1 Cor 15.29

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George F Somsel
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1 Cor 15.29

Post by George F Somsel » June 21st, 2011, 1:45 am

Ἐπεὶ τί ποιήσουσιν οἱ βαπτιζόμενοι ὑπὲρ τῶν νεκρῶν; εἰ ὅλως νεκροὶ οὐκ ἐγείρονται, τί καὶ βαπτίζονται ὑπὲρ αὐτῶν;

I am proposing an unusual unusual understanding for this verse. Thistleton (NIGTC, p 1240) gives a summary of views on its meaning
Verse 29 is a notoriously difficult crux: the most “hotly disputed” in the epistle (Conzelmann); “it is not clear precisely what this practice was” (Dale Martin); “everything must be understood as tentative” (Fee); a variety of understandings emerge “given the enigmatic nature of the practice” (Collins). By 1887 Godet had counted “about thirty explanations” for baptized for the dead,” while B. M. Foschini and R. Schnackenburg allude to “more than forty.” Wolff’s commentary includes seventeen subcategories with seven issue-centered general approaches.157 A vast literature stretches from the second century to the present day. Mathis Rissi devoted an entire book to this one verse, categorizing a mass of views on the history of interpretation under four main groups, with variations in each group. (a) One category adds σωμάτων to ὑπὲρ τῶν νεκρῶν, and identifies the dead with those who are being baptized. (b) A second view understands baptism as the suffering and death of martyrdom. (c) A third interprets baptism broadly as washing (where the Hebrew but not the Greek may use a common word). (d) The fourth understands this as vicarious baptism on behalf of people who are dead. Rissi rejects the “sacramentalism” often implied in this.
It should be noted that BDAG gives 3 basic definitions for ὑπέρ:

1. a marker indicating that an activity or event is in some entity’s interest, for, in behalf of, for the sake of someone/someth
2. marker of the moving cause or reason, because of, for the sake of, for
3. marker of general content, whether of a discourse or mental activity, about, concerning

I would suggest that what we have here is a classical use of ὑπέρ as given in LSJ: "of Place, over"

What we would have then is an early Christian practice of burying the dead under the floor of the church with the baptismal font being on top of the graves of the departed. Something of this is indicated by Re 6.9 Καὶ ὅτε ἤνοιξεν τὴν πέμπτην σφραγῖδα, εἶδον ὑποκάτω τοῦ θυσιαστηρίου τὰς ψυχὰς τῶν ἐσφαγμένων διὰ τὸν λόγον τοῦ θεοῦ καὶ διὰ τὴν μαρτυρίαν ἣν εἶχον.

This would be in keeping with Paul's discussion of the concept of resurrection in the context.
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george
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cwconrad
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Re: 1 Cor 15.29

Post by cwconrad » June 21st, 2011, 4:48 am

George F Somsel wrote:Ἐπεὶ τί ποιήσουσιν οἱ βαπτιζόμενοι ὑπὲρ τῶν νεκρῶν; εἰ ὅλως νεκροὶ οὐκ ἐγείρονται, τί καὶ βαπτίζονται ὑπὲρ αὐτῶν;

I am proposing an unusual unusual understanding for this verse. Thistleton (NIGTC, p 1240) gives a summary of views on its meaning ...

What we would have then is an early Christian practice of burying the dead under the floor of the church with the baptismal font being on top of the graves of the departed. Something of this is indicated by Re 6.9 Καὶ ὅτε ἤνοιξεν τὴν πέμπτην σφραγῖδα, εἶδον ὑποκάτω τοῦ θυσιαστηρίου τὰς ψυχὰς τῶν ἐσφαγμένων διὰ τὸν λόγον τοῦ θεοῦ καὶ διὰ τὴν μαρτυρίαν ἣν εἶχον.

This would be in keeping with Paul's discussion of the concept of resurrection in the context.
This is indeed interesting, George. I wonder, however, whether this wouldn't have to involve a considerably later stage of institutionalization and construction of distinct edifices for worship well beyond the "house churches" generally assumed to be the context of Paul's letters to the Corinthians? On the surface, this strikes me as somewhat anachronistic.
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οὔτοι ἀπ’ ἀρχῆς πάντα θεοὶ θνητοῖς ὑπέδειξαν,
ἀλλὰ χρόνῳ ζητέοντες ἐφευρίσκουσιν ἄμεινον. (Xenophanes, Fragment 16)

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Retired)

George F Somsel
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Re: 1 Cor 15.29

Post by George F Somsel » June 21st, 2011, 9:11 am

This is indeed interesting, George. I wonder, however, whether this wouldn't have to involve a considerably later stage of institutionalization and construction of distinct edifices for worship well beyond the "house churches" generally assumed to be the context of Paul's letters to the Corinthians? On the surface, this strikes me as somewhat anachronistic.
Floor burials were not uncommon in the Near East and had been practiced for centuries. That they might therefore place some sort of receptacle to contain water for baptism on the floor above such a burial would not be something requiring much of a fixed structure beyond the original burial and could therefore reflect the practice even of a house church. I think we sometimes assume that at an early time in the history of the church things were much less developed than they actually might have been. Such things as the quotation of snatches from some early hymn in letters and the apparent existence of some body of teaching which would be passed on would indicate some development already.

The fact regarding floor burials in ancient times was called to my recollection by an article I read on the recent royal wedding. While every school boy knows that there are burials within the cathedral, it was noted that there was one particular spot where an individual was buried (and I don't recall the name offhand) where no one walked on that part of the floor.
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… search for truth, hear truth,
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Mark Lightman
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Re: 1 Cor 15.29

Post by Mark Lightman » June 21st, 2011, 10:45 am

Hi, George,

I accept your interpretation. It's simple, it fits in better with Paul's theology and it passes the smell test. Either way this practice, whether baptizing dead people or baptizing other people OVER dead people, would have been a rare local practice, so your interpretation is no more far-fetched than the traditional one.

So the point would be that because the dead are raised, it makes sense to baptize people above their bodies?
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George F Somsel
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Re: 1 Cor 15.29

Post by George F Somsel » June 21st, 2011, 11:06 am

So the point would be that because the dead are raised, it makes sense to baptize people above their bodies?
The concept of baptism representing a burial and resurrection seems to have been a part of Paul's thought -- cf Rom 6.4
συνετάφημεν οὖν αὐτῷ διὰ τοῦ βαπτίσματος εἰς τὸν θάνατον, ἵνα ὥσπερ ἠγέρθη Χριστὸς ἐκ νεκρῶν διὰ τῆς δόξης τοῦ πατρός, οὕτως καὶ ἡμεῖς ἐν καινότητι ζωῆς περιπατήσωμεν.
This concept has continued to be a part of the underlying significance of baptism right up to the present day
We thank you, Father, for the water of Baptism. In it we are buried with Christ in his death. By it we share in his resurrection. Through it we are reborn by the Holy Spirit. Therefore in joyful obedience to your Son, we bring into his fellowship those who come to him in faith, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Book of Common Prayer, 1979
pp 307-08
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george
gfsomsel



… search for truth, hear truth,
learn truth, love truth, speak the truth, hold the truth,
defend the truth till death.



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Mark Lightman
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Re: 1 Cor 15.29

Post by Mark Lightman » June 21st, 2011, 4:46 pm

I would suggest that what we have here is a classical use of ὑπέρ as given in LSJ: "of Place, over" What we would have then is an early Christian practice of burying the dead under the floor of the church with the baptismal font being on top of the graves of the departed.
I want to make another comment on George's suggestion because I think this is one of the very few cases where looking at the Greek might yield an interpretation which is significantly different from the received versions.

I cannot find any well-known translation which does not render ὑπέρ as either "for" or "on behalf of." The MG versions have δια/για which basically means "for the dead."

Ann Nyland in the Source New Testament has "If the dead do not rise, then what's the point of of being baptized in connection with death?" Her note says "ὑπέρ with the genitive is used by Paul as identical with certain uses of περί, notably 'concerning,' 'about,' 'in connection with....'"

I have a hard time believing that Paul would not condemn the practice of vicariously baptizing dead people, so I am drawn to another understanding of the verse. I think George's take is more plausible than Nyland's.
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Jason Hare
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Re: 1 Cor 15.29

Post by Jason Hare » June 22nd, 2011, 8:03 pm

George F Somsel wrote:That they might therefore place some sort of receptacle to contain water for baptism on the floor above such a burial would not be something requiring much of a fixed structure beyond the original burial and could therefore reflect the practice even of a house church.
George,

I'm not sure what kind of "receptacle" you're thinking of here, though. Baptism surely followed the custom of the Jewish mikvah, didn't it? The concept was that the water needed to be flowing (or at least have a living source). Jesus was baptized in the Jordan, as were many others who came to John the Baptizer. Do you know anything about the traditions of the Qumran community, who also had baptism as a regular routine (not just once for all their lives)? Did their baptismal baths require living water? Were you envisioning something like a bucket? I think that the baptismal tradition would have required something a bit more fixed (and also larger) than what I'm imagining in your suggestion. Has anything like this been uncovered from the period in archaeology?

Thanks,
Jason
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Jason A. Hare
Tel Aviv, Israel

George F Somsel
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Re: 1 Cor 15.29

Post by George F Somsel » June 22nd, 2011, 8:29 pm

I'm not sure what kind of "receptacle" you're thinking of here, though. Baptism surely followed the custom of the Jewish mikvah, didn't it? The concept was that the water needed to be flowing (or at least have a living source). Jesus was baptized in the Jordan, as were many others who came to John the Baptizer. Do you know anything about the traditions of the Qumran community, who also had baptism as a regular routine (not just once for all their lives)? Did their baptismal baths require living water? Were you envisioning something like a bucket? I think that the baptismal tradition would have required something a bit more fixed (and also larger) than what I'm imagining in your suggestion. Has anything like this been uncovered from the period in archaeology?
I seriously doubt that it was the practice of the early Church to follow the Jewish mikvah pattern. If we can ascribe any historical reality to Acts, we see in Ac 16 that Paul and Silas were dragged before the magistrates in the city market
Ἰδόντες δὲ οἱ κύριοι αὐτῆς ὅτι ἐξῆλθεν ἡ ἐλπὶς τῆς ἐργασίας αὐτῶν, ἐπιλαβόμενοι τὸν Παῦλον καὶ τὸν Σιλᾶν εἵλκυσαν εἰς τὴν ἀγορὰν ἐπὶ τοὺς ἄρχοντας
After being beaten they were remanded to the local hoosegow where the now famous story of the earthquake and the conversion of the Philippian jailer occurred. According to the text,
καὶ παραλαβὼν αὐτοὺς ἐν ἐκείνῃ τῇ ὥρᾳ τῆς νυκτὸς ἔλουσεν ἀπὸ τῶν πληγῶν, καὶ ἐβαπτίσθη αὐτὸς καὶ οἱ αὐτοῦ πάντες παραχρῆμα
Since this was within the confines of the city, the natural source of water would be the city water supply -- whatever that may have been. If there was something more than a well such as a fountain, I doubt that they would have immersed them in the public drinking supply. It is more likely that water was poured over their heads in the administration of the rite. Even if we do not understand the Acts account as being historically correct, it is nevertheless a depiction of what the writer thought would have occurred.
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george
gfsomsel



… search for truth, hear truth,
learn truth, love truth, speak the truth, hold the truth,
defend the truth till death.



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