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There are things we often see in Scripture that cause us question. One of those is in 1 Corinthians 15:29, which says, “Otherwise what will they do who are being baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, then why are people baptized for them?”
Is it really possible for someone to be baptized on behalf of someone who is dead? For our purposes in answering this question, we will do a simple exegesis of 1 Corinthians 15:20-32.
But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.
Paul raises the question of his audience in Corinth. Is the resurrection of the dead a real thing? Will we truly be raised in the end? His answer is simple, but he expounds on it. Christ was raised from the dead. So, those in Christ will be raised with Him. He is the firstfruits of those who have died.
For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead also comes through a man. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.
God’s grand design is that His people will be with Him forever. Through the sin of Adam, the consequence was death. Through the redeeming and atoning sacrifice of Christ, the gift is eternal life.
But each in his own order: Christ, the firstfruits; afterward, at His coming, those who belong to Christ.
Those who belong to Christ in salvation, then, will follow Christ into the resurrected state. This is a gift given only to those who belong to Christ in this way.
Then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to God the Father, when He abolishes all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign until He puts all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy to be abolished is death.
Thee is an interesting dynamic, here, as Paul is considering the authority of the Father as compared with the Authority of the Son. It’s easy to get lost trying to figure that out. God the Father is sovereign, and God the Son is Lord. Paul’s point is that Christ has authority to defeat all of His enemies. Death is the enemy of Christ and Christ defeated death in His own resurrection and will finally conquer death in the end.
For God has put everything under His feet. But when it says “everything” is put under Him, it is obvious that He who puts everything under Him is the exception. And when everything is subject to Christ, then the Son Himself will also be subject to the One who subjected everything to Him, so that God may be all in all. Otherwise what will they do who are being baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, then why are people baptized for them?
In Corinth, there was a religious practice in which the very people who questioned the resurrection were baptizing others on behalf of the dead. In context, then, this verse does not grant that one can be baptized on behalf of someone who is dead. It was already stated that only those who belong to Christ can follow Christ into the resurrection. This is a rhetorical element in Paul’s argument used to point out the contradictions present in the midst of the Corinthians.
Why are we in danger every hour? I affirm by the pride in you that I have in Christ Jesus our Lord: I die every day! If I fought wild animals in Ephesus with only human hope, what good did that do me? If the dead are not raised, Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.
If the dead are not raised, there is no point in any religious practice. The only reason we have to practice religion is if we believe that there will be a resurrection of the dead. So, this passage of Scripture is not about baptism, but about the reality of the resurrection in Christ. Christ alone has the authority to grant such a resurrection, so it would follow that no one can be baptized on someone else’s behalf.