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Sender's name: Rick

In studying I Corinthians 15, I come to a confusing verse of scripture: verse 29.  What is the meaning of the phrase "baptism for the dead."  I have heard 3 different views:  1) a cult practice 2) Paul using hyperbolic language 3) the dead being those of the Old Testament in which Jesus was the head of.

Could you please explain further?  Thank you.




This is a very difficult question.  There are numerous interpretations and possible explanations for what this passage means.  In looking at this passage, you must keep in mind the flow of the argument of the chapter.  It is explaining the significant of the resurrection and how faith is basically futile without it.  The verse functions to show the futility of this if the dead are not raised.


In interpreting this passage, you also need to keep in mind that the interpretation must not contradict the clear teaching of other scripture.  To make an interpretation of a difficult or obscure passage take precedence over what is clear Christian doctrine in other passages is very poor methodology. 


Other passages clearly teach that when we die, our destiny is sealed.  We bear the responsibility for our own choices.


"Now there was a rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, joyously living in splendor every day.  And a poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores, and longing to be fed with the {crumbs} which were falling from the rich man's table; besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores.  Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham's bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried.  In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and *saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom.  And he cried out and said, 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.'  But Abraham said, 'Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony.  'And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, so that those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and {that} none may cross over from there to us.'  And he said, 'Then I beg you, father, that you send him to my father's house--for I have five brothers--in order that he may warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.'  But Abraham *said, 'They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.'  But he said, 'No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!'  But he said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead (Luke 16:19-31).'"


"But each one must examine his own work, and then he will have {reason for} boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another.  For each one will bear his own load (Gal 6:4-5)."


"And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this {comes} judgment (Heb 9:27),"


Therefore, it cannot be baptism on behalf of an already dead person to save them.  Also take a look at what Paul does NOT say.  He does not say, "What will WE do who are baptized for the dead?"  Instead, he says, "What will THEY do who are baptized for the dead?"  This seems to indicate that whatever he was referring to was not his practice, but what something someone else was practicing that Paul uses as an illustration.


A possibility for translation is to translate the sense of  baptism "for" the dead to be baptism "on account" of the dead.  In other words, Paul is saying, "If there is not a resurrection, then why are you baptized on account of those who have already died?"  Why are you still baptizing the way they did if there is no resurrection?"


Of course, this is just one possible option among many.  The best we can do is to say what this obscure verse and practice is NOT.  It is not "proxy" baptism.  God does not save on the basis of ritual, but due to his grace and our faith.


John Telgren

P.O. Box 452

Leavenworth, KS 66048


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