Why does Paul refer to people baptising on behalf of the dead in 1 Cor. 15:29?

1st Corinthians contains many matters the church had written to Paul about as chapter 7:1 says

“Now for the matters you wrote about”.  

In chapter 11 Paul replies to the church traditions concerning hair coverings. In chapter 14 Paul discusses praying, prophesying and speaking in tongues – he refers to the matters they had written  about and then gives his own advice -which makes for an extremely confusing letter  without quotation marks to discern which parts are Paul’s, and which ideas belong to the church – See ‘As Clear as Mud

In chapter 15 Paul deals with the doubters in the church who say there is no resurrection of the dead –

“If it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead”  1 Cor. 15:12

Paul reassures the church that Christ was raised and at His coming those who are ‘In Christ’ will also be raised.  Then he refers to ‘baptising for the dead’.

Paul was using the  argument form known as argumentum ad hominem—an argument based on what men were doing (or believed) and with which the readers would be familiar – arguments constructed on the basis of what others hold to be true.  A common technique of Paul’s.

The Corinthians were familiar with people who practiced baptism for the benefit of the dead. He refers to them as “they” as opposed to “us” which he uses in the next verse.  This tactic refers to what people were doing (without implying endorsement) to make a point –

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?  And as for us, why do we endanger ourselves every hour?

‘Baptising for the dead’ was evidently a practice that was going on – Paul does not endorse it – he’s making the point that people (“they” the other ones – not “us” which he uses in the next verse) were doing this strange thing because they were convicted of the resurrection.

Jesus used an ad hominem argument -Matthew 12:27 “And if I drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your people drive them out?”

Paul makes the point that there is a resurrection – even the people baptising on behalf of the dead know it.  The point is not that baptising on behalf of the dead is a good thing to do,  but that there IS a resurrection and people are so convinced of it they want their dead loved ones baptised too.  They were going to the extreme measure of baptising for the dead, such was the power of this witness.

 When one passage in isolation refers to a strange custom it is not reason to adopt it.  It is reason to compare it with other scripture to see what is “ALSO WRITTEN”.   There are many passages which say that one must repent and believe before being baptised.  Dead people can’t repent or believe, it’s too late.

Luke 13:3 – Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish

Acts 3:19 – Repent therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out

Mark 6:12 – And they went out, and preached that men should repent

Mark 16:16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.

Understanding also precedes baptism Acts 8:30 “Do you understand what you are reading?”

 Conclusion:  The context of 1 Cor. 15 needs to be understood. Paul is not endorsing those who were baptising on behalf of the dead.  He refers to them to strengthen his argument that people are so convinced of the resurrection that they will take extreme measures.  In the same context he says that they endanger themselves every hour – for the conviction of the resurrection.

And as for us, why do we endanger ourselves every hour?


Misunderstanding the context of 1 Corinthians has resulted in customs of men being adopted as teachings of Paul and God.

Paul referred to those convicted of the resurrection baptising the dead. The point was their conviction of the resurrection – not to do as they did. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints carried on the custom of baptising for the dead because they thought Paul endorsed it.
Paul referred to the Middle Eastern custom of women covering their hair which continues to this day among Muslims.  He said “we have no such custom” and a women should have authority over their own head. Many Western church goers have found 1 Cor. 11 confusing and followed the ancient tradition of making women cover their hair which they wrongly thought Paul endorsed but which he rejected.
Paul referred to the customs of man, that man must be more important as he was made first, and women should be silent. Many Western Christians have followed the wrong traditions of the church thinking they were following Paul.

For a fuller explanation of how the church misunderstood what Paul was actually teaching, see:

Context of Writings Silencing Women

About alsowritten

Another voice in the wilderness
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  1. shjoiner says:

    Thanks Robyn, your explanation of the type of argument being used helps to make sense of this passage in 1 Corinthians 15. Is ad hominem the right description though? See:


  2. shjoiner says:

    Trying to find more on “ad hominem”. Ellicott also uses this argument: “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. “


  3. shjoiner says:

    OK. Answering my own question here. I discovered a better definition of ad hominem as I was perturbed by the definition of someone attacking their opposition maliciously rather than dealing with the actual argument. This is a much better explanation: ‘Ad hominen: An argument in which an opponent’s point of view is adopted for the purpose of demonstrating the logical absurdity of his view. Some forms of the ad hominen argument are: the Reductio Ad Absurdum and the apogogic argument. It is important that this is not confused with the abusive ad hominem which many erroneously equate with the ad hominem probably due to the fact that many reference books abridge, without warrant, the semantic range of the term “ad hominem”’ ( Thanks for introducing me to a new term Robyn.


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