John Turner plays a fair hand on this contentious topic, but ignores some fairly significant information in the process in claiming that
Baptism by proxy has its roots in early Mormonism, when adherents were troubled by the fact that their ancestors had died before the 1830 founding of what became the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Mormon prophet Joseph Smith taught that baptism was necessary for salvation and that only those baptisms performed by the true, restored church counted. That left the vast bulk of humanity on the outside looking in.
Smith wanted to offer a second chance to those who had died. Bringing to life an obscure New Testament passage about believers being "baptized for the dead," he announced that his followers could seek baptism on behalf of their departed kin.
Much of the commentary repeats the usual outrage, but one Ken Kuykendall adds the missing information in his comments. This should be more widely known, but sadly, will be ignored.
Baptism by proxy, your columnist asserts, has its roots in early Mormonism .
Please then explain these references to baptism by proxy, dating not only from the time of Paul in the first century A.D., but winding through at least 12 centuries of Christian history:
Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? Why are they baptized for their dead? 1 Corinthians 15:29 (New Revised Translation) This verse is part of Pauls argumentation against those who denied a future resurrection. The text seems to speak plainly enough about a practice within the [1st century Christian] Church of vicarious baptism for the dead. This is the view of most contemporary [scholars]. –Krister Stendahl, former dean of the Harvard Divinity School
In about 225 A.D., an early church leader taught that part of the calling of John the Baptist was not only to be born on earth before Christ, but also to die before Christ, so that he could be the forerunner of the Savior in the spirit world, where they were to preach the gospel as they had in this world. Hippolytus, On Christ and the Antichrist 5, 45, in Jacques-Paul Migne, Patrologiae Cursus Completus Series Graeca (Paris: 1857-66, 161 volumes) (10:764).
In about 240 A.D., the philosopher Celsus, mocking the doctrine of salvation for the dead, asked one of the early church leaders: Dont you people actually tell about [Christ], that when he had failed to convert the people of this earth he went down to the underworld to try to convert the people down there? The answer was a detailed, Yes. Origen, Against Celsus II, 43, in Jacques-Paul Migne, Patrologiae Cursus Completus Series Graeca (Paris: 1857-66, 161 volumes) (11:864-65).
From about 350 A.D.: It is necessary for them to come up through the water in order to be made alive; for otherwise none can enter the Kingdom of God therefore even the dead receive the seal. The seal is of course, the water [baptism]. Shepherd of Hermas, Similitudes III, 9, 16; following texts given in Max Dressel, Patrum Apostolicorum Opera (Leipzig, 1863), 548-49, 631.
In about 380 A.D., the Bishop of Milan wrote: Fearing that a dead person who had never been baptized would be resurrected badly or not at all, a living person would be baptized in the name of the dead one. Ambrose, Commentaria in Epistolam I ad Corinthios in Jacques-Paul Migne, Patrologiae Cursus Completus Series Latina (Paris: 1844-64, 221 volumes) (17:280).
In about 400 A.D., the Bishop of Salamis wrote: From Asia and Gaul has reached us the account of a certain practice, namely that when any die without baptism among them, they baptize others in their place and in their name, so that, rising in the resurrection, they will not have to pay the penalty of having failed to receive baptism. Epiphanius, Against Heresies I, 28, 6 in Jacques-Paul Migne, Patrologiae Cursus Completus Series Graeca (Paris: 1857-66, 161 volumes) (41:384).
In the 9th century, the Bishop of Halberstadt said this of the primitive church: If their loved ones happened to depart this life without the grace of baptism, some living person would be baptized in his name: and they believed that the baptism of the living would profit the dead. Haymon Halberstatensis, Expositio Sancti Pauli in Epistolam I ad Corinthios, in Jacques-Paul Migne, Patrologiae Cursus Completus Series Latina (Paris: 1844-64, 221 volumes) (117:598).
At the end of the 12th century, St. Bruno recalled that certain of the early Christians in New Testament times would baptize themselves in the place of a dead parent who had never heard the gospel, thereby securing the salvation of a father or a mother in the resurrection. Expositio in Epistolam I ad Corinthios xv 29, in Jacques-Paul Migne, Patrologiae Cursus Completus Series Latina (Paris: 1844-64, 221 volumes) (153:209).