“Now if there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptised for the dead?” (1 Corinthians 15:29)
This is one of those very few scriptures which are difficult to understand and as such, it’s hard to give a definitive explanation.
We can however, I believe, say many things about this perplexing verse, broken up as follows:
The entire context is to point out the certainty of the resurrection and refuting the idea that the dead are not raised. This means that Paul is not raising this issue to support or negate it, but simply referring to the belief of those who practice it.
2) Not Endorsed
As said already Paul does not endorse this practice in any way. This practice is inconsistent with many other scriptures e.g. that we are raised by OUR own faith in Colossians 2:12. That everyone must individually repent or else they would perish (Luke 13). Jesus repeatedly called individual’s to respond or else they would perish and warned them not to trust in their traditions or heritage.
The idea that someone could be baptised on behalf of someone else and save them, is clearly inconsistent with Jesus’ call.
3) What it Doesn’t Mean?
We should ask ourselves this question when we meet a difficult scripture. Not what does it mean (if it’s too difficult to know for sure), but what does the passage certainly not mean?
This passage certainly does not endorse this practice. Paul as said had another purpose in mentioning it.
4) Little Risk of Spreading
It is debatable whether Paul seen any threat in this practice and therefore felt no need to refute it. He likely felt no danger that it would spread or be accepted or indeed be practiced by the Corinthians. If their was an increasing threat of this practice being adopted in Corinth, I believe he would have critiqued it, as he did many other things.
5) Possible Intrepration
Some say the translation of “those” is best interpreted as “they”. Indicating that Paul was describing these people as outsiders e.g. pagans. In the next verse he then says “as for us” (v30), bringing the context back to them again. This was clearly another seperate group of people that Paul mentions to make a point about their purpose, rather than support their doctrine.
The most likely explanation therefore is that this was a pagan practice and presented no risk to Corinthian Christian’s who held to the true gospel.
Unfortunately Mormons have taken this scripture to support the idea of baptising for the dead. One of many heretical teachings from them and initiated by their founder Joseph Smith.
Please let me know your thoughts