Baptism as a Seal of Resurrection - Brakel 1 Corinthians 15:29

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Grant

Puritan Board Senior
For many years I have long pondered and been puzzled by 1 Corinthians 15:29. The interpretation as you likely know is readily admitted to be mysterious and faithful commentators often differ. I was pleasantly surprised today to come upon Brakel’s discussion of the matter in The Christian’s Reasonable Service, Vol. II.

Brakel devotes a relatively lengthy section on expositing 1 Corinthians 15:29. I recommend the full section and will give it below, but first I will just quote a few shorter snippets. According to Brakel, the key to understanding Paul is to rightly understand the reformed view of baptism being a Seal, particularly a seal of resurrection (spiritual and bodily). Today was the first time I had heard the view espoused by Brakel. He outlines 5 common views (he calls conjectures), which I had previously read and studied. He then lays down answers to each of the 5 conjectures and lastly espouses his own view. To be honest, the explanation of Brakel makes the most sense to me. I am hoping some Greek nerds can weigh in as well. I hope you find this section as fascinating as I did. Brakel’s view seems to eliminate all of the difficulties I have with the other prominent explanations.

I recommend the full section and will give it last, but first I will just quote a few shorter snippets.

A good initial reminder, pg. 511
Everyone chooses an opinion, not because he is convinced that it expresses the correct meaning, but only because he knows of no better one. Being currently engaged in expounding this letter for the congregation, we have come to this verse, and this gives us the opportunity to consider these words somewhat more carefully so that we may discern their correct meaning.

A brief summary of Brakel’s Conclusion, pg. 516 (the full section has his detailed argument)
Because of these three arguments it is an irrefutable fact that baptism seals the bodily resurrection of the dead. If we apply them to this text, the argument of the apostle is as follows: If there were no resurrection from the dead, one would be baptized in vain and baptism would not seal the resurrection of the dead. However, one is not baptized in vain; baptism does seal the resurrection of the dead, and thus, the resurrection of the dead is a certainty. It now remains to respond to two more difficulties.

:detective:
 
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Grant

Puritan Board Senior
The full section pg. 511-519:
Various Conjectures About 1 Cor 15:29 Examined and Refuted


There are also conjectures about 1 Cor 15:29, where we read, “Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?” This text has been debated very much. Also here it is true, “So many heads, so many opinions.” What benefit is there in adding another opinion to this? Everyone chooses an opinion, not because he is convinced that it expresses the correct meaning, but only because he knows of no better one. Being currently engaged in expounding this letter for the congregation, we have come to this verse, and this gives us the opportunity to consider these words somewhat more carefully so that we may discern their correct meaning. We shall therefore add that which we have previously put in writing concerning this as an appendix to the doctrine of baptism before proceeding with the practical application.

We shall first present various sentiments and give our rationale as to why they cannot be approved; subsequently we shall seek for a different exposition. From among all these sentiments we shall only bring up these particular ones and examine them; the others are too farfetched and thus necessarily negate themselves.

Conjecture #1: This conjecture originates with the Papists. We shall present this, not because it has a semblance of truth, but in order to convince them of their error. They are of the opinion that after death, souls are gathered in a place which they refer to as purgatory, to be purged there prior to arriving in heaven. They furthermore believe that souls can be assisted in this by merits, prayers, masses, etc. They use this text in defense of their sentiment, and interpret to be baptized for the dead to mean to be baptized for the benefit of the dead.

Answer: No comment can be made, however, upon something which does not exist. They themselves show by their behavior that they neither put any stock in this, nor trust their own interpretation, for they do not baptize daily for such souls, for whom they do celebrate daily masses (cf. vol. 3, chapter 51, p. 195).

Conjecture #2: Must one not understand “to be baptized for the dead” to refer to dying as a martyr for the truth? Severe and frequent suffering are typified in Scripture by water. “All Thy waves and Thy billows are gone over me” (Ps 42:7); “We went through fire and through water” (Ps 66:12); “The waters are come in unto my soul. I sink in deep mire, where there is no standing: I am come into deep waters, where the floods overflow me” (Ps 69:1-2). Furthermore, baptism signifies dying a violent death and thus, to be inundated and baptized with blood. “But I have a baptism to be baptized with” (Luke 12:50); “... be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with” (Matt 20:23). That these words must be interpreted as referring to the baptism of blood is also evident from the following text, “And why stand we in jeopardy every hour ... I die daily” (1 Cor 15:30-31). The thrust of the argument is this: if there were no resurrection of the dead, why would one permit himself to be killed as a martyr? That would be useless and foolish. Since it is not useless and foolish, however, there must of necessity be a resurrection of the dead.

Answer: Much needs to be said in response to this exposition. (1) Even though water is used to typify suffering, baptism never signifies suffering. (2) The Lord Jesus indeed expressed His being put to death as being baptized and also applied this to the two sons of Zebedee. However, apart from this, being put to death is never expressed as being baptized. To apply this to all suffering and to the death of all martyrs is unacceptable. Since Christ here refers to His death as being baptized, Paul would also imply death when referring here to being baptized. This conclusion is incorrect. It would first have to be proven; however, this is not possible. (3) The verses in 1 Cor 15 which follow speak of Paul‟s suffering and therefore do not confirm this sentiment. These verses are not related to this verse; they furnish new evidence in and of themselves. (4) It also does not agree with the expression to be baptized for the dead, which at best could mean to be baptized with death rather than for the dead. (5) It also does not harmonize with the objective of the apostle, which is to prove the resurrection of the dead by means of these words. To die the death of a martyr does prove that the person is clearly convinced in his conscience of the truth of the gospel, and that he will not deny it, but desires to confirm it with his death. This would not prove, however, that there is a resurrection from the dead on the last day, which it was the apostle‟s objective to do. (6) Furthermore, such an explanation does not harmonize with the text. Paul is not speaking here of martyrs; there is no semblance of this being the case. Rather, he speaks of those to whom he refers as “they” and not as “we,” “you,” or “the congregation.” He speaks of those to whom he has referred in verse 12 as some among you, who maintained that there was no resurrection of the dead. It is not probable that they would die for Christianity, for such persons could not have the resurrection of the dead in view with their martyrdom, as they denied this resurrection. This sentiment is therefore without foundation.

Conjecture #3: Must one not understand the words “to be baptized for the dead” to refer to the washing of dead bodies prior to burial? Such was the practice among the Jews. One reads in Acts 9:37 that the dead body of Dorcas was washed. Roman history also bears witness to the washing of dead bodies. Such washing was an indication of purification, and the resulting perfection of soul and body in the resurrection.

Answer (1) Even though the washing of dead bodies was customary among Jews and Romans, one does not know whether this was practiced among the Greeks and Christians in Corinth. That would first have to be confirmed. (2) It is well known that the heathen and Sadducees among the Jews denied the resurrection of the dead and that their washing of dead bodies was not indicative of the resurrection of the dead; it was merely a civil custom. The Old Testament washings performed after having touched a dead person did not signify the resurrection, but rather sanctification in this life. (3) This was indeed a baptizing of the dead, but not a baptizing for the dead. Therefore, this sentiment is also without foundation—yes, it does not have a semblance of validity.

Conjecture #4: Are not the words of the apostle “to be baptized for the dead” a reference to the custom of the first Christians who administered baptism upon the cemeteries of martyrs and Christians, doing so as it were before the countenance and in the presence of the dead, thereby expressing their hope in the resurrection?


Answer (1) During the time of Paul Christians had neither churches nor church burial grounds, nor separate cemeteries; how then would they be able to baptize there? Did they secretly gather the dead, half-burned bodies of martyrs, and did they bring them together to bury them secretly and then baptize at those graves? Would this have been the practice during Paul‟s time? This is not probable and we do not have any early records which would indicate this. Such baptisms would have had to be performed very secretly, a practice which was not as yet performed in secret during the time of the apostles. Public baptisms upon the graves of the martyrs would have caused a great commotion among the people, and therefore such a practice was in all likelihood not in vogue. (2) Furthermore, if such baptisms upon the graves of martyrs indeed occurred (a practice which is not believed to have been done during the time of the apostles), this would indeed give an impression of our mortality, and would also teach them to promote the Christian faith faithfully and to seal the truth with their death. This would not be a proof, however, for the resurrection of the dead, which is what Paul here endeavored to prove.

Conjecture #5: Does not the apostle refer to the baptism of dying persons when using the words “to be baptized for the dead”? Many postpone their baptism to the very last moment of their life, so that they may be kept from aggravating their sins, believing that sins committed after baptism are of a much more serious nature than those committed prior to it. There was also caution as far as the administration of baptism was concerned, since many, due to persecution, readily apostatized after baptism. They would be under probation and instruction for a long time; they were called catechumeni, that is, pupils. When such became ill and appeared to be dying, and if they were desirous to be baptized before their death, one would baptize such bedridden persons—called clinici—upon their deathbed. They were thus baptized prior to death, or as if they were dead. Therefore, the baptism of the dead is the baptism of the dying.


Answer: This long postponement of baptism is of a later date; it was a sinful abuse. The apostle would not have tolerated that in his time and would have earnestly opposed it. There is therefore not the least indication that the apostle would have had this in view with the words “to be baptized for the dead,” since there neither was such a practice during his time, nor was there even a remote possibility of its existence. Also, the expression “to be baptized for the dead” does not harmonize with being baptized at the end of one‟s life. The one could not use the word  (huper) and also not   (ton nekron), that is, for the dead. This is not the meaning of the Greek rendering. This conjecture is therefore also unsatisfactory. Since these five conjectures are unacceptable, one must seek something else—something which is well-founded and will be satisfactory to everyone; that is, if one indeed can find such upon close examination. A Doctrinal and Contextual Exegesis of 1 Cor 15:29 We shall thus seek to arrive at a logical conclusion.

First, holy baptism, when administered by way of immersion, vividly depicts death, burial and the resurrection from the dead. “Therefore we are buried with Him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:4). Here we do not have burial in view, but rather, resurrection. Secondly, holy baptism, moreover, seals the resurrection from the dead and, as is true for circumcision, is a sealed sign. “In whom also ye are circumcised ... buried with Him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with Him” (Col 2:11-12). I do not expect anyone to deny that holy baptism is a sign which seals the resurrection. We shall soon demonstrate this more extensively.

Objection: The apostle speaks in these texts of spiritual resurrection by regeneration, rather than physical resurrection, to which the reference is in this text. There is therefore nothing in these texts to confirm that the apostle is here speaking of bodily resurrection.

Answer: First, it is true that the apostle is referring here to spiritual resurrection. However, 1) this also implies the bodily resurrection of believers which cannot occur apart from spiritual resurrection and is a sure consequence of this resurrection. 2) The apostle also says that we are buried with Christ and risen in Him, so that baptism seals our union with Christ. Since believers are one with Christ, their experience must be identical both in death and in the bodily resurrection. The apostle shows this clearly in Rom 8:11, “But if the Spirit of Him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, He that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by His Spirit that dwelleth in you.” It is an irrefutable fact that the resurrection of the dead is inherent in the resurrection of Christ (1 Cor 15:12- 13). There Paul conjoins them in such a fashion that the one either implies or denies the other. If Christ is risen, the dead will rise; if there is no resurrection of the dead, Christ has also not risen. It is thus evident that holy baptism typifies and seals the bodily resurrection for believers.

Secondly, holy baptism seals to the person being baptized that God is his God, for they are baptized in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Just as the Lord Jesus proves the resurrection of the dead from the fact that God is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—God not being a God of the dead but of the living (Matt 22:31- 32)—it is thus evident that baptism, in which is sealed that God is the God of the persons being baptized, seals the resurrection of the dead.

Thirdly, it is beyond controversy that baptism is a seal of the covenant of grace and all its promises. However, to these also belong the resurrection of the dead and eternal life. “And this is the will of Him that sent Me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on Him, may have everlasting life: and I shall raise him up at the last day” (John 6:40). Because of these three arguments it is an irrefutable fact that baptism seals the bodily resurrection of the dead. If we apply them to this text, the argument of the apostle is as follows: If there were no resurrection from the dead, one would be baptized in vain and baptism would not seal the resurrection of the dead. However, one is not baptized in vain; baptism does seal the resurrection of the dead, and thus, the resurrection of the dead is a certainty.

It now remains to respond to two more difficulties.

Difficulty #1: The apostle refers here to a few individual persons and their activity. Prior to this he uses the words “we” and “you”; however, here he uses the word “they,” and this causes one to wonder whether the apostle indeed refers to the sacrament of baptism, since all are partakers of baptism.

Answer: It is true that the apostle here speaks of some individuals, and this strengthens our argument and explanation. One only needs to investigate to whom the apostle refers with the word “they.” He refers to them in verse 12, where we read, “... how say some among you ...” (1 Cor 15:12). They were the “some” who denied the resurrection of the dead. They were baptized, still belonged to the church, either administered baptism themselves or approved of baptism by their presence when it was administered in the church, which in turn sealed the resurrection of the dead. Such indeed could not deny the resurrection of the dead, for they would refute themselves by their own action. Such persons the apostle opposes in this chapter and in this verse, using their own behavior as a proof against them. If there is no resurrection of the dead, why are they themselves baptized, this being a seal of the resurrection?

Difficulty #2: This difficulty is the greatest and is the cause for various sentiments. The problem is this: Isn‟t something special and of great emphasis concealed in the words “for the dead”? If not, the apostle could merely have said, “Why are they then baptized?” However, the apostle adds the words “for the dead,” and thereby something different and special is being said. What it is cannot readily be explained. What is it?

Answer: It is true that the words “for the dead” have not been added in vain; they have special emphasis and they do not ascertain something else. On the contrary, they render the apostle‟s proof for the resurrection of the dead clear and forceful as long as one adheres to the argumentation of the apostle. In my judgment, the darkness and misunderstanding is the result of conjoining   (the dead) and  (huper), this being the reason that these words are governed by the genitive, since the word  (huper) demands a genitive. I am of the opinion, however, that   (ton nekron) is not governed by  (huper=for), but by a word which is not mentioned here, and which, by way of conjecture, must be added and be deemed as being present.

This manner of speech is referred to as an ellipsis: a concealed matter or an omission. This is very common in all languages. One asks, for example, “What is the price of grain?”; to which one answers, “Wheat is so much, barley so much, and rye so much.” Everyone will perceive that the word “price” is omitted each time, but must be understood to be there. One can likewise say, “The mayors of Rotterdam went to The Hague the day before yesterday, of Gouda yesterday, and of Delft today.” There is a double omission of both the word “mayors,” and of the word “went.” A common person realizes without difficulty that these additional words are implied and to be understood without this creating any problem or obscurity. This manner of speech is also frequently found in the Bible. Every language has its own peculiarities which do not flow very well in other languages and which become obscure upon translation. Our translators have therefore included that which is omitted, have placed it between brackets, and have printed them with different letters. Observe such omissions in Luke 3 where the word “son” is frequently omitted and included by the translators. Also in Eph 2:1 something is omitted which is expressed in verse 5, and is completed with these words, “And you hath He quickened.” Without adding this, the omission would be difficult to understand in our language; in Greek, however, one is as it were taken by the hand and guided to this. Consider also Rom 6:5, “For if we have been planted together in the likeness of His death, we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection.” Here the words in the likeness have been omitted and have been added and placed between brackets by the translators. For scholars it is sufficient to say here that this is an ellipsis; we, however, needed to explain this more extensively for the unlearned. It is somewhat difficult to cause the unlearned to understand this technicality.

As we now consider these words, we deem that   (ton nekron), the dead, is not governed by  (huper= for), but by anomitted word which also governs by way of the genitive. This is an ellipsis, that is, an omission, or something which is concealed. We need not seek far to find the omitted word. In this chapter, and also in this verse, the apostle repeatedly speaks of the resurrection of the dead (to be resurrected and to be raised are identical in meaning), and also mentions the word “resurrection.” “How say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead?” “But if there be no resurrection of the dead ...” (1 Cor 15:12-13); “For if the dead rise not ...” (vs. 16); “... if the dead rise not at all” (vs. 29). Thus the apostle as it were puts the omitted word in our mouth: resurrection. If you mentally add this, the text reads as follows: “What shall they do which are baptized for (the resurrection) of the dead?” Why are they then baptized for (the resurrection) of the dead? In the Greek it would read:  ()  , that is, huper (anastaeos) ton nekron. And thus the genitive proposition  (huper), for, and   (ton nekron), of the dead, is governed by the genitive of the omitted word resurrection,  (anastaeos). The use of “of the” in this construction rather than “the” does not change the meaning. It is common knowledge that we use “of” or “of the” to indicate the genitive; thus we say, “the book of books.” It is therefore not for (the resurrection) the dead, but rather for (the resurrection) of the dead.37 In Greek there is no change; it reads “of the.” Whether I say    (huper ton nekron), or  ()   huper (anastaseos) ton nekron, in both cases we have a genitive. If our translators had written for (that which is) of the dead as it is expressed in Greek:    (huper ton nekron), everyone would have perceived that the word “resurrection” must be understood with it. If one therefore understands these words with an ellipsis, that is, an omission, everything proceeds with ease, and is in harmony with the words, the meaning, and the objective of the apostle. Then there is no diversion, and no difficulties remain. One will then observe that those words for the dead, that is, for the resurrection of the dead, give emphasis to the apostle‟s argument, which is: How can they who are baptized for the resurrection of the dead maintain that there is no resurrection whatsoever? Why then are they baptized for the resurrection of the dead? Baptism seals the resurrection, which the apostle expresses more clearly when he adds to this, to be baptized for the resurrection of the dead.

Objection: Such a manner of expression referred to as ellipsis, that is, omission, is indeed used both outside of and in Scripture. How can one prove, however, that there is such an omission here, and that the word “resurrection” must be implied here, for then one would be certain.

Answer: One must deduce this omission from the verbal and doctrinal context which, without this ellipsis, would either be unintelligible, confused, or obscure; whereas with an ellipsis it is clear, intelligible, and coherent, expressing the intent of the speaker or writer well. It is in this fashion that one must proceed here. If one does not acknowledge the presence of an ellipsis or an omission here, the meaning remains unintelligible and obscure and one will deviate toward sentiments which are without foundation and which can neither satisfy one‟s self nor another. The one espouses this view and another person deems another opinion to be the better one. Because neither is convinced of the truth, but merely because they know of no better opinion, they opt for what appears to be most probable. On the contrary, if one acknowledges the presence of an ellipsis here, all is smooth and consistent in reference to the context of the words, the meaning of the text, the objective of the apostle, and the thrust of the argument. In one word, everything readily fits together and there are no obstacles. As far as the insertion of the omitted word is concerned, it is used repeatedly throughout the entire discussion found in both this chapter and this verse. The subject matter at hand, the context, and the apostle‟s objective lead us to the word resurrection, and they, so to speak, spontaneously yield it to us. The apostle mentions the word more than once, and he is dealing with the resurrection. I believe that no one will either desire, be able, or be willing to think of another word here, being fully satisfied with this fitting word.

Further proof for the presence of an ellipsis (omission) cannot be demanded. I deem that which has been said to be satisfactory. I am satisfied and have endeavored to satisfy others as well. We shall now proceed with the practical application.
 
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Grant

Puritan Board Senior
I was not able to get the Greek characters to copy/paste correctly, my apologies. So if you want to take a look a Brakel’s argument from the Greek check the monergism website or your own hard copy!
 
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Phil D.

Puritan Board Junior
Early patristic commentaries on the passage tend to focus on baptism as a sign of resurrection - which is of course co-aspect to the sacraments as seals in Reformed belief. Here's a good example.

Chrysostom (c.349–407); Homilies on 1 Corinthians, 40

After recitation of the sacramental and solemn words, and the venerable rules of the doctrines brought from heaven, we add this at the end, when we are about to baptize, we command them to say, “I believe in the resurrection of bodies,” and we are baptized in or on this faith.​
For, after professing this with the other articles, we are put into the fountain of those sacred waters. St. Paul, therefore, reminding them of this said, “why also are you baptized for the dead, that is, as dead bodies?—for on this belief you are baptized, believing the resurrection of the dead body, that it remains no longer dead, and you indeed by profession believe in the resurrection of the dead.”​
Then the priest, as in picture or representation, demonstrates to you, by what he does, the things that you have believed, and professed by words; when you believed without a sign, he gives you a sign—that is, in putting you into, and taking you out of the water, which is the sign of descending into the state of the dead, and ascending thence.​
 

Phil D.

Puritan Board Junior
In revisiting Chrysostom's sermon, he actually goes on to speak in terms very much akin to baptism being a seal of what it signifies.
These words therefore Paul recalling to their minds, says, “What shall they do which are baptized for the dead?” “For if there be no resurrection,” says he, “these words are but scenery. If there be no resurrection, how persuade we them to believe things which we do not bestow?”​
Just as if a person bidding another to deliver a document to the effect that he had received so much, should never give the sum named therein, yet after the subscription should demand of him the specified monies. What then will remain for the subscriber to do, now that he has made himself responsible, without having received what he admitted he had received?​
This then he here says of those who are baptized also. “What shall they do which are baptized,” says he, “having subscribed to the resurrection of dead bodies, and not receiving it, but suffering fraud? And what need was there at all of this confession, if the fact did not follow?”​
 
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