What Does baptism of the Dead Mean?

What is the meaning of “baptized for the dead” 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?” Two observations: 1. “the dead” seems to be plural, so I can’t see this as a reference to Christ. 2. The question “…why then are THEY baptized for THEM…” seems to indicate that the ones being baptized are not the same as the ones whom the baptism is for.

When we come across a passage within the Bible that is difficult to interpret or seemingly means something that contradicts another plain teaching of scripture, we must look at it through our understanding of the plain teaching of scriptures. Many choose to interpret the difficult passage first and then take perfectly plain scriptures and twist them to fit their interpretation of the difficult passage. Such we must not do, for such is handling the word of God incorrectly. We read in 2 Peter 3:16 the words of Peter who describes some of Paul’s epistles. He says, “As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.” We must make sure that we do not wrest the scriptures to our own destruction.

So with those things in mind, we come to 1 Corinthians 15:29. “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?” The context of this particular passage is that of Paul’s proving to the Corinthians that the resurrection is going to happen. There were some in that day who were teaching that there was no resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:12). The Sadducees believed this too (Matthew 22:23). Some were teaching that the resurrection had passed (2 Tim.2:18). Paul, however, was teaching that the resurrection was still coming and he used every available means to prove this to those in Corinth. So whatever this phrase means–that is, whatever the phrase “baptism for the dead” means–its significance is that the resurrection is still coming.

This phrase does not mean what those of the Mormon faith believe that it means. Mormons believe that one may be baptized for someone who is dead who was not a Mormon, and that person will then have the opportunity, after death, to accept the gospel. The long and short of this teaching is that you get a second chance to be saved after you die. This doctrine just does not mesh with other clear teaching that is within the scriptures. We read in Hebrews 9:27, “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.” In Luke 16:24 we read, that the rich man wanted Lazarus to come cool his tongue. Abraham replied, “And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence” (Acts 16:26). The rich man knew that there was no escape because he then asked that Abraham send someone so that his brothers would escape this place. Jesus said in John 9:4 “I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work.” The night when no man can work is after death. There are no more works that a person can do to affect one’s salvation after death. Perhaps a statement made by Isaiah makes this quite plain. He says, “Behold, for peace I had great bitterness: but thou hast in love to my soul delivered it from the pit of corruption: for thou hast cast all my sins behind thy back. For the grave cannot praise thee, death can not celebrate thee: they that go down into the pit cannot hope for thy truth. The living, the living, he shall praise thee, as I do this day: the father to the children shall make known thy truth” (Isaiah 38:17-19). Isaiah makes it clear that the time for forgiveness of sins is now. The time to be delivered from the pit of corruption is while one is living. Once one has died and is lost, there is no more hope for truth. The living are the ones who have the obligation to make known God’s truth. Paul says, “For he saith, I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succored thee: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2). Today is the day of the living. Today is the day of salvation.

So what does the phrase “baptism for the dead” mean? To be honest, I am not sure that I know what it means. There have been many different suggestions. Some have suggested that it refers to Christian baptism. These suggest that the phrase “the dead” refers to those who have died to sin and are being made alive in Christ. When they do this, they affirm the resurrection of Christ according to Romans 6:1-11. In this understanding, “the dead” is actually short hand for “the resurrection of the dead.” So that it would be baptism for the resurrection of the dead, i.e. in order to obtain the resurrection of the dead.

Others have suggested that Paul is referring to this group of people who are teaching that there is no resurrection for the dead implying some kind of self-contradiction among their own teaching. In other words, they were teaching that there was no resurrection, but they were practicing “baptism for the dead,” i.e. a vicarious baptism for those who had already died without being baptized. This, however, implied a resurrection because baptism is the form of the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. Those who hold this view say that Paul is not giving an endorsement to the doctrine, but merely stating that if one believed it, then it would imply that their doctrine of no resurrection is false.

Yet another interpretation states that those who had come to accept Christian baptism did so due to the influence of the faithful dead over the many years prior to their baptism. In this sense, they are being baptized for, that is, on account of, the dead who came before them. So if they were being baptized on account of the dead, then they should recognize that they would one day be raised. Finally, one view says that we have the punctuation wrong in the translation. Instead of reading as we would normally read, this view opts for the reading, “Else what shall they do that are baptized? If the dead are not raised at all, (baptism) is for the dead (spiritually). Why are they then baptized for the dead?” This view sees the phrase “the dead” as referring to people who are spiritually dead and thus baptism has no effect for them. I.E. if there is no resurrection, then baptism doesn’t take us out of death and into life, it just leaves us in a state of spiritual death and does nothing for us. We are merely being baptized to become dead. I don’t believe that I can say for certain that I know what this phrase means. I do know, however, that it does not endorse some type of proxy baptism for those who have died un-repented.

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Why Didn’t God Appear to the Rest of the World?

As we read in the bible we only read about the presence of God in the area of the Old and New Testaments (Middle East, Greece, Rome, etc). Where was God for the rest of the world (China, North America, Island Nations, etc.)? Why didn’t he appear to them?

Just because we do not have a record of God’s appearing in other areas of the world doesn’t mean that He didn�t do that.

In the times of the Old Testament, God made a special covenant with the people of Israel that He didn’t make with the other nations (Exodus 19:5, 6, Deuteronomy 7:6, 14:2). So God dealt specially with the children of Israel in ways that He didn’t deal with the rest of the nations. God did send prophets to some Gentile nations as illustrated in the book of Jonah.

In the New Testament, Jesus told the apostles in Matthew 28:18-20 and Mark 16:15, 16 to preach the gospel to all the world. This was about 30 A.D. Paul says in Colossians 1:23 that the gospel was preached to every creature under heaven. This was around 60 A.D. So every person who lived on the world in that day heard God’s message at that time. I have no doubt that the Lord aided them in their efforts to accomplish this task. Sometimes he even transported them miraculously to new places (Acts 8:39).

The bottom line is that the Bible teaches that God is present everywhere (Psalm 24:1) and that He doesn’t necessarily tell everything that He does to all men (Psalm 50:12). There are some things that are hidden from man’s knowledge (Deuteronomy 29:29, Romans 11:33). We must be concerned with the things that God reveals to us today in His word.

We can be assured that God is a just, holy, and merciful God and that His judgment will be fair and reasonable in that regard (Psalm 89:14).

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The Pen is Mightier than the Penknife

Jeremiah records in chapter 36 the history of King Jehoiakim’s rejection of prophecy. In verses 1-8, Jeremiah asks Baruch, a scribe, to write the prophecies on a scroll and then take them to the temple and read them before the people. Verses 9-19 tell of how one Michaiah heard the prophecy and had Baruch read the scroll before the leaders of the people in the chambers of Elishima the scribe. Upon hearing the message, the leaders desired to tell the king the message. In verses 20-26, the king heard the message and then commanded that the scroll be brought to him. He then took the scroll cut it up with a scribe’s knife and cast it into the fire to be burned. Then he commanded that Jeremiah and Baruch be captured. Fortunately, God had other plans for them and told Jeremiah of what had been done. So Jeremiah re-recorded the prophecies that had been written on the first scroll, to be saved for the ages. Jeremiah’s work is still around today, but who is Jehoiakim?

There have been many efforts throughout the ages to destroy the Bible. Kings and rulers have tried to squelch its message by destroying all known copies only to have those words preserved in the caves and crannies of time. The Roman Catholics chained the Bible to the pulpit in the middle ages to keep the average person from reading it, but Guttenberg’s press set it free. Skeptics have proclaimed its downfall only to see the increase of the Bible and a decrease of their own pathetic words. The Bible has stood the test of time and survived; Jesus’ prophecy continues to hold true today, “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away” (Matthew 24:35).

But Satan is crafty and doesn’t give up easily. There is now a new, modern effort, to cause Jesus words to vanquish into obscurity. This modern day effort is more subtle and guised in seemingly honorable intentions. Many have already accepted this effort at destroying the words of God without even knowing that God’s words are being destroyed. To what am I referring? The bane of modern day translations.

Yes, Satan has learned that he cannot destroy God’s word by burning it, chaining it, churning it or spurning it. He hasn’t even been able to use “science” to destroy the Bible. So his methods have shifted from seeking to destroy the Bible from without to seeking to destroy it from within. Satan has learned that if you can convince those who read the Bible that they are too dumb to understand it, then you can get them to ask for an easy-to-read translation. Then, Satan can use translators to make subtle, but critical, differences in translation so that you will believe Satan’s lies instead of God’s truth.

One such example is found in the “Good As New” translation that was recently endorsed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the practical leader of the church of England (the Queen is the official “head of the church”). The “Good As New” translation changes baptism for the remission of sins in Mark 1:4 to baptism to show that one has already been forgiven of sins. It inserts profanities into the scriptures in at least one place. Perhaps most appallingly, however, is that it changes the terms “husband” and “wife” into the politically correct “partner” implying that one may practice fornication or even homosexuality in order to satisfy one’s sexual desires. There are other translations whose changes are not so obvious and much more subtle. We should carefully examine all “new translations” before adopting them wholesale.

Like all other efforts, this new effort on Satan’s part at trying to destroy God’s word will ultimately fail and God’s true word will be glorified. But how many souls will fail to recognize that before it is too late? God never promised that his word would be “easy to understand” in the sense that many today expect God’s word to read like a dime store novel. No. God has always said that His word requires a modicum of effort on our part. Indeed we must “Study” (give diligence) to show ourselves approved unto God, search the scriptures daily to see if what is being taught is truth (Acts 17:11), try the prophets because there are many false teachers in the world (1 John 4:1) and speak as the oracles of God (1 Peter 4:11). God’s word can be understood (Ephesians 3:3-5), but we must study it, learn it, and live it.

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Why Weren’t Adam and Eve Given a Second Chance

The Israelites were given repentance many times when they sinned against God and God himself even asked them to return to him. My question is this, why weren’t Adam and Eve given another chance when they sinned against him in the Garden of Eden? Weren’t they the first children created by him with his own hands and his breath given to them?

Adam and Eve were given a direct prohibition by God and then warned of the consequences should they violate that prohibition. Genesis 2:16, 17 states, “And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” God keeps his promises, both promises of reward and promises of punishment. Adam and Eve also had a unique relationship with God in that God walked and spoke with them in a very personal level (Genesis 3:8). But Adam and Eve both ate of the tree and sinned, so they had to be separated from their fellowship with God and ultimately suffer physical death.

But that’s not the end of the story. While God punished Adam and Eve by casting them out of the garden, God didn’t forsake their souls to a Devil’s hell. God made it possible for Adam and Eve along with all others in this world who have sinned to be forgiven by sending His Son Jesus to live a perfect life and die for the sins of mankind on the cross (2 Corinthians 5:17-21). Yes, God kept his promise, but God also provided a way of escape from eternal damnation. Having done this, God can be both just and the justifier (Romans 3:26).

One must also remember that Israel was a nation, not two individuals. God dealt with Adam and Eve based upon the salvation of individuals; God dealt with the nation of Israel based upon salvation of a nation as a whole. Individual members of that nation lived and died and were judged as individuals, while God was longsuffering with the nation as a whole. So it’s not entirely comparing apples to apples when you compare God’s longsuffering with the nation of Israel to God’s expulsion of Adam and Eve from the garden.

So to answer your question, Adam and Eve *were* given a “second chance,” so to speak, in that they were not immediately killed for their error. They died spiritually that day, but in Christ, had the opportunity to be spiritually made alive (1 Corinthians 15:22).

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Little Eyes

Sometimes the most sublime truths can be stated in the simplest ways. We have a song that is often sung in our children’s classes and vacation bible schools: “Oh, be careful little eyes what you see.” The song continues and speaks about being careful about what we hear, say, do and where we go. Moreover, it is certainly a Biblical principle that we ought to abstain from the lusts of the world (1 John 2:15-17). One of those lusts is “the lust of the eyes.” So, it comes as no surprise to Christians that a recent study done by the RAND Corporation shows that there is a strong connection between teens who watch and listen to sex and sexual talk on television and teens who choose to engage in sexual activity. The study, published in the September issue of Pediatrics, found that teens that watched and listened to sex and sexual situations on television were TWICE as likely to have sex within the next year as teens not exposed to such. To put it in real numbers, one out of every two teens who watch such on television will end up behaving that way.

Gospel preachers and Bible teachers have been sounding the warning regarding the dangers of television for years now. How is it that they have had advanced information on this subject without the benefit of the RAND Corporation’s study? Simply put, the Bible has told us plainly that we are what we think. Proverbs 4:23 says, “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.” If we allow evil into our heart through the influence of television, then we will allow evil into our life as well. Notice also Proverbs 23:7 “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he�.” We are what we think; if we allow evil things to permeate our thoughts, then our ways will be evil as well. Finally, we note what Jesus said on this topic, “But the things which proceed out of the mouth come forth out of the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart come forth evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, railings: these are the things which defile the man�” (Matthew 15:18-20).

Now, if television can have such a significant affect on the lives of teens when it comes to sex, what about other matters? What about drinking alcohol? What about smoking or using tobacco? What about cursing and using God’s name in vain? What about lying and cheating to get ahead? What are the numbers on these other areas of morality that don’t require a physical encounter with another person, but simply a thought, word, or careless action? My guess would be that the percentage is a lot higher.

When are we going to wake up and realize that we are destroying ourselves with our own devices? Television and movies have an enormous reaching power in our country. They ought to be used for good, not for evil. We saw how television could be used for evil at this past year’s Superbowl half-time fiasco. Voices of good and decent folks around the country were heard in opposition to that filthy display. But it isn’t single events like the Superbowl half-time show that move the hearts and minds of television viewers to practice what they see. It is the litany of daily barrages in the “soaps,” “sit-coms” and evening “dramas” that affect us most. And as long as we allow the television networks to continue to promote such godless activities in our own living rooms, the more debased, degenerate and destroyed we will become as a people. Awake to righteousness! (1 Corinthians 15:34)

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