A Series Of Observations About Baptism And The Holy Ghost


I strongly suspect that we tend to fall well short in our understanding of the ordinances of baptism by immersion and the gift of the Holy Ghost. I also suspect that how well or deeply we understand these things has very little to do with their efficacy in our lives and on our path toward God. Nevertheless, here are a handful of observations, some pretty straightforward and non-controversial, some slightly more speculative. None of this is meant as a resolution to the problem or a grand unified theory—I’m not really even making an argument. These observations are more like the reason why I suspect that we’re missing something.

  • Baptism is described, first by the Apostle Paul, and often in LDS doctrine (including the way we teach it in the missionary discussions), as a re-enactment or recapitulation of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The earliest gospel (Mark) creates the association on the narrative/textual level by opening and closing the account, respectively, with Jesus’ baptism and death/resurrection (and the top-to-bottom rending of the cosmos—the heavens by the descent of the dove, and the veil in the temple by the force of Jesus death). And Paul’s description of baptism as ritual re-enactment predates all the gospel accounts. NT scholars for decades have debated the historical plausibility or reliability of the accounts of Jesus’ dead body being placed in the tomb of a wealthy patron. It’s overwhelmingly improbable that anyone executed by Rome could have undergone anything except burial in a common grave, likely after having his or her corpse mutilated by wild animals—regardless of who had what connections. The arguments about why this is unlikely and the possible reasons early traditions emerged placing Jesus’ body in a tomb (traditions which were fixed in writing by the gosplers) are complicated. Baptism is a powerful rite because it identifies Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection with cleansing and spiritual renewal. But note that we do not ritually cleanse ourselves in the process of entering a space representing a tomb and re-emerging afterward. We are ritually buried, in the ground. We are emphatic about the burial component in our fastidiousness about complete submersion, and in our insistence that baptismal fonts be built below ground level. It’s far from a definitive case (especially given the canonical status of all four versions of the tomb story), but the early and persistent practice (and we believe that this practice was restored in its fullness and purity precisely as an act of burial/immersion) of re-enacting the burial of Christ through baptism would surly count as evidence for Jesus’ actual burial in the ground.
  • Baptism is something that always happens in Jesus’ absence. Although he is himself baptized, there are no accounts of him baptizing during his ministry, and he doesn’t baptize when he ministers to the Nephites. Rather, he confers authority to baptize on disciples, who engage in the practice only when he is gone. This is similar to the way the Holy Ghost is described in the NT. Its role is for after Jesus leaves.
  • In the Book of Mormon, the only baptism mentioned before Alma starts baptizing people is Nephi’s vision of the future baptism of Jesus.
  • The Holy Ghost is a non-presence—never mentioned once—in the endowment.
  • There are only two moments when a particular being is given and received in a priesthood ordinance: the giving/receiving of the Holy Ghost, and the sealing ceremony. In both cases, an existing relationship is ritually transformed into something more constant, enduring, deeper, more meaningful, and more fruitful.
  • Unlike the Father and Christ, the Holy Ghost is a Godhead member that we are never taught to try to emulate or be like.
  • Baptism is ministered by the Aaronic Priesthood. The gift of the Holy Ghost, by the Melchizedek Priesthood. The passage from one to the other is described as a gate, a way, a path, a point of entry, a threshold. It marks entrance into the Kingdom, the sovereign jurisdiction of God, membership and full fellowship in the Church. This Aaronic > Melchizedek passage is recapitulated in our entering of the temple. Two interviews, one with the presiding priest (the Bishop, AP office, in contrast to baptism which can be administered by any priest), one with the presiding elder (the SP, MP office, in contrast with the GotHG which can be administered by any elder). One passes from what is preeminently the jurisdiction of the Aaronic Priesthood (the Church with all its outward administration, the protective hedge around the temple, guardian of access to it) into the realm of the Melchizedek Priesthood (the temple itself). The passage from AP to MP, first enacted in baptism and the GotHG, then in the dual interviews, is re-enacted inside the temple (where you are prepared for a final interview to enter the presence and sovereign protection of God).
  • The sealing ceremony is the only place in the temple where the Holy Ghost is mentioned (aside from proxy conferrals of the GotHG). Only baptism (the first saving ordinance) and the sealing (the culminating, exalting ordinance) are performed in the name of all three Godhead members.


  1. Here’s another: in the Book of Mormon, the only baptism mentioned before Alma starts baptizing people is Nephi’s vision of the future baptism of Jesus.

    [Just added this to the OP]

  2. Amazing: I was just thinking about the HG this morning when considering an Anglican prayer offered using the Trinitarian formula and wondered why He only appears twice in LDS ritual. Please work on that unified theory, Bradley. Mormon pneumatology is a right old mess.

  3. I’ve also thought that the problem lies with the conflation of the spirit of God (ruach elohim) with the Paraclete (the same spirit?) coupled with the drive to anthropomorphism in Mormonism. There are many holy spirits. (?)

  4. Right. Nephi’s vision makes more narrative sense as occurring in the guided company of a holy spirit, rather than The Holy Spirit.

  5. Yes.

  6. James perry says:

    Great article and some interesting points.

    Question: Mosiah 18:14 where did alma receive his authority to baptise. The spirit, his priesthood as a priest under king Noah or somewhere else?

    Alma baptising himself seems somewhat contradictory as you would need the priesthood to baptise (typically – although thinking of Joseph smith), however I was more interested in the authority aspect. I have not yet come across a clear definitive answer.

  7. Larry the Cable Guy says:

    I like to imagine Alma sneaking around the palace dungeons, putting a few guards in a sleeper hold, picking the lock to Abinadi’s cell and receiving the authority that way. Of course, that’s only found in the sealed plates .

  8. love it

  9. “In both cases, an existing relationship is ritually transformed into something more constant, enduring, deeper, more meaningful, and more fruitful.”

    I really like this comparison.

  10. I thank you for compiling these ideas. I had not considered the idea of Holy Ghosts. I thought of an exception in the endowment, but in light of what you have written, maybe it is not an exception! I’m thinking of when we are taught that the best of feelings allow the spirit of the Lord to be unrestrained.

  11. thanks for this wonderful list Bradley, never really noticed the HG thing before now.

  12. The JST strongly suggests that Jesus performed baptisms. Actually, it’s pretty inescapable from its text that he did.

    In the KJV, John 4:1-3 states: “When therefore the Lord knew how the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John, (Though Jesus himself baptized not, but his disciples,) He left Judæa, and departed again into Galilee.”

    In the JST, John 4:1-4 states: “When therefore the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John, They sought more diligently some means that they might put him to death; for many received John as a prophet, but they believed not on Jesus. Now the Lord knew this, though he himself baptized not so many as his disciples; For he suffered them for an example, preferring one another.”

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