I have for some time been persuaded of Joel White’s reading of ‘baptism on account of the dead’ in 1 Corinthians 15. In part, this view recognises that death is frequently used metaphorically in 1 Corinthians, as the apostolic (and general Christian) vocation. Thus, those who are baptised on account of the dead are those Corinthians who are unwittingly boasting over which metaphorically ‘dead’ apostle baptised them. Indeed, the very next verse says that Paul ‘dies’ every day.
Anyway, I was interested to find just now that JN Darby notes exactly this point – that Paul’s language of death here is metaphorical. He doesn’t quite make the further connection to the Corinthian dispute over apostolic baptism, but in the interests of showing that most classic of classical dispensationalists to be in the right, here it is:
Baptized for the dead
By taking the verses 20-28 (which contain so important a revelation in a passage that is complete in itself) as a parenthesis, the verses 29-34 become much more intelligible, and some expressions, which have greatly harassed interpreters, have a tolerably determined sense. The apostle had said, in verse 16, “If the dead rise not,” and then, that if such were the case, those who had fallen asleep in Jesus had perished, and that the living were of all men most miserable. At verse 28 he returns to these points, and speaks of those who are baptised for the dead, in connection with the assertion, that if there were no resurrection those who had fallen asleep in Christ had perished; “if,” he says, repeating more forcibly the expression in verse 16, “the dead rise not at all”; and then shows how entirely he is himself in the second case he had spoken of, “of all men most miserable,” and almost in the case of perishing also, being every moment in danger, striving as with wild beasts, dying daily. Baptised, then, for the dead is to become a Christian with the view fixed on those who have fallen asleep in Christ, and particularly as being slain for Him, taking one’s portion with the dead, yea, with the dead Christ; it is the very meaning of baptism (Rom. 6). How senseless if they do not rise! As in 1 Thessalonians 4, the subject, while speaking of all Christians, is looked at in the same way. The word translated “for” is frequently used in these epistles for “in view of,” “with reference to.”