What is Baptism for the Dead Mentioned in 1 Cor. 15:29?
"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 Cor. 15:29, NASB).
Numerous explanations have been offered for this verse ranging from the inane to the sophisticated. Mormonism, in particular, has claimed that this verse supports their view of baptism for the dead. In their practice, individuals go to their local Mormon temple, dress appropriately for a baptism, representatively adopt the name of a person who has died, and then the Mormon is baptized in water for that deceased person. This way, the dead person has fulfilled the requirements of salvation in the afterworld and can enjoy further spiritual benefits in the spiritual realm.
But, the Mormons are incorrect. They have usurped this verse and taken it out of context. So, let's examine 1 Cor. 15 briefly so we can see what Paul is talking about when he mentions baptism for the dead.
In Verses 1-19, the fact of Christ's resurrection is detailed by Paul. Beginning in verse 20 and going through verse 23, Paul speaks about the order of the resurrection. Christ is the first one raised -- in a glorified body -- and then who are His at His return. Next, verses 24 - 29 mention Christ's reign and the abolition of death. This is when this controversial verse occurs: "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?"
Just north of Corinth was a city named Eleusis. This was the location of a pagan religion where baptism in the sea was practiced to guarantee a good afterlife. This religion was mention by Homer in Hymn to Demeter 478-79. The Corinthians were known to be heavily influenced by other customs. After all, they were in a large economic area where a great many different people frequented. It is probable that the Corinthians were being influenced by the religious practices found at Eleusis where baptism for the dead was practiced.
Paul used this example from the pagans in 1 Cor. 15:29, when he said, "...if the dead are not raised, then why are they baptized for the dead?" Paul did not say we. This is significant because the Christian church was not practicing baptism for the dead, but the pagans were.
Paul's point was simple. The resurrection is a reality. It is going to happen when Jesus returns. Even the pagans believe in the resurrection, otherwise, why would they baptize for the dead?
However, some are not convinced by this argument and state that the word "they" is not in the Greek and, therefore, Paul is not speaking about the pagans.. Let's take a look.
Literally, the verse is translated as "Since what will do the being immersed on behalf of the dead if wholly dead not are raised why also are they immersed on behalf of them."
The issue here is the word, "baptizontai" -- "they are baptized." It is the present, passive, indicative, 3rd person, plural. In other words, it is THEY ARE BEING BAPTIZED or, THEY ARE BAPTIZED.
I -- first person singular
you (singular) -- second person singular
he/she/it -- third person singular
we -- first person plural
you (plural) -- second person plural
they -- third person plural
It is the latter form, the third person plural (they) which the verb "baptizo" is in. Therefore, the best translation is "THEY are baptized."
The Institute for Religous Research website has a more detailed article about baptism for the dead titled "Did Jesus Establish Baptism for the Dead?". This article talks about 1 Corinthians 15:29 as a single verse, in the broader context, and in the immediate context. This article also explains that 1 Cor. 15:40-41 is comparing our resurrection bodies to our mortal bodies. It is not comparing three different levels of heaven to each other as the LDS church teaches it does.
If you are LDS and have read this, I pray that you will pray about this with an open mind and heart. I will end this post with this verse:
To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said,
"If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.
Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."