Baptism for the Dead.


H. A. Ironside

Baptism for the Dead.

The Corinthian saints had fallen into the Sadducean error (Acts 23:8) of denying the resurrection of the dead. In refutation of this he first reminds them that the resurrection of the Lord Jesus was a fundamental truth of the gospel (1Cor.15:1-4); then asks: "Now if Christ be preached that He rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead?" adding: "But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen; and if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain and your faith is also vain. Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ; whom He raised not up if so be that the dead rise not. For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised; and if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins" (vs.12-17). All for the believer depends on the glorious fact that He

"Who bowed His head so low,
Underneath our load of woe,"

could not be holden of death. It was the resurrection that expressed God's perfect satisfaction in the work of His Son, and tells of sins forever gone. They were laid upon Him (Isa.53:6) when He hung on the tree (1 Pet.2:24). There are none on Him now. The believer rests in this and has perfect peace.

How, then, could the Corinthians call in question the resurrection of the saints when they began with the resurrection of the Saviour?

Furthermore he adds that if there be no resurrection " then they also which have fallen asleep in Christ have perished" (v.18).

How inconsistent they were, then. Most miserable if they had no hope beyond this life (v.19), and yet they were taking the places by baptism of those who had " perished " before them--if there were no resurrection of the dead. It will be noticed that verses 20-28 are distinctly parenthetical. The argument is continued in verse 29, " Else what shall they do who are baptized for [some would translate over] the dead [plural, dead ones], if the dead [ones] rise not at all? why are they then baptized for [over] the dead [ones] ?"

If those preceding them have only perished why have they by baptism publicly put on Christ and thus exposed themselves to shame and reproach in this life, with no brighter prospect for the future? How unreasonable an appeal if many of them, or any, had been baptized as infants! In what sense could such be said to be baptized for the dead? If it be seen that it is a question of voluntarily taking the places of those that had fallen asleep all is clear.

By their very baptism they placed themselves in peril from the hatred of those about them to the gospel. What did they think to gain by it if they believed there was to be no resurrection! Why then put themselves in a place, by submitting to baptism, where their lives (which they should surely prize and desire to enjoy as long as they could) were likely soon to be forfeited, when they had no legitimate hope of blessing after death? They were only filling up the gaps already made by death-- were but baptized for those who had perished, if their system was true, and were likely soon to share their fate.

Surely in the state of things then prevalent nothing could be more telling. As for himself and those with him, he asks, "And why stand we in jeopardy every hour?" (v.30). A foolish thing this, that he who might have the favor of the world should have its enmity, put himself where he was daily subject to death, if this life were all. What advantage in contending with "beasts" at Ephesus, for instance (see Acts 19:23-41), for a mere speculation, if the dead rise not! Was not the heathen poet Menander (who drowned himself) wiser than either them or him who said, "Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die?" He was at least consistent.

All is simple here; no superstitious practice of baptizing living persons for the benefit of dead ones is hinted at. It is just a military figure-- they were filling up the ranks, taking the places vacated by those who had already " fallen asleep in Christ."