A Bible study from Faithbuilders Fellowship.
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THIS TITLE is suggested by 1 Cor. 15:29: "Otherwise what will they do the ones being baptized on behalf of the dead? If actually dead persons are not raised, why indeed are they baptized on behalf of them?" (Marshall Interlinear) A variety of interpretations of this verse exist from the pen of expositors. One view has led a church to baptize their members as proxies on behalf of those they conclude have died unsaved. But Scripture teaches that "the dead know not anything" (Eccl. 9:5), that no "device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom" reaches those who have gone down into the grave. (Eccl. 9:10) The spiritual exhortation which the questions of verse 29 hold become of personal value when three points in it are considered: 1) the meaning and purpose of baptism; 2) the dead; and 3) the resurrection of the dead.

Christian Baptism

External baptism by immersion in water is a visible testimony to others of an individual's heart baptism. True baptism is a renouncing of the personal will of the flesh and acceptance of the will of our heavenly Father to do it. Jesus Himself was involved in such a baptism. He came to John the Baptizer to openly declare His entrance into the service for which He was sent. (Matt. 3:13-17) "Wherefore when He cometh into the world, He saith,..." does not refer to the time of His birth, but rather to the time of His baptism. The sentiments of His prayer when being immersed by John (Luke 3:21), were prophesied by David (Psa. 40:6-8), and are quoted in Heb. 10:5-9.

'World' is from the Greek kosmos, and means "order" or "arrangement." Jesus realized He had been provided with a perfect human body for sacrifice, and that, having reached the age of thirty, He should proceed into that 'arrangement' and make the sacrifice of Himself which God's will for Him directed. And beginning at Pentecost, Jesus inquires of each believer who takes Him as their Leader: "Can you drink of the cup that I drink of? and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?" (Mark 10:38) Jesus indicated that pressing responsibility accompanied His baptism. "I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I pressed until it is accomplished." (Luke 12:50 Marshall Interlinear) "It is finished" (John 19:30, Matt. 27:50) signaled the victorious fulfillment of that baptism.

Romans 6:3-5 holds the Apostle Paul's understanding of the meaning of the baptism Jesus exampled. "Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His." (RSV) The inability of humans to live under water makes immersion in water a fitting symbol of baptism "into His death." But this does not mean that every believer must die by crucifixion. The lesson is of submission to the will of God, that we endeavor to follow the example provided in the life of Christ Jesus. If we 'present our bodies a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable unto God, which is our reasonable service' (Rom. 12:1,2), the promise is that we too shall now "walk in newness of life." It is certain that this personal, individual baptism is the baptism to which Paul refers in Cor. 15:29, because there is but "one baptism."--Eph. 4:4-6

"Resurrection of the Dead"

True baptism is the believer's response to the invitation to follow Jesus and sacrifice the interests of his human life. This means spiritual activity in pursuit of a heavenly goal. The promised reward for present baptism is the sharing "with Him in a resurrection like His" tomorrow. If it were not for this resurrection, Paul emphasizes, "what will those do who are baptized for the dead? [Will they lay in the grave forever after they die?] If the dead are not raised at all, why then are they baptized for them?"

The point of the resurrection is well considered in preceding verses, where Paul put the question, "How say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ: whom He raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not. For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: and if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable."--1 Cor. 15:12-19

The resurrection of Christ Jesus and God's program for the resurrection of those purchased by His Son's death is set forth simply and positively in verses 20-28, which please read. The text with this article's title is at the conclusion of that summary. "Otherwise [that is, if what I have just written regarding the certainty of the resurrection be not true] what will they do the ones being baptized on behalf of the dead? If actually dead persons are not raised, why indeed are they baptized on behalf of them?"

"The Dead"

It is at once noticed that the last word in the verse refers back to the dead on whose behalf some are baptized; while the other dead are defined as "actually dead persons." 'Actually dead persons' are not 'the dead' on behalf of whom Paul and all disciples are baptized. "The dead" for whom such are baptized are those among the living who have not yet tasted of "the bread of life" sufficiently to "have passed from death unto life." (John 6:35, 5:24, 1 John 3:14) Of course the word 'dead' is usually written in Scripture of the deceased, but sometimes it is used of living persons under the condemnation of death. Both uses of that word are seen in our Master's instruction to a disciple whose father had just died: "let the dead bury their dead." (Matt. 8:22, Luke 9:60) On other occasions (Luke 15:24,32, John 5:25, Rev. 20:12) Jesus referred to as 'dead,' living persons who did not yet have a faith relationship with God. Eph. 5:14, Col. 2:13, 1 Tim. 5:6, and Rom. 11:15 also use the word 'dead' of those not yet deceased, and some affirm or promise a new life relationship through atonement. Peter wrote similarly in 1 Pet. 4:1-6, Greek manuscripts for the last verse of which contain no equivalent for 'are' dead seen in the KJV nor for 'now' dead seen in the NIV.

Because 1 Corinthians 15 holds the Bible's most extensive discussion of the resurrection, some suggest that all its uses of the word 'dead' refer to the deceased. But the complete wording of verse 29 shows that to be invalid. Paul here used 'dead' in the same two senses as did Jesus, writing Greek words which identify two distinct entities: 'the dead' on the one hand, and 'actually dead persons' on the other. The proper reading has been seen foregoing. The manuscripts show the word 'dead' only two times in verse 29, not three.

A reasonable question deserves response: Why does not 'actully' appear preceding 'dead' in the King James and other versions? When the 17th century opened, none of the eary Greek manuscripts now available had been discovered. The English Bible was translated from Latin versions which themselves were translations of newer Greek manuscripts. The KJV and its three standard revisions do not acknowledge the Greek word for 'actually' in verse 29. However, all interlinearies show the Greek holos, and many of the sixteen translations which do represent it show 'at all' or 'again.'

'Wholly,' 'altogether,' 'actually,' and 'really' comprise all the single-word definitions of the Greek word holos in five Greek- English lexicons. Any one of those words placed before the second word 'dead' in verse 29 adequately expresses Paul's intended meaning. Lexicons indicate, with Matt. 5:34 as an example, that with a negative holos means 'at all.' However, the only negative in verse 29 precedes 'are raised' rather than 'dead.' The best reading is, therefore, "if actually dead are not raised..." Marshall unnecessarily supplies the word 'person' to assist understanding.

Paul's teaching that 'they' are "baptized on behalf of the dead," not on behalf of "actually dead persons," is made further apparent by two uses of the word 'baptized.' Its first use relates to 'the dead'; its second use, to the concluding pronoun 'them' which refers back to 'the dead' first mentioned. Paul followed our Master's example of a full, living baptism. Many in the church at Corinth formerly dead and at enmity with God were led to sonship through Paul's labors in his own lifelong baptism. And Paul realized that he himself had at one time been in 'the dead' category. It is he who wrote, "And you...who were dead in trespasses and sins,...Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ."--Eph. 2:1,5

All mortal servants of God eventually become "actually dead persons." That reality makes Rev. 2:10 a particularly pertinent exhortation: "Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life. Affirmation of the resurrection of the faithful encourages all who are "baptized into His death." (Rom. 6:3) But if God's servants be not raised from that which concludes their activities in the earth, why should they now serve God?

Paul inquired, "Why also are we in danger every hour?" The plural acknowledges other zealous, active believers involved in a living baptism. Paul affirms his participation, and exults over those who received the gospel he preached: "By my pride in you which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die every day!"--1 Cor. 15:30- 32,1,2 RSV

"What do I gain if, humanly speaking, I fought with beasts at Ephesus? If the dead are not raised, 'Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die'." But the Apostle realized that was not good counsel. "Do not be deceived: 'Bad company ruins good morals.' Come to your right mind regarding the future and God's pledge to reward His servants. And sin no more. For some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame."--RSV

Paul did write sternly to these believers who doubted the evident truths he had taught them. It was proper even then for an Apostle to write with authority. (Luke 22:29,30, Matt. 19:28, Rev. 12:12, 22:14) But to some Hebrews whose uncertainties were of a different nature, the writing was to encourage. "Beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation."--Heb. 6:9