Christ Did Not Send Me to Baptize
1 Corinthians 1:17
"For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, that the cross of Christ should not be made void," (1 Corinthians 1:17). Some teach from this verse that Paul was not sent to baptize. That is obviously correct, for that is what the verse says. Paul was sent to preach the gospel. From this many will continue by suggesting that baptism is not, therefore, a part of the gospel, and since it is not a part of the gospel, it is not essential to salvation (Romans 1:16). Whatever Paul meant by these words, he could not contradict other passages in the Bible. If he does, his claims of being inspired by God are false. But why did Paul say this?
Some Questions to Think About
If Paul was not sent to baptize, did he sin in baptizing Crispus, Gaius and the household of Stephanas (1 Corinthians 1:14, 16)? If Paul had been sent to baptize, would this mean baptism is essential to salvation? John the Baptist was sent to baptize (John 1:33). Was his baptism necessary for salvation? Those under the "Great Commission" were sent to baptize (Matthew 28:18-20). Is the baptism of the "Great Commission" essential to salvation? Did Paul labor under this "Great Commission"?
What the Passage Does Not Say
It does not say that baptism is not part of the gospel. Wherever Paul went, he taught people to be baptized (Acts 16:13-15, 31-34, 18:8, 19:1-6). In telling them to be baptized, was he preaching the gospel of Christ or another gospel? Of course Paul was teaching the gospel when he taught people to be baptized (Galatians 1:6-9).
Jesus said that as a result of the gospel being preached men would know to believe and be baptized (Mark 16:15-16). This shows that baptism is part of the gospel.
It does not say that Paul was thankful there were only a few baptized in Corinth. If he was thankful that only a few were baptized, would he not have been more grateful had none been baptized? If that was the case, then why teach people to be baptized if he was thankful when they weren't? Believers in Corinth had been baptized, and though Paul had only a minor role in the actual baptism, he had taught them to be baptized (1 Corinthians 1:14, Acts 18:8).
What Paul actually said was that he was glad he had baptized only a few personally and gives the reason (which we'll look at in a moment). A friend of mine, Wayne Wells, suggests that it is possible that this is an "ellipsis" (an omission of words which must be supplied). If this is the style used in this verse, then the meaning of the verse would be: "Christ sent me not only to baptize, but also to preach the gospel". There are examples of other elliptical statements in the Bible (cf. John 6:27; 12:44). Whether this is the case or not, at least this does not contradict the Bible's other teaching about baptism. But the idea that baptism is not a part of the gospel plainly does.
The Context of the Statement
It is more likely that Paul was saying Christ did not send him to personally baptize but he did send him to personally preach. In the context of this passage the Corinthian church was full of division and they need to become one again. Some were claiming to follow Paul, some Cephas, some Apollos and some were following Christ (1 Corinthians 1:12-13). The context indicates that Paul often followed the example of Jesus in teaching baptism but leaving the actual baptizing of new converts to others (cf. John 4:1-2).
Some at Corinth were saying "I am of Paul" (1:12). This kind of attitude is sinful and should never exist among Christians. Paul was thankful that he had not baptized more than he did because he was deeply offended that brethren were using his name in such a way so as to bring division to the body of Christ and rob Christ of His glory (1:13-15). His job was to go out and preach the gospel, not to go out and baptize people. Baptism alone does no good, but when the gospel is preached, people hear and understand the good news of Jesus and as a result, they are baptized, then they are added by the Lord to His church. No one baptized in the name of Paul is saved, but those baptized in the name of Christ are (Acts 2:38).
Baptism Must be by Faith in Christ
In Mark 16:15-16 the apostles were taught to preach the gospel to the whole world. They were to teach that whoever believes and is baptized shall be saved.
In Acts 8:35 Philip taught Jesus to the Ethiopian eunuch. After teaching Jesus to this man, he knew enough that he asked to be baptized when they came to water (vs 36). These two passages show that baptism is part of the gospel and is part of the preaching of Jesus. To understand what the purpose of baptism is we must look at these and other verses that tell us.
The full picture is not given in one passage, but we must put all of the Word together to properly understand baptism or any other subject. We must read what Paul wrote concerning baptism in other passages and also see how he and the people that he taught throughout all of his journeys were baptized. To lift this statement out of its context and ignore all the others is silly. Consider, are these the words and actions of a man that believes baptism is not important? (Romans 6:3-5; Galatians 3:26,27; Colossians 2:11; 12). Also, what words did Paul hear about baptism when he obeyed the gospel? (Acts 22:16). Those words are the truth about baptism and its purpose.
By Jon W. Quinn
From Expository Files 5.10; October 1998