Baptized for the Dead?

I have been studying Sacred Scripture for some time now and I realize that I am very ignorant. The following passage really has me confused:

Otherwise what shall they do that are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not again at all? why are they then baptized for them? (1 Corinthians 15:29,DRB)

The wording in the NAB is:

Otherwise, what will people accomplish by having themselves baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, then why are they having themselves baptized for them?

The NAB footnote is: “Baptized for the dead: this practice is not further explained here, nor is it necessarily mentioned with approval, but Paul cites it as something in their experience that attests in one more way to belief in the resurrection.”


There are no cross-references in the NAB footnotes. The passage, in context, seems to be extraneous to me but I don’t think it really is.

What does the passage mean? :confused:

D-R Bible, Haydock Commentary:

Ver. 29. Who are baptized for the dead.[1] He still brings other proofs of the resurrection. This is a hard place, and the words are differently expounded. 1. Several late interpreters understand a metaphorical baptism, and that to be baptized for the dead, is to undertake self-denials, mortifications, and works of penance, in hopes of a happy resurrection; and this exposition agrees with what follows, of being exposed to dangers every hour, of dying daily, &c. But if this had been the apostle’s meaning, he would rather have said, Who baptize themselves. Besides, this exposition is not so much as mentioned in any of the ancient interpreters. 2. Some think that St. Paul tells the Corinthians that they ought not to question the resurrection of the dead, who had a custom among them, if any one died without baptism, to baptize another that was living for him; and this they did, fancying that such a baptism would be profitable to the dead person, in order to a happy resurrection. Tertullian mentions this custom in one or two places, and also St. Chrysostom on this place. But it does not seem probable that St. Paul would bring any argument of the resurrection from a custom which he himself could not approve, nor was ever approved in the Church. 3. St. Chrysostom and the Greek interpreters, who generally follow him, expound these words, who are baptized for the dead, as if it were the same as to say, who receive baptism with hopes that they themselves, and all the dead, will rise again; and therefore make a profession, when they are baptized, that they believe the resurrection. So that St. Paul here brings this proof among others, that they who have been made Christians, and continue Christians, cannot call in question the resurrection, which they professed to believe in their creed at their baptism, the creed being always repeated before they were baptized. 4. Others, by being baptized for the dead, understand those who begged and called for baptism when they were in danger of death, and would by no means go out of this world without being baptized, hoping thereby to have a happy resurrection of their bodies; so that to be baptized for the dead is the same as on the account of the state of the dead, which they were entering into. See St. Epiphanius, hær. viii. p. 114. Edit Petavii. (Witham) Some think the apostle here alludes to a ceremony then in use: but others, more probably, to the prayers and penitential labours performed by the primitive Christians for the souls of the faithful departed: or to the baptism of afflictions and sufferings undergone for sinners spiritually dead. (Challoner)

According to Dave Armstrong, in his book The Catholic Verses, it is a mistake to assume that baptism in this verse refers to water baptism. Baptism has more than one meaning in scripture.

If you check Luke 12:50, you will see Jesus using baptism in the sense of his suffering and death: “There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished!” This is long after Christ’s baptism by John.

This usage makes sense of 1 Corinthians 15:29, since we are able to suffer for those who have already passed on but may still be in Purgatory.

Hope that helps!

Thank you. I think this is one of those passages that just is not clear.

I always thought the most sensible meaning was the one Haydock attributes to Chrysostom, i.e. that it refers simply to people being baptized on their own behalf, rather than being baptized on others behalf. But it is one of those obscure passages we’ll never be completely certain about.

When people were baptized, they were dunked under water. They were symbolically drowned. This is because water represents the abyss. It symbolizes death. In order to be reborn, you have to die first. This is why in ancient christian iconography, baptism shows the water for baptism as this dark cavernous lake or abyss that looks like it is going to swallow the person. It is why Peter compares it to the Flood where Noah was saved through it (1 Pet. 3:20).

This is why Paul says:

“Buried with him in baptism, in whom also you are risen again by the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him up from the dead.”
Col 2:12

“For we are buried together with him by baptism into death; that as Christ is risen from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we also may walk in newness of life.”
Rom 6:4

“Know you not that all we, who are baptized in Christ Jesus, are baptized in his death?”
Rom 6:3

If you don’t die, you cant be reborn in Christ.


The Online Etymology Dictionary

baptize (v.), from Old French batisier (11c.), from Latin baptizare, from Greek baptizein “immerse, dip in water,” also figuratively, “be over one’s head” (in debt, etc.), “to be soaked (in wine);” in Greek Christian usage, “baptize;” from baptein “to dip, steep, dye, color,” from PIE root *gwabh- “to dip, sink.” Christian baptism originally consisted in full immersion. Related: Baptized; baptizing.

We can see from the etymology of the word that it has a two part meaning. The first is to “dip”, “submerge”, or “immerse” in water. The other is to “soak (in wine)”, to “dye”. If one dyes by soaking in wine, what color is it being dyed? Red, like blood. The imagery of baptism by water is a cleansing, a purification, to be washed clean. The imagery of being soaked in wine should bring to mind the image of Christ in His Passion, soaked in blood.

In Jewish Scriptural lore, baptism by water evokes the image of the flood waters cleansing the earth of the iniquities of man, as well as the waters of the Red Sea saving the Hebrews from the oppression of Egypt, and destroying the Egyptian army. It is an image of death and rebirth, of annihilation and recreation, of salvation from slavery to freedom.

This imagery carries over into Christianity, but we also have the imagery of Christ’s baptism in His own blood. And again, the Red Sea is what color? Baptism, then, is primarily an act of death and rebirth. In it we die to sin, and are reborn into the life of Christ.

The life of Christ is everlasting, and is proved in the Resurrection. Christ’s Resurrection is the promise of our own resurrection in Him. We are the dead, and Christ was Baptized for us, who are the dead.

Here, Paul may be speaking of Martyrdom, in imitation of our Lord, for the sake of those who still walk in darkness. Paul is arguing here for the Resurrection of the dead. If the dead do not rise, what good is it to suffer and die for others?

Christ is our proof. In His Resurrection, we know that His sacrifice on the cross has power and meaning. Therefore, we know that our own sufferings and martyrdoms, our own deaths united to His, share in the same power and meaning to conquer death as His.

… This is how I would read the passage, anyway.

It is two sides of the same coin. I agree it also means “cleansing” when the waters of the Flood cleansed the earth, but it also symbolized death as well. To say “submerge” or “immerse” is nice way of saying “drown”.

Of course. I thought I had made that clear. My apologies.

Thank you, everyone, for your input. It’s really interesting to study Scripture. I’ve learned the Greek now and that the word is used in different senses. That should all make it clearer but I’m even more confused. :confused:

I think this is one of those passages that is there but it’s meaning just is not clear - except that it does not back the Mormon practice of baptizing the dead.

Perhaps this will help. It is from the Ecclesiastical History by Eusebius of Caesarea, Bishop (Lib 10,1-3. PG 842-847):

“Baptism was also administered, the sacred symbol of our Saviour’s passion.”

(actually, rather than quoting everything from pages 842-847, I just pulled out this pertinent snippet).

It is clear that for the early Church at least, Baptism was a symbol of Jesus’ passion. They identified baptism with suffering and death. Note that it is Christ’s passion which cleanses us. So, while we might identify water as a cleansing agent, water may not have been used as a sign for that purpose. As has been talked about already, water was a symbol of death in Jewish lore, recalling the Flood, etc. So, the use of water may have been more a means of recalling Christ’s passion, rather than as a symbol of purity.

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