First Corinthians 15:29 says, "Otherwise, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why then are they baptized for them?" I know it's a Mormon doctrine to believe in baptism for the dead by proxy. What is the Christian view of this?

There’s not a single text in all of Scripture that gives an explicit mandate for the church to practice proxy baptism, or baptism for the dead, and yet here is a practice that has emerged in one religious body. The text cited as proof of this is 1 Corinthians 15:29. We notice that Paul does not say to his readers, “You should baptize the dead,” but he asks the question, “Why is it that some of you are baptizing for the dead if in fact the dead are not raised?” The fact that Paul asks a question about it indicates that there were people practicing it. When he asks the question, there is neither an explicit or implicit rebuke for the practice. Some have looked at that and said that the apostle Paul recognized that this kind of practice was going on in the Corinthian community and he didn’t denounce it, so it has a tacit apostolic approval, and perhaps we’re missing something we ought to be doing.

But we don’t have a mandate to do it, and I think there’s much in Scripture to indicate that this practice is utterly repugnant to God because of its theological implications.

We have to understand why Paul says what he says in 1 Corinthians 15. This entire chapter is Paul’s magnificent defense of the resurrection of Christ. He is responding as a theologian to a spirit of skepticism that had emerged in the Corinthian church. Word had come to him that some people in the church were denying the Resurrection. So Paul explored the implications of that. If there is no such thing as resurrection (which is what the Sadducees believed) and if there is no life after death, what are the consequences? First of all, if there is no resurrection, then Christ is not raised. So if there’s no resurrection whatsoever, that eliminates the resurrection of Christ. If there is no resurrection of Christ, what are the implications of that? That means you’re still in your sins. There’s been no mark of divine approval on Christ’s perfect sacrifice for your justification. It means you’re a false witness of God because you’ve been running around telling everybody that, in fact, Jesus was raised and that it was God who raised him. Paul goes on to say that if Christ is not raised, then those who have fallen asleep have perished. The dead are dead. We’ll never see them again; it’s all over. He goes on to give them all these options.

In this process he uses a classical form of argument, the ad hominem argument, in which you argue on the other person’s grounds and show the inconsistency of their position. Paul, in essence, is saying, “I know some of you people are out there practicing baptism for the dead and at the same time saying that there’s no resurrection. What in the world are you doing it for?” In other words, he’s showing the folly of denying resurrection and practicing something that would depend on resurrection for it to have any meaning. But Paul is in no way endorsing the practice of baptism by proxy.

©1996 by R.C. Sproul. Used by permission of Tyndale.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. ©1982 by Thomas Nelson.
Used by permission. All rights reserved.