on 1-corinthians 15 :29
Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead - This is certainly the most difficult verse in the New Testament; for, notwithstanding the greatest and wisest men have labored to explain it, there are to this day nearly as many different interpretations of it as there are interpreters. I shall not employ my time, nor that of my reader, with a vast number of discordant and conflicting opinions; I shall make a few remarks:
1. The doctrine of the resurrection of our Lord was a grand doctrine among the apostles; they considered and preached this as the demonstration of the truth of the Gospel.
2. The multitudes who embraced Christianity became converts on the evidence of this resurrection.
3. This resurrection was considered the pledge and proof of the resurrection of all believers in Christ to the possession of the same glory into which he had entered.
4. The baptism which they received they considered as an emblem of their natural death and resurrection. This doctrine St. Paul most pointedly preaches, Romans 6:3-5 : Know ye not that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ, were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death; that like as Christ was raised up from the dead, even so we also should walk in newness of life: for, if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in his resurrection.
5. It is evident from this that all who died in the faith of Christ died in the faith of the resurrection; and therefore cheerfully gave up their lives to death, as they took joyfully the spoiling of their goods, knowing in themselves that they had in heaven a better and an enduring substance, Hebrews 10:34.
6. As is the body, so are the members; those who were properly instructed, and embraced Christianity, believed that as all who had died in the faith of Christ should rise again, so they were baptized in the same faith.
7. As so many of the primitive followers of Christ sealed the truth with their blood, and Satan and his followers continued unchanged, every man who took on him the profession of Christianity, which was done by receiving baptism, considered himself as exposing his life to the most imminent hazard, and offering his life with those who had already offered and laid down theirs.
8. He was therefore baptized in reference to this martyrdom; and, having a regard to those dead, he cheerfully received baptism, that, whether he were taken off by a natural or violent death, he might be raised in the likeness of Jesus Christ's resurrection, and that of his illustrious martyrs.
9. As martyrdom and baptism were thus so closely and intimately connected, βαπτιζεσθαι, to be baptized, was used to express being put to a violent death by the hands of persecutors. So Matthew 20:22, Matthew 20:23 : "But Jesus answered and said, Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of? etc." (Can ye go through my sufferings?) "They say unto him, We are able. He saith unto them, Ye shall indeed drink of my cup," (ye shall bear your part of the afflictions of the Gospel), "and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with (that is, ye shall suffer martyrdom.) See also Mark 10:38. So Luke 12:50; "I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished!" That is, I must die a violent death for the salvation of men.
10. The sum of the apostle's meaning appears to be this: If there be no resurrection of the dead, those who, in becoming Christians, expose themselves to all manner of privations, crosses, severe sufferings, and a violent death, can have no compensation, nor any motive sufficient to induce them to expose themselves to such miseries. But as they receive baptism as an emblem of death in voluntarily going under the water, so they receive it as an emblem of the resurrection unto eternal life, in coming up out of the water; thus they are baptized for the dead, in perfect faith of the resurrection. The three following verses seem to confirm this sense.
on 1-corinthians 15 :29
Else what shall they do ... - The apostle here resumes the argument for the resurrection which was interrupted at 1 Corinthians 15:19. He goes on to state further consequences which must follow from the denial of this doctrine, and thence infers that the doctrine must be true. There is, perhaps, no passage of the New Testament in respect to which there has been a greater variety of interpretation than this; and the views of expositors now by no means harmonize in regard to its meaning. It is possible that Paul may here refer to some practice or custom which existed in his time respecting baptism, the knowledge of which is now lost. The various opinions which have been entertained in regard to this passage, together with an examination of them, may be seen in Pool's Synopsis, Rosenmuller, and Bloomfield. It may be not useless just to refer to some of them, that the perplexity of commentators may be seen:
(1) It has been held by some that by "the dead" here is meant the Messiah who was put to death, the plural being used for the singular, meaning "the dead one."
(2) by others, that the word "baptized" here is taken in the sense of washing, cleansing, purifying, as in Matthew 8:4; Hebrews 9:10; and that the sense is, that the dead were carefully washed and purified when buried, with the hope of the resurrection, and, as it were, preparatory to that.
(3) by others, that to be "baptized for the dead" means to be baptized as dead, being baptized into Christ, and buried with him in baptism, and that by their immersion they were regarded as dead.
(4) by others, that the apostle refers to a custom of vicarious baptism, or being baptized for those who were dead, referring to the practice of having some person baptized in the place of one who had died without baptism. This was the opinion of Grotius, Michaelis, Tertullian, and Ambrose. Such was the estimate which was formed, it is supposed, of the importance of baptism, that when one had died without being baptized, some other person was baptized over his dead body in his place. That this custom prevailed in the church after the time of Paul, has been abundantly proved by Grotius, and is generally admitted. But the objections to this interpretation are obvious:
(a) There is no evidence that such a custom prevailed in the time of Paul.
(b) It cannot be believed that Paul would give countenance to a custom so senseless and so contrary to the Scripture, or that he would make it the foundation of a solemn argument.
(c) It does not accord with the strain and purpose of his argument. If this custom had been referred to, his design would have led him to say, "What will become of them for whom others have been baptized? Are we to believe that they have perished?"
(d) It is far more probable that the custom referred to in this opinion arose from an erroneous interpretation of this passage of Scripture, than that it existed in the time of Paul.
(5) there remain two other opinions, both of which are plausible, and one of which is probably the true one. One is, that the word baptized is used here as it is in Matthew 20:22-23; Mark 10:39; Luke 12:50, in the sense of being overwhelmed with calamities, trials, and sufferings; and as meaning that the apostles and others were subjected to great trials on account of the dead, that is, in the hope of the resurrection; or with the expectation that the dead would rise. This is the opinion of Lightfoot, Rosenmuller, Pearce, Homberg, Krause, and of Prof. Robinson (see the Lexicon article Βαπτίζω Baptizō), and has much that is plausible. That the word is thus used to denote a deep sinking into calamities, there can be no doubt. And that the apostles and early Christians subjected themselves, or were subjected to great and overwhelming calamities on account of the hope of the resurrection, is equally clear. This interpretation, also, agrees with the general tenor of the argument; and is an argument for the resurrection. And it implies that this was the full and constant belief of all who endured these trials, that there would be a resurrection of the dead. The argument would be, that they should be slow to adopt an opinion which would imply that all their sufferings were endured for nothing, and that God had supported them in this in vain; that God had plunged them into all these sorrows, and had sustained them in them only to disappoint them. That this view is plausible, and that it suits the strain of remark in the following verses, is evident. But there are objections to it:
(a) It is not the usual and natural meaning of the word "baptize."
(b) A metaphorical use of a word should not be resorted to unless necessary.
(c) The literal meaning of the word here will as well meet the design of the apostle as the metaphorical.
(d) This interpretation does not relieve us from any of the difficulties in regard to the phrase "for the dead;" and,
on 1-corinthians 15 :29
15:29 Who are baptized for the dead - Perhaps baptized in hope of blessings to be received after they are numbered with the dead. Or, baptized in the room of the dead - Of them that are just fallen in the cause of Christ: like soldiers who advance in the room of their companions that fell just before their face.