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Response to Baptism for the Dead
First Corinthians 15:29 has always been a controversial scripture. It reads, "Otherwise, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why then are they baptized for them?" (New American Standard Bible).
The Watchtower Society "trans-lators", none of whom are scholars, obviously struggled with this scripture, adding their predictable brackets in an attempt to make this scripture fit their views. In the New World Translation, it reads,
"Otherwise, what will they do who are being baptized for the purpose of (being) dead ones? If the dead are not to be raised up at all, why are they being baptized for the purpose of (being) such?"
Confusing, isn't it? This "baptism for the dead" scripture has resulted in strange teachings. For example, the Mormons conduct "baptism for the dead" rituals in their temples, where their ancestors are supposedly converted to Mormonism in the afterlife. The participant is baptized in water in proxy for the dead person. The dead person then allegedly becomes a fully-fledged Mormon in death, although he never was in life. Some believe the Mormons even include these figures in their conversion totals! Strange, indeed! Unheard of in Christianity!
In fifteen years in the Watchtower Organization, I personally never heard this scripture mentioned, much less taught about. However in the October 1, 2003 Watchtower, on page 29, under the heading "Questions From Readers", some brave soul asked, "What is baptism for the dead?" I could hardly wait to read the answer!
With their usual arrogance, the Watchtower presumes to tell us all what the Apostle Paul meant. "Paul meant that anointed Christians are baptized, or immersed, into a course of life that will lead to a death of integrity like that of Christ. Afterward, they would be raised to spirit life as he was".
Wow! Isn't that a stretch of interpretation! First off, notice that they limit their application of this scripture to the "anointed Christ-ians". That is a signal to the reader to "back off", as this scripture doesn't apply to him! It applies only to the remnant of the 144,000, so, of course, cannot be understood by those with only an "earthly" hope. These "lower level" JW's cannot aspire to go to heaven, but are relegated to live on earth. They really shouldn't presume to understand the way the "anointed" do!
After stumbling about in their feeble explanations, the Watchtower is finally forced to admit, "It is noteworthy; that these and other scriptures that directly mention death in connection with baptized ones refer to living individuals who had been baptized and not to those who had died".
Yes, in their own back-handed way, they finally admit that this scripture is not like any others referring to baptism and its meanings. They end their brief explanation by quoting their New World Translation --this time dishonestly leaving out their misleading brackets with their inserted words, and quoting the whole passage as if it were a literal translation. It is not.
What then does this scripture mean? First, we must look at context, or background. The subject of 1 Corinthians 15 is the resurrection. Verses one to nineteen deals with the fact of Christ's resurrection, followed by verses twenty to forty-nine, which deals with the order of the resurrection, and finally verses fifty to fifty-eight, which deals with the mystery of the resurrection. The whole chapter is on the resurrection. Our controversial verse 29 fits into the portion on the order of the resurrection.
Mostly, Paul is speaking about the Christian resurrection. Reading through this chapter you will see pronouns like "you" , "us" etc. That is, except for verse 29, when the pronouns suddenly become "those" and "they", indicating someone other than Christians! Paul is stopping and correcting a false teaching, held by "those" other ones.
History tells us that there were sects or cults in Paul's day spreading false teachings, one of which was baptism for the dead. These cults did not believe in a resurrection from the dead, as the Christians did. Yet, they had a practice called "baptism for the dead". Paul is pointing out how silly their beliefs were. On the one side, they denied there was an afterlife (i.e. no resurrection), yet they practiced a ritual called "baptism for the dead". Remembering our context, the resurrection, Paul says,
"Otherwise, what will THOSE do who are baptized FOR the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why then are THEY baptized for THEM?" (emphasis mine).
He then mentions in the next verse that "WE are in danger every hour", so the context returns to the Christian teaching on the resurrection, after correcting the false view.
So, sorry, Jehovah's Witnesses, once again you have shown your lack of research and scholarship in interpreting the Scriptures. Obviously the Holy Spirit doesn't help you! Your leaders have taken this verse, which applies to ungodly pagans and exposes error, and applied it to your own "anointed remnant". Well, that too, is fitting, since your organization has been wrong for well over one hundred years. If you are tired of all the false prophecies and misinterpretations, why not give us a chance to help you? You can contact us in total confidentiality and we will answer your questions.