On the second Sunday
night of each month, we examine the Bible to answer questions
previously submitted. During this lesson, we will examine a
question that addresses a passage I have considered one of the
more difficult to understand—I
Corinthians 15:29: “Otherwise, what will those do who
are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why
then are they baptized for them?” For many years, I addressed
this passage by saying, “I do not know what it means, but I know
what it doesn’t mean.” I am not extremely satisfied with that
kind of answer, therefore, I continue to study this passage.
Presently, I am very comfortable with what I believe this passage
means. At the same time, I recognize that more study may convince
me otherwise. Tonight’s lesson therefore should not be viewed as
the definitive exposition of this verse, but simply me sharing
where I am right now on this verse to help you in your study. My
only prayer is that we keep our minds open to God’s will and
grow in understanding it. Perhaps this lesson will spark more
thought and study to help us understand God’s word more clearly.
By way of introduction to this verse, we must understand
the general context. Paul is making a logical argument to prove a
point. The discussion in I
Corinthians 15:1-11 is about the resurrection of Jesus and
the witnesses to His resurrection. Paul segues from this to
addressing some false teaching found in Corinth. Some of the
Corinthians were teaching there was no resurrection (15:12).
For the rest of the chapter Paul proves there is in fact a
resurrection and he explains that resurrection. I
Corinthians 15:29 is written in the context of
demonstrating the truth of the resurrection. Thus, whatever our
final decision about the meaning of this verse, it must be a
logical argument demonstrating the truth of the resurrection.
I want to make this study as simple as possible. All we are
going to do is examine what the four main terms in Paul’s
question mean. Then, once we understand each term we will look at
the question again. I believe then we will have a clear picture of
Paul’s question and Paul’s meaning.
I = Paul, you = Corinthians.
I = Paul, them & they = other apostles, we = all
apostles, you = Corinthians.
you = Corinthians, some of you = the Corinthians teaching
our = apostles, your = Corinthians.
we = apostles.
you = Corinthians.
we = apostles (possibly the combination of I and you,
“those” baptized for the dead? It is not all Christians in
general, for that would be “we”. It is not the apostles, for
that also would be “we” as in 15:30.
It is not the Corinthians in general, for that would be “you”.
fits into “those” in the context? Possibly it is some group
that is not Christian. However, that falls short because this
question could not be a defense of resurrection, since what the
pagans did would have no bearing on resurrection. In the context,
Paul must be referring to the group of Christians at Corinth who
were teaching no resurrection. Those people were being baptized
for the dead. No one else was doing that, just those who taught no
Paul mean by “baptism”?
Get rid of
I have often
heard of a list of seven different baptisms in the New Testament.
Christ for the remission of sins (Acts
2:38; Romans 6:3).
the Holy Spirit (Matthew
the dead (I
notice the assumption made in this list? The assumption is baptism
for the dead is completely different from any other baptism
mentioned in the scriptures. The problem is if this is a different
baptism in which Christians are to participate, the scriptures do
not give us enough information about how to accomplish it. They
don’t tell us in what to immerse someone for this baptism. They
don’t tell us what the baptism is to accomplish. II
Timothy 3:16-17 tells us the scripture furnishes us for
every good work. If this is a different baptism, the scripture
doesn’t equip us for this good work.
reasonably deduce that Paul is saying some are trying to use one
of these six baptisms with which the Corinthian Christians would
already be familiar for the dead. By process of elimination we can
determine which baptism some are using for the dead.
This is not
speaking about the baptism of suffering. Paul’s next point in I
Corinthians 15:30 is about the suffering that all
Christians endure. If Paul was speaking of the baptism of
suffering, he would have included himself in the baptism of vs.
This is not
speaking about the baptism of the Holy Spirit. In every case of
the baptism of the Holy Spirit recorded in the New Testament (Acts
2 and 10), it is something the Holy Spirit does to
someone, not something anyone could go do.
It is not
the baptism of fire, because, in the context of Matthew
3:11, the baptism of fire is the fire of judgment, being
burned up like the chaff. This is something done to people not
something they do.
This is not
Moses’ baptism. That referred to the Israelites who went through
the Red Sea.
This is not
the baptism of John, because that baptism was no longer practiced.
must be referring to baptism for the remission of sins that
brought people into Christ. The Corinthians were very familiar
with this baptism having participated in it according to Acts
18:8. Paul’s point is some were being baptized for the
remission of sins, but it was for the dead. In connection with the
teaching of no resurrection, their baptism was pointless.
getting too far ahead, we should note two points here.
We need to
keep in mind what is the real eternal benefit of baptism for the
remission of sins. According to Philippians
3:8-11, “in order that I may attain to the resurrection
from the dead” I have to be in Christ. Romans
6:3 and Galatians 3:27 demonstrate that we enter
Christ through baptism. This ties some strings together for us.
The baptism for the remission of sins gives us the hope of
resurrection, but what point is there in that baptism if there is
also this point before moving on. We must remember that baptism
into Christ benefits only one person, the one doing it. Keep this
in mind. It will be important as we notice our next point and when
we conclude our study.
“for” in the phrase “baptized for the dead” translates the
Greek word “huper”. According to Strong’s Enhanced Lexicon,
this term is used in scriptures to mean various things, i.e. in
behalf of (Matthew
5:44) and for the sake of (John
whatever this baptism is, it was done on behalf of or for the sake
of the dead. That is, it was done in order to benefit the dead.
Keep in mind our last point, baptism into Christ only benefits the
one who is obeying it. Thus, as we read the question we have
already learned something about our next point. “The dead” is
representative of those who are being baptized.
Get rid of
this is speaking of particular dead individuals. If that is the
case, what particular individuals are in mind and to what passage
would you appeal to prove it?
passage speak of dead relatives, dead friends, dead people who
never heard the gospel, those who died on the way to being
baptized … How would you know? Neither this text nor any other
defines any particular individuals for whom we may be baptized
after they are dead. This passage must not be talking about some
action we do for some other individual who is already dead.
however, demonstrates something other than doing this for
particular individuals. The phrase “the dead” in I
Corinthians 15:29 translates the Greek word “nekron”
and is not used in a vacuum. For example, this term is used in 15:12,
13 and 20. This term was used to describe the
state of death or the grouping of those who were in that state. In
context of no resurrection doctrine, the state of death is
permanent. The dead will remain dead and never be anything more
another form of the word is used in this very chapter to focus
more on dead individuals. “Nekroi” is used in 15:15-16
to speak of dead individuals not being raised. “Nekron’ is the
state from which the “nekroi” were raised. Thus Jesus was one
of the “nekroi (dead individuals)” who was raised from the
“nekron (the state of death or group of the dead)”.
baptism into Christ only benefits those who are participating in
it. We have already concluded that those who are being baptized in
this verse are the ones who teach no resurrection. Thus, they are
trying to provide a benefit for themselves, through baptism, that
they cannot have because they are going to be dead, only dead and
always dead. Once they die they will never be anything but dead.
asking a rhetorical question.
context of 15:30,
“Why are we also in danger every hour?” we recognize 15:29
is a rhetorical question. That is, a question whose answer is so
obvious, it is not being given to elicit the answer from others,
but rather to make a point.
question in light of all we have learned so far. Those who taught
no resurrection had been baptized into Christ for the remission of
their sins. But what did they expect it to do for them? The
eternal benefit of baptism is resurrection from the dead. Those
people who taught no resurrection had no hope. Why then were they
baptized? When the only real and eternal benefit of baptism is
resurrection what will they do, since they don’t believe in
resurrection and were, therefore baptized only to be dead?
Paul’s rhetorical point is about those who taught no
resurrection. Their action in baptism contradicted their doctrine
of no resurrection. Paul’s question really is, “Why are these
people getting baptized into Christ if they have no hope of
resurrection through Christ?” Why are they getting baptized just
to die and just be dead forever.
that line of reasoning led to the next logical step of pointing
out in I
Corinthians 15:31-32 that nothing they would do as
Christians would benefit them. They might as well “eat, drink
and be merry for tomorrow we die“.
To sum up,
Paul was demonstrating the inconsistency of those who taught no
resurrection in I
Corinthians 15:29. They must expect something to happen
after death, otherwise, why be baptized at all? Their position of
no resurrection is illogical, not only in reference to the truth
revealed by the apostles, but also in reference to their own
practice of baptism.
Why is this
important to us?
important for us in much the same way it was important for the
Corinthians. This gives us hope. Understanding the point of this
question strengthens the argument for a resurrection. Thus
understanding what this verse means actually strengthens our hope
that there is a resurrection. We understand that God did not
command baptism in vain. It is for something. It grants us
resurrection. There is an eternal life that we have to look
forward to. Whenever this life gets difficult, we know the
resurrection will come and will make it all worth it.
important for us, because some Christians today teach there is no
resurrection. That is, there is no future resurrection. Some claim
the resurrection took place in 70 AD at the time of the
destruction of Jerusalem. Whether one says there is no
resurrection at all or the resurrection has already passed, the
result is the same. Our hope is gone. The only hope offered us is
resurrection from the dead or perhaps being alive when Jesus
comes. Understanding this verse will help us combat the false
doctrine that the resurrection has already passed. Additionally,
Corinthians 15:33 in mind, we learn we must not allow a
doctrine of no resurrection to be taught in this congregation. Nor
can we be in fellowship with those who teach it. Bad
communications corrupt good morals. This false teaching will
corrupt good action. The person teaching no resurrection may not
have corrupt action now, but the doctrine leads to corruption and,
therefore, we cannot espouse it or support it.
understanding this verse is important because it demonstrates the
necessity of baptism. The only way Paul’s argument makes any
sense is if baptism actually affects whether or not we will be
resurrected to life. If baptism is a good thing to do or a nice
thing to do, but not essential to salvation, then his whole
argument falls apart. If baptism does not really affect whether or
not we are going to be resurrected to eternal life anyway, then
Paul’s point doesn’t make sense. Paul says, there is a
resurrection and God’s command to be baptized proves it. This
implies that in order to attain the resurrection unto life, we
must be baptized. Without baptism in water for the remission of
sins into Christ, we will not attain the resurrection to eternal
life. If you were baptized with some other baptism, consider your
I know our topic has been difficult. I hope this lesson has
been helpful. As we conclude, I want you to understand that there
will be a resurrection (John
5:28-29). Following God is not vanity. Not following God,
however, is tragedy. Prepare for resurrection to eternal life by
being baptized for the remission of your sins (Acts
2:38; Romans 6:3-4). This action is not for those who will
just be dead, it is for those who will be raised from the dead.
to God in the church by Christ Jesus
Church of Christ