What Does Paul Mean by Being Baptized for the Dead?

1 Corinthians 15 is all about resurrection. It’s specifically talking about bodily, physical resurrection: dead bodies living again. He’s not talking about the spiritual concept of being raised up to newness of life, as in being born again.

He’s talking physical resurrection.

In the midst of this chapter Paul throws in this doozy of a verse:

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? (1 Corinthians 15:29)

What in the world Paul?!

I love how the Bible throws in stuff just to see if you’re paying attention.

There are various interpretations of this verse.

Some say Paul is telling us to baptize people for dead people. I don’t know that anyone has ever taken it to mean you should baptize dead bodies, but probably someone has. I think the idea is more about baptizing a living person for a dead person.

The Mormons do such a thing, which is why much genealogy information is done by Mormons. There is no way to read this verse grammatically to mean that Paul is commanding people to baptize for the dead. It’s not what he’s saying.

Others interpret this in an effort to avoid the whole thing by saying he’s talking about baptizing spiritually dead people. They eliminate the whole physical aspect, even though that’s the entire point Paul makes in the chapter, and focus on a spiritual spin.

Others think Paul is being a bit sarcastic. Mocking them for doing this practice and yet fighting against resurrection. Why is resurrection so hard for you to handle when you already think there’s life after this one? I would go for this, but I’d also add a bit more.

Paul is pointing out the idea that even heathen scum people believe in life after death. People know there’s something else beyond this life. Even your pagan customs demonstrate that. The only way this is possible is if there’s a resurrection.

Paul could have used Egyptians burying their mummies with food and gold instead of baptism for the dead. Everyone knows there’s life after this one, that’s because there is! And resurrection makes it possible.

Paul is not telling us to baptize for the dead. He’s saying they already are. He’s asking them to examine that idea. Why? Because you think there’s life after death. Therefore, it shouldn’t be hard to make a leap that there will be a resurrection according to biblical authority.

Pagan practices can hint at truth. We all started in one place with Adam and Eve. It shouldn’t surprise us that many customs of unbelieving peoples still get close to biblical truth. It’s tainted and messed up, but it’s still hinting at truth.

People know there’s life after this one. According to the Bible, which you should trust over pagan practices, that next life is possible because of resurrection.

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