A Biblical Examination of Baptism
Baptism for the Dead

Dr. Max D. Younce, Pastor

  1. Baptism for the Dead (1st Corinthians 15:29).

"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?"

Many are the interpretations of this Verse.  We shall list a few which we believe to be unfounded and untrue; then examine what we believe to be the correct interpretation.

  1. "Baptismal Regeneration," i.e., that God requires baptism to be saved.

  2. That a saved person is baptized for a lost person who has died.

  3. That a saved person is baptized for a believer who died unbaptized.

To arrive at a proper interpretation, let us begin with the word "baptized."  It is the Greek word "BAPTIZO" and means "to immerse by being identified with something or someone."  The second thing to notice is that these were Christians who probably had died as a result of their faith.  Paul gave testimony in Verse 30,31 of being in jeopardy of losing his life.

"And why stand we in jeopardy every hour?  I protest by your rejoicing which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily" (He meant that any day he could lose his life).

In other words, it would be foolish for Paul--or anyone else identifying themselves as a Christian--to risk their lives daily, if there be no resurrection from the dead.  For an account of the persecution of Christians, one only has to read Foxe's Book of Martyrs.  It becomes evident that no one is going to be identified as a Christian, replacing those who died, if there was no resurrection or hereafter.  Therefore, "being baptized for the dead" simply means that other Christians are going to step forward by proclaiming the Gospel of their faith.  The word "baptized" is only used metaphorically, showing identification.  "Baptized for the dead" could be paraphrased as "being identified as those who are going to work in the place of those who gave their life for their faith."

There have been many great Bible teachers, preachers, missionaries, Sunday School teachers, etc., who have now passed "from death unto life," or into the presence of the Lord.  Their gap in the ranks of the Lord's army needs to be filled.  Let me ask you, are you willing to be placed into one of these positions left vacant?  Are you willing to discipline yourself to allow Christ to fulfill His will in your life?  Do you fit Christ into your schedule when convenient, or is Christ first in your life and your schedule arranged around Him?  What a need we have today for Christians to be dedicated and unafraid to stand for their faith.

"And I sought for a man among them, that should make up the hedge, and stand in the gap before me for the land, that I should not destroy it: but I found none." (Ezekiel 22:30)

  1. Baptized Unto Moses (1st Corinthians 10:1,2).

Here is the word "baptized" again!  I wish the translators would have translated the Greek word "BAPTIZO," instead of just bringing it over and transliterating it with an English spelling.  "BAPTIZO" means "identification"; therefore, the Jewish people were identified with Moses as he led them from Egypt, through the Red Sea toward the Promised Land.  Moses, of course, did not baptize the Jewish people in the Red Sea, as they marched through on dry land. 

"And the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea upon the dry ground: and the waters were a wall unto them on their right hand, and on their left." (Exodus 14:22)

This has no reference to water baptism, whatsoever!  Moses was never given the command to baptize, but was commanded to administer the rite of circumcision.  Circumcision was to Israel, what baptism is to the church.  Circumcision was established as a sign of the Abrahamic Covenant as given in Genesis 17:9-10...

"And God said unto Abraham ... This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised."

As Israel identified their faith in God by circumcision, they identified themselves with Moses as their leader.  Therefore, "baptized unto Moses" is used metaphorically of Israel being identified with Moses, their leader, taking them through the Red Sea and under the cloud of God's protection.

  1. Spiritual Baptism or Water Baptism? (Romans 6:3,4).

"Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?  Therefore we are buried with him by (in) baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life."

Is this portion of Scripture speaking of water baptism or spiritual baptism?  This is surely not a major point over which Christians should sever fellowship, as many fine teachers have opposing views concerning this Verse.  Should one hold to spiritual baptism, I doubt very much that I would change their mind.  Personally, I believe this is referring to water baptism as it speaks of "being baptized unto His death."  Spiritual baptism is the act of being placed or "baptized" into His body (1st Corinthians 12:13).

"For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body..."

We believe this is the same spiritual baptism spoken of in Ephesians 4:4,5...

"There is one body (the Church), and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, ONE BAPTISM."

This does not mean there is no water baptism, but rather only one baptism into the Spiritual Body of Christ.  This is absolute proof one is saved eternally!  Once we are in the Body of Christ, we are never taken out.  It is true that sin takes a Christian out of fellowship with Christ, but never out of His Body or possession.  That's why Paul said "one baptism"; therefore, once we are saved, we can never be lost!

This spiritual baptism into Christ's Body is not evidenced by sight or feeling, but by the sureness of God's promise in His Word.  This baptism cannot be seen by the lost as evidence of our faith, but water baptism can.  Therefore, going to Romans 6, we find that this baptism does show the likeness of what our faith is in--the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ.  This likeness by baptism is a testimony that can be observed by the lost, as to our faith.  Romans 6:5 seems to be the key to identifying this as water baptism, and not spiritual...

"For if we have been planted together in the LIKENESS of his death, we shall be also in the LIKENESS of his resurrection"

Spiritual baptism reveals, privately, the result of our faith in Christ's death and resurrection (our position in Christ); while water baptism reveals, publicly, the likeness of His death and resurrection (our testimony for Christ).

Since a Christian has publicly identified themselves as such, it is God's will that one should grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus, and continue to walk in newness of life.  This is what Verse 4 is speaking of, the beginning of our testimony by baptism and the continuation of our testimony evidenced by a changed life.

"Therefore we are buried with him by (in) baptism into (unto) death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also SHOULD WALK IN NEWNESS OF LIFE." (Romans 6:4)

  1. The Baptism of Persecution (Matthew 20 and Mark 10).

"But Jesus said unto them, Ye know not what ye ask: can ye drink of the cup that I drink of? and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?  And they said unto him, We can. And Jesus said unto them, Ye shall indeed drink of the cup that I drink of; and with the baptism that I am baptized withal shall ye be baptized." (Mark 10:38,39)

James and John has just asked the Lord if He would grant them permission to sit next to Him in His Kingdom (Verse 37).  For them to have clung so tenaciously to their own righteousness in asking the Lord for the highest position is a little surprising, to say the least!  Knowing the future would test their faith to the limit is, no doubt, responsible for the gentle manner in which our Lord rendered His reproof.  Such a presumptuous request was probably motivated partly by their closeness with the Lord.  They, with Peter, constituted that select triumvirate, "the inner circle," and were the favoured three.  It was John who was found leaning on Jesus' breast, or sitting nest to Him while eating.  Just preceding this request, while on the way to Jerusalem, Christ had just informed the twelve of the persecutions He would shortly experience.  You would think they would have been more concerned about the sufferings of their Saviour, than the exaltation of themselves.

In dealing with their request, our Lord is going to magnetize their attention to the fact that heavenly positions are determined by our faithfulness down here.  It is easy to think of ourselves as great Christians when things are going good; but, the true test of a Christian's faith is in the midst of trials and persecutions.  SO our Lord challenges them with these Words...

"...can ye drink of the cup that I drink of? and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?" (Mark 10:38)

Again, we call your attention to the Greek word "BAPTIZO" which is used here, and means "identification."   In other words, He is asking them if they are willing to be identified with the same persecution He was going to endure.  He is drawing their attention back to focus on what He had just stated a few seconds earlier.  Here is the record in Verses 33,34...

"Saying, Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be delivered unto the chief priests, and unto the scribes; and they shall condemn him to death, and shall deliver him to the Gentiles: And they shall mock him, and shall scourge him, and shall spit upon him, and shall kill him: and the third day he shall rise again."

If they wanted one of the highest positions in the Kingdom, they would have to earn it down here!  If they followed the Lord, they would be persecuted for the Lord.  Our Lord previously stated in John 15:20...

"...If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you..."

Yes, Heaven is a free gift (Romans 5:15; Ephesians 2:8,9), but the position we occupy when we get there is determined by our faithfulness here.  James and John lacked nothing in confidence, as they answered our Lord without hesitation in Verse 39...

"And they said unto him (Christ), WE CAN..."

What we, as Christians, do for the Lord usually depends upon what we think of the Lord, i.e., a positive attitude and our confidence in Him.  We need to learn the words of James and John, "WE CAN!," claiming Philippians 4:13...

" I CAN do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me."

Yes, their claims of confidence did not go unjustified, as their lives did bare witness of their faith.  As for James, he was the first of the Apostles to be baptized with the blood of martyrdom, as was his Saviour on the cross...

"Now about that time Herod (Agrippa I) the king stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church.  And he killed James the brother of John with the sword." (Acts 12:1,2)

As for John, he remained faithful in going through all the persecutions that the early church was exposed to; thus, experiencing the struggles and sufferings from the Jews.  In latter years, he would be the victim of a bitter persecution under the reign of Domitian (81-96 AD) and banished for his testimony to a small, rocky island in the Aegean Sea, called Patmos.  God used Him greatly for his faithfulness in inspiring him to pen five of our New Testament Epistles.  According to Eusebius (Ecclesiastical history), he was returned from exile under the brief reign of Nero and died in Ephesus in the reign of Trajan.  He was the last of the Apostles and died at age above 90.

Our faithfulness will also bring persecution and ostracism from the world.  We are in a battleground, not a playground!  Peter informs us of what to expect in his first Epistle, 4:12-14...

"Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.  If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified."

Our challenge from Christ, today, is the same as that spoken to James and John in Mark 10:38...

"...can ye drink of the cup (of persecution) that I drink of? and be baptized (identified) with the baptism (of persecution) that I am baptized with?" (Mark 10:38)

Will we answer as they did in Verse 39, "WE CAN"?


Dr. Max D. Younce, Pastor

P.O. Box 573
Walnut Grove, MN 56180
Telephone (507) 859-2519

Web: www.heritagebbc.com

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