by Frank Jamerson
Whether you have talked with a Mormon or not, the statement in 1 Corinthians 15:29 is difficult. After discussing the importance of the resurrection of the body, Paul said, “Otherwise, what will they do who are baptized for the dead. if the dead do not arise at all? Why then are they baptized for the dead?”
Sometimes it’s easier to say what a passage does not teach than to explain what it does teach. We will first notice what it does not teach and then present a probable explanation of the true meaning of the passage.
Mormonism teaches that the living are to be baptized for those who are dead, so they can accept the vicarious baptism in the spirit world. The Book of Mormon does not teach this doctrine; in fact, it teaches against it. “For behold, this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors — therefore I beseech you that you do not procrastinate the day of your repentance until the end; for after this day life, then cometh the night of darkness wherein there can be no labor performed,” (Alma 34:32, 33).
Joseph Smith later claimed to have received a revelation that they should baptize for the dead “And again, I give unto you a word in relation to the baptism for your dead. Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you unto you concerning your dead: When any of you are baptized for your dead. let there be a recorder, and let him be eyewitness of your baptisms,…” (Doctrine & Covenants 127:5-6; written Sept. 1, 1842).
There are a number of reasons that the passage (1 Cor. 15:29) cannot mean the dead can receive proxy baptism.
(1) The Bible teaches that we will give account for the things done in the body (Rom. 14:12; 2 Cor. 5:10). We cannot act “out of the body.” (2) Abraham told the rich man that “those who want to pass from here to you cannot nor can those/from here pass to us” (Lk. 16:26-31). The rich man was not going to have a second chance, nor would his brothers have another opportunity after their deaths. (3) Jesus said “he who believes and is baptized shall be saved” (Mk. 16:16). Mormonism teaches that one person can believe and another be baptized for him. Peter said, “repent and be baptized for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38). Mormonism says one can be baptized, and later another who has died, can repent and accept that baptism.
What does the passage teach? There are many interpretations that I do not believe fit the context, but space will not permit an examination of those. I will present an interpretation that fits the context and does not conflict with other Bible teaching, though I would not be dogmatic about it.
Paul was defending the resurrection of the body, and after using the resurrection of Christ as evidence, he used baptism and his own “standing in jeopardy every hour” (v. 30). Baptism portrayed the very thing some of them were denying — the resurrection of the body. Guy N. Woods commented: “To prove the resurrection of the body, Paul alluded to their baptism. Baptism is a picture of a burial and a resurrection.… It portrayed that which they had questioned! Why were they baptized for (huper) with reference to, the state from which they would come forth by resurrection, if there be no resurrection? Their view actually nullified their baptism!” (Questions and Answers, pg. 116).
The same point is emphasized in the next verse. Paul said, “And why do we stand in jeopardy every hour?” (1 Cor. 15:30). If the dead are not raised, why were the Corinthians being baptized, and why were Paul and others jeopardizing their lives by preaching Christ? If there is no resurrection of the dead, neither baptism nor suffering for the gospel makes sense.
These verses do not teach that one can be baptized for someone else, nor jeopardize our lives for someone else, but they teach that our baptism and faithfulness demonstrate our faith that we will be united in the resurrection with all others who have done the same.
—via Roanridge Reader