What does being baptized "on behalf of the dead" mean?

By March 4, 2015 7 Comments

Full Question

What does being baptized “on behalf of the dead” mean?


In 1 Corinthians 15:29, Paul writes, “What do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf?” The phrase “on behalf of the dead” is not actually in the Greek. The Greek word can mean “for” or “for the sake of,” not necessarily “on behalf of.”
Paul has been discussing the resurrection of the dead, and he brings up this custom of which we know little to help make his point. The Navarre Bible (“Corinthians,” 148) explains:

[Paul] makes reference to a strange custom that implicitly indicates belief in resurrection. No other source provides information about this custom, and therefore it is not possible to say exactly what it involved. . . . The apostle is neither approving [nor] condemning this custom; he is simply saying that it demonstrates Christian belief in the resurrection of the dead.

It is not clear that Paul envisioned one person being baptized in the place of a dead person. He may have meant something else, such as being baptized in order to be united with one’s Christian loved ones who had died.


  • If you understood baptism properly, you would understand the answer. Baptism is the ritual of “cutting covenant” with Christ as our divine Spouse. It has replaced circumcision. In the Old Covenant ritual of circumcision, the father was circumcised on behalf of the family members who could not be circumcised. This made them members of the covenant community — national Israel, the edah, or Church of the Old Covenant.
    This is the covenant principle of hierarchy — i.e., that the covenant head acts on behalf of those who are under his authority. This principle brought both blessing and curse upon those who were under the headship of a man. For instance, when Dathan and Aibron rebelled against Moses, it was not just they who were struck with curse, but their entire households. Likewise, when the high priest of Israel condemned Christ to death, the whole nation was cursed and as a result, was destroyed in AD 70.
    The first converts to the new faith in Jerusalem were Jews. They thought in terms of covenant. Therefore, when the realized that the New Covenant had taken place of the old, they had a desire that their deceased loved ones be included in the New Covenant congregation of God. Those who were being baptized were doing so to make covenant for their deceased loved ones in their absence. I have no doubt that male heads of household were doing this on behalf of their deceased family members.
    This is the only explanation which makes sense.

    • James Sams says:

      Edward…please research who the real high priest should have been, at the time of Yeshua [Jesus] crucifixion…you will find that it was not Kayafa (Caiaphas); rather, the true high priest was Yochanan (John) the immerser. Caiaphas was installed as high priest by Rome; he was not from the direct line of Aharon [Aaron]; thus, he didn’t represent the nation of Israel; the Jewish people knew who the real high priest was (John).
      Furthermore, Scripture reveals that the nation of Israel was dispersed due to their disobedience, not because of Caiaphas condemning Yeshua; also, Caiaphas didn’t have the authority to condemn anyone to death…it was the Roman authorities who condemned Yeshua.

      • Funny, the Sacred Scriptures say something entirely different:
        John 18:13 And led him away to Annas first; for he was father in law to Caiaphas, which was the high priest that same year.
        John 19:15 But they cried out, Away with him, away with him, crucify him. Pilate saith unto them, Shall I crucify your King? The chief priests answered, We have no king but Caesar.
        John the Immerser was never identified as having a priestly role, much less that of high priest.
        Since you cannot read Scripture as it is written, further communication with you is useless.

        • James Sams says:

          Edward! The invitation was “Research”…read more than history recorded by Rome and the gentile world [who hates Jewish people]; study other sources, such as The Works of Josephus, etc… research the ancestry [genealogy] of Caiaphas and of John; note terms such as Easter isn’t in the original Scriptures; find out what took place around 325 C.E., that brought about a separation/split between Messianic Jews and Gentile believers in Yeshua; also, note that Yeshua is now our high priest…He didn’t go to Caiaphas for baptism; rather, He went to John the immerser, who passed the office of high priest to Yeshua; lastly, let everything be done and said in love…that is how we know one another.

  • John says:

    Edward: “this is the only explanation which makes sense”…to you.
    Although I am neither Catholic nor Mormon, I understand this question as asking for a Catholic explanation or position on the Mormon practice of baptizing live people on behalf of dead people who were not previously baptized. This is an extremely contentious matter outside of Mormonism and I can understand that the answer would, therefore, be suitably vague on details.

    • If you would read and think about my comment, you would understand what I said. The Jews of that time were a very covenant oriented people. Indeed, if you read the OT, that word keeps popping up over and over again. The problem with most people is that they read the Bible and then try to wrap it around a 21st century understanding. Doesn’t work. Try thinking like a first century Jew and it makes sense.

  • Peter Sweeney says:

    It seems to me that the answer is in the Bible! I don’t think we need extra readings/considerations out side of the Bible! Let Scripture define Scripture! Question … What does this topic have to do with Jesus going to Hades/Paradise/Abraham’s Bosom and preaching and freeing the Old Testament Dead/Saints to follow Him into Heaven? I understand that Baptism wasn’t required under the O.T. but could the O.T. saints that Jesus freed have something to do with this issue?

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