1 Corinthians 15:29-38 NKJV
29 Otherwise, what will they do who are baptized for the dead, if the dead do not rise at all? Why then are they baptized for the dead? 30 And why do we stand in jeopardy every hour? 31 I affirm, by the boasting in you which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily. 32 If, in the manner of men, I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantage is it to me? If the dead do not rise, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!”
33 Do not be deceived: “Evil company corrupts good habits.” 34 Awake to righteousness, and do not sin; for some do not have the knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame.
35 But someone will say, “How are the dead raised up? And with what body do they come?” 36 Foolish one, what you sow is not made alive unless it dies. 37 And what you sow, you do not sow that body that shall be, but mere grain—perhaps wheat or some other grain. 38 But God gives it a body as He pleases, and to each seed its own body.
As you have heard all week, St. Paul has been inspired to write about the bodily death and resurrection of Christ and what His victory over death means for all believers. Beginning at verse 29 Paul switches his focus from Christ to the Christian, and he mentions a practice that is one of the most obscure passages in the New Testament. The phrase “those… who are being baptized on behalf of the dead” seems to imply a type of baptism otherwise unknown in the history of Christianity.
But the fact that such a practice is unknown is actually a good thing. It helps to reveal that any kind of substitutionary baptism on behalf of the dead was not, and continues to not be, an actual practice within Christendom. There are many views on the meaning — too many to list in this little devotion. But Luther held that the Greek word that many translate as “on behalf of” should actually be translated “over” (as in, “baptized over the graves”) He writes:
“And so, in order to strengthen this article among the people, they had themselves baptized at [over] the graves of the dead in token of their firm conviction that the dead who lay buried there and over whom they were being baptized would rise again.” (LW 28:150-151)
Now that would certainly be conveying a bold confession of belief in the resurrection — and it makes sense why Paul would make such a comment! Paul then goes on to give further substantiations for bodily resurrection, such as: why would he, and the other apostles, endanger themselves for sake of the Gospel, if there is no resurrection? What’s the point? If the dead are not raised, what good is it to live in daily fear?
This is the power of God’s Word. To create a steadfast faith within you, so that you can believe, teach and confess as having nothing to fear!
Let us pray: O Lord, we give You thanks for the assurance You have graciously given us through the death and resurrection of Your only-begotten Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. Bring us to be steadfast through Him alone. Amen.