1 Corinthians 15:29
Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why then are they baptized for the dead?
He takes in hand again another topic, establishing what he said at one time from what God does , and at another from the very things which they practice. And this also is no small plea for the defence of any cause when a man brings forward the gainsayers themselves as witnessing by their own actions what he affirms. What then is that which he means? Or will you that I should first mention how they who are infected with the Marcionite heresy pervert this expression? And I know indeed that I shall excite much laughter; nevertheless, even on this account most of all I will mention it that you may the more completely avoid this disease: viz., when any Catechumen departs among them, having concealed the living man under the couch of the dead, they approach the corpse and talk with him, and ask him if he wishes to receive baptism; then when he makes no answer, he that is concealed underneath says in his stead that of course he should wish to be baptized; and so they baptize him instead of the departed, like men jesting upon the stage. So great power has the devil over the souls of careless sinners.
Then being called to account, they allege this expression, saying that even the Apostle has said, ‘They who are baptized for the dead.’ Do you see their extreme ridiculousness? Is it meet then to answer these things? I trow not; unless it were necessary to discourse with madmen of what they in their frenzy utter. But that none of the more exceedingly simple folk may be led captive, one must needs submit to answer even these men. As thus, if this was Paul's meaning wherefore did God threaten him that is not baptized? For it is impossible that any should not be baptized henceforth, this being once devised: and besides, the fault no longer lies with the dead, but with the living.
But to whom spoke he, ‘Unless you eat My flesh, and drink My blood, you have no life in yourselves?’ John 6:53 To the living, or to the dead, tell me? And again, ‘Unless a man be born again of water and of the Spirit, he cannot see the kingdom of God.’ John 3:5 For if this be permitted, and there be no need of the mind of the receiver nor of his assent while he lives, what hinders both Greeks and Jews thus to become believers, other men after their decease doing these things in their stead?
But not to prolong fruitless toil in cutting asunder their petty spiders' webs , come let us unfold unto you the force of this expression. What then is Paul speaking of?
2. But first I wish to remind you who are initiated of the response , which on that evening they who introduce you to the mysteries bid you make; and then I will also explain the saying of Paul: so this likewise will be clearer to you; we after all the other things adding this which Paul now says. And I desire indeed expressly to utter it, but I dare not on account of the uninitiated; for these add a difficulty to our exposition, compelling us either not to speak clearly or to declare unto them the ineffable mysteries. Nevertheless, as I may be able, I will speak as through a veil.
As thus: after the enunciation of those mystical and fearful words, and the awful rules of the doctrines which have come down from heaven, this also we add at the end when we are about to baptize, bidding them say, ‘I believe in the resurrection of the dead,’ and upon this faith we are baptized. For after we have confessed this together with the rest, then at last are we let down into the fountain of those sacred streams. This therefore Paul recalling to their minds said, ‘if there be no resurrection, why are you then baptized for the dead ?’ i.e., the dead bodies. For in fact with a view to this are you baptized, the resurrection of your dead body, believing that it no longer remains dead. And thou indeed in the words makest mention of a resurrection of the dead; but the priest, as in a kind of image, signifies to you by very deed the things which you have believed and confessed in words. When without a sign you believe, then he gives you the sign also; when you have done your own part, then also does God fully assure you.
How and in what manner? By the water. For the being baptized and immersed and then emerging, is a symbol of the descent into Hades and return thence. Wherefore also Paul calls baptism a burial, saying, ‘Therefore we are buried with Him by baptism into death.’ Romans 6:4 By this he makes that also which is to come credible, I mean, the resurrection of our bodies. For the blotting out sins is a much greater thing than the raising up of a body. And this Christ declaring, said, ‘For whether is easier to say, Your sins are forgiven, or to say, Take up your bed, and walk?’ Matthew 9:5 ‘The former is the more difficult,’ says He, ‘but since you disbelieve it as being hidden, and make the easier instead of the more difficult the demonstration of my power, neither will I refuse to afford you this proof.’ Then says He to the paralytic, ‘Arise, take up your bed, and go unto your house.’
‘And how is this difficult,’ says one, ‘when it is possible to kings also and rulers? For they too forgive adulterers and homicides.’ You are jesting, O man, who sayest these things. For to forgive sins with God only is possible. But rulers and kings, whether it is adulterers whom they forgive or homicides, release them indeed from the present punishment; but their sin they do not purge out. Though they should advance to offices them that have been forgiven, though they should invest them with the purple itself, though they should set the diadem upon their heads, yet so they would only make them kings, but could not free them from their sin. It being God alone who does this; which accordingly in the Laver of Regeneration He will bring to pass. For His grace touches the very soul, and thence plucks up the sin by the root.
Here is the reason why he that has been forgiven by the king may be seen with his soul yet impure, but the soul of the baptized no longer so, but purer than the very sun-beams, and such as it was originally formed, nay rather much better than that. For it is blessed with a Spirit, on every side enkindling it and making its holiness intense. And as when you are recasting iron or gold you make it pure and new once more, just so the Holy Ghost also, recasting the soul in baptism as in a furnace and consuming its sins, causes it to glisten with more purity than all purest gold.
Further, the credibility of the resurrection of our bodies he signifies to you again from what follows: viz., that since sin brought in death, now that the root is dried up, one must not after that doubt of the destruction of the fruit. Therefore having first mentioned ‘the forgiveness of sins,’ you next confess also ‘the resurrection of the dead;’ the one guides you as by hand on to the other.
Yet again, because the term Resurrection is not sufficient to indicate the whole: for many after rising have again departed, as those in the Old Testament, as Lazarus, as they at the time of the crucifixion: one is bid to say, ‘and the life everlasting,’ that none may any longer have a notion of death after that resurrection.
These words therefore Paul recalling to their minds, says, ‘What shall they do which are baptized for the dead?’ ‘For if there be no resurrection,’ says he, ‘these words are but scenery. If there be no resurrection, how persuade we them to believe things which we do not bestow?’ Just as if a person bidding another to deliver a document to the effect that he had received so much, should never give the sum named therein, yet after the subscription should demand of him the specified monies. What then will remain for the subscriber to do, now that he has made himself responsible, without having received what he admitted he had received? This then he here says of those who are baptized also. ‘What shall they do which are baptized,’ says he, ‘having subscribed to the resurrection of dead bodies, and not receiving it, but suffering fraud? And what need was there at all of this confession, if the fact did not follow?’
St John Chrysostom.
Edited by Olga, 08 September 2014 - 10:59 PM.
Added paragraph spaces for ease of reading