Friday, April 25, 2014

Let's Not Miss the Point

Otherwise, what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead?  If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf?  Why are we in danger every hour?  I protest, brothers, by my pride in you, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die every day!  What do I gain if, humanly speaking, I fought with beasts at Ephesus?  If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”  Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.”  Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning.  For some have no knowledge of God.  I say this to your shame.  (1 Cor 15:29-34)

This morning at Bible study, we were looking at this paragraph and discussing how portions of this passage have been misinterpreted, misused, and misapplied.

Baptizing for the dead.  The most plausible explanation of this practice seems to be that those under the tutelage of a believer in Corinth who had not yet been baptized, might do so out of respect for the disciple-maker if he or she suddenly died.  This makes sense in view of how the believers were honoring their teachers, even being baptized in their names (1 Cor 1:11-15).  As a descriptive text, one cannot condone the Latter-Day Saint (LDS or Mormon) prescriptive use.  Paul uses the doctrinal error in their baptismal practice to demonstrate the logical inconsistency of such a practice if there is no resurrection.

Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.  This quotation summarizes the Epicurean philosophy which sought pleasure in this life as its goal. Opposed to popular belief, Epicurus did not condone wonton living.  He wrote:
When we say…that pleasure is the end and aim, we do not mean the pleasures of the prodigal or the pleasures of sensuality, as we are understood to do by some through ignorance, prejudice or willful misrepresentation.  By pleasure we mean the absence of pain in the body and of trouble in the soul.*
Epicureanism rejected immortality and taught that even the soul, though immaterial, also died at the end of this life.  Paul’s use of the quote should have had a dramatic effect on the believers in Corinth.  The logical comparison to their resurrection-less doctrine was this common pagan philosophy that had the same view of life’s goal and end.

Bad company ruins good morals.  An often misused passage to keep children in line, this is actually from the play Thais by the dramatist Menander, addressing the affects of a bad philosophy or worldview on one’s conduct (i.e., your thoughts govern your beliefs which govern your actions).  For Christians bad doctrine leads away from a proper relation to Almighty God, rather than leading others to Him.  As Psalm 1 points out, we are not to take counsel or example from those who openly dishonor the Lord, but we are to turn to His word instead.†

Both the doctrine and practice of the believers in Corinth was sinful, but they were still believers, beloved of God for Christ’s sake.  For that reason, Paul admonished the church to wake up as there were within the assembly who were not properly instructed in the ways of the Lord.

Shame on them for being lax, and shame on us when we do the same today.

* Epicurus, “Letter to Menoeceus,” contained in Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers, Book X.
† For current examples of those in Christendom leading some away, I recommend the Random Apostasies and Heresies series put out by Glenn Chatfield.

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