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).

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Dr. Elmer Towns is a college and seminary professor, an author of popular and scholarly works (the editor of two encyclopedias), a popular seminar lecturer, and dedicated worker in Sunday school, and has developed over 20 resource packets for leadership education.His personal education includes a B.S. from Northwestern College in Minneapolis, Minnesota, a M.A. from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, a Th.M. from Dallas Theological Seminary also in Dallas, a MRE from Garrett Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois, and a D.Min. from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California.He is co-founder of Liberty University, with Jerry Falwell, in 1971, and was the only full-time teacher in the first year of Liberty’s existence. Today, the University has over 11,400 students on campus with 39,000 in the Distance Learning Program (now Liberty University Online), and he is the Dean of the School of Religion.Dr. Towns has given theological lectures and taught intensive seminars at over 50 theological seminaries in America and abroad. He holds visiting professorship rank in five seminaries. He has written over 2,000 reference and/or popular articles and received six honorary doctoral degrees. Four doctoral dissertations have analyzed his contribution to religious education and evangelism.

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