Written Word

Christ Sent Me Not to Baptise

It’s not unusual to hear many in the evangelical community seize upon Paul’s words, “Christ did not send me to baptise” to support their position that baptism is not part of the conversion process. Do Paul’s words support their argument?

Every verse of scripture has a context and this one is no exception. Failure to understand Paul’s words within their context will result in an incorrect understanding of what Paul meant. Without drifting too far off course, let me illustrate my point. The fourth commandment states that no work is to be done on the Sabbath. It couldn’t be plainer; it’s written in stone. No working! If the verse is isolated from the rest of scripture then it is teaching that under no circumstances is work to be done on the Sabbath. Ever!  However, Jesus suggests that if you asked a priest, ‘of the seven days in the week, which is your busiest day?’ he would say, ‘The Sabbath.’  But isn’t that the day you are told not to work?  Isn’t it written in stone? Yes to all of the above. But Jesus says that the hard-working priest is innocent; he has not broken the law by working on the day that says you are not to work (Exodus 20:8-11; Matthew 12:5). My point: One verse of Scripture must allow the light of other verses to shine upon it and provide its true meaning.  So let’s be consistent and make the same application to Paul’s words.

The Context

Paul’s letter to the Corinthians is a lamentable commentary on the carnal state of the church.  Division was rampant in the church of God at Corinth. In setting about resolving the problem of division, Paul asks a series of penetrating questions designed to expose the wickedness of division. He asks, ‘Is Christ divided?’  They knew that the answer demands a resounding, ‘No’. Then why are you, the body of Christ, divided?  And, ‘Was Paul crucified for you?’ Another resounding No! Then why do you behave as if he were crucified for you? And, ‘Were you baptised into the name of Paul?’  Absolutely not!  If you were, your allegiance would be to me, but you were baptised in the name of Jesus, therefore you belong to him.

Because the division was caused in part by allegiance being given to men, Paul says, ‘I am thankful that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius.’  He then makes this statement, which explains what he means – ‘so that no one can say you were baptised into my name.’ (There were a few others he baptised, but he states than he cannot give an accurate account of who they were). He then states,’ For Christ did not send me to baptise, but to preach the gospel….’ Failing to allow Paul’s words to speak from their context is no better than a person prohibiting every kind of work on the Sabbath because the fourth commandment says, ‘Do not work’. Just as Paul’s remarks, ‘I am thankful that I did not baptise any of you except….’ has a context that provides an explanation of what he meant, so ‘Christ sent me not to baptise….’ has a context that will allow us to understand what he meant.

How are we to understand Paul’s words? The problem in Corinth revolved around men: Paul, Apollos, Cephas, etc. They didn’t create the problem; the carnal Corinthians did. Paul felt that had he baptised more people they would have used this to worsen the problem of division. And for that reason he was thankful that he baptised so few. It was not Paul’s mission to start a sectarian party named after him. If he had baptised many people in Corinth, they would have been pledging their allegiance to him and that is why he says, ‘Christ sent me not to baptise.’ Not for one moment is Paul downgrading baptism or stripping it of its importance. (How could he when he wrote Romans 6, Galatians 3:26-28; Colossians 2:12-14? ).* Paul preached remission of sins in the name of Jesus and baptised people in the name of Jesus. Paul’s gratitude that he had baptised only a few (though many were baptised as a result of his teaching) was based upon his assessment of the situation there. It is interesting to note that his assessment of another aspect of their immaturity caused him not to accept any payment from them for having brought the gospel (1 Corinthians 9), even though in other instances he defends the right of workers in the kingdom to be supported.

When taken in context Paul words are not the ally some have though them to be. His words have been made to say something he never intended. The Corinthian church, which was in an excellent position to know what Paul meant, would never have drawn the erroneous conclusion many evangelicals have drawn.

For your consideration:

  1. If Christ sent Paul not to baptise then Paul was disobedient for he did the very thing Christ told him not to do – baptise. Is this not strange conduct for a man who was sent not to baptise?
  2. Was the prohibition on baptism restricted to Corinth only? If so, why was this restriction made only for Corinth?  If the prohibition not to baptise formed part of his apostolic ministry, again we have Paul being disobedient for he baptised disciples in Ephesus and Philippi (Acts 16, 19). Why is Paul persistent in doing the very thing Jesus sent him not to do?
  3. If the prohibition not to baptise formed part of his apostolic ministry, why did Jesus commission the other apostles to make disciples and baptise them (Matthew 28)? Why are they to baptise and if Paul is not to baptise?
  4. Is it not strange to think that Christ sent Paul not to baptise yet Christ sent Ananias to baptise Paul? He was told, ‘Arise and be baptised and wash away your sins calling upon the name of the Lord’ (Acts 22:16). Is Paul being told that he is not to do to others what was done to him?
  5. Since Christ sent Paul not to baptise , who then was responsible for teaching the many Corinthians who did believe the gospel and were baptised? (Acts 18:8) Paul stayed in Corinth a year and a half ‘teaching them the word of God.’ (Acts 18:11) He taught them the gospel and taught those who believed to be baptised, though he personally baptised only a few.

There is no doubt in my mind that Paul’s words, ‘Christ sent me not to baptise…’ have been taken out of context and called upon to prove something Paul never intended.

Have a look at John 4:1-2. Jesus did not baptise anyone, he entrusted that to his disciples. Yet no one would conclude that Jesus was downgrading baptism because he was not baptising. When his disciples were doing exactly what Jesus told them to do, John can say, ‘Jesus was …baptising’ when in fact it was his disciples. Remember he severely rebuked the Pharisee for rejecting God’s purpose for them by not being baptised. (Luke 7:29-30).