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Baptism, I Corinthians 1:17

Victor M. Eskew


            There are many who sincerely believe that baptism has nothing to do with salvation.  One of the proof-texts used against baptism is I Corinthians 1:17.  The apostle Paul wrote:  “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.”  The reasoning is that if baptism were essential, then Christ would have sent Paul to baptize, but he did not.

            Paul’s work in the city of Corinth is recorded for us in Acts 18:1-17.  Paul efforts were focused first in the synagogue.  “And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and persuaded the Jews and the Greeks” (Acts 18:4).  These efforts yielded positive results.  “And Crispus, the chief ruler of the synagogue believed on the Lord with all his house; and many of the Corinthians hearing believed, and were baptized” (Acts 18:8).  These are the actions Paul references in his letter to the Corinthians.  “I thank God that I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Gaius…and I baptized also the household of Stephanas:  besides, I know not whether I baptized any other” (I Cor. 1:14, 16).  Isn’t it interesting to find Paul baptizing several at Corinth, if, as some believe, that Christ sent him not to baptize at all?

            Paul’s words in I Corinthians 1:17 are a figure of speech known as an ellipsis.  Dictionary.com defines an ellipsis as “the omission from a sentence or other construction of one or more words that would complete or clarify the construction.”  An example is also provided with the definition.  The example states:  “I’ve been to Paris, but they haven’t.”  The words “been to Paris” have been omitted from the second clause.  The full rendering is:  “I’ve been to Paris, but they haven’t been to Paris.”  In I Corinthians 1:17, the following is the complete sentence:  “For Christ sent me not to baptize (only), but to preach the gospel (also)…”

            Paul was in no wise trying to discount the practice of baptism.  The true problem was in the thinking of the Corinthians.  They were boasting about the one who had baptized them.  In fact, they were dividing over this point.  Paul needed the church to understand that the one teaching was just as important as the one who baptized.  Both actions had been commanded by the Lord Jesus Christ (Matt. 28:18-20).  Because of the divisive manner of the Corinthians regarding the person who performed the baptism, Paul rejoiced that he baptized only a few people personally.  Notice again, however, that Paul did baptize!