New Defender's Study Bible Notes
15:29 baptized for the dead. This is the only reference in the Bible to anyone being “baptized for the dead,” and has obviously become a very controversial verse, with many suggested interpretations. It could not mean that a dead unbeliever could somehow be saved by proxy baptism, for baptism does not save even living believers. It could not even save unbaptized believers, for they were already saved by grace through faith alone, whether or not they were baptized (Ephesians 2:8-9; Luke 23:43). This vicarious baptism for the dead could not have saved anyone, yet Paul seems to have mentioned it with approval, or at least not with disapproval, merely pointing out that it was meaningless if there were no future resurrection of the dead. But this might imply that he thought it was meaningful in light of the certain future resurrection. Since neither he nor any other New Testament writer mentions this practice anywhere else, and since it is not practiced today (except by certain cults), it remains somewhat enigmatic as to purpose and value, and no expositor should be dogmatic. The difficulty probably has to do with the precise intent of the preposition huper, here translated “for.” This word can be translated in various ways, depending on context. The context here is dealing with the future resurrection, and immersion in water beautifully symbolizes death and resurrection, both that of Christ and of the believer being baptized (see on Romans 6:3-5). There would certainly be no point in submitting to the inconvenience of immersion if the events it symbolized were non-existent. It merely would increase one’s jeopardy of persecution and earlier death (I Corinthians 15:30), all to no avail if there were no resurrection. A possible translation, therefore, could be “baptism with respect [only] to the dead.” That is, such baptism might depict one’s future death, but not his future resurrection, if there were no such thing. It would only be a baptism for the dead, not one showing both death and resurrection.