Commentary on 1Cor 15 Commentaries

(complete commentaries can be found at reference for 1 Cor 15, bold and italics added )

David Guzik Study Guide
for 1 Corinthians Chapter 15
a. What was being baptized for the dead? It is a mysterious passage, and there have been more than thirty different attempts to interpret it

i. The plain meaning of the Greek in verse 29 is that some people are being baptized on behalf of those who have died--and if there is no resurrection, why are they doing this?

First of all isn't this amazing - there is a "plain meaning" yet it is "mysterious " with over 30 different attempts to interpret it.
ii. Either Paul is referring to a pagan custom (notice he uses they, not "we" ), Some translations do not suggest any groups other than the Christians
or to a superstitious and unscriptural practice in the Corinthian church of vicarious baptism for believers who died before being baptized "Superstitious and unscriptural" - Based on what evidence? - other than 'we don't do it or understand it so it can't be ok'
iii. Either way, he certainly does not approve of the practice; And this deduction is based on what evidence?  The practice is never mentioned before or after this verse - where does he or anyone ever say they do not approve of it?
he merely says that if there is no resurrection, why would the custom take place? Go back to the temple page for a few remarks on the silliness of trying to prove the resurrection based on a false doctrine. 
The Mormon practice of baptism for the dead is neither scriptural or sensible.  Apparently some people believe that following "the plain meaning" of scripture is not "scriptural" and it is more "sensible" to wrest the scriptures without any foundation

Matthew Henry Commentary
on 1 Corinthians 15
But who shall interpret this very obscure passage , which, though it consists of no more than three words, besides the articles, has had more than three times three senses put on it by interpreters? It is not agreed what is meant by baptism, whether it is to be taken in a proper or figurative sense, and, if in a proper sense, whether it is to be understood or Christian baptism properly so called, or some other ablution. And as little is it agreed who are the dead, or in what sense the preposition hyper is to be taken. Some understand the dead of our Savior himself; vide Whitby in loc. Why are persons baptized in the name of a dead Savior, a Savior who remains among the dead, if the dead rise not? But it is, I believe, and instance perfectly singular for hoi nekroi to mean no more than one dead person; it is a signification which the words have nowhere else. And the hoi baptizomenoi (the baptized) seem plainly to mean some particular persons, not Christians in general, which yet must be the signification if the hoi nekroi (the dead) be understood of our Savior. Some understand the passage of the martyrs: Why do they suffer martyrdom for their religion? This is sometimes called the baptism of blood by ancients, and, by our Savior himself, baptism indefinitely, Mt. 20:22; Lu. 12:50. But in what sense can those who die martyrs for their religion be said to be baptized (that is, die martyrs) for the dead? Again its a very simple verse but because the professors and creed makers can't deal with the consequences of  its obvious sense it has many interpretations given to it.
Some understand it of a custom that was observed, as some of the ancients tell us, among many who professed the Christian name in the first ages, of baptizing some in the name and stead of catechumens dying without baptism. So after all this was not an unknown practice, the early church fathers wrote about it and the further you get from the Apostles the less anyone appears to know what its about.
But this savoured of such superstition that, if the custom had prevailed in the church so soon, the apostle would hardly have mentioned it without signifying a dislike of it. It "savours" of superstition {only because the knowledge of the Apostles has been lost to modern churchmen},  yet Paul approves of it by making it an argument for the resurrection
Some understand it of baptizing over the dead, which was a custom, they tell us, that early obtained; and this to testify their hope of the resurrection. This sense is pertinent to the apostle's argument, but it appears not that any such practice was in use in the apostles time. Others understand it of those who have been baptized for the sake, or on occasion, of the martyrs, that is, the constancy with which they died for their religion. Some were doubtless converted to Christianity by observing this: and it would have been a vain thing for persons to have become Christians upon this motive, if the martyrs, by losing their lives for religion, became utterly extinct, and were to live no more. But the church at Corinth had not, in all probability, suffered much persecution at this time, or seem many instances of martyrdom among them, nor had many converts been made by the constancy and firmness which the martyrs discovered. Not to observe that hoi nekroi seems to be too general an expression to mean only the martyred dead. It is as easy an explication of the phrase as any I have met with, and as pertinent to the argument, to suppose the hoi nekroi to mean some among the Corinthians, who had been taken off by the hand of God. We read that many were sickly among them, and many slept (ch. 11:30), because of their disorderly behaviour at the Lord’s table. These executions might terrify some into Christianity; as the miraculous earthquake did the jailer, Acts 16:29, 30, etc. Persons baptized on such an occasion might be properly said to be baptized for the dead, that is, on their account. And the hoi baptizomenoi (the baptized) and the hoi nekroi (the dead) answer to one another; and upon this supposition the Corinthians could not mistake the apostles meaning. Here and above, are over 10 different interpretations -- all possible depending on the number of words added or taken away from the verse.
"Now,’’ says he, "what shall they do, and why were they baptized, if the dead rise not? You have a general persuasion that these men have done right, and acted wisely, and as they ought, on this occasion; but why, if the dead rise not, seeing they may perhaps hasten their death, by provoking a jealous God, and have no hopes beyond it?’’ But whether this be the meaning, or whatever else be, doubtless the apostles argument was good and intelligible to the Corinthians. And his next is as plain to us.  In other words, they have no idea what it really means, they just know it can't mean what it says, even though what he says before and after this verse is "plain to us"

Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset and David Brown Commentary
Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (1871)
29. Else--if there be no resurrection. what shall they do?--How wretched is their lot! they . . . which are baptized for the dead--third person; a class distinct from that in which the apostle places himself, "we" ( 1Cr 15:30 ); first person. ALFORD thinks there is an allusion to a practice at Corinth of baptizing a living person in behalf of a friend who died unbaptized; thus Paul, without giving the least sanction to the practice, uses an ad hominem argument from it against its practicers, some of whom, though using it, denied the resurrection: "What account can they give of their practice; why are they at the trouble of it, if the dead rise not?" [So Jesus used an ad hominem argument, Mat 12:27 ]. But if so, it is strange there is no direct censure of it. Direct censure? There is not even an indirect censure.  That is not only strange, it is a logical impossibility - you can not prove a truth by using a false example - unless you at least state somewhere that it is a false example. Without that censure, both the example and the point he's proving stand validated.  (Note: Mat 12:27 is not an ad hominem argument either, but another straight forward declaration of truth that the professors won't take at face value)
Some Marcionites adopted the practice at a later period, probably from taking this passage, as ALFORD does; but, generally, it was unknown in the Church. BENGEL translates, "over (immediately upon) the dead," that is, who will be gathered to the dead immediately after baptism. Compare Job 17:1 , "the graves are ready for me." The price they get for their trouble is, that they should be gathered to the dead for ever ( 1Cr 15:13, 16 ).  Although he says "it was unknown in the Church," that's not what Matthew Henry said above or what some of the Early Church Fathers have said. But again he shows us that by adding enough words you can make it say whatever you want.
Many in the ancient Church put off baptism till near death. This seems the better view; though there may have been some rites of symbolical baptism at Corinth, now unknown, perhaps grounded on Jesus' words ( Mat 20:22, 23 ), which Paul here alludes to. The best punctuation is, "If the dead rise not at all, why are they then baptized for them" (so the oldest manuscripts read the last words, instead of "for the dead")? Although it may be true that the oldest manuscripts read "for them" instead of "for the dead", nothing is changed, grammatically "them" refers  to "the dead".  It seems extreme to try to attach a random unreferenced verse to the interpretation of this verse.


In the end they provide no light on the scripture - just a multitude of guesses - they don't have any idea what it is really about.