If these things are not so, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized for them?
I. THE FOLLY OF SELF DENIAL AND SUFFERING FOR CHRISTIANITY. These must be branded as imbecile; yet they have ever seemed most sublime. But if there be no resurrection (the resurrection of the body being vital to the gospel and all its hopes, as Paul has shown in preceding verses of this chapter), the argument for such conduct fails. Why order one's life for a future which will never be realized? Why suffer for a lie as though it were a truth? There were some who had been "baptized for the dead" - an obscure expression, but probably meaning baptized to take the place of those who had suffered martyrdom. Why should these court so stern a fate if Christianity were a deception? The apostle had "fought with beasts at Ephesus" - probably figurative, to express his contest with beastlike men. He "died daily" in his faithfulness to his commission as a preacher of - what? Ah! upon the what depended everything. According to the answer, Paul was an utter fool or a marvellously heroic saint. If there was no resurrection, and if therefore the gospel fell to the ground, he was undoubtedly the former.
II. THE REMOVAL OF RESTRAINTS FROM INDULGENCE AND VICE. The denial of the doctrine of the resurrection involved the denial of the gospel, and with this perished the hope of salvation. Christians thus became as men of this world, having no bright hope of the hereafter. Consequently the check upon natural appetite was removed. Common sense would seem to favour a life of Epicurean pleasure. If there be no hope concerning the world to come, let us make the best of the world that now is: "Let us eat and drink; for tomorrow we die." "Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years: take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry." The apostle is not supposing that there is no future existence. By "the resurrection" in this chapter he means the resurrection of the body, but he shows that with the rejection of this doctrine Christianity is destroyed, and here he is showing that if Christianity be destroyed the incentives to a pure and virtuous life are removed. His thought seems to be that, apart from Christianity, there is nothing in the world which will constrain men generally to live great and noble and self-denying lives. And this is a matter for our most serious reflection. If Christianity be done away with, what is there which will restrain men from indulgence and vice? No other religion can compete with Christianity; if it falls, all religion is doomed. Can philosophy do the practical work required? Alas! it is possible to be a very excellent philosopher and a very poor moralist. Will general education restrain men? It will, when cleverness and goodness mean the same thing, but not before! Will art and refinement effect what is needed? The palmiest days of art have been the days of most glaring obscenity, and refinement has shown over and over again how easily it allies itself with brutal lust. If Christianity falls, the prevailing doctrine amongst men must be, "let us eat and drink; for tomorrow we die."
II. CAREFULLY SHOULD WE GUARD AGAINST EMBRACING THIS FATAL OPINION. We may find difficulty in believing the doctrine; we shall find disaster in rejecting it.
1. The apostle notices one thing very likely to lead us astray. "Evil communications [or, 'evil company'] corrupt good manners" - a line borrowed from the Greek poet Menander. "Can a man touch pitch and not be defiled?" Many mix amongst the ungodly, confident in strength, and fall. We need remember that, in our present state, we are more easily influenced towards the wrong than the right. Our minds are not equally poised. There is already a bias. Strange that those who are so bold to venture into the atmosphere of moral evil shun that of physical evil. A professing Christian will company with an arrant unbeliever, but not with a man suffering from small-pox.
2. Sin must not be yielded to. (Ver. 34.) Those who live in sin easily persuade themselves of the truth of anything which they would like to be true. As denial of the resurrection leads to sin, so sin leads to the denial of the resurrection. Sin blinds the intellect as well as corrupts the heart.
3. If we have been at all betrayed, we should at once seek to recover our position. "Awake to righteousness," or, "awake up righteously." We are more than half asleep if we deny that for which there is abundant evidence. We need to rub our eyes or to ask the great Physician to touch them. "Awake," or "be sober." The condition of those who deny the resurrection is one of carnal intoxication. In denial our faces are towards evil; in assent and reception we turn towards righteousness. "Righteousness" in the world depends, according to the apostle, upon the reception of this doctrine, because with it stands or falls Christianity itself.
4. Denial involves ignorance of God. (Ver. 34.) To the Sadducees, who denied the resurrection, Christ said, "Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures, nor the power of God" (Matthew 22:29). Men say, God cannot do this thing; but with him "all things are possible." True knowledge of God marvellously helps our faith. We doubt and question, not because we know so much, but because we know so little. The Corinthians boasted much of their knowledge; here Paul charges them with gross ignorance. - H.
Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all
Homilist.The baptized for the dead mean all those persons who, saved from a world of sin, from Pagan ignorance, and from the power of Satan, passed through the ordinance of initiatory baptism, there to fill the places and to carry on the work of the dead martyrs, as fresh soldiers fill the ranks of those who are slain in battle. What shall they do? Secular motives for such a profession they had none. What must be their disappointment if the hopes of spiritual recompense were delusive? This method of interpretation suggests —
I. THAT THE DISCIPLES OF CHRIST ARE ALWAYS DESCRIBED AS A PECULIAR PEOPLE.
1. They are separated from the world — "I have chosen you out of the world." The duty such a separation involves is manifest.
2. They are avowedly united one to another — in the fellowship of holy love. We much neglect our duty and our privilege if we neglect or refuse such communion with the people of God.
3. They form an organised and well connected body, in which every member has his proper place and office. The Church is likened to a kingdom, a house, a body, an army.
II. THAT THE INDIVIDUAL DISCIPLES OF CHRIST ARE FREQUENTLY REMOVED, AND THEIR PLACES RENDERED VACANT BY DEATH. The ranks of Christ's army are constantly being thinned. When the text was written many lost them through the bitterness of persecution. But the ordinary causes of death still exist. The best must die.
1. We see vacant places in the leadership; ministers, rulers, governors must lay down their authority.
2. We see vacant places among the rank and file. Our beloved companions are called away one after another, and our own turn must soon arrive.
III. THAT GOD ALWAYS WILL RAISE UP OTHERS TO TAKE THE PLACE OF THOSE WHO ARE REMOVED. The Church of Christ is unchangeable and lasting as the throne of God, and, as such, neither can the gates of hell prevail against it, nor the change of time affect its constitution, nor the deaths of its individual members occasion its dissolution. It may suffer a temporary eclipse by the loss of its brightest ornaments, but it is never abandoned, and others soon rise to take the place of those gone before, The whole history of the past is a living commentary on this truth.
IV. THAT THE PROSPECT OF THE RESURRECTION TO A FUTURE LIFE IS THE CONSOLING ELEMENT IN ALL THE CHANGES OF THE PRESENT. If it were not for this prospect all else would be utter loss. "Else what shall they do who are baptized for the dead, if Christ had not become the first-fruits of them that slept?" All their labour would have been in vain and their duty lost.
(Homilist.)I. MANY COMMENTATORS HAVE DECLINED TO ACCEPT THESE WORDS IN THEIR OBVIOUS SENSE. Here are some of their interpretations: "What shall they gain who are baptized only to die?" "What shall they gain who are baptized when dying, as a sign that their dead bodies shall be raised? .... What shall they gain who are baptized for the removal of their dead works?" "What shall they gain who are baptized into the death of Christ?" "What shall they gain who are baptized for the hope of the resurrection of the dead?" "What shall they gain who are baptized into the place of the dead martyrs?" "What shall they gain who are baptized into the name of the dead?" "What shall they gain who are baptized in order to convert those who are dead in sin?" "What shall they gain who are baptized over the graves of the dead?" i.e., martyrs — a custom which existed in the post-apostolic Church. "What shall they gain who are baptized for the good of the Christian dead?" i.e., to accomplish the number of the elect, and to hasten the kingdom of Christ. Taken together, these sound like a series of ingenious answers to a conundrum, no one of which is the true answer. And thus they read us a most impressive homily against putting forced, or "spiritual" meanings on the plain words of Scripture. These opposing constructions of St. Paul's words refute each other, and warn us that we must abide by the natural and obvious sense of the passage, in whatever difficulties it may land us. Take them literally and St. Paul says, that in the Corinthian Church men were baptized for, in the stead of, the unbaptized dead.
II. WE HAVE MANY HISTORICAL TRACES OF THE CUSTOM OF BAPTIZING FOR THE DEAD. and attest that it existed among the ( A.D. 130-150). relates that a similar custom prevailed among the Corinthians, a still earlier sect, and adds: "There was an uncertain tradition handed down that it was also to be found among some heretics in Asia, especially in Galatia, in the times of the apostles." St. gives us a graphic picture of such a baptism. He says: "After a catechumen was dead, they hid a living man under the bed of the deceased; then, coming to the bed of the dead man, they spake to him and asked whether he would receive baptism, and he making no answer, the other replied in his stead, and so they baptized the living for the dead." Similar observances have obtained in all ages. The Februarian lustrations for the dead are familiar to all readers of Ovid. Tertullian refers to them as very much on a level with the Corinthian baptism for the dead. They were designed to contribute in some indefinite way to the welfare and happiness of the Roman dead. With the Jews, if any man died in a state of ceremonial uncleanness, which would have required ablution, one of his friends performed the ablution; he was washed, and the dead man was accounted clean. In a kindred spirit the Patristic Church once placed the eucharistical elements in the mouths or hands of the dead.
III. NOW A CUSTOM WHICH HAS OBTAINED SO WIDELY, and which still lives virtually in the Roman "masses for the dead," MUST HAVE HAD SOME HUMANE AND NOBLE MOTIVE. Nor, I think, is the motive far to seek. Death often lends new life to love. When we have lost those who were nearest to us, we long to do something to prove the sincerity of our love. Suppose, then, that in Corinth a son, who had often listened to the Christian preachers, lost the father who had listened with him. Both, let us assume, have been impressed by the truth, but they have not been drawn by it into the Christian fellowship. The father dies: and now the son resolves that he will hesitate no longer. He will put on Christ by baptism. But the dear father now dead — can nothing be done for him? He might have been baptized had he lived a little longer: perhaps, as he lay a-dying, he lamented that he had not been bolder. Are his good intentions, his regrets, to come to nothing? May not his son's baptism be in some sort the father's too? May not the son say to the minister of the Church, "My father would have been baptized had he lived; I will be baptized for him"? If he did say that, we may be sure the minister would respect his feeling; possibly he might even share it. For we must not forget how ignorant the Corinthians were, and that on the main sacramental and doctrinal points. And if vicarious baptism were administered by any one teacher, if those were admitted to baptism who were moved thereto by love of the dead as well as by love for Christ, we can easily see how a superstitious custom would soon grow up in the Church.
IV. BUT PAUL KNEW THIS TO BE A MERE SUPERSTITION. CAN WE SUPPOSE THAT HE WOULD ARGUE FROM IT WITHOUT CONDEMNING IT.
1. And yet, did he not, in becoming all things to all men, that he might save some, often accommodate himself to the views and feelings of those whom he addressed when he could not share them? We can hardly suppose that St. Paul admired the allegorical method of interpretation which was so dear to many of the Jews. Yet, in speaking or in writing to men who used this method, he often adopted it (Galatians 4:21-31). So again, as he passed through Athens, he saw an altar with this inscription, "To the Unknown God." The Athenians meant only some god whom they did not clearly know, who might well consort with the crowd of divinities in their Pantheon. "Him," says St. Paul, "I declare unto you." But it was not any such god as was in their thoughts, but the only wise and true God. Here again, therefore, he was accommodating himself to views which he could not share; he appealed to the polytheism of a heathen race in order to set forth Jesus as the Saviour and life of men. So, once more, when he took a Jewish vow, and, after a Jewish custom, shaved his head at Cenchrea; or when he went and purified himself in the Temple, or when he caused his "son Timothy" to be circumcised, he became as a Jew that he might, gain the Jews. Is it impossible, then, that, in persuading the Corinthians of a resurrection, he should appeal to a superstitious custom which he himself did not approve?
2. Nevertheless, one does not like to conceive of St. Paul as doing that. The least we should expect of him is that, if he condescended to use such an argument at all, he would disconnect himself from the superstition on which it was based, and hint his disapproval of it. And this much, I think, he does. There are traces of his tacit disapprobation of this baptism for the dead even in our English version. Mark the tone of his argument before and after the 29th verse, and you will see how completely he identifies himself with his friends at Corinth. If the dead rise not, he says in the previous verses, our preaching is vain, your faith is vain, etc. It is all we and you. The same tone dominates the subsequent verses. Contrast with this the tone of ver. 29. "Else," i.e., if the dead rise not, "what shall they do who are baptized for the dead?" St. Paul no longer speaks of we and you, but of they and them, as though he were speaking of men with whom neither he nor his friends were in perfect sympathy. And this change of tone is much more marked and obvious in the Greek. To give effect to his change of tone and the niceties of his grammar, we may paraphrase his question thus: "What will become of those," or, "What good account of themselves can they give, who are in the habit of being baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not? The very ground and motive of their custom is cut from under their feet by a denial of the resurrection, and therefore they, of all men, should be the very last to deny it."
V. NOTE ONE OF THE GRAVE MORAL QUESTIONS THE SUBJECT SUGGESTS. I have spoken of the humane and universal feeling in which this vicarious baptism probably had its rise and strength. We have lost those who were dear to us, and if we have hope for all our dead, we can sympathise with the anguish of those who have no hope. We can see that if fears for their eternal welfare had been added to our sorrow at the loss of those who were very dear to us, that added burden would have been enough to break our hearts. And the question I would fain suggest is — Are your children to long, when you are taken from them, that they could be baptized for the dead? If only because you love those who will be after you, and would save them from vain longings and inconsolable regrets, it will be well for you to consider this question, and to act out your answer to it without delay.
(S. Cox, D.D.)I. THE CONNECTION OF THE PASSAGE. It is connected with ver. 20, the intervening verses being a parenthesis. Paul has been speaking of the vanity of the Christian life apart from the resurrection (vers. 19, 20), and then after a digression on the order of the resurrection, suggested by the word "first-fruits," he resumes his argument. "Else," if Christ be not risen, "what shall they do that are baptized for the dead?" But whilst the passage is thus disconnected from what precedes, it is directly connected with what follows (ver. 30). If Christ be not risen, what is the use of our enduring sufferings for our faith in Him?
II. THE APOSTLE'S TRAIN OF THOUGHT.
1. His chief argument is that derived from the resurrection of Christ. "If there be no resurrection of the dead, then is not Christ risen," consequently "your faith is vain, ye are yet in your sins," and in testifying to it "we are found false witnesses." But we have the most convincing proofs, from numerous and unquestionable witnesses, of Christ's resurrection, which is a proof and pledge of ours.
2. If there be no resurrection, then dead believers are annihilated (ver. 18), and their Christianity, as it is inseparably connected with suffering, has augmented the misery of human existence (ver. 19). But this is a consequence that cannot be admitted (ver. 20).
3. And analogous to this the apostle argues that if there be no resurrection, all the trials of believers are useless; not the practice of the Christians, but that of the Epicureans, is reasonable (vers. 30-33). Now it is evident that it is to this argument that the text belongs; therefore, baptism for the dead must be connected with the sufferings of believers.
III. The text therefore means BAPTISM TO FILL THE PLACE OF THE DEAD.
1. The apostle represents one set of Christians succeeding another: when their ranks were thinned by death others rushed in to supply their place. But why so if there be no resurrection? Why do they voluntarily submit to like suffering for their faith? Such an interpretation agrees well with what follows. And what a noble idea does this give of Christians. They fill up the ranks and fight in the battle in which their companions have fallen. And what a touching scene it must have been in times of persecution to see the baptized, like soldiers, occupying the breach which death had made in their ranks, thus verifying the observation that "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church."
2. This interpretation gives us a striking view of the nature of baptism. It unites the baptized living with the baptized dead; it is the ceremony for our enrolment into the great army of the living God; it ensures the perpetuity of the Church, and supplies it with a constant succession of those who bear the name of Jesus; it is a solemn consecration to the service of Christ, and imposes upon us the duties which our predecessors performed, and enables us to look forward to those rewards which they now enjoy.
(P. J. Gloag, D.D.)
I. St. Paul speaks (we venture to think) not of a caprice, and not of a superstition — not of a local custom, not of a human invention, not of a pious fancy, and not of a morbid and perilous addition to the faith and rule of the Churches: he speaks, we believe, of THE ORDINANCE OF BAPTISM as the risen and departing Saviour instituted it, and he unfolds to us here in brief, as elsewhere in detail, the connection of that ordinance with the foundation-fact of the resurrection. Every Christian baptism is a baptism for the dead. Not only is the resurrection of the dead one of the articles of the apostles' creed which the person to be baptized professes himself to believe — as says, commenting upon this passage, "When we are about to baptize, we bid the man say, "I believe in the resurrection of the dead,' and after this confession he is plunged in the sacred fountain" — not only is there this connection between the sacrament and the doctrine — but also, as the same great writer goes on to explain, the very immersion in, and emergence from, the baptismal waters, is a symbol of the burial and the resurrection that shall be — it is an insertion into the Saviour dead and risen, it is the typical foreacting of that funeral and that revival, the anticipation of which is the saint's life, the realisation of which is the saint's glory. To be "baptized for the dead" is to vindicate, by our baptism, the sure hope of the dead — namely (to use again St. Paul's words), that, as we believe that Christ died and rose again, even so "them also which have been laid to sleep through Jesus shall God bring with Him." If there is no such hope — "if the dead rise not at all" — what shall they do, which way shall they turn themselves, who have been subjected, on becoming believers, to that Christian baptism, which is, being interpreted, the assertion of the right of the dead, not only to immortality in a world of spirits, but, definitely and specifically, to a resurrection of the body? "Why," he adds, "if there be no such hope, are the generations of the faithful thus 'baptized for the dead'?"
II. The saying opens to US A NEW REGION OF DUTY. We are apt to imagine that death breaks all ties. Certainly it breaks some. Ties of office — ties of courtesy — ties of parentage and wedlock — death breaks these — as to their form. But not even these, surely, as to their substance. What shall we say of the son whose heart does not burn within him at the slighting mention of a dead father — what shall we say of the patriot who has no sense of shame at the ridicule of a great statesman departed, or of the subject who is capable of no resentment when he reads some cowardly outrage upon the memory of a dead sovereign? Yes — "cowardly" I call it, if it concerns the dead. The characters of the dead are the heirlooms of the living. To disparage a dead man is like injuring a child or insulting a woman. If you must calumniate the departed, begin on the day of the funeral — while at least there may be some one to answer you — son, brother, friend — some one to call you to the reckoning — some one to challenge you to the proof. These, indeed, are more or less personal matters. They affect but a few — generally the more famous, the more illustrious, of mankind. But St. Paul tells us that there is an honour, and by consequence a dishonour, which may be done to all the dead. There is way in which we can disparage, or in which we can vindicate them, as a class. We may be baptized for them. And when he explains himself he says, We may either assert for them, or doubt for them, or deny to them, a resurrection — which is, in other words, an immortality of complete being. Let us not forget that we ourselves shall soon have gone across from this world to that. "Baptized for the dead?" then, baptized for ourselves. Let us cling now to that Easter which shall be our all then!
1. Let us thank God for the gospel. The gospel is true or not true — but at least it is clearly defined and very simple. Christ died for our sins, and was buried, and the third day rose. In Him we live — He is the Resurrection and the Life. Let us settle these matters. To live in suspense about Jesus Christ is to live in a trance, incapable of true speech or true action. Settle that question — and let it settle all else. I can recognise no plea for waiting. That which will be true at your death is true to-day. If true, it involves duties. Amongst others — and of that the text speaks —
2. A duty towards the departed. How often have we turned back from the open grave, as from a closed book or a career ended! Anxieties we have silenced by a peradventure, unuttered but tolerated, that all may be well because all may be nothing. Prayers for the dead are un-Protestant — the dead are in the hands of God. Duties to the dead are ended — neglected or done, they are of the past. Let them rest in peace. Nay, we have still to be their champions. We have still to think of them as being and to be — as members of the Church, as possessors of the Spirit. We have still to be in communion with them — meeting them when we pray — meeting them when we worship — meeting them when we communicate. We have still to feel, when we bring a little child to baptism, we are standing up for the dead. We are asserting the resurrection of the body.
(Dean Vaughan.)i.e., with a mind bent "over us," in order to our redemption, or "over our sins," with an eye to their abolition (see ver. 3), even so catechumens in baptism emerged from the hallowed streams with their thoughts busy about or intent upon the dead, not as particular persons, but as a general class, distinct from the living on earth. And both context and circumstance together proclaim that the ulterior view of a neophite's mind, bending over the long roll of the dead, is their resurrection. But to make certainty doubly certain, St. Paul adds, "If absolutely not raised are dead men, why do persons actually receive baptism on their account?" Between the death of the Duke of Wellington and his public funeral, I remember a lady, pointing to some crape near her, saying, "This will be of use for the Duke of Wellington." The text came immediately to my mind as parallel in structure to the sentence uttered, which, expanded in full, signified, "This crape will be of use for me to wear on the day of Wellington's funeral."
I. AS THINNED BY DEATH — "the dead." The great law of mortality enters this realm. The intelligence, virtues, devotions, and usefulness of this Church-realm, constitute no barrier to the entrance of death. But —
1. He appears here as the messenger of mercy — outside as the officer of justice.
2. He leaves behind him here consolation for the survivors, but outside unmitigated sorrow.
II. AS REPLENISHED BY CONVERSION. By those who are baptized for the dead I understand those who, from Pagan darkness, were converted by the gospel, and were admitted into the visible Church, there to fill up the place of those who, by martyrdom or otherwise, had been called away by death. The new convert then took the place of the departed saint. No sooner is one Christian removed from his station than another is raised up by God to supply the loss. As Joshua succeeded Moses, Elisha Elijah, Eleazer Aaron, so one man is ever raised in the Church to take the place of another. This succession affords a lesson —
1. For humility. The man of most brilliant talents, distinguished position, and extensive usefulness in the Church, has nothing whereof to flatter himself; however important he may be, the Church can do without him. When he fails, others are ready to step into his place, and to be baptized for the dead.
2. For encouragement. God's redemptive plan will go on, whatever happens to individual agents. "He buries His workmen, but carries on His work." Let us learn to trust God rather than His most distinguished servants. The treasure is only in earthern vessels — vessels that must crumble.
III. AS LIVING IN HOPE. This language implies that the hope of a future state, of a resurrection, was a vital thing in the experience of the Church; and so it has ever been, is, and will ever be. The Church lives in hope. It "reckons that the sufferings of the present time are not worthy to be compared with the glories that shall be." It is "waiting for the adoption"; it is "looking for the blessed appearing," etc. Paul does not mean, however, that the religion of Christ is of no service to man if there be no future state. Let us answer his two questions.
1. "What shall they do?" We venture to reply, not renounce religion, but continue faithful for ever. Should there be no future, Christian virtue is good. You will lose nothing by it should you be annihilated: you will not feel even the disappointment, but you will gain immensely by it, even in the present life. "Godliness is profitable unto all things."
2. "Why are they then baptized?" We answer, because the claims of religion are independent of the future state. Were there no heaven, no hell, we should be bound to be truthful, honest, benevolent, God loving, etc.
(D. Thomas, D.D.)
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