Should Christians be baptized on behalf of dead friends and relatives who died unbaptized? Did Paul teach baptism for the dead?
The practice of being baptized for unconverted friends is founded on a misinterpretation of I Corinthians 15:29: "Otherwise, what will they do who are baptized for the dead, if the dead do not rise at all? Why then are they baptized for the dead?" The inspired New Testament Church did not practice this custom, nor did the apostle Paul teach it. Baptism for the dead was introduced into the professing Christian world about A.D. 150 by the heretic Marcion. Before a person may be baptized, he must first repent (Acts 2:38) and believe (Mark 16:16, Acts 16:31, 33). The dead are not able to repent or believe — they know nothing (Ecclesiastes 9:5). The dead have no hope until the resurrection! Baptism is for the living. It is a symbol whereby the living acknowledge their sins, figuratively die with Jesus Christ in a watery grave and rise in hope of a new life through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit (Romans 6:4). Baptism is also a symbol of the resurrection. To rise up out of the watery grave is to acknowledge belief in the resurrection of the dead (Romans 6). To surrender one's life to God, to crucify the self, to be baptized — all this is foolish unless there is a resurrection. Paul said, "If the dead do not rise, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die" (I Corinthians 15:32). Now we are ready to understand I Corinthians 15:29. The subject of the entire 15th chapter of I Corinthians is the resurrection. As one proof of the resurrection, Paul cites the example of those who are baptized to symbolize their hope in the resurrection. Why were they baptized if the dead don't rise? But the verse is not correctly translated from the original inspired Greek. Paul is not talking about being baptized in place of the dead or on behalf of the dead or for the dead. The Greek word translated "for" is huper. It has several meanings: "above, over, instead of, for the realization of, for the hope of." The context determines the meaning of the word. Turn to Philippians 2:13, Authorized Version, for example. Paul here declares, "It is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure." The Greek word translated "of in this verse is huper, the same word used in I Corinthians 15:29. In Philippians 2:13, huper cannot mean "instead of." It would be senseless to say, "It is God which worketh in you both to will and to do instead of his good pleasure." The proper translation of Philippians 2:13 is "God... worketh in you both to will and to do for the realization of his good pleasure." And what is God's "good pleasure"? "It is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom," said Jesus (Luke 12:32). God works in us in the hope of giving us His Kingdom. Now turn to I Corinthians 15:29. Here the Greek word huper, according to context, should be translated "for the hope of': "Otherwise, what will they do who are baptized for the hope of the dead, if the dead do not rise at all? Why then are they baptized for the hope of the dead?" What is the hope of the dead? The resurrection! Paul is writing about baptism, which illustrates the hope of the resurrection. Baptism — arising out of a watery grave — is a symbol of the hope of the dead, the hope of the resurrection. This verse has nothing to do with the false doctrine of baptism on behalf of the unbaptized dead.
Why did Jesus Christ have to suffer to become perfect, since He never sinned?
Most people have no idea what perfection is. Jesus Christ, before He became a man, was God. He was perfect character. When He became flesh, His mind became subject to the pulls and temptations of His flesh. But He never yielded to temptation. Jesus learned what it meant to become perfect in the flesh by calling upon the power of God for help. By the power of the Holy Spirit He resisted every trial and temptation. Perfection of character is a day-by-day struggle. It was this experience of maintaining perfection of character that Jesus Christ went through in the human flesh. Jesus qualified to become our great High Priest through His experiences as a human. In order to effectively minister to our needs in this office, Jesus experienced fiery tests of faith (I Peter 1:7), but He endured and overcame. And Jesus can empathize with us in helping us to overcome. He knows what we are going through (Hebrews 4:l4-16)! Jesus Christ never suffered for His own sins. But He did suffer for sins — ours! The full penalty of our sins was put upon Him "who committed no sin" (I Peter 2:21-24). Jesus Christ knows what it is like to suffer for sin. He knows what it is like to be forsaken by almighty God — He was "cut off" in our stead (Matthew 27:46). He paid for our sins so that we can turn to God for forgiveness when we repent of our sins. Jesus Christ never sinned, never forsook God's commandments, never allowed wrong attitudes to enter His mind. He learned perfection — resisted temptation — no matter what trial or test came His way, even to enduring the brutal death of crucifixion.