1 Corinthians 15:29
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?
I. THE CONNECTION OF THE PASSAGE. It is connected with ver. 20, the intervening verses being a parenthesis. Paul has been speaking of the vanity of the Christian life apart from the resurrection (vers. 19, 20), and then after a digression on the order of the resurrection, suggested by the word "first-fruits," he resumes his argument. "Else," if Christ be not risen, "what shall they do that are baptized for the dead?" But whilst the passage is thus disconnected from what precedes, it is directly connected with what follows (ver. 30). If Christ be not risen, what is the use of our enduring sufferings for our faith in Him?
II. THE APOSTLE'S TRAIN OF THOUGHT.
1. His chief argument is that derived from the resurrection of Christ. "If there be no resurrection of the dead, then is not Christ risen," consequently "your faith is vain, ye are yet in your sins," and in testifying to it "we are found false witnesses." But we have the most convincing proofs, from numerous and unquestionable witnesses, of Christ's resurrection, which is a proof and pledge of ours.
2. If there be no resurrection, then dead believers are annihilated (ver. 18), and their Christianity, as it is inseparably connected with suffering, has augmented the misery of human existence (ver. 19). But this is a consequence that cannot be admitted (ver. 20).
3. And analogous to this the apostle argues that if there be no resurrection, all the trials of believers are useless; not the practice of the Christians, but that of the Epicureans, is reasonable (vers. 30-33). Now it is evident that it is to this argument that the text belongs; therefore, baptism for the dead must be connected with the sufferings of believers.
III. The text therefore means BAPTISM TO FILL THE PLACE OF THE DEAD.
1. The apostle represents one set of Christians succeeding another: when their ranks were thinned by death others rushed in to supply their place. But why so if there be no resurrection? Why do they voluntarily submit to like suffering for their faith? Such an interpretation agrees well with what follows. And what a noble idea does this give of Christians. They fill up the ranks and fight in the battle in which their companions have fallen. And what a touching scene it must have been in times of persecution to see the baptized, like soldiers, occupying the breach which death had made in their ranks, thus verifying the observation that "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church."
2. This interpretation gives us a striking view of the nature of baptism. It unites the baptized living with the baptized dead; it is the ceremony for our enrolment into the great army of the living God; it ensures the perpetuity of the Church, and supplies it with a constant succession of those who bear the name of Jesus; it is a solemn consecration to the service of Christ, and imposes upon us the duties which our predecessors performed, and enables us to look forward to those rewards which they now enjoy.
(P. J. Gloag, D.D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: 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?