"Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?"
Does the Bible teach the practice of baptism for the dead?
This is a question that both sides of the argument need to know. If you are an evangelical Christian, or a Latter Day Saint. And my guess is both sides are familiar with this verse. Perhaps as a Mormon, you have used this verse as a proof text to support your argument. After all, this verse does appear in Mormon literature, and even inside of the temple itself. This verse has been used by many members of the LDS church to support their doctrinal practice of baptism for the dead.
If you are an evangelical Christian who has witnessed to a Mormon, or studied Mormonism, you have no doubt either had this verse quoted to you, or have read it from a Mormon scholar, to support their position. The question is not, “Does the Bible mention baptism for the dead?” The question is, “Is baptism for the dead a biblical practice, and doctrine?” For the answer, we must consult the Bible and see if it gives us the answer to this question.
First, we need to ask, “since the Bible mentions baptism for the dead, does this mean it is a biblical practice?” The answer, no. If that was true, and anything mentioned in the Bible was a biblical practice, than we have a myriad of problems. We would begin to get strange doctrines. We might start to think that having concubines is biblical, that sorcery is biblical, that divination is biblical, or that homosexuality is biblical. These are all behaviors mentioned in the Bible, but being mentioned in the Bible does not make it become a doctrine itself.
Lets look at this scripture more in depth. First of all, who is speaking?
We see clearly that the person speaking is Paul. Who is he speaking to? The author of the first epistle to the Corinthians is speaking to the Corinthians themselves. Now, please notice that the verse quoted is in the midst of an argument. The verse begins with, “else what shall they do”. This shows us that we do not in this verse alone have all of the answers. We should ask ourselves, what shall who do? Who is baptizing for the dead? Why are the dead being baptized?
Lets see if we can find the answers.
We know the speaker is Paul, we know the audience is the Corinthians. What we don’t know is why this is being brought up. We need to look at the entire chapter to see if we can somehow find an answer, and sure enough, we do.
1st Corinthians 15:12-19 tells us: "Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied."
Several things to notice in this scripture. First, we see that the Corinthians, although they are practicing baptism for the dead, do not believe in a resurrection of the dead, or an afterlife. Paul is questioning them as this makes no sense. If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ Himself could not have been resurrected and would still be in the tomb, and Paul’s faith is in vain. He even goes further to say that if that is the case, then they are false witnesses since they were testifying that God Himself raised Christ from the dead, and if the Corinthians were right that there is no resurrection, then how could God have raised Christ?
Also please notice, the topic is truly speaking about the resurrection of the dead, NOT about baptism for the dead. When we get to verse 29, Paul uses an interesting word, he says, “Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead”. He uses the word, “they”. He does not use the word, “we”. He excludes himself from this practice. And once you put the scripture in its context, we see Paul is not at all condoning the practice of baptism for the dead, but is distancing himself from this practice, and is also bringing the Corinthians who are part of this practice back to the truth, which is the doctrine of the resurrection.
He goes on to explain, “30-Why are we also in danger every hour? 31-I affirm, brethren, by the boasting in you which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily. 32-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.”
Now, in conclusion I beg of you to please stay with me on this. No where, and I mean NO WHERE, do we see in this the doctrine of baptism for the dead, we do not see this as doctrine, as a biblically based practice, and especially not as some sort of a second chance at eternal life. This is the 1 place in the entirety of scripture with any reference to baptism for the dead, and now that we have studied this verse, we can clearly see it is not a biblical practice.
In fact, Hebrews 9:27 says, “And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment”. There is no second chance. Today is the day to make your choice of whom you will serve. No one is guaranteed tomorrow.
The last thing I would like to say is, every single person will experience eternity. Some will experience eternal life, others eternal death. If you are wrong, imagine the length of time you will have to dwell on it. You could spend 165 billion years in hell, and yet be no closer to the punishment being over than when it first began.
Nothing is more important than your eternal salvation, so I beg you with all of my heart, to be honest and spend time studying these issues.