by Douglas Ecklund

1 Corinthians 15: 12 - 29

The book of 1 Corinthians, chapter 15, verse 29 has posed some questions in regard to interpretation; and through the mishandling of this verse, some religious groups have propagated false teaching.

The verse under question reads as follows:
“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 Corinthians 15:29

In order to clarify the meaning of baptized for the dead; it is necessary to examine the topic, and surrounding text.

The first verse to consider is:
“Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead?” 1 Corinthians 15:12

The apostle Paul is writing to correct the teaching of some that there is no resurrection of the dead.

The next verses to consider is:
“For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised:
And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.
Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished.”
1 Corinthians 15:16-18

Now the reasoning of Paul’s teaching is that if there is no resurrection, then Christ did not rise: how could Christ have risen from the dead since resurrections are a specious notion?
If therefore Christ has not risen, then our faith is mislaid.
If Christ is not risen, then the testimony of the witnesses is beguiling.

If Christ is not risen; then there is no gospel; our faith is vain; and we are still in our sins.
Most importantly, in light of our consideration, those who fall asleep (die) are perished; there is no resurrection; there is no eternal life; only an eternal nothingness.

In this context we can then understand what baptized for the dead is.

There are numerous definitions of the word for.
One of the definitions of the word for is "in place of"; as in “Christ died for our sins”. This is not the use here.
Another definition of the word however, is "for the sake of"; an example would be “to suffer shame for his name”. This again is not the use.
Yet another use of for would be "as being"; an example would be “I mistook him for another”.
The use of for “as being” expresses the intent in verse 29.

We can then understand that the verse is asking;
what shall the baptized believers, whose hope is eternal life, do if being baptized is for nothing, since there is no hope, all there is, is death: what shall they do if they are baptized as being dead.
Since, as they say in error, there is no resurrection, and their only expectation is nothing but death, then there is no benefit to the hopeful anticipation of eternal life expressed by their baptism.

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