Would you please explain 1 Corinthians 15:29, speaking of "baptism for the dead." Are we to be baptized for those who have already died?


Certainly not. Our free booklet, “Baptism–A Requirement for Salvation,”
explains in detail that only adult LIVING persons are to be baptized,
after they repent of their sins and believe in the Sacrifice of Jesus
Christ. A person who has died, cannot repent and believe in anything,
as long as he is dead. The reason is that a dead person knows nothing
(Ecclesiastes 9:5). Our free booklet, “Do We Have an Immortal Soul?,”
explains that a person who dies is without consciousness–he or his
soul does not go to heaven or hell, because he–the person–IS the
soul. As long as he is alive, he is a living soul, and when he dies, he
has become a dead soul.

As Romans 6:3-4 explains, baptism–the
total immersion of the person under water–points at the figurative
death of the person. He “dies,” spiritually speaking, in the watery
grave. His old man dies (verse 6), and a new man arises out of the
watery grave (Colossians 3:9-10). In a sense, the new man is
“resurrected,” figuratively speaking, from the spiritual dead.

this background, let us review Paul’s saying in 1 Corinthians 15:29,
which reads: “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?”

Paul was contending with those in Corinth who claimed
that there was no resurrection from the dead. He asked in verse 12:
“Now if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how
do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?” He
continues to explain that there is indeed a resurrection from the
dead–in fact, there is more than just one resurrection. Paul states
that every human being will be resurrected, but in a particular order
or time sequence (verses 20-24). In Revelation 20:5, the “first
resurrection” of the saints is mentioned. The same passage explains
that some will be resurrected at Christ’s coming, and many will be
resurrected 1,000 years later. For more information on this vital
subject, please read our free booklet, “God’s Commanded Holy Days.”

an additional argument for the resurrection FROM the dead, Paul
mentioned the resurrection FOR the dead (verse 29). Several attempts
have been advanced to explain what Paul might have meant with his

One major modern denomination preaches and practices
“baptism for the dead”–by baptizing people for their dead relatives.
This practice is not based on God’s Holy Word. Baptism only makes
sense when and so long as the person to be baptized is ALIVE. Baptism
for a dead person, that is, vicariously, derivatively or by proxy,
accomplishes nothing. God does not want us to become baptized “for” or
on behalf of somebody else. Baptism is an individual personal decision
and an individual act–our righteousness in baptism cannot be
transferred to another person. Christ never sinned–still, He was
baptized by John the Baptist to “fulfill all righteousness”
(Matthew 3:15). He gave us an example to follow His footsteps. Christ
did not get baptized FOR others–and so, He expects each and every one
of His disciples to get baptized him- or herself. After all, each and
every one of us will have to give account, individually, for what he or
she has done (Romans 14:12).

However, some commentaries advance
the idea that a few within the Corinthian Church might have been
involved in the practice of getting baptized for a dead relative.

instance, the Nelson Study Bible writes: “It may be that some of the
Corinthians had for some reason been baptized for others who had died
without baptism. Paul… used ‘they’ rather than ‘we’ when speaking of
it… To deny the resurrection, as the Corinthians did, and yet be
involved in such baptism activities made no sense.”

It is
important to note that Paul spoke of “them,” who were involved in the
practice. When speaking of true Christians, including those in the
Corinthian Church, he used the words “you,” “we,” “our” and “us”
(verses 12, 14, 15, 17, 19, 30, 34). This seems to indicate that the
practice, which Paul was addressing, without approving of it, was done
OUTSIDE of the Church, even though the Corinthians were familiar with

The Commentary of Jamieson, Fausset and Brown points at the
same distinction, explaining that Paul talked about those who engaged
in the practice in the “third person; a class distinct from that in
which the apostle places himself, ‘we’ (v. 30), first person.” The
commentary continues to stress that some “Marcionites adopted the
practice at a later period, probably from taking [and misapplying] this
passage…, but, generally, it was unknown in the Church.”

without focusing on the use of different pronouns (like “them” and
“we”), the New Bible Commentary: Revised adds another possibility as to
how to understand this passage:

“… The Greek can also mean
‘baptized because of the dead,’ i.e. the reference is to the baptism of
those influenced by the testimony of a Christian who had recently died,
and in the hope of being re-united with him at the resurrection.”

the entire fifteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians, Paul spoke about the
hope of the resurrection. It is interesting that in the phrase in verse
29 (“baptized for the dead”), the word “for” is “huper” in the original
Greek. This word can also mean, “for the hope of” or “for the
realization of” (compare, The Analytical Greek Lexicon). For instance,
in Philippians 2:13, we read: “…for it is God who works in you both
to will and to do FOR [Greek: huper] His good pleasure.” The intended
meaning is: “for the realization of His good pleasure.”

In the
same way, 1 Corinthians 15:29 can be translated: “Otherwise, what will
they do who are baptized for [the realization of, or the hope of] the
dead, if the dead do not rise at all? Why then are they baptized for
[the realization of, or the hope of] the dead?”

When people were
baptized, they were not dead, but still alive. At the time of their
baptism, they were looking forward to their resurrection. Baptism was
the first necessary step toward the realization of their goal–the
resurrection of the dead. Without that hope, there would not have been
a reason to be baptized in the first place. Subsequently those who were
baptized died, sleeping in their graves and awaiting, in hope, so to
speak, their resurrection from the dead.

Whatever Paul had in
mind, when referring to the “resurrection for the dead,” it is clear
from the rest of the Bible, that God’s Church is not to engage in the
practice of actually conducting baptisms “by proxy”– of baptizing one
person on behalf of or instead of another dead relative. God does not
accept such “derivative” or “vicarious” baptisms.

Lead Writer: Norbert Link

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