Baptism for the Dead, what does it mean?                                                         By Jack Kettler

“Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? Why are they then baptized for the dead?” (1Corinthians 15:29)

It has been a common interpretation of this passage to believe Paul is referring to a heretical group practicing baptism for dead people by proxy.

This passage is a favorite Mormon proof
-text for one of their unique doctrines. Mormons are generally proud to point out that they still practice baptism for the dead, where Christendom has abandoned this Old Testament practice. In Mormonism, baptism by water is a necessary ordinance for salvation. Baptisms for the dead can only be performed in Mormon temples. Baptism for the dead in Mormon temples supposedly gives those who have died without embracing Christ the opportunity to do so after death.

How do we understand 1Corinthians 15:29? In addition, to whom is Paul referring in this passage of Scripture?

The Bible teaches that Scripture is the best interpreter of Scripture. Using this scriptural approach, there is an Old Testament text to which Paul is referencing in 1Corinthians 15:29. When Paul talks about “they,” he is referring to the Old Testament practice in Numbers 19:11-22. This part of the law taught that an Israelite who touched a dead body became unclean and consequently unable to approach the Lord resulting in being cut off from covenant community. Contact with a dead body by an Israelite polluted him. In redemptive history, such contact served to demonstrate that the individual was under the biblical condemnation of death, the result of sin. No one but Jesus because of His sinless perfection, could come into contact with death and not be contaminated. Only Christ is able to vanquish the power of uncleanness and death.

How do we understand this baptism and its mode? An accurate understanding of baptism is crucial for a proper understanding of the passage.

As a necessary excursus, in Hebrews 9:10 we read: [ceremonies and offerings] “which stood only in meats and drinks, and divers washings, and carnal ordinances, imposed on them until the time of reformation.” The writer of Hebrews is discussing how the ceremonies of the Old Testament pointed to the finished work of Christ. In Hebrews 9:10, the writer says that those Old Testament ordinances applied until the time of the New Covenant. Among those extraneous regulations of the Old Covenant, note how the writer refers to “divers washings.” In the Greek, this passage mentioning “divers washings” is accurately translated “various baptisms.” In addition to these First-Century Jewish “washings,” i.e. baptisms, there were Old Covenant baptisms.

Were these ceremonial baptisms done by immersion? The “washings” referenced in Hebrews cannot be understood as immersions because of availability of water considerations. The Jews would not immerse furniture; “and, coming from the market-place, if they do not baptize themselves, they do not eat; and many other things there are that they received to hold, baptisms of cups, and pots, and brazen vessels, and couches” (Mark 7:4). If we understand that baptism can be done by sprinkling or pouring, then we find a satisfactory interpretation of Hebrews 9:10; Mark 7:4 and the Old Testament text to which Paul is referring to in Numbers 19 This sprinkling in Numbers 19:13 is equivalent
to the washings, or “baptismois” (baptisms) in Hebrews 9:10 and is, therefore, a baptism..

Paul is revealing to us that the Israelite who had been contaminated by contact with the dead was not only unable to approach the Lord's tabernacle in Numbers 19:13, he in fact, would also be cut off from Israel because of his defilement. What was the Old Testament solution for this contamination resulting from defilement in touching a dead body? The remedy found in the law was that the unclean individual must be sprinkled or baptized with the water of purification on the third day, as is seen in verses 13 and 17.

The unclean person would not be cleansed until the seventh day, as is seen in verse 19.

A Holy God could never have sin in His presence. The certainty of death exhibits that we are all spiritual rebels, debased and unclean in the sight of the Lord. Paul's assertion in 1Corinthians 15:
29 affirms that the water of purification in Numbers 19 is a ceremonially cleansing, which in reality is accomplished by Christ's resurrection.

By following the prescription of the law (the water of purification in Numbers 19), the power of death was broken. The unclean person could be made clean and able to approach the Lord and be restored to the covenant people. The water of purification in Numbers 19 was a shadow or type, like the blood of bulls and goats that in reality could never uproot or take away sin (Hebrews 10:4). The water of purification in Numbers 19 also could never truly cleanse the pollution caused by sin. It was a type or shadow, which finds fulfillment in Christ's atoning death and resurrection.

The teaching of Paul in 1Corinthians 15:29 now becomes clear; “they,” or the Jewish practice based upon the law of God in Numbers 19, foreshadowed the resurrection of Christ. Today it would be wrong for Christians to practice the law of Numbers 19, and that is why Paul says “they” in Corinthians rather than “we.” This Old Testament Jewish practice foreshadowed Christ's resurrection. To continue this Old Testament practice today would be to reproach the finished work of Christ by going back to a type or shadow of weak and
beggarly elements (Galatians 4:9).

Paul, in 1Corinthians 15:29 sets forth a splendid picture of the resurrection foreshadowed in Numbers 19. Paul was not referring to the practice of some unknown heretical group for proof of the resurrection; he was referring the Old Testament Jewish practice in Numbers 19, an incredible foreshadowing of Christ's atoning death and resurrection. When the apostle in 1Corinthians 15:29 says, “Else what shall they do” he is referring to the Jews, the Old Testament covenant people of God.

The interpretation argued for in this article is not only consistent with types and shadows finding fulfillment in Christ, but it also does not depend on the purely speculative and unsatisfactory explanation of Paul referring to some unknown heretical practice in defending a vital doctrine of the Christian Faith; namely, the resurrection of Christ. It refers to the Old Covenant Jewish practice now fulfilled in Christ.

An additional line of argumentation for this understanding of 1Corinthians 15:29 comes from contextual evidence within the book of 1Corinthians where Paul quotes the Old Testament in the book. In fact, Paul quotes the Old Testament in 1Corinthians 33 times.


To give a few examples:

  •          1Corinthians 1:19 Paul quotes Isaiah 29:14
  •         1Corinthians 1:31 Paul quotes Jeremiah 9:23- 24
  •          1Corinthians 2:9 Paul quotes Isaiah 64:3
  •          1Corinthians 5:13 Paul quotes Deuteronomy 13:5
  •          1Corinthians 6:16, Paul quotes Genesis 2:24
  •          1Corinthians 10:7 Paul quotes Exodus 32:6
  •          1Corinthians 10:1-11 Paul is mentioning what happened to Israel in the wilderness
  •          1Corinthians 14:21 Paul quotes Isaiah 28:11-12
  •          1Corinthians 14:21 - Isaiah 28:11-12
  •          1Corinthians 15:3 - Isaiah 53:8-10
  •          1Corinthians 15:4 - Psalms 16:10
  •          1Corinthians 15:25 - Psalms 110:1
  •          1Corinthians 15:27 Paul quotes Psalm 8:6
  •          1Corinthians 15:32 Paul quotes Isaiah 22:13
  •          1Corinthians 15:45 Paul quotes Genesis 2:7
  •          1Corinthians 15:55 Paul quotes Isaiah 25:8 and Hosea 13:14

Are we really to believe after Paul’s quotes from the Old Testament in 1Corinthians to prove his points that in 15:29 he inconsistently breaks his background context and refers to a practice by an unknown group of people engaged in a heretical practice? Especially after verse 27, in which Paul is quoting Psalm 8:6. Then in verse 32, Paul is quoting Isaiah 22:13. Paul quotes the Old Testament eight times in chapter 15. Contextually, it makes no sense for Paul right in between verse 27 and 32 to refer to a heretical practice by an unidentified group to defend the resurrection, a cardinal doctrine of the faith.              

Contextually, we can add to the list:

1Corinthians 15:29 where Paul is referring to the Jewish practice in Numbers 19:13; 17; 19 regarding ceremonial baptisms.  

I first heard of the connection between Corinthians and Numbers years ago from Rev. Steven M. Schlei from Loveland, CO.

What about the preposition “huper” in the translation of 1Corinthians 15:29?

In 1Corinthians 15:29, we find Greek preposition huper, which is translated in English as “for.” What will those do who are baptized for the dead and if the dead are not raised at all, why then are they baptized for them? Normally, huper means “for the benefit of,” or “on behalf of.”

This is why translators and commentators have always believed the passage in 1Corinthians 15:29 must be some vicarious baptism that some unknown esoteric aberrational group was practicing.

Can huper be translated differently?

In the New Testament, huper appears 160 times. Of these, huper is used a majority of times with words in the genitive case. Of particular interest for us is the text in question where it is translated “for” in 1 Corinthians 15:29, but it is also translated as “concerning” in Romans 9:27 and “because” in Philippians 1:7.

Consider what Joel R. White has written in his article titled: Baptized On Account Of The Dead:

As for the preposition υπέρ, it is to be understood in its causal sense and is best translated “because of” or, more precisely, “on account of.” Standard grammars and lexicons give ample evidence for this usage in the NT usage in usage in the NT 63

63 See, in addition to BAGD, H. Riesenfeld, “υπέρ,” TDNT, 8.514; J. H. Moulton, A Grammar of New Testament Greek (Edinburgh: Clark, 1963) 270-71; H. E. Dana and Julius R. Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament (New York: Macmillan, 1927) 111. Υπέρ has an unambiguously causal sense when it describes the grounds for giving thanks or offering praise (Rom 15:9; 1Cor 10:30; Eph. 1:16; 5:20). It also seems to have a causal sense in many of the instances in which it is linked to suffering (Acts 5:41; 9:16; 15:26; 21:13; 2Cor 12:10; Eph. 3:13; 2Thess. 1:5). In Phil 1:29 this is undoubtedly so, for there we have two instances of υπέρ, the first, υπέρ Χριστού, giving the cause or ground of the Philippians' suffering; the second, υπέρ αυτού, stating its purpose. Additionally, a causal sense is possible, if not likely, in Rom 1:5; 15:8; 2Cor 12:8; (1)

James R. Rogers, in his article on Baptism for the Dead writes:

Nevertheless, this is not the only way to take huper. Indeed, the Scriptures also use the word to mean “on account of” or “because of.” For example, huper appears in Romans 15:9, “the Gentiles…glorify God for His mercy.” Quite obviously Gentiles do not give glory to God for the benefit of mercy—mercy does not benefit from the glory we give God. Rather, we glorify God on account of or because of His mercy. So, too, in 1Corinthians 15:3, Paul writes that “Christ died for our sins.” Now, Christ did not die for the benefit of our sins. Rather, he died on account of or because of our sins. This use of huper occurs often (see, e.g., 2Cor. 12:8, Eph. 5:20, Heb. 5:1, 7:27, Acts 5:41, 15:26, and 21:13). I also consulted several of the best Greek lexicons, and pestered a couple of Greek scholars. All held that this is a permissible reading of the word. If so, then 1Corinthians 15:29 can be properly translated or read as the following:

Otherwise, what will those do who are baptized because of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why then are they baptized because of the dead? (2)

If White and Rogers are correct in their examples of the alternative translation and usage of huper, then the above interpretation holds up.

Significantly, A.T. Robertson M.A. D.D., L.I.D., regarding υπέρ notes:

A more general idea is that of 'about' or 'concerning.' Here υπέρ encroaches on the province of περί. Cf. 2Cor. 8:23, υπέρ Τίτου, 2Th. 2:1 ὑπὲρ τῆς παρουσίας τοῦ κυρίου. Perhaps 1Cor. 15:29 comes in here also. Moulton1 finds commercial accounts in the papyri, scores of them with ὑπὲρ in the sense of 'to.' (3)

In the Greek English Lexicon Of The New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, we see other uses of ὑπὲρ under the heading:

d. because of to denote moving cause or the reason because of, for the sake of... and under f. about, concerning (about equivalent to περί). (4)

In conclusion, as noted, the Greek preposition translated “for” in 1Corinthians 15:29 is huper. It is possible to say that Paul is not writing about being baptized “in the place of,” or “on behalf of,” or “for” a dead person at all, as has been seen by the contrary evidence in how huper may be translated.

Since this is possible, then according to the context of 1Corinthians 15:29, huper could be translated “because of” or “on account of.” If huper can mean this, then the 1Corinthians 15:29 text can be properly translated: “Else what shall they do which are baptized because of the dead, if the dead rise not at all? Why are they then baptized because of the dead?” or, “Else what shall they do which are baptized on account of the dead, if the dead rise not at all? Why are they then baptized on account of the dead?”

In light of the above and considerations that follow, based on exceptions to a general grammatical rule involving the Greek preposition huper, we could translate Paul in 1Corinthians 15:29 to be saying: “else what do they, the Jews, mean by ceremonially washing or baptizing because of the dead? If the dead are not raised, why do the Jews ceremonially wash or baptize on account of the dead?”

In light of the different usage and the adaptability of the preposition “huper”, its use in 1Corinthians, 15:29 is by no means restricted to the translation conveying the idea of only proxy baptisms. In the matter of 1Corinthians 15:29 we must let Scripture interpret Scripture. The connection between 1Corinthians 15:29 and Numbers 19:11-22 is the most convincing interpretation.

To quote Joel R. White again in regards to 1Corinthians 15:29:

Students of this passage have struggled to make sense of this curious reference, offering an astonishing number of diverse interpretations. In the past thirty years, however, interest in the subject has fallen off as scholars reached an impasse concerning its meaning. There has been only a trickle of new ideas, and curtailing close to a consensus on the proper interpretation has emerged. This has led to an exegetical agnosticism on the part of many scholars. (5)  

This conclusion of “exegetical agnosticism” is certainly unsatisfying for the Christian apologist. The solution argued for in the above article has the benefit of using Scripture as the best interpreter of Scripture. Moreover, it does not rip verse 29 out of context from verses 27, and 32 where Paul is quoting the Old Testament. The hesitancy of some to agree with this interpretation may be because of a prior commitment to a particular mode of baptism.     

Have any theologians in church history seen the connection of 1Coringthians 15:29 and Numbers 19:11-13?

Consider the leading 19th Century Southern Presbyterian theologian, Robert L. Dabney, and the connection between 1Corinthians 15:29 and Numbers 19:11-13:

Baptism for the Dead by Robert L. Dabney:

The instructive and almost exhaustive treatise of Dr. Beattie upon 1 Cor. 15:29 suggests still another explanation which readers may compare with those recited by him. I first heard this from that devout, learned and judicious exegete, Rev. J. B. Ramsey, D. D., of Lynchburg, Va. He advocated it, not claiming originality for it. This explanation supposes that the holy apostle refers here to the Mosaic law of Num. 19:11-13, which required the Hebrew who had shared in the shrouding and burial of a human corpse to undergo a ceremonial uncleanness of seven days, and to deliver himself from it by two sprinklings with the water of purification containing the ashes of the burned heifer. This view is sustained by the following reasons:

I. We know from Mark 7:4, and Heb. 9:10 (“As the washing [baptisms] of cups and pots, brazen vessels and of tables.” “And divers washings [baptisms] and carnal ordinances”), that both the evangelist and the Apostle Paul called the water purifications of the Mosaic law by the name of baptisms. Thus it is made perfectly clear that if the apostle designed in 1Cor. 15:29 to refer to this purification of people recently engaged in a burial, he would use the word baptize.

II. This purification must have been well known, not only to all Jews and Jewish Christians, but to most gentile Christians in Corinth; because the converts from the Gentiles made in the apostles' days in a place like Corinth were chiefly from such pagans as were somewhat acquainted with the resident Jews and their synagogue worship. This explanation then has this great advantage, that it supposes the apostle to cite for argument (as is his wont everywhere) a familiar and biblical instance, rather than any usage rare, or partial or heretical, and so unknown to his readers and lacking in authority with them.

III. This view follows faithfully the exact syntax of the sentence. The apostle puts the verb in the present tense: “Which are baptized for the dead.” For we suppose this law for purifying persons recently engaged in a burial was actually observed not only by Jews, but by Jewish Christians, and properly, at the time this epistle was written. We must remember that while the apostle firmly prohibited the imposition of the Mosaic ritual law upon gentile Christians according to the apostolic decree in Acts 15, he continued to observe it himself. He caused Timothy to be circumcised, while he sternly refused to impose circumcision upon gentile converts. He was at Jerusalem going through a Nazarite purification and preparing to keep the Jewish Passover, when he was captured by the Romans. His view of the substitution of the New Testament cultus in place of the Mosaic ritual seems to have been this: That, on the one hand, this ritual was no longer to be exacted of any Christian, Jew or Gentile, as necessary to righteousness, and that such exaction was a forfeiture of justification by grace; but on the other hand, it was proper and allowable for Jewish Christians to continue the observance of their fathers, such as the seventh day Sabbath, and the scriptural Mosaic ritual (not the mere rabbinical traditions) so long as the Temple was standing, provided their pious affections and associations inclined them to these observances.

IV. Dr. Ramsey's explanation is faithful to the idiomatic usage of the Greek words in the text. He correctly supposes that the apostle's term, “baptized,” describes a religious water purification by sprinkling, founded on biblical authority; and here, perhaps, is the reason why expositors with immersionist tendencies have been blind to this very natural explanation; their minds refused to see a true baptism in a sprinkling, where the Apostle Paul saw it so plainly. Then, Dr. Ramsey uses the word “the dead” (nekron) in its most common, strict meaning of dead men; and that in the plural; not in the singular, as of the one corpse of Jesus. He also employs the preposition “for” (huper) in a fairly grammatical sense for its regimen of the genitive case; “on account of the dead.”

V. Lastly, the meaning thus obtained for the apostle's instance coheres well with the line of his logic. If there be no resurrection what shall they do who receive this purification by water and the ashes of the heifer from the ceremonial uncleanness incurred on account of the corpses of their dead brethren and neighbors which they have aided to shroud and bury? If there be no resurrection, would there be any sense or reason in this scriptural requirement of a baptism? Wherein would these human corpses differ from the bodies of goats, sheep, and bullocks, dressed for food, without ceremonial uncleanness? Had Moses, inspired of God, not believed in the resurrection, he would not have ordained such a baptism as necessarily following the funeral of a human being. His doctrine is, that the guilt of sin is what pollutes a human being, the soul spiritually, and even the material body ceremonially; that bodily death is the beginning of the divine penalty for that guilt: that hence where that penalty strikes it makes its victim a polluted thing {herein). Hence even the man who touches it is vicariously polluted, as he would not be by the handling of any other material clod, and so needs purification. For all this points directly to man's immortality, with its future rewards and punishments; and these affecting not only the spirit but the body which is for a time laid away in the tomb, to be again reanimated and either to share the continued penalty of sin, or, through faith to be cleansed from it by the blood of Christ, and thus made to re-enter the New Jerusalem. (6)

More from Dabney:

“The most probable explanation [of 1Cor. 15:29] is, that the apostle here refers to the Levitical rule of Numbers 19:14-19. Were there no resurrection, a corpse would be like any other clod; and there would be no reason for treating it as a symbol of moral defilement, or for bestowing on it so religiously the rites of sepulture.” (7)

Robert Lewis Dabney (1829–1898) was one of the greatest Protestant theologians of the 19th century. A Southern Presbyterian, he was a teacher, statesman, writer, and social critic, as well as theologian, and taught at Union Seminary in Richmond, Virginia. In the American Civil War, he once served as Chief of Staff to the Confederate general “Stonewall” Jackson

James W. Dale in his Judaic Baptism comments extensively a passage from the book Sirach, which is not found in the Protestant Bible. Dale’s book on Judaic Baptism surveys Judaic literature to help in the understanding of βαπτίζω. It is interesting that the passage from Sirach is very similar to 1Corinthian 15:29 on “Baptism for the Dead.” Sirach says “Baptism from the Dead.”

Dale when commenting on the Sirach passage and 1Corinthians 15:29 says:

“Βαπτιζόμενος άπό νεχροΰ χα) πάλιν άπτόμενος αΰτου, τι ώψέλησεν τφ λουτρφ αυτοΰ. Sirach, 34:30.

Being baptized from a dead body, and touching it again, what is he benefited by his cleansing?

The phraseology of this passage differs, materially, from the preceding. It is, in itself considered, much less definite. The word βαπτίζω never declares the performance of any definite act, and not being limited to physical results, it cannot, alone, declare any definite result. The phrase βαπτιζόμενος άπό νεχροΰ cannot, without knowledge derived from other sources, convey any definite and complete idea. This is proved from the insuperable difficulty attending the interpretation of the phrase, βαπτιζόμενοι όπερ τών νεχρών (1Cor. 15:28) (sp) [29]. The phrase not being self-explanatory, and the context not clearly indicating the bearing designed by the Apostle, and the possible interpretations being legion, no exposition has been given, or perhaps, can be given, which will command assent. The verbal resemblance to the passage before us is striking, and it is within the range of possibility, that both refer to the same thing…” (8)

Fentiman, Travis – Baptism for the Dead: Sermon Notes on 1Corinthians, 15:29 is another modern day theologian who sees the connection between the Corinthians passage and Numbers 19:

“Rev. Fentiman in his sermon gives an overview on the subject of the ‘baptism for the dead’ (1Cor. 15:29) and argues that it refers to the purification washing for touching dead bodies in Num. 19, which the Jews (rightly) held to be a picture of the Resurrection.” (9)

Other interpreters that took this view were Johannes Cocceius (1603-1669), Salomon Van Till (1643-1713), James B. Ramsay (1814-71), Heinrich Ewald (1803-75) and R.L. Dabney (1820-98). Fentiman in his sermon discusses the other views on the Corinthian passage.

An updated reference on Salomon Van Til (1643-1713) and Johannes Cocceius (1603-1669) and “Baptism for the dead:”

Rev. Fentiman notes: 

“Van Til, Salomon - On 1Cor. 15:29 in Commentary of Solomon van Til on the Four Epistles of Paul, even 1Corinthians, Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians... (Amsterdam, 1726), p. 101.” 

“Van Til (1643-1713) was a Dutch theologian and professor at Dort and Leiden in the reformed tradition, though he also was a transitional figure, having Enlightenment influences.”

Johannes Cocceius:

“Regarding Cocceius, I had seen him referenced for this view in some of the secondary literature, that is, numerous commentaries on the passage that I looked at in preparation for the sermon. 

It is in his Works, vol. 5, Commentary on Corinthians, in location, p. 340, section 162, right column, towards the bottom, beginning with the words, 'Debebat autem'. This is a PDF file where the Cocceius quote is found. It is in Latin.

He explicitly cites Num. 19:11 in section 158, second paragraph, about 2/3 the way down.

He discusses 1Cor. 15:29 from sections 158-174.”

At this point, the Cocceius quote is the earliest connection between Numbers 19:11 and 1Corinthians 15:29 found to date.       


Johannes Cocceius (d. 1669) on 1 Cor 15:29 and

Baptism for the Dead:  An Annotated Translation


Francis X. Gumerlock

            Johannes Cocceius (1603-1669) was a Dutch theologian known for his explanation of federal theology, also as covenant theology.  His comments on 1 Cor 15:29—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?— and baptism for the dead are part of a larger commentary on 1 Corinthians written in Latin.  His commentary on this verse (15:29) comprises sections 158-163.

            The purpose of this paper is to translate and explain Cocceius’s comments on this difficult passage, especially his relating the baptism in this passage to the Mosaic law of ritual cleansing for contact with the dead found in Numbers 19.

What Baptism for the Dead is Not

Baptism for the Dead is not a Proxy Baptism

            Cocceius begins (Section 158) and ends (Section 163) his commentary on 1 Cor 15:29 telling what baptism for the dead is not. According to Sections 158, Cocceius rejects that idea that the baptism mentioned in this verse was a “proxy” baptism, that is, a rite performed on a living person which has a positive effect on a person who has already died.  Here Cocceius mentions that Tertullian in the early third century said that the Marcionites had performed baptism for the dead, but Cocceius believes that the Marcionites, rather than continuing a biblical practice, probably used 1 Cor 15:29 as an impetus for doing such.  Cocceius also had read in Hugo Grotius (d. 1645) that in later patristic times some Christians performed baptism on a dead relative or gave the Eucharist to a dead person.  It is well known that such practices were denounced by church authorities.  The apostle Paul, according to Cocceius, was not referring to either the Marcionite baptism for the dead or baptism of the dead by some early Christians.  His commentary reads:

            “158.  We will not refer to the many ways this verse has been explained by some.  Tertullian mentions that Marcionites underwent baptism for the dead.  This is not able to furnish for the Apostle an argument for proving the resurrection of the dead.  These [Marcionites] seem rather to have undertaken the occasion of doing it from this verse.  There were also those who baptized the dead and gave them the Eucharist.  See Grotius.”

 Baptism for the Dead Does Not Establish That the Souls of the Dead are in Purgatory and Can Be Helped by Offerings from the Living

Cocceius also stated in Section 163 that Roman Catholics in his time were using 1 Cor 15:29 to show that the living have a duty to make offerings for the dead, to free them from the punishments of Purgatory.  A Catholic named Crellius, he says, compares 1 Cor 15:29 with 2 Macc 12:42-45, to show that sacrifices were offered by Jews for the sins of the dead.  Cocceius’s response is that in the Maccabees passage, the sacrifice was not necessarily for the sins of those who had died.  Judas collected money from people, which was sent to Jerusalem. The sacrifice may have been not for the sins of the dead, but on behalf of those from whom he had collected money.  Cocceius also said that the author of Maccabees may have mistakenly believed that the offering was for the sins of the dead, when it was not; and Cocceius questions the learning of the author of Maccabees saying that he was not unpolished in telling fables, as one can see from reading 2 Macc 1-2 about hidden fire.  Finally, Cocceius says, even if one admits that the Jews made a sacrifice for the sins of the dead, Jewish opinions were not the test of Christian dogma. Furthermore, from this passage the Catholic view is not established, that souls of the dead are in Purgatory and can be freed from its punishments through sacrifices offered by the living. Section 163 reads:

“163. The popes, who from this passage want to elicit a duty for the dead, do nothing to free them from the punishments of Purgatory.  For, here it is speaking about that which is for testifying to the hope of the resurrection of the dead.  Crellius here compares 2 Macc 12:42-45.

On the passage 2 Macc 12:42-45.  The action of Judas and the judgment of the writer must be considered.  Judas collected, from various individuals, money which he sent to Jerusalem so that a sacrifice might be offered for sin, surely so that the sin committed might be fully remitted.  It is not necessary to interpret this as if he wanted a sacrifice to be offered for the dead, but for those very ones from whom he had collected money….

The judgment of the writer who is either Jason Cyrenaeus or his secretary (2 Macc 2:24).  This man was conscious himself that he was of little eloquence and learning (2 Macc 15:39) and he was not unpolished in telling other fables, as appears from the first and second chapter and where he speaks about hidden fire.

Therefore [it may be that] he judges that Judas prayed for the dead and offered sacrifice for the dead…If we admit all these things, nevertheless it is not able to be concluded, nor has it been established from this writer, that the souls of the dead were in Purgatory and with a sacrifice offered for sins, they were able to be freed from there.  Finally, Jewish opinions are not the test of Christian dogma.”

What Baptism for the Dead Is

            In Section 158, Cocceius introduces two views of what the Apostle means by “baptism for the dead” in 1 Cor 15:19.  The first is the ordinary Christian sacrament of baptism.  Cocceius believes that whatever the Apostle was referring to, it was not some abhorrent practice, but a baptism that was instituted by God.

Baptism for the Dead is Nothing Other than Christian Baptism

            Cocceius continues in Section 158 writing:

            “However, it is not able to be doubted that whatever the Apostle chose to speak of, it was because it was suitable for his discourse and presented an argument for the resurrection.  No external baptism is able to be used as an argument for the resurrection of the dead except one which was instituted by God as a sacrament. And truly our baptism, with which we are baptized and we wash away sins, is a sacrament of resurrection.  For, it signifies also that our bodies had been cleansed with clean water (Heb 10:22).  But why is our baptism called “baptism for the dead,” unless perhaps you interpret it as pointing at our death, [the death of] we who are baptized.  It is as if he were saying, ‘What will they do, who are baptized, who are going to die?’”

Baptism for the Dead as Ritual Cleansing after Contact with a Dead Person Mentioned in Numbers 19

A second view of Cocceius, on which he writes from the end of Section 158 through Section 162, is that the Apostle is referring to the ritual washing of Numbers 19.  By contact with a dead person, a Jewish person became ritually unclean and was excluded from the assembly and house of God.  To become clean again, the person underwent a washing on the third day and seventh day, after which he was allowed access to the assembly and house of God.

In Section 158, Cocceius continues:  “In the Old Testament God gave various baptisms (Heb 9:10), but none for the dead.  But he did give a baptism because of the dead.  See Numbers 19:11 and Ecclesiasticus 34:30.”

Cocceius then shows that the Greek and Hebrew words for “for” sometimes in the Scriptures mean “because of.”  He says that this is the case in Phil 2:13; Rom 15:8-9; and Isa 60:7.  Cocceius also said that a French writer named Cornelius Bonaventura Bertramus mentioned the same, and showed this from Numbers 5:2:  “Everyone who is unclean because of a dead person…” and Numbers 6:11 “…and make atonement for him concerning his sin because of the dead person.”  Thus, interpreting 1 Cor 15:29 in light of this, he continues:

“159.  Therefore, these, who are baptized according to the institution of God because of contact with the dead, or because they were found to be in the same room with a dead person, what will they do (1 Cor 15:29), if there is not resurrection of the dead, or if God will not at some time be all in all (1 Cor 15:28)? Will they not be ashamed and be making use of a laughable gesture and setting themselves up to be ridiculed?”

“160.  And so this ceremony signifies either this or nothing.  If it signifies nothing, it is not an institution of a wise God.  But it is an institution of a wise God, and it is suitable for signifying the resurrection of the dead.”

In Section 161, Cocceius says that he disagrees with Bertramus who viewed the ritual of cleansing in Numbers 19 as one for someone who had been made unclean by burying the dead.  Cocceius contends that it was for simply contact with the dead, if one happened to be in the same room or tent with a person who died.  He writes:

“161.  However, I do not see here what Bertramus saw, namely, a unique labor and annoyance commanded by God for those who were burying the dead, to show what was the hope of the resurrection of the dead.  For, God was not commanding something about the care and labor of burying the dead.  Rather, the one who had touched the dead and had been together in a tent or a room in which there was a dead person is declared unclean, and he wanted him by a certain rite to be cleansed through washing.”

In Section 162, Cocceius shows through typology how the ritual of cleansing in Numbers 19 typified the redemptive work of Christ.  He continues:

“162. Moreover, it is very easy to obtain the meaning of this cleansing if we consider how one determines for himself purity and impurity in the law.  Those who were impure were not to touch sacred things, were not to taste sacred foods, and were not to come into a holy place.  And all these things were symbols of communion with God and of heavenly joys.  Therefore, when a living person who was in a place where a dead person was, is declared unclean, what else could it signify other than:

1.       When one man dies, the whole nature of sin is to be blamed as worthy of death.

2.      This sin is not yet remitted or expiated.  For, why would they be said to be unclean if sin was remitted?  Where there is remission, there is no longer remembrance of it (Heb 10:2,3,18)

3.      A guilty person is to be given expiation.  For, this signified absolution.

4.      They, in whom sins have been remitted, have communion with God, approach him, and are happy before God.

5.      That happiness one has is in the body.  Indeed, all these things are done in the body.  Not only was the person cleansed, but his body also.  That which is an impediment to approaching God—the guilt of sin and the law of sin and death—is in the body.  In the body a person receives the symbol of remission of sins and removal of all those things which are an impediment and through which a person is less enjoyable to God.  In the body he is admitted to all the sacraments of divine communion.  For, the inner tabernacle was a symbol of heaven.  Into it a priest entered, through which [something] was signified.  Through the priest [was signified] that the way to heaven was open to us…

After death.  For, one who is washed because of touching a dead person is considered as one who is dead.  Why would he, who is considered as one dead, want himself to be cleansed so he may return to the house of God, if resurrection is not given?

Every baptism signifies death and life from death.  For, water does not only show something pure and something have a use for cleansing, but also that something is dying. 

And it is rather clear that in such water, the quality was shown of cleansing those, who by the touching of the dead were unclean.  And it signified communion in the death of Christ, and also communion in his resurrection.  For, a red heifer was sacrificed (Num 19:2).  For, what else does this signify than that those who are in the communion of sin and death, and thus excluded from the house of God, have justification and life through communion in the death of another?  And truly the red heifer is a very real type of the Savior.  A heifer was burned, so that is might be understood that he [i.e.Christ] did not come for domination but to serve (Cf. Luke 22:27)….Red because he should become sin (Cf. 2 Cor 5:21) and a curse (Cf. Gal 3:13). Unblemished because in him there should be no stain or spot (Cf. 1 Pet 1:19).  No violence in his hand, no lying in his mouth (Isa 53:9). [In the heifer there was] not any defect, not lame, no distortion, no blindness, no deafness, or anything similar.

Which was not brought under the yoke (Num 19:2) because also he [i.e. Christ] should be undefiled and separated from sinners (Heb 7:26).

Therefore, it was burned outside the camp (Num 19:3) as also Christ died outside the camp (Cf. Heb 13:13).  He was rejected by the builders (Cf. Matt 21:42) that we may…leave behind that earthly sanctuary and altar, which was stained with the blood of animals.

It was sacrificed and burned wholly. For, it was necessary that his [Christ’s] blood be shed, and that wholly by the fire of love, and that he be consumed by zeal for the house of God (Cf. Ps 69:10).  There is nothing in him, which is a stranger from our sanctification.  He is wholly ours, since also the heifer was burned wholly, as if wholly sprinkled when its ashes are sprinkled.

With the heifer was burned a branch of cedar and hyssop and a scarlet colored string (Num 19:6).

The branch of cedar, of an oily and fragrant tree, signifies the flesh…[and] the Branch in which is the Spirit of the Lord (Cf. Isa 11:1-2).

Hyssop, a vile species.

Scarlet-colored string again is able to signify the imputation of sin (Cf. Isa 1:18).

The ashes were kept in a clean place outside the camp (Num 19:9), so that is may be understood that cleansing is to be sought from a place in which righteousness dwells, and not on earth and in the earthly city or in a sanctuary made by hand (Cf. Heb 9:11, 24).

For this reason Christ, after he had made purification of sins, sat down at the right hand of Majesty on high (Heb 1:3).”

Now Cocceius, near the end of his explanation, focuses on how the ritual of cleansing from contamination with a dead body, mentioned in Numbers 19, typified the resurrection; and hence, why the Apostle chose to use this “baptism for the dead” or rather “baptism because of the dead” in his argument for the resurrection.  He explains:

“Moreover, one who was contaminated because of a dead person was to be sprinkled on the third day, and on the seventh, so that he might be clean (Num 19:12, 19).  Surely a person, while living his time in the world, ought to be cleansed and sprinkled, so that in the end, in the resurrection of the dead and on the day of eternal rest, he may be clean.  One who, while living in this life of ours will have been sprinkled, on the last day will be found clean among the clean.  One who will not be cleansed at this time, will not be clean in the end.  Or, rather, one who will have communion with him who rose on the third day, will be clean on the last day.

            One who was sprinkled as if on the third day, in the resurrection of Christ at that time, is as if he will be renewed in our resurrection when we enter the rest of God.

            He was sprinkled.  1.  Living water mixed with ashes…2.  Through hyssop, that is, through the very one who died for us.  For he is the same who is the Redeemer and the Regenerator and the Justifier.

            That water is called…the water of separation (Num 19:9)…Indeed, those who had separated from the people of God because of sin, as if from the assembly of the righteous from life and the face of God, having been cleansed through this water, received the privilege of drawing near, that is, through the sprinkling of the blood of Christ which comes by baptizing a sinful person through the one Spirit into the one body of Christ (Cf. 1 Cor 12:13), and having been raised on the third day, they received the hope of life from the dead to glory and to joy in the house of God.”

January 6, 2020



  1. Joel R. White Baptized On Account Of The Dead: The Meaning Of 1 Corinthians 15:29 In Its Context. Biblische Ausbildung am Ort, Vienna, Austria
    Journal of Biblical Literature (JBL) 116/3 (1997) 487- 499.
  2. Biblical Horizons Newsletter
    No. 76: Baptism for the Dead
    by James R. Rogers
    http: //
  3. A.T. Robertson M.A. D.D., L.I.D., A Grammar Of The Greek New Testament In The Light Of Historical Research, (Broadman Press, Nashville, Tennessee), p. 632.
  4. Walter Bauer, Greek English Lexicon Of The New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, (The University of Chicago Press, Printed in the United States of American) p. 839.
  5. Joel R. White Baptized On Account Of The Dead: The Meaning Of 1 Corinthians 15:29 In Its Context. Biblische Ausbildung am Ort, Vienna, Austria Journal of Biblical Literature (JBL) 116/3 (1997) 487- 499.
  6. Robert L. Dabney Baptism for the Dead by (Appeared in the Christian Observer, February 3, 1897; vol. 84:5), pg. 10.
  7. Dabney, Robert Systematic Theology, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Baker Book House, reprinted 1985), p. 760.
  8. James W. Dale, JUDAIC BAPTISM on βαπτίζω, (Phillipsburg, New Jersey, Presbyterian & Reformed 1991, reprinted from 1869 edition), p. 112.
  9. Travis Fentiman, Baptism for the Dead: Sermon Notes on 1 Cor. 15:29 2015, Reformed Books Online 18 pages                                                                                                                                                                                 

Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks, titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat. Available at:

For more research see:

G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson Editors Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, 1 Corinthians by Roy E. Ciampa and Brian S. Rosner, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Baker Academic, 2007), pp. 695-752

Paul's Use of The Old Testament in 1Corinthians by Davide Verlingieri online PDF

James W. Dale Vol. 1-4; Classic Baptism; Judaic baptism; Johannic Baptism; Christic Baptism and Patristic Baptism Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing Company, Phillipsburg, New Jersey