Re: 1 Cor 15:29

From: Daniel Hedrick (
Date: Wed Nov 22 1995 - 08:26:36 EST

A very good response came in regarding 1 Cor 15:29
I thought I should pass it on to this list.

The Sound of Christianity

     attempting to prove to the Corinthian Saints the reality of the
      literal resurrection from the dead. He essentially states "There must
      be a resurrection from the dead. Why would they be baptized for the
      dead if there is no resurrection?"

Again, there's no clear indication this is the case. It's a circular reasoning
process: "This verse supports baptism for the dead, because baptism for the dead
was an accepted practice of the early church. Baptism for the dead was a
practice of the early church because this verse refers to it." It's a circle.
You can't use this verse to establish a fact which is necessary for the
interpretation of this verse to support that "fact." The truth is there is no
reason to believe the Mormon practice of baptizing for the dead was practiced in
the early church.

The greek word here means "in the place of". When a new member is baptized into
a community of believers which has lost a member, then it can be said that the
new person is baptized in the place of the old member.

Ergo, the first conclusion doesn't seem at all clear to me. In fact it seems
entirely illogical, and the other idea seems far more reasonable. (BTW, if you
can eavesdrop on the conversation between White and Watson, you'll probably
learn more. James White is a sharp guy.)

      Anyone claiming that the "they"
      in 1Cor 15:29 refers to anyone other than the Corinthian Saints Paul is
      addressing is at the same time claiming that Paul is a complete idiot.

Well, I wouldn't be so abusive about it, but the point is good, and is the same
one I was making. Paul seems to have been referring to a Christian group.

      The only way Paul's argument can carry any weight at all is if it is the
      Corinthian Saints he is addressing who are being baptized for the dead.

Or. more likely, baptized into the places within the church once held by dead

      In other words, Paul cannot say to himself, "This
      is a false principle, but they believe it, therefore I will make use
      of it and argue as though it were true in order to win the point." We
      may therefore safely conclude that baptism for the dead is a true
      principle of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

I can agree with that. But that hardly carries the point that baptism for the
dead was practiced in the early church. It simply means that whatever Paul meant
in the first place has to be true. However, there is clearly another
interpretation of the Pauline passage here which supports the rest of the early
church practice much better than the one Watson suggests.

      As to what the principle of baptism for the dead entails, there is
      little question about that either, and honest Protestant and Catholic
      scholars, even though they have no clue to why it was going on, admit
      it. For example, W.J. Conybeare and J.S. Howson in their classic
      *The Life and Epistles of St. Paul* have the following to say about
      1Cor 15:29:

I wish I had that book. I'd love to see the complete context of the quoted
passage. I've seen altogether to often how a book like that can be quoted out of
context, to twist its words entirely. Look for it in your local university
library, and see if that is what has happened here. I will, too.

      (1) How strange that St. Paul should refer to such a
      superstition without rebuking it! Perhaps, however, he may have
      censured it in a former letter, and now only refers to it as an
      *argumentum ad homines*. It has, indeed, been alleged that the
      present mention of it implies a censure; but this is far from evident.

The only way Paul would refer to it without censure is if a) it was being done,
or b) it doesn't mean what Watson means us to think it means. Since there is no
existing evidence apart from this passage which would indicate a to be the case,
it must be b.

      (2) If such a practice did exist in the Apostolic Church, how can we
      account for its being discontinued in the period which followed, when
      a magical efficacy was more and more ascribed to the material act of
      baptism? Yet the practice was never adopted except by some obscure
      sects of Gnostics, who seem to have founded their custom on this very

And there's your clue: Only the Gnostics, who, even in the few years after
Jesus's death and resurrection, strayed so far from the truth that John felt
compelled to write the fourth Gospel as proof they were wrong, had adopted that
practice. How can it be scriptural, in that case? It wouldn't have been
discontinued in the early church, especially as the author's note that the idea
of baptism was sometimes invested with incredibly magical powers. No, a much
more likely interpretation is that Paul wasn't referring to the Mormon/Gnostic
practice at all, but rather to the simple fact that those new members joining
the church, filling and even overflowing the places left by the martyrs and the
rest of the dead would have no hope unless the dead rise.

      I might add in
      conclusion that James is fully aware of these explanations, as I
      brought them up to him personally several years ago. He may claim
      that he does not believe them, but what is there not to believe?

James White has this altogether nasty habit of believing only what the Bible
says, not what others read into it. ;{>} That's got to be frustrating to someone
who wants to read all kinds of extra things into it.

      I describe his position as unusual because there are so few who believe

Really? Then why is that particular position (it seems that James White has
presented Watson with the same idea I did you) echoed in so many basic Christian
Theology books? I first ran across it in Ryrie's Basic Theology, for instance. I
would suggest that it's only unusual for a Mormon to believe White's position,
as then it would contradict one of the Mormon rituals. It doesn't seem at all
odd that a Christian would take this (White's and mine) position. After all, we
have to believe what the bible says, not what we *want* it to say. That means we
sometimes have to dig for the meaning of some obscure passages. If we felt free
to re-interpret it whenever we felt like doing it, then we wouldn't need to
spend the time resolving what seem to be contradictory statements (I say *seem*
because there are none, when you dig for the truth).

        This is partially because the effect of
      replacing in the Church a person who has died with someone else who is
      yet living would be a much more valid argument against a ressurection
      than for one, so the interpretation fits neither the text nor the
      context of the verse.

Huh? That makes no sense at all. Replacing a departed member with one (or more)
new member(s) doesn't say anything against the ressurection. After all, the
resurrection of the dead isn't going to happen for a while, and without new
members replacing old ones, the work of the church will cease when the last of
the founding members dies, unless the ressurection comes first. Unless one is
seriously intending to argue that ressurection of the dead happened before the
last founding member of the early church died, that particular position is
completely untenable.

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