1 Corinthians 15:29 Now if there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized for them?

This is one of the more challenging verses in the New Testament to interpret. There are many interpretations of what this verse means. Rather than try to wade through all of them (see other commentaries), we can at least consider the main point Paul is trying to make. Other Scripture is clear that the decision we make in this life determine our eternal destiny (Hebrews 9:27). Being baptized for a dead person cannot change the decisions that person made in his or her lifetime. It may be possible that the Corinthians thought that standing in for dead loved ones would somehow be efficacious for their salvation. Or, minimally, somehow the dead person was never baptized in this life. Some people may have thought that baptism was required for salvation. Baptism is a symbolic act that represents a person’s faith, but the act itself does not save a person. Trusting in God’s grace in Christ is the door to salvation.

That is not Paul’s point here. He is not providing an insight into what happens to dead unbelievers or to believers who died before they were baptized. His focus is more on the whole idea of life after death. If this practice was being done, particularly in Corinth, then it showed that those who did it believed in resurrection. If the Corinthians were being baptized for the dead and yet still doubted resurrection, it shows a significant contradiction between practice (baptism) and faith (resurrection). Paul’s rhetorical question here challenges this contradiction. Belief in resurrection is necessary even for this practice. Since this is the only time this practice is mentioned anywhere in the Bible, Paul likely is using an argument from the Corinthians and turning it around on them.

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