Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Why I Believe: Evidence Forty-four: A Single Draft of the Book of Mormon.

101 Reasons Why I Believe Joseph Smith Was A Prophet

Evidence Forty-four: 
A Single Draft of the Book of Mormon.©
Revised 7, 12, 21 January, 6 February, 7 April 2016
Book of Mormon expert John (Jack) Welch has called attention to a very important piece of evidence which points to the involvement of divine inspiration in the translation of the Book of Mormon.(1) Most Latter-day Saints are familiar with the general mode of translation in which Joseph Smith dictated the text to his scribes, primarily Oliver Cowdery. Extensive study of the existing 28% of the original manuscript over that last three or four decades has produced many interesting insights. A major one is that the manuscript is relatively clean. Though it shows many corrections of spelling and grammar mistakes, scribal errors and lack of punctuation account for the bulk of corrections found on the document. There are very few alterations of the text, suggesting a remarkable thing–even a “marvelous work and wonder.” In a 1976 Ensign article about the translation, Elder Neal A. Maxwell spoke of several “marvels” of the translation process. His second one was that “rarely would Joseph go back, review, or revise what had already been done.” He continued,
“If one were manufacturing a text, he would constantly need to cross-check himself, to edit, and to revise for consistency. Had the Prophet dictated and revised extensively, there would be more evidence of it. But there was no need to revise divinely supplied text. Whatever the details of the translation process, we are discussing a process that was truly astonishing!(2)
What we know of the translation process affirms that it was one smooth dictation. Joseph’s wife Emma assisted him as a scribe between the time when Martin Harris was no longer permitted to work with Joseph because of the loss of the 116 pages, and the arrival of Oliver Cowdery in the spring of 1829, and she knew the process well. She was interviewed about the translation of the Book of Mormon several times and from her we learn two important facts relating to this issue of producing an unedited draft.  First, the translation moved forward smoothly.Though without much formal education Joseph helped his scribes with spelling. Emma reported:
... when he came to proper names he could not pronounce, or long words, he spelled them out, and while I was writing them if I made any mistake in spelling, he would stop me and correct my spelling, although it was impossible for him to see how I was writing them down at the time. Even the word Sarah he could not pronounce at first, but had to spell it, and I would pronounce it for him.(3)
Even more important to the point of this essay, she told her son Joseph Smith III, “When he stopped for any purpose at any time he would, when he commenced again, begin where he left off without any hesitation....” Later in the same interview when ask about the book’s authenticity she returned to this point. For Emma, the one person who knew Joseph the most intimately of all, this was especially impressive.  She said”
... your father would dictate to me hour after hour; and when returning after meals, or any interruption, he would at once begin where he had left off, without either seeing the manuscript or having any portion of it read to him. This was a usual thing for him to do. It would have been improbable that a learned man could do this; and, for one so ignorant and unlearned as he was, it was simply impossible.(4)
Second, he did not use outside resources while he dictated.  In the same interview Joseph III asked his mother, “Had he not a book or manuscript from which he read, or dictated to you?” She replied, “He had neither manuscript nor book to read from.” Joseph followed up, “Could he not have had, and you not know it?” “If he had anything of the kind,” she responded, “he could not have concealed it from me.”(5) Joseph III reaffirmed this point in an 1879 letter. He reported that the “larger part of this labor” of translating
was done in her presence, and where she could see and know what was being done; that during no part of it did Joseph Smith have any Mss. or Book of any kind from which to read, or dictate, except the metalic [sic] plates, which she knew he had.(6)
All evidence suggest that the entire Book of Mormon was dictated to scribes in somewhere between a 60 and 90 day period. Many people find the speed of the translation the big miracle here.  For me the biggest miracle of all is that he dictated one draft and he got it right and complete the first time through!

You do not have to take my word for it. You can see for yourself. The original manuscript is now being prepared for publication as part of the Joseph Smith Papers project and you can see two pages of it online at the project’s website. Moreover, since 2001, we have had available a meticulous typographical transcript prepared by the world’s leading expert on the text of the Book of Mormon, BYU professor Royal Skousen.(7) It also has photos of five or six full pages of the manuscript and numerous fragments. To me, the most obvious characteristic of those pages is how clean they are. Commentary about the pages at the project website says:“The text transcribed here, as with other extant portions of the original manuscript, exhibits very few signs of editing. It contains spelling errors characteristic of each particular scribe.”(8)

Welch’s point is, try dictating a formal letter to a secretary and get it the way you want it the first time through without having to go back and edit, rewrite, rearrange, add, delete, or polish drafts.  If it is difficult to get a single letter dictated correctly the first time through, what does one say about a book of over 530 pages dictated with some minor exceptions, with no crossing out and restarting, virtually no rewrites or revisions, no extensive alterations or modifications, no clipping and pasting portions of texts from one place to another as is common today with a modern computer, no adding, deleting or word substitution--no evidence whatsoever of polishing the text? Almost nothing– except fixing some spelling, capitalization, punctuation and grammar.What a miracle! I’m not kidding, nor am I over exaggerating. Joseph Smith dictated an entire book of over 500 pages in less than 90 days and got it correct the first and only time through. By itself this constitutes a miracle of monumental proportions if you know anything about translating, writing, and publishing.(9) I agree with Elder Maxwell, "astonishing" is the correct word!

To attribute this accomplishment to the mind and genius of Joseph Smith would place him among the most elite class of intellects and constitute one of the most astounding achievements in human history. People who attribute authorship of the Book of Mormon to Joseph Smith hardly understand what they are really saying. While I acknowledge he was one of the “master spirits” to come to this earth and one of its supreme spiritual intellects, it really takes a great deal more faith to believe that human genius is capable of producing the Book of Mormon under the conditions just described than it does to believe that God helped him. But there is more.

This is all the more miraculous and wondrous when we consider it in the context of several other matters. First, the convoluted sequence of translation. Evidence shows that after the loss of the 116 pages, rather than start anew with the “Small Plates of Nephi” which contain 1 and 2 Nephi, and which are the beginning of the present book, what Joseph and Oliver did was continue to translate the “Large Plates of Nephi.” This  meant they did Mosiah, Alma, and Helaman, through to the end of the book, and then they worked on the Small Plates last. Imagine under these circumstances, as an example, the challenge of not making a blunder in the complex timeline found in the Book of Mormon with several major groups of people migrating to the Americas from the Old World and with several significant and complex flashbacks, but dictate it correctly in the first and only draft, all without notes, without reworking it, without polishing it! Marylynne  Linford, author of a recent book about the vocabulary in the Book of Mormon said “This is a stunning achievement because the history, logic, doctrine, and organization are in order and build incrementally, chapter by chapter, from page 1 to page 531.”(10)

Second, as we have already alluded to, consider the complexity of the book as a whole. In this respect Welch observes, “Considering the Book of Mormon’s theological depth, historical complexity, consistency, clarity, artistry, accuracy, and profundity, the Prophet Joseph’s translation is a phenomenal achievement–even a miraculous feat.”(11) It is even more so in light of the evidence suggesting it was accomplished in one dictation. Marylynne Linford said  this about the book’ complexity: “...the Book of Mormon is not arranged chronologically. There are flashbacks in Mosiah and Words of Mormon; Ether is way out of order. And there is no uniformity in the length of the books. Alma is long, and others, such as Jarom and Words of Mormon, are only a couple of pages.  The historical time period of some books is a few decades, while others like Omni and 4 Nephi cover centuries.  Ether spans over a thousand years.  To add to this maze are 202 people and 118 places that weave in and out through verses and time lines."(12) It was Hugh Nibley’s testimony that, “For all its simple and straight-forward narrative style, this history is packed as few others with a staggering wealth of detail that completely escapes the casual reader. The whole Book of Mormon is a condensation, and a masterly one; it will take years simply to unravel the thousands of cunning inferences and implications that are wound around its most matter-of-fact statements. Only laziness and vanity lead the student to the early conviction that he has the final answers on what the Book of Mormon contains.”(13)  Making a similar point, Noel B. Reynolds observed, "Many of these relationships have taken scholars longer to sort out than it took Joseph Smith to translate the entire book."(14)

Third, consider another important insight from Jack Welch. “Even more remarkable are the extensive, intricate consistencies within the Book of Mormon. Passages tie together precisely and accurately though separated from each other by hundreds of pages of text and dictated weeks apart.” Jeffery R. Holland wrote, “In spite of the fact that it is written by a series of prophets who had different styles and different experiences, in spite of the fact that it has some unabridged materials mixed with others that have been greatly condensed, in spite of the fact that it has unique and irregular chronological sequences, it is a classic book—Aristotle’s kind of book: unified, whole, verses fitting with verses, chapters fitting with chapters, books fitting with books. It has these ideal qualities because it is the clear, compelling word of God, revealed through his chosen prophets.”(15) There are a number of remarkable examples in the story line, in prophecy and its subsequent fulfillment, or in references by one author relative to the writings, teachings, doctrines and activities of another which demonstrate this internal consistency.

Welch cites four striking examples. I have selected one to conclude this brief discussion of the amazing phenomenon of an entire book published from the manuscript of a onetime, unrevised dictation.
Early in the Book of Mormon history, King Benjamin set forth a five-part legal series prohibiting (1) murder, (2) plunder, (3) theft, (4) adultery, and (5) any manner of wickedness. This five-part list, which first appears in Mosiah 2:13, uniformly reappears seven other times in the Book of Mormon (see Mosiah 29:36; Al 23:3; 30:10; Helaman 3:14; 6:23; 7:21; and Ether 8:16). Apparently the Nephites viewed Benjamin’s set of laws as setting a formulaic precedent.(15)
How could Joseph keep all the various threads of history, religion and doctrine, politics and government, culture and society, economics, warfare, and family history, to name some of the more prominent themes in the book, in his mind? How could he possibly write a single draft without rewriting a sentence, substituting a word or phrase, revising a paragraph, rearranging the structure of a chapter? It is a mind boggling achievement when considered in its true light.(17) For me genius is not a credible explanation. For me the miracle can only be explained in one way; he translated an ancient religious record by the “gift and power of God.”

In one clean unrevised inspired draft!

Thank God for Joseph Smith!

Let’s think together again, soon.


1.  John W. Welch, ed., Reexploring the Book of Mormon: The F.A.R.M.S. Updates (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1992), pp. 21-23.

2.  Neal A. Maxwell, “‘By the Gift and Power of God,’” Ensign (January 1997): 39, 40.  I read this article twice and didn’t recognize the importance of what Elder Maxwell was saying.  It was not until I had written the first two drafts of this essay that I read his talk again.  It was so much more impressive to me now that I was consciously attending to the idea that I decided to make a third revision and include his statements.  In addition, the Printer's Manuscript which Oliver Cowdery produced by carefully copying the original, "shows no sign of any conscious editing on Oliver Cowdery's part." Welch, Reexploring the Book of Mormon, p. 11.

Moreover, in April 2016, I had occasion to read another of Elder Maxwell's talks about the Book of Mormon and was delighted to discover the following two paragraphs:
We will now show you an example, or a picture of Oliver Cowdery’s handwriting.  This happens to be a photo of the original manuscript, the end of 1 Nephi 4 and the beginning of 1 Nephi 5.  You will notice one interesting thing, there is no punctuation; there are no paragraphs; no editing or revising.  No wonder when they took it to the Grandin press that Mr. Gilbert decided he’d better put some punctuation in the Book of Mormon, which he did—and this is why we had to revise later some of that punctuation

Even so, the most impressive thing is not the rapid rate of Joseph’s translation, it is the marvelous flow. When I write, uninspired as my writings may be, I move things all over.  I do drafts, canceling this out, moving that from here to there, etc.  Such revising is not in the original manuscript. It simply flows under the gift and power of God.

Neal A. Maxwell, untitled address to the Seminar for New Mission Presidents, 21 June 1996, p. 3, copy in my possession, emphasis added.

3.  Edmund C. Briggs, “A Visit to Nauvoo in 1856,” Journal of History 9 (October 1916): 454, reproduced in, Opening the Heavens: Accounts of Divine Manifestations, 1820-1844, edited by John W. Welch with Erick B. Carlson, (Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press, 2005), p. 129.

4.  This interview was published twice: “Joseph Smith III, “Last Testimony of Sister Emma,” Saints Herald 26 (1 October 1879): 289-90; and Joseph Smith III, “Last Testimony of Sister Emma,” Saints’ Advocate 2 (October 1879): 50-52.  My quote comes from a reproduction in Welch, Opening the Heavens, pp. 130-131.

5.  Welch, Opening the Heavens, p. 130.

6.  Joseph Smith III to James T. Cobb, 14 February 1879, Community of Christ Library-Archives, reproduced in Welch, Opening the Heavens, pp. 131-132.

7.  Royal Skousen, ed., The Original Manuscript of the Book of Mormon: Typographical Facsimile of the Extant Text (Provo, UT: FARMS, 2001).  I own a copy of this publication and the following statements come from an analysis of it sitting in front of me at the moment.   Photo facsimiles are found on pp. 39-54.  Note particularly the clarity and cleanness of the one on page 45.  The typescript facsimile (line-for-line transcription and format), shows that the vast majority of corrections are spelling and grammar.  The text itself shows almost no other signs of editing–few scratch outs, no rewrites, revisions, or polishing.  Such deletions and overwriting as do occur in the text are discussed on pages 21-22, and 28 of the Introduction.

8. http://josephsmithpapers.org/paperSummary/book-of-mormon-manuscript-excerpt-circa-June-1829-1-nephi-22b 318ap=1&highlight=Original%20manuscript%20of%20the%20book%20of%20mormon#!/paperSummary/book-of-mormon-manuscript-excerpt-circa-june-1829-1-nephi-22b-318a&p=1   Accessed 29 December 2015.

9.  I just read an interview with David Mcullough the famous historian.  He said it took him six years to research and write his book on John Adams, but the problem is that in that period of time he changed, his family changed, and he knew more about Adams at the end than he did at the first.  The interviewer asked him what he did with the earlier chapters.  McCullough replied, “The voice has to stay the same. So you go back and work on them, in a way, as a painter will work all over the whole canvas. I work on the front and the back and the middle all at once.” [See: http://www.neh.gov/about/awards/jefferson-lecture/david-mccullough-interview] This is somewhat typical of many writers, constantly rewriting, revising, polishing.

10.  Marilynne Todd Linford, The Book of Mormon is True: Evidences and Insights to Strengthen Your Testimony (American Fork, UT: Covenant Communications, 2015), p. 26.

11.  John W. Welch, Reexploring the Book of Mormon: The F.A.R.M.S. Updates (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1992), p. 4.

12.  Marilynne Todd Linford, The Book of Mormon is True: Evidences and Insights to Strengthen Your Testimony (American Fork, UT: Covenant Communications, 2015), p. 27.

13.  Hugh Nibley, Lehi in the Desert & The World of the Jaredites (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1952), pp. 238-39.  

14. Noel B. Reynolds, “By Objective Measures: Old Wine into Old Bottles,” in Echoes and Evidences of the Book of Mormon, edited by Donald W. Parry, Daniel C. Peterson, and John W. Welch.  Provo, UT: FARMS, 2002, p. 148.  This was part of a larger statement making similar points to those cited above.  Reynolds wrote, "One of the strongest arguments for the antiquity of the Book of Mormon is the amazing depth of complexity addressed in a consistent manner throughout the book.  This argument, first developed and perfected by Hugh Nibley, points to Joseph Smith’s lack of education and his dictation of the Book of Mormon line by line without notes and without reviewing what was said minutes, hours, days, or even months earlier.  Yet despite these circumstances, a large number of complex relationships are developed in the book and consistently maintained from beginning to end.  Many of these relationships have taken scholars longer to sort out than it took Joseph Smith to translate the entire book."

15.  Jeffery R. Holland, “Daddy, Donna, and Nephi,” Ensign 6 (September 1976): 7-8. 

16.  John W. Welch, Reexploring the Book of Mormon: The F.A.R.M.S. Updates (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1992), p. 23, emphasis added.

17.  On Thursday, 21 January 2016, I received in the mail a used book about the Book of Mormon I ordered over the Internet.  I was delighted to discover in the final chapter, “A Tribute to Joseph Smith, the Translator,” the following assessment of his work in dictating the original manuscript compared to their writing of a commentary on 1 Nephi 1-18. It expresses an opinion similar to my own expressed above.
Joseph Smith translated the entire Book of Mormon in about sixty-three days, or just under eight and a half pages per day.  In other words, all of the Book of First Nephi would have been translated in about a week.  
By contrast we have been researching this material for six years and writing for four.   We have made numerous field trips each year to examine the terrain and the lands over which Joseph proposed the family traveled.  Between us we have covered some fifty thousand miles of desert.  Each chapter has been written and rewritten, researched for accuracy, proofread and submitted for criticism, then rewritten again.  We have had access to hundreds of works, many of which we cite in this book.  Yet our work is only a commentary on Joseph’s original, which he wrote, with not time or outside research, in his “spare time” in little over a week.  
Each original draft of a chapter of this book had hundreds of errors, even with the help of modern word processing programs, and we spent much of our time proofreading each others’s work for errors.  We have invariably returned chapters with numerous crossed out or eliminated passages on every page.  There has not been a time when we have proofread a chapter, when we have not found errors, no matter how meticulous we were in its preparation.  By contrast, Joseph Smith made amazingly few changes in the Book of Mormon.  About a quarter of the original manuscript is held by the Church of Jesus Christ of latter-day [sic] Saints and the pages hold few crossed out passages.  The vast majority of the changes that were made when the book went to publication were spelling, capitalization, punctuation, and grammar.   [George Potter and Richard Wellington, Lehi in the Wilderness: 81 New Documented Evidences that the Book of Mormon is a True History (Springville, UT: Cedar Fort, 2003), p. 170.]
After reading of their diligence and hard work in writing this book, I cannot resist calling attention to an error in the name of the Church in the last paragraph.  The compound word Latter-day is incorrectly written latter-day!  How fitting a contribution to this particular essay on evidence for the divine aid given to Joseph Smith!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Why I Believe: Evidence Forty-three: “Zingers” in the Book of Mormon, Part 1.

101 Reasons Why I Believe Joseph Smith Was A Prophet

Evidence Forty-three:
“Zingers” in the Book of Mormon, Part 1© 

To this point, I have not said a great deal about the Book of Mormon and the flood of evidences great and small which it provides to show that the Prophet Joseph Smith translated an authentic ancient document “by the gift and power of God.” But, since it is the subject of study in Gospel Doctrine class in Sunday School in 2016, I figured it would be a good opportunity to share some of the things found in the Book of Mormon which are “evidence” to me of Joseph’s divine calling and that the Book of Mormon is divinely inspired scripture.

Many of the items I will share under this theme are seemingly small, even insignificant things that are often overlooked in reading the book. However with the benefit of modern scholarship, many of what I have come to call “zingers” jump off of the page and show themselves to be both interesting and which add to the evidentiary case I am building and which help explain why I believe Joseph Smith was a prophet. And while many of these things have been brought to light, I am convinced that close reading, creative thinking, and dedicated research will bring yet more to light. Cumulatively, and they are certainly in the hundreds and maybe even in the thousands by now, they constitute a powerful collection of witnesses. I begin with a simple detail tucked into a description of the building activities of an apostate king sometime around 150 B.C.

A 1990 study by Alan R. Millard “documents archaeological evidence for the early use of iron to decorate beds (see Deuteronomy 3:11) and thrones, as well as bracelets and jewelry, weapons and royal swords” in ancient Israel.(1) “Although a person today would not normally think of using iron as a precious decoration, we can now see that this was actually done in antiquity.” Iron is grouped with other precious things because during this period it was hard to obtain, being manufactured by a difficult technique. The same was very likely true in the New World at the time of the Book of Mormon. John Welch tells us that “all New World references to iron in the book [of Mormon] mention it together with gold and silver and other precious things (see 2 Nephi 5:15; Jarom 1:8; Ether 10:23).” Welch also speculates, “Perhaps this metal was especially prized among the Nephites due to the great symbolic and spiritual value of the “rod of iron” in Lehi’s vision in 1 Nephi 8.”(2)

Therefore, it is with significant interest that we note a detail in the 11th chapter of Mosiah that might otherwise be overlooked, or which may become the object of criticism by Book of Mormon critics. Verse 8 describes how King Noah “built many elegant and spacious buildings; and he ornamented them with fine work of wood, and all manner of precious things, of gold, and of silver, and of iron, and of brass, and of ziff, and of copper....”  Zing!

As I sit in my swivel-chair at my desk, I lean back and ask myself, “If Joseph Smith were making up the Book of Mormon to deceive the religious world, why in that world would he ever think of describing 150 B.C. buildings as being decorated with iron?” I don’t have a good answer for that question. Before the Millard article, however, critics may have answered it by saying, “Well, it is in the same category as the horse in the New World, he just missed it that’s all.”  Hugh Nibley referred to such things as “Howlers” for the critics. Today, we know that in both cases Joseph Smith did not miss it!  For the believers they simply bring a rye smile to the lips and a twinkle to the eye.

Thank God for Joseph Smith!

Let’s think together again, soon.


*  The idea of calling these evidences "zingers" is not original with me.  I got it from my friend John Fowles, who I think, may have taken it from Reed Durham.

1.  Alan R. Millard, “King Og’s Iron Bed–Fact or Fancy?”  Bible Review 6 (April 1990): 16-20.

2.  John W. Welch, “Decorative Iron in Early Israel,” in Reexploring the Book of Mormon: The F.A.R.M.S. Updates (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1992), pp. 133-34. 

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Why I Believe: Evidence Forty-two: Joseph Smith, 1 Corinthians 15:29 and Baptism for the Dead

101 Reasons Why I Believe Joseph Smith Was A Prophet

Evidence Forty-two:
Joseph Smith, 1 Corinthians 15:29 and Baptism for the Dead© 
(With a bibliography on baptism for the dead.)

This article is not intended to be a review of all the evidence ancient and modern to establish the Church’s position on the doctrine of baptism for the dead found in 1 Corinthians 15:29. There are numerous studies which have already done that.(1) My primary purpose is to call attention to one more example of how the revelations given to Joseph Smith answer knotty religious questions. I have argued, and will continue to maintain that one great distinctive feature of his mission as founding Prophet of the Restoration was to be the Lord’s conduit in answering important religious questions.

Lack of Consensus in Christian Interpretations

Almost since Paul wrote First Corinthians there has been dispute about chapter 15, verse 29, which reads:
29) Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all?  Why are they then baptized for the dead?
When I say that almost from the time Paul wrote that sentence it has been disputed, consider that back in 1887, Marvin Vincent, author of the multi-volume work Word Studies in the New Testament noted that “some thirty different explanations are given,” and concluded “it is best to admit frankly that we lack the facts for a decisive interpretation.”(2) A century later things had not changed except now we know there were even more interpretations than Vincent knew of. Gordon Fee, author of a commentary on First Corinthians, mentions forty different interpretations,(3) and in 1975 Hans Conzelmann, knew of two hundred.(4) Gene Brooks who did a study of the passage in 2005, noted that in recent years “scholars frustrated by a lack of consensus, have come to an exegetical impasse on the verse. Fresh approaches, therefore, have slowed to a trickle, and an uncomfortable agnosticism has settled over the verse in question.”(5) He further cites Fee and Richard DeMaris to the effect that there is “no satisfactory explanation of the practice,” and “No one knows in fact what was going on.” According to Brooks, Fee concludes, “The best one can do in terms of particulars is point out what appear to be the more viable options, but finally admit to ignorance.”(6)

There may be, however, one consensus among many scholars. That is, that though they do not know what 1 Cor. 15:29 means, many are certain the Mormons have it wrong. Again from Brooks: “Marcionites and Mormons have had no trouble approaching the verse for heretical purposes, but evangelical scholars have remained stumped over this verse dubbed one of the most difficult in the New Testament.”(7) That was from his introduction, but he returns to the subject later.  He cites the eminent and distinguished Theological Dictionary of the New Testament by Gerhard Frederich who says in reference to this verse, “None of the attempts to escape the theory of vicarious baptism in primitive Christianity seems to be wholly successful.” Brooks then observes, “That concession should make the Mormons happy.”(8) This is followed by a page of somewhat convoluted history of LDS baptism for the dead, with this conclusion:
Soon afterward Smith was baptized for his father who had just died.  (Alvin had already entered paradise through a legal loophole). Since that time the Mormon doctrine of baptism for the dead has baptized millions into the celestial kingdom. 
Back to reality, ....(9)
Brooks can hardly contain his contempt for the heretical Mormon practice. In his conclusions he comments, “This one verse has caused massive heretical misapplication on the basis of misinterpretation and / or mistranslation.”(10) In the introduction he lumps Mormons in with the Marcionites as heretics, but interestingly the paper never explains why the position of either or both is heretical. Nevertheless, given his evangelical background, it is not difficult to discern. Brooks’ biggest concern with the idea of vicarious baptism is the baptism itself. In explaining one interpretation of verse 29 he writes, “The difficulty with this rendering is a hint at endorsement of baptismal regeneration. The strength of this suggestion is that it takes into context chapter fifteen’s foregoing discussion on resurrection and and removes a reading encouraging heretical, esoteric vicarious baptism.”(10) And later in the paper, speaking of other interpretations he says, “Paul taught that faith alone is the condition for salvation, not any work, including baptism.”(11)

Though Brooks is aware that there are perhaps more than 200 differing interpretations of 1 Cor. 15:29, he is not reticent to add three more into the mix. The first proposed a new translation based on a study of Paul’s Greek usage; the second suggests that since there was no punctuation in the original Greek, that the verse may be punctuated differently giving it an entirely different meaning.(12) The third one proposes there may be a problem with the transmission and therefore of the translation of the verse. He notes that there is some parallel phrasing in the verse which “could be a set up for a scribal error,” most likely that of homoeoteleuton, “the omission of an intervening passage because the copyist’s eye had skipped from one ending to a second similar ending.”(13)

This review of the Brooks paper demonstrates once again the difficulty scholars have had in understanding 1 Cor. 15:29. It is a fairly typical example showing that interpretation is often based on one's theological bias to begin with. Brooks cannot consider the Mormon solution because he has accepted the Reformation doctrine of “grace alone” to the extent that even baptism is considered a “work” which is a priori heretical.

Joseph Smith and Salvation for the Dead

This brings me back briefly to Joseph Smith. Unlike Mr. Brooks who feels pretty certain he knows that the Mormon interpretation of 1 Cor. 15:29 grew out of Joseph’s concern for the premature death of his brother Alvin, the fact is, we do not know the role that either Alvin’s death or 1 Cor. 15:29 played in the origin of the Mormon practice of baptism for the dead. Joseph Smith did not tell us, so these are connections which historians make to provide some possibilities, especially if they do not believe in revelation, or in the case of some Latter-day Saint observers, to provide some possible background to the revelation. As helpful as this may be, we cannot be dogmatic about the origin of the practice. As I have mentioned elsewhere in this blog, Orson Pratt observed that the doctrines and practices of Mormonism did not come from the Bible, they came by revelation to Joseph Smith.(14) It is true that something like 1 Cor. 15:29 may have stimulated Joseph’s interest and ultimately been a catalyst for a revelation,(15) but I believe it is an error to attribute the Mormon practice of baptism for the dead to Joseph’s creative understanding and use of that verse based on his own genius.  

The doctrine of salvation for the dead is distinctive in Christianity. For me it is, as it was with Joseph Smith, one of the most glorious doctrines we have.(16)  It rounds out the theology of the Atonement and indeed, it completes the plan of salvation. It answers the thorny question, “What about those who die without knowing of Christ?” (which parenthetically, is a companion conundrum for Christians). It shows that Jesus Christ is the Savior of all of God’s children even those who died before he was on the earth or who have since passed into the spirit world without hearing or knowing of his redemptive work. It shows in the most powerful way the love, mercy, compassion, benevolence, and justice of our Heavenly Father. The LDS doctrine of salvation of the dead fits intricately, yet seamlessly, into the plan of salvation and gives the Saints intellectual and spiritual satisfaction.(17)  One of my favorite LDS authors, B. H. Roberts, added another interesting insight. He wrote that the doctrine of salvation of the dead
...vindicates the wisdom of Deity; for it must be a very imperfect wisdom that would construct a plan for the redemption of mankind so imperfect in its operations, so limited in its application as to miss the great majority of mankind, and leave them without redemption throughout the countless ages of eternity. But when one is given to understand [this doctrine] ... the wisdom, mercy, justice and love of God all stand out in bold relief; and man's heart is warmed with increased admiration and devotion to him; for it teaches him that he worships not a tyrant who delights in the miseries and damnation of his children, but One whose great pleasure and design it is to bring to pass the eternal happiness of man."(18)
I praise God for this wonderful evidence of the divine prophetic calling of Joseph Smith.

Thank God for him!

Let’s think together again, soon.


1.  See particularly the studies of Hugh Nibley, John Tvedtnes, and David Paulsen and Brock Mason, in the bibliography below.

2.  Marvin R. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament, Volume III: The Epistles of Paul, (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1977) 3:276, at 1 Cor. 15:29. 

3.  Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Commentary of the New Testament, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), 762.

4.  Hans Conzelman, I Corinthians, Hermeneia (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1975), p. 276 n., 120.  I hasten to add that on this and the previous footnote I have relied on a recent publication and have not yet been able to check the Fee and Conzelman references myself. See, Gene Brooks, “‘Baptized for the Dead’: A Study of 1 Cor. 15:29,” p. 2. Paper submitted for a class at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, 30 November 2005.  Accessed through the Academia website at:
https://www.academia.edu/4022133/Baptized_for_the_Dead_An_exegetical_study_of_1_Cor._15_29-30 4 December 2015. Another online versions is here: http://www.oocities.org/genebrooks/ baptized-for-the-dead.html

5.  Brooks, p. 2.

6.  Brooks, pp. 2-3, citing Fee, op. cit., 763, and “Richard E. DeMaris, “Corinthian Religion and Baptism for the Dead (1 Corinthians 15:29): Insights from Archaeology and Anthropology.”  Journal of Biblical Literature, 114, no. 4 (Winter 1995): 661.

7.  Brooks, p. 2, emphasis added.

8.  Ibid., 16.

9.  Ibid.  The “reality” is that Brooks himself has only a superficial knowledge and understanding of the LDS concept of baptism for the dead, indeed, of LDS theology itself. Each of the three sentences in the first paragraph contain serious historical and doctrinal errors, none of which come from the Turley article. Indeed, Turley provides the necessary data to correct the mistakes in the first two, and if Brooks would have read the article carefully, he would not have made the final statement as well. It is sloppy work on his part.  

First, Joseph Smith was not baptized for his father. Joseph Smith, Sr., was a member of the Church and did not need baptism for the dead. The Turley article makes no mention of such a thing, but does say that a month after Joseph first preached the doctrine of baptism for the dead he was called to the bedside of his aging father. Joseph told his father of the privilege the Saints were given to be baptized on behalf of the dead and his father requested that Joseph be baptized for Alvin. (p. 36) This answers the parenthetical sentence which somehow misconstrued the doctrine, calling it a loophole. Brooks is probably referring to a vision Joseph received 21 January 1836 where he saw Alvin in the Celestial Kingdom. But Brooks apparently missed this statement by Turley later in the paper: “Other events would have to transpire before Alvin would make it to the celestial kingdom. After all, the requirement of baptism for those who had reached the age of accountability had not been abrogated, and Alvin had not been baptized. How could he be?  he answer would come later.”  (p. 34, emphasis mine.) Moreover in footnote 81 Turley wrote, “Nauvoo baptismal records show that Alvin was baptized at the instance of his brother Hyrum. Nauvoo Temple, Baptisms for the Dead 1840-45, Book A, 145, 149, Church Archives.”  Finally, there is no teaching in the Church which says that people who are baptized for the dead are “baptized ... into the celestial kingdom.” They have the opportunity to be there, but they first have to accept the vicarious work done for them, then progress from there–all of this in the spirit world. Brooks obviously did not read the Turley article carefully, or let his contempt for Mormonism cloud his vision. In either case, so much for his “reality.”

10. Ibid., 20.

11.  Ibid, p. 18, emphasis added.

12.  Ibid, p. 14. However, this is not a new idea proposed by Brooks; it is only one which he thinks may have potential.  See p. 20.

13.  Ibid.  The discussion is on pages 13-14, the comment about homoeoteleuton is on page 13.

14.  Orson Pratt, Conference Report, April 1880, p. 26, where he gives several examples to make his point.

15.  I believe this is precisely why the Lord assigned Joseph Smith to go through the Bible and revise it. Not so much perhaps, to produce a new and corrected text, but to stimulate Joseph’s thinking and questioning and take those questions to the Lord for clarification, understanding, and knowledge. He is explicitly told in D&C 42:56 to ask questions as he pursues the project and every evidence is that he did just that. The result was more than the JST. It included numerous revelations in the D&C. Thus, the JST project not only educated a prophet, but through the things he received from the Lord during the study, to educate the whole Church theologically. It along with the Book of Mormon and the records of Abraham bring to the Church the “fulness” of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

16.  “Glorious” was Joseph’s word. “This doctrine appears glorious,” and “This glorious truth....” See Joseph Fielding Smith, comp., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1967), p. 192, 3 October 1841. 

17.  Ibid., where he says, “This glorious truth is well calculated to enlarge the understanding, and to sustain the soul under troubles, difficulties and distresses.”

18.  B. H. Roberts, The Gospel, an Exposition of its First Principles and Man's Relationship to Deity, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1965), pp. 236-37.

Bibliography on Baptism for the Dead

Adams, George J.  Lecture on the Doctrine of Baptism for the Dead; and Preaching to Spirits in Prison.  New York: C. A Calhoun, 1844.

Anderson, Richard L. “Appendix C: Baptism for the Dead.”  In Understanding Paul, 403-15.  Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1983.

Baugh, Alexander L.  “‘For Their Salvation is Necessary and Essential to Our Salvation:’ Joseph Smith and the Practice of Baptism and Confirmation for the Dead.”  In An Eye of Faith: Essays in Honor of Richard O. Cowan, edited by Kenneth L. Alford and Richard E. Bennett, 113-37.  Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, 2015.

Baugh, Alexander L.  “‘For this Ordinance Belongeth to My House’: The Practice of Baptism for the Dead Outside the Nauvoo Temple.” Mormon Historical Studies 3 (Spring 2002):47-58.

Baugh, Alexander L.  “The Practice of Baptism for the Dead Outside of Temples.” Religious Studies Center Newsletter 13 (September 1998): 3–6.

Bishop, M. Guy.  “‘What Has Become of Our Fathers?’ Baptism for the Dead at Nauvoo.” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 23 (Summer 1990): 85-97.

Christensen, Kendel J., Roger D. Cook, and David L. Paulsen.  “The Harrowing of Hell: Salvation for the Dead in Early Christianity.”  Journal of the Book of Mormon and other Restoration Scripture 19, no. 1 (2010): 56-77.

Crowley, Ariel L.  “The Epistle of Kallikrates and Baptism for the Dead.”  Improvement Era 48 (July 1945): 386, 430.

DeMaris, Richard E.  “Corinthian Religion and Baptism for the Dead (1 Corinthians 15:29): Insights from Archaeology and Anthropology.”  Journal of Biblical Literature 114  (Winter 1995): 661-82.

Engelder, Th.  “An Exegetical Curiosity.”  Concordia Theological Monthly, 3, no. 8 (August 1932): 622-624.

Foschini, Bernard M. “‘Those Who Are Baptized for the Dead,’ 1 Cor. 15:29.  An Exegetical and Historical Dissertation.” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 13 (1951): 46-78, 172-98, 276-83.

Foschini, Bernard M.  “Those Who are Baptized for the Dead” 1 Cor. 15.29: An Exegetical Historical Dissertation.  Worcester, MA: Heffernan Press, 1951.

Hield, Charles R., and Russell F. Ralston.  Baptism for the Dead.  Independence, MO: Herald Publishing House, 1960.

Howard, J. K.  “Baptism for the Dead: A Study of 1 Corinthians 15:29.”  The Evangelical Quarterly 37 (July-September,1965): 137-41.

Hull, Michael F.  Baptism on Account of the Dead (1 Cor 15:29): An Act of Faith in the Resurrection. Leiden: Brill, 2005.

“Introduction of Baptism for the Dead.”  Improvement Era 42 (April 1939): 251.

Jensen, Nephi.  “Baptism for the Dead.”  Utah Genealogical and Historical Magazine 15 (July 1924): 120-23.

Launius, Roger D.  “An Ambivalent Rejection: Baptism for the Dead and the Reorganized Church Experience.” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 23 (Summer 1990): 61-84.  

Mason, Brock M., and David L. Paulsen.  “Baptism for the Dead in Early Christianity.” Journal of the Book of Mormon and Other Restoration Scripture 19, no. 2 (2010): 22-49.

Millet, Robert L.  “I Have a Question.” [Was baptism for the dead a non-Christian practice in New Testament times (see 1 Cor 15:29), or was it a practice of the Church of Jesus Christ, as it is today?] Ensign 17 (August 1978): 19-21.

Moseley, A. G.  “Baptized for the Dead.”  Review and Expositor 49 (January 1952): 57-61.

Nibley, Hugh W.  “Baptism for the Dead in Ancient Times.”  Parts 1-5  Improvement Era 51 (December 1948:) 786-88, 836-38; 52 (January 1949): 24-26, 60; (February 1949): 90-91, 109-110, 112; (March 1949): 146-48, 180-83; (April 1949): 212-14.  Also in Mormonism and Early Christianity, 100-67.  The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley 4.  Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1987.

Orme, Lafayette.   “Baptism for the Dead.”  Millennial Star 70 (April 9, 1908): 225-29.

Paulsen, David L., and Brock M. Mason.  “Baptism for the Dead in Early Christianity.”  Journal of Book of Mormon and Other Restoration Scriptures 19, no. 2 (2010): 22-49.

Penrose, Charles W.  “Baptism for the Dead.” Millennial Star 100 (February 3, 1938): 74-76.
Petersen, Mark E.  “Early Christian Historians Tell of Baptism for the Dead.” Utah Genealogical and Historical Magazine 24 (April 1933): 63-64.

Reaume, John D.  “Another Look at 1 Corinthians 15:29, ‘Baptized for the Dead.’” Bibliotheca Sacra 152 (October-December 1995): 457-75.

Skinner, Andrew C.  “Baptism for he Dead.”  In Encyclopedia of Latter-day Saint History, edited by Arnold K. Garr, Donald Q. Cannon, and Richard O. Cowan, 76-77. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2000.

Smith, Joseph.  “Baptism for the Dead.”  Times and Seasons (Nauvoo, Illinois 3 (April 1842): 759-61.

Thompson, K. C.  “1 Corinthians 15, 29 and Baptism for the Dead.”  In Studia Evangelica: Vol. II: Papers Presented to the Second International Congress on New Testament Studies Held at Christ Church, Oxford, 1961, edited by Frank M. Cross, 647-59.  Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1964.

Tobler, Ryan G.  “‘Saviors on Mount Zion’” Mormon Sacramentalism, Mortality, and the Baptism for the Dead.” Journal of Mormon History 39, no. 4 (Fall 2013): 182-238.

Turley, Richard E., Jr.  “Latter-day Saint Doctrine of Baptism for the Dead.” The BYU Family Historian 1, no. 1 (2002): 23-39.  Available online at:

Tvedtnes, John A.  “Baptism for the Dead: The Coptic Rationale,” paper presented 5 June 1981 in Jerusalem, sponsored by the L.A. Mayer Memorial Museum of Islamic Art and the Israel Ministry of education and culture, later published in Special Papers of the Society for Early Historic Archaeology, No. 2 (September 1989).

Tvedtnes, John A.  “Baptism for the Dead in Early Christianity.”  In The Temple in Time and Eternity, edited by Donald W. Parry and Stephen D. Ricks, 55-78.  Provo, UT: FARMS, 1999.

Tvedtnes, John A.  ‘The Dead Shall Hear the Voice.’” FARMS Review of Books 10, no. 2 (1998):184-199.

Underwood, Grant.  “Baptism for the Dead: Comparing RLDS and LDS Perspectives.”  Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 23 (Summer,1990): 99-105.

White, Joel R.  “‘Baptized on Account of the Dead’: The Meaning of 1 Corinthians 15:29 in its Context.” Journal of Biblical Literature 116 (Autumn 1997): 487-99.