Salvation For The Dead

A distinctive doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is that the dead as well as the living may receive the gospel of Jesus Christ. Every man, woman, and child who has ever lived or who ever will live on this earth will have full opportunity, if not in this life then in the next, to embrace or reject the gospel in its purity and fulness.

When this doctrine was first taught at Nauvoo, illinois, in 1842 (D&C 127;128), the Prophet Joseph Smith said it was the “burden of the scriptures” and that it exhibited “the greatness of divine compassion and benevolence in the extent of the plan of human salvation” (TPJS, p. 192). It is in harmony with the Jewish idea that the family is the instrument of holiness and redemption and that the dead may need Atonement. It is also a Christian concept in the writings of Paul and Peter (see Baptism for the Dead). “[It] justifies the ways of God to man, places the human family upon an equal footing, and harmonizes with every principle of righteousness, justice, and truth” (TPJS, p. 223).

The Prophet posed the dilemma resolved by the doctrine: “One dies and is buried having never heard the gospel of reconciliation; to the other the message of salvation is sent, he hears and embraces it and is made the heir of eternal life. Shall the one become the partaker of glory and the other be consigned to hopeless perdition?…Such an idea is worse than atheism” (TPJS, p. 192).

Five fundamental principles underlie LDS understanding of salvation for the dead:

1. Life is eternal. Birth does not begin life nor does death end it. In each stage of existence there are ever-higher levels of divine enlightenment and blessedness.

2. Repentance is possible in the next life as well as this one. “There is never a time when the spirit is too old to approach God. All are within the reach of pardoning mercy, who have not committed the unpardonable sin” (TPJS, p. 191).

3. The family bonds extend beyond death. The family bonds that are formed on this earth and consecrated to God by sacred covenants and ordinances are indissoluble and extend into the spirit world. “They without us cannot be made perfect-neither can we without our dead be made perfect” (D&C 128:15; Heb. 11:39-40).

4. Ordinances may be performed for the dead. Through the holy priesthood, held by the prophets in the Church, Jesus Christ has authorized mortals to receive ordinances “of salvation substitutional” [that is, by proxy] and become “instrumental in bringing multitudes of their kindred into the kingdom of God” (TPJS, p. 191).

5. Temple ordinances are not “mere signs.” They are channels of the Spirit of God that enable one to be born of God in the fullest sense and to receive all the covenants and blessings of Jesus Christ. The performing of earthly ordinances by proxy for those who have died is as efficacious and vitalizing as if the deceased person had done them. That person, in turn, is free to accept or reject the ordinances in the spirit world.

In harmony with these principles, Latter-day Saints identify their ancestors through family history research, build temples, and, in behalf of their progenitors, perform the ordinances that pertain to exaltation: baptism; confirmation; ordination to the priesthood; washing and anointing; Endowment; and sealing. Thus, “we redeem our dead, and connect ourselves with our fathers which are in heaven, and seal up our dead to come forth in the first resurrection…[we] seal those who dwell on earth to those who dwell in heaven” (TPJS, pp. 337-38). This is the chain that binds the hearts of fathers and mothers to their children and the hearts of the children to their parents. And this sealing work “fulfills the mission of Elijah” (TPJS, p, 330; see also Elijah, Spirit of).

When the Twelve Apostles chosen in Joseph Smith’s day were instructed to initiate these ordinances in Nauvoo in 1842, they soon recognized that it was the beginning of an immense work and that to administer all the ordinances of the gospel to the hosts of the dead was no easy task. They asked if there was some other way. The Prophet Joseph replied, “The laws of the Lord are immutable, we must act in perfect compliance with what is revealed to us. We need not expect to do this vast work for the dead in a short time. I expect it will take at least a thousand years” (Millennial Star 37:66). As of 1991 vicarious temple ordinances have been performed for more than 113 million persons. The Prophet Joseph said, “It is no more incredible that God should save the dead, than that he should raise the dead” (TPJS, p. 191).


Bennett, Richard E. “‘Line upon Line, Precept upon Precept’: Reflections on the 1877 Commencement of the Performance of Endowments and Sealings for the Dead.” BYU Studies 44:3 (2005):38-77.

Widstoe, John A. “Fundamentals of Temple Doctrine.” Utah Genealogical and Historical Magazine 13 (June 1922):129-35.

Pohlsander, Hans A. Review of Rescue for the Dead: The Posthumous Salvation of Non-Christians in Early Christianity, by Jeffrey A. Trumbower. BYU Studies 41:2 (2002):187-191.

Encyclopedia of Mormonism, “Salvation of the Dead”, Author: Fugal, Elma

Copyright © 1992 by Macmillan Publishing Company 

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