Some question whether or not baptism is part of the gospel because of what Paul says in 1 Cor. 1:17. In this verse, Paul writes:
“For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel…”
Some have concluded from this statement that the teaching of baptism isn’t included in the gospel. What is to be made of Paul’s statement?
Paul is using a common way of writing in the New Testament where the first element of the sentence is not negated but rather de-emphasized in order to put extra emphasis on the second element of the sentence. For example, Jesus said in John 6:27:
“Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life…”
Was Jesus teaching us that we don’t have to work for food? Of course not (2 Thess. 3:10). Jesus was de-emphasizing secular work (not excluding it) in order to put extra emphasis on spiritual work. There are many examples of this type of speech found in the Scriptures:
1 John 3:18: “My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.”
John is not saying that we shouldn’t love in word or in tongue, but that we should especially love in deed and truth.
Mark 9:37: “…Whoever receives Me, receives not Me but Him who sent Me.”
Jesus isn’t saying that we don’t receive Him. His point is to emphasize receiving the Father and not just Him.
Jn. 12:44: “He who believes in Me, believes not in Me but in Him who sent me.”
Once again, Jesus isn’t saying that if we believe in Him we really don’t believe in Him. He is teaching that if we believe in Him we also believe in the Father.
These passages could be multiplied. In 1 Corinthians 1:17, Paul was simply saying that his primary reason for coming to Corinth was not to physically baptize them, but to preach the gospel to them. This should then lead to baptism, regardless of whether he was the one who physically baptized them or not.
The context of 1 Corinthians 1 actually indicates that baptism is part of the process of becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ. For example, Paul taught in 1 Corinthians 1:13 that two actions were to occur in order for the Corinthians to rightfully say that they were a disciple of someone. (1) Their leader had to be crucified for them and (2) they had to be baptized in their leader’s name (1 Cor. 1:13).
Paul’s point was to emphasize that they were disciples of Jesus. They were not disciples of Apollos, Cephas or even Paul himself because none of these men had been crucified for the Corinthians. None of these men died on the cross for their sins, only Jesus did that. Furthermore, the Corinthians had not been baptized into any other name, other than Jesus’ name (Acts 4:12).
To say that they were of Christ, Christ had to be crucified for them and they had to be baptized in His name in order to rightfully claim that they were His disciples. Christ was crucified for us as well, therefore, we are to also be baptized in His name. Paul’s argument proves that because Christ was crucified, and because the Corinthians were baptized in the name of Christ, they are therefore followers of Jesus only— not of Apollos, Cephas, Paul or anyone else.
It should also be taken into account that the phrase “to baptize” in the context of 1 Corinthians 1:17 refers primarily to the action of the administrator. It is not essential for the one preaching the gospel to also be the one to administer the baptism (Acts 2:14, 22, 37-38, 41). According to Paul, it doesn’t matter who administers the baptism. The emphasis is always on the individual being baptized, not the one performing the baptism.
Others could baptize, but not all could preach (Rom. 12:3-8; 1 Pet. 4:10-11; Eph. 4:11). Parallel this to the fact that not all could preach, but all could help the widows in the situation involving the daily distribution (Acts 6:1-3). Paul pointed out to the Corinthian brethren that, especially in light of the fact that there was division among them over who baptized them, he was personally thankful that he had only baptized a few. He did not want any of them saying that he baptized them by his own authority (1 Cor. 1:14-15; Col. 3:17). Notice, Paul did not say that he was glad more of them were not baptized. Instead, he told them that he was glad he was not the one who administered their baptism because it was causing division and fighting.
In conclusion, baptism is secondary to preaching/hearing the gospel because baptism proceeds from faith and should be the result of one heeding the preaching of the gospel in order to symbolize the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus (1 Cor. 1:14-15; Rom. 6:3-4; Mk. 16:15-16). Therefore, in 1 Corinthians 1:17, Paul was not excluding baptism from the gospel of Jesus Christ.
– Kevin Pendergrass
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