I have been reading Dan Vogel’s “Joseph Smith: The Making of a Prophet”, which is a skeptic’s look at Joseph Smith and the creation of the Book of Mormon. I have been impressed with how many new (to me) and interesting points Vogel is able to draw out of the Book of Mormon which I have read many times.
For example, how many times I have I read the following verses? Counting reading on my own, and in classes in seminary and church, maybe 30 or 40 times? And yet I never realized the implication these verses have on temple work for the dead.
Moroni 8:22-23 (my own emphasis added):
22. For behold that all little children are alive in Christ, and also all they that are without the law. For the power of redemption cometh on all them that have no law; wherefore, he that is not condemned, or he that is under no condemnation, cannot repent; and unto such baptism availeth nothing—
23. But it is mockery before God, denying the mercies of Christ, and the power of his Holy Spirit, and putting trust in dead works.
Not only does Mormon condemn baptism for little children, but he says it’s unnecessary for anyone “without the law.” As Vogel points out, this seems to be a contradiction with the idea that all people who lived without getting baptized without the proper authority must get baptized vicariously in a temple by someone still living. Baptisms for the dead also didn’t seem necessary for Joseph Smith’s brother Alvin to be in the Celestial Kingdom as seen in a vision recorded in D&C 137:5-7:
5. I saw Father Adam and Abraham; and my father and my mother; my brother Alvin, that has long since slept;
6. And marveled how it was that he had obtained an inheritance in that kingdom, seeing that he had departed this life before the Lord had set his hand to gather Israel the second time, and had not been baptized for the remission of sins.
7. Thus came the voice of the Lord unto me, saying: All who have died without a knowledge of this gospel, who would have received it if they had been permitted to tarry, shall be heirs of the celestial kingdom of God;
Joseph Smith had this vision in the Kirtland Temple in January, 1836. The doctrine of baptism for the dead wasn’t revealed until the 1840’s. The doctrine taught in Moroni 8:22-23 is consistent with D&C 137:5-7, but that was before Joseph Smith had thought of the innovation of baptisms for the dead. It seems like it makes missionary work unnecessary as well. If people can go to heaven because they lived without the law and they were good people anyway, wouldn’t they be better off to not be taught the law, against which they will then be fully judged?