Mike Cope's blog

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Don't miss the speech Larry James includes in his 12/16/05 blog. - - - - Last night Diane and I went to "Walk the Line." Wow. Hand over the Academy Awards now for lead actor and actress. It took Diane back to her childhood. Her dad, Joe McKee, was a hardcore Johnny Cash fan. She remembers every one of those songs filling their living room. "Walk the Line," "Ring of Fire," "I've been Everywhere" -- that gravelly voice takes her back a few decades. - - - - Someone wrote me earlier this week asking about the meaning of 1 Corinthians 15:29: “Now if there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized for them?" Here’s my response: There are lots of attempts to interpret this passage in a way that gets around vicarious baptism on behalf of those who have died. I've tried hard to buy some of them. But honestly, as difficult as it is, that’s the most straight-forward interpretation. The one attempt to go another direction that I think holds some possibility is the one that suggests that the Greek preposition HUPER (as in baptized FOR the dead) should be translated "FOR THE SAKE OF" -- referring to the decision of someone who asks to be baptized because they want to be reunited with a relative who was a Christian who has died. This may not strike you as the purest motive for being immersed -- but pastorally speaking, it happens all the time. E.g., when my nephew died, there were several people who made dramatic decisions to turn their lives around . . . or start going to church . . . or (probably) be baptized. In the early stages this might have been sparked in part by a desire to see him again. I'm not saying this is the best interp -- the other is still a more simple reading -- but it's the best of the other options. It certainly sounds like some believers were being baptized on behalf of people who had died. The fact that the Mormons do this and we don't like the practice doesn't change this! So . . . a few comments: 1. There is no indication of whether Paul approves or disapproves of what they're doing. His concern right here is to press the case for the resurrection, not straighten out sacramental practices. However, it's strange that he didn't give SOME indication that it bothered him. 2. The reason people have searched for other interpretations is that (1) there is no other evidence in the first century of Christians being baptized vicariously, and (2) this doesn't fit what we learn about faith, baptism, salvation, etc. 3. Part of our difficultly may be that we think in very individualistic ways about salvation and faith. It’s hard for us to even imagine that someone in the community can do something like this on behalf of others. (And part of the reason for this difficultly is that it quickly leans toward magic and superstition.) 4. Whatever this DOES mean, it's much clearer what Paul is trying to accomplish. Here's a quote from Richard Hays, one of my favorite scholars: "In verses 29-34 . . . Paul gives some specific examples of practices that would make no sense in a resurrectionless world (vv. 29-32a) and concludes with a word of warning suggesting that the Corinthians' abandonment of belief in the resurrection has led the community into sin (vv. 32b-34). "The specific examples are given in the form of rhetorical questions that allude briefly to matters well known to his original readers but almost completely opaque to us. Rather than getting bogged down in speculative attempts to explain the details of these obscure references, the preacher working with this text should supply some analogous contemporary examples of activities in the life of our congregations that make no sense if the dead are not to be raised; for example, 'If the dead are not raised, why do we sacrifice our time and resources in running a soup kitchen for the homeless?' The examples that Paul gives are of two sorts: baptism on behalf of the dead (v. 29) and the danger and suffering of his own apostolic labors (vv. 30-32a)."


  • A million thanks for NOT saying, "Well, this doesn't make any sense but it probably means..." or "I don't know what it DOES mean but I sure know what it DOESN'T mean!"

    We struggle with passages like this all the time. I'm so grateful when we admit to the struggle.

    By Blogger Thurman8er, at 12/17/2005 11:34:00 AM  

  • This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    By Blogger Matt, at 12/17/2005 08:44:00 PM  

  • I think this ought to be the first of an occasional series in this space: "Stump the Preacher!"

    Next up: Why and how Jesus preached to the spirits of those who disobeyed in the days of Noah!

    By Blogger Matt, at 12/17/2005 08:45:00 PM  

  • I just read the speech from Larry James blog: WOW! Thanks for the link. Hope everyone takes the time to read this.

    By Blogger goldlenlocks, at 12/17/2005 09:05:00 PM  

  • And to go with that link, try this editorial (again showing, as Cal Thomas pointed out in the great piece Kristof refers to, that this isn't right/left but real, deep, abiding faith-formed values):

    A Challenge for Bill O'Reilly


    Let us all pray for Bill O'Reilly.

    Let us pray that Mr. O'Reilly will understand that the Christmas spirit isn't about hectoring people to say "Merry Christmas," rather than "Happy Holidays," but about helping the needy.

    Let us pray that Mr. O'Reilly will use his huge audience and considerable media savvy to save lives and fight genocide, instead of to vilify those he disagrees with. Let him find inspiration in Jesus, rather than in the Assyrians.

    Finally, let's pray that Mr. O'Reilly and other money-changers in the temple will donate the funds they raise exploiting Christmas - covering the nonexistent "War on Christmas" rakes in viewers and advertising - to feed the hungry and house the homeless.


    Alas, not all prayers can be answered. Fox News Channel's crusade against infidels who prefer generic expressions like "Happy Holidays" included 58 separate segments in just a five-day period.

    After I suggested in last Sunday's column that a better way to honor the season might be to stand up to genocide in Darfur (a calamity that Mr. O'Reilly has ignored), Mr. O'Reilly denounced me on his show as a "left-wing ideologue." Bless you, Mr. O'Reilly, and Merry Christmas to you, too!

    Later in the show, Mr. O'Reilly described us print journalists in general as "a bunch of vicious S.O.B.'s." Bless you again, Mr. O'Reilly; I'll pray harder for the Christmas spirit to soften your pugnacious soul.

    Look, I put up a "Christmas tree," rather than a "holiday tree," and I'm sure Mr. O'Reilly is right that political correctness leads to absurd contortions this time of year. But when you've seen what real war does, you don't lightly use the word to describe disagreements about Christmas greetings. And does it really make sense to offer 58 segments on political correctness and zero on genocide?

    Perhaps I'm particularly sensitive to religious hypocrites because I've spent a chunk of time abroad watching Muslim versions of Mr. O'Reilly - demagogic table-thumpers who exploit public religiosity as a cynical ploy to gain attention and money. And I always tell moderate Muslims that they need to stand up to blustery blowhards - so today, I'm taking my own advice.

    Like the fundamentalist Islamic preachers, Mr. O'Reilly is a talented showman, and my sense is that his ranting is a calculated performance. The couple of times I've been on his show, he was mild mannered and amiable until the camera light went on - and then he burst into aggrieved indignation, because he knew it made good theater.

    If Mr. O'Reilly wants to find a Christmas cause, he should invite guests from Catholic Relief Services, World Vision or the National Association of Evangelicals - among the many faith-based organizations that are doing heroic work battling everything from river blindness to sex trafficking. Indeed, the real victims of Mr. O'Reilly are the authentic religious conservatives, because some viewers falsely assume that ill-informed bombast characterizes the entire religious right.

    (I'm tempted to think that Mr. O'Reilly is actually a liberal plant, meant to discredit conservatives. Think about it. Who would be a better plant than a self-righteous bully in the style of Father Coughlin or Joe McCarthy? What better way to caricature the right than by having Mr. O'Reilly urge on air that the staff of Air America be imprisoned: "Dissent, fine; undermining, you're a traitor. Got it? So, all those clowns over at the liberal radio network, we could incarcerate them immediately. Will you have that done, please? Send over the F.B.I. and just put them in chains, because they, you know, they're undermining everything.")

    Some authentic religious conservatives are embarrassed by television phonies. Cal Thomas, the conservative Christian columnist, warned: "The effort by some cable TV hosts and ministers to force commercial establishments into wishing everyone a 'Merry Christmas' might be more objectionable to the One who is the reason for the season than the 'Happy Holidays' mantra required by some store managers."

    So I have a challenge for Mr. O'Reilly: If you really want to defend traditional values, then come with me on a trip to Darfur. I'll introduce you to mothers who have had their babies clubbed to death in front of them, to teenage girls who have been gang-raped and then mutilated - and to the government-armed thugs who do these things.

    You'll have to leave your studio, Bill. You'll encounter pure evil. If you're like me, you'll be scared. If you try to bully some of the goons in Darfur, they'll just hack your head off. But you'll also meet some genuine conservative Christians - aid workers who live the Gospel instead of sputtering about it - and you'll finally be using your talents for an important cause.

    So, Bill, what'll it be? Will you dare travel to a real war against Christmas values, in which the victims aren't offended shoppers but terrified children thrown on bonfires? I'm waiting to hear.

    By Blogger Mike, at 12/18/2005 04:33:00 AM  

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