Monday, September 08, 2014

Baptism for the Dead

The idea for "baptism for the dead" from 1 Corinthians 15:29 is probably a lot simpler than we make it out to be. First we should recognize that there was a variety of reasons someone would perform a ceremonial washing besides Christian baptism. Hebrews tells us that there were a lot of ceremonies in the Old Testament that used washings. It says, "According to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper, but deal only with food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation." (Heb 9:9b-10 ESV) We often just think of Christian baptism as the only washing, but there were other washings as well. That brings us to the second fact for consideration. If someone was to touch a body in the process of caring for a person, or burial of a person, a washing was required afterwards. Numbers 11 tells us, "Whoever touches the dead body of any person shall be unclean seven days. He shall cleanse himself with the water on the third day and on the seventh day, and so be clean. But if he does not cleanse himself on the third day and on the seventh day, he will not become clean. Whoever touches a dead person, the body of anyone who has died, and does not cleanse himself, defiles the tabernacle of the LORD, and that person shall be cut off from Israel; because the water for impurity was not thrown on him, he shall be unclean. His uncleanness is still on him. This is the law when someone dies in a tent: everyone who comes into the tent and everyone who is in the tent shall be unclean seven days. And every open vessel that has no cover fastened on it is unclean. Whoever in the open field touches someone who was killed with a sword or who died naturally, or touches a human bone or a grave, shall be unclean seven days." (Num 19:11-16 ESV) I may be wrong, but I believe Paul to be saying, if there is no resurrection of the dead why would one defile himself and have to go through the cleansing ceremony? We respect the dead person and believe in the resurrection, that is why we go ahead and prepare the body for burial. We carry the body to the grave. We do this out of love and respect for the person because we know their body is special and it will rise again. In our modern setting we do not prepare our loved ones ourselves. We hire others to do it. Even though our emphasis for cleanliness is biological and not ceremonial, we still emphasize the need for those who handle the dead to be clean. We also go to great length to prepare and bury the body in a respectful way. If we are theologically Christian about it, we do it because we know our loved one will rise again.
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