1 Corinthians 15:29

Now if there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized for them?

This certainty is not advocating a doctrine of baptism of the dead. What is important here is the significance and meaning of water baptism. Baptism itself does not save, but besides the public confession of faith, it also signifies identification with the death and resurrection of Christ. In the proceeding verses (12-28), Paul was arguing and putting forth the fact and doctrine of the resurrection of Christ, and with (and because of) it, the resurrection of the dead. When we undergo water baptism, we are identifying ourselves with Christ's death and resurrection (Rom 6:3-5), and in a sense, making a public confession of our faith that through Jesus we will also partake of the bodily resurrection.

The Corinthians might have an erroneous or mistaken practice of baptizing people on behalf of dead believers, but Paul here was using it as an example to reinforce his argument for the resurrection of the dead. In v.29a, Paul questions the motive of those who were being baptized by proxy on behalf of dead believers. Perhaps their motive was to make a public statement that the dead in Christ (who most probably were not baptized, hence the apparent "need") would be resurrected, as signified by water baptism; or that through some misguided understanding of the Gospel they wanted to "ensure" the resurrection of their Christian dead but who somehow were not baptized; or even that the Corinthians could actually have some heretical teaching that even the unbelieving dead could attain to the first resurrection (resurrection to eternal life; i.e. salvation) by being baptized in proxy. Whatever the case, the motive was to point to the resurrection. In v.29b, Paul somewhat sarcastically points out that if there really is no resurrection, what, then is the purpose for doing it (i.e. baptism)? It would all be a futile exercise,' especially so for the Corinthians who were going all the way out being so K.S. as to attempt a misguided practice of baptism on behalf of the dead.

Paul quoted the practice of baptism on behalf of the dead not because he supported or approved of it, but that firstly, the Corinthians, to whom he was writing to, could identify with it; and secondly, the very motive for even considering such a practice served to highlight and reinforce his arguments for the fact of the resurrection of the dead.

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© Nicholas Tay 1994