The apostle Paul asked the following questions: “Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? Why then are they baptized for the dead?” (I Cor. 15:29). This was spoken concerning the members of the church of God in the city of Corinth which denied the resurrection of the dead.
This verse has been interpreted as meaning many things to many people. Some have used it in an effort to establish their practice of baptizing the living for those who died without baptism. One thing is certain, since Christ commanded individuals to be baptized “for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38 cf; 22:16), it would be impossible for one individual to be baptized for another whether dead or alive. Otherwise salvation may be had by proxy. If one may be “baptized for the dead” and the dead be saved as a result, and yet cannot believe and repent “for the dead,” would that not be salvation by proxy baptism only? Write that one down as impossible if the bible be true!
Many have said that the apostle incidentally referred to a group of that time who practiced baptizing the living for the dead (but without divine sanction) in order to show that such group believed in a resurrection of the dead. But why should the apostle refer to a false practice (without correcting it) in order to strengthen his contention that the dead are raised?
Since baptism originated with Christ, individuals are baptized on his behalf, or because he commanded it; But if Christ has not been raised from the dead, then individuals are baptized for or on account of a dead Christ. Moreover, when individuals are baptized they are said to be “buried with him in baptism into death” and also “raised to walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:1-6ff; Col. 2:12; 3:1.) Baptism symbolizes the death, burial, and. resurrection of Jesus Christ. But there would be no point in symbolizing the death and burial of Christ by being baptized, short of being raised with him. And yet that is exactly what happened to those who were baptized on his behalf, “if the dead rise not,” as the doubters contended. On this point the apostle said: “Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen. And if Christ is not risen, then is our preaching vain and your faith is also vain . . . you are yet in your sins” (Verses 12-17.)
Could he not have included their baptism on behalf of Christ as a vain thing if Christ had not been raised from the dead? Individuals are baptized, not for a dead Christ, but for a living Christ. By supplying the name of Christ in this difficult verse it would read: “Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, (Christ) if (as you say) the dead rise not? Why are they then baptized for the dead” (Christ)?
“Many of the Corinthians hearing, believed, and were baptized” (Acts 18:8.) Their belief in the death and resurrection of Christ prompted them to be baptized in which act they had symbolized the resurrection of Christ which thing they were now denying.