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“Christ Did Not Send Me To Baptize”

From Issue: R&R – Issue 44 #2

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).

This passage has often been used to maintain that the role of baptism is not one of essentiality in God’s redemptive scheme. It is alleged that if water baptism was necessary and prerequisite to salvation, Paul would not have declared that his divine mission did not include baptizing people. By making this statement, did Paul mean to imply that baptism is unnecessary to the remission of sins? Did he mean that baptism is something that God would not send a person to do since it is nonessential? A thoughtful analysis of this passage, as well as the rest of the New Testament, provides the answers to these questions.

In the first place, other individuals are explicitly said to have been sent by God to baptize—including Jesus Himself. Consider the following verses.

John 4:1-2—“Therefore, when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John (though Jesus Himself did not baptize, but His disciples)….”

Mark 1:4-5—“John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.”

Luke 3:3—“And he went into all the region around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.”

John 1:29-33—“The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, ‘Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is He of whom I said, “After me comes a Man who is preferred before me, for He was before me.” I did not know Him; but that He should be revealed to Israel, therefore I came baptizing with water.’ And John bore witness, saying, ‘I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him. I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me….’”

John 3:22-23—“After these things Jesus and His disciples came into the land of Judea, and there He remained with them and baptized. Now John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there. And they came and were baptized.”

Examine the relevant phrases from the above passages:

“Jesus made and baptized disciples.”

“John came baptizing and preaching a baptism.”

“John went preaching a baptism of repentance.”

“Therefore I (John) came baptizing with water.”

“He who sent me (John) to baptize with water.”

“There Jesus remained with them and baptized.”

Question: Are we to pit Paul against Jesus and John? Did Jesus and John do wrong by emphasizing baptism? Do the following three statements mean that the Bible contradicts itself?

“Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John.”

“He who sent me to baptize with water…”

“Christ did not send me to baptize.”

How do we reconcile the fact that John said that Christ sent him to baptize, while Paul said that Christ did not send him to baptize? If we are to conclude that baptism is not essential on the basis that Paul was not sent to do it, by the same “logic” we should conclude that baptism is essential on the basis that John was sent to do it.

Look again at 1 Corinthians 1—

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 (vss. 14-17).

If Paul was not sent to baptize, why did he baptize Crispus, Gaius, the household of Stephanas, and perhaps others? Did he act out of harmony with Christ’s directive to him? Why did Paul baptize as few Corinthians as possible? Because baptism is unimportant? No. He states emphatically the reason for not personally baptizing more individuals: “lest anyone should say that I had baptized in my own name” (vs. 15). Why was Paul concerned that no one say that he baptized people in his own name? The answer is just the opposite of what is typically surmised. It was because baptism is an exceedingly important action that is intimately connected to salvation.

To Be “of” Christ

Examine verses 11-13—

For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe’s household, that there are contentions among you. Now I say this, that each of you says, “I am of Paul,” or “I am of Apollos,” or “I am of Cephas,” or “I am of Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?

What did Paul mean when he used the expression to be “of” someone? He clearly refers to an authoritative positioning of a person beneath another. To be “of” another in this context means to have been saved by and come under the jurisdiction of that other. This relationship is inherent in the three questions Paul asks the Corinthians—questions that pinpoint essential prerequisites to being counted “of” someone:

1. Is Christ divided?

2. Was Paul crucified for you?

3. Were you baptized in the name of Paul?

First, in order to be “of” someone, that someone must accordingly be qualified for others to follow him, devote themselves to him, and place themselves under his rule, Lordship, and control. That person must be “undivided.” To be undivided means that he must have no rivals (e.g., Paul, Apollos, etc.), he must be your sole Savior Who is unique and unsurpassed by all others. His followers constitute a single body, of which He is the Head. Hence, the indivisible Christ makes no allowance for other heads or bodies. Your loyalty must be directed to Christ alone. Second, that person must be crucified for you. Third, you must be baptized into his name.

In view of these realizations, three additional questions are in order: (1) Is Jesus’ unique, indivisible status (i.e., His divine identity) essential to salvation? Certainly. (2) Is Jesus’ crucifixion essential to salvation? Absolutely. (3) Is baptism in His name essential to salvation? If the answer to the first two questions is true, the third must be as well. Since the text, by implication, answers all three of these questions in the affirmative, it further follows that a person is not “of Christ” unless and until he is baptized into His name. Baptism is so important to salvation, Paul was glad he had baptized so few, so that he did not contribute to the division afflicting the Corinthian church. Due to the divisive climate in the church at Corinth, Paul ran the risk of leaving the impression that baptism was disconnected from salvation in Christ. As Willmarth explained: “lest the faith and reverence due to Christ might be ‘divided’—and a part transferred to the distinguished administrator.”1 Far from minimizing the importance of baptism, or proving that baptism is unessential to salvation, quite the opposite is the case. First Corinthians 1:17 proves the essentiality of baptism. Without a divine Lord, His crucifixion, and water baptism, there could be no Christians. No one could be “of Christ.”

Endnote

1 J.W. Willmarth (1877), “Baptism and Remission,” The Baptist Quarterly, ed. Henry Weston (Philadelphia, PA: American Baptist Publication Society), July, 11:313.

Baptism and the Greek Made Simple


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