Clinton church of Christ

Baptism and 1 Corinthians 1:14-17

November 29, 2012

John Allan

In 1 Corinthians 1, while combating the problem of divisions among Christians at Corinth, the apostle Paul said:

I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, lest anyone should say that I had baptized in my own name. Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas. Besides, I do not know whether I baptized any other. For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect. (1 Corinthians 1:14-17, NKJV).

The question comes: “How could baptism possibly be essential and yet Paul say what he did?”

It should prove helpful in answering our question to consider something that was said of Jesus Christ during his ministry. In John 4:1-3 we read that Jesus “left Judea and departed again to Galilee” because the Pharisees had heard that Jesus “made and baptized more disciples than John.” Verse two is of particular interest to us here: “(though Jesus Himself did not baptize, but His disciples),”

The purpose of citing that verse is to show that baptism was occurring and being attributed to Jesus, but Jesus himself was not physically lowering people beneath the water and raising them back out. His disciples were doing that.

With the establishment of the Church in Acts 2 and the apostles carrying out the Great Commission (Mark 16:15-16, Matthew 28:18-19) there is no doubt that they preached baptism (Acts 2:38). This does not mean that every person who converted to Jesus Christ was baptized by an apostle; Acts 8:12 and 8:38 provide sufficient proof of this fact.

Just because Paul did not physically immerse them does not mean that he viewed baptism as unnecessary. It is clear in the passage we are considering that the Christians at Corinth had indeed been baptized. Paul merely stated that with the exception of a few, he had not been the one performing the physical act.

It is also worth our observation that Paul did not say he was glad he only baptized a few of the Corinthian Christians because baptism was not important. Instead, he said “I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, lest anyone should say that I had baptized in my own name.” (emphasis mine -JA)

There were contentions in the church at Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:11). Paul was grateful that he had not contributed unnecessarily to these contentions. Paul wanted unity, not division (1 Corinthians 1:10).

While accepting that the Corinthian Christians were baptized, some might still think that baptism cannot be essential in light of verse 17: “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect.”

Surely these words cannot be understood to mean that Jesus Christ attached no significance to baptism. After all, Jesus is the one who commanded the apostles that people should be baptized (Mark 16:16)! What, then, could it mean?

In Acts 6 we learn that in the church at Jerusalem there had been a complaint that Hellenist widows among the disciples were being neglected in the daily distribution. Was this an important matter? Absolutely. But notice what the apostles did:

Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”

That work was important, and needed to be done. But it was not work that the apostles should have taken upon themselves at the expense of carrying out the Great Commission. In like manner, baptism was important, but Paul’s primary concern was preaching the gospel: there were other able-bodied people who could physically baptize people.

Our conclusion, then, is this:

  1. Paul was not always the person who physically baptized people into Christ.
  2. Paul was grateful that because of this, the Corinthians could not use him as ammunition for their divisions.
  3. Paul’s primary focus was to preach the gospel: there were other people who could perform the physical act of baptizing converts.

When Paul’s comments are properly understood in light of their context and additional biblical evidence, there is no reason to conclude that Paul viewed baptism as insignificant.

This entry was posted on Thursday, November 29th, 2012 at 8:00 am and is filed under Bible Reading Notes.

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