Vol. 1 - No. 8
A Friendly Reply
"Baptism For The Dead"
by Leon Odom
I received a very friendly letter from brother Robert West of Sunnyvale, California, along with a copy of his article appearing in this issue of the REVIEW, wherein he takes exception to my article in the June issue entitled "BAPTIZED ON BEHALF OF THE DEAD." This should serve to show others that when brethren maintain a love and respect for one another, that a friendly exchange of views and thoughts can be both healthful and enlightening.
To my knowledge I have never met brother West but I have read some of his work in the past and appreciate him for his work's sake. I likewise appreciate his taking the time to share his thoughts with me as well as the readers of this journal relative to this most difficult passage of scripture. While his material did not convince me that he is right and I am wrong, he may just have the truth, so I urge the readers to weigh heavy what we both have to say.
One other thing I feel needs to be said just here before I take up briefly his material, and that is that neither of us are teaching conclusions which would cause someone to be lost should they accept the position occupied. We both also agree that the Mormons are UNSCRIPTURAL in their application of 1 Corinthians 15:29 as they use it to authorize the baptism in water of a live person "instead of" a dead loved one with a view to saving the deceased.
Now to brother West's article. I think that a word about the Greek word HUPER is in order just here. Brother West has said that I have over‑simplified the word HUPER by the definition I gave. I do not think so. While I do not qualify as a Greek student, much less a scholar, I am able to cite Joseph Thayer on the word under fire. It is true that the word HUPER is used in various ways as our brother suggests, but Thayer defines the word HUPER "instead of; in the place of" and lists 1 Corinthians 15:29 as a place where such definition is in order. While there may be some thirty different explanations of the word (and I was not aware of this), still Thayer says in 1 Corinthians 15:29 the Greek word FOR (huper) means "instead of." If his definition is accurate, the passage MUST be affirming that someone is baptized "instead of" someone else. That someone else in the text is "the dead." To deny this is to deny what the passage openly declares. Now we are referred back to verse 3 of the same chapter to make brother West's point ‑‑‑ but I submit to the readers that verse 3 serves to enhance my point. It reads, "...how that Christ died for (HUPER) our sins according to the scripture." The point is that the sinner should have died for his own sins. But Christ became sin for us. That is, He died "in the place of" the sinner. That is exactly what I am declaring about the Greek word HUPER. Just so, in verse 15, Paul is saying that someone was baptized for (HUPER) the dead. That is, "in the place of the dead." Hence there is no problem with the fact that HUPER appears in both verses 3 and 29.
Now for our consideration, would it be "an oversimplification" of the word HUPER (meaning "instead of") in Philemon 13? Here it is: "Whom I would have retained with me, that in thy stead he might have ministered unto me in the bonds of the gospel." Thayer lists this expression in this passage along with his definition of "for" in 1 Corinthians 15:29. The word is used exactly in the same way in 2 Corinthians 5:14,15. "For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for (HUPER) all, then were all dead: And that He died for (HUPER) all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him which died for (HUPER) them, and rose again." I ask if it is an over‑simplification of the definition "instead of" appearing in these citations? I think not. And if not, who is to say that when I gave Thayer as a point of reference that either he or I over‑simplified the definition?
Our good brother West inquires: "Is there any sense in which people are baptized 'concerning,' 'with regard to,' or 'in reference to' the dead?" He answers for us: "I believe the answer is a resounding YES (his caps‑LO)." Now while one is no doubt aware of death, and his appointment with death, that is not to necessarily conclude that that is what Paul had reference to in 1 Corinthians 15:29. 1 do not believe it follows that when people are immersed in water that they are immersed "concerning" the dead. For sure, in the passage under fire, the apostle, according to Thayer's definition of the Greek word HUPER, states that those whom Paul addressed were baptized "in the stead of" others who were already dead. That is exactly what the citation affirms. By the context I had concluded that the element was that of suffering. I still believe it!
Finally, brother West made an appeal to the plural pronouns "THEY" in verse 29 and "WE" in verse 30. The way Paul used these pronouns, as I view it, has nothing to do with my exegesis of the verse. In fact, I use the pronouns to PROVE that Paul included himself in the baptism of suffering of which he is discussing. Going from the latter part of the 29th verse we read, "...why are THEY then baptized for the dead?" We pick up the language in verse 30, And why stand WE in jeopardy every hour?" His affirmation in verse 31, "...I die daily." Brother West, it sounds to me like Paul included himself as being baptized for the dead as the THEY in the preceding passage. He used, in fact, the adverb of like manner when he asked, "And why stand we ALSO (in like manner) in JEOPARDY?" (ASV and NASV) With all kindness, I rather think this argument is lacking in foundation. For if the argument works against SUFFERING as the element of baptism, then it works against WATER as the element, and so one must conclude that he (Paul) was not baptized in WATER "in reference to" the dead. If it proves too much ‑‑‑ it proves nothing.
This is all that I will have to say on the matter. I have written all that I know about the passage and any further comments would be redundant and boring to the readers. I appreciate brother West for his views and comments and ask the readers to consider what he has had to say. If it is the truth ‑‑‑ so be it. And I want to likewise express appreciation to the publisher and editor of this excellent journal for allowing this friendly exchange. Brother West, may our Lord bless you richly.