Questions From Readers
What is baptism for the dead?
In writing about the heavenly resurrection, the apostle Paul penned a most intriguing passage. In the King James Version, we read: “Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?” And The New Jerusalem Bible renders this passage: “What are people up to who have themselves baptised on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, what is the point of being baptised on their behalf?”—1 Corinthians 15:29.
Was Paul here suggesting that living people be baptized on behalf of those who died in an unbaptized state? So it might seem from these and some other Bible translations. However, a closer examination of both the Scriptures and the original Greek used by Paul suggests another conclusion. Paul meant that anointed Christians are baptized, or immersed, into a course of life that will lead to a death of integrity like that of Christ. Afterward, they would be raised to spirit life as he was.
The Scriptures support this explanation. In his letter to the Romans, Paul wrote: “Do you not know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” (Romans 6:3) In his letter to the Philippians, Paul spoke of himself, saying: “Sharing in [Christ’s] sufferings, submitting myself to a death like his, to see if I may by any means attain to the earlier resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:10, 11) Paul was pointing out that the life of an anointed follower of Christ involves a course of integrity-keeping under test, a daily facing of death, and finally a death of integrity, followed by the heavenly resurrection.
It is noteworthy that these and other scriptures that directly mention death in connection with baptized ones refer to living individuals who had been baptized and not to those who had died. Paul also told fellow anointed Christians: “You were buried with him in his baptism, and by relationship with him you were also raised up together through your faith in the operation of God, who raised him up from the dead.”—Colossians 2:12.
The Greek preposition hy·perʹ, translated “for” or “on behalf of” in various Bible versions at 1 Corinthians 15:29, can also mean “for the purpose of.” In harmony with other Bible texts, the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures therefore correctly renders this verse 1Co 15:29: “What will they do who are being baptized for the purpose of being dead ones? If the dead are not to be raised up at all, why are they also being baptized for the purpose of being such?”