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)."