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Bible Dictionaries

Charles Buck Theological Dictionary

Baptism for the Dead

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A practice formerly in use, when a person dying without baptism, another was baptized in his stead; thus supposing that God would accept the baptism of the proxy, as though it had been administered to the principal. Chrysostom says, this was practiced among the Marcionites with a great deal of ridiculous ceremony, which he thus describes:

After any catechumen was dead, they hid a living man under the bed of the deceased; then, coming to the dead man, they asked him whether he would receive baptism; and he making no answer, the other answered for him, and said he would be baptized in his stead; and so they baptized the living for the dead. If it can be proved (as some think it can) that this practice was as early as the days of the apostle Paul, it might probably form a solution of those remarkable words in 1 Corinthians 15:29 : "If the dead rise not at all, what shall they do who are baptized for the dead?" The allusion of the apostle to this practice, however, is rejected by some, and especially by Fr. Doddridge, who thinks it too early: he thus paraphrases the passage: "Such are our views and hopes as Christians; else, if it were not so, what should they do who are baptized in token of their embracing the Christian faith, in the room of the dead, who are just fallen in the cause of Christ, but are yet supported by a succession of new converts, who immediately offer themselves to fill up their places, as ranks of soldiers that advance to the combat in the rooms of their companions who have just been slain in their sight?" Lay baptism we find to have been permitted by both the common prayer books of king Edward and queen Elizabeth, when an infant was in immediate danger of death, and a lawful minister could not be had. This was founded on a mistaken notion of the impossibility of salvation without the sacrament of baptism; but afterwards, when they came to have clearer notions of the sacraments, it was unanimously resolved in a convocation held in 1575, that even private baptism in a case of necessity was only to be administered by a lawful minister.

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Bibliography Information
Buck, Charles. Entry for 'Baptism for the Dead'. Charles Buck Theological Dictionary. 1802.

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