Baptized for the Dead

Bibliotheca Sacra 152 (October-December 1995): 457-75

Another Look at 1 Corinthians 15:29, ’Baptized for the Dead’
--
John D. Reaume

First Corinthians 15:29 has puzzled many Bible students throughout church history. In this verse Paul wrote, ÒOtherwise, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why then are they baptized for them?Ó More than two hundred interpretive solutions have been proposed, but only a few remain as legitimate possibilities. A surface reading of the passage leads to the interpretation that believers were actually being baptized for the benefit of those who died without baptism. This practice is also known as vicarious baptism, that is, substitutionary baptism for the dead. The interpretation of vicarious baptism is problematic for two reasons: first, there is no historical evidence of the practice of baptizing for the dead during New Testament times, and second, it seems doubtful that Paul would have written of such a practice so contrary to his theology without condemning it. Despite these problems, a majority of modern scholars have adopted this interpretation while at the same time rejecting other possible interpretations that may in fact be more legitimate. A reexamination of this text and possible interpretations will highlight the deficiency of this majority view and suggest other more plausible explanations. A survey of the most common positions will be followed by an examination of the verse and the various exegetical problems encountered in it. Then a summary of the most plausible explanations will be given.

Possible Interpretations of 1 Corinthians 15:29

Of the scores of proposed interpretations for 1 Corinthians 15:29, only those views enjoying the widest acceptance and greatest support will be considered in this discussion. Three major categories encompass the views suggested by various commentators. These categories are (a) vicarious baptism, that is, water baptism undertaken by a living individual for the benefit of a dead person who had died without being baptized; (b) metaphorical baptism, which refers to either martyrdom or PaulÕs sufferings; and (c) Christian baptism, water baptism of new believers.

Vicarious Baptism

Most commentators hold to some version of this interpretation, in which the beneficiaries of the baptism were catechumens or family members who had died without having been baptized. Fee speculates that those involved in this practice felt that baptism was necessary for entrance into the eschatological kingdom, while Orr suggests that they felt that baptism was necessary for salvation. The strongest argument for this interpretation is that it is easily derived from the plain reading of the verse, since the words baptivzw, nekrov’, and uJpeVr are understood according to their most common usages. However, this view faces two significant problems. First, apart from this verse there is no historical or biblical evidence of such a practice in Corinth or elsewhere during the first century. Although there is reference to this practice in the late second century, the practice was apparently limited to heretical groups. Apparently these groups had instituted this practice because of a misinterpretation of the passage in question. Second, it is doubtful that Paul could appeal to a practice so contrary to his theology without commenting on it.

Metaphorical Baptism

The commentators who understand baptism in a metaphorical way arrive at different conclusions regarding the interpretation of the passage. Two of the most recognized suggestions are the views that this baptism refers to martyrdom or to PaulÕs suffering for the gospel.

Martyrdom. Godet proposes that ÒbaptizedÓ means martyred and that Òfor the deadÓ means Òfor entering the place of the dead.Ó According to this view, Paul referred to those who had been Òbaptized by bloodÓ (martyred) with the hope of the resurrection as evidence for his argument that the resurrection is sure. In support of this, Godet cites Jesus™D5’ use of baptivzw in Mark 10:38 and Luke 12:50, in which He spoke of the baptism He must endure, an apparent reference to His death. This view seems to suit the context well as Paul spoke in 1 Corinthians 15:30-32 of his suffering unto death for the gospel.However, this view has some insurmountable weaknesses. First, there is no evidence of persecutions or martyrdoms in the church at Corinth at that time. Second, while Jesus used baptivzw in the metaphorical sense of ÒsufferingÓ or Òmartyrdom,Ó Paul did not do so. Third, GodetÕs rendering of uJpeVr as Òfor enteringÓ is without parallel in Greek literature. PaulÕs sufferings. Murphy-OÕConnor proposes that the phrase Òbaptism for the deadÓ was a slogan used by troublemakers in Corinth who were denying the resurrection in order to make light of PaulÕs efforts for the unenlightened or spiritually dead. Here the metaphorical understanding of baptivzw points to PaulÕs trials and suffering for the gospel while nekrov’ refers to the Òspiritually deadÓ or Òspiritually unenlightened.Ó The verse would then be rendered, ÒWhy are they (Paul and other apostles) being destroyed while working for the sake of the lost? If dead believers are not raised, then why are they suffering for the lost?Ó In support of this view is the fact that it circumvents the theological problems of vicarious baptism. Also it fits the context well in that Paul referred to his sufferings in the following verses (15:30-31). However, this position faces some major difficulties as well. First, this view calls for differing nuances of nekrov’ in the immediate context. In its first occurrence nekrov’ would be taken metaphorically as Òthe spiritually deadÓ but in its second occurrence it would have to be understood literally as Òthe physically dead.Ó A writer would probably not utilize different nuances in the same sentence without indicating that intention.Second, it is unclear how an appeal to this alleged slogan would strengthen PaulÕs case for the certainty of the resurrection. If the point of the alleged slogan was to demean PaulÕs efforts for the spiritually dead, as Murphy-OÕConnor suggests, then why would the apostle include the slogan in a context where his struggles for the spiritually dead are given as evidence for the certainty of the resurrection?Third, little evidence exists that the phrase Òbaptized for the deadÓ in verse 29 is a slogan, for it lacks some of the key characteristics of slogans, such as brevity, sustained qualification, and an unambiguous response. Murphy-OÕConnorÕs suggestion meets the first characteristic but falls short on the rest, as Paul is seen as agreeing with the basic premise of the alleged slogan rather than qualifying it. Also there is no adversative to distinguish the CorinthianÕs slogan and PaulÕs response to that slogan. And, as Fee suggests, the assumption of PhiloÕs influence on the Corinthians in order to prove that the Corinthians would have used nekrov’ in the sense of Òspiritually deadÓ is Òquestionable at best.Ó

Christian Baptism

Several commentators argue that 1 Corinthians 15:29 refers to Christian baptism in the normal sense of the initiation rite symbolizing the believerÕs identification with Christ. This category includes a variety of interpretations that can be grouped in six major subviews.

Because of dead believers. This view is one of the most widely supported alternatives to vicarious baptism. The phrase Òbaptism for the deadÓ is understood in the sense of unbelievers being baptized Òbecause ofÓ believers who have died. In this interpretation unbelievers decide to become Christians and be baptized because of the influence of a believer who had recently died.Several arguments support this view. First, Paul used nekrov’ with and without the definite article consistently in 1 Corinthians 15 to differentiate between ÒChristian deadÓ and Òthe dead in general.Ó Thus it is argued that tw’n nekrw’n refers to dead Christians. Second, the preposition uJpeVr with the genitive can have the causal sense of Òbecause of.Ó Third, this interpretation fits the context with Paul returning to his former argument on the absurdity of denying the believersÕ resurrection, which he concluded with a specific discussion of the Christian dead. A few arguments have been presented against this view. Some have suggested that if Paul had meant ÒChristian deadÓ he would have clarified his intention when referring to Òthe deadÓ with more specific phrasing such as Òdead friendsÓ or Òdead relatives.Ó Also Paul usually used uJpeVr with the sense of Òon behalf ofÓ when the object of the preposition is a person. In order to be united with the dead at the resurrection. With a slight modification of the former view, some have suggested that the preposition uJpeVr is functioning with the final sense of Òfor.Ó Jeremias, building on the work of Raeder, argues that verse 29 refers to Òpagans who take baptism upon themselves uJpeVr tw’n nekrw’n with the purpose of becoming united with their deceased Christian relatives at the resurrection.Ó Although this preposition may have a final sense, this usage seems uncommon in the New Testament. In addition this interpretation requires filling a significant ellipsis in order to convey this sense, such as Òbaptized in order to be united with their deceased Christian relatives at the resurrection.Ó To take the place of dead believers. Another suggestion is that the apostle was referring to individuals who were converted and baptized to take the place of deceased believers. In addition to understanding ÒbaptismÓ and Òthe deadÓ in accord with consistent Pauline usage, this position maintains the common substitutionary sense of uJpevr without implying that this action is vicarious or beneficial for the dead. The major difficulty with this interpretation is that the notion of new believers coming in to replace believers who had died is not immediately evident in this context. With reference to the resurrection of the dead. A fourth interpretation understands Òbaptism for the deadÓ to refer to the general baptism of all believers in which they are baptized Òwith reference to the resurrection of the dead.Ó This view normally holds to an implied ellipsis of ÒresurrectionÓ in order to yield the meaning of Òbaptism with reference to the resurrection of the dead.ÓThere is little support for this view other than the fact that it alleviates the theological problems of vicarious baptism and that Christian baptism has the symbolic sense of being united with Christ in His death and resurrection (Rom. 6:3-5). Additional support includes the fact that Paul elsewhere used the preposition uJpeVr to mean Òwith reference toÓ (2 Cor. 1:7; 8:23). The major argument against this view is that the implied ellipsis of ÒresurrectionÓ in the phrase Òbaptized with reference to the resurrection of the deadÓ is too violent. Paul probably would have included ÒresurrectionÓ if this is what he meant.For their dying bodies. A fifth suggestion argues that 1 Corinthians 15:29 makes reference to Christian baptism in which an individual is baptized for the benefit of his own ÒdyingÓ body. Several early church fathers including Tertullian and Chrysostom ascribed to this position, which was later held by Erasmus. Calvin suggested a more specific nuance of unbelievers repenting and being baptized on their death beds. OÕNeill has most recently espoused this position, citing additional evidence based on a tenuous deduction from textual evidence. This view has little support other than the fact that it avoids the theological difficulties of vicarious baptism and understands baptivzw and uJpeVr in accord with common Pauline usage. The major problem is that viewing nekrov’ to mean Òdying bodiesÓ is without parallel in the New Testament. Christian baptism based on alternative punctuation. Some scholars have proposed that the solution to the interpretation of 1 Corinthians 15:29 is found in changing the punctuation of the verse. Foschini argues that verse 29 consists of four rhetorical questions: (1) =EpeiV tiv poihvsousin oiJ baptizovmenoi, ÒIf there is no resurrection, what is the point of being baptized?Ó (2) uJpeVr tw’n nekrw’n, ÒIs it only to be united with the dead?Ó (3) eij o{lw’ nekroiV oujk ejgeivrontai, tiv kaiV baptivzontai, ÒIf the dead do not rise again, why are they baptized?Ó (4) uJpeVr aujtw’n, ÒIs it only to be united with them (i.e., with the dead who will never rise)?Ó Thompson suggests that verse 29 consists of two questions: (1) =EpeiV tiv poihvsousin oiJ baptizovmenoi uJpeVr tw’n nekrw’n eij o{lw’ nekroiV oujk ejgeivrontai, ÒElse what will they achieve who are baptized merely for the benefit of their dead bodies, if dead bodies never rise again?Ó (2) tiv kaiV baptivzontai uJpeVr aujtw’n, ÒAnd why do people get baptized for them?Ó Since paleography reveals that accents, breathing marks, and punctuation were not used during New Testament times, these proposed punctuation changes may or may not be legitimate. However, there is one insurmountable difficulty with these interpretations: they still hinge on FoschiniÕs and ThompsonÕs understanding of the preposition uJpeVr and the noun nekrov’.

Exegesis of 1 Corinthians 15:29

The Context

Paul had been addressing various problems in the Corinthian church, which had evidently been influenced by an overrealized eschatology and Hellenistic dualism. Some in the church felt they were presently experiencing the kingdom in its fullness and were truly spiritual (1 Cor. 4:8-10). Also many in the church felt that the physical body was of little importance both in the present and in the future. This view led some to license (6:15-16) and others to asceticism (7:1-7). Some had evidently extended this view to deny the resurrection of believers (15:12). Having addressed these other problems, Paul then completed his letter by defending the doctrine of the resurrection.PaulÕs argument in defense of the resurrection of believers includes three sections. First, he reaffirmed ChristÕs resurrection as a foundation for his argument that dead believers will be raised (15:1-11). Second, he demonstrated the absurdity of denying the resurrection of believers and he revealed the theological foundation that supports the resurrection of believers (vv. 12-34). Third, he affirmed that the resurrection is bodily, although he explained that the body will be transformed for an eternal existence (vv. 35-58).Paul began the second major section of his argument (vv. 12-34) by demonstrating the absurdity of the position of those who deny the resurrection. Their position was contradictory, for they denied the resurrection of believers while affirming ChristÕs resurrection (vv. 11-12). His argument for the resurrection of believers then proceeded in three directions. First, he pointed out that their position implies that Christ was not raised from the dead, thereby destroying the foundation for their faith (vv. 12-19). Second, Paul reversed the proposition by arguing that the reality of ChristÕs resurrection guarantees the reality of believersÕ resurrection (vv. 20-28).Third, Paul pointed out the incongruity of both their own behavior and the behavior of the apostles (vv. 29-34). By a series of rhetorical questions he pointed up the absurdity of various activities if there were no resurrection. The practice of baptism for the dead (v. 29) and the apostlesÕ risk-taking behavior (vv. 30-32) were illogical if there is no resurrection of believers. In verse 31 he was probably emphasizing the truth of verse 30 that he daily faced the possibility of death. After giving a further concrete example of risk-taking in verse 32a, he quoted from Isaiah 22:13 to argue that it would make more sense to indulge in license than self-sacrificial behavior if there is no resurrection (1 Cor. 15:32). He concluded this section with some poignant words of advice, apparently designed to rebuke the Corinthians for associating with those who deny the resurrection (v. 34).It is evident that verse 29 is only one small part of PaulÕs grand argument for the resurrection of believers. Verse 29 points out the incongruity of denying the resurrection of believers while at the same time participating in a certain religious practice.

Critical Exegesis of 1 Corinthians 15:29

The wide variety of interpretations of 1 Corinthians 15:29 results from different suggested solutions to key exegetical problems. The meaning and referents of key terms such as oiJ baptizovmenoi and tw’n nekrw’n are the subject of some debate. However, the understanding of the preposition uJpeVr and the resulting theological implications are the decisive issues in this crux interpretum.

oiJ baptizovmenoi. This verse begins with the statement, =EpeiV tiv poihvsousin oiJ baptizovmenoi uJpeVr tw’n nekrw’n, ÒOtherwise, what will those do who are baptized for the dead?Ó As already stated, there are two basic suggestions for the meaning of baptivzw in this context. Some suggest that this word is being used metaphorically to describe martyrdom or PaulÕs sufferings for the gospel, while others hold that Christian baptism is in view. In favor of a metaphorical understanding is the fact that the figurative sense of Òto perishÓ or Òto sufferÓ is also evident in Greek literature, including the New Testament (Mark 10:38-39).However, this suggestion has a number of difficulties. First, apart from this verse there is no evidence that Paul used this term metaphorically to indicate suffering or martyrdom. Although Murphy-OÕConnorÕs suggestion that the phrase Òthe ones being baptized for the deadÓ is a Corinthian slogan alleviates the problem of Pauline usage for the term baptivzw, his proposition seems doubtful, as previously discussed. Second, a figurative understanding of ÒbaptismÓ would also require a figurative understanding of Òthe deadÓ (i.e., spiritually dead), in order to avoid a mystical view of suffering or of being killed for the benefit of the physically dead. A figurative view of Òthe deadÓ is improbable in this context, since Paul consistently referred to the physically dead throughout chapter 15 and even in the immediate context (v. 29b). Third, there is no historical evidence of any believers being martyred in the Corinthian church at that time. Viewing baptivzw as referring to Christian baptism is most likely the correct understanding, since Paul consistently used this term with the literal sense of the Christian initiatory rite. Also PaulÕs argument in verses 29-32 is more coherent if Christian baptism is in view, since Paul would be citing two different examples of activities that demonstrate the absurdity of denying the resurrection. Since baptivzw probably refers to literal Christian baptism in this context, oiJ baptizovmenoi may be identified in one of two ways. Some identify this construction as a reference to all believers, while the majority hold that this construction refers to a specific group of individuals within the church. The third person present tense form of the verb baptivzontai (v. 29b) suggests that this activity was currently being practiced by a group of individuals and was probably well known by the Corinthians. Thus the former suggestion is extremely doubtful, as Paul probably would have used the first person or second person plural form if he were referring to all believers or to the Corinthian believers (cf. vv. 17, 51). As Fee states,

This is one of the rare instances in the letter where Paul addresses a community matter only in the third person plural. In other instances (e.g., 4:18-21; 15:12-19), even when ÒsomeÓ are specified, the rest of the argument is directed at the community as a whole in the second person plural. Since that does not happen here, one may surmise that this is the activity of only a few.

tw’n nekrw’n. Some suggest that nekrov’ refers metaphorically to the spiritually dead in verse 29a. Others suggest that the first occurrence of nekrov’ in verse 29 refers to Òdying bodies.Ó The majority of commentators hold that this word refers to literally dead persons in both occurrences, with varying suggestions as to their identity.The first suggestion is possible, as the word nekrov’ is used both literally and figuratively in the New Testament and by Paul. However, this interpretation is doubtful, since the literal sense is plainly in view throughout the entire context (15:12, 13, 15, 16, 32, 35, etc.). In addition Paul clearly used nekrov’ literally in the immediate context (v. 29b). The suggestion that verse 29a is a Corinthian slogan may alleviate some of the difficulty with the occurrence of two distinct nuances within verse 29, but this hypothesis is doubtful for reasons already enumerated.Similarly, the second suggestion is likewise doubtful as this understanding of nekrw’n as Òdying bodiesÓ is without parallel in the New Testament and would differ with consistent Pauline usage in chapter 15. In addition, this understanding requires an ellipsis such as tw’n nekrw’n (swmavtwn) or a tenuous connection of nekrov’ with a derivative found in classical Greek in order to produce the sense of Òcorpses.Ó Since Paul consistently used nekrov’ in a literal sense throughout 1 Corinthians 15 and since the literal sense is apparent in the second half of verse 29, a literal understanding of nekrov’ as referring to Òdead individuals™D3’ is preferred.Who are tw’n nekrw’n? Was Paul referring to dead believers, unbelievers, or catechumens who died before being baptized? Grammar suggests that the articular construction tw’n nekrw’n refers to a specific group of dead individuals (with the anarthrous noun nekroiV referring to the dead in general). Pauline usage in chapter 15 confirms this. Paul seems to have been distinguishing between the dead in general (vv. 12, 13, 15, 16, 20, 21, and 29b) and Christians who had died (vv. 29a, 35, 42, and 52). For example later in the chapter the resurrection of dead believers is clearly in view as indicated by the references to Òa heavenly bodyÓ (vv. 40, 47-49), Òa spiritual bodyÓ (vv. 44, 46), and a body Òraised in powerÓ (v. 43). However, in verses 12-29, the anarthrous construction is used consistently to denote the general concept of Òthe deadÓ in speaking of Christ being resurrected from the dead (vv. 12, 15, 20) and the general resurrection of the dead (vv. 13, 15, 16). In addition verse 29 seems to resume PaulÕs former argument in which he demonstrated the absurdity of denying the resurrection of dead believers and which he concluded by referring specifically to deceased believers (vv. 18-19). Based on PaulÕs apparent distinction between Òdead believersÓ and the Òdead in general,Ó the object of the preposition uJpeVr is probably dead believers.This observation leads to the question of whether these believers had been baptized or were catechumens who died before being baptized. The latter suggestion depends on the existence of an initiatory procedure in Corinth that historically developed much later. The normal practice in the early church was for baptism to follow immediately after conversion (Acts 10:47-48; 16:31-34; 18:8; 19:5). Thus the possibility of a convert dying before being baptized was improbable, contrary to what some have suggested. Added to this improbability is the fact that this activity in Corinth involved more than one individual and would have had to be well known to the Corinthians for PaulÕs argument to have force. Rather than referring to an exceptional case where a convert died before baptism, Paul was most likely referring to the more common case of dead believers who had already been baptized.uJpeVr. The prepositional phrase uJpeVr tw’n nekrw’n has been the major focus in the controversy on this passage. The preposition uJpeVr with the genitive normally has the meaning of Òon behalf of,Ó emphasizing representation (e.g., Eph. 5:2, 25; 1 Thess. 5:10; Titus 2:14), or Òinstead of,Ó emphasizing substitution (e.g., John 11:50; 2 Cor. 5:14-15; Gal. 3:13; Phile. 13), with the person as the object of the preposition (also see Rom. 5:6, 8; 8:32; Gal. 2:20). In this case the preposition is used to express favor or advantage accrued to a person. As a result most contemporary commentators view the phrase uJpeVr tw’n nekrw’n as denoting an esoteric practice of vicarious baptism in which an individual was apparently baptized as a substitute for the benefit of a dead person. Although this is a natural rendering of the text, the major difficulties with this interpretation are the complete lack of historical evidence for this alleged practice in the first century and the theological problem of Paul appealing, without qualification, to a practice that implies that baptism has saving efficacy. In addition, since the object of the preposition tw’n nekrw’n probably refers to dead believers, the interpretation of vicarious baptism is doubtful, as these dead believers had most likely observed the rite of baptism before their death.Another suggestion that maintains the substitutionary sense of uJpevr is that Paul was referring to individuals who were converted and baptized to take the place of deceased believers. This sense would be parallel to Philemon 13, in which Paul spoke of Onesimus as Òministering in the place of Philemon.Ó Here the emphasis is more on substitution than on any benefit accrued by Philemon (cf. Col. 1:7).The preposition uJpevr can also be used to denote the cause or reason of an action as in the sense of Òfor,Ó Òbecause of,Ó or Òon account ofÓ (see Rom. 15:9; 2 Cor. 12:8). In the New Testament this preposition is used to indicate the cause of suffering or slander (Acts 9:16; 21:13; 1 Cor. 10:30; 2 Cor. 12:10; Phil. 1:29; 2 Thess. 1:5), the cause of praise and thanksgiving (Rom. 15:9), and the reason for prayer (2 Cor. 12:8). In the passage in question, the resulting sense would be that some new believers were being baptized because of the influence of dead believers. The chief criticism of this view is that Pauline usage prefers the sense of Òon behalf ofÓ with a person as the object, whereas the sense of Òbecause ofÓ or Òon account ofÓ is preferred when the object is a thing. The causal sense of uJpevr is, however, used by Paul with a person as the object either explicitly or implicitly on at least a few occasions (Acts 9:16; 21:13; Rom. 15:9; Phil. 1:29). Closely related to this understanding of uJpevr is the suggestion that this proposition is functioning in 1 Corinthians 15:29 with the final sense of ÒforÓ: being baptized Òwith the purpose of becoming united with their deceased Christian relatives at the resurrection.Ó This understanding of uJpevr with a final sense is evident in the context of PaulÕs sufferings for the CorinthiansÕ comfort (2 Cor. 1:6), although this usage seems to be uncommon. The major problem with this view is that the phrase uJpevr tw’n nekrw’n would require a significant ellipsis or additional explanation to arrive at a coherent interpretation. However, other passages utilizing the final sense of uJpevr similarly have to be filled out by the exegesis of the text. Others have suggested that the preposition demonstrates the local sense of ÒoverÓ as in Òover the graves of the dead.Ó This understanding is doubtful, as there is no historical evidence for this practice in the first century. Also this local sense of the preposition, although common in classical Greek, is applied only figuratively in the Koine period. Still others suggest this preposition is used in 1 Corinthians 15:29 with the sense of ÒconcerningÓ or Òwith reference to,Ó as in believers being baptized with reference to the resurrection of the dead. This interpretation is doubtful, since it requires a significant ellipsis such as Òbaptized with reference to [the resurrection of] the dead.Ó Although the first understanding of uJpevr is most in keeping with Pauline usage with persons as the object, the theological difficulties presented by PaulÕs nonqualification of an erroneous practice suggest that this occurrence may involve a different nuance such as Òbecause of the influence of dead believers,Ó Òin order to be united with dead believers at the resurrection,Ó or perhaps even the understanding of new converts Òtaking the place of dead Christians.Ó

Conclusion

Having examined 1 Corinthians 15:29, a number of conclusions can be made. First, the baptism referred to is probably literal water baptism of Christians. Second, the phrase Òthe ones who are baptizedÓ most likely refers to a small group of individuals rather than the church as a whole. Third, Òthe deadÓ for whom some individuals were being baptized were in all probability dead believers. Fourth, these dead believers had presumably experienced Christian baptism before they died. If these four observations are true, it is extremely improbable that the proposition uJpevr denotes vicarious baptism for the benefit of the dead, as there would be no value in such a practice, since the dead in question would already have been ÒsavedÓ and probably baptized. With the additional problem of vicarious baptism and Pauline theology, the improbability of 1 Corinthians 15:29 referring to vicarious baptism becomes insurmountable.

Therefore only three of the more than two hundred interpretations of 1 Corinthians 15:29 remain strong possibilities. One view translates uJpevr with the sense of Òin the place ofÓ as in new believersÕ being baptized to take the place of dead Christians. A second possibility translates uJpevr with the final sense: Òin order to be reunited with their loved ones at the resurrection.Ó A third view translates uJpevr with the sense of Òbecause ofÓ: new believersÕ being baptized Òbecause of the influence of deceased Christians.Ó The first suggestion is perhaps less convincing, since it could be said that all believers take the place of deceased believers and yet Paul was evidently referring to a select group within the church. The final two suggestions are closely related semantically and fit the context well, as they both refer to a select group within the church and include an emphasis on the resurrection as the implied motive for these practices.

Perhaps the most plausible interpretation is the third option, since it makes sense without a significant ellipsis. No doubt many individuals in the early church were influenced by the testimony of other believers who had recently died or who were martyred. For example Paul may have been influenced by StephenÕs testimony when Stephen was arrested and stoned (Acts 7). Although all three interpretations are not immediately evident from initial readings of the text, all three respect the contextual framework of Pauline usage and theology.

In light of the minor role this verse plays in the overall argument of 1 Corinthians 15, it is ironic that the verse has received so much attention in the literature. This disproportionate attention is justified, however, if this passage refers to a practice implying the saving efficacy of baptism. Was Paul referring to a practice fundamentally opposed to his theology of salvation by faith alone as the majority of modern commentators suggest? According to the evidence revealed by this study, this is highly improbable.

In addition there is no biblical warrant given in this passage for instituting the practice of baptism for the dead. Both the ancient and modern practices of baptism for the dead are apparently founded on misinterpretations of this verse.

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