Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
October 15, 1970

"Baptized For The Dead" — 1 Cor. 15:29

John W. Hedge

The teaching of the Sadducees which denied the resurrection of the dead was embraced by some of the members of the early churches. In Paul's masterful discussion of the resurrection of the dead, and particularly the resurrection of Christ, the apostle addressed the following questions to those who denied such: Else what shall they do who are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise now? Why are they then baptized for the dead?" These questions carried their own answer. Being "baptized for the dead" if the dead rise not would make the act a foolish and vain thing. Likewise, their faith in a resurrected and living Saviour was false and vain. The sufferings of the apostles in preaching a resurrection gospel was a vain thing — all is vain "if the dead rise not," so the apostle reasoned.

This passage has been taken out of its setting and misapplied many times. The Mormon church has an established practice of baptizing the living for those who have died in sin. One fellow is said to have been baptized more than four hundred times "for the dead" in a Mormon temple! Others have said that this passage means that we are "baptized for the dead," that is, with the view of rejoining them in the resurrection day. Still, others have said that reference is here made to the "baptism of suffering" which all true Christians must endure in order to share in the resurrection of the just.

Taking the statement in the connection in which it is found, plus related passages found elsewhere in the New Testament, I am forced to the following conclusions:

First, the apostle is certainly not here alluding to a practice of baptizing the living for the dead which thing is contrary to what the Bible teaches about man's opportunity of being saved only in this life.

Second, and as for being "baptized for the dead" in order to share a mutual hope with them of a future resurrection and re-union with them beyond the judgment, such does not meet the apostle's argument in favor of the resurrection of the dead.

Third, the apostle places the greater emphasis upon the resurrection of Christ instead of a general resurrection of the dead. If he could succeed in proving that Christ was raised from the dead he could, therefore, establish faith in the hearts of the doubters of a resurrection for all man-kind. So after devoting considerable effort to proving this fact by referring to living witnesses who had seen the Lord after his crucifixion and resurrection, he then proceeds to say, "But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen, and if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain." (Ver. 13-14).

Fourth, since baptism is authorized of Christ, it is on his behalf that individuals are baptized, and not on behalf of anyone else whether living or dead. But "if Christ be not raised from the dead," why be baptized on his behalf?

Fifth, in being baptized on behalf of Christ — or because he commanded it — one symbolizes the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ in this act. (See Rom. 6:1-6; Col. 1:12). But when one questions the resurrection of the dead he thereby questions the resurrection of Christ — and the question is then raised, why be baptized for or on behalf of a dead Christ? Why believe in him? Why do anything on behalf? But Christ has been raised from the dead and the man of faith can do all things which he has authorized with the assurance that it will be rewarding in both time and eternity.

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