1 Corinthians 15:29: Baptism for the Dead? :: By Mark A. Becker

“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?” (1 Corinthians 15:29).

A difficult verse? Yes. Unexplainable and unknowable? I don’t think so.

On first glance, it sure seems to be, though, doesn’t it? And it certainly doesn’t help that this verse is the go-to verse for many cults that teach in baptizing the dead – that is, that salvation can be obtained for unbelievers if they are baptized posthumously by the living after their physical deaths.

There’s no doubt that the wording of 1 Corinthians 15:29 is very unique, and we know that there is no other passage that ever teaches such a concept of baptism for the physically dead. Logically, there is nothing Biblical about such a concept. Salvation is an individual endeavor entirely obtained through faith in Jesus Christ and can only be attained while that person is still alive.

So, let’s do our thing and investigate this verse as we look into the original Greek, using logic, Biblical supports, and rational thought to see if we can better understand what Paul is teaching here.

As always, we must begin with context. Below is the summary context passage related to 1 Corinthians 15:29.

“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: And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain” (1 Corinthians 15:12-14).

There were some in the church at Corinth who were teaching that there was to be no resurrection of the dead. Paul, as he should have been, was quite concerned that anyone would be teaching the body of Christ such false doctrine – especially since Christianity stands or falls on Christ’s resurrection from the dead – and he set about to straighten them out on their irrational thoughts on this subject.

With the context clearly established, let us continue on as we revisit our study text.

“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?” (1 Corinthians 15:29).

The first item of note for us to consider is Paul’s singling out the continued contextual theme of those who say that “the dead rise not at all.” Therefore, those who say that the dead rise not are the people for who this verse is addressed.

The second item of interest is that when I looked into the original Greek of this verse, the word translated “dead” at the end of the verse is not the Greek word for “dead.” In fact, the actual Greek word is 846 αὐτός “autos” and is an intensive pronoun. Most translations translate this Greek word in this verse as “them.”

In the Text Analysis, the literal rendering of 1 Corinthians 15:29 is as follows:

Otherwise, what will they do who are baptized for the dead? If at all [the] dead not are raised, why also are they baptized for them?

I found this very interesting and wanted to share this with the reader. But because this verse is used by the cults using the rendering of the King James, we will continue on with the King James Version for our study.

Here again is our study verse.

“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?” (1 Corinthians 15:29). (emphasis mine)

The Greek word translated “for” is 5228 ὑπέρ “huper” and means over, beyond, on behalf of, for the sake of, concerning. A primary preposition; “over”, i.e. (with the genitive case) of place, above, beyond, across, or causal, for the sake of, instead, regarding; with the accusative case superior to, more than — (+ exceeding, abundantly) above, in (on) behalf of, beyond, by, + very chiefest, concerning, exceeding (above, -ly), for, + very highly, more (than), of, over, on the part of, for sake of, in stead, than, to(-ward), very. In the comparative, it retains many of the above applications. [Definition Biblehub.com] (emphasis mine)

Being as the context is that of those who say there is no resurrection of the dead, I submit that a better translation for “for” would be “concerning” or “regarding.”

When applying the alternative translation of “concerning,” the verse would be rendered as such:

“Else what shall they do which are baptized concerning the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized concerning the dead?” (Alternative translation for “huper“)

As baptism is a visible symbolism of our death, burial, and resurrection with and in Christ, the phrase “concerning the dead” should direct our thoughts to our being dead, positionally, in Christ.

“For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3).

This might naturally link the thought of the believer to Paul’s great exposition on the mystery of the rapture and the resurrection of the dead in Christ:

“For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first (1 Thessalonians 4:16). (emphasis mine)

Additionally, every human being, upon birth, is born dead in our sins.

“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. And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses” (Colossians 2:12-13). (emphasis mine)

Note also that we are “buried with Him in baptism,” denoting our being dead in Christ positionally and symbolically through the outward act of baptism.

Consider also that “… the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead (2 Corinthians 5:14). (emphasis mine) – literally, “therefore, all have died.”

When we contemplate Paul’s defense of the resurrection of both Christ and our future resurrection in Him in 1 Corinthians 15, and that because Christ “died for all” and “therefore, all have died” in 2 Corinthians 5:14, the phrases “Else what shall they do which are baptized concerning the dead, if the dead rise not at all” and “why are they then baptized concerning the dead?” makes much more sense.

If we are baptizing the dead in Christ (born dead into sin as we saw in Colossians 2:12-13, and physically alive, but dead, positionally, in Christ as we saw in Colossians 3:3), and there’s no resurrection, then our baptism is useless and in vain.

Now let’s look at the other alternative translation of “regarding.”

“Else what shall they do which are baptized regarding the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized regarding the dead?” (Alternative translation for “huper“)

In this example, we see the same thought being expressed. That is, when we baptize someone, we are baptizing them with regard to their position of being dead in Christ and their future resurrection in Him. If there is no resurrection, then why are we even bothering to baptize at all?!?

Gloriously, the ending of 1 Corinthians 15 is one of two beloved passages of the resurrection of believers who have since fallen asleep in Christ (died physically) and the rapture of the living still on earth when the Lord returns!

“Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.

“So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” (1 Corinthians 15:51-55).

Everything concerning 1 Corinthians 15 has to do with the resurrection of the body of Christ. Our study text has to do with some within the church claiming that there is no resurrection. Paul’s entire teaching in this portion of 1 Corinthians 15 is set forth to refute this false teaching, and, gloriously, the remainder of the chapter is to assure all believers in Christ that, just as Christ was resurrected from the dead, then, so too, shall we!

Now, given all we have learned, let’s see if this verse has gained more meaning, understanding, and clarity for us.

“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?” (1 Corinthians 15:29).

Why do we and they – who were once dead in sin before salvation and are now dead, positionally, in Christ after salvation – get baptized at all if there is no resurrection? Why, indeed!

I pray this short study has helped you to better understand this somewhat difficult passage and that you may be able, with boldness and confidence, to share this information with those “missionaries” who knock on your door. Let’s invite these individuals into our houses and lead them to the real Jesus Christ, shall we?!?

May we all be Answering the Call of The Great Commission and giving an answer to every man and woman who so desperately needs Jesus and asks us, “Why Am I Here and What Is It All About?

Keep reaching the lost for Christ while we still have time.

[Mark’s note: Please check out my newest article, The Lake of Fire and Salvation, that can only be accessed at FaithWriters.com.]

Love, grace, mercy, and shalom in Messiah Yeshua, and Maranatha!

Email: mab10666@yahoo.com

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