What does Baptized for the Dead mean? That’s an interesting and important question. Let’s see what the Bible has to say about this “Baptism.”
“Otherwise, 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?
1 Corinthians 15:29
What Does it Mean to be Baptized for the Dead?
People say that there are over thirty explanations of this reference. Others that it seems impossible to know what this means. And that it resembles discussions about who wrote Hebrews, because nobody really knows who wrote the Bible book Hebrews.
Most interpreters say that the plain sense of Paul’s words is the most likely. That He is not using a figure of speech. The basic meaning is something like, “People are being baptized for those who have died.” Paul says it makes no sense to do this (whatever it is) if God doesn’t raise the dead.
What it doesn’t mean
Many know what it does not or cannot mean. It doesn’t mean that a living person can save someone who has died by getting baptized in their place. That would not fit with salvation apart from works or personal responsibility.
Some have suggested that Paul is referring to a Christian superstition. Others say there are no known Pagans who practiced this.
The Mormon practice is well known and is unreasonable. The Mormons were concerned about relatives and friends who died apart from baptism. Surprisingly, some expositors have suggested that the Corinthians did this for the same reason based on the apparexent (literal) language. For example:
“As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed” (Galatians 1:9)!”
So, whatever this comment is about, it’s no threat to Paul’s gospel.
Often, the answer is in the context of the verse. We need to ask, “How does this teaching fit into Paul’s argument?” The next verse gives us a clue: “Why are we also in danger every hour (1 Corinthians 15:30)?”
What’s the danger?
“I affirm, brethren, by the boasting in you which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily (1 Corinthians 15:31).” The danger is suffering, even dying for, the gospel.
Let’s have a mock interview with the Apostle Paul:
Us: You’re in danger of death?
Paul: Yes, “If from human motives I fought with wild beasts at Ephesus, what does it profit me? If the dead are not raised, LET US EAT AND DRINK, FOR TOMORROW WE DIE (1 Corinthians 15:32).”
Us: What wild beasts? You mean men who oppose you preaching the gospel, don’t you? Many have tried to kill you, and some may even have succeeded (but God revived you). Tell us the dangers you’ve faced while preaching Christ’s resurrection:
Paul: “Are they servants of Christ?—I speak as if insane—I more so; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches (2 Corinthians 11 23-32).”
Us: That’s a lot of dangers! So, Paul, are these experiences the metaphorical–or the literal?–baptism you’re referring to?
Paul: It’s a metaphor for suffering for Jesus. Yes, Jesus used this expression the same way when talking with His disciples, James and John:
“But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking (they asked for seats next to Him in the resurrection). Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized (Jesus means His coming death on the cross) (Mark 10:38)?”
Us: So, in other words, you mean “why do people suffer for the gospel if there is no resurrection.” You know, reading that in context makes sense. Why suffer for Jesus in this life if He hasn’t risen from the dead?
This is the sense of verse 29: “What about those who suffer (even death) for the gospel if there is no resurrection?” In other words, why die for a dead man (if Jesus hasn’t been raised)?
We invite you to watch the GREAT NEWS FOR YOU video on this page to find out how you can receive salvation through the living Savior!