Question: What is the explanation of 1 Corinthians 15:29: "What will they do who are baptized for the dead, if the dead do not rise at all? Why then are they baptized for the dead?"
In Paul's time, there seems to have been a custom in which people were baptized on behalf of those who, for one reason or another, had died without baptism. The above verse is the only reference in Scripture to this custom. It evidently was not a custom that the Bible commanded or sanctioned. Paul was not sanctioning it here. He simply referred to it as existing, and he referred to those who practiced it as showing that they believed in the resurrection, for otherwise this baptism for the dead would have no significance.
The custom of baptism for the dead was practiced for a time, but only among heretics. It was repudiated by the church. Many customs crept into the church very early on that were NOT of God, that the apostles did not endorse, and that ought not to be followed by us. The Mormons practice the custom today, and this verse, which they use as a warrant for it, does not support the custom. Certainly, if Paul had wanted us to follow this custom, he would have at least have endorsed it, and he did NOT. When we look at the verse carefully, we see that Paul not only did NOT endorse it but also by implication rejected it, for he separated himself from the custom by saying, "What will "they" do who are baptized for the dead?" By this word "they", he not only separated those to whom he wrote from this third party who were baptized for the dead.
~R. A. Torry~