What is Baptism for the Dead?
Is Baptism of the Dead Biblical?
“Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? Why are they then baptized for the dead?” 1 Corinthians 15:29
The practice of vicarious baptism such as that which is practiced by Mormons today, appeared as early as the second century. It should be noted a Biblical doctrine should not be built on any verse as obscure as this one in 1 Corinthians 15:29. Since the Bible clearly teaches that baptism does not save an individual, therefore being baptized in the place of those who are already dead cannot be of benefit to anyone.
The interpretation of this difficult verse yields to an understanding of the Greek preposition hyper. Usually, the word means “over” or “instead of.” But there are times when the only translation possible is “concerning.” In John.1:30, John says, “This is he concerning [hyper] whom I spoke.” The same applies here; the translation should be “concerning the dead.” The idea that Christian baptism concerning death and the promise of resurrection is a meaningless ordinance unless the resurrection is a reality. This interpretation certainly fits well with the contexts of 1 Corinthians 15. (The Criswell Study Bible, Page 1362)
In the Liberty Bible Commentary, Volume II, pertaining to 1 Corinthians 15:29, the following is given: “The expression may refer to young converts who took the place of the older brethren in the church who had died so that it would be properly rendered ‘baptized in the place of’ (Greek hyper) which has the same sense” (See II Corinthians 5:15; Philemon 13).
Since the context centers on the reality of the resurrection, it seems that Paul would be questioning why they are continuing to baptize new converts “over” or “in place of” the dead ones, if there is no resurrection, since baptism symbolizes our death and resurrection. This verse means, “to continue to baptize new converts, then, in place of the dead ones, would be meaningless if there were to be no real resurrection of the dead.”
A second interpretation of the passage is that the expression is to be taken synonymously with the meaning found in verse 30, thus being rendered “baptized with reference to the dead.” This would be a nonsacerdotal use of the term “baptism.” That is, the people of whom Paul was speaking were being literally immersed in such severe persecution that they were dying for their faith. (Liberty Bible Commentary, Volume II, Page 462).