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Baptism For the Dead

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(ὑπὲρ τῶν νεκρῶν , 1 Corinthians 15:29). This difficult passage has given rise to multitudinous expositions. Among them are the following (see also Am. Presb. Rev. Jan. 1863):

1. The Corinthians (according to Suicer), and after them the Marcionites and other heretics, practiced a sort of vicarious baptism in the case of those who had died unbaptized; that is, they caused a relation or friend of the dead person to be baptized in his stead, in the belief that such baptism would operate to obtain the remission of the sins of the deceased in the other world (Chrysostom, Hom. 40 in 1 Cor., and Tertullian contra Marcion, lib. 5, cap. 10). The apostle then drew an argument from the heretical practice to prove their belief in the resurrection.

2. Chrysostom, however, declares that Paul refers to the declaration made by each catechumen at his baptism, of his belief in the resurrection of the dead, meaning to say this: "If there is, in fact, no resurrection of the dead, why, then, art thou baptized for the dead, i.e. the body?" An improvement, perhaps, upon this interpretation would be to consider the ancient martyrs to be referred to, over whose remains the churches were often built (probably, however, not as yet), in which such vows were taken.

3. Among the best interpretations is that of Spanheim (see Wolf, Cur. Sin V. T. in loc.), which considers "the dead" to be martyrs and other believers, who, by firmness and cheerful hope of resurrection, have given in death a worthy example, by which others were also animated to receive baptism. Still, this meaning would be almost too briefly and enigmatically expressed, when no particular reason for it is known, while also the allusion to the exemplary death of many Christians could chiefly apply to the martyrs alone, of whom there were as yet none at Corinth. This interpretation, however, may perhaps also be improved if Christ be considered as prominently referred to among these deceased, by virtue of whose resurrection all his followers expect to be likewise raised.

4. Olshausen's interpretation is of a rather doubtful character. The meaning of the passage he takes to be, that "all who are converted to the church are baptized for the good of the dead, as it requires a certain number (Romans 11:12-25), a fullness' of believers, before the resurrection can take place. Every one, therefore, who is baptized is for the good of believers collectively, and of those who have already died in the Lord." Olshausen is himself aware that the apostle could not have expected that such a difficult and remote idea, which he himself calls "a mystery," would be understood by his readers without a further explanation and development of his doctrine. He therefore proposes an explanation, in which it is argued that the miseries and hardships Christians have to struggle against in this life can only be compensated by resurrection. Death causes, as it were, vacancies in the full ranks of the believers, which are again filled up by other individuals. "What would it profit those who are baptized in the place of the dead (to fill up their place in the community) if there be no resurrection?"

5. None of these explanations, however, well suits the signification of ὑπέρ , "for," i.e. in behalf of, on account of, and is, at the same time, consistent in other respects. Dr. Tregelles (Printed Text of the Gr. Test. p. 216) has proposed a slight emendation of the text' that appears to obviate the difficulty almost entirely. It consists simply in the following punctuation:" Else what shall they do which are baptized? [It is] for the dead, if the dead rise not at all," i.e. we are baptized merely in the name of (for the sake of, out of regard to) dead persons, namely, Christ and the prophets who testified of him. This interpretation renders No. 3 above more easy of adoption.

Treatises entitled De baptismo ὑπὲρ τῶν νεκρῶν have been written by Schmidt (Argent. 1656), Calon (Viteb. 1684), Deutsch (Regiom. 1698), Grade (Gryph. 1690), Hasaeus (Brem. 1725), Muller (Rost. 1665), Olearius (Lips. 1704), Reichmann (Viteb. 1652), Schenck (Franeq. 1667), Zeutschner (Fcft. a. V. 1706), Facius, (Colossians 1792), Neumann (Jen. 1740), Nobling (Sus. 1784), Richter (Zwic. 1803), Heumann (Isen. 1710, Jen. 1740), Streccius (Jen. 1736).

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Baptism For the Dead'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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