· Why does Paul refer to the practice of baptism for the dead?
· What is the meaning and purpose of the practice?
· Did Paul approve or disapprove it?
· In the “resurrection chapter” of 1Co 15, Paul gives an elaborate defence for both the resurrection of Christ and the future resurrection of the dead because some in the Corinthian church denied the very concept of bodily resurrection. Such a denial seems to have emerged out of a view of reality which devalued physical life and held that only the human spirit or soul was the object of redemption.
· Paul’s defence of resurrection is in a series of “if/then” arguments:
· (1) If there is no resurrection, then Christ has not been raised (15:13).
· (2) If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching and your faith are futile (15:14,17) and those Christians who have already died are lost (15:18).
· (3) If the dead are not raised, then “let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” and that’s the end of it (15:32).
The argument here is although some Christians in
What then was the
practice and its purpose? Baptism for the dead was practised in
· Three possibilities:
· (1) New converts were being baptized to fill the ranks of Christians who had died. This explanation would not create any doctrinal difficulty. However, such a practice would hardly be appropriate to prove bodily resurrection.
· (2) Some Christians were undergoing the ritual of baptism on behalf of dead relatives or friends. This might arise from the concern that those who died before Christ or those who died before hearing the gospel were deprived of the opportunity of salvation. The practice then might be a response to such concerns (see also 1Pe 3:18‑20).
· (3) Some living believers were baptized for those who believed in Christ but died before they were baptized, so that they too, in a sense, would not miss out on baptism. This possibility would be a likely one if those who professed faith in Christ were required to go through an extended “probationary” period before they were baptized. Although this was not the practice at that time as Christians were baptized almost immediately after they came to know Christ (see Ac 2:37-41; 8:34-38; 10:44‑48; 16:29‑33), yet it is possible that due to various circumstances or illness, some believers died before baptism.
· Baptism on their behalf would be a visible demonstration and celebration that these departed had received Christ’s redemption and would eventually be raised by God. This last possibility is the most likely explanation.
· There is no indication that Paul promotes or agrees with the ritual of baptism for the dead. He is only illustrating his argument that the resurrection is a reality.
· Christian belief can not be founded on a single passage in the Bible (compared to the millennium in Rev 20:2).