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Baptism for the Dead
For Everyone?   

Q. What does 1 Corinthians 15:29 mean when it says there is a baptism for the dead? Should we be doing that? Why don't we hear about it in church?


Good question! For our readers First Corinthians 15:29 says,

"Otherwise what will they do who are being baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, then why are people baptized for them?" (HCSB)

Mormon Church

This is one of those obscure verses that no one really knows what it means. However, it is a verse used by the Mormon Church to prove that their members can be baptized for their dead members. This is partly the reason they place such a premium on genealogies in their quest to find relatives who need baptism.

Genealogies Useless

However, First Timothy 1:4 and Titus 3:9 state believers should avoid wasting their time with foolish pursuits such as "attention to myths and endless genealogies, which give rise to mere speculation rather than furthering the administration of God which is by faith." (NASB)

Personal Accountability

It is clear from Scripture that each person will account for his own conduct and life. He is not responsible for others. The apostle John writes the words of Christ, "Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done" (Revelation 22:12).

The apostle Paul notes, "But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, 'who will render to each person according to his deeds:"…(Romans 2:5-6, NASB).

This makes salvation a personal matter of responsibility!

Earthly Deeds

Furthermore, this responsibility must occur during one's life on earth. Second Corinthians 5:10 clearly states that each one of us will account for all deeds done in the body whether good or bad.

"For we must all stand before Christ to be judged. We will each receive whatever we deserve for the good or evil we have done in this earthly body" (NLT).

Chasm After Death

After our deaths there is a wide "chasm" separating believers from unbelievers. We are not able to cross over from one side to the other (see Luke 16:26).


The Scripture passage in Hebrews 9:27 makes it clear that each one of us is destined to live only once and after that comes judgment. While the Catholic Church teaches the concept of purgatory there is very little evidence for this in the Bible including that found in the Apocrypha. The Catholic Answer Bible states,

"The writer of 2 Maccabees praises the offering of prayers and sacrifices for the dead (see 12:38-46)"…"The traditional image of cleansing purgatorial fire comes from such biblical passages as 1 Corinthians 3:11-15, which speaks of those who 'will be saved, but only as through fire' (3:15) (New Catholic Answer Bible 2005, H-2).

Paul Emphasizes Resurrection

In the context of Paul's statement about baptism for the dead his emphasis is on resurrection.

…"in trying to show the universality of a concept of life after death, he plays off an existing cult that believed that you could be baptized for the dead, which means they believed that people lived after death, right?" notes famous teacher John MacArthur. "I don't think it means that you can get baptized and get somebody out of, out of purgatory or out of Tartarus or out of hell or out of punishment into glory" (MacArthur, tape GC 1301-X).

Please note that even MacArthur says, "I don't know what it (baptism for the dead) means. But, I don't feel bad because no one else does either…the reason is because the passage is so limited and obscure and there isn't a lot of data given to us."

R.C. Sproul adds, "Apparently some in Corinth were being baptized on behalf of others who had already died. This practice is not mentioned elsewhere in the Bible or in other ancient writings. Numerous explanations of the practice have been proposed, all of them speculative and none persuasive. Paul mentions the rite only to show the logical inconsistency of his opponents' position (Reformation Study Bible 2005, 1666).

My favorite common-sense conclusion comes from the Apologetics Study Bible. The study notes clarify that "some believers in Corinth had lost their lives under persecution before an opportunity arose for baptism and that others had been baptized in their place (Gk 'hyper") by substitution" (Apologetics Study Bible 2007, 1732).



MacArthur, John. "MacArthur's Questions and Answers." http://www.biblebb.com/files/macqa/1301-X-5.htm

Sproul, R.C., ed. 2005. The Reformation Study Bible Orlando, FL: Ligonier Ministries.

The Apologetics Study Bible, HCSB.2007. Nashville, TN: Holman.

The New Catholic Answer Bible, NAB. 2005. Wichita, Kansas: Fireside Catholic Publishing.

Author Valorie Emilio holds an M.A. in History from UCLA focusing upon early church history.

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