One of Paul’s arguments for the resurrection is baptism for the dead: “What will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why then are they baptized for them?” (1 Corinthians 15:29). Paul is referring to Numbers 19, where those who are defiled by contact with dead bodies. They are sprinkled with a concoction of water and ashes to raise them from their ceremonial death. Paul sees an analogy between that rite and Christian baptism that cleanses from dead works.

If this is Paul’s argument, then it provides some insight to persistent debates concerning the mode of baptism. The rite of Numbers 19 involves sprinkling (vv. 13, 18, 20), and if Numbers 19 is a figure of Christian baptism, then we may be able to draw the inference that Christian baptism for the dead should also be in the mode of sprinkling.

Articles by Peter J. Leithart