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Frequently Asked Questions About Christianity, Answered Honestly!

What Does it mean to be
'Baptized for the Dead?'

-by Tony Warren


    The phrase found in 1st Corinthians 15:29 of being, 'baptized for the dead' is another of those oft misunderstood and misinterpreted passages. Some groups believe that this passage means that they can baptize their members as proxies on behalf of those that have died unsaved. The Mormon sect in particular teaches that those who are dead can still be saved if someone who is living is baptized for them. This is a teaching that is easily debunked with even a cursory study of scripture, for it is quite evident that no one but Christ has the authority to be a proxy regarding Salvation.

The doctrine of being baptized for the dead has nothing whatsoever to do with Biblical truth, and yet because of their wide circulation there is much confusion among Christians concerning just what this passage in 1st Corinthians chapter 15 actually means. I believe that this confusion can only be cleared up by the careful and diligent study of the word of God, in its proper context.

1st Corinthians 15:29

  • "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?"
The word translated "for" is the Greek word [huper]. It is a primary preposition and in this context means, "for the sake of," or "for the benefit of" the dead. This is because Baptism is the cleansing of the dead by the Spirit of Christ, wherein they are also raised up in His resurrection. Water baptism is a token signifying this Spiritual baptism or cleansing "for the sake of" the dead.

In fact the whole context of this verse is one of Christ's payment for our sins by His death, and how by His resurrection thereafter, we are also made alive from the dead. Thus this is the Baptism or cleansing for the dead that is spoken of. It points directly to the efficacy of His death and resurrection. And it is all shown by the context, starting in the very first verses where it is explained as the very gospel message itself.

1st Corinthians 15:1-3

  • "Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand;
  • By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain.
  • For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;"
Christ suffered death for us, and this is the gospel that Paul Preached, and what He is telling us in verses 1-3. That water Baptism is a 'signification' of the cleansing of Spiritual Baptism for the rising of the dead. What we see here is an illustration that Christians were dead in trespasses and sins, and were baptized for the dead by Christ's being made alive for us. It in no way means that someone can have water poured upon them on behalf of some other person who has died. It speaks of our own death and how baptism in the death and resurrection of Christ has made us alive. It's specifically what He talks about in vere 22:

1st Corinthians 15:22

  • "For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive."
Here is the Baptism for the dead illustrated in showing how Christ's resurrection is the reason for our resurrection from the dead. And that is done by our Baptism in His Spirit, the only thing that can make the dead alive. All of these things must be understood in the context of the whole chapter. When the Apostle Paul asked the rhetorical question of, "why people were baptized for the dead if the dead are not resurrected," he was asking that in defeence against some at Corinth who doubted the validity of the resurrection of the dead (verse 12). Just as the Sadducees (Matthew 22:23), some in Corinth did not believe in the resurrection of the dead, and Paul was speaking of just what this heretical belief would mean if it were indeed true. His speaking of Baptism for the dead was in support of the doctrine of the resurrection for the sake of the dead.

1st Corinthians 15:4

  • "And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:"
Because Christ was dead, and because we were baptized in His death, we logically receive the same benefit of His resurrection to life. The point of this chapter is the process of the resurrection from the dead, not Baptizing living people for dead ones. And in verses 5-11, God goes on to establish His argument for this resurrection from the dead with proofs and witnesses of Christ's own rising. His point being, if Christ rose from the dead, and Christians were raised up with Him, how can it be said that there is no resurrection of the dead? How indeed!

1st Corinthians 15:12

  • "Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead?
  • But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen:"
It's simple logic. If the dead do not rise at all, why then are we baptized in the belief that we were dead in sin, and have risen? If we're not ever going to rise from the dead, why are we baptized as part of this resurrection to new life? In other words, He is declaring that this doctrine of no resurrection makes Christ a liar.

John 5:29

  • "And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation."

John 11:25

  • "Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live:"

It was Christ who taught of the resurrection unto life, and Paul is saying that if this belief that there is no resurrection is true, then Christ was wroong and Christianity makes no sense. On the contrary, we are baptized for the resurrection of the dead, because we were dead in trespass and sin and we do know Christ was judged for us and rose from the dead that there could be this resurrection unto life. In cleansing us from sin, for our sakes He has Baptized the dead. If not, then Christianity makes no sense, and evangelism is pointless.

1st Corinthians 15:14

  • "And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain."

Thank God, it is true. The Apostle Paul, under inspiration of God, is setting forth the truth of Christís resurrection, and by extension our resurrection in Him that the second death have no power over us. This is the hope of the Gospel, and an illustration that apart from this resurrection and Baptism, we are lost and our faith is in vain and of no real value. This verse 14 portrays the hopelessness of the believer in Christ "if" Christ was not resurrected for the dead, baptizing or cleansing us from all unrighteousness. And he goes on in verse 15 to say that if there is no baptism for the dead, that would mean:

1st Corinthians 15:15-16

  • "Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not.
  • For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised:"
If there is no resurrection for us, then there was no resurrection of Christ, and the gospel message is without substance. If there is no baptism (cleansing) for the dead by Christ's death, then Christians are all a bunch of false witnesses, because this truth is the foundation of the Gospel message we preach. We all can collectively say, God forbid! For there was a baptism for and first resurrection of the dead in Christ. And it is a fundamental principle of true Christianity, and the heart of the gospel. The very Rock of Christianity is the unbreakable promise to Christians of life beyond death because of our Baptism in Christ. If we were to take this away, then we would take away the very purpose of baptism of the dead, by the Spirit of Christ.

1st Corinthians 15:17-19

  • "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.
  • If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable."
Again, clear indication of the efficacy of resurrection in taking away our sin. And if Christ was not raised from the dead, then we are still in sin and there is no resurrection to life, and we are found to be foolish to believe. All hope is then lost and our faith is worthless. On the other hand, if Christ has taken away our sins in death and been resurrected the firstfruits of the dead, then our faith is not in vain, and there is a Baptism for the dead, in Christ. Then does the gospel truth Paul preached stand. By being in Christ when He died and was resurrected, we are baptized (Spiritually cleansed), and also resurrected as He was. As the scriptures plainly teach in Romans.

Romans 6:3-4

  • "Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?
  • Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life."

How much clearer can it get. It clearly and unambiguously declares, as many of us that have been baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? So truly, where is the mystery concerning Baptism for the dead? And 1st Corinthians 15, verses 20-28 goes on to show the truth of how, by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. That now is Christ risen from the dead and will reign until all things are subdued unto him, and the Son also himself be subject unto Him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all. It is in this context that the next verse reads:

1st Corinthians 15:29

  • "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?"
If all this is not true about the resurrection from the dead, and the judgment, and the end of all things, then why are Christians baptized for the dead, when the dead (according to this philosophy) do not rise at all? It would make no sense. But the truth is, we were buried with Him in baptism. i.e., our baptism is for [huper] (for the sake of, or for the benefit of) the dead, that the dead rise because of that Baptism of the Spirit. Once we read this verse in the proper context of the whole chapter, the truth becomes self evident. We are baptized for the sake of the dead, because we were dead in trespass and sin, and needed a resurrection, which baptism gives us. We were dead, and have been raised with Christ in baptism. The baptism is for us, the dead, that in our death with Christ, we are resurrected by that baptism.

Colossians 2:12

  • "Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead."

We who are buried with Christ in Baptism, declare by that act of God that we believe that He died and was buried for us, and rose again. And we in His baptism. Water baptism merely 'signifies' that One true baptism (ephesians 4:5).

Matthew 3:11

  • "I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire:"

As Christ went through the fires of Hell suffering death laden with our sins, we died with Him, that likewise we should also be raised up with Him. In other words, we are dead with Him, and we are buried with Him in this Spiritual baptism, wherein we are risen. That is the baptism or cleansing for the dead. That is the context of 1st Corinthians chapter 15. And that is the understanding of this passage and our hope for the resurrection to Life.

We are identified with Christ and have his righteousness imputed to us by being baptized in the Spirit of God. For the sake of the dead, we are made alive in the Spirit.


Conclusion

The problem with interpreting the scriptures is not in the alleged obscure or ambiguous language. God has not inspired confusion, the real problem is in man not this passage. It is man who takes the passages in question out of total context, and then teaches confused and mis-informed doctrines. And he does this because 'he wants to.' Scripture considered honestly, carefully, and in context not only with itself, but with the whole of the Bible, usually presents it's own solutions. And they must be consistent and in agreement with the whole of the Bible. When we ask the fundamental questions, we get the Biblical answers. For example, what is the topic of the Chapter? What is God declaring in His reference to Baptism for the dead? Does the context show us that God is teaching about Baptism of living people for dead people? Does Baptizing a living person save them? If not, then how much less would it Save one who is already dead?

When these questions are answered honestly, it becomes self evident that this passage has nothing to do with the unbiblical practice of Christians being baptized for people who have died, but with baptism as it is the efficacy of the death and resurrection in Christ.

When Paul used the language of being 'baptized for the dead,' he was arguing for the resurrection from the dead by baptism. The context itself shows us that this is the truth, and we must so interpret the passage if we would understand it accurately. The context of the passage is the resurrection, and this interpretation is not only consistent with that context, but speaks specifically to it. On the other hand, if we (like some others) were to conclude that God was teaching that we may be baptized for, or as proxies on behalf the dead persons, then have a twofold problem.

  1. We not only have a doctrine which is nowhere else spoken of in all of scripture, but we force God to introduce an entirely new subject into this context 'with only this one sentence,' and then never speaks of it again anywhere.

  2. We have a doctrine which is contradictory to the rest of the Bible. The Holy Bible declares very unambiguously that it is impossible for one to be Saved without faith in Jesus Christ as Savior. No one after death can be saved by the action of someone who is alive.

The teaching that men can be Saved merely by an act of another man participating in water baptism, is not only unbiblical (John 14:6), it is anti-biblical. It is unreasonable to draw such conclusions about this text, based on the scripture alone (Sola Scriptura), therefore this doctrine is obviously born from the mind of men, and not of God.

This passage is simply another illustration of the well established doctrine of baptism of the Spirit, and all that this entails. In baptism, the Christian is risen from the dead. For this is the purpose, and the hope of the resurrection (Rom. 6:3-6) which the sacrament of water baptism signifies. We are baptized for the sake of the dead, that in that baptism, the dead are made alive. That's why Paul said, else if the dead don't rise (resurrection), why be baptized for the dead? Since our baptism is for the resurrection of the dead. Then our baptism means nothing if the dead do not really rise.

This is the Glorious truth that Christ did not die in vain, He died that we could die in him, and be risen with Him, that death would have no more power over us. This is the benefit of baptism for the dead. The old body must be put to death, buried, and resurrected to new life. This is the Biblical definition of being 'baptized for the dead.' This passage I believe is Paul illustrating to the Church just why we are baptized into Christ. And that reason is that we receive life everlasting through His death and resurrection.

May the Great and Omniscient Almighty God, who is gracious above all, give us the wisdom and knowledge to rightly divide His Word of truth.

Amen!

Peace,

Copyright ©2001 Tony Warren
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Created 7/30/01 / Last Modified 8/3/01
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