I Cor 15 and "baptism of the dead"



Had a sermon at my evangelical church on 1 Cor 15 last Sunday. Wonderful passage
sadly the universalism was skirted around.

A question came to mind.

And what do people make of the “baptism of the dead” reference in v29. Paul doesn’t
condemn it (he condemns many other things they do). Would “baptism of the dead”
be a reasonable rite to perform if one is a univeralist?

regards Scott


Tricky question, I honestly don’t know, however personally I wouldn’t because I see baptism as a public statement/symbol of becoming a Christian, and although I think all the dead will eventually become Christians, I don’t know the hour or the day, when that would happen, so for me, it would be odd to make a statement about it here and now. Obviously, there’s a good chance I’m not correctly understanding why they did baptisms for the dead :confused:


While Paul doesn’t condemn the practice, he doesn’t teach it either, merely mentioning it as part of his proof that other Christians really do believe in resurrection. I’m not sure I understand exactly why they were doing it. I don’t personally see any purpose, but it may be that others find symbolic meaning and relevance in the act–perhaps a statement of faith in the person’s resurrection and salvation?



I once took a class with Father Jerome Murph-O’Conner (wonderful guy, super smart) on Paul’s letters and he went into his explanation of this passage (which he’s got in print, and which Gordon Fee discusses in his 1Co commntary favorably though without finally endorsing it). Basically M-O’Conner says “those being baptized for the dead” refers to apostels and other servants of the gospel who are suffering persecuation on behalf of the redemption of the spiritually dead. He recalls Jesus asking his disciples, “Can you be baptized with my baptism” where baptism refers to suffering on behalf of the truth. I used to think it was a real stretch, but it’s not as much a stretch as imagining that believers were being baptized in water vicariously for deceased loved ones.



We were covering 1 Cor 15 in Sunday School this weekend. While the teacher skipped over this (among several other things, most notably the universalistic eschaton section in the middle :wink: ), I happened to see while paging around that there is apparently another translation option.

“Else what shall they be doing who are baptizing? It is for the sake of the dead absolutely if the dead are not being roused! Why are they baptizing also for their sake?” (Knoch’s Concordant Literal)

Other translations start and stop the sentences differently, so that the result would be (in parallel with the above way of putting it, and shifting the ‘absolutely’ somewhere else in the English grammar): “Else what shall they be doing who are baptizing for the sake of the dead? [Absolutely] if the dead are [absolutely] not being roused, why are they baptizing also for their sake?”

I haven’t had the wherewithal yet to compare this translation with the Greek to see how grammatically plausible it is; but it suggests that what Paul meant was that baptism at all is pointless if there is no resurrection to come. This would gel with Paul’s statement elsewhere that we are baptized into the death of Christ so that we might share in His life.


I’ve linked this with the Jewish practice of mourning for the dead, praying for the dead, and the Pharisee’s belief in a type of Purgatory that they spoke of as Gehenna. They’d mourn the dead for up to 11 months, assuming that if the person was consigned to Gehenna, they’d surely be purified and raised to Ga Eden within that 11 months. I don’t know what effect such prayers for the dead were meant to effect, but I wonder if this is where the concept and practices related to Purgatory in Catholicism find their root?


Thanks Tom. I had never seen it that way and it looks even more possible when read in context although I’m not sure why Paul wouldn’t write “we who are” rather than “they who are” (“those”) if this interpretation is correct.