Monday, February 16, 2009

Baptism for the Dead?

That must be one crazy notion if you aren't a Latter-day Saint. Or maybe it's not, if you understand the scriptures. Ouch, that might have hurt, and I know that I am no scholar, but a look in 1 Corinthians clears it right up. Or does it? I, personally, think it’s as clear as mud, and that it brings up a lot of questions for our consideration.I began my scripture study this morning and actually happened to turn to 1 Cor 15:29. Which asks, "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?" Now, this is a very interesting verse, no?

Before I get into v. 29, I am going to allow myself to digress into a discussion of 1 Cor 15:29-32. Why? Because context is very important, vital even. First, let’s read the scriptures:

29 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?
30 And why stand we in jeopardy every hour?
31 I protest by your rejoicing which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily.
(JST 1 Cor. 15: 31 I protest unto you the resurrection of the dead; and this is my rejoicing which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord daily, though I die.)
32 If after the manner of men I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantageth it me, if the dead rise not? let us eat and drink; for to morrow we die.

So, one can ask, what was Paul talking about before he got into all this talk of baptism for the dead? He was talking about the resurrection. Why? Because that is a vital piece of Christianity no matter what sect, or denomination you attach yourselves to. Why? Because if Christ was killed and wasn't resurrected, then he was just a man and he wouldn't have been able to redeem us and eventually "save" us. I don't like using the word "save," gives off a bad vibe (especially if you've ever been yelled at by a preacher that you were a sinner and needed to be saved). But I digress.
Paul writes v 29 to emphasize his point on the resurrection. The fact of the matter is that the people of Corinth were practicing baptism for the dead, and if they weren't, then they were supposed to be practicing it.
V 30 is a question meant to make the people think; Paul's reasoning: If the dead do not rise, then why do we put ourselves in harm's way to believe in Christ?
V 31 is the fun one. “Protest” is an interesting word, and when we think of it, it’s safe to say that most of us would imagine signs and disagreement and anger. Not so in this case, obviously. Another definition of “protest” is to affirm, or avow formally or solemnly. I think it would be appropriate for us to say that Paul was affirming something. Something. That isn’t so clear, which is why you’ll humor me as I turn to the Joseph Smith Translation (me being a Latter-day Saint and everything), so that I don’t drown. The JST of v 31 is Paul expressing his joy, because thanks to the resurrection, he can expect more after he dies, we all can. One note about me not liking the non-JST of v 31; with this many different versions and interpretations of it, can you really blame me? Maybe I’ll write an article later, just on that one verse?
V 32 is pretty neat, also. Who, or what, are the beasts at Ephesus? I believe that since he never physically fought any animals at Ephesus, he must be speaking of the people in Ephesus. And what does he mean when by fighting after the manner of men? Here, Paul speaks of reason and persuasion. Since we’ve cleared that up, this is basically a re-cap of what he has said in v 30. What is there for Paul to gain by reasoning with the “beasts” if there is no resurrection? I say again, if there is no resurrection, then there is no Savior, and there is no redemption to be had.

Long-winded, that.
So we see that Paul was speaking of the resurrection before and after mentioning baptism for the dead.

Let’s move on into some other interpretations of v 29, those are always fun.

I read somewhere that the Bible was incorrectly translated; according to this source, it is supposed to say, "Otherwise, what will they do who are baptized for the hope of the dead, if the dead do not rise at all? Why then are they then baptized for the hope of the dead?" A very intriguing idea, based upon our own understanding I might add, as well as the New American Standard edition of the Bible (not the King James Version, which they claim they're quoting scripture from). Who are we to say that Paul wasn't actually referring to baptism for the dead? This source cites the "incorrect" translation of the Greek word, "huper" which they say means: above, over, instead of, for the realization of, or for the hope of. And they also say that since it is used in another scripture as meaning, "for the hope of" (Philippians 2:13) then it clearly also must be being used in the same context in 1 Corinthians.

An interesting article is this one, written by a man in response (kind of) to a letter he received from a man in California. Unfortunately he goes into a long paragraph about how Paul suffers. Paul isn’t suffering; at least in the sense that this guy, Leon Odom, is suggesting. Paul is preaching the Gospel. He taught the Gospel and the people of the early Church for countless years, and made numerous journeys. Why? Because he loves God, he loves Jesus Christ, and he loves the people he taught (notice the present tense of “love.” If there is a resurrection, then he’s waiting for it, and is only dead to us, mortals).

Another interesting interpretation on the aforementioned scriptures, it is suggested that “the dead” is a reference to those who have physically died, and that those who rise are those who join the Church; in other words, as members are persecuted and die, new members take their place.

Yet another interpretation, and the last that I will touch on, is given by the Russian Orthodox Church. It states that Paul is speaking to the Corinthians in a mocking tone. It was explained on this website that he is actually chastising, making a mockery of, or straight up pointing and laughing at them for this practice. And why were they practicing it? It is because they’re silly pagans.

Fortunately for us, we have the scriptures that we can read for ourselves and make up our own mind about it instead of listening to what someone else has - or even what I have - to say. This bit about mocking the Corinthians wasn’t agreeable to me. Paul clearly loved the people of Corinth, and he surely would have taught them in a loving manner. I know from personal experience that if I’m trying to explain something to a person, or people, they are more willing to listen to me if I don’t mock them. Correction, not mockery, then, is the better way.

I pulled up a quote, which I will verify when I make the time to, stated by Joseph Smith. He said, that “the greatest responsibility in this world that God has laid upon us is to seek after our dead … This doctrine was the burden of the scriptures. Those saints who neglect it in behalf of their deceased relatives, do it at the peril of their own salvation." (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 1976, by Joseph Fielding Smith, p. 356-357, 193)

I altered the quote from the source I got it from, which originally read "the greatest responsibility in this world that God has laid upon us [Mormons] is to seek after our dead…” I did so because I think it is very important, even just as a matter of interest, to know where we came from and who our ancestors are. We are who they are, in a tiny way, and our children will have pieces of us in them, and so on. We owe it to our family to recognize them as having existed. I believe that if my descendants completely forgot about me, if there was no record of me at all, then I would truly feel as though I didn’t ever exist, and that it would be just as well for me to lie in the dirt and be dead.

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