Baptism for the dead (1 Corinthians 15)

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Illustration: Salt Lake Temple Baptistery

Numerous proposals have been offered for the meaning of “baptized for the dead” in 1 Corinthians 15:29. Every theory has some problems, but some are more plausible than others:

  • One explanation holds that Paul was alluding to some form of “proxy baptism” (an individual being baptized to secure the salvation of ancestors, relatives or friends who had died without Christ). There is no indication in this text, however, that Corinthians were being baptized for their ancestors or for other dead pagans – and no evidence that this was ever practised in the early church.
  • Some suggest that the term refers to baptism for believers who had died unbaptized; others that it may have been some ritual rooted in a superstitious belief that baptism itself had almost magical, life-giving powers. The Corinthian believers may have been influenced by a local cult of the dead at Corinth. On the other hand, if such a pagan background were behind this practise, we would expect Paul to have voiced his disapproval.
  • Still others propose that the phrase actually means “baptized in the place of the dead” in the sense of taking the place of Christian martyrs who had lost their lives for the faith. This kind of baptism would thus have been a rite whereby a living believer symbolically took the place of his or her fallen brother or sister. This interpretation has some support in the context, since Paul immediately spoke in the following verses (15:30-32) of his own endurance of persecution.


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