1 Corinthians 1:17 — Paul Not Sent to Baptize

By Wayne Jackson

One of the arguments used by certain denominationalists in an attempt to negate the importance of baptism in the scheme of redemption is based upon Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 1:17:

“For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel. . . "

For example, Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe, in their book, When Critics Ask, reason in this fashion. We are saved by the gospel (Romans 1:16), but “Paul separates baptism from the Gospel, saying, ‘Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the Gospel’. . . Therefore, baptism is not part of what saves us” (p. 428).

This reflects a total misunderstanding of this context.

In this setting Paul is addressing a problem in the church at Corinth. Some of those Christians were inordinately enamored with the person who had immersed them — even to the point of adopting the baptizer’s name as a religious appellation (vv. 12-13). In view of such a perversion, the apostle was thankful that he had personally immersed only a few of these people (vv. 14-16).

It was within that context that Paul said: “For Christ sent me not to baptize.” The word “baptize” here denotes “to administer the rite” of baptism (J.H. Thayer, Greek Lexicon, p. 94). Paul was not sent to be an administrator of baptism; his primary mission was to proclaim the gospel. But the inspired apostle was not disassociating baptism from the gospel; rather, he was suggesting that no special adoration was to be attached to the one administering the rite.

Underline the word “baptize” in this passage and observe: The act of baptizing. Emphasis is upon the administrator, not the act itself.

Since baptism puts one “into Christ” (Romans 6:3; Galatians 3:27), Paul is not going to suggest that baptism is no part of the gospel!

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About the Author

Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.