************ Sermon on 1 Corinthians 15:29 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on May 20, 2018
1 Corinthians 15:12-34
1 Corinthians 15:29
"Baptism for the Dead"
Difficult Passages # 4
Let me start by stating four rules for Bible interpretation that apply to our text for this evening:
1. When something is mentioned only once in the Bible, it cannot be given the same weight of importance as the central themes of Scripture. Yet, there are some who lay great weight on the baptism for the dead that is mentioned only once in the Bible.
2. When something is mentioned only once, there is a great likelihood that it will be misinterpreted. We see this problem with our text for this evening. The Bible Knowledge Commentary states up to 200 explanations have been given for this verse! Most of these interpretations are insanely foolish.
3. When something is repeatedly discussed in the Bible its meaning is clarified by its repetition in various contexts.
4. Context is so important. Usually, difficult verses are misinterpreted because they are ripped out of context and seen in isolation.
Baptism for the dead is a practice of the Mormons, the New Apostolic Church, the Old Apostolic Church, the Mandaeans of Iraq and Iran, the heretical sect of the Marcionites, and the pagan religions of Ancient Greece. Lest there be any misunderstanding, let me say this up front: baptism for the dead is considered heretical and is NOT practiced by any true, Bible-believing, Christ-confessing churches.
I Mormon Doctrine
A Baptism for the dead is a central doctrine of the Mormons. So it is surprising to discover that the Book of Mormon never once mentions the doctrine. Yet, the Mormons believe the Book of Mormon contains "the fullness of the everlasting gospel." Oops. How come something so central to their faith is missing?
The practice of baptism for the dead is based on a supposed revelation supposedly received by the prophet Joseph Smith. Smith first taught the doctrine in a funeral sermon of a deceased member of the church. It is a lie and it is based upon lies.
B What is the Mormon practice of baptism for the dead?
In Mormon doctrine, no one can enter the "celestial" heaven without being baptized. But those who have died without being baptized can gain admittance if others are baptized for them. Did you hear that? The dead can enter heaven if others are baptized for them -- even if they have died without accepting Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord!
Follow this line of logic to its extreme. You can live as you want. You can eat and drink and be merry (cf vs 32). You can die without faith. And then in your last will and testament, as a sort of P.S., you would write, "P.S. Have Uncle Bill baptized for me!" That would cover all the bases, wouldn't it?
Ruth and I went to a funeral/memorial for a Jewish friend this afternoon. I presented the Gospel to this friend before he died and I prayed that Jesus would be in his life. However, I'm not sure where he is spending eternity. But, if we believed in baptism for the dead, if I or another Christian was baptized for him, then I could be sure he is in heaven.
By the way, you might recognize this kind of logic in some Roman Catholic practices: like masses for the dead, lighting candles for the dead, and prayers for the dead.
C Surely you recognize why the Mormon practice of baptism for the dead is wrong. It is wrong on so many levels I hardly know where to begin.
-First, it says baptism for the dead can save; but the Bible teaches we are only saved by God's grace in Christ.
-Second, it says we can be saved by sacraments and ceremonies; but the Bible teaches we are saved only because we are justified on account of Christ.
-Third, it says we can be saved even though we don't know Jesus; but the Bible teaches us Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life and no one comes to the Father except through Him.
-Fourth, it teaches that there is a chance to be saved after death; but the Bible teaches once a person dies it is too late; there are no second chances to be saved.
-Fifth, it teaches someone can take your place; but the Bible teaches the only person Who takes our place is the Lord Jesus Christ
-Sixth, because it offers another means of salvation, it denies the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ Jesus.
-Seventh, it says someone else's faith can be transferred to save me; but the Bible says each person needs to believe for themselves.
D How exactly is the baptism for the dead done by Mormons? Where is it done? When is it done? Who is it done for?
Mormon doctrine requires that the name of the dead person be declared. This is why the Mormons have such good genealogical records. They need to know the name of the person for whom someone else is being baptized.
Any member of the Mormon church, male or female, who is at least 12 years old may be baptized for the dead. Men act as a proxy for deceased men, and women act as a proxy for deceased women.
After giving a short prayer, which includes the name of the deceased individual, the proxy is immersed briefly in the water, then brought up again.
This rite is one of the most important elements of Mormon "temple work." That is, it is performed only in Mormon temples -- their ordinary meeting places do not qualify.
It is the goal of the Mormons to perform this temple ordinance for as many deceased persons as possible. Mormons perform proxy baptisms for individuals regardless of their race, sex, creed, religion, or morality. Mormons have been baptized for the Founding Fathers of the United States, U.S. Presidents, Pope John Paul II, John Wesley, Christopher Columbus, Joan of Arc, Genghis Khan, Joseph Stalin, and Gautama Buddha.
Especially controversial are the baptisms Mormons have done on behalf of Jewish Holocaust victims and perpetrators. Jews, of course, object to their ancestors undergoing the ceremony of another religion so at their insistence hundreds of thousands of Jewish names have been removed from church records. As I was writing this message I saw a news story that Anne Frank, the Jewish girl who wrote a diary as she hid from the Nazis, has been baptized by proxy for the ninth time. And get this, even Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun have been baptized by proxy.
What nonsense! What utter, unbelievable nonsense.
Yet, what do we do with our text for this evening? Let's go to the fourth rule of Bible interpretation: context is so important; in this case, context is everything. In our Bible reading, Paul gives us four arguments for why believers can look forward to a resurrection of the body.
II Paul's Arguments for Resurrection
A In his first argument for resurrection, Paul starts with the heart of the Gospel (1 Cor 15:1-11). He points to Christ Who died, was buried, and was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.
The risen Christ appeared to Peter, the Twelve, the five hundred, James, all the apostles, and Paul.
On the basis of this Gospel, Paul drives home a major point about resurrection (1 Cor 15:12-19). Listen to how he puts this:
(1 Cor 15:12-13) But 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? (13) If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.
Follow Paul's argument. To deny a resurrection of the body is to deny the resurrection of Christ.
To deny the resurrection of Christ tears the heart out of the Gospel message and leaves it lifeless.
A Gospel without Christ's resurrection means preaching and faith are both useless.
A Gospel without Christ's resurrection means the apostles are liars.
A Gospel without Christ's resurrection means we are still in our sins with no salvation.
A Gospel without Christ's resurrection means the pagans are right in mocking the foolishness of the cross and the grave.
The Gospel requires resurrection: both ours and Christ's.
B Paul's second argument is theological in nature (1 Cor 15:20-28). We are joined to Christ. We are united with Christ. Just as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive (1 Cor 15:22). This morning we learned the pouring out of the Spirit is the firstfruits of all the blessings of salvation. Christ is also the firstfruits -- He is the firstfruits of all those who will be raised. He is a guarantee, a first installment, a down-payment, of our own future resurrection.
C Paul's fourth argument -- yes, I know I am missing the third argument; we will look at it in our next point -- is his life of suffering (1 Cor 15:30-34). Paul points to everything he undergoes: danger every hour, metaphorically he dies every single day, he fought wild beasts in Ephesus. He is thinking of persecution, hardship, imprisonment, flogging, shipwreck, bandits, false brothers, all his hard work and labor, lack of sleep, hunger, thirst (cf 2 Cor 11:21-29). Why is Paul willing to undergo all of this? For merely human reasons? For self-glorification? Absolutely not! Paul endures all of this because of the hope of the resurrection, his resurrection. Paul's hope is for a new and better life on a new and better earth in a new and better body.
III Baptism for the Dead
A It is within this context -- Paul's arguments for resurrection -- that we find the reference to our text for this evening.
(1 Cor 15:29) Now if there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized for them?
I want to start my discussion of baptism for the dead by saying three things.
First, I want to admit ignorance. In spite of what the Mormons say or do, we don't know what Paul means by baptism for the dead. And get this, it doesn't matter that we don't know. We don't need to know the ins and outs about this baptism to understand Paul's argument. The Corinthian Christians, however, did know and understand and maybe even witness baptism for the dead at one time or another -- or else Paul would not have mentioned it.
Second, I also want to say that Paul does not explicitly condemn the practice of baptism for the dead; however, neither does he endorse it. Paul doesn't tackle the issue because that means he will be going down a rabbit trail away from his main point -- namely, that there is a resurrection.
Third, I want you to notice the pronouns Paul uses. Throughout 1 Corinthians 15 Paul uses the second person pronoun: you.
-verse 1 - I want to remind YOU of the gospel I preach to YOU
-verse 2 - by this gospel YOU are saved, if YOU hold firmly to the word I preached to YOU
-verse 3 - I passed on to YOU
-verse 12 - how can some of YOU say there is no resurrection
-verse 17 - YOUR faith is futile; YOU are still in YOUR sins
You get the picture. But in our text Paul doesn't use the second person pronoun; instead, he uses the third person pronoun: those, them.
The use of the third person pronoun means the practice of baptism for the dead cannot be a regular and permissible rite in the Corinthian church; if it was, then we would expect Paul to say,
Why do WE baptize for the dead? If the dead are not raised all, why are WE baptized for them?
B Paul uses baptism for the dead as his third argument for resurrection. He merely says that if there is no resurrection, why would people baptize for the dead?
This strange, unknown practice of baptism for the dead -- why would anyone do this if the dead are not raised. Pagans and heretics do this practice because they believe there is life after death and a resurrection of the body. They all know that this life is not all there is. They all know death is not the end. In their heart of hearts they all have a sense of eternity that has been put there by God. If death is the end, if dead means dead forever, if dead means I am not going anywhere, if dead means there is nowhere to go, why would there be baptism for the dead? That's the argument here.
Baptism for the dead is one of four arguments for a bodily resurrection. When the roll is called up yonder, when the dead in Christ shall rise, when His chosen ones shall gather, we all shall rejoice to say, "I'll be there." That's the point of our Scripture reading. That's what Paul wants us all to say and believe.
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