Understanding The Bible
"Baptism for the Dead"

John D. Reaume
Lecturer of Biblical Studies,
United Missionary Theological College,
IIorin, Nigeria

Baptism For The Dead

Having examined 1 Corinthians 15:29, a number of conclusions can be made.

If these four observations are true, it is extremely improbable that the preposition uper (gk) denotes vicarious baptism for the benefit of the dead, as there would be no value in such a practice, since the dead in question would already have been "saved" and probably baptized. With the additional problem of vicarious baptism and Pauline theology, the improbability of 1 Corinthians 15:29 referring to vicarious baptism becomes insurmountable.

Therefore only three of the more than two hundred interpretations of 1 Corinthians 15:29 remain strong possibilities.

The first suggestion is perhaps less convincing, since it would be said that all believers take the place of deceased believers and Paul was evidently referring to a select group within the church.

The final two suggestions are closely related semantically and fit the context well, as they both refer to a select group within the church and include an emphasis on the resurrection as the implied motive for these practices.

Perhaps the most plausible interpretation is the third option, since it makes sense without a significant ellipsis. No doubt many individuals in the early church were influenced by the testimony of other believers who had recently died or who were martyred. For example Paul may have been influenced by Stephen's testimony when Stephen was arrested and stoned (Acts 7). Although all three interpretations are not immediately evident from initial readings of the text, all three respect the contextual framework of Pauline usage and theology.

In light of the minor role this verse plays in the overall argument of 1 Corinthians 15, it is ironic that the verse has received so much attention in the literature. This disproportionate attention is justified, however, if this passage refers to a practice in aplying the saving efficacy of baptism. Was Paul referring to a practice fundamentally opposed to his theology of salvation by faith alone as the majority of modern commentators suggest? According to the evidence revealed by this study, this is highly improbably.

In addition there is no biblical warrant given in this passage for instituting the practice of baptism for the dead. Both the ancient and modern practices of baptism for the dead are apparently founded on misinterpretations of this verse.

Bibliotheca Sacra / October - December 1995
Volume 152, Number 608, Page 474
"Another Look at 1 Corinthians 15:29, 'Baptized for the Dead'"
By John D. Reaume, Lecturer of Biblical Studies, United Missionary Theological College, Ilorin, Nigeria.