Q. With regard to 1 Corinthians 15, Paul is explaining the importance of the resurrection and in verse 29 he mentions the “baptism for the dead”. I’ve talked to a lot of people about it without getting a satisfactory explanation and wonder if you could shed some light on this. Is it mentioned anywhere else in scripture?
A. Hebrews 9:27 tells us that man is destined to die once and after that to face judgment. Most scholars interpret that verse to mean we have one lifelong opportunity to decide whether or not to accept the pardon for our sins that Jesus purchased with His shed blood. That opportunity ends with our death. If we don’t accept the pardon before we die, we’ll be held personally accountable for all our sins at the judgment.
The proxy baptism of deceased unbelievers is an attempt to qualify them for that pardon without having asked for it. This violates two scriptural imperatives. The first is that we all have to choose to be saved for ourselves by believing Jesus died for our sins and rose again (1 Cor. 15:3-4), and the second is we have to do it before we die (Hebrews 9:27).
Aside from 1 Cor. 15:29, the practice of baptizing for the dead is not mentioned anywhere else in Scripture. Jesus never taught baptism for the dead, the apostles never practiced it, and the gospels never mention it. Thus it fails three major tests in the Law of Hermeneutics, a standard by which all Christian theology is judged.