Your devotional on the “hard verses” spurred me to ask about a verse I’ve never understood in light of the rest of scripture: I Cor. 15:29–“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?” I don’t know of any Christian church that baptizes for the dead. What does this verse mean?
The Mormon church has the only widely held practice of “baptism for the dead”. You may read a good answer to the Mormon practice here.
As for the Christian church of the Bible, you are correct, there are no major or well known church groups practicing it.
1 Corinthians 15:29 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? (NKJV)
So what is the Bible talking about? Many explanations have been offered, from the ridiculous to the highly complicated but the fact is, there is no DEFINITIVE answer. It is a very difficult verse.
Here is what I believe to be the most likely meaning of this difficult verse:
The entire chapter is about the resurrection. Paul was explaining the “Christian” version. The pagans around Corinth obviously believed in the resurrection (the “afterlife”), demonstrated by their practice of “baptism for the dead” as a way to assure a good afterlife.
So Paul was saying in essence, “even you believe in the resurrection as demonstrated by your baptism for the dead; if you don’t believe in the resurrection, why are you practicing ‘baptism for the dead’?”
Remember, Paul was preaching about the resurrection. So he seemed to be emphazing that the “resurrection” wasn’t some crazy idea, because even the local pagans believed in it (as demonstrated by the practice of “baptizing the dead” to get a good afterlife).
Paul, as he did often, was using local custom and practice to make his preaching more understandable and relevant for his audience.