Baptism for the Dead

This entry is part 111 of 364 in the series Inquiring Minds
Image by Yinan Chen from Pixabay

In 1 Corinthians 15:29, what is baptism for the dead? Do the Jews still practice this today?

In our life group, I postulated that the baptism for the dead was a Jewish practice. If a convert to Judaism wanted to save those of his family who were not living, he could be water baptized for their conversion in their stead. Even within Judaism if one wanted to make sure that deceased family members were saved, they could be baptized in their stead.

The natural reading of the text suggests that not Jews but the Corinthians were baptizing themselves for the dead. However, there is no reference to this at all not only in the rest of the New Testament but also in literature of any kind from the first century. What was Paul talking about and how did he come up with this phrase and idea?

Some scholars say that this is not referring to a physical practice happening in Corinth or anywhere else. They suggest that it was a reference to spiritual baptism, something like in Romans 6:1-4.

Another way to understand baptism is metaphorical. For instance those who were being martyred for Christ were being “baptized into the dead.” Paul would here be making an argument for why people would allow themselves to be martyred for something that does not raise them from the dead.

There are so many options that everyone is presenting. I was wrong in my assumptions that the Jews had a practice for the baptism of the dead. However, I was not far off. With such a number of options, all it proves is that we don’t have any idea what Paul is talking about in this verse.

The plainest reading of the verse suggests that the Corinthians were baptizing one another for their dead or close to dead relatives who had not yet accepted Christ or who were on their way to accepting Christ. The closest form of this type of baptism occurs among the Mormons today.

Paul doesn’t seem to fall in judgment against it or supporting it. He mentions it as part of his argument that those who practice baptizing for the dead cannot also say that there is no resurrection. The point of their baptisms for the dead was to prepare them for the resurrection.

I don’t always get everything right whenever I answer without the careful research I put into my blog answers. I apologize for leading with an answer where I was not sure and did not know the complete background. I endeavor to give the best answers possible even before research. But this is my complete answer after research.

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