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Holman Bible Dictionary

Baptism For the Dead

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Some Christians at Corinth denied the resurrection of the dead (1 Corinthians 15:12 ). Paul saw that as a serious error. If there is no resurrection from the dead, then Christ was not raised, there can be no salvation, and Paul's preaching and the Corinthians' faith would all be in vain. Thus Paul argued in 1 Corinthians 15:1 for the reality of the resurrection of the dead. As part of his argument he mentioned a practice of some of the people at Corinth—that is, the practice of baptizing “for the dead” ( 1 Corinthians 15:29 ). Two things are important to note here. First, we are not sure exactly what is entailed in the practice of baptizing for the dead. Chrysostom (an early church father) explained the practice of an early Christian group of hiding a living person under the bier of a dead person. The corpse would be approached and asked if he would like to be baptized. The person hiding underneath would answer in behalf of the corpse that he desired baptism. The living person would then be baptized for the dead one. It is possible that something along this line was being practiced in Cornith.

Second, Paul was not advocating the practice of baptizing for the dead. Paul was pointing to the inconsistency in the thought of the Corinthians in trying to convince them of the reality of the resurrection of the dead. The argument seems to be: “If, as some of you Corinthians claim, there is no resurrection from the dead, then why do you go to the trouble of baptizing for the dead? Only those who hope for life after death would attempt to influence the eternal fate of those who have died. Your thinking on the subject is contradictory. You claim there is no resurrection, but your actions betray that you really believe there is something beyond this life.”

Other Bible students think the Corinthians believed life in the Spirit made the body unnecessary. Baptism for the dead in this view ensured the dead would enjoy the same spiritual life as would the living but without a body.

Phil Logan

Copyright Statement
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Baptism For the Dead'. Holman Bible Dictionary. 1991.

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