baptism for the dead


“else what shall they do which are baptised for the dead, if the dead Rise not at all? Why are they then baptized for the dead? (1Cor 15:29)

Up to this point in the chapter, the Spirit through Paul, having brought his teaching on resurrection to it’s ultimate climax at the end of the seventh Millennium, now returns to the fundamental aspect of resurrection, and to this verse which has caused some outlandish speculation by such as the Mormons, or the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The Mormons believe that this sanctions the baptism by proxy of those who have died in past ages without knowledge, and they go to great lengths to record people’s ancestry for this purpose. Apart from this involving the false belief of the immortality of the soul, and the Mormon belief that their writings are Divinely Inspired, such an understanding takes a single verse in Scripture entirely out of it’s context, ignoring the clear teaching of Scripture in general.

In order to understand the verse according to that which is reasonable, it helps to see verses 20-28 as being set off in parenthesis, as happens elsewhere in Scripture. So in reading verse 19, followed by verse 29, we are told that, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable … Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? Why are they then baptized for the dead.” This surely leads us to the Baptism chapter of Romans 6, in which Paul says that all who are baptized into Jesus Christ are baptised into his death, and in a figure are thereby buried with him by that baptism into death, and just as Christ rose from the dead by the glory of his Father, so baptism has the effect of bringing those who are subject to baptism to a new spiritual life in which it is necessary for them to walk.

With this in mind, and in the light of 1Cor 15:29, it is possible to see Paul asking the question, “Why is it necessary to be baptised for, or into the dead Christ, if Christ has not risen from the dead?” If Christ had not been risen from the dead, there would have been no point in our having been baptised. An objection to this understanding, however, has been raised as a result of the word dead, according to the Greek, being in the plural, this being confirmed by the Newberry Bible, thereby speaking of dead ones. This, however, is answered by what we are told in verse 20, to the effect that Christ is the firstfruits of a greater harvest of those who die and are to be resurrected to life. There is further support for this in Is 53:9, where we read that the man of sorrows who was aquainted with grief “made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth.” The marginal rendering for death is shown to be in the plural, deaths, thereby bringing this into harmony with verse 29 of 1 Corinthans 15, and also with Paul’s teaching in 2 Corinthians 5:14,15, where we are told that it was the agape love of Christ that compelled and held together him and others of like faith, causing them to firmly believe “that if one died for all, then were all dead: and that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again”.

Does not this sum up what the Spirit through Paul is saying to the Corinthians in 1Cor 15:29, and utterly refute belief in baptism by proxy which, apart from anything else, is entirely foreign to the teaching of the Truth?

These passages in being taken together, most profoundly bring before us the need for the death and resurrection of Christ in order for man, who deserves death as a result of sin, to be raised to life, just as Christ was raised from the dead. Here is not only further confirmation of the error of the Corinthians, but also that of the Mormons in their false beliefs, as well as for all others who, like the Corinthians, deny the fact of, and need for bodily resurrection, but rather believe in immortal soulism, the near universal falsehood of religious and secular philosophy to this day.

Ken Thompson