Christ Did Not Send Me To Baptize But To Preach The Gospel?

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It is written:

1 Corinthians 1:17-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.

Does the Apostle Paul here teach that baptism is not part of the Gospel?

Some so contend.

Let’s study.

The context of this statement by Paul gives us an important insight as to what he meant in this passage.

When Paul wrote 1 Corinthians, there was a problem brewing in the church where local members were elevating preachers over the Word of God. They were denominating the church, which was clearly sinful. So Paul writes about baptism in this passage:

1 Corinthians 1:10-17-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? 14  I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15  lest anyone should say that I had baptized in my own name. 16  Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas. Besides, I do not know whether I baptized any other. 17  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.

The context demonstrates that Paul is dealing with the issue of the actual baptizer, and not on baptism itself. Some of the Corinthians were emphasizing who baptized them, and were elevating this as a part of the Gospel. This was dividing the church horribly.

“However, if evidence of membership or community status was of special concern to many, then it would also be natural enough for people to relate more closely to the one who baptized them. This might link up with Clarke’s hypothesis that the Corinthians were seeking status in a secular fashion by referring to specific leaders or patrons. Even today, individuals are often more closely attached to church leaders than they should be. Frequently, that attachment is personality centered in the leader who brought them to faith and whom they therefore asked to baptize them. With the emphasis in Corinthian society on status established through wisdom and the patronage of certain individuals, it is easy to imagine why Christians might seek out “patrons” together with certain gifts that resembled what the surrounding society considered was of great value and repute.” (Paul D. Gardner, 1 Corinthians (Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament), 81-82 (Kindle Edition): Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan)


“Once again, some people struggle in trying to find an argument against baptism. They believe this verse gives them justification for such an argument. The thrust of their logic is this: “Paul said he wasn’t sent to baptize. Therefore, Paul was saying that baptism isn’t important.” But again the logic breaks down. If you read everything in the New Testament about Paul and everything he wrote himself, does it make sense to say that he didn’t believe baptism was important? First of all, Paul wrote about the significance of his own baptism. When he told the story of his conversion in Acts 22, Paul remembered in verse 16 that his own baptism washed his sins away. Does it sound like he believed baptism was unimportant? Second, according to numerous specific examples, Paul baptized people everywhere he went. In Acts 16, Paul was in Philippi and baptized the households of Lydia and the jailer (verses 15 and 33). Acts 18: 8 tells us that many people were baptized in Corinth after hearing the preaching of Paul. In Acts 19: 5, Paul baptized 12 men in the name of Jesus. When Paul preached, people were baptized. Third, Paul’s letters emphasize the importance of baptism. In Romans 6: 3-4, Paul reminded the Romans that they were united with Christ’s death in their baptism. In 1 Corinthians 12: 13, Paul reminded the Corinthians that their baptism had put them all into the one body of Christ. In Galatians 3: 27, Paul reminded the Galatians that they had put on Christ in their baptism. Does it sound like Paul thought baptism was unimportant? Then what was Paul saying in 1 Corinthians 1: 17? Once again, reading the verse in context makes it all clear. If you read the entire passage, 1 Corinthians 1: 10-17, you understand the problem Paul was addressing. The Corinthians were claiming their favorite preachers rather than uniting together and claiming Christ alone. Paul responded by telling them, in my paraphrase, “Don’t claim anyone but Christ, because Christ is the one who died for you, and you were baptized in His name. I’m glad I didn’t personally baptize many of you, so that no one can claim that I baptized in my own name instead of in Christ’s name.” The context makes it clear. Paul had baptized several of them, but many of the people who had been baptized had not been baptized by Paul. Apparently Paul, like Jesus (in John 4: 1-2), allowed others to do the actual baptizing while he did the teaching. Therefore, when Paul said that he was not sent to baptize, he meant that his God-given role was to teach, not to do the physical baptizing himself. Was he saying that baptism was not important? Of course not. His whole life reflected just the opposite.” (Tim Alsup, Baptism 101, 1009-1029 (Kindle Edition); Nashville, TN: Gospel Advocate Company)

The focus here is on the baptizer, and not on the message of baptism itself. The issue of “who” does the baptizing is not part of the Gospel, even though baptism itself is! This is the fundamental teaching of this statement by Paul. The Apostle is telling us that Christ did not send him to be one who does the actual baptizing. Indeed, the Greek of this passage here indicates that Paul is addressing the fact that Christ did not send him to baptize (i.e., to be the one selected to “administer the rite of Christian baptism”-see J.H. Thayer, Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon, 94).

Cottrell notes:

“At first glance one might think that Paul is here demoting baptism to the ranks of insignificant duties or even optional acts. After all, he thanks God that he baptized only a few people (vv. 14,16), and says that his own commission was not to baptize but to preach the gospel (v. 17). But this is an incomplete and distorted reading of the passage for several reasons. First, it ignores the reason why Paul is glad he baptized only a few, as verse 15 says, “that no man should say you were baptized in my name.” Why is this important? Because in the early church baptism was so important that the human agent who did the baptizing often was made the object of special allegiance rivaling the worship of Christ and leading to factions within the church (see vv. 12-13). This danger was even more acute if the baptizer had an inherent prominence or authority, such as Peter, Paul, or Apollos. Paul is glad he baptized only a few so that the circle of his converts could not use this as a means of setting themselves apart from other Christians. His reasoning presupposes the importance of baptism, not its unimportance. Second, Paul’s commission (v. 17) could not be materially different from that spoken by Christ in Matthew 28: 19-20. Though Paul’s own specific task was to preach the gospel, this was not to be separated from baptism. It simply means that he did not have to do the baptizing personally; he could leave that part of the commission to others, thus avoiding the potential for division. He obviously assumed that all his converts (and indeed all Christians) had been baptized, since he often referred to their baptism in his teaching (see Rom. 6: 3ff; Gal. 3: 27). Paul emphasizes the priority of his preaching since preaching always takes precedence over baptizing in the sense that it must always come first. Without preaching, there would not even be any faith (Rom. 10: 14); and without faith, there would be no baptism in the first place. Third, Paul’s extensive teaching in other passages on the important meaning of baptism (as discussed in chapters 7-12 below) would not be consistent with the view that he is denigrating baptism in this passage. Finally, such a view contradicts the main lesson about baptism to be learned from I Corinthians 1: 10-17, viz., that it is considered to be important enough to be listed in the most exclusive company. Verse 13 says, “Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” Here we see three things to be considered by those who are in danger of dividing the church through their secondary allegiances to human leaders, (a) The church is Christ’s body. When you divide the church, you divide his very body. Do you want to be guilty of such an offense? (b) It was Christ who was crucified for you; it was Christ who performed the deed that purchased the church with his own blood. Don’t put me (Paul) on this exalted level with Christ; I have not redeemed you. (c) You were baptized into the name of Christ, not Paul. Don’t attach any human name to this act which relates you to the one head of the church. The point is this: why should Paul bring up the subject of baptism at all, especially in conjunction with the momentous events of the crucifixion of Christ and the potential division of the body of Christ, if it were not among the most vital and serious aspects of the very existence and life of the church? How could he so forcefully and in the same breath remind them of who was crucified for them and of the name in which they were baptized, if baptism were not in some sense worthy of such a conjunction?” (Jack Cottrell, Baptism: A Biblical Study, 108-135 (Kindle Edition); Joplin, Missouri: College Press Publishing Company)

It is a misuse of 1 Corinthians 1:17 to try and separate baptism from the Gospel. The passage is dealing with the baptizer, not the act of baptism itself.

As to whether or not Pauli (and the other New Testament writers) consider baptism part of the plan of salvation, we just need to consider what they wrote:

Matthew 28:19-Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,

Mark16:15-16-And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. 16  He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. (Please notice the clear connection in this passage between baptism and the Gospel).

John 3:5-Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.

Acts 2:38-Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Acts 22:16-And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.’

Romans 6:3-4-Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? 4  Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.

Galatians 3:26-27-For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27  For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

Colossians 2:12-buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.

For detailed study of these passages (and others), please investigate the following articles:

On Matthew 28:19-

On Mark 16:15-16-

On John 3:5:

On Acts 2:38-

On Acts 22:16-

On Romans 6:3-4:

On Galatians 3:26-27:

On Colossians 2:12:

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. Amen.

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