SANTIAGO B. SAMEON II, ED. D.
One of the most controversial teaching in the Bible is related to the issue of “baptism for the dead”. The contention is rooted in I Cor.15:29, which reads, “Otherwise, what will “they” (underscoring mine) do who are baptized for the dead, if the dead do not rise at all? Why then are “they” (emphasis mine} baptized for the dead?” From this we can deduce that vicarious or by proxy baptism seems unassailably contemplated. This is puzzling, quizzical, mystifying and boggling but there is an explanation to this!
Prior, during and after the time of Paul, the Marcionites and the Gnostics practiced baptism for the dead vicariously. Even the ancient Babylonians, Assyrians and Egyptians practiced baptism for the dead by proxy. (Catholic Bible Encyclopedia). In his type of baptism, someone answers for the dead, while the water was applied to the dead body; parents were baptized for their children, from a mistaken reading of Paul. He meant “If the dead rise not at all, what benefit do “they” (underlining mine) expect who vicariously baptize for the dead?” (Smith’s Bible Dictionary,p.32). Even in our present time, there are a few religious groups who practiced the baptism for the dead ritual based on I Cor.15:29 text, on account of erroneous perception.
From the above development, we can safely deduce that the word “they” (quotation mark and underscoring mine), particularly refer to personages who stood as proxy for the baptized dead of the Gnostics, Babylonians, Assyrians, Egyptians and other religious groups who practiced the ritual. They washed, baptized, immersed and cleansed their dead in preparation for the next life after the resurrection, which they also believed. Paul was focused on the subject of resurrection in I Cor.15:29, but he did not in any way, endorsed the ritual of baptism for the dead! Had he indorsed the ritual, he could have employed the pronoun “we”, instead of “they”, in connection with the baptism for the dead. He was merely citing their practices, to build a strong case in the universal and widely accepted belief of the resurrection! The church of the Lord did not and do not practice the ritual. The thrust of Paul’s queries in I Cor.15:29, is the rational vitality and inevitability of the resurrection!
Granting without admitting, that the baptism for the dead is a biblical practice, then it follows that the pursuit in the acquisition of: knowledge, in John 6:45; belief, in Acts 8:37; repentance, in Acts 2:38; confession, in Rom.10:10, can also be done vicariously when the candidate for baptism is dead. But the record shows that the steps involved in the process of attaining salvation is personally administered to living individuals and not to the dead, based on the above texts! Honestly: Can a dead person be personally taught? Can a dead individual personally believe? Can a dead human being personally repent? Can a dead man personally confess? Without contention, the responses to all these queries are resounding NEGATIVE answers! Therefore, on the question: Can a dead man be personally baptized? Consequently, a precise NO!, is a logical and proper answer!
If the baptism for the dead practice is correct, then the work or deed of another person can be credited or transferred to another individual after the recipient is dead. This violates the Scripture, “…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling ; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.”- Rom.10:12,13. Salvation is personally acquired and done, through the works and grace of God and by our own individual works while we live, not by proxy or by the deed of others. During the final judgment, when we will individually stand before the bar of God, and we all will be judged according to our own personal deeds or works: Ps.62:12; Prov.24:12; Rom.14:12; Rev.20:12; Rev.22:12; Jer.32:19; Matt.16:27; Rom.2:6; 2 Cor.5:10; Rev.2:23; Rev.14:13. All these scriptures strongly discount and discredit the vicarious baptism for the dead as it contradicts and cannot jibe with the biblical traditions and teachings (B.Th.,A.B, Ma.Ed., Ed.D./7.7.2011.Thurs.)