What does 1 Corinthians 15:29 about baptism for the dead mean?
As usual I have another query. This is regarding the Baptism for the Dead
mentioned in 1Cor15:29: “Now if there is no resurrection, what will
those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all,
why are people baptized for them?” Now I know this cannot mean that
Paul is advocating some kind of proxy baptism, nor do I think he’s
referring to some local cultural or religious custom (as someone answered
me). So what is he speaking about then?
First, let me include an answer to the same
question which is at one of our board members’ web site:
www.douglasjacoby.com You will find a lot of good questions and answers
there. My answer to this question will be below that of Douglas Jacoby.
Surely 1 Cor 15:29is one of the most problematic passages in the entire
Bible! There are four or five main interpretations, and I will not go into
them all at this time. I would suggest you consult any commentary on 1
Corinthians, and you will find them. Counting all the alternatives, I have
read a couple of articles that listed some forty different
interpretations! (Better not be too dogmatic here, brothers!) The one
interpretation that is impossible is the Mormon view, that you can be
baptized for one of your ancestors. Col2:12and other passages teach that
it is only your own faith when you are baptized that will enable you to be
saved. Keep in mind that 1 Cor 15 is a chapter on the resurrection, which
some teachers in Corinth were questioning, and that whatever view we come
to, it needs to fit within the flow of Paul?s thought. If there is no
resurrection of the body, the dead will never make it to heaven. (See
comments under Q&A 11b.) Paul insists that we are ultimately in a hopeless
condition if our bodies are not going to be raised.
This article is copyrighted and is for private use and study only. ? 2003.
Here is my answer. I would agree with Douglasthat this is one of the
most difficult passages to interpret in the New Testament. I am afraid
that if you want “the” answer to this question, you will not find it,
short of heaven. In other words, I do not believe one can create a
convincing case for any one single interpretation, to the exclusion of all
others, of why Paul uses this example. I think you can say what Paul is
NOT saying. He is not saying that baptism of a living person in proxy for
a dead person can lead to that dead person being saved. I am sure you do
not need convincing from me on that point. A rule of hermeneutics is that
one cannot interpret a difficult passage so that it contradicts a clear
passage. It is clear from many scriptures that one cannot get another
person into heaven by one?s works without them repenting on their own.
But what does it mean? Why did Paul use this example? Like Douglassaid,
you can look up a number of interpretations in any really good commentary
of 1 Corinthians, but a couple are worth listing here. Perhaps Paul is
sarcastically referring to a false doctrine that even some of them have
considered in order to shame them in reference to the current question.
It would be like, “You guys were willing to give consideration to baptism
for the dead. Well, obviously you believed in the resurrection then. Why
are you suddenly willing to abandon the idea now that it is a correct
doctrine.” Perhaps Paul is referring to an actual practice of another
religious group. I know you reject this possibility, but I do not. The
point of the passage is, essentially, “How could you guys actually be
considering the possibility that there is no resurrection from the dead?
I absolutely cannot believe we are struggling with this question! That is
the most basic possible doctrine! Wake up guys! Without the
resurrection, Christianity doesn?t even make sense!!!!” The exact
interpretation of what Paul was referring to will have little if any
effect on the main point he is making as described in the previous
sentence. For that reason, to be honest, although I find the question a
curiosity, I really do not think it is an especially important question to