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Tuesday, September 4, 2012

What is Baptism for the Dead?

Not too long ago, I was asked this question: "Can you explain to me what
Paul meant when he said, 'Else what shall they do which are baptized for the
dead, if they dead rise not at all? What are they then baptized for the
dead?' (1 Cor. 15:29)." I love it when people ask questions like this
because it means they're studying the Bible. That's the point of our daily
devotionals--to give us little seed thoughts, or encouragement to study our
Bible more.

This text must be taken in context. I once heard the late Johnny Ramsey say,
"if you take a text out of context, it becomes a pretext for anything you
want to believe." Many good folks use this verse to prove that the living
can be baptized on behalf of the dead. This is a common belief and practice
of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints--Mormons. One Mormon
writes, "The living may be baptized for the dead. One who has received the
ordinances of the Gospel can stand proxy for departed ancestors who will
receive the benefit of the earthly ordinances or obedience to the Gospel in
spirit."
Is this what is to be understood from Paul's address to the Corinthian
brethren, or is there another meaning? Let's look a little closer at the
context.

Paul begins this chapter by declaring unto them that what he was speaking
was in fact the Gospel of Christ. He reminded them that they had received it
and obeyed it. Paul then states that the Gospel is the death, burial, and
resurrection of Jesus Christ (15:1-4). Next, Paul proved the resurrection of
the Lord and said, "…he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve:…of about
five hundred brethren at once…of James; then of all the apostles. And last
of all he was seen of me also…" (15:5-8). In verse twelve, Paul asks a
question regarding the resurrection. "Now if Christ be preached that he rose
from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the
dead" (15:12)? It is clear that false teachers were denying the bodily
resurrection and thereby denying life after death. Furthermore, this false
teaching had infiltrated itself into some of the Corinthian brethren.

Paul is now ready to describe the consequences of denying the resurrection
(15:13-18). First, if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ was
not raised. Second, if Christ was not raised then the apostles preaching was
vain and so was the faith of the Corinthians. Third, if Christ was not
raised then the apostles were liars. Fourth, if Christ was not raised then
the Corinthians were still in their sins, and the dead in Christ are
perished.

Paul reminds the Corinthian brethren that to have hope in Christ only while
they live is misery. The joy is knowing that there is life with Christ after
death. Paul continues to appeal to the Corinthians sense of logic in the
next few verses. He says that a man dies, just like Adam. Likewise, man will
be resurrected just like Christ (15:21-22).

Paul's summarizing arguments for the resurrection of man can be seen in 1
Corinthians 15:25-33. Paul says that the very practice of the false teachers
is in direct opposition to their claim that there is no resurrection of the
dead. They baptized the living for the dead. Why baptize the living for the
dead to secure their state in the afterlife if there is no resurrection,
thus no afterlife?

Paul reminded the Corinthian brethren that there is life beyond the grave,
if not "…why stand we in jeopardy every hour" (15:30)? Paul said, "…I have
fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantageth it me, if the dead rise
not…" (15:32)?

Paul concludes this particular discourse with words for us all to remember
when he says, "Be not deceived: evil communications [companions] corrupt
good manners [morals]" (15:33). In other words, he wanted the Corinthians to
be cautious that they not be entangled with the false doctrine that says
there is no resurrection and no life after death.

So, with all that said, the answer to the question about verse 29 becomes
quite simple. One is not baptized for the dead, but the living should be
baptized in preparation for death. For, when we leave this earth there will
be a bodily resurrection, and life after death. One thing I must do in order
to "live again" is be baptized (cf. Acts 2:38).

I hope you have a blessed day!

For previous devotionals, visit www.NeilRichey.com.







The Piedmont Road
church of Christ
* Home of the Georgia School of Preaching and Biblical Studies

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Marietta, GA 30066
770.971.9933
www.LifeInChrist.com

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