Baptism for the Dead

“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.

One Kind of Baptism Means Two Kinds of Christian

In my stack of books being read, there are a handful of writers that are always in there somewhere. I make a constant point of always having a book by Chesterton, Bunyan, Lewis, Thomas Watson . . . and, to come to our point this morning, Jonathan Edwards.

I am currently in Volume 12 of his Collected Works (no, I am not that far along — I jump around), and therefore have recently begun reading his Humble Inquiry. This is the book Edwards wrote defending his attempts to walk back the communion standards established by his predecessor Solomon Stoddard (also his grandfather) at Northampton, and which eventually led to Edwards getting the sack.

Stoddard believed that the Lord’s Supper was a converting ordinance, and therefore did not want to limit access to the Table to those known to be “truly converted.” Edwards was seeking to establish some kind of process that would enable the church to inquire as to the true heart condition of the person seeking to become a communicant.

In his opening to Humble Inquiry, Edwards is his usual lucid self, and is quite formidable.

He begins, as we all ought to, with Scripture. He demonstrates that the Bible uses the word saints, Christians, and disciples, in two distinct ways. His treatment of the word Christians is debateable, in my view, but his handling of how the Bible speaks of saints and disciples is incontrovertible. Saints are visible saints by profession, where the usage is found “in very many places,” and which Edwards says is acknowledged by all. They are too numerous to cite. But then you have the saints who are truly saints — e.g. when the Lord shall come to be glorified in His saints (2 Thess. 1:10). The same is true with the word disciples. “There were disciples in name, profession, and appearance; and there were those whom Christ called ‘disciples indeed’ (John 8:30-31).”

So far, so good. Among the many professing followers of Christ we have two categories. If you try to limit it to one category only, you will either become a sacramentalist or a member of the airy fairy invisible church, the one nobody ever has to tithe to.

At this point, Edwards goes on to advance a very clever argument, but one which in my view misses the point. “Real saints or converts are those that are so in the eye of God; visible saints or converts are those who are so in the eye of man” (p. 185).

Fiction and the Third Commandment

One of the magazines I subscribe to is Reformed Perspective, and I would encourage you to do the same. If you like, you can get over there and subscribe right now.

I bring this up because the cover story of their most recent issue was on “Christian Fantasy after Lewis and Tolkien,” a theme worthy of much discussion.

One element of this discussion has to do with how sin is portrayed in Christian fiction, and this would particularly apply to the sin of how God’s name is used. How is the Third Commandment honored or dishonored in fiction? In a sidebar comment in this issue, a key distinction is made between portraying a sin and committing a sin in the course of portraying it. This really needs to be thought through because it is not as simple as it looks.

First we should get that important distinction down. When a character in a play pulls out a fake gun, points it at another character, and pulls the trigger, he is pretending to commit a murder. If an actress in that same play pulls off her clothes, she is not pretending to be immodest, she is being immodest. In short, “the story” is not an all-purpose disinfectant, where the author and actors are absolved of all responsibility. Some sins are the sins of the characters in the story, while other sins are the sins of the tellers of the story. So how does this happen?

Admin Law

Is Administrative Law Unlawful? (Chicago: University of Chicago, 2014)

This is a magnificent book, simultaneously haunting and bracing. In this book, Philip Hamburger demonstrates, shows, and proves that Americans are currently ruled by a system that the U.S. Constitution was explicitly designed to prevent. Our current system of administrative law “returns to the very power that constitutional law developed in order to defeat, it does more than simply depart from one or two constitutional provisions. It systematically steps outside the Constitution’s structures, thereby creating an entire anti-constitutional regime” (p. 498).

This book is a fifty-gallon-drum-sized stick of dynamite with the fuse already lit. It is required reading for every attorney, every political activist, and every land owner hassled by the EPA because of that duck that lands in your puddles in the spring, thus making your lower acre a wetlands.

Before I finished it, I made this book my book of the month selection a short time ago, and also wrote a bit more about it here.

Praying Jalapeños

Okay, I love Logos Bible Software, and so that means this is in no way a complaint. They do great things. It is just that a graphic that appeared on their home page today reminded me of Pet Peeve #48.

I can’t show you the graphic because they must have crammed too many pixels into it. But their graphic is by no means alone in the world of such renditions. I don’t think I have ever seen an accurate rendition of the ark of the covenant in my life. The cherubim are invariably represented as kneeling human figures, with big sweeping wings curving upwards, making them look for all the world like jalapeños at prayer.

That is not a cherub. Neither is a cherub to be thought of the way some Renaissance painters did, as flying chubby babies with wings that wouldn’t keep a pigeon up. You want a cherub? I’ll show you a cherub. Put one your next Valentine card and see what happens.

Winged Cherub

The most famous of the cherubim. His name is Pete.



Surveying the Text: 1 Corinthians


The theme of this book is the battle between division and unity. But we must follow the wisdom of God. Not only are false division and true unity at odds, so also are true division and false unity at odds. Unity with idols is division. Division from evil is righteousness and real unity.

The Text:

For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men (1 Cor. 1:21–25).

Brief Background:

Around 50 A.D. the apostle Paul left Macedonia (northern Greece) and came to Corinth. An ancient city on that spot had been leveled by the Romans in 146 B.C., and was a pile of rubble for a century. In 44 B.C. Julius Caesar re-founded the city as a colony. The replanted city prospered, and by the time of Paul’s arrival there it was five times bigger than Athens, and was the capital of the province. The ancient travel writer Strabo (64/63 B.C.—24 A.D.) was the source of the report that the temple to Aphrodite there was staffed by a thousand sacred prostitutes.

When Paul arrived in Corinth, he moved in with Aquila and Priscilla (Acts 18:1-4). He was not confident when he first got there (1 Cor. 2:3). Silas and Timothy then arrived with good news from Macedonia (1 Thess. 3:6), which strengthened Paul’s preaching. At some point in their time here, Priscilla and Aquila risked their lives for Paul’s sake (Rom. 16:3). There apparently had been some significant trouble, such that God made a point of reassuring Paul in a vision (Acts 18:9ff).

The most likely reconstruction of Paul’s dealings with the Corinthians is this. What we know as 1 & 2 Corinthians are probably 2 & 4 Corinthians. A lost communication to the Corinthians precedes 1 Corinthians (1 Cor. 5:9ff), and another lost letter, a “severe letter,” was sent before our 2 Corinthians (2 Cor. 2:4. 1 Corinthians was probably written in 55 A.D. and 2 Corinthians was written in the autumn of the year after.

Though the Devil Should Say Contrary

This is the time in our weekly worship when we come to the Supper. But the connotations might be different for us if we simply said that this is Suppertime. This is the point where the Holy Spirit of God, who is the Comforter, offers us His food, but the connotations are different when we acknowledge that it is comfort food.

This is all true because Christ is here, Christ is here seeking you. As Samuel Rutherford put it, wonderfully, “”Christ seeks you in the sacrament, seek ye Him again, and though the devil should say the contrary, there shall be a meeting.”