Doctrine & Covenants/Church History
Lesson 30
“The Prisoners Shall Go Free”

Lesson Highlights

A study of this lesson will help us rejoice in our opportunity to provide ordinances for the dead.

Scripture references for study:  D&C 2; 124:25–55; 127; 128; Joseph Smith—History 1:36–39; Our Heritage, pages 58–61, information under “The Nauvoo Temple.”
    Note: Underlined scripture references have been hyperlinked to the LDS Scriptures at and will open in a new window.

Lesson 30 Handout (PDF)

Priesthood Ordinances For The Dead

On the night of September 21, 1823, the angel Moroni visited Joseph Smith for the first time. This was the first heavenly manifestation since young Joseph's vision of the Father and the Son in 1820. On that night, Moroni quoted from the words of the ancient prophet Malachi when he said, "Behold, I will reveal unto you the Priesthood, by the hand of Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And he shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers, and the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers. If it were not so, the whole earth would be utterly wasted at his coming." (JS-History 1:38-39; D&C 2:1-3).

On April 3, 1836, the prophet Elijah appeared to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery in the Kirtland Temple and bestowed upon them the keys of turning "the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the children to the fathers" (see D&C 110:13-16).

Reference to salvation of the dead was made from the earliest moments of the Restoration, yet it was six years after the Church was organized before Elijah returned bestowing vital priesthood keys.

Brother Brunson's funeral sermon was preached on August 15, 1840. Sister Jane Neyman attended the funeral and was moved by the Prophet's teaching about baptism for the dead. Soon after she asked Harvey Olmstead to baptize her in the Mississippi River for her dead son Cyrus. Soon after the baptism, Joseph Smith learned of this event and inquired concerning the words used by Brother Olmstead in performing the ceremony. The Prophet gave his full approval.

Additional baptisms for the dead were performed in the Mississippi on the Montrose, Iowa, side of the river. Instructions were not given first, nor were records given. Brigham Young later wrote:  "When Joseph received the revelation that we have in our possession concerning the dead, the subject was opened to him, not in full, but in part, and he kept on receiving. When he had first received the knowledge by the spirit of revelation how the dead could be officiated for, there are brethren and sisters here, I can see quite a number here who were in Nauvoo, and you recollect that when this doctrine was first revealed, and in hurrying in the administration of baptism for the dead, that sisters were baptized for their male friends, were baptized for their fathers, their grandfathers, their mothers and their grandmothers, etc. I just mention this so that you will come to understanding, that as we knew nothing about this matter at first, the old Saints recollect, there was little by little given, and the subject was made plain, but little was given at once. Consequently, in the first place people were baptized for their friends and no record was kept. Joseph afterwards kept a record." (Discourses of Brigham Young, p398)

At this same conference, the Prophet announced:  "There shall be no more baptisms for the dead, until the ordinance can be attended to in the Lord's House; and the Church shall not hold another General Conference, until they can meet in said house. For thus saith the Lord!" (HC, 4:426)

Glad Tidings - Sections 127 & 128

In May of 1842 governor Boggs of Missouri was shot and wounded. Obviously, the Saints were suspected. Joseph Smith was specifically accused of being an accessory to the crime. In August he was arrested on those charges, but soon released. "Let the work of my temple, and all the works which I have appointed unto you, be continued on and not cease; and let your diligence, and your perseverance, and patience, and your works be redoubled, and you shall in nowise lose your reward, saith the Lord of Hosts." (D&C 127:4)

Importance of Accurate Records.

The Power To Bind and Loose. The Importance of Work for the Dead. In D&C 128 the prophet refers to the work of the dead as among the "most glorious of all subjects belonging to the everlasting gospel" (v17). The Prophet went on in his letter to state that "the earth will be smitten with a curse unless there is a welding link" between the fathers and the children and that baptism for the dead is the key (D&C 128:18). Without question, this principle also applies to other necessary ordinances. READ D&C 128:24. Glad Tidings for the Living and the Dead. READ D&C 128:22-23. "For it is ordained that in Zion, and in her stakes, and in Jerusalem, those places which I have appointed for refuge, shall be the places for your baptisms for your dead." (D&C 124:36)

For additional background information see Letters on Baptism for the Dead at

The Nauvoo Temple

READ D&C 124:25-32. The Lord's commandment to build a temple in Nauvoo.

Construction on the temple began after the October 1840 conference of the Church.. The temple was abandoned in September 1846. By then, most of the Saints had evacuated Nauvoo and were moving west. The building and activities related to the Nauvoo Temple stand as a great testimony of the importance of temples and temple work. The sacrifice in cost and effort was immense. The Saints continued construction to the finish, even while Nauvoo was turned into a factory to prepare the Saints for the migration west.

Photos of the restored Nauvoo Temple from my visit in 2010

Gospel Doctrine Notebook

Record your thoughts on the teachings regarding temples and the work for the dead. What can you do to further this work?

Resources Used In This Lesson

Conference Reports (CR).

Discourses of Brigham Young edited by John A. Widtsoe.

Doctrines of Salvation by Joseph F. Smith.

Encyclopedia of Mormonism edited by Daniel H. Ludlow.


History of the Church (HC).

Journal of Discourses (JD).

Latter-day Prophets and the Doctrine and Covenants by Roy W. Doxey.

The Nauvoo Temple by E. Cecil McGavin.

Times & Seasons.

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Changes last made on:  30 May 2017