Was baptism for the dead ever taught or practiced in biblical times?
The Bible provides textual evidence of vicarious baptism for the dead. In his first epistle to the Corinthians, Paul wrote: "Otherwise, what shall they do who are being baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are they being baptized for them" (1 Corinthians 15:29). This verse is part of Paul's argument against those who denied a future resurrection. He refers to a practice of vicarious baptism, a practice for which we have no other evidence in the Pauline epistles or other New Testament writings. Interpreters have puzzled over the fact that Paul seems to accept this practice. He clearly refers to a distinct group within the Church, a group that he accuses of inconsistency between ritual and doctrine. Ancient commentators (A.D. 150) knew of vicarious baptism for the dead but considered it heretical, interpreting Paul's comment away. But in light of this and other biblical statements, most modern theologians agree that Paul was speaking plainly about a practice within the Church of vicarious baptism for the dead.
Krister Stendahl -
Krister Stendahl has been the dean of the Harvard School of Theology.