Question: Please explain 1 Corinthians 15: 29.
Answer: 1 Corinthians 15: 29 reads, “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?”
This verse has been greatly misunderstood, and its beauty and force can be discerned only if we recognize the real baptism, which is death to self-will and the world’s will, and aliveness to God’s will; that immersion in water is its proper and appropriate symbol; and only if we understand God’s great plan of salvation for the Church and the world.
A misapprehension of the meaning of this passage led, during the Dark Ages, to the practice of substitutionary baptism, in which Christian people, whose friends had died without baptism, were baptized for them representatively. But an understanding of what the real baptism consists of shows the inconsistency of such a procedure. One person can no more consecrate himself for another person than he could transfer either his natural or spiritual life to another person.
The Apostle’s topic in verses 12-28 is the resurrection of the dead, and in verse 29 he is supporting and elaborating upon that doctrine. Evidently attacks had been made upon the faith of the Church at Corinth in respect to the resurrection of the dead. As a part of his argument in refutation, in verse 29 he calls the attention of the Church to the fact that they had all been baptized, and that their baptism symbolized death. He then showed the inconsistency of the erroneous new view by inquiring wherein would be the wisdom of such a consecration to death if their new theory that the dead rise not were true. They had consecrated themselves to be dead with Christ, to be baptized into His death as members of His Body (1 Corinthians 12: 12, 13), to join Him in His sacrificial cup (Mark 10: 39), on behalf of the dead world, Adam and the non-elect of his race, and therefore they hoped to share in the promised glorious resurrection.
The Apostle’s argument is that if there is no resurrection of the dead, then those who are fallen asleep in Christ are perished, as well as the remainder of the world; if such be the case, and there is no future hope for either the Church, or for the world through the Church, then why should the Church consecrate their lives unto death? They were baptized into death with Christ – baptized for, on behalf of, the dead and dying world of mankind – so that in the First Resurrection they could live and reign with Him (Romans 8: 17), and as His Bride and Joint-heir, the Second Eve (2 Corinthians 11: 2, 3), share with Him as the Second Adam, the Life-giver of the world (1 Corinthians 15: 45), in regenerating the race in righteousness and life (Matthew 19: 28).