Thursday, December 04, 2008

Baptism for the dead

I've been asked to comment on 1 Cor 15:29.

1.Keep in mind that no one really knows what it means, least of all the Mormons.

It’s one of those parenthetical remarks which would make sense to the original audience. It presupposes a certain amount of background knowledge on the part of the original reader, which is lost to the modern reader.

2.The preposition hyper doesn’t necessarily mean “in place of.” Its semantic domain includes “on behalf of, for the sake of.”

So the preposition doesn’t imply proxy baptism.

3.We shouldn’t assume, without further ado, that every reference to baptism is a reference to water baptism. In Scripture, “baptism” is sometimes used in a figurative sense.

4.If it denotes water baptism, it could have reference to a deathbed baptism, either in relation to a deathbed conversion or because, for whatever reason, a Christian procrastinated about baptism until the last moment.

5.Another interpretation is that a survivor will be so moved by the death of a Christian loved one that he will be converted by the experience and undergo baptism to be reunited with his loved one in heaven.

While that interpretation is, in many cases, psychologically plausible, there’s not enough in the passage to confirm that interpretation.


  1. Dave Armstrong tries to marshall this verse as a proof for purgatory in his "The Catholic Verses" and calls it "The Most Un-Protestant Verse in the Bible".

    He argues that the baptism is one of suffering (alms, fasting, etc.) that is undergone for those in Purgatory.

  2. I wish I knew the Greek better.

    I could be wrong, but in context of the surrounding argument it seems that a more figurative understanding of baptism is in play here. That is, if we are to disciple the nations baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit then this sense of baptism is more than merely immersing them in water, but also doing so only after having immersed them in the revelation of Christ, bringing them to an understanding of and submission to the truth.

    So the sense of baptism in 1 Cor 15 may mean the diligent teaching and preaching in order to bring people to a saving knowledge of Christ. Who are the dead according to this passage? Christ, Paul and other apostles? That's who Paul is aligning with the dead.

    The dead, therefore, are those who have died to their sin and taken up the burden of taking the gospel to everyone else. Those being baptized are being baptized because of the work and teaching of the "dead".

    Like I said, I may be wrong, but I have to ask why Paul aligns himself with the dead and also places Christ in that category having been raised since - which is his point. Nowhere does he indicate that people whose bodies have died are to be indicated by the term "the dead".

  3. The best and most satisfying to me biblical explanation for the baptism for the dead that I've come across is by James Rogers and it is found in the Biblical Horizons Newsletter number 76 and it's just called Baptism for the Dead. It is well worth reading.