1 Corinthians 15:29 NLT "If the dead will not be raised, then what point is there in people being baptized for those who are dead? Why do it unless the dead will someday rise again?"
1 Corinthians 15:29
ESV - 29 Otherwise, what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf?
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I wondered about this verse as well. I've listened to some pastors who simply say they can't explain it but that you can take one verse and build a doctrine on it (like the Mormons have). However, I think the better explanation came from another pastor who explained that the Corinthians were having a hard time believing the resurrection of Christ. See all of the previous verses where Paul was telling them--"I saw HIM! It's true!" Paul was saying in this verse, "Even the pagan religions believe in resurrection and they baptize people to save dead people!" He wasn't endorsing it, simply stating what most religions surrounding the Corinthians believed--that resurrection is universally accepted as the human "hope" that there is something more than this life. He knew it was futile to baptize for the dead or for any other reason than identifying yourself with Christ in His death and His resurrection but he was just trying to hammer home the point that resurrection was not an unbelievable concept as the Corinthians seemed to think.
Paul was making an argument against those who claim that the dead are not resurrected, yet, at the same time, practice baptizing the living on behalf of the dead. This is not an argument to promote baptizing the dead.
In the greatest scheme of things, baptism, whether it be on a live person or a dead one, has nothing to do with their salvation. Baptizing a dead person is too little - too late, because their salvation was already determined from what they truly believed at the point of their death. It is an exercise in futility. The baptizing of the dead is still practiced today, especially in the Mormon church. Baptizing a live person certainly does not guarantee salvation, nor is it a requirement for same. No amount of rituals, church attendance, acquaintances or expressions of gifts or good works will guarantee salvation. One can only be saved through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. AND, one has to believe that with all their being. Once you believe, you will "walk the walk," and be changed forever. We can't have that relationship after we have died.
I believe the practice of baptizing the dead came from a misinterpretation of Mark 16:16: "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved." This verse gives the impression that salvation is linked both to believing and being baptised. The first Christians did not have all the writings of the New Testament; these documents were in the process of creation to help new-born Christians understand the Christian faith, and separate it from false teachings that had started at the time. Some communities had started practising baptism for the dead for those who had given proof of their faith by dying as martyrs. Because of the above-mentioned misinterpretation, the community thought that they had to be baptised by proxy to guarantee their access to heaven. This was probably a practice in only very few communities, but Paul had heard about it at the time he was writing. This practice was, of course, discontinued very quickly once it was clear that faith was the essential part of salvation. This is why there is no other mention of this in the New Testament, because there was no longer any need to clarify this point. A final word: while it is not by baptism that we are saved, being baptised is an essential part of the Christian if only as an act of obedience to our Lord (there are, of course, other reasons which we won't go into here).
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