Q. I enjoy reading the questions and answers in the newsletter you kindly provide. I find them extremely interesting and thought provoking.
One of my current avenues of study is the exploration of the rite of baptism on behalf of those that have passed on without knowing Jesus. To this end I am using the Bible and the Patrologies (writings of early Church leaders). Reading the text (of 1 Cor. 15:29) it appears that (Paul) considers the practitioners of proxy baptism actually do believe in the resurrection from the dead and that is the reason they make attempts to save non-Christians that have died, as many have lived and died without even the name of Jesus falling upon their ears. Have you considered the beliefs and practices of Early Christians regarding their belief in this rite, and, if so, do their beliefs and teachings make any kind of sense to you?
A. Every living person has to choose to be baptized because baptism is only meaningful if it confirms the person’s confession of faith in the Lord’s death as payment for his or her sins. So how can it be different for dead people? Who’s to say if they would have chosen to be baptized? I believe that baptizing a person, living or dead, or being baptized for them, without their consent is an exercise in futility. As I’ve said before, Jesus didn’t teach it, the gospels don’t contain it, and the early church didn’t practice it. You can’t build doctrine on the foundation of one off handed comment in 1 Corinthians 15:29. That’s why there is no agreement among orthodox scholars approving the practice. The best possible spin you can put on Paul’s comment is that living believers were being baptized on behalf of believers who had died without being baptized, and even baptisms of that sort can’t be shown to be necessary.
As for those who supposedly died not knowing about Jesus, I don’t believe there are any. God is just (1 John 1:9). He saves all who believe and condemns all who reject Him (John 3:18). Hebrews 9:27 says we’re given one lifetime to decide and after that we face judgment. There’s no mention anywhere in the Bible of a second chance after we die. Therefore there can’t be any who didn’t get a first one. Otherwise God could not be just.