- Published: 12 December 2010
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The statement, "baptized for the dead", in 1 Corinthians 15:29, has caused much misunderstanding. One group has even made baptism for the dead an important doctrine of their beliefs. They actually baptize living people in the name of a dead relative, so the person who had died, perhaps a hundred years before, might have an opportunity for blessing. Others interpret this scripture to mean that living believers are baptized to take the place of those who have died, and are no longer able to carry on the Lord' s work.
The immediate context of the verse in question does not seem to offer much help in understanding the meaning. However, as we follow Paul's line of reasoning, we can place verses 29 and 30 in their proper context to gain a better understanding.
Paul found there were some believers in Corinth who did not believe in the resurrection of the dead. (1 Corinthians 15:12) In verses 13-19, Paul tells of the dire consequences for the believers if Christ is not risen from the dead. We read statements such as: If Christ be not risen then is our preaching vein, and your faith is also vein. We are false witnesses (liars) because we testified that God raised up Christ, whom he raised not up if the dead rise not. If Christ be not raised your faith is vain, you are yet in your sins. Those who have fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.
Paul did not stop his argument with those words but stated, "but now is Christ risen from the dead and become the firstfruits of them that slept." He could state that truth so firmly because of his experience on the Damascus Road which he referred to in 1 Corinthians 15:8.
Paul continues to explain the purposes of God in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, even into the future kingdom and beyond, until God will be all in all. Instead of breaking into this complete line of thought regarding the purposes of God in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, Paul finishes that complete revelation in verse 28. Then Paul again returns to his argument of the resurrection of the dead of verses 13-19. We could place vs.29 & 30 in the context of vs.15 & 16 and they would fit perfectly "...if so be that the dead rise not, for if the dead rise not then is not Christ raised. Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead (Christ) if the dead rise not at all, why are they then baptized for the dead (Christ)?" Then Paul continues with his argument about resurrection. Why stand in jeopardy if the dead rise not? Let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die (with no resurrection ).