Tuesday, August 6, 2013

What did Paul mean by "For Christ sent me not to baptize"?

1 Corinthians 1:17, “For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel”

Some use this verse to say that baptism is not a requirement for the church today. Their biggest mistake is to quote the verse out of context:


1 Corinthians 1:
11 For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you.
12 Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ.
13 Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?
14 I thank God that I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Gaius;
15 Lest any should say that I had baptized in mine own name.
16 And I baptized also the household of Stephanas: besides, I know not whether I baptized any other.
17 For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect.
18 For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.

Points to consider:

  1. If Christ did not send Paul to baptize, did he sin in baptizing some as he mentioned in verses 14-16?
  2. If Christ did not send Paul to baptize and it is not essential for the church age, why did he baptize those? And why were Corinthians saved and baptized as late as Acts 18:8 under Paul’s ministry if Christ did not send him to baptize?
  3. Given that Paul did at least baptize some, including Gentiles, doesn’t it make sense that the context of verse 17 is verses 11-15 where contention was causing people to say “I am of Paul”? And doesn’t it make sense that the reason Paul did not usually baptize is as verse 15 says “Lest any should say that I had baptized in mine own name”?
  4. Given this context of Paul desiring to avoid contention by not baptizing, wouldn’t it make sense and match what Peter did with the first major conversion of Gentiles in Acts 10 where in verse 48 it says “And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord.”? Doesn’t it make sense that while Paul baptized very few and focused on preaching the gospel, that Gentile believers were still baptized by others, as in Acts 18:8?
  5. Paul said “For Christ sent me not to baptize”, but did he ever discourage baptism or clearly command that water baptism should stop? Why did Paul write a whole book to the Galatians explaining to them how circumcision is not necessary for salvation, but he spend zero time explaining and commanding for water baptism to stop?


If this is one of the best verses used to prove that baptism is not necessary in the church age, it sure is not a good one. The context makes it clear that Paul is saying he doesn’t baptize because he doesn’t want people to brag they were baptized by Paul. Paul focuses on preaching the gospel and rarely baptizes personally so he can discourage those who say “I am of Paul”. That is clearly the context, and to drag verse 17 out of that context is to do a disservice to the text.

In Acts 10:48 and Acts 18:8, Gentiles are clearly baptized after salvation and after Paul has been commissioned by Jesus Christ. The practice to baptize in water is not discouraged or clearly taught against in any New Testament book. Paul is saying that his main commission from the Lord is to preach the Gospel. The fact that Paul does not give many statements on water baptism or that he even says “Christ sent me not to baptize” does not prove that it is not essential.

My questions above would need to be thoroughly and solidly answered if 1 Corinthians 1:17 is to be used as a proof text for the position that water baptism is not essential for today. And if this verse is not a good one to use for such a position, then there are very few other verses to lean on for such a dogmatic belief and the entire structure starts to crumble.

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