Baptism for the Dead
Text: 1 Corinthians 15:29 – “Otherwise, what will they do who are baptized for the dead,
if the dead do not rise at all? Why then are they baptized for the dead?”
Thesis: To rule out faulty interpretations while considering alternative options.
I. First, let us consider the context of the verse:
A. Apparently, some Christians at Corinth did not believe in the bodily resurrection of the dead. Therefore, Paul sets out to deal with this problem.
B. In verses 1-4, He reminds them that the gospel is the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.
C. In verses 5-11, He reminds them of the various appearances of Jesus after Jesus’ resurrection and before Jesus’ ascension.
D. In verses 12-28, He points out how that the resurrection of Jesus is proof that there will be a bodily resurrection.
E. In verses 29-34, He notes the absurdity of things if the resurrection is false.
F. In verses 35ff, He discusses the nature of the resurrection body.
II. Second, let us consider some of the various views of the verse:
A. View #1: Vicarious Baptism
1. This view would have people being baptized for people who had died without being baptized; thereby, bringing about salvation for them.
2. Note: Some commentators advocate this view without advocating the practice.
a. E.g., Oster wrote: “Paul mentions this not to endorse it, but to use this practice as an ad hominem argument to highlight the inconsistency of their beliefs” (374).
b. However, David Garland correctly observes the problems with such a view by noting: “To win one argument, [Paul] opens a Pandora’s box of new theological problems” (717).
3. The problem with this view is that it stands in direct contradiction with the other Biblical passages concerning one’s salvation.
a. First, everyone must stand before Jesus in judgment for what he/she has done, not what others have done for him/her (cf. 2 Cor. 5:10).
b. Second, baptism alone is not what brings about salvation.
- E.g., Mark 16:16 clearly points out that belief is also necessary.
B. View #2: Above the Dead
1. This view would have people being baptized above the graves of the dead.
2. However, churches with built-in baptisteries did not exist until the 4th-Century.
3. Further, why not just mention baptism period?
C. View #3: For Myself When I will be among the Dead
1. This view would have people being baptized in order to make preparations for when they would themselves be dead.
2. While this view is certainly Scriptural, it seems that the “dead” mentioned are people other than those who are being baptized.
D. View #4: To be Reunited with One’s Dead Loved Ones
1. This view would have people being baptized so that they may be ready when they die and will see their loved ones who died in the Lord.
2. This view seems to fit the context and would also be Biblical.
E. View #5: “I Have No Idea”
- This view does not concern itself with the identification of the practice, but, instead, is only concerned with Paul’s argumentation that whatever the practice is, it was something that would be Biblical and would help to point out the inconsistency among the Corinthians for engaging in it while denying the resurrection.
III. Third, let us note some application:
A. There will be a resurrection.
B. Therefore, one must make preparations now in order to be ready.