I Have a Question

Print Share

    Questions of general gospel interest answered for guidance, not as official statements of Church policy.

    If infants and little children pass from this life before being baptized, and if the only way to enter the celestial kingdom is through baptism, won’t they have to receive baptism at some future time?

    Leland H. Gentry, instructor, Salt Lake Institute of Religion, University of Utah. The Book of Mormon (Moro. 8:10–12) and Joseph Smith’s vision of the celestial kingdom (D&C 137) make it clear that the baptism in this life of infants and little children is not acceptable to the Lord. On the other hand, the scriptures say that unless a man is baptized he cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven (see John 3:5; 2 Ne. 31:5–13). Even Jesus, who was certainly innocent of sin, submitted to baptism “to fulfill all righteousness” (Matt. 3:13–17). Apparently, it is this paradox that is the source of your confusion.

    The confusion can be cleared up by referring to a few more scriptures. Baptism is an ordinance performed “for the remission of sins” (D&C 49:13). Properly performed, it offers the repentant sinner an opportunity to “put on Christ” (Gal. 3:27) and to walk forth in “newness of life” (Rom. 6:4). It manifests a voluntary acceptance of the atonement of Christ and a commitment to follow Jesus’ perfect example in all things (see 2 Ne. 31:10, 13, 16). Baptism also marks one’s formal entrance into the Church of Jesus Christ.

    Thus, baptism bears an important relationship to accountability. One is said to be accountable when he understands the rightness and wrongness of his actions. This is particularly important to the baptismal covenant. One must understand why he is making the covenant and with whom. When one arrives at the point of understanding, he is said to have arrived at the “years of accountability” (D&C 18:42). From this time forward he is responsible for all his deeds.

    For this reason, “No one can be received into the church of Christ [by baptism] unless he has arrived unto the years of accountability before God, and is capable of repentance” (D&C 20:71). This is precisely Mormon’s point in the Book of Mormon. It is “solemn mockery before God,” he says, to baptize little children because baptism is for those “who are accountable and capable of committing sin” (Moro. 8:9–10). The Lord has set eight years as the age that “children shall be baptized for the remission of their sins” (D&C 68:27). This is the age that children “begin to become accountable” before him (D&C 29:47).

    Now, what about the child who dies before reaching that age? Granted that he doesn’t need baptism for remission of sins, does he still need to be baptized for entrance into the celestial kingdom?

    The question probably arises because of the Church’s teaching that baptism is one of the essential ordinances in qualifying for the highest degree of glory. But “little children,” we are told, are “alive in Christ” (Moro. 8:12, 19; see Moses 6:54). The Savior’s atonement covers any transgression they may commit in their ignorance, and since they are not yet accountable, they cannot sin. For these reasons, according to the Prophet Joseph Smith they “are saved in the celestial kingdom of heaven” (D&C 137:10). As to whether such salvation is automatic without baptism, Elder Bruce R. McConkie of the Quorum of the Twelve has replied that “the answer is a thunderous yes, which echoes and re-echoes from one end of heaven to the other. Jesus taught it to his disciples. Mormon said it over and over again. Many of the prophets have spoken about it, and it is implicit in the whole plan of salvation. If it were not so the redemption would not be infinite in its application.” (Ensign, April 1977, p. 4.)

    Granted that little children are saved in the celestial kingdom, does that mean they will be exalted and have eternal life? And if so, do they need to comply at some point in their progression with such ordinances as baptism, bestowal of the Holy Ghost, the endowment and temple marriage? The first question was answered by the Prophet Joseph Smith, who reports that “children will be enthroned in the presence of God” and “will there enjoy the fullness of that light, glory and intelligence, which is prepared in the celestial kingdom.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1938, p. 200.)

    Regarding the second question, Nephi explained that the Savior’s baptism manifested his willingness to be obedient to the Father in all things (2 Ne. 31:7), set an example for us by pointing out “the narrowness of the gate” by which we enter in to the kingdom of God (2 Ne. 31:9), and gave Jesus the right to say to us, “Follow thou me” (2 Ne. 31:10). But precisely what the Lord will require in the form of ordinances, or other requirements, for spirits who died as infants or children on earth in order to receive exaltation has not been revealed. Certain it is that we do not currently endow children who die before accountability nor do we seal them to a spouse. But this does not mean that the blessings of these latter ordinances are unavailable to them. President Joseph Fielding Smith once said:

    “The Lord will grant unto these children the privilege of all the sealing blessings which pertain to exaltation.

    “We were all mature spirits before we were born, and the bodies of little children will grow after the resurrection to the full stature of the spirit, and all the blessings will be theirs through their obedience the same as if they had lived to maturity and received them on the earth …

    “The Lord is just and will not deprive any person of a blessing, simply because he dies before that blessing can be received. It would be manifestly unfair to deprive a little child of the privilege of receiving all the blessings of exaltation in the world to come simply because it died in infancy.” (Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols., Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954–56, 2:54.)

    I recently acquired a copy of a text called The Book of Jasher, which is claimed to be the book of missing scripture referred to in the Bible. Can you tell me if it is authentic?

    Edward J. Brandt, college curriculum writer, Church Educational System. In Joshua 10:13 and 2 Samuel 1:18 [Josh. 10:13; 2 Sam. 1:18] the ancient writers indicate that another account, perhaps more complete, of two events they had mentioned—Joshua commanding the sun and moon to stand still, and David’s instruction that the children of Judah should be taught the use of the bow—is to be found in a record called the “book of Jasher.” From very early times this lost book has been the object of much interest and speculation, and many have sought to find the missing work.

    Through the years a number of works bearing this same title have appeared, and each has aroused the speculation that perhaps the missing biblical work had been located. These are all spurious, however, since the real Book of Jasher is not known to have been found. Of the dozen or such books of Jasher, one has been widely circulated and utilized by members of the Church. Following is a brief genealogy of this particular work.

    In Hebrew the “book of Jasher” is called Sefer Hayashar, which means the “book of the upright one” or “the book of the righteous”; and in the vast body of Jewish literature are found a number of writings with that title. One of the oldest of these, written in Hebrew, was first published in Venice in 1625. (There is no known manuscript of this 1625 work in existence.) I know of thirty-two Hebrew editions of this same work that have been published since then, and I have personally examined copies of most of them. This particular book of Jasher has also been published in languages other than Hebrew (e.g., Yiddish, or Judaio German, 1674; Latin, 1732; English, 1840; French, 1858; and a second English translation, 1876).

    The first English edition of this book of Jasher was published (as noted above) in 1840 in New York by Mordecai Manuel Noah, a prominent Jewish writer and newspaper editor-publisher of that day. Mr. Noah secured the English translation of this work from an individual who had completed the work but was reluctant to publish it. There was a great stir in England at the time caused by an earlier fictitious book of Jasher that had been published in 1751 in London and again in Bristol in 1829. In 1833, booklets were published to expose the fraudulent claims of the fictitious work, which has since been characterized as Pseudo-Jasher. Because of this unfavorable climate, the translator, choosing to remain anonymous, sold his manuscript to Mr. Noah.

    In 1887, the Joseph Hyrum Parry Printing Company of Salt Lake City secured the rights to the New York 1840 edition and republished the work. In 1964 the work was reissued as a photo reprint of the 1887 edition and has experienced a number of printings to date.

    However, this particular work, called The Book of Jasher, is characterized by Jewish scholars as midrashic agadah or haggada—an exegetical type of legendary or historical narrative—and is generally thought to have been written during the thirteenth century A.D. in Spain. Most of the names of characters in the stories other than the biblical names are of Arabic, Spanish, or Italian origin. Written in a scriptural paraphrase style typical of the Jewish liturgical writing of the late middle ages, the published Hebrew editions (except for the 1923) follow the general pattern of the rabbinical parashot (the 54 sections of the Torah read weekly in the synagogue). This suggests that this particular work is the product of later rabbinical writers. The system of chapters and verses contained in the 1840/1887 Book of Jasher was provided by the translator.

    Because of its content and its unknown authorship, this Book of Jasher is not highly regarded by Jewish authorities. It very roughly parallels the books of Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, and Joshua, with many deletions and many more elaborations, enrichments, and amplifications of scripture stories that are also found in other older Jewish writings of this kind (e.g., Pirke R. Eliezer; Yosippon, or the Pseudo Josephus; Midrash Wayyissau; etc.). One of the most popular stories quoted from this Jewish Book of Jasher, for example, is the account of Abraham’s dealing with his father’s wooden idols. It is a very entertaining story, but in fact it does not contribute any more to our doctrine than the principle taught in Isaiah 44:9–20 [Isa. 44:9–20].

    Perhaps the most conspicuous weakness of this particular work is that although it does contain a parallel account of Joshua 10:13 [Josh 10:13] (Joshua commanding the sun and moon to stand still), the promised account mentioned in 2 Samuel 1:18 [2 Sam. 1:18] (David’s instruction that the inhabitants of Judah should be taught the use of the bow) is not included. Furthermore, it contains numerous contradictions to the scriptural accounts found in the standard works of the Church.

    I believe there is ample evidence to show that the popular 1840/1877 Book of Jasher is not the lost scriptural book mentioned in the Old Testament. Consequently, I think one would not want to use it as a substitute for or even an authoritative supplement to the scriptures. The standard works of the Church still stand as the only authorized scripture today. At best, this nonscriptural claimant for the book of Jasher might be considered an apocryphal type of writing to which the principle revealed in Doctrine and Covenants 91 could be applied:

    “There are many things contained therein that are true … [after all, it does contain much material that compares practically verbatim with the Bible];

    “There are many things contained therein that are not true, which are interpolations by the hands of men. …

    “Therefore, whoso readeth it, let him understand, for the Spirit manifesteth truth.” (D&C 91:1–4.)

    I personally think that the spirit of discernment manifests few “golden threads” of truth hidden in the nonscriptural material in this particular work.