The question of salvation for the unbaptized goes back to early Christianity, usually in connection with the death of infants. It came to a head in the controversy between Augustine and Pelagius in 418 A.D. Augustine maintained baptism was essential to salvation and that infants were sinners due to “original sin” based on John 3:5 and Romans 5:12 (Vulgate). Pelagius and early Church Fathers, Gregory of Nyssa and John Chrysostom, said that infants were exempt from sin. Pope Zosimus sided with Pelagius, but Augustine persuaded the Roman Emperor Honorius to expel Pelagius from Rome and Augustine’s views were adopted by a new council of the Roman Catholic Church held in Rome. During that time period, the official Roman Catholic doctrine was, “Infants not baptized who die before the age of reason go to hell” and that there was no such thing as “limbo” where such persons went after death (Auguste Boulenger, Histoire General de Eglise, Vol. III, pp. 146-150 (Paris: Libraire Catholique 1031-1947). Before that time, the Catholic Church had baptized only adults after a period of catechesis and by immersion. However, when they adopted the official position that infants were sinners, they inaugurated the baptism of infants by sprinkling to erase their “original sin” and protect them from going to hell if they died before baptism. Over the next three centuries, sprinkling (aspersion) gradually replaced baptism by immersion. Later, when Erasmus did a better translation of the New Testament from better Greek manuscripts, the controversy was renewed because Erasmus’ translation of Romans 5:12 made clear that (spiritual) death passed on all men because of their personal sins, not because of Adam’s sin. The Protestants generally adopted this position, but due to their concern that there had been many people who lived before Jesus Christ and who lived in places where they had no oppportunity to learn the gospel of Jesus Christ or receive baptism, most of the Protestant denominations gravitated toward “salvation by grace” where baptism is not necessary for salvation.(In fairness, the Roman Catholic position has become a little less harsh over time–the current position of the Catholic Church as expressed in their Catholic Cathechism is, “As regards children who have died without baptism,the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God. [Jesus’ mercy] allows us to hope that there is a way of salvation for those who have died without baptism” (par. 1261). Like the Catholics, the Church Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches that baptism is necessary for the highest salvation, but it also teaches that there is a way that baptism can be performed for those who have died without baptism. This doctrine, “baptism for the dead”, is alluded to in 1 Corinthians 15:29, but was amplified by several revelations given to Joseph Smith. It is based on our belief that souls are conscious after their death (Luke 16:19-25) and that Jesus Christ preached his gospel to those who were dead (1 Peter 3:18-19 and 4:6). We believe that those who accept the gospel in the spirit world can also accept a baptism performed by them by proxy. We also believe that all persons will be resurrected, the just and the unjust [first and second resurrections] (1 Corinthians 15:21-22; John 5:29; Acts 24:15) and will be judged by their works (Revelation 20:12-13). For those who have accepted the gospel in the spirit world, but who have not had a proxy baptism performed for them, they will be able to receive their baptism during the millennial period of the first resurrection (Revelation 20:4-6).

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