Baptism For the Dead

Irvin Himmel
Temple Terrace, Florida

The church at Corinth was hindered by divisions, wrong attitudes, and irregularities. Since some among the Corinthians went so far as to deny the resurrection, Paul shows in I Cor. 15:12-32 the consequences.

If there is no resurrection of the dead:

1. Christ is not raised (v. 13).

2. Our preaching is vain (v. 14).

3. Your faith, based on that preaching, is vain.

4. We (apostles) are false witnesses (v. 15).

5. You are yet in your sins (v. 17).

6. All who sleep in Christ are perished (v. 18).

7. Hope in Christ is limited to this life, so we are of all men most miserable (v. 19).

8. Why are they baptized for the dead (v. 28)?

9. Why stand we in jeopardy (v. 30)?

Pauls statement about baptism for the dead constitutes one of nine consequences of denying the resurrection. His object is to show that if there is no resurrection, all our preaching, faith, baptism, and sufferings for Christ add up to nothing.

I Cor. 15:29 reads, "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?"

Some scholars (McKnight, for example) understand baptism in this passage as applying figuratively. The Lord once spoke of his sufferings in just such a manner -- "I have a baptism to be baptized with" (Lk. 12:50). He used similar language in Matt. 12:22, 23. To be baptized in sufferings means to he overwhelmed by trials and hardships or put to death.

If Paul is using the word "baptized" in this sense in I Cor. 15:29, he is saying one of two things:

1. Why are some being baptized (immersed in sufferings) for the dead (believing and testifying the resurrection of the dead), if the dead rise not?

2. Why are some being baptized (in sufferings) for the dead (to benefit the spiritually dead), if the dead rise not?

The best argument in support of this view is the context. In the next verses he writes about standing in jeopardy every hour, dying daily, and fighting with beasts at Ephesus. All such trials and persecutions could be called a "baptism"-but they were in vain if the resurrection is not a reality.

Another view is that the word "baptized" is to be taken in its ordinary sense, and the key to the meaning of the passage lies in the phrase "for the dead." The preposition "for" (huper in Greek) may mean: (1) for ones advantage or benefit; (2) in the place of; (3) on account of, for the sake of; or (4) with regard to, concerning.

Other passages teach that all who are baptized into Christ are baptized "for" (on account of or with regard to) "the dead" (dead in sin). Baptism is "for" (for the sake of) "the dead" (crucifying the body of sin or becoming dead with Christ). Since baptism is in the likeness of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, to deny the resurrection is to deny the validity of baptism.

The strongest argument in favor of this view is to note the connection between baptisms and the dead (or death) in other passages. In Rom. 6: 3-5, it is taught that we are "baptized into his death," "buried with him by baptism into," "planted together in the likeness of his death," "our old man is crucified with him," and "he that is dead is freed from sin."

"The dead" are a class. Before baptism, all are "dead in sins" (Eph. 2:5). Men are baptized "for" (on account of) their being in that class. Baptism is for the dead. In baptism the dead are quickened or made alive. "Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are raised with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead. And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses" (Col. 2:12, 13).

Another view that some take of I Cor. 15:29 has no support in either the context or related passages. It is the idea of the living being baptized in behalf of the deceased. This proxy baptism not only lacks Biblical support, it contradicts every passage teaching personal accountability, the necessity of individual obedience to God, and that only during ones life on earth may he prepare for the judgment. Like the Roman Catholic doctrine pertaining to Purgatory, it supposes that the living may act so as to change the destiny of the deceased.

The Bible says plainly that "it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment" (Heb. 9:27). No one in the New Testament ever taught that someone should be baptized to save his loved ones who had passed from this life. Baptism is to "wash away thy sins" (Acts 22:16), not someone elses sins. We can no more be baptized for the deceased than we can eat the Lords Supper for them, or love God for them.

An interpretation of I Cor. 15:29 which has no support in the context or related passages and is at variance with basic truths must be regarded as false!

TRUTH MAGAZINE, XVI: 29, pp. 11-12
May 25, 1972