‘They’ … and Other Considerations
By Ronnie Bennett-Bray
The intent of critics of Latter-day Saint belief in baptism for the dead that they might enjoy the same salvation as others, is to make Paul’s use of the word ‘they’ a distinguishing pronoun that he used to mean those not of the Christian faith. There are many able and reputable Bible scholars and commentators that have stumbled when seeking to explain this passage. We shall look at a few of them, beginning with Ellicott’s ‘Commentary for English Readers.’
(Verse 29) Else.—We can well imagine the Apostle pausing, as it were, to take breath after the splendid outburst of mingled rhetoric and logic which we find in1Corinthians 15:23-28; or perhaps even postponing until some other day the further dictation of his Epistle, when he could calmly resume his purely logical argument in favour of the doctrine of the Resurrection. Then there will not appear such a startling or inexplicable abruptness in the words with which this new argument is commenced.
“Else”—i.e., if there be no resurrection—what shall they who are baptised for the dead do? If the dead be not raised at all, why are they then baptised for the dead? Such is the proper punctuation, and not as in the English version, which joins the clause, “if the dead rise not,” with the preceding instead of with the following portion of the verse. Also the word translated “rise,” is “are raised.” This is an argumentum ad hominem. The practice known as baptism for the dead was absurd if there be no resurrection. To practise it and to deny the doctrine of the resurrection was illogical. What shall they do? i.e., What explanation shall they give of their conduct? asks the Apostle. There have been numerous and ingenious conjectures as to the meaning of this passage. The only tenable interpretation is that there existed amongst some of the Christians at Corinth a practice of baptising a living person in the stead of some convert who had died before that sacrament had been administered to him. Such a practice existed amongst the Marcionites in the second century, and still earlier amongst a sect called the Corinthians. The idea evidently was that whatever benefit flowed from baptism might be thus vicariously secured for the deceased Christian. St. Chrysostom gives the following description of it:—“After a catechumen (i.e., one prepared for baptism, but not actually baptised) was dead, they hid a living man under the bed of the deceased; then coming to the bed of the dead man they spake to him, and asked whether he would receive baptism, and he making no answer, the other replied in his stead, and so they baptised the ‘living for the dead.’” Does St. Paul then, by what he here says, sanction the superstitious practice? Certainly not. He carefully separates himself and the Corinthians, to whom he immediately addresses himself, from those who adopted this custom. He no longer uses the first or second person; it is “they” throughout this passage. It is no proof to others; it is simply the argumentum ad hominem. Those who do that, and disbelieve a resurrection, refute themselves. This custom possibly sprang up amongst the Jewish converts, who had been accustomed to something similar in their own faith. If a Jew died without having been purified from some ceremonial uncleanness, some living person had the necessary ablution performed on them, and the dead were so accounted clean.
Benson, in his Commentary, stands in equal confusion as to the precise meaning of the passage.
Many other interpretations are given of this obscure and ambiguous phrase, υπερ των νεκρων, ‘for the dead.’ But perhaps that of Dr. Macknight is the most probable, who supplies the words της αναστασεως, and reads the clause, who are baptized for the resurrection of the dead, or are immersed in sufferings, because of their believing in, and testifying the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead: for which interpretation he adduces solid reasons. If the dead rise not — If the doctrine I oppose be true, and the dead are not raised at all; why are they then baptized for the resurrection of the dead? And why stand we — The apostles; also in jeopardy — And are exposed to so much danger and suffering; every hour — In the service of a Master from whom, it is evident, we have no secular rewards to expect.
Matthew Henry, whilst admitting that he does not know the full meaning of Paul’s question, nevertheless offers the suggestion that the Corinthians to whom Paul is writing, will completely understand what he intends. Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary offers,
1 Corinthians 15:20-34 - All that are by faith united to Christ, are by his resurrection assured of their own. As through the sin of the first Adam, all men became mortal, because all had from him the same sinful nature, so, through the resurrection of Christ, shall all who are made to partake of the Spirit, and the spiritual nature, revive, and live for ever. There will be an order in the resurrection. Christ himself has been the first-fruits; at his coming, his redeemed people will be raised before others; at the last the wicked will rise also. Then will be the end of this present state of things. Would we triumph in that solemn and important season, we must now submit to his rule, accept his salvation, and live to his glory. Then shall we rejoice in the completion of his undertaking, that God may receive the whole glory of our salvation, that we may for ever serve him, and enjoy his favour. What shall those do, who are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? Perhaps baptism is used here in a figure, for afflictions, sufferings, and martyrdom, as Mt 20:22,23. What is, or will become of those who have suffered many and great injuries, and have even lost their lives, for this doctrine of the resurrection, if the dead rise not at all? Whatever the meaning may be, doubtless the apostle's argument was understood by the Corinthians.
We cannot doubt that it was. Like many writers that address those like-minded to themselves, not every reference is spelled out so that an outsider can understand what is meant, but it must have been clear to Corinthian Christians at the time. The Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary offers,
Verse 29. Alford thinks there is an allusion to a practice at Corinth of baptizing a living person in behalf of a friend who died unbaptized; thus Paul, without giving the least sanction to the practice, uses an ad hominem argument from it against its practicers, some of whom, though using it, denied the resurrection: "What account can they give of their practice; why are they at the trouble of it, if the dead rise not?" [So Jesus used an ad hominem argument, Mt 12:27].
But, if so, it is strange there is no direct censure of it. Some Marcionites adopted the practice at a later period …
The confusion among commentators continues, and some agree that baptism for those that had died, not as Christians, but as pagans, practiced baptism by immersion as proxies for their dead relatives that they sought to bring to Christ. Whatever some might think of this rite, it is certain that the love they had come to know through the Gospel of Jesus Christ motivated its practitioners. Matthew Poole's Commentary treats this passage at length, but we shall look only at his early opinions.
A very difficult text, and variously expounded. The terms baptize, and baptism, signify no more in their original and native signification, than to wash, and a washing: the washing of pots and cups, in use amongst the Jews, is, in the Greek, the baptisms of pots and cups.
But the most usual acceptation of baptism in Scripture, is to signify one of the sacraments of the New Testament; that sacred action, by which one is washed according to the institution of Christ, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. It is also metaphorically used by our Saviour in the Gospels, Matthew 20:22-23, Mark 10:38-39, and Luke 12:50, to signify a suffering for the name of Christ.
And it is also used thus metaphorically, to signify the action of the Holy Ghost in cleansing and renewing our hearts, Matthew 3:11-12, John 3:5. The last usage of the term is by no means applicable here.
The question is: Whether the apostle meaneth here only: Why are men washed for the dead? Or why are men baptized religiously for the dead? Or why are men baptized with blood for the dead? For the popish notion, that baptism here signifies any religious actions, as fastings, and prayers, and penances for those that are in purgatory, there is no such usage of the term in Scripture; for though in Scripture it signifies sometimes sufferings from the hands of others, as in Matthew 20:22-23, Mark 10:38-39, yet it nowhere signifies penances, or such sufferings as men impose upon themselves for the dead.
Nor doth Paul here say: To what purpose do men baptize themselves? But [he says] why are they baptized for the dead?
1.Those that think the term here signifies washing, what shall they do who are washed for the dead? Tell us, that it being a custom in many countries, for neatness and cleanliness, to wash dead bodies, the primitive Christians used that ceremony as a religious rite, and a testification of their belief of the resurrection.
That such a custom was in use amongst Christians, is plain from Acts 9:37: but that they used it as religious rite, or a testimony of their faith in the resurrection, appeareth not. And though it be uper twn nekrwn, yet they say uper is so used, Romans, for the truth of God, expounded by the next word, to confirm the promises.
2.Those that think, that by baptizing, in this text, the sacrament of baptism is to be understood, give us more than one account. Some say, that whereas they were wont in the primitive church, before they admitted persons into a full communion with the church, to keep them for some time under catechism, in which time they were called catechumeni; if such fell sick, and in danger of death, they baptized them; or if they died suddenly, they baptized some other for them, in testimony of their hope of the joyful resurrection of such a person to eternal life.
Now admit this were an error of practice in them, as to this ordinance; yet if any such thing were in practice in this church, the argument of the apostle was good against them. But how shall any such thing be made appear to us, that there was such an early corruption in this church? Others say, that some, believing the resurrection, would upon their death beds be baptized, in testimony of it, from whence they had the name of clinici. Others say: To be baptized for the dead, signifieth to be baptized when they were dying, and so as good as dead. Mr. Calvin chooseth this sense: but the question is: Whether the Greek phrase uper twn nekrwn will bear it?
Others tell us of a custom in use in the primitive church, to baptize persons over the graves of the martyrs, as a testimony of their belief of the resurrection. That there was anciently such a custom, I doubt not; and I believe that the custom with us in reading of prayers over dead bodies at the grave, doth much more probably derive from this ancient usage, than the papists’ praying for the dead; but that there was any such custom so ancient as the apostles’ times, I very much doubt. There are yet two other senses given of this difficult phrase, either of which seemeth to me much more probable than any of these.
From what we have seen so far, it is clear that the custom of baptism for the dead, rather than ‘of’ the dead, remains a mystery to which these scholarly divines could only guess. They guessed towards it as a Christian rite they little understood, and away from it as an anomaly despite the need for baptism for entry into the kingdom of heaven. Gill, in his Exposition of the Entire Bible, says:
‘Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead,....’ The apostle here returns to his subject [the resurrection], and makes use of new arguments to prove the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead, and reasons for it from the baptism of some persons; but what is his sense, is not easy to be understood, or what rite and custom, or thing, or action he refers to; which must, be either Jewish baptism, or Christian baptism literally taken, or baptism in a figurative and metaphorical sense.
Some think that he refers to some one or other of the divers baptisms of the Jews; see Hebrews 9:10, and particularly to the purification of such who had touched a dead body, which was done both by the ashes of the red heifer burnt, and by bathing himself in water; and which, the Jews say (l), intimated, "the resurrection of the dead": wherefore such a right was needless, if there is no resurrection; to strengthen this sense, a passage in Ecclesiasticus 34:25 is produced, "he that washeth himself after the touching of a dead body, if he touch it again, what availeth his washing?" but the phrase there used is different; it is not said, he that baptizeth or washeth himself for the dead, but from the dead, to cleanse himself from pollution received by the touch of a dead body: it is also observed, that the Jews, as well as other nations, have used various rites and ceremonies about their dead, and among the rest, the washing of dead bodies before interment; [see Acts 9:37 ]and this by some is thought to be what is here referred to; and the reasoning is, if there is no resurrection of the dead, why all this care of a dead body? Why this washing of it? It may as well be put into the earth as it is, since it will rise no more.
But how this can be called a ‘baptism for the dead,’ I see not: rather therefore Christian baptism, or the ordinance of water baptism is here respected; and with regard to this, interpreters go different ways: some think the apostle has in view a custom of some, who when their friends died without baptism, used to be baptized in their room [stead]; this is said to be practised by the Marcionites in Tertullian's time, and by the Corinthians in the times of the Apostle John; but it does not appear to have been in use in the times of the Apostle Paul; and besides, if it had been, as it was a vain and superstitious one, he would never have mentioned it without a censure …
However, Paul did not censure it, so he evidently understood it and also approved of the rite. He was not so lacking in erudition that he would need to invoke what some refer to as a pagan rite to buttress his Christian arguments for the reality of the physical resurrection of humankind. Meyer, in his New Testament commentary argues strongly away from the vicarious rite and quotes several later writers in his arguments.
Every baptism which, as the case occurs, is undertaken for a dead person, is a baptism for the dead, namely, as regards the category. It must have been something not wholly unusual in the apostolic church, familiarity with which on the part of the readers is here taken for granted, that persons had themselves baptized once more for the benefit of (ὑπέρ) people who had died unbaptized but already believing, in the persuasion that this would be counted to them as their own baptism, and thus as the supplement of their conversion to Christ which had already taken place inwardly, and that they would on this account all the more certainly be raised up with the Christians at the Parousia, and made partakers of the eternal Messianic salvation. This custom propagated and maintained itself afterwards only among heretical sects, in particular among the Cerinthians (Epiphanius, Haer. xxviii. 7) and among the Marcionites (Chrysostom; comp., moreover, generally Tertullian, de resurr. 48,adv. Marc. v. 10).
Among the great multitude of interpretations (Calovius, even in his time, counts up twenty-three), this is the only one which is presented to us by the words.
Ambrosiaster first took them so; among the later interpreters, Anselm, Erasmus, Zeger, Cameron, Calixtus, Grotius, al.; and recently, Augusti,Denkwürdigk. IV. p. 119; Winer, p. 165 [E. T. 219]; Billroth, Rückert, de Wette, Maier, Neander, Grimm, Holtzmann (Judenth. u. Christenth. p. 741), also Kling and Paret (in Ewald’s Jahrb. IX. p. 247 f.), both of which latter writers call to their aid, on the ground, it is true, of 1 Corinthians 11:30, the assumption of a pestilence having then prevailed in Corinth. The usual objection, that Paul would not have employed for his purpose at all, or at least not without adding some censure, such an abuse founded on the belief in a magical power of baptism (see especially, Calvin in loc.), is not conclusive, for Paul may be arguing ex concesso, and hence may allow the relation of the matter to evangelical truth to remain undetermined in the meantime, seeing that it does not belong to the proper subject of his present discourse.
The abuse in question [Myer refers to baptism for the dead as an abuse] must afterwards have been condemned by apostolic teachers (hence it maintained itself only among heretics), and no doubt Paul too aided in the work of its removal. For to assume, with Baumgarten-Crusius (Dogmengesch. II. p. 313), that he himself had never at all disapproved of the βαπτίζεσθαι ὑπὲρ τῶν νεκρῶν, or to place, with Rückert, the vicarious baptism in the same line with the vicarious death of Christ, is to stand in the very teeth of the fundamental doctrine of the Pauline gospel—that of faith as the subjective ethical “causa medians” of salvation.
It seems clear that Myer in his efforts to deny baptism for the dead as a Christian rite common at the time of Saint Paul resorts to an argumentum ad ignorantiamin place of presenting evidence for his opinions, and those he leans of for support have evidently done the same. Yet Myer is in no doubt that the rite, in whatever form it had taken place, he is at the mercy of a multitude of opinions at war with each other, was done “For the benefit of the dead.” In this he recognises Frikdrich Burciiard Köster’s understanding that those are meant who have themselves baptized for the sake of their Christian friends who have fallen asleep, i.e. out of yearning after them, in order to remain in connection with them, and to become partakers with them of the resurrection and eternal life. Köster’s position is in the spirit of Paul’s reference to baptism for the dead, to and those that acted as proxies for the unbaptised dead that had no ‘come unto Christ’ when they were living.
There are some interesting opinions in the Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges.
1 Corinthians 15:29. Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead] ….
St Paul now abruptly changes the subject, and appeals to the conduct of Christians as a witness to their belief. This is again a passage of extreme difficulty, and it would be impossible to notice one tithe of the explanations which have been proposed of it. We will only touch on three:
(1)the natural and obvious explanation that the Apostle was here referring to a practice, prevalent in his day, of persons permitting themselves to be baptized on behalf of their dead relatives and friends. This interpretation is confirmed by the fact that Tertullian, in the third century, mentions such a practice as existing in his time.
But there is great force in Robertson’s objection: “There is an immense improbability that Paul could have sustained a superstition so abject, even by an allusion. He could not have spoken of it without anger.” The custom never obtained in the Church, and though mentioned by Tertullian, is as likely to have been a consequence of this passage as its cause.
(2)Then there is the suggestion of St Chrysostom, that inasmuch as baptism was a death unto sin and a resurrection unto righteousness, every one who was baptized was baptized for the dead, i.e. for himself spiritually dead in trespasses and sins; and not only for himself, but for others, inasmuch as he proclaimed openly his faith in that Resurrection of Christ which was as efficacious on others’ behalf as on his own.
(3)There remains an interpretation suggested by some commentators and supported by the context, which would refer it to the baptism of trial and suffering through which the disciples of Christ were called upon to go, which would be utterly useless and absurd if it had been, and continued to be, undergone for the dying and for the dead (1 Corinthians 15:6; 1 Corinthians 15:18).
The use of the present tense in the verb baptized, the close connection of the second member of the sentence with the first, and the use of the word baptized in this sense in St Matthew 3:11; Matthew 20:12, are the grounds on which this interpretation may be maintained.
Although reason (1) clearly indicates a Christian activity intended on which Paul calls as confirmation that the resurrection of the body was assured, that rite fell from favour and its practice in the intervening years has been defamed as a pagan rite in which Christians would only engage as apostates, but never when in full faith and fellowship with Christianity.
Long-time critic of Mormonism and every other denomination that disagrees with her private interpretation of the Holy Bible, Lorri MacGregor, ex-Jehovah’s Witness and the force behind the former MacGregor Ministries, deemed a hate-group by the Canadian Government and forced by Canada’s Religious Hate Law to suspend its operations, but now operating as MM Outreach, with no change of tone, generously shares her opinion. The question of the ‘endless genealogy’ to which #92 of MM Outreach news and Views refers can be seen at: http://www.yorkshiretales.com/allaboutmormonism/page_pauls_reference_to_geneaology.html
It is typical of MacGregor that she fails to provide a name or any other details about those pagans that she claims were the ones to whom Paul referred in 1 Corinthians 15:29. It is clear from the amount of material surveyed that the nonsense is the product of Mrs MacGregor’s unschooled mind pyblished by MacGregor Ministries adjudged an unlawful Hate Group by Canadian Authorities, and now from MM Outreach that is the continuation of her Hate Mission, that her lack of education in the discipline of the English language, linguistics, and in Biblical Studies work against her unfailingly. Her pretences to comprehend those subjects are always betrayed by what she writes when relying, as she supposes, on them.
MacGregor's whine about 'genealogies' is treated here.
She fails to comprehend that when Saint Paul writes ‘they’ and/or ‘them’ it is not always in contradistinction to ‘we’ or ‘us,’ meaning none but faithful Christians, because often he uses them to include Christians and not to separate those that are not Christians. It is essential to know that ‘they’ and ‘them’ are gender-neutral pronouns. Gendered pronouns are those that indicate gender: he, she, him, her, hers, his, himself, and herself. All others, like ‘it,’ ‘one,’ ‘them,’ and ‘they’ are gender-neutral, that is, they apply to either or both genders, male and female, and also to objects that have no assigned gender, such as ‘those’ in ‘hose houses.’
The matter arises from the refusal of some Christians to accept that when Saint Paul wrote in his letter to the Corinthian saints to insist and demonstrate from a practice that was evidently well known the these Christians that he made only what could be termed, a passing reference, saying:
‘Else what shall they do that are baptised for the dead, of the dead rise not at all? Why then are they baptised for the dead’? 1 Corinthians 15:29
We will leave Lorri MacGregor to stew in her own juices and look at one example where Saint Paul used the same neutral, plural pronoun, ‘them,’ to refer both to faithful Christians and also to those that rebel against Christ and his discipline.
Romans 2: 7 To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life: 8 But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath,
In this verse, both kinds of ‘them’ will receive disparate rewards: one, eternal life, the other, indignation and wrath. Paul shows that pronouns have their place, but attempts to use them as determinants of doctrines that are orthodox Christian as against those that are pagan or heathen, they do not hold within themselves any meaning except that in the mind of the writer at the time they are written. Well did Bengel write in his Gnomen,
‘The variety of interpretations is so great, that he who would collect, I shall not say, those different opinions, but a catalogue of the different opinions, would have to write a dissertation.’
The Pulpit Commentary states:
Verses 29-34. - Arguments from the practices and lives of Christians. The three arguments [we will use only his first] used in these verses are: If there be no resurrection: Why do some of you get yourselves baptized on behalf of your dead friends?
Vincent in his Word Studies thrown up his hands in despair and declares:
What shall they do (τί ποιήσουσιν)
What will they effect or accomplish. Not, What will they have recourse to? nor, How will it profit them? The reference is to the living who are baptized for the dead.
Baptized for the dead (βαπτιζόμενοι ὑπὲρ τῶν νεκρῶν)
Concerning this expression, of which some thirty different explanations are given, it is best to admit frankly that we lack the facts for a decisive interpretation.
None of the explanations proposed are free from objection. Paul is evidently alluding to a usage familiar to his readers; and the term employed was, as Godet remarks, in their vocabulary, a sort of technical phrase.
A large number of both ancient and modern commentators adopt the view that a living Christian was baptized for an unbaptized dead Christian. The Greek expositors regarded the words the dead as equivalent to the resurrection of the dead, and the baptism as a manifestation of belief in the doctrine of the resurrection.
Godet adopts the explanation which refers baptism to martyrdom - the baptism of blood - and cites Luke 12:50, and Mark 10:38. In the absence of anything more satisfactory I adopt the explanation given above.
The above demonstrate the lack of clarity and agreement across the theological continuum for the noble and merciful practice of baptism for the dead as part of the Lord’s plan for the salvation of ‘whosoever’ believeth in him and is baptised, either for him or herself, or after death, by a willing proxy out of their family whose heart has been turned to them as the heart of Jesus was turned to those that had died in the days of Noah, not having believed the prophets sent to warn them to escape the deluge.
It is Jesus, himself, that taught those that will hear his words and believe him, that his Father-God, ‘is not a God of the dead, but of the living: for all live unto him’ (Luke 20:38).
Those that die without accepting Christ as their Saviour and have not submitted to baptism as their rite of entry into the kingdom of God are not cast away, but are visited, and someone is baptised in their stead in accordance with the love and mercy of God and Jesus Christ.
As stated earlier, this subject has thrown the world of Bible commentators into confusion so profound that while most ignore it as if it were no part of the Holy Bible, those that assay to explain it do so in so many discrete ways and by such means that drowns the Christian world in darkness and mystification because of the drastic uncertainties inherent in their explanations. For a graphic example of some of these, we turn to the ‘Cyclopaedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature,’ Volume 1, edited by John McClintock and James Strong, and, possibly, others. They write:
BAPTISM FOR THE DEAD (into TWV vap&v, 1 Cor. xv, 20). This difficult passage has given rise to multitudinous expositions. Among them are the following (see also Am. Presb. Rev. Jan. 1863):
1. The Corinthians (according to Suicer), and after them the Marcionites and other heretics, practised a Bort of vicarious baptism in the case of those who had died unbaptized; that is, they caused a relation or friend of the dead person to be baptized in his stead, in the belief that such baptism would operate to obtain the remission of the sins of the deceased in the other world (Chrysostom, Hum. xl in 1 Cor., and Tertullian cmtra Marcion, lib. v, cap. 10). The apostle then drew an argument from the heretical practice to prove their belief in the resurrection.
2. Chrysostom, however, declares that Paul refers to the declaration made by each catechumen at his baptism, of his belief in the resurrection of the dead, meaning to say this: "If there is, in fact, no resurrection of the dead, why, then, art thou baptized for the dead, i.e. the body?" An improvement, perhaps, upon this interpretation would be to consider the ancient martyrs to be referred to, over whose remains the churches were often built (probably, however, not as yet), in which such vows were taken.
3. Among the best interpretations is that of Spanheim (see Wolf, Cur. in N. T. in loc), which considers "the dead" to be martyrs and other believers, who, by firmness and cheerful hope of resurrection, have given in death a worthy example, by which others were also animated to receive baptism. Still, this meaning would be almost too briefly and enigmatically expressed, when no particular reason for it is known, while also the allusion to the exemplary death of many Christians could chiefly apply to the martyrs alone, of whom there were as yet none at Corinth. This interpretation, however, may perhaps also be improved if Christ be considered as prominently referred to among these deceased, by virtue of whose resurrection all his followers expect to be likewise raised.
4. Olshausen's interpretation is of a rather doubtful character. The meaning of the passage he takes to be, that "all who are converted to the church are baptized, or the good of the dead, as it requires a certain number (Rom. xi, 12-25), a 'fulness' of believers, before the resurrection can take place. Every one, therefore, who is baptized is for the good of believers collectively, and of those who have already died in the Lord."
Olshausen is himself aware that the apostle could not have expected that such a difficult and remote idea, which he himself calls "a mystery," would be understood by his readers without a further explanation and development of his doctrine. He therefore proposes an explanation, in which it is argued that the miseries and hardships Christians have to struggle against in this life can only be compensated by resurrection. Death causes, as it were, vacancies in the full ranks of the believers, which are again filled up by other individuals. "What would it profit those who are baptized in the place, of the dead (to fill up their place in the community) if there be no resurrection ?"—Kitto, s. v.
5. None of these explanations, however, well suits the signification of inrip, "for," i. e. in behalf of, on account of, and is, at the same time, consistent in other respects. Dr. Tregelles (Printed Text of the Or. Test. p. 216) has proposed a slight emendation of the text that appears to obviate the difficulty almost entirely.
It consists simply in the following punctuation : “Else what shall they do which are baptized? [It is] for the dead, if the dead rise not at all,” i.e. we are baptized merely in the name of (for the sake of, out of regard for) dead persons, namely, Christ and the prophets who testified of him. This interpretation renders No. 3 above more easy of adoption.
Treatises entitled De baptismo t'rip rw t'toxuv [not clear what this should be] have been written by Schmidt (Argent. 1650). Calon (Viteb. 1684), Deutsch (Regiom. 1698). Grade (Gryph. 1690), Hasasus (Brem. 1725), Muller (Rost. 166ft),Olearius (Lips. 1704), Reichmann (Viteb. 1652), Schenck (Franeq. 1667), Zeutschner (Fcft. a. V. 1706), Facius (Col. 1792), Neumann (Jen. 1740), Nobling (Sus. 1794), Richter (Zwic. 1803), Heumann (Isen. 1710, Jen. 1740), Streccius (Jen. 1736).
BAPTISM OF THE DEAD, a superstitious custom which anciently prevailed among the people in Africa of baptizing the dead. The third council of Carthage (canon vi) speaks of it as a matter of which ignorant Christians were fond, and forbids "to believe that the dead can be baptized." Gregory Nazianzen also observes that the same superstitious opinion prevailed among some who delayed to be baptized.
It is also mentioned by Philastrius (De Uarres. cap. 2) as the general error of the Montanists or Cataphrygians, that they baptized men after death. The practice seems to be founded on a vain opinion that when men had neglected to receive baptism during their life, some compensation might be made for this default by receiving it after death. See Burton, Bampton Lectures, art. 78; Bingham, Orig. Eccl. bk. xi, ch. iv, § 3.
The lengths to which scholars, commentators, and opinionators have been and continue to travel to rob a simple biblical truth of its essential meaning that is consistent with what we know of our loving and merciful God that sent his Son Jesus Christ that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life is remarkable for its virility and its inventiveness. Shall we deny the love and mercy of God the Father and his Son in their extending the blessings that follow baptism into the Church of Jesus Christ and set a candidate’s feet on the straight and narrow path which leadeth unto life eternal?
Today, as in the time of the Apostle Paul, the Church of Jesus Christ continues to administer the rite on behalf of their kindred dead. Of this ordinance, John A. Tvedtnes says:
"Baptism for the dead was performed by the dominant church until forbidden by the sixth canon of the Council of Carthage in A.D. 397. Some of the smaller sects, however, continued the practice."
In the Code of Canons of the African Church, canon 18, states:
It also seemed good that the Eucharist should not be given to the bodies of the dead. For it is written: 'Take, Eat', but the bodies of the dead can neither 'take' nor 'eat'. Nor let the ignorance of the presbyters baptize those who are dead. [ Orthodox Church Fathers: Christian Theology Classics]
Among Christians today only The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and two minor denominations of the old and New Apostolic Churches practice baptism for the dead.
We give the final word to Jay M Todd:
“God is love,” wrote the Apostle John (1 Jn. 4:8). To Latter-day Saints, it may be said that no greater evidence of this truth exists than the remarkable ordinances revealed by the Lord by which he makes the blessings of salvation available to his children who did not have opportunity to receive the gospel in mortality.
In more popular terms, the subject is known as salvation for the dead. One can quickly comprehend its importance when one focuses on family relationships. What tugs at a man’s or woman’s heart as strongly as do love and the relationships with wife, husband, children, and extended family?
The glad message of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ is that ordinances performed in the temples of the Lord conditionally guarantee that these family relationships can continue for eternity. This teaching is one of the most stimulating and ennobling aspects of the plan of salvation our Father in Heaven has prepared for his children, and it is undergirded and outlined in Old Testament and New Testament teachings. [Ensign Magazine, February 1995, ‘Salvation for the Dead’]
Saint Paul knew this and we also know it, because the God of heaven has revealed it anew in the final dispensation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ for the blessing and salvation of ALL his children. Glory be to God.
Finally, let us consider how any that are referred to as "they" need not be alien to us, to our creeds, our beliefs, opur practices, amd so forth. If I am with a party of all my family members and approximately half of them wander off to look at some curious thing leaving the rest of us behind, and we are asked by an acquaintance where the rest of our family are, and we respond by saying, "THEY are looking at the Petrified Cave."
our use of the word 'THEY' divorce them from us in any way other than by location? Certainly not, and neither does Paul's use of the word 'THEY' to refer to his fellow Christians that are engaged in being baptised by proxy on behalf of the dead that the departed might then enjoy the blesings of salvation.
Who is there that relies on the love of God, and the Atonement and love of Jesus Christ that will sepatrate us from them in this uncivil and unchristian manner? None that love God and Jesus, for this is indeed their work by which they save souls that else were lost.