1 Corinthians 15:29-37
Now if there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized for them? And as for us, why do we endanger ourselves every hour? I die every day-I mean that, brothers- just as surely as I glory over you in Christ Jesus our Lord. If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus for merely human reasons, what have I gained? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character.” Come back to your senses as you ought, and stop sinning; for there are some who are ignorant of God-I say this to your shame. But someone may ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else.
Paul’s argument for the resurrection of the dead continues with a question that has challenged Biblical scholars for centuries – “What do people mean by being baptized for the dead?” Many theologians, including Calvin, have argued that Paul was referring to the practice of a believer being baptized on behalf of a person that had died. Interestingly, there is clear evidence that such a practice existed in the early church, although, ultimately it was condemned as heresy and died out.
There is not, however, any evidence that this practice existed in the church at Corinth. (Indeed, it is more likely that Paul’s writing itself gave rise to the early church practice.) But even if such an absurd practice existed in Corinth, why would Paul appeal to this ineffective behavior to support his argument for something as important as the resurrection?!
A better interpretation is that Paul is referring to baptism as administered to all believers. When we are baptized, we affirm our belief in the resurrection of the dead (as we recite in the Apostle’s Creed). We might well interpret Paul as asking, “If there is no resurrection, why are believers being baptized with the hope and expectation of the resurrection of the dead?”
This is consistent with Paul’s overarching argument for the resurrection in this passage – why do we commit ourselves to actions that make no sense unless the resurrection of the body from death is real? He follows his first challenging question by then asking why should he put himself in physical danger, including fighting with wild beasts, if the resurrection is untrue?
Now Paul confronts the Corinthians and confronts us as well. If the resurrection is untrue, he tells the church in Corinth that we might just as well “Eat, drink and be merry.” And many of the Corinthians were doing just that. They had grown comfortable in their prosperity and in their culture, so Paul warns them, “Bad company corrupts good character”.
We must ask ourselves, has our commitment and belief in the resurrection caused us suffering? Has our faith exposed us to danger and challenge? We may not face wild beasts as Paul apparently did, but have we indulged in the company of our culture, become comfortable and relaxed, associating with company that is corrupting our faith?
The resurrection should mean that we are committed to something that is counter to our culture and counter to the influence of Satan in this world. Having that commitment will bring challenges, and may even bring physical danger, but having that commitment will also ultimately bring life.
Note: Each day’s devotional is written by a different member of the GRC family.