Baptism for the Dead

In this addition, I'm going to address something that's always confused me (and I'm sure it's also confused you as well). What follows are some quotes from an article found on the Gospel Coalition's website. The Gospel Coalition (TGC) "is a web publishing network of 'evangelical churches in the Reformed tradition, ' founded in 2005 by theologian D. A. Carson and pastor Tim Keller." D. A. Carson and Tim Keller are big names in evangelism; The Gospel Coalition represents the burgeoning reformed tradition we see in a number of evangelical communities.

The article we're sourcing is titled What Does Paul Mean by 'Baptism for the Dead'?[1]


From the article: "Two conclusions emerge. First, just as Paul’s sacrifices presuppose the resurrection, so the Corinthians’ practice of baptism for the dead presupposes the resurrection. Second, since 1 Corinthians 15 is about resurrection of the dead, not gaining salvation, the Mormons take the passage out of context."

In an effort to adhere to their particular soteriology, they haste judgment. Resurrection of the dead is precisely about "gaining salvation." They might disagree with baptismal regeneration, sure; but to say that Paul's resurrection chapter doesn't have anything to do with obtaining salvation is errant. In general, Evangelicals would say that salvation is "Justification, sanctification, and glorification," which means that the culmination of our receiving eternal life is precisely when we're resurrected and glorified. What else are you resurrected to? Jesus himself says, "I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live:"[2] This is, technically, the beginning and ending of our faith.

The writer says at the outset,

The phrase 'baptism for the dead' is so obscure and perplexing, the meaning so uncertain, and the variety of interpretations so numerous that it seems wise to say it seems impossible to know what the phrase means. Given the difficulties, some wonder why we should even bother to investigate. But baptism for the dead matters, both because Mormons place extraordinary importance on it, and also because Paul uses it to defend the coming resurrection of believers.

Because Mormons teach a works plus faith system, the authors at the Gospel Coalition are forced to conclude the opposite of them when it comes to this passage in Paul. They don't want their evangelical readers to assume Paul advocates for any sort of baptismal regeneration. Still, the writer of this article admits that Paul was neither strongly for or against the Corinthian practice of baptizing on behalf of dead, un-baptized believers. They argue he [Paul] simply used their [the Corinthian's] practice as proof that the resurrection is a reality. But when you read the article, you're left with the conclusion that, in reality, nobody really knows what Paul is saying--but you can be "certain" he isn't teaching what the Mormon's teach from this passage. However, an unbiased interpretation would actually lead people to conclude that Mormons are consistent with the passage and evangelicals are simply uncomfortable with it.

The other problem

Herein lies one of the exact issues I have with the "illustrious" Paul; and I happen to finally agree with an evangelical on this issue: his words are "so obscure and perplexing, and the meaning so uncertain, and the variety of interpretations so numerous that it seems wise to say it seems impossible to know what the phrase means." I didn't say that about this passage, the evangelical author of a major Reformed website did. They wriggle and writhe around it; the Mormons accept it. I fully reject it. But why?

As it's related in a study found on Jesus' Words Only, a website dedicated to returning the hearts of God's people to following the one he sent, we find the following as it relates to Peter's words in his second epistle, third chapter.

In the King James, this passage reads, 

Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood [in Greek, dysnoetas], which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction. Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own stedfastness.[3]

Douglas DelTondo, of JWO, relates the following from his study on this passage:[4]

...The Greek word is dysnoetas. Let's see why by examining that word carefully. In Greek, dysnoetas has two parts--the prefix DYS and the word NOETAS. To determine its meaning, you simply have to know the meaning and purpose of each part. Liddell & Scott--renowned and premier authors of a Greek dictionary say Dys as a prefix means--we quote--"always [understood] with the notion of hard, bad, unlucky, etc., ... destroying the good sense of a word, or increasing its bad sense." This quote can be found at page 336, column two, top third, in their 1883 dictionary at this page link .

Hence, we know at the outset that such a word as
dysnoetas is intended in a pejorative sense. It has a negative uncomplimentary sense. Think for example of the word "utopia"--an ideal place, versus a "dystopia"--a nightmarish world where one endures great suffering or injustice, typically such as a totalitarian world. So a utopia when the prefix is changed to DYS is a nightmare world--the exact opposite meaning of utopia. See the definition at this link.

Then the conjoined word is
NOETAS. It means SENSIBLE. See Francis E. Peter, Greek Philosophical Terms: An Historical Lexicon(1967) at 130 ("logoi noeton" = "sensible things"); 128 (noeton = "intelligible") Cf. NOETA = thought. Hence, DYSNOETAS means "nonsensical thoughts" or "unintelligible thoughts" to reflect that the writer lacks any sense to what he or she is writing. What does that mean?

The problem is that writer's words simply don't make any good sense. They defy common sense.

Thus, it is clear the problem begins with Paul's fault by the word
DYSNOETAS used by Apostle Peter, according to its traditional authorship. Some of Paul's writings--not all--are said to suffer from DYSNOETAS."

There can be no doubt that Peter, if he wrote the passage, isn't exactly endorsing Paul's letters. The word he uses to describe his writings carry a pejorative meaning. Indeed, like the author of the Gospel Coalition article states, Paul's words in this passage have no real sense to them.

This also is my conclusion when it comes to passages like Philippians 2:6-7 and others like it that add confusion to confusion.[5]


Once again, the plain reading of a passage is unclear and it's because, as Peter and Dan Doriani of TGC relate, Paul's words make no sense. In fact, they destroy all possible sense and they help spread heresies. Maybe Paul was just making a point about the resurrection. He certainly didn't condemn the practice how some evangelicals do. The Mormons apparently have no difficulty following the Corinthian practice in a literal sense. While you may disagree with their soteriology, that's all you can disagree with. You can't condemn baptism for the dead because your own apostle doesn't. Thanks, Paul, for once again confusing the world and helping to bring heresy into it! 

[2] John 11:25, KJV

[3] 2 Peter 3:14-17, KJV

[4] Second Peter & Its Reference to Paul -- Note: all links in the passage are preserved for you to follow; edits occurred, but all content was left unchanged.


This is an on going study and is subject to revisions according to further studies.