29 Otherwise, what will they do who are baptized for the dead, if the dead do not rise at all? Why then are they baptized for the dead?
30 And why do we stand in jeopardy every hour?
31 I affirm, by the boasting in you which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily.
32 If, in the manner of men, I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantage is it to me? If the dead do not rise, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!”
33 Do not be deceived: “Evil company corrupts good habits.”
34 Awake to righteousness, and do not sin; for some do not have the knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame.
Nobody knows what verse 29 means. I saw at least five different views in the commentaries I use, and most of them admitted to not being sure. One author mentioned 27 different interpretations of the verse and said he still wasn’t satisfied.
Some think Paul was referring to a practice among believers at that time to be baptized for those who died without being baptized. It’s obvious that there is no Scriptural support for this practice, but there is also no Scriptural (or non-Scriptural) evidence that it ever took place.
Some think that Paul was referring to new believers being baptized to take the place of believers who had died, but that’s not really being baptized “for” the dead.
Some twist the Greek around to make it mean that baptism, as a picture of our association with Christ in His death and resurrection, is “for the dead.” But even with the rearranged text, I find that a stretch.
So what does it mean? The explanation that made most sense to me is Bultema’s, and I offer it here with the caveat that I’m not at all certain.
Since there is no other verse or theme like it in the Bible we have only two things to go by; and that is the words of this passage and the preceding and following context. It is our conviction that these point to the blood baptism of the martyrs.
The apostle has before his mind the military picture of an army in battle array which is constantly thinned by death, yet always replaced by others that press on against the for. Paul draws many figures from military life In all his travels he met the clank of the iron legions of Rome, for the Roman Empire was based and built upon armed might.
And so he sees here the holy army of God constantly thinned by the bloody death of martyrdom. Why should they go through this all and be baptized in blood unto those who have already fallen, if it were not for the resurrection of their bodies. Martyrs can sing and have sung when consumed by the flames when they realized that they would soon get a new body in that cloudless resurrection day. It is easy to give up the old for Christ’s sake when the new body is in sight. Why maintain such a a lost cause, if Christ does not conquer death and the grave? The next verse strongly corroborates this view. — Bultema, pages 134-135.
jeopardy (v.30) — If there is not resurrection from the dead, why bother suffering for your faith?
I die daily (v.31) — probably referring to his physical suffering (Philippians 3:7-11)
in the manner of men (v.32) — from purely human motives — if his faith has no substance, then human motives are the only ones left.
beasts (v.32) — probably a metaphor for the angry mob. There is no record that Paul faced beasts in the forum, and as a Roman citizen, he could not be forced to.
do not be deceived (v.33) — tense is “cease being deceived”
awake (v.34) — tense is immediate action with continuing results
do not have the knowledge (v.34) = negligent ignorance — Some in Corinth were culpably ignorant regarding the resurrection and they were affecting the whole assembly.