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This is the teaching site of the West Side church of Christ in Fort Worth, TX. Unless otherwise indicated, all materials were written and prepared by Stan Cox

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1 Corinthians 15:29, An Explanation

“Otherwise, what will they do who are baptized for the dead, if the dead do not rise at all? Why then are they baptized for the dead?”

1 Corinthians 15:29

The verse above is admittedly a difficult passage to understand. It is a passage that has been wrested from context to defend a practice without Bible authority. For example, the Mormon church engages in the practice of baptism by proxy. One of the duties of those Mormons who desire to go to a Mormon temple, is when there to be immersed on behalf of someone who has died. In fact, the Mormon’s intense interest in geneological records is to identify those who have died in past generations, that they may be baptized in water by proxy.

Notice the following quote from a Mormon web site:

“Because all on the earth do not have the opportunity to accept the gospel during mortality, the Lord has authorized baptisms performed by proxy for the dead. Therefore, those who accept the gospel in the spirit world may qualify for entrance into God’s kingdom”

A primary tenet of Bible study is to interpret difficult scripture by appealing to other passages that are more easily understood. If we are careful, we can see clearly what Paul was not saying in 1 Corinthians 15:29, and more clearly understood what his meaning actually was in this difficult passage.

First, the Bible clearly teaches that one’s destiny is set at death. Note the Hebrew writers statement, “And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment,” (Hebrews 9:27). A man’s judgment will be based upon “the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10). The unrighteous rich man found out that his plight in “torments in Hades” was a condition that would not and could not change. Abraham told him, “And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us” (Luke 16:26).

At death, as scripture clearly reveals, our eternal destiny is fixed. The idea that the Mormons and others present, that one can be “released from prison” after death, is without merit. Baptism by proxy is not taught in our text.

In order to properly understand the passage, we must first be aware of the context. In this chapter, the apostle Paul is making numerous arguments to assert that the resurrection of the dead, (a doctrine that some in Corinth were denying), was in fact true.

First, he appealed to the eyewitness testimony of Christ’s resurrection (vs. 1-11). Next, he argued that to deny the resurrection of the dead is to deny the resurrection of Christ from the dead, a position that would make the apostles liars, and faith in Christ futile (vs. 12-19). After verse 29, he argues that the willingness of the faithful to endure persecution and even to die for their faith is based in their confidence in the resurrection (vs. 30).

Verse 29 is a similar argument. Whatever the “baptism for the dead” is, it is done by those who do it because of their confidence in the resurrection. As Paul stated, “We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed — in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed” (vs. 51-52).

If the death under consideration here references spiritual death, and the baptism under consideration is recognized as our own, the difficulty with the passage is removed. Our baptism in water for the remission of sins, (cf. Acts 2:38); the one baptism that is commanded of all men, (cf. Ephesians 4:5); is valid and beneficial only if there is a resurrection.

Why be baptized if there is no resurrection? Why seek to go from death to life if there is no life after death? If there is no resurrection from the dead, there is no purpose in baptism. If the dead do not rise, then the baptized believer is no better off than the unbaptized sinner. Those who are alive to Christ have no advantage over those who are dead in sin.

The simplest explanation seems to be that Paul is asking, “Why would anyone submit to being baptized (to be born again), if there is no hope of eternal life?” The concept of baptism, absent the resurrection of the dead, is absurd.