'Baptized for the Dead?'
-by Tony Warren
These type teachings have nothing to do with Biblical truth, but because of them there is much confusion among Christians about just what this passage actually means. This can only be cleared up by the careful and diligent study of the Word of God, in it's proper context.
1st Corinthians 15:29
The Greek word 'for' is [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 signifies this Spiritual baptism or cleansing 'for the sake of' the dead.
The 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. That is the Baptism or cleansing for the dead. The efficacy of His death and resurrection. 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
Christ was dead for us, and this is the gospel which Paul Preached, and is what He is telling us in verses 1-3. Water Baptism is a 'signification' of the cleansing by the Spirit (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 by Christ's being made alive by the Spirit. 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 baptism in the death and resurrection of Christ, and is illustrating how the dead benefit from that. i.e., baptized for the dead.
All of these things must be understood in context. When Paul asked the rhetorical question of, 'why people were baptized for the dead if the dead are not resurrected,' he was asking that in deference to some people at Corinth who doubted the validity of the resurrection of the dead (verse 12). Just as the sadducees had (Matthew 22:23) some 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 of the dead.
1st Corinthians 15:4
Because Christ was dead, and we were baptized in His death, we receive the benefit of that death and resurrection. The point of this chapter is the process of the resurrection, not the baptizing living people for dead ones. And in verses 5-11, God goes on to establish His argument for this resurrection with proofs and witnesses of Christ's own rise from the dead. His point being, if Christ rose from the dead, and Christians know it, how can it be said there is no resurrection? How indeed!
1st Corinthians 15:12
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 that we will be part of the resurrection to life? In other words, this doctrine of no resurrection makes Christ a liar.
Christ taught of the resurrection, and Paul is saying that if that is true that there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christianity makes no sense! The point here being, on the contrary, we are baptized for the resurrection of the dead, because we do know Christ was judged for us, suffered death, and rose from that death that there would be a resurrection unto life.
1st Corinthians 15:14
Again, 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. It is the hope of the Gospel, and an illustration that apart from this resurrection, we are lost and our faith is in vain or of no real value. This verse 14 portrays the hopelessness of the believer in Christ 'if' He was not resurrected for the dead and in the process baptized us with fire. If there is no baptism or cleansing for the dead, that would mean:
1st Corinthians 15:15-16
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 or 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 say, God forbid! There was a baptism for, and a Resurrection of the dead. 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 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
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, because there is no life after death. All hope is then lost and our faith is worthless. On the other hand, if Christ has died and taken away our sin, and been resurrected the firstfruits of the dead, then our faith is not in vain, and we have been baptized or cleansed 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.
This is what baptism for the dead illustrates. Our death in Christ's death. Just as the verse above says, we are Baptized into Christ's death and made alive. Resurrected in Him. And verses 20-28 goes on to say how the truth is that because by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead, and now is Christ risen from the dead, and speaks of Christ reigning until all things shall be 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
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
Copyright ©2001 Tony Warren
Created 7/30/01 / Last Modified 8/3/01
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