James P. Needham
Winter Park, Florida
"Would you please explain 1 Cor. 15:29, which concerns baptism for the dead?" --Tenn.
First let us read this controverted passage: "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?" (1 Cor. 15:29).
Difficulty concerning this passage is occasioned, mainly, by the Mormon's abuse of it in teaching that living people can he baptized for (instead of) the physically dead and they (the dead) will be saved. I heard of one Mormon who claimed that he had been baptized 500 times for the dead.
This passage occurs in the context of Paul's arguments for the resurrection of the dead. Some at Corinth were denying such (v. 12). Hence, any explanation of the passage that is logical must be kept in the context of the resurrection.
Definitions of Words in the Passage:
1. "Baptized"--Some believed this is a figurative use of the word "baptized," but there seems to be no basis for this. The rule to determine when a word is used figuratively is to first determine ii a literal meaning is sensible. If so, then there is no evidence for thinking it is figurative. I find no reason to think that this word "baptized" refers to anything other than what is commanded in 7 Mk. 16:16; hence, a burial in water for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38; 22:16).
2. "For"--There is a large number of words in the Greek New Testament which are translated "for" in English Versions. In order to understand any passage accurately, a knowledge of which Greek word is used and its definition are desirable. The original word translated "for" in both instances of its use in 1 Cor. 15:29, is HUPER. The meaning of this word in the original is "in behalf of." Websters Collegiate Dictionary says the word "behalf" means "interest, benefit, support, defense." Websters New World Dictionary says the expression "in behalf of" means "in the interest of, for."
3. "Dead"--The word "dead" in this passage is from the Greek word NEKROS. It should he noted that it is PLURAL in the Greek, which voids the argument that this passage speaks of persons being baptized in view of (for) Christ who died for them. In this case the Word "dead" would have to be singular, and the passage could be translated, "What shall they do who are baptized for the dead ONE (singular)." Instead of this, however, a literal translation would be, "What shall they do which are baptized for THE DEAD ONES (plural)." Not dead ONE, but ONES.
In view of these words and their definitions, I believe the explanation is that those who have been scripturally baptized (buried in water for the remission of sins) did such in the interest of being united with the dead saints (dead ONES) of all time whom they believed will be resurrected at the end of the world.
Paul said in v. 18, that ii there be no resurrection, "Then they also which have fallen asleep (died) in Christ are perished..." The point is: 'those who are baptized do so m the interest of being united at the resurrection with all of God's people of all ages. Now, if there is no resurrection (as some were arguing at Corinth), then being baptized with this expectation is absurd and vain. Truly, Paul asks, "WHAT SHALL THEY DO WHICH ARE BAPTIZED FOR THE DEAD?" If the theory of no resurrection be true, then it is silly to waste the time necessary to be baptized, which act within itself is a picture of the resurrection (Rom. 6:5)
TRUTH MAGAZINE XIV: 4, pp. 11-12
November 27, 1969