It is written:
For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:13)
When the Apostle Paul wrote this statement to the church of God at Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:1-3), they needed a desperate and firm reminder of their unity. They were beset with terrible divisions within (1 Corinthians 1:10-13), which Paul tried to correct throughout this Epistle. He reminded the Christians of their need for striving for the unity of God’s Word (1 Corinthians 1:18-2:13; 4:6), and of their work together in the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 3:1-15). They were called to live for God and put sinful behaviors of their past life (1 Corinthians 6:9-11) behind them as they were the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). In chapters 10-16, Paul deals with the ways that some of the Christians there were causing divisions in the worship assemblies of the church. The church assembly is referenced throughout 1 Corinthians, by the Greek phrase en humin.
1Corinthians 1:10 Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you (en humin), but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.
1 Corinthians 1:11 For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe’s household, that there are contentions among you.
1Corinthians 2:2 For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
1Corinthians 3:3 for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?
1Corinthians 3:18 Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you seems to be wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise.
1Corinthians 5:1 It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and such sexual immorality as is not even named among the Gentiles—that a man has his father’s wife!
1Corinthians 5:2 And you are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he who has done this deed might be taken away from among you.
1Corinthians 6:5 I say this to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you, not even one, who will be able to judge between his brethren?
1Corinthians 11:18 For first of all, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it.
1Corinthians11:19 For there must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you.
1Corinthians 11:30 For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep.
1Corinthians14:25 And thus the secrets of his heart are revealed; and so, falling down on his face, he will worship God and report that God is truly among you.
1Corinthians 15:12 Now if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?
Speaking of the importance of this phrase, Gardner has well noted:
“In the appositional clauses the plural draws attention to the many members who make up this singular community known as the “church.” In Paul’s writings, “church” generally refers to the gathering of the people of God in a particular house or meeting place. In this epistle this may be seen in expressions such as “when you gather together as a church, I hear that divisions exist among you” (11: 18), or in clauses such as “the one who prophesies builds up the church,” “when you come together,” and “let him [or her] keep silent in the church” (14: 4, 26, 28). In the light of the reference to the “whole church” gathering at the house of Gaius in Corinth (Rom 16: 23), it is likely that the normal practice was to gather in smaller house “churches.” Though it is probably anachronistic to talk of Paul referring to the “universal” church in 1 Corinthians, 3 he certainly has a deep commitment to seeing the various churches, with which he has had dealings, following the same standards in polity and worship and recognising their interdependence. He thus refers to what he teaches “everywhere in every church” in 4: 17 and of how he orders “things in all the churches” (7: 17). In 11: 16 he writes of “the churches of God” and of “all the churches of the saints” in 14: 33–34.” (Paul D. Gardner, 1 Corinthians (Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament), 764 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; Zondervan)
It is in this context of discussing the worship of the church that Paul reminds the Corinthians of their unity as Christians. He begins by discussing the importance and power of Jesus compared to the demons of the pagan world (1 Corinthians 12:1-3), and then goes into a discussion of the manifestation of the Holy Spirit in the assemblies of the church (1 Corinthians 12:4). The Apostle reminds them that the Spirit has many ways that He manifests through the gifts of the Christians, but it is all done for the unity of the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:5-11). Paul then reiterates that the Christians are like that: even though they are different members of the. body with different gifts, yet they are all one body in Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12). Their unity is joined with their baptism, when they were united to the body of Christ and made to drink from the Holy Spirit. Even though they came from diverse backgrounds, they needed to remember they were one in Christ.
Let’s notice several things about this passage.
First, consider the phrase “by one Spirit.” The preposition used here is en, and it can be translated as “by,” “in,” or “with.” Reference here could be to Holy Spirit baptism as it is used elsewhere (Mathew 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; John 1:33; Acts 1:5 and 11:16). where reference is made to Holy Spirit baptism. However, there are serious textual problems with this interpretation.
The phrase phrase “by one Spirit” is used in another place in this context, and it strongly argues against the passage referencing Holy Spirit baptism:
1 Corinthians 12:3-Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed, and no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.
Paul says that no one may call Jesus Lord except “by the Holy Spirit.”
Now, in John 20:28, we are specifically told that Thomas called Jesus “Lord” at least forty days before he was baptized in the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-4). Since no one can call Jesus Lord except by the Spirit, and since Thomas called Jesus Lord before he received the baptism of the Spirit, then the phrase “by the Spirit” cannot have reference to Holy Spirit baptism.
This is one reason why many believe that the idea of the passage is that the only ones who can say that Jesus is the Lord expect “by” the Spirit’s teaching. Indeed, throughout 1 Corinthians, this idea of the Spirit being the Cause of something (as indicated by the instrumental form) is often used by Paul (1 Corinthians 6:11; 12:3, 9; 14:16). (In the same way, everyone who has been baptized into Christ has done so because of the Spirit’s teaching. As such, 1 Corinthians 12:13 is not referencing Holy Spirit baptism.
Again, consider that Paul’s point in 1 Corinthians 12:13 is to show how the Christians are united together in Christ, using their common baptism as his evidences this unity. However, he argued the same point earlier, using water baptism in the same way!
1 Corinthians 1:10-13-Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. 11 For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe’s household, that there are contentions among you. 12 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.” 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?
Ferguson provides many other logical reasons why the baptism of 1 Corinthians 12:13 is referencing water baptism:
“In favor of the majority view that the reference is to water baptism are the following considerations: (1) 1 Corinthians 1: 13 clearly employs water baptism as an argument for unity in the same way as 12: 13 argues for unity; (2) in Ephesians 4: 4-6 baptism is distinct from the Spirit as bases of unity; (3) the phrase “neither Jews nor Greeks, slaves nor free” elsewhere is in a literal baptismal context (Gal. 3: 28; Col. 3: 11). Commentators are equally divided whether the preposition ἐν is locative (“ in”) or dative (“ by”). Water baptism would be consistent with either translation: in the former case the Spirit provides the atmosphere or influence in which the baptism occurs; in the latter, the Spirit is the means by which baptism puts one into the body. The metaphorical interpretation of baptism as standing for conversion or spiritual transformation, however, requires the translation “in” the Spirit. In favor of this reading is the fact that the six other usages of “baptism in the Holy Spirit” seem to have the Spirit as the element. 17 These passages, however, are reporting only two sayings in a set phrase (always “Holy Spirit,” not simply “Spirit”), and none is in Paul. If instead of looking at “baptism in” we look at “in the Spirit,” we find that Paul’s usage is normally instrumental. 498 If that meaning continues in this verse, then the interpretation of spiritual baptism falls. Paul says that by means of the one Spirit a person is introduced into the one body. The whole message about being members of one body requires that the preposition εἰς have its full force of “into” and not the weakened sense of “toward” or “with reference to.” (Everett Ferguson, Baptism in the Early Church: History, Theology, and Liturgy in the First Five Centuries: History, Theology and Liturgy in the First Five Centuries, 3335-3348 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company)
The teaching of the Spirit leads one to baptism in water, where a person is added to the body (church) of Christ.
Second, this passage makes it clear that baptism is for every believer regardless of their ethnic background.
Third, we also see here that baptism is essential to salvation, for at least two reasons: baptism makes one a member of the body of Christ (where salvation is found-Acts 2:47; 20:28; Ephesians 1:22-23; 5:23), and this allows us to “drink from” the one Spirit. This likely means that as dry land is given life-giving water through irrigation, so the Holy Spirit provides life-giving grace on a continual basis to the one who has been baptized into Christ Jesus.
Fourth, this passage is a reminder for every Christian to strive to maintain the unity of the body of Christ. Foolish divisions and schisms should not be endorsed by children of God. We have an obligation before God to the body of Christ (universal and local) to do our part to maintain unity. This is done by striving not to go beyond what is written in God’s Word (1 Corinthians 4:6), and in all things, to make the pursuit and practice of love our goal (1 Corinthians 8:1; 12:31).
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. Amen.