“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 Corinthians 15:29
Mormons refer to this verse when they talk about baptisms for the dead. In our experience, baptisms for the dead is not a profitable topic to discuss. Therefore, we do not encourage you to bring it up. On rare occasions, however, they might talk about it. If they do, your goal is not to try and convince them of your interpretation. Rather it is to neutralize their interpretation by showing how it doesn’t fit the context.
1 Corinthians 15:29 is a difficult verse to interpret. We know of at least 50 different Christian interpretations of it!
As stated above, the goal is to neutralize their interpretation. It is not to get them to understand it correctly. (They can’t see the correct interpretation until they are in Christ – 1 Corinthians 2:14. They need to first be in Christ, so their eyes are opened to understand Scripture correctly.) One of the easiest ways we have found to neutralize their interpretation is to make the following two points:
- It never says believers were baptized for the dead. The contrasts between the “they” in verse 29 and the “us” in verse 30, and the “you” in verse 31 are significant. Especially the “us.” In the original Greek of verse 30, the “us” is emphasized – it states a contrast. In other words, Paul carefully distinguishes the believers (“you” and “us”) from those who baptized for the dead.
- Even if believers did this, there is no command to do it. Descriptive passages are not prescriptive. What this means is that when the Bible describes something, it is not prescribed or binding on us. If so, we had better sell all we have and practice Christian communism as described in Acts 2:44-45.
By making these two points, we have found we can neutralize their interpretation. We then can return to the major point of showing them their need for perfection and Christ’s perfection for them.