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.

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BrianRB3Eric StampherKevin FoflygenJacob Schroeder Recent comment authors

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Eric Stampher
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Eric Stampher

Who allowed ancient practices to continue?

Was that authority specific about temple destruction as the time changer — or are we implying that from our own good logic?

DrewJ
Guest

Why can’t “baptized for the dead” just mean “baptized”? Every time I listen to a baptism they always mention a death.

DeanL
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DeanL

Seems to me it’s about ordinary Christian baptism. Why would people be baptized in the name of a dead man (Jesus)? The context of the chapter is that Christ rose from the dead, and so will we; baptism pictures this – Christ rising, and we rising like Him. Hard to imagine Paul not correcting a heresy on this (after all his other correctives in this letter); rather, he would use the well-understood meaning of baptism as another pointer to the surety of the resurrection.

Jeff
Guest

Baptism is merely a transliteration of the greek word which can have various meanings. This is what we fight about; immersion, washing, sprinkling, spiritual, et. al.

antexw
Member

Baptizing or washing/immersing the dead, especially with aloes, spices, and perfumes (Lk 23:55-56; 24:1-3; cf. Jn 19:39) is done in honor and hope, looking to the resurrection of the body.

Jacob Schroeder
Member
Jacob Schroeder

I don’t see how this verse could be referring to ordinary Christian baptism. The word used in Greek is huper and, in this case, means “in behalf of” or “for the sake of.” When a Christian receives baptism, they are not said to be baptized in behalf of or for the sake of Christ. Baptism is indeed related to a death—and a resurrection; but being baptized into (Greek: eis in Rom. 6:3) a death is not the same as being baptized for the sake of (huper) the dead. The range of meanings for huper simply doesn’t permit such a translation.… Read more »

antexw
Member

Jacob, The word ‘huper’ can mean unto someone’s/something’s FAVOR, and its use/employment doesn’t necessarily involve directly in the text the identification/mention of two personal things (i.e. parties/persons). For example see its use in 2 Co 13:8b. In 2 Co 13:8, one party “we” is doing something in favor of (something else,) the “truth” (i.e. some other thing, and even not necessarily a personal thing). Thus, ‘huper’ need not implicate “somebody/someONE else” (a personal thing/something) as you wrote in your above comment, but only “something else” or at least another instance of something (impersonal or personal) — when mentioned/identified directly in… Read more »

antexw
Member

Jacob,

My second to last paragraph should begin as:
“Hence, in 1 Co 15:29 ‘the dead’ is a favored ….” rather than
“Hence, in 1 Co 13:29 ‘the dead’ is a favored ….”

Eric Stampher
Guest
Eric Stampher

Brian,

That is a fantastic & wonderful interpretation.
Seems to hit a home run on all sides.
(Also adds to second thoughts about cremation.)

Where did you pick this up, and where can I read more?

Eric Stampher
Guest
Eric Stampher

So Brian —

Would you find St. Ampher’s Colloquial Paraphrase close to the bone?

Why would folks make a fuss over dead bodies if they ain’t coming back?

Kevin Foflygen
Guest
Kevin Foflygen

Brian, That is indeed a “fantastic” interpretation, but not as Eric Stampher means it. It is very difficult to read the participle οἱ βαπτιζόμενοι as an impersonal “state/status/action”, because: (1) it is plural, where on your reading we would expect a singular—τί ποιήσει ὁ βαπτιζόμενος; and (2) it would be an unusual use of a participle in Greek, where we would normally see an infinitive—τί ποιήσει βαπτιζεσθαι. Are you aware of any similar constructions anywhere else—a definite verbal substantival participle functioning as a subject? I know it works in English, as when we say, “Interpreting Greek is difficult.” But the… Read more »

Eric Stampher
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Eric Stampher

Brian — “Let the dead bury themselves” carries an interesting angle with that interpretation you use.

They’d have nobody to dress ’em up & get ’em ready for the resurrection!

Jacob Schroeder
Member
Jacob Schroeder

Brain, Sure, I’ll grant you that nothing in the preposition huper requires the involvement of two personal things. However, in this case I think there clearly is a “personal something else” in view in the phrase οἱ βαπτιζόμενοι. I think Kevin nails it on the head here. You shifted from a substantival participle (those who are baptized) to more of an infinitive construction (being baptized). Transliterating οἱ βαπτιζόμενοι as “the being baptized” as you did, though not necessarily wrong, doesn’t capture the sense in which this construction is [at least usually] used. As a substantive participle, the sense is better… Read more »

Kevin Foflygen
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Kevin Foflygen

Jacob,

I’m starting to think that it is actually technically wrong. Check out this article on the articular infinitive:

http://www.class.uh.edu/MCL/faculty/pozzi/grnl1/less7/ee7.1b.htm

Interesting side note: even the Latin gerundive always appears in accusative, dative or ablative (as I understand it), while the infinitive takes the place of the nominative gerund. From what I can tell, the English use of gerund participles as pure verbal nouns that can function as subjects is at least somewhat unusual.

Kevin Foflygen
Guest
Kevin Foflygen

Correction: “gerund participles” should be “gerunds/participles” since they are (according to some grammarians) different beasts, even in English.

John Callaghan
Guest
John Callaghan

Perhaps this reminder made to Sir Humphrey Appleby would be appropriate here:

“But, of course, there isn’t an ablative in Greek, is there?”

antexw
Member

Eric, Sorry, but beyond what Dabney said, unfortunately I’m not aware of any other non-canonical sources to point you toward such analysis. Walking the hermeneutical circle of allowing other Scriptures to interpret other Scripture (“the analogy of faith”) to consider broader biblical and theological contexts had been helpful for interpreting this difficult passage, while remembering the broader meaning of baptismos and its related words. Perhaps, Doug knows additional sources regarding some sort of washing of the dead body beyond Dabney. As a supplement to this topic of ethical dealings with the dead, God revealed that generally folks who have died… Read more »

Jacob Schroeder
Member
Jacob Schroeder

Good to know. Thanks for sharing that link Kevin.

And thank you, John, for putting a little Yes Minister in my day.

antexw
Member

Kevin, ‘The being immersed’ is a legitimate translation of ‘oi baptizomenoi’. Having ‘ones’ (as in ‘ones being baptized’ in accordance with Jacob’s second comment) would be adding to the Greek, and therefore ‘ones’ is not necessarily implied by the Greek text (as shown in McReynolds’ interlinear). Adding the meaning of ‘ones’ to ‘baptizomenoi’ is not needed to make sense of the text. Moreover, it is no surprise that ‘baptizomenoi’ is plural because ‘nekron’ for ‘dead’ is plural. My reading need not be precisely singular as you claimed because there are a plural number temporal instances/states of being washed/baptized due to… Read more »

Jacob Schroeder
Member
Jacob Schroeder

Brian, I don’t know that this would persuade me, but of you could find me one instance of a Koine Greek plural substantive participle functioning as a gerund (or however you would translate it), I would at least be impressed. I suppose that is what you think your interlinear is telling you, but you are misunderstanding it. If you look at your interlinear, what I suspect you’ll find is hundreds of examples of the same construction, with the same transliteration (i.e., “the being baptized”), and all of them translated just as οἱ βαπτιζόμενοι is here (i.e., “they which are baptized”).… Read more »

mikebull1
Member

I agree with the idea that the answer if found in Scripture, but it’s amazing how sprinklers see only sprinkling in Numbers 19. Who’d have guessed that there are bodies and clothes washed as well? Amazing!

Kevin Foflygen
Guest
Kevin Foflygen

Brian, I never picked on your use of “immersed”. But no, translating οἱ βαπτιζόμενοι as “ones being baptized” is not adding to the Greek, unless you deny that participles can be substantive. Translations between languages rarely if ever keep the same word count. “Adding the meaning of ‘ones’ to ‘baptizomenoi’ is not needed to make sense of the text.” Well, that may be so. But I think I have demonstrated that the possible senses of the text do not include βαπτιζόμενοι as a gerund. Look in your own Greek grammars! Are participles ever used that way in Greek? You bring… Read more »

Eric Stampher
Guest
Eric Stampher

Kevin,

Simplify for us amateurs please!:
As you read it, is there room for something like:
“What shall they do — the ones baptizing for the dead — if the dead aren’t raised? Why are they then baptizing?”

Kevin Foflygen
Guest
Kevin Foflygen

Eric, Almost. But βαπτιζόμενοι and βαπτίζονται are passive voice; and the verse ends with either ὑπὲρ αὐτῶν (for them) or ὑπὲρ νεκρῶν (for the dead), depending on the variant. So it would be more like: “What shall they do—the [ones] being baptized for the dead—if the dead are not raised? Why are they then being baptized for them?” There are always multiple ways you can read a text. But we only call the text ambiguous if, in our judgment, multiple different readings are nearly equal in likelihood. In my judgment, 1 Cor. 15:29 is not grammatically ambiguous, however obscure its… Read more »

antexw
Member

Kevin, If a so-called gerund isn’t elsewhere in Koine Greek, it is fallacious to say it can’t happen. Something not occurring doesn’t imply that it can’t occur. Also, Koine Greek has many syntax one-time irregularities whether it is due to Semitic or Latin influence (Hebrew and Latin uses gerunds), or to keep up with a more vulgar form of Greek. If syntactical exceptions (to include Semitisms/Latinisms) “cannot” occur (where even if they occur 0% elsewhere), then you would have to determine that some of Scripture (e.g. phrases in Revelation) with its syntactical irregularities as uninspired. Baptizomenoi is nominative and so… Read more »

Eric Stampher
Guest
Eric Stampher

Brian & Kevin — this continues to be most instructive & edifying.
I hope you keep this up.

When I studied some of this for a tiny time last century, my Cuban-born prof of Greek told me he wouldn’t dare translate his native Spanish to the English he’d then known and used daily for the last 40 years.
Too many nuances.

So when I see two boys sparing at Greek — I’m prone to favor the one holding the paintbrush over the one with the screwdriver.

Jacob Schroeder
Member
Jacob Schroeder

Brian, I didn’t say that translating βαπτιζόμενοι as “being baptized” was correct; I said translating οἱ βαπτιζόμενοι as “the being baptized” is correct as a transliteration. That definite article, believe it or not, makes all the difference in how you understand the participle. I know you think this looks like a gerund in your interlinear, but any first-year Greek student worth his salt knows better. Your transliteration is correct, so far as it goes, but you do not understand its proper sense. Put another way, if the transliteration for οἱ βαπτιζόμενοι were only “being baptized,” it would be dead wrong.… Read more »

Jacob Schroeder
Member
Jacob Schroeder

No charge for the extra italics there… Sorry, didn’t mean to shout.

Eric Stampher
Guest
Eric Stampher

Boys – might I have something?:

What if the baptism was the purification ritual needed to return from burying the dead?

antexw
Member

Jacob, Indeed, in Co 15:29, McReynolds doesn’t translate the article and participle combination ‘oi baptizomenoi’ as ‘the ones being baptized’, but as merely ‘the being baptized’. Furthermore, in other places of article-participle combinations, McReynolds does have the pronoun ‘one’/’ones’ translated when it is necessarily implied (e.g. Jn 7:38 has “The one trusting” for ‘ho pisteuon’, rather than just ‘the trusting’). Thus, “the being baptized” for ‘oi baptizeomenoi’ as McReynolds has translated it (as it exactly reads), may be considered substantival, serving as a noun, without unnecessarily trying to add ‘ones’ to the translation so that it means “the ones being… Read more »

antexw
Member

Jacob,

I meant to write:

Therefore, since McReynolds makes this distinction (i.e. translating the Greek articles as English articles with English pronouns when logically necessary), you haven’t shown that McReynolds meant for ”ones’ to be understood/implied in the article and participle combo ‘oi baptizomenoi’ in 1 Co 15:29, and thereby ….

rather than:

Therefore, since McReynolds makes this distinction (i.e. translating the Greek articles as English articles with English pronouns when logically necessary), you haven’t shown that McReynolds meant for ”ones’ to be understood/implied with the article ‘oi’ in 1 Co 15:29, and thereby ….

Jacob Schroeder
Member
Jacob Schroeder

Eric,

That’s much better. I’m still not sure that it really does justice to the preposition huper, but I could be mistaken there. I’m also not clear on how a cleansing ritual made necessary by touching a dead body relates to the resurrection.

It sounds to me like you are just advancing Doug’s second possible view here. Am I understanding you correctly, or do you see a difference between the view you’re advocating and the one Doug did?

Kevin Foflygen
Guest
Kevin Foflygen

Brian, Before I respond to anything else, I want to address your remark—”It’s okay for you to be an amateur, but the reasoning of your refutation shouldn’t be fallacious, arbitrary, and contradictory to what is true.” If I came across as belittling to you, then I apologize; but it was unintentional on my part. Your remark, however, comes across as intentionally belittling, and is especially out of line because of the context in which I confessed myself an amateur. I did not say it to give myself an escape, as you malliciously twist it—as if I was uncertain of my… Read more »

Eric Stampher
Guest
Eric Stampher

Jacob — totally running with Doug’s for the moment. I’m feeling Paul pointing to a familiar & biblical ritual to make his point. Remember when he said of man & woman == “of course, I’m talking Christ & the church” — which can make your head spin unless you get accustomed to feeling the allegories behind all the OT. So here — why the cleansing rituals in the OT? = to show the dead coming back to life in the community via the person who himself became ritualistically dead caring for that body. But why ritualistically come back to life… Read more »

Eric Stampher
Guest
Eric Stampher

sorry — I meant to say Kevin’s position is what I am running with above.

And Kevin & Brian — like they say in the boxing ring: “Break!”

My suggestion is don’t respond personally.
Don’t presume the other’s intent or feelings.
Just run with the fact of the passage, or with your exceptions to the other’s positions.

Alright. Let’s go.

Kevin Foflygen
Guest
Kevin Foflygen

Eric,

“So when I see two boys sparing at Greek — I’m prone to favor the one holding the paintbrush over the one with the screwdriver.”

But it is possible to screw up a paint job. The issue at hand is not whether Brian’s translation has the right nuance; the question is whether it’s even a possible translation. And I bet your Greek prof had a whole Snap-On® cabinet full of pneumatic tools sitting just underneath his imaginative paintbrush rack.

Kevin Foflygen
Guest
Kevin Foflygen

Yes, break.

Eric Stampher
Guest
Eric Stampher

Kevin,

The best artists I know have quite a hardware collection.

The key is to know your craft and the medium so well that when the time comes, the screwdriver could be just the brush you need.

antexw
Member

Kevin, I didn’t say there was anything wrong with being an amateur. In fact, I said the opposite. I never thought you were uncertain about your conclusions. Please speak truth. If a so-called gerund (as a participle) isn’t elsewhere in Koine Greek, it was indeed fallacious for you to say it can’t happen. Again, something not occurring doesn’t imply that it can’t occur — even for this kind of gerund. Actually a sudden shift in reference may occur if they are closely related. For example: You are fallaciously (again) begging the question when you claimed, “nothing in the context suggests… Read more »

Eric Stampher
Guest
Eric Stampher

Brian

I like your theory / interpretation.

To think God’s thoughts is to think without error.
You’re demanding alot too soon.

RB3
Guest
RB3

I couldn’t help but be drawn into this debate, as I am a professional scholar of Greek language (PhD in Classics, specialty in Greek lit)*. I’ve read through all the back-and-forth about the translation of the Greek (οἱ βαπτιζόμενοι especially) with great interest. I don’t have a dog in the interpretive fight; I’m just interested in the arguments you all have put forth over the meaning of the Greek itself. Because while I agree that the meaning of the sentence is rather mysterious at the level of interpretation, the meaning of οἱ βαπτιζόμενοι is, in fact, pretty cut-and-dried in Greek.… Read more »

antexw
Member

RB3, It’s irrational/unjustified for you to claim that oi baptizomenoi cannot mean ‘the being immersed’ because it would be uniquely uncommon to not use an infinitive (spelling) for a gerund. The grammar variants that have been commonly (observed or not observed) in Koine grammar does not sovereignly control how a true/infallible statement might be written even by a Biblical author. Now, if infallible biblical authors can never use a uniquely uncommon spelling in their writing, then we could know that it is not the case that oi baptizomenoi is not a gerund. However, the previous statement’s if-condition/premise is false since… Read more »

antexw
Member

Eric,

“My demand” that you mentioned is based on a standard (Mt 5:48) that our flesh still hates (Ro 7:22,23,24,16,17,18), but it nonetheless is not mine, but God’s standard for us, for how we in His image choose to (express our) reasoning/thinking against His.

Even unintentional bad reasoning is something we ought not to do, and in love attempt to help sharpen against (Pr 27:17).

antexw
Member

RB3, Sorry, but meant to say: … it’s not because it would by necessity be impossible for an inspired (Biblical) author to have righteously used what can be inductively-justified as an uncommon (even uniquely/singularly uncommon) grammatical usage, form or spelling (i.e. a non-infinitive form/spelling). when I wrote … it’s not because it would by necessity be impossible for an inspired (Biblical) author to have righteously used what can be inductively-justified uncommon (even uniquely/singularly uncommon) grammatical usage, form or spelling (i.e. a non-infinitive form/spelling). And, just in case the two instances of ‘not’ within my last sentence of my previous comment… Read more »