Is there a legitimate ministry of 1 Corinthians 15: 28-29?

Is there a legitimate ministry of 1 Corinthians 15: 28-29?

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This is among the most controversial (or most disregarded) scriptures in the whole of the New Testament, 1 Corinthians 15:28-29:

When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things under him, that God may be everything to everyone. 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?

Neither Catholic nor Protestant commentators like this passage. For Protestants it implies a baptismal ministry to the dead. For Catholics it has no ongoing “tradition” behind it – nothing in the Church Fathers (to my knowledge) and no liturgy for this sort of rite. Thus, the peculiar ministry of the Corinthian congregation must have been short lived. Only in the modern times the Mormons took this scripture literally, and developed an ongoing ritual for the baptism of their ancestors – and everybody else’s ancestors

Despite a general reluctance to accept it as meaningful, the passage is there – like a piece of undigested meat disturbing a good night’s rest. The Pauls’ church was ministering to those who had passed away – the “Grandma” issue I mentioned earlier.  Significantly, unlike some of the other practices of the Corinthian Church, Paul does not reprimand or criticize it. Rather he cites it as a positive practice to buttress his own argument. The biblical scholar Rudolf Bultmann notes that in spite of the strangeness of this passage, it represents the authentic sacramental viewpoint of Saint Paul and of the earliest Church.[1]  The Evangelical scholar, D. A. Carson, writing on the issue in Christianity Today, echoes Bultmann’s position. He asserts that because such a ministry is mentioned only once does not negate its importance. But he did in not actively suggest such baptisms be performed. [2] Similarly, the dean of Pentecostal New Testament scholars and commentators, Craig S. Keener. He says it is a mystery for us, but clear to the Corinthians and cannot be dismissed.[3]

Here I should inject an incident from my ministry that occurred almost thirty years ago. My wife, Carolyn, and I were ministering inner healing to a woman in her late forties, whom we will call Mary – not her name. She had been beaten and abused by her husband, and was separated from him. During a tearful and wonderful inner healing session Mary mentioned that a beating from him, about five years previous, had resulted in an immediate miscarriage of a fetus that was barely two inches long. She was in the bathroom attending to her wounds and lushed it down the toilet.

In the Anglican tradition it is common for a priest to celebrate Holy communion for an aborted or miscarried baby and name it. I was a layman at the time and could not do that, but on a whim (inspiration!) suggested that Paul’s citation of proxy baptism was applicable in this case. Mary agreed to the proxy baptism, and since we did not know its sex, she named it “Billy” which could have a male or female spelling. As I poured water on her and said the words of baptism. Mary began a probing motion to her side with one hand and said, “There is someone here.”  My wife, operating out of her gift of discernment of spirits, distinctly saw what she was probing, “It’s a handsome boy, about five. And he is smiling and thanking you.”[4] Mary felt a wave of joy at this.

This was an apparition, and like all spiritual experiences but be carefully discerned. Some Evangelicals would say that any communication between the living and the dead is a sin of mediumship and cannot possible be authentic. Certainly, mediumship is sin, but that is not what is in question. Mediumship is communication of some spirit via the voice box of a medium, nowadays called “channeling” to bring messages for the spiritual realm. Sometimes mediumship occurs with various instruments, as in a Ouija board. These communications are invariably demonic.

But an apparition is the unexpected appearance of a spiritual being, possible a person who has died or an angel. Such events are not caused or “called in” by the living as in mediumship but originate from the spiritual realms. Apparitions can be from the heavenly kingdom or Satanic, so discernment must always be involved in evaluating an apparition. The Bible records that Peter, James and John saw the apparitions of Moses and Elijah talking to Jesus during the transfiguration. (Matt 17:1-8). All of which is to say that the apparition of Billy was not an act of mediumship and inherently sinful.

Now it is not wise to base theology on just one experience, but I believe this proxy baptism was suggestive to the proper application of Paul’s understanding on this issue. If it is repeatable, that is, if other women who have had abortions or miscarriages, have similar experiences, it could be as important in countering the sinful epidemic of abortions as the ultrasounds of fetuses have been.


[1]Rudolph Bultmann, Theology of the New Testament (New York: Scribner, 1955), vol. 1, 136. Bultmann was a theological liberal who did not believe in the miracles of the Bible, etc., but as a careful scholar who mastered the documents of Early Christianity. Better than most scholars, he understood the beliefs and mindset of New Testament Christians.


[2] D. Au Carson, “Did Paul Baptize for the Dead?” ChristianityToday (Aust 10, 1998).


[3] 1-2 Corinthians, New York: Cambridge University, 2005) 128.

[4] I presented this case in a dramatized version in my play, “Doing the Stuff at St. John’s.” in William De Arteaga’s, Pentecostal (and Anglican) Plays (and Postscripts). (Amazon, 2017). It was self-published and contains a woeful number of typos.

William DeArteaga

William L. De Arteaga, Ph.D., is known internationally as a Christian historian and expert on revivals and the rebirth and renewal of the Christian healing movement. His major works include, Quenching the Spirit (Creation House, 1992, 1996), Forgotten Power: The Significance of the Lord’s Supper in Revival (Zondervan, 2002), and Agnes Sanford and Her Companions: The Assault on Cessationism and the Coming of the Charismatic Renewal (Wipf & Stock, 2015). Bill pastored two Hispanic Anglican congregations in the Marietta, Georgia area, and is semi-retired. He and his wife Carolyn continue in their healing, teaching and writing ministries. He is the state chaplain of the Order of St. Luke, encouraging the ministry of healing in all Christian denominations.

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