I 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?
Baptism for the dead? What? Are you kidding me? What does this verse mean?
Have you ever been confronted by a Mormon about this verse? They believe in baptism for dead relatives, who didn’t have a chance to meet Joe Smith, their founder. So they keep the world’s best genealogical database for identifying dead relatives who need to be saved by a Mormon baptism on their behalf. These baptisms by proxy take place in their special underground baptisteries. You can save your whole family tree this way. Surely you understood all this from reading the verse, didn’t you?
If you find this hard to believe, read their official novel Doctrines and Covenants. Joe didn’t mention baptism for the dead in his first novel, the Book of Mormon; but you can find it in sections 124 and 128 of the sequel, D&C.
Have you ever read a Presbyterian commentary on this verse? Because they chose infant sprinkling over Bible baptism 400 years ago, when they were birthed by the Great Mother Church, they have no clue about the intent of these words. Some of their commentators will list ten or so possibilities, and then conclude by saying it is impossible to know. And their list of possibilities will never include the true explanation, for they have rejected Bible baptism.
If you find this hard to believe, here are twelve of their educated ideas for the meaning of the verse. As hard as it is to believe, these twelve examples were produced by seminary graduates.
1. It was a purification ritual for Jewish Christians after touching a dead body.
2. It was a purification ritual of a dead body before the body was buried.
3. It was a baptism in the name and stead of those who died before they were baptized.
4. It was a baptism of those who were at the pint of death in preparation for dying.
5. It was a baptism in the same location where the Christians buried their dead.
6. It was a baptism for washing away the dead works and sins of the subjects.
7. It was a baptism of those who replaced saints that had died in the Corinthian church.
8. It was a baptism based upon a profession of faith in the resurrection of the dead.
9. It was a baptism of suffering and death by those teaching the resurrection.
10. It was a baptism in the name of a Savior Who had died and risen again.
11. It was a baptism of those who converted to Christianity upon seeing a martyr’s death.
12. It was a baptism of those frightened into conversion by the death of Christ-rejecters.
For Bible believers without seminary degrees, fear of a synod, or allegiance to Mormon apostles to cloud their judgments, the interpretation for this verse is simple, powerful, and glorious.
First, we agree with the Holy Ghost in II Peter 1:20 that no prophecy of the Scripture is of any private (alone, unique, or separate) interpretation. All twelve of the explanations given above can be eliminated immediately, for they are not taught anywhere else in the Word of God. And further, Paul would not have appealed to a heretical concept of baptism to establish the resurrection without correcting the error.
Second, we submit to the Holy Ghost that the context of I Corinthians 15 is exclusively the bodily resurrection of the dead – both Jesus Christ and His saints. The 29th verse is in the middle of numerous arguments – doctrinal and practical – made by Paul to prove the resurrection. So the verse must be teaching another argument in favor of the resurrection of the dead.
Third, we submit to the Holy Ghost’s direction in I Corinthians 2:13 to compare spiritual things with spiritual to understand God’s wisdom. By reading Romans 6:3-5; Colossians 2:12; and I Peter 3:21, we know that true baptism is by immersion to show a LIKENESS or FIGURE of burial and resurrection. Peter’s verse could not be plainer in this regard.
Fourth, we read the verse distinctly and give its sense according to the Divine method used by Ezra and the Levites (Neh 8:7-8). When we do this, we observe that the middle clause requires a sense of resurrection in both the preceding and following clauses. Therefore, we see Paul’s use of an ellipsis in the first and third clauses. In other words, his purpose in this verse is defending the resurrection, by virtue of the middle clause, so that the surrounding clauses must include resurrection also.
An ellipsis is an intentional omission of words that are clearly understood to enhance the force of the sentence. Paul left out the words THE RESURRECTION OF in both the first and third clauses. By so doing, he boldly showed baptism without any hope of resurrection to be a mere memorial of death! What a horrible destruction of baptism’s symbolism, if there is no resurrection!
The Bible has many examples of elliptical constructions. Proverbs is full of them. Consider among many Proverbs 22:1, where the words TO BE CHOSEN are elliptically removed from the second clause. Consider also Proverbs 20:16, where the words THAT IS SURETY are missing from the second clause. Consider also Proverbs 19:1, where the words THE RICH are missing from the second clause. These examples could be multiplied almost indefinitely.
In I Corinthians 15:29-32, Paul uses two practical arguments to convince the Corinthians to hold to the doctrine of the resurrection. The second argument, in 15:30-32, is the utter folly of Paul’s cheerful sufferings, if there is no reward of a future resurrection. The first argument, in 15:29, is the utter folly of baptism, if it is only a picture of death without the hope of the resurrection.
Since true baptism is by immersion in water to show both burial and resurrection, then the Corinthians had better defend the doctrine of the resurrection or repudiate their baptisms. Thus, 15:29 is a powerful practical argument for the resurrection of the body and a further proof text for baptism by immersion.
Let God be true, but every man a liar. God inspired and preserved this verse in order to expose those who invented baptism for dead relatives (Mormons) and those who superstitiously sprinkle infants (Catholics and Presbyterians). Both of them err in the interpretation of this text, for they have chosen their inventions over God’s Holy Word.
If you have been baptized by immersion according to the apostolic pattern, then you were baptized in a figure of our Lord’s resurrection for your justification, a figure of your spiritual resurrection to walk in newness of life, and a figure of your future bodily resurrection. Praise ye the Lord. Amen.
More Difficult Verses
Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.
Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.