It would be easy to dismiss this as a new or unique interpretation of 15:29, but the connection to the practice of Taharah is one that has sometimes been considered in the past, without being fully explored. Bernard Foschini states that:
- “This …opinion originated with Theod. Beza who in his commentary on the New Testament published in 1598… interprets the phrase, to perform an ablution upon the dead, as to wash dead bodies before burial. ‘For Paul,’ he says, ‘took his argument from that burial or funeral ablution and anointing already carefully observed by the Patriarchs and mentioned in the pages of the Talmud.’”1
Later, around 1750, John Gill writes:
- “…it is also observed, that the Jews, as well as other nations, have used various rites and ceremonies about their dead, and among the rest, the washing of dead bodies before interment; see Ac 9:37 and this by some is thought to be what is here referred to; and the reasoning is, if there is no resurrection of the dead, why all this care of a dead body? why this washing of it? it may as well be put into the earth as it is, since it will rise no more.”2
Why, then, has this interpretation not been more widely accepted in the past and since it has not, why should it be given serious consideration today?
It does seem that in the past there has been a general lack of knowledge on the part of the Christian community regarding Jewish traditions associated with baptisms for ritual purity and the preparation of the dead for burial, as well as how these might relate to the understanding of 15:29. The solemn and private nature of Jewish immersion rituals and the Taharah ceremony—as well as centuries of mistrust and animosity between Jews and Christians—have contributed greatly to this lack of understanding. Recently, however, many in the Jewish community have made great efforts to record and make available a wealth of information regarding immersions and Taharah. Even a hundred years ago, information about these practices was not generally available but is now easily obtainable through books, websites, and even internet videos.
While this may be a new insight for the Christian community, I believe, based on my research, that the traditional practice of Taharah provides a valid context for 15:29 that merits new consideration and discussion. It is much simpler and more reasonable than speculations about vicarious baptism or the unknown motives of early Christians. Connecting the discussion to a known and cherished practice of the Jewish community removes it from the arena of conjecture, grounds it in historical reality, and greatly strengthens the argument in favor of the Resurrection. While many, as mentioned earlier, may still despair of ever knowing what “baptism for the dead” really means, this interpretation gives us a reasonable, workable, and defensible solution.
 Bernard M. Foschini, “‘THOSE WHO ARE BAPTIZED FOR THE DEAD,’ I COR. 15:29.” The Catholic Biblical Quarterly, vol. 12, no. 4, Catholic Biblical Association, 1950, p. 379f
 John Gill, An Exposition of theNew Testament (3 vols., 1746-8)
Copyright © 2022, Robert D. Claiborne