors’ identity [was] systematically, systematically robbed from us. The identity of our ancestors, our collective history, and our individual history. And when I, using a team of genealogists out of Utah, thank God for the Mormons who have done all of this — gathered all of these records. When we give people their family tree back, they all cry. Whether it was Oprah Winfrey, whether it was Chris Tucker, Chris Rock, Tom Joyner, they all cry because the lost have been found. It’s like thinking heretofore that you were floating on air without any roots. Zora Neale Hurston said we were a people — we were branches without roots. But we are branches based on roots, and each of us has to do our own family tree. Each of us has to restore the lost ancestors back to slavery. And collectively we could tell a new tale of the history of the African-American people as a group, as a community.”


  13. I loved seeing those episodes with Prof. Gates on PBS and the research that was done for those folks. I’d agree with DavidH and his discussion of the power of ritual as a means of turning the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to the fathers (and mothers!).

    It would seem that perhaps that is the real reason for these proxy ordinances, and the benefit is primarily ours.

    I know from my own personal research, about the power of getting to know these deceased ancestors as real people, not just names on a page. While the temple work for my ancestors, as far back as we can find documentation, has already been done, for me the ritual is now taking form in learning about them, and writing their stories for my own descendants. These stories help us to build the narratives of our own lives, as well. Again, I think we are the primary beneficiaries of these ordinances, and that seems to satisfy at least enough of the question “why” for me.

    Another great thought provoking back bench discussion, JNS. Thanks!

  14. /begin minor threadjack

    Note to self: Ask Ziff to start tracking all posts where Ardis expresses irritation. ;-)

    /end minor threadjack

    I have to agree with Ardis and you, this is something we have to take on faith. Great post!

  15. I have often wondered why ordinances are necessary for salvation. Despite their symbolism they do seem somewhat arbitrary. As you said, amongst the living they can/do help motivate us to live better lives and build strong communities. However, I don’t think that counts as a logical basis for their necessity for salvation. Ordinances in general seem to fall in the category of “things we take on faith” whether done for the living or the dead. I can live with that. I like how you noted that we are in an era of decentralization of our centralized worship; interesting observation and significant for the kingdom, I reckon.

  16. I really like your insight that physically building a temple required geographic and bureaucratic consolidation. If such consolidation is central to our abilities to build temples, then does that give us additional insight into the kind of lifestyles that God wishes us to live and the kinds of communities he wants us to have? For example, is having a functioning infrastructure, something required for temple building, actually included in the items God would wish us to develop?

  17. What I love about these is you ask real questions. They are questions for which an answer just can’t be looked up and be repeated with an appeal to standard suggestions. This is the missing component in much of our classroom discourse. Good questions make me think and actually deepen my faith. For example, your suggestion and question:

    “God may not have the option of waiving them, because they achieve some kind of transformation without which salvation is impossible.

    If the second option is right, what is that transformation? ”

    had a profound effect on me. I’ve always thought ordinances as rather rationally arbitrary in some ways. (e.g., Why immersion rather than sprinkling?” I know the reasons given when I was a missionary, but if it were the other way around I could argue that way too?). And so have taken them on faith, but never even considered exploring things more deeply. So I don’t have a comment on the substance of your post, but cheer you on in asking good questions!

  18. aloysiusmiller says:

    These questions are kind of hard and even harder for people who won’t think “metaphysically”. Is it a Mormon aversion? I bought a book by a Mormon who decries Greek philosophy as corrupting. He had some good points but the baby went out with the bath water. The redemption of the dead is a very significant and profound doctrine but I think we are afraid to explore it.

    Perhaps it is one of those doctrines that is revealed to us individually and we feel restraint in sharing the revelation because it is one of the glorious reserved mysteries. My own revelation is yet a pinhole and even so I feel that it isn’t mine to say more.


  19. ummquestion says:

    To J.Nelson-Seawright,
    Bear with me, it’s late.

    “No unclean thing can dwell with God”

    Mortal bodies are fallen-decaying and unholy-unable to exist/survive/thrive in the presence of God because they are not pure enough. Physical baptism is the washing or purifying of a fallen mortal body-and is the ordinance necessary to enter the celestial kingdom.

    Faith and repentance are necessary for fallen-impure spirits. They eventually produce the “baptism of fire” that cleanses and purifies the spirits that inhabit mortal flesh.

    Resurrected beings are a combination of flesh and spirit. Both must be “cleansed” and purified in order to DWELL (which is different to me than just being in God’s presence momentarily) with God eternally.

    A “spiritual” baptism is not enough to qualify one for exaltation and is insufficient without a “physical” baptism, just as a physical baptism is insufficient without a spiritual baptism. Those who have died are capable of one but not the other, but we all require both. It is only through the authority and power of the Priesthood of God that one being can perform a literal saving act on behalf of another being.

    “Or, in other words, taking a different view of the translation, whatsoever you record on earth shall be recorded in heaven, and whatsoever you do not record on earth shall not be recorded in heaven; for out of the books shall your dead be judged, according to their own works, whether they themselves have attended to the ordinances in their own propria persona, or by the means of their own agents…”

    I read this verse has having two parts:
    All of us performed “works” in the premortal world, perform “works” during mortality and will continue to perform “works” after mortal death. Departed spirits can still think, learn, and exercise their agency. There are Celestial works, and Terrestrial works, and Telestial works, and each one of us will be judged by the type of work we were most willing to engage in.

    Our ordinances have the same efficacy whether the “record” shows that we attended to them personally through proper Priesthood authority while we were alive or someone else performed them through proper Priesthood authority on our behalf.

    James tells us that “faith without works is dead” and “by works is faith made perfect”. I view baptism (along with its attending principles repentance and remission of sins) as one of the “Celestial” works required to obtain Godhood…to be made perfect. In other words, God really cannot “accept our (spiritual) conversion without (physical/mortal) ordinances”.

    Spirit and flesh must be purified in order to be made perfect.
    Priesthood power makes a proxy baptism done by one and accepted by another as literal and personal as it made Christ’s Atonement literal and personal to those who accept it.

    Hope this helps.

  20. How JSJ understood it and how we currently understand it are probably rather different. In my book on death culture (and in part in an essay I’m writing with stapley) I argue that this practice functioned to establish Smith’s genealogical Chain, an adaptation of the Christian rites of adoption. The fact that we are asking the practice to do new cultural work makes the expectation that it perform as expected rather extreme. For JSJ this was a story about the mechanisms by which God created a Chain of Belonging, precisely by embracing the paradox of new birth in death, rather than an anti-Calvinist theodicy. The particular strain of sacramentalism you’re objecting to is a later importation.

    And JNS, though I honor other traditions’ approaches to creating relationships with those who have gone before, I just personally think proxy baptisms are way cooler than obituaries or requiems or candles or prayers.

  21. “I know, I know, I’m too easily and too often irritated, and too vocal about it always”

    Not Waving But Drowning

    Nobody heard him, the dead man,
    But still he lay moaning:
    I was much further out than you thought
    And not waving but drowning.

    Poor chap, he always loved larking
    And now he’s dead
    It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,
    They said.

    Oh, no no no, it was too cold always
    (Still the dead one lay moaning)
    I was much too far out all my life
    And not waving but drowning.

    you and stevie smith, ardis- beautiful phrasing.

  22. Thank you for the post on this lesson. A few random thoughts follow:

    First, I think it is unfortunate that the lessons were organized in such a way as to separate the Nauvoo House verses and the Nauvoo Temple verses into two lessons. My interests in the Nauvoo House make me biased of course, but I believe we are far more likely to arrive at an understanding of the nature of the commandments to build both buildings, and their subsequent histories, if we study them jointly. A combined discussion would have also provided an opportunity to delve into the real costs, sacrifices, and displays of faith in the largely concurrent construction of both buildings.

    Regarding your treatment of Joseph’s proclamation of innocence in the Boggs assassination attempt:
    I agree wholeheartedly that “without a cause” seems a little unfair. At the same time, I think it is helpful to remember that both 127 and 128 are written at particular times when Joseph is in the hiding phase of his in-and-out-of-hiding three-month cycle toward the end of 1842. Both are read in public, in his absence, for the benefit of the saints. That being the case, “in the pursuit of me” in verse one is certainly meant sincerely. More to the point, I choose not to focus on “without a cause,” and instead focus on the next line “not the least shadow or coloring of justice or right on their side in the getting up of their prosecutions against me.” Without going into the question of whether Joseph may or may not have been complicit in the Boggs shooting, he had certainly formed, by the first week in September when both of these letters were written, a mature legal argument for the illegality of the arresting documents–chiefly Boggs’ 20 July affidavit and Mo. Gov. Thomas Reynolds’ requisition two days later. In other words, considerable discourse between Joseph and his colleagues had convinced Joseph by this point of the lack of “justice” of the “prosecutions” gotten up against him. The same arguments he propagated at this time would be used with remarkably little finessing by his attorney Justin Butterfield to secure the decision of federal judge Nathaniel Pope in Joseph’s favor at the habeas corpus hearing in the first week of January. Whether complicit in Boggs’ shooting or not (I don’t mind going on the record saying I don’t believe he was), Joseph’s opinion that an injustice was being done in the legal attempts to pursue him would later be validated. Finally, the “shouting from the rooftops” is probably understandable given that this is the second of three significant–and failed–attempts to extradite Joseph back to Missouri in the space barely over two years (before someone cries “foul,” I am not saying that JS would have been aware of the future Bennett attempt to stir up the Missouri-anti-Joseph pot).

    Regarding D&C 128, and the questions you pose about the importance of record-keeping in the church, and seemingly of more extensive nature than just the ordinances:
    First off, it is exciting to me that Wm Clayton used Eliza Snow to copy most of the letter that is now 127 and all of the letter that is now 128 into Joseph’s journal (even if they both dated the second letter 6 September instead of the 7th that it was actually written on–leading to the mistaken dating in the heading to the current D&C section 128). Note: The previous sentence was an ill-conceived attempt to draw the wonderful new and anxiously-awaited tome of Eliza’s poetry by Jill Derr and Karen Lynn Davidson into the conversation. Weighing in at 3.75 pounds and roughly 1300 pages it is a masterful work, and available beginning this week at LDS book-sellers near you. /end advertisement
    I appreciate that you chose to 6-7, even where the student version of the manual does not. For me, the primary focus of this section is record-keeping, and the discussion of baptism for the dead is secondary. Joseph dictated this letter to Clayton just a few weeks after dictating (also to Clayton, and while also in hiding), the famous 16 and 23 August entries in his journal, as kept in the Book of the Law of the Lord, wherein he devoted a great deal of space to record the deeds of those who have been faithful and loyal to him and to the church. The title of that book, and the clear indication that it be kept to record demonstrations of committment to the church in the form of tithing donations, along with Joseph’s specific mention of the names of some of those closest to him, mirrors the instruction given in D&C 85. That section–excerpted from the 27 November 1832 letter to Phelps, covers the issue you are raising about a “book of life” concept in far more detail than the present section. I find it interesting that the names of the faithful, in that section from ten years earlier, would be recorded in “the book of the law of God” (85:5, 7) or “book of the law” (85:11). Here then, while in hiding from arrest attempts, and with plenty of time on his hands for musing, Joseph is repeatedly turning to the concept of record-keeping, and the need to put down in writing the acts and deeds of the faithful.

    Sorry for the length, just some context that might be helpful.

  23. Thanks, everyone, for the comments. smb, in particular, I agree that these texts, like probably most of our scriptures, do rather different things for us today than they did for their original audiences, let alone Joseph Smith. My focus here is on contemporary meanings, which have a certain distinctive importance to me compared with earlier meanings given that I am a contemporary Mormon.

    RE candles and prayers, when you say “cooler,” we’re entering the realm of aesthetics. I have to say that there’s some aesthetic baggage related to the actual bureaucratic operation of baptisms for the dead in the present day which has the potential to somewhat degrade their “coolness.” But I suppose that’s another topic…

  24. Actually I probably shouldn’t even have posted my original comment. It was a rushed thought after only having time to skim the actual post. If I get the chance I’ll do a far more thorough analysis at a later date.

    But in general I love seeing people who are asking the tough questions and delving into the mysteries.

  25. It’s my first time so be kind. I would like to echo what “ummquestion” said the physical & spiritual cleanliness needed to be able to enter the Celestial kingdom of God our Father in Heaven. And add this:

    __ Most everything we do relates to Eternal Families in the Temple. Though not all who are born to this earth are members of 1 of the 12 tribes of Israel, we must be adopted into one or the other to be saved into Father in Heaven’s Highest Degree of glory. We must not only be baptized, confirmed, receive initiatory, endowment, sealed to wife …. but also sealed to our Parents. Let us keep in mind that the initiation of the sealing is performed in the Temple, it is validated by the Holy Spirit of Promise in order to have efficacy or force after the resurrection. See Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Page 1288, Sealing, 2nd, and 4th paragraphs: “…priesthood power given to authorized servants of the Lord to perform certain acts on earth and have them recognized (sealed) or validated in heaven (2nd paragraph).” “This is the [priesthood] authority by which “all covenants, contracts, bonds, obligations, oaths, vows, performances, connections, associations, or expectations … [can be] made and entered into and sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise [and receive] efficacy, virtue, or force in and after the resurrection of the dead (D&C 132:7)” End of 4th paragraph on page 1288 of Encyclopedia of Mormonism, words in brackets added by them, sorry for long winded site!

    __So once the Temple work is done for us, our children, and our Parents, then it must also be accomplished for our Grand Parents. And so on, and so forth, all the way back to Adam in accordance with the Patriarchal order. So that there is no unbroken chain (smb: Smith’s genealogical chain) between us & God, “…and they are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s” DC 76:58. This must happen for The Great Family of the Human Race to be saved, not just to save us, but to save them. To put it another way, all of the righteous children of Adam (ancient of days) & Eve (mother of all living), the entire Family of Adam must be have the Temple baptism’s and other work accomplished together, the living and the dead. The one is incomplete without the other.

    __So if all the work is not done, then when Adam-ondi-aman takes place, and Adam gives his keys of priesthood authority back to Jehovah (or Jesus), we will not be all saved to the Celestial kingdom, and Jesus plan of salvation for all of mankind would be frustrated. So it must happen, and will happen for God has promised this. And God has commanded us to do this, lest the Lord come and smite the earth with a curse, Mal 4:6, DC 128:17. And any commandment given, the Lord must prepare a way whereby we can accomplish it, 1 Ne 3:7. And so our little church of just 13.5 million has built about 130 Temples, more than at any other time in the History of the earth to do this great work. And more beautiful temples will be built, and more work done. An almost impossible size, wikipedia say 90-110 billion have been born to the earth so far. But a path will be prepared, and the work will be done for the living, and the dead!

    __Now why full immersion? The baptismal font was instituted as a similitude of the grave, DC 128:13. As I am sure everyone knows. The verses, and discussion in John 3 discuss the water, symbolic of the birthing process. So with the death of our old life, we become re-born to a new life. So with sprinkling or other, I do not see how it would be as clear.

    __As to this Op peace, the 3rd to the last paragraph asking: “what is that transformation?” I would refer to:

    Rev. 3: 12
    12 Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name.

    Alma 34: 36
    36 And this I know, because the Lord hath said he dwelleth not in unholy temples, but in the hearts of the righteous doth he dwell; yea, and he has also said that the righteous shall sit down in his kingdom, to go no more out; but their garments should be made white through the blood of the Lamb.

    __So we become reborn, and slow to do evil, and quick to do good, and become like Christ. We become one with Christ, as Christ is one with the Father. If we were to ask Christ of the Father, the answer would be equivalent. When we administer blessing, we represent Gods wishes (when in tune with the Holy Spirit). And we say the words that God would say, if he himself were giving he blessing. This happens only when we are one with God, or one with the Holy Spirit of God, guiding our words. This is perhaps more true now only with Patriarchs of our church. But someday, we all with have this same level of closeness to Gods Spirit. So all this takes time. Perhaps a lifetime and even more. But the Transformation is into a CHILD OF GOD, instead of being a SON OF MAN, refer to McConkies book about the Natural man vs. the Spiritual man. This is the Transformation that begins with baptism, and then the gift of the Holy Ghost, but may take many years for us to be changed so completely as Alma & John the Revelator described.

    __Last I would like to bear my testimony about baptisms. This miraculous event took place in the Bern Switzerland Temple. There is a baptismal font with 12 oxen, whose feet touch the floor about 12 feet below us. We are in a room with glass windows at a higher level than the font. Across the way is a steel bridge walkway to the other side, where the man or woman proxy steps down into the font. There is also a glass window to the left. And a cement wall several feet thick (I am told later). On the other side of the wall is the outside garden area of the temple. After all of the some 200 or 300 baptisms are accomplished by the 15 or 20 of us, and the last wet proxy is stepping out of the font; Suddenly everybody stops, and starts looking at the cement wall. Peoples eyes open wide with the wonder of the event. Several minutes go by before anyone begins to speak. As those who were there witnessed, some felt only the Holy Spirit burning fiercely in their hearts. Others felt the Holy Spirit, but also saw a light from the thick cement wall. Imagine if you will a powerful flashlight shinning through a thin piece of white paper. However, I think even if a light as bright as the Sun were on the other side of the 3 or 4 feet thick wall, you would not be able to see a light from the other side. Then the light seem to open up a window into the spirit world, and we could see a multitude of spirit children of the Father waiting to be baptized. And they turned away, and began to cry. This because the last of the baptisms had been completed for that day, and they would have to wait for this great and glorious event to take place with them on another day.

    __So some felt the Holy Spirit, Some saw a light, and some saw the Spirit world beyond, and heard the crying. Yet all were there, experiencing the same event. Some thought only the most righteous saw the Spirit World. Others thought that it was because only some were actually relatives of those we were baptizing. I do not know, but I will never forget. I just thought this might give a visual image of what it was we are talking about. I bear to you my testimony, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

    With love, Sheldon.

  26. Op’s, forgot to put this one in.

    Alma 5: 14
    14 And now behold, I ask of you, my brethren of the church, have ye aspiritually been bborn of God? Have ye received his image in your countenances? Have ye experienced this mighty cchange in your hearts?

  27. Steve Evans says:

    Sheldon, as requested, I will be kind:

    Stop posting enormously long comments that are nothing but collections of quotes. Stop it.

  28. Sheldon: This was the lesson for our GD class today. I read your comment before I went to church and felt very uplifted by it.

  29. Chris Glossop says:

    I agree with those who suggest that the major benefit of a system of vicarious ordinances may well be for the *** living ***.

    May I suggest most of the raison d’etre for required behaviours is that they underpin, or arise from, the atonement.

    To know Christ, we need to, in essence, be Christ (talk by Pres. Henry B Eyring, some where); serve as he served; do as he did.

    What did he do? He saved souls. He willingly performed an infinite and eternal sacrifice. This being huge, how do we qualify to sit down in his kingdom? [much wringing of hands, thinking of a solution]

    “Ahh! Solution”: We have opportunity to be Saviours for others, through temple work for the dead; the opportunity to share the gospel; and parenting.

    1. Economy of Heaven: We could have had a system where we repeatedly went to the temple for ourselves; to refresh our commitment. There is efficiency in a system which has us repeat the ordinances, but this time for someone else. Both the living and the dead benefit. There is added benefit in reviewing our commitment via temple attendance; the joy of service. For me, this is a principal incentive, ahead of refreshing.

    2. Willing Acts: It is interesting that there is no attempt to measure either temple attendances or acts of sharing the gospel. No pressure is allowed to be placed on members to share the gospel, or to attend the temple. Christ needed to willingly offer himself as a sacrifice. In sharing and attending the temple we too need to be willingly do work to save souls. That way [inter alia] we qualify to sit down in His kingdom with Him.

    3. D&C 128:19: “That when he shall finish his work I may receive him unto myself, even as I did my servant David Pattern, who is with me at this time, and …Edward Partridge…and Joseph Smith ,Sen., who sitteth with Abraham, at his right hand…”

    I wouldn’t recommend doing such work to the detriment of family responsibilities. All needs to be in balance.

    I enjoyed the challenge to interpret the values of ordinances, but suggest it is not favourable to ever refer to the greats of our Plan merely by their surname; it sounds disrespectful and too clinical.

    Chris G

  30. Chris Glossop says:

    Sorry; the citation for the verse in the Doctrine and Covenants should be 124:19.

    After thought:
    Having argued the three cornered, ultimate ticket to exaltation (being Saviours through ordinance work, sharing the gospel and parenting), need I say that although this major triple is so, so very important for US today, it is NOT the ONLY way to exaltation? You would think it is a question of personal ***opportunity*** to frequently attend a temple; your position on the time-line: whether in your life time you had access to ordinance-ready temples! If you have the opportunity, you are in the scope.

    While work for the dead offers practical advantages, like opportunity to be Saviours, I think there is a supra reason for the obligation. I agree with others, that the command to do work for our dead may, above all be a test. As you pointed out, we do not understand completely why this is the only way to do it. It may be similar to the Abrahamic test. The command to Abraham to kill his son was a contrived requirement; in so much as there did not seem to be any necessity to kill his son; and indeed, in the end, he did not have to kill him. At first look, work for the dead seems like a “contrived requirement”, designed from before the foundations of the world [ as you suggest, one can think of other ways to qualify the dead]. But I am not suggesting we will find it is not really necessary. I am suggesting the test is similar, not identical.

    After suggesting a requirement to do work for the dead is influenced by the opportunity it creates for us to be Saviours for others, I see a higher law beyond merely being asked to be Saviours. Looking at the wider sweep of history, just being obedient to whatever is asked by the Lord, has been the ***primary*** ticket to exaltation, for a lot longer!

    This super, go-direct ticket has been obtained by obedience to God’s specific commands; meted directly to individuals like Abraham and Nephi, or delivered to his people by Prophets of the day, like Moses. This seems to answer the question, if being Saviours is so important, what if you did not live in the era of ordinance ready temples?

    I say this after thinking of all the people who secured exaltation, apparently WITHOUT vicarious work for the dead. This work was only commenced after the Saviour’s death (see D&C 138: 18,30); and in our dispensation, at Nauvoo.

    For example, the Nephites do not appear to have had a history of temples like ours. Their temples mostly, if not exclusively, were for rites under the mosaic law.

    My point is there can be SPECIFIC commands meted out to his servants, which if met [along with the basics], qualify his servants for exaltation: refer Abraham; the mission of Lehi, or Lyman Wight (D&C 124:18). This illustrates the apical position of simple obedience to commands.

    It may be helpful to note that the “work” referred to in D&C 124:19, which Lyman Wight was to do, to qualify him to “be received unto myself” and sit with Abraham, was to : …”continue in preaching for Zion…confessing me before the world” [ v.18].

    Lyman Wight’s ticket to exaltation was by preaching the gospel (along with the basics of course). It seems different from the contemporary or general pattern for the saints of the era, and our own day, where we now have frequent access to temples, and are obliged to do work in them. It demonstrates that obedience is the first requirement, the overrider, just as the Saviour emphasised his own obedience to his Father.

    Perhaps God is being kind. Perhaps our missions are not as testing as missions in the pioneer days, like Lyman Wight’s, when there there few pioneers to follow, and no MTCs. Perhaps temple work gives US an added opportunity to prove ourselves, without having to abandon all we have in a modern world, thereby constantly resetting the clock for progressive, LDS-consolidation within the community. A lot of us can now go to the temple, and be back to the comfort of our home and loved ones, in the same day; if not the same evening.

    Perhaps the truth is that He has devised a way for us to prove our obedience, without huge disruption to the fabric of LDS life. All we need to have is a willingness to serve. Ooops…

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