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First Corinthians 15:29-34


In response to the Corinthian assemblys tendency to be led back into the philosophy that says theres no
resurrection, Paul has reminded them of the fact that Christ is risen from the dead - and that Christ is the
guarantee that those who believe in Him will also rise.
Paul then took the Corinthian assembly all the way to the conclusion of this present evil age (Gal 1:4) - to
the end of Gentile dominion, when Christ returns to the earth to set up His kingdom. Paul took them there
because thats when Death will also come to an end - it will be destroyed in the resurrection of Life.
Paul wanted the Corinthians to see that the victory of Jesus over death was the initiation of the victory of
all who believe in Him - and Death, as inevitable and irreversible as it may seem to the Corinthians - and to
us - will no longer have dominion over men.
As Paul continues, we find that he now returns to his argument against the Corinthians thinking, that the
dead dont rise. Paul challenges them with a series of rhetorical questions, designed to get them to think it
through.
[First Corinthians 15:29-34]
In verse 29, Otherwise signals the return to Pauls main argument against the Corinthian thinking, where
he left off in verse 19. That was the last point Paul made, in a series of statements from verse 12 on - where
he revealed the dire implications - if it was actually true, that the dead dont rise.
Paul now returns to this last point (v. 19) - that if there is no resurrection, believers are living this life with a
false hope - and thats pitiable, because it would mean they are wasting their lives.
So Paul now develops this same point in a slightly different way, through the rhetorical questions in verses
29-32. We might say the theme could be expressed as, If theres no resurrection, why do believers live as
they do? What do they accomplish? Why do believers do the things that they do - if the dead do not
rise? To what advantage is it?
Now, before we go further, I want to point out that verse 29 enjoys great notoriety among commentators. It
is considered one of the most obscure verses to be found among the letters of Paul - or even, the NT maybe we could just say the whole of Scripture.
And it is difficult to understand Pauls meaning here, based on the language - in particular, the choice of
words. This has led to some rather imaginative conjecture, in some cases - or to trying to force-fit Pauls
language to artificially conform to a certain thinking, in other cases - the commentators thinking, of
course.
But we remember that all Scripture is given by inspiration of God (2 Tim 3:16). These letters of Pauls,
which became part of the Scriptures, were breathed into Paul by the Holy Spirit - including the words, that
Paul chose. So lets consider it a little more closely, and see if we can understand what the Spirit intended
to bring out, here.
Lets look at the context, first. Remember Paul is elaborating on his point back in verse 19, along the lines
of, Why do believers do the things that they do - if the dead do not rise?

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Now, in verses 30-32, Paul writes in the first person singular, and plural - I, we. Clearly there, he is
speaking of himself and his fellow missionaries. These are the witnesses to the Lord Jesus, who are going
throughout the world, preaching the gospel.
Who do they preach their gospel to? To those who havent heard it - theyre the ones who need to hear that
God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not
perish, but have everlasting life (Jn 3:16). Why does the world need to hear this? Because they are
perishing; they need to be saved. From what? From death.
They were born, dead in trespasses and sins (Eph 2:1), in bodies of death (Rm 7:24). They are the dead in
Adam - who need to hear the message of Life. So Pauls point here is, why do the missionaries do what
they do - witnessing to the gospel through their preaching - witnessing concerning Life, to the dead - if the
dead dont actually rise?
Now lets look at verse 29. This is a different group of people that Paul is speaking of - notice the pronoun
he uses is they. He is not speaking specifically to all the Corinthian believers, which he usually
addresses as you plural - this he will do in verses 33-34 (you implied).
They is just referring to some who are baptized. Paul keeps it vague; perhaps its a hypothetical group those who get baptized; perhaps he is intending those who are being baptized in Corinth. In that Paul
doesnt qualify them, who they are likely doesnt matter; its what they are doing that Paul wants to point
out.
So what are they doing? They are being baptized for the dead. This is the phrase that is ambiguous, in the
verse - what does Paul mean, that they are being baptized for the dead?
Now, there are those who see in this that Paul is saying that there are some - assumed believers - who are
being baptized for others, who have died; that is, they are being water-baptized in their place; that is to say,
vicariously.
Why would they do that? Well, it has to be further assumed that water baptism procures salvation; and it
has to be even further assumed that this salvation can then be transferred, or imparted, from a believer who
receives the water baptism, to a person who has died - an unbeliever.
There is one religion in our day that believes this. They actually do call their practice baptism for the
dead, just as it reads in our text - a way of conferring salvation on ones relatives and friends who have
died.
But there are many, many problems with this interpretation. There is nothing in Pauls letters which
supports this thinking. There is no record of this practice in the book of Acts, where water baptism is
mentioned extensively. There is no mention of any practice like this, in all of Scripture. And there is no
documentation of such a practice in the historical records of the early church - despite the instructions to be
found there for water baptism.
But there is something even more significant than the silence on the part of the Scriptures and church
history regarding this practice. This practice is contrary to the doctrine of the faith.

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A person is saved by the grace of God, through their faith alone - in Christ alone (Eph 2:8-9). It is by
Christs work on the cross, that we are saved. If we think we must be water-baptized in order to be saved,
we are trying to add a work, to the work of Christ - which suggests that His work on the cross was
insufficient; that Gods plan for salvation needed our help.
Thats a works-based salvation, and theres no such thing - so that even the individual receiving the water
baptism, who has this thinking, is not saved - let alone, the unbeliever who has already died. And notice
that the individual being baptized now has the power to save others - according to this thinking. Is that not
the greatest effrontery to our Lord, who gave His life to save us?
So what about unbelievers who have died? The sad truth is that they can no longer be saved. Salvation is
the free gift of God, in Christ Jesus - but in order to receive it, you have to put out your hands and take it.
Thats what faith does.
But this must be done personally, within your lifetime. Eternal life must be received, before this earthen
body dies - and if it is not, you perish. You were born dead - and if you never receive Life for this body,
you remain dead.
But some commentators also persist in this thinking - of some kind of vicarious water baptism - because of
the wording. They speculate that although this was not any kind of regular practice elsewhere, the fact that
Paul mentions it here suggests that some such practice was going on, in Corinth - perhaps a leftover pagan
practice.
But there is no record of such a practice even among the pagan cultures. And if the Corinthians had indeed
created some sort of unique practice, is it to be believed that Paul would bring it up here, without
condemning the practice?
At best, it would have been an abuse of the ordinance of baptism which Jesus Himself gave to the church
(Matt 28:18-20); at worst, it was the thinking that there is something about water baptism that can save you.
If believers in Corinth were being baptized on behalf of their dead, Paul would have included this as part of
his admonishments of the church in Corinth - probably right next to their abuse of the Lords Supper.
And yet Paul mentions it here as part of his overall point of why believers do the things they do - they are
baptized for the dead. This makes it clear that, far from condemning this baptism he is speaking of, Paul is
acknowledging it, even affirming it.
So then, what can Paul mean by this phrase, baptism for the dead? I think that becomes clear as we
consider baptism itself - and specifically, Pauls thinking concerning it.
Who can remember what the word baptize literally means? To dip; to immerse. The Jews used to
baptize their Gentile converts in water - it symbolized that the convert had believed in Judaism; that they
were leaving behind their Gentile past, and joining themselves to the Jews religion.
John, the forerunner of Jesus, also baptized in water (Mt 3:1-6). His was called a baptism of repentance
(Mk 1:4), and the one receiving it was symbolically demonstrating that they were ready to leave behind
their sin, and receive the Coming Savior (Lk 3:1-18).
When Jesus came, He baptized those who believed in Him, and called on His disciples to do the same, after
Him - baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit (Matt 28:19).

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The disciples then began to baptize those who believed in Christ right from the day of Pentecost (Acts
2:37-41). As is always the case, these water baptisms were also symbolic - a picture of leaving behind
ones former life of sin, and of joining oneself to Christ.
Throughout the book of Acts, water baptism is shown to always follow the placing of ones faith in Christ
(Acts 8:36-39, 10:45-48). Occasionally the water is mentioned (Acts 8:36, 10:47), but it is often said
simply that the individuals were baptized, and water baptism is clearly the meaning.
Paul himself was baptized in water by Ananias, after he believed into the Lord, on the road to Damascus
(Acts 9:1-18). And Paul is shown in many situations in the book of Acts, baptizing new converts, who had
placed their faith into Christ (Acts 16:14-15, 30-34, 19:1-7). In fact, one group that Paul baptized were
those who believed the gospel he preached, in Corinth (Acts 18:8).
Paul mentions having baptized these new converts in Corinth, at the beginning of this letter. Lets take a
look at that, now. Turn to First Corinthians chapter 1. Paul began this letter with an admonishment of this
assembly - for their contentiousness.
[First Corinthians 1:10-17]
v. 10-12 We have learned that there were those in Corinth who were using the names of their teachers even of Christ - as a platform, to promote their own take on the gospel - which we later learned they were
mixing with Greek philosophy. This mixed thinking was causing the assembly to be torn asunder.
Paul challenges them regarding this.
v. 13 Pauls point is that its all about Christ, and thats what each of the true teachers taught, who came to
Corinth. Now, the mention of baptism makes Paul digress, momentarily, as he continues.
v. 14-17 Its remarkable that Paul was saying so much about baptism, here - water baptism. But it is clear
that what he is saying is in the interest of downplaying it. It wasnt important, who Paul baptized - or how
many. And to further downplay it, Paul indicates Christ didnt send him to baptize - but to preach the
gospel.
This tells us that water baptism had developed an exaggerated importance, to the Corinthians - and further,
their leading members may even have been using it to promote their own importance, within the assembly.
Notice how Paul subordinates baptizing to the preaching of the gospel. After all, baptism in water is
merely symbolic - it cant save anyone. But the preaching of the gospel of Christ - thats the power of God
to salvation (Rm 1:16).
It was Paul who wrote of precisely what baptism symbolized. Well turn to a very familiar passage to look
at that - in Romans chapter 6. Paul was expressing a rhetorical question to the Romans, regarding
licentiousness - the license to sin.
[Romans 6:1-4]
v. 1-3 Now, when Paul writes here baptized into Christ Jesus, he is not speaking of water baptism. If so,
he would have merely said baptized, or baptized in the name of Christ Jesus. Instead, he is pointing to
what water baptism symbolizes - that they had been baptized into Christ Himself - that they had joined
themselves to Christ, by faith. Water baptism demonstrates this; shows it, outwardly.

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Paul says this is a baptism into Christs death. United to Christ by faith, His death becomes your death and you are crucified with Christ. This frees you from the old creation, into which you were born - it frees
you from all of the dead, in Adam. Your life in Adam is over - thats behind you now.
v. 4 Buried with Christ, you are separated from the world system, into which you were born. Christ has
already been raised in glory, and just so, we should walk in newness of life. The idea is we are able to do
so, and we should choose to do so - walking as the new creation in Christ, that we already are.
Water baptism exactly symbolizes this - immersed under the water, emerging from the water again. It
demonstrates the old life is left behind - as a dead man in Adam - and that you have a new Life to live - in
Christ.
And who is this demonstration for? Is it for you? You know what you believe, already, and what it means.
Is it for God? He knows, far more than you do! This demonstration - water baptism - is mainly for others.
Thats why it was always done publicly - as it still should be.
Specifically, water baptism is a witness - to unbelievers - of our new faith in Christ. It says that we have
left behind our old life, in Adam - of which those unbelievers are still a part; and we now have a new Life,
in Christ - a Life that has already begun, here and now, but will one day be complete, when our lowly
bodies are conformed to His glorious body (Phil 3:21) - and death is left forever behind.
So now lets carry Pauls thoughts - and his actions - back to our passage in Corinthians.
[Return to First Corinthians 15]
Returning to verse 29, Paul has begun a series of rhetorical questions, to get the Corinthians to reconsider
the implications of their thinking. He mentions people being baptized, qualifying it as being baptized for
the dead - a phrase he doesnt use anywhere else.
But Paul certainly does speak elsewhere of the dead (Rom 4:17, 2 Cor 5:14, Eph 2:1, 2:5, 5:15, Col 2:13).
That is what he calls men who are still in Adam; by the one mans offense, the many be dead (Rm 5:15,
KJV). Their bodies are dead, because of sin (Rom 8:10).
If theres no resurrection, well then, Paul asks, concerning those who are being water baptized, What will
they do?, which can also be translated, What will they accomplish?
What is it that believers accomplish when they are water baptized, which is supposed to provide a witness
to their faith - for who? For unbelievers. For the dead. So, theyre being baptized for the dead, as a
witness to them, of their faith. But what does it accomplish, if in fact that faith is unfounded - and the dead
dont rise?
Theyre professing to believe into Jesus - that He has washed away their sins, and made them a completely
new creation, by which theyll have a forever-living body one day - death has no dominion over them. Yet
if theres no resurrection - death has dominion over everybody. Permanently. Forever.
Paul is saying - to the Corinthians, who so value baptism - if you are now declaring the dead dont rise,
then your baptisms are absurd. Youre witnessing to resurrection with your actions; and denying
resurrection with your words. Why are you bothering to be baptized for the dead? Its no witness to the
dead, at all. It doesnt accomplish anything.

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This perfectly complements what Paul says next, about himself and his fellow missionaries - and their
witness, through their preaching of the gospel.
v. 30-32 Paul begins with And, to join this thought to the previous one. If the dead dont rise, not only
would the Corinthians water baptisms be a worthless witness for the dead, but so would be the preaching
of the gospel - of no advantage, for the dead.
So all that the missionaries endured, in order to deliver their message to their listeners, would have been for
nothing; there could be no gain from it, because there is no risen Lord; no life out of death; no power to
save.
Notice that Paul says he and his fellow laborers in the gospel stand in jeopardy every hour - meaning mortal
danger. Do you remember where Paul is, right now? Hes writing from Ephesus, where he spent three
years ministering.
Paul would write in his closing remarks to the Corinthians that although there is much ministry to attend to
in Ephesus, there are many adversaries (1 Cor 16:9). He encountered the usual opposition from the Jews but the record in Acts tells of a riot that rose up among the pagan Gentiles in the city against the
missionaries.
Paul is referring here in verse 32 to that encounter, as having fought with beasts at Ephesus (v. 32) - they
were wild, out of control, ready to trample whatever was in their path. Two of the missionaries were
seized, and clearly they were all in mortal danger (Acts 19:23-41).
Paul would write in his next retained letter to the Corinthians that they were burdened beyond measure,
above strength, so that they despaired even of life (2 Cor 1:8). But also in that letter, Paul describes his
view of these tribulations - in light of the gospel.
Turn to Second Corinthians chapter 4. Paul is speaking of his ministry, and his fellow laborers in the
gospel.
[Second Corinthians 4:8-12]
v. 8-10 In all their tribulations, you can hear the note of hope - not crushed; not forsaken; not destroyed.
Its their hope in Christ - their certain hope of glory, which sustains them so that they can live here and now
by the eternal life that Christ has given them - so that Christ can be seen.
It goes back to verse 7 - we have this treasure in earthen vessels. What is that treasure, in a word? The
gospel. And they carry that around in their frail human bodies, as they traverse the Roman Empire,
preaching the message of the cross - the full message of deliverance, from sin and death - through the death,
burial and resurrection of Christ.
Its a message the missionaries all firmly believe, that they stake their lives on, here and now - because of
the absolutely assured hope that they will live with Christ, forever.
v. 11-12 They live as men that could die at any time - because they could. And it just shows forth the
reality of the Life that they have received from Jesus - they know they will live forever; they know they
have already been delivered from death (2 Cor 1:10). This fearlessness in the face of death is what resulted
in the Corinthians coming to believe, as well - and receiving eternal life.

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[Return to First Corinthians 15]


That is what Paul means when he speaks of his boast in them (v. 31). Their salvation came at great cost to
him - and risk. By the same token, he dies daily - he affirms that he constantly risks his life for the sake
of his witness to the gospel, wherever he goes.
But what advantage is that to him, if the dead dont rise? It would all be a complete waste of time. He
would have risked his life, for nothing. If theres no resurrection, what he is doing is absurd - just as what
the Corinthians were doing, in being baptized, was absurd.
Paul says, in that case, Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die. This is actually a quote from the prophet
Isaiah (22:13) regarding the residents of Jerusalem, who were gleefully trusting in their own strength to
defend themselves from their enemies - and not trusting in the LORD. Paul connects them with the
Corinthians here, because both are under a deception.
Pauls use of this verse is particularly appropriate, since eating and drinking communicate the Epicurean
philosophy of living for pleasure - since the Epicureans believed this is the only life one has, and that death
was the end. By this, Paul is showing where such thinking leads - which takes us to his exhortation.
v. 33-34 Paul is quoting the sentiment of a well-known Greek playwright of that day. The evil company
would be those who are subtly leading the Corinthian believers into a gospel with the worlds wisdom
mixed in. Paul is saying, Stop keeping company with them, because they are having a corrupting
influence on you.
Good habits would be better translated good character here. The character of Christ is holiness (Heb
12:10), which was being formed in the Corinthian believers, under the watchful eye of Paul, while he was
with them (1 Cor 4:15-16).
But if these believers now insist on mixing lies in with the truth, that character can be corrupted, in them
(Eph 4:22-24) - progress can be hindered, and ground lost, in the course of sanctification (Rm 8:13).
So Paul exhorts them, Awake to righteousness. Awake literally means, Sober up! The Corinthians
had begun taking in the intoxicating wine of philosophy, which like false religion, lulled them into an
unresponsive state to what is right.
Wrong thinking leads to wrong conduct - to sin. If you dont believe the truth, you will live a lie; you will
walk in unrighteousness.
Paul urges the Corinthian believers to wake up; to come out of their stupor, to see the deception for what it
is, and to break free of it. They are following leaders whom Paul says do not have the knowledge of God.
This refers to a willful ignorance, or blindness to the truth, which is how the pagans are often described
(Eph 4:18, 1 Thes 4:5). Clearly Paul is implying that these men are unbelievers, here - and the believers in
Corinth are following their lead. Shame on them!
But Pauls sharp admonition here is intended to sting - which is sometimes just what is needed, in order to
wake up those who have fallen asleep to righteousness; their righteousness in Christ; the righteousness He
died to give them.
Reading: 1 Cor 15:35-58, Gen 1, 2:7, John 12:23-32, 1 Pet 1:22-25.