This is an extremely problematic text as even a cursory reading demonstrates. It is problematic because it seems to fly in the face of all that we know of Pauline theology and his view of the rite of baptism. Some of the exegetical problems include the meaning of “baptize,” “for,” and “dead.” The most straightforward reading of the text suggests that some of the Corinthians were being baptized for the dead perhaps with a magical view of baptism, that it might effect some good (i.e., resurrection life?) for departed loved ones who had probably not been baptized (either young believers or non believers). Did they believe that water baptism was necessary for entrance into the eschatological kingdom? They had a very sacramental view of things, almost as if the performance of rites secured the favor of God—that such rites operated of themselves; “ex opere operato” (1:10-17; 10:1-22)?
The Catholic church today has a similar approach to certain rites such as baptism and the Lord’s supper. Paul does not see the need to rebuke such a practice here because his main point is that there is indeed a resurrection. If the Corinthians were going to deny the resurrection, they also had to deny that this practice they were engaged in had any value whatsoever.