Question: Can you help us with any understanding on I Corinthians 15:29? We had this in our Bible Study and could not come to an agreement on its meaning.

Answer: I think it to be a quite difficult scripture and Adam Clarke classes it the most difficult verse in the New Testament, and says that it has about as many interpretations as interpreters. I do have some thoughts on it and I will pass them on.

First, I will insert the text. “Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?”

We can surely say with positivity that this text does not mean what some make it to mean; that if a person dies without having been baptized that a living person can be baptized for them, or in their stead. In this belief, some have been baptized numbers of times in behalf of different people who have died without having been baptized. This contradicts the whole tenor of the Scriptural teaching on this subject and does away with, or circumvents the individual, personal responsibility of every person for his salvation and willful obedience to God personally and individually. Jesus said in Mark 16:16, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved;…” This makes it clear that the one who does the believing must be the one who is baptized not a substitute for him. II Corinthians 5:10 says, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.” Romans 14:12 says, “So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.” All of these scriptures, and many more, make it clear that no one can do anything at all in behalf of another person’s salvation after he is dead and gone.

So then, that interpretation is out and we must search in another area for the meaning of this scripture.

The resurrection of Jesus and then of the saints at His second coming is a basic, fundamental, cardinal doctrine of the Christian faith. It is indeed the corner stone of our faith. Everything is founded upon that throughout the New Testament. The death of Jesus was sacrificial and redemptive but it would have been totally in vain had He stayed dead in the tomb and not been resurrected. In I Corinthians 15:16-17, Paul urges that if the dead rise not, then Christ is not raised and if Christ is not raised, our faith is vain and we are yet in our sins. There could absolutely be no salvation for us without the resurrection of Jesus Christ and our belief in it. Romans 10:9 says, “…If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.” This makes it entirely clear that we must believe in the resurrection of Jesus to be saved. Also Romans 4:15 says that Jesus “…was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.”

Romans 1:4 declares Jesus “…to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead. God had born record to Jesus as His Son at His baptism (Matthew 3:17), on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matthew 17:5), and at the feast in Jerusalem (John 12:28), and other occasions. The final confirmation and seal of His Sonship was given in His resurrection from the dead. God raising Jesus from the dead attested to the fact that He was fully satisfied with His sacrifice and death. Isaiah 53:11 says, “He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied:…” The sacrificial death of the sinless One satisfied all the claims of a holy law and the honor and holiness and justice of God Himself and God witnessed all of this by raising Him from the dead to die no more and making Him heir of eternal life. (See Romans 6:9; Revelation 1:8.)

Not only did He obtain eternal life for Himself, but for us also. “…Whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:15.) Read also Romans 6:23; Romans 5:21; I Peter 1:3-5; Hebrews 5:9; and Hebrews 9:12.

When Jesus incorporated in the commission to preach the gospel to the whole world the idea of baptism (“He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved;…” Mark 16:16) and commanded them to baptize believers in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost (Matt 28:19), He had something specific and important in mind. He did not say, “He that believeth and washeth the saint’s feet,” or, “He that believeth and taketh the Lord’s Supper,” or, “He that believeth and greeteth the brethren with a holy kiss,” shall be saved. While all these things are important and are commanded, yet in the commission He singled out baptism because it maintains a relationship with this corner stone of our Christian faith that none of these things mentioned, nor any other thing, does.

The ordinance of baptism is an emblem of death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus and an outward, public testimony of belief in it. In John 14:19, Jesus said, “…Because I live, ye shall live also.” The true believer in Christ lives his life and dies his death in this hope based on this direct promise of Christ and many, many more throughout the New Testament. By baptism, he gives public, open testimony of his belief in his own coming resurrection and his hope of eternal life which God, Who cannot lie, promised before the world began. (Titus 1:2.)

The ordinance of baptism symbolizes this experience of the believer in all of its aspects: death to sin, self, the flesh, and the world; buried in the water as a testimonial of this; and resurrected (raised up out of the water) to a new life in Christ Jesus. Paul says in Romans 6:3-5, “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection.” And again in Colossians 2:12, Paul said, “Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.”

Now to sum up: the ordinance of baptism symbolizes the death, burial, and resurrection. It also symbolizes our own death to sin and our resurrection to a new life in Christ spiritually. It also symbolizes our approaching death (physically) and our coming resurrection (physically) unto eternal life. And in it the true believer witnesses his faith and belief in all of these three aspects of the plan and work of God and testifies to his experience of salvation through the operation of God.

The verse involved in this question (I Corinthians 15:29) being inserted right in the middle of an extensive discussion on this subject and taken in this context, leads me to the conclusion that it relates to this directly. All of the three aspects discussed here have to do with death and resurrection. Now, Paul argues that if the dead rise not, then there is no salvation and our faith is vain and we are yet in our sins because Christ would not be risen either. Then why be baptized at all? The ordinance has no meaning at all if there be no death and resurrection. We would only be testifying to a false hope and witnessing a lie concerning our own experience which could not be without the death and resurrection of Christ.


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