“At thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Ps. 16: 11)
The Basket Case Chronicles #185
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? (1 Cor. 15:29).
This now brings us to a cryptic argument that Paul advances in favor of the resurrection, an argument that he advances in his famous aside about baptism for the dead. There are (at least) several ways to take this.
First, the heretical group in Corinth that was disputing the resurrection of the dead (and who made this section of the letter necessary) could have been a group that was also practicing baptism for the dead. Paul doesn’t say “we” are baptized for the dead. He says that “they” are. And so Paul’s mild rejoinder to them is this—what kind of sense does that make? If the dead are not raised, then why bother getting baptized for them?
A second view is that advanced by R.L. Dabney, which is that this “baptism” refers to the ritual purification undertaken by someone who had recently buried someone. This is referred to in Num. 19:11-13, and we know from Mark 7:4 and Heb. 9:10 that these ritual washings were called baptisms. If there is no resurrection, then why all the Hebraic fuss over burials and cleansing from burials? In this understanding, the “they” who still do this are Jewish Christians who are allowed to continue their ancient practices (although not for justification) so long as the Temple still stood.
This second view has the advantage of not constructing an imaginary world from a few passing comments. In addition, the second view limits itself to the raw material of scriptural possibilities.