I have a question that is driving me NUTS. I know that Paul made it very clear, to the Grace Church at Corinth, that he was NOT sent to baptize but to preach the Gospel. However, he did state that he indeed did baptize a few people but was glad that he had not baptized anymore. My question is simply this: Why did he baptize anyone in the first place? Thanks in advance!
Good question, and a tough one to explain since the Bible does not say, but here is what it does say and from that we may have some understanding. The following is an answer I gave to someone who was trying not to believe in the Pauline revelation. Your answer will come at the end.
The question you asked: If Paul already had a revelation of grace that required no baptism, why did Paul baptize ANY of the Corinthians in the name of Christ? “I am thankful that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius…[and] the household of Stephanas.” 1 Cor. 1:14-16.”
There are answers to this question, however, I’ve notice that each of the questions begin with “if”. There is no “if” concerning Paul having the revelation of grace and that his gospel message required no water baptism. John the Baptist in Mark 1:4 and Peter in Acts 2:38 preached repentance and water baptism for the remission of sins. Paul on the other hand preached the cross! Prior to Paul the cross was not understood nor preached as good news. Matthew 16:21 and following, Jesus “began” to tell his Apostles about his death and resurrection. When he did, Peter rebuked him saying: “Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee”. Remember Peter was already sent out to preach “the gospel of the Kingdom” in Matthew 10. Water baptism is associated with the gospel of the Kingdom (Matthew 3:1,2…6; 4:17,23). Concerning the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, Luke 18:34 says: “And they understood none of these things: and this saying was hid from them, neither knew they the things which were spoken.”
To Paul was given the good news of the cross. He was the first to preach it as God’s means of salvation – I Corinthians 15:3,4; Acts 13:38,39; Romans 3:21-28. It was the cross that made it possible for God to save all of man “freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” Paul’s gospel is called “the gospel of the grace of God.” According to that gospel there is no works for salvation – Romans 4:4,5; Ephesians 2:8,9.
With that said; it is interesting that the question of why Paul did baptize a few, quoting I Corinthians 1:14 did not go on to quote verses 15 and 16 that tells us that he only baptized a few, lest they had said he baptized in his own name. But then in verse 17 he explains why he could say “I thank God that I baptized none of you …” but the few he did. If Christ sent him to baptize, like he did Peter, how could he be thankful he only baptized a few? The answer is: “For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect. For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.”
So there is no “if” about it. Paul was not sent to baptize. His commission and his message did not involve water baptism. Then why did he baptize the few? First, when you read Acts 18:1-8, you see that the Church of Corinth began with many Jews coming to know Jesus Christ as their savior. And since water baptism was part of a Jew’s conversion it carried over into Paul’s ministry. However, when Paul saw the confusion it caused he thanked God he only baptized a few and since Christ sent him not to baptize, he stopped.
You can also see the confusion about water baptism in Acts 10 when after Cornelius (a Gentle whom God sent Peter to preach to; which took a vision and the Spirit of God to convince Peter to go; and which also the eleven were upset with Peter for doing; and which became the means of the twelve coming to an understanding of Paul’s ministry in Acts 15) when Cornelius heard Peter says there was remission of sins in believing in the name of the Lord, “While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 10:44,45). In Acts 2:38 Peter told the Jews that they had to repent and be baptized to receive the Holy Ghost. But this Gentile got the Holy Ghost (the Spirit of life) without water baptism. Peter not knowing what to do asked: “Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?” And when no one objected: “he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord” (Acts 10:47,48). So why was Cornelius baptized? The answer is, because no one could see any reason why not. But in I Corinthians Paul now sees the confusion it caused. The same confusion exists today.
The remedy for the church today is to stop practicing water baptism and to keep the unity of the Spirit. The unity of the Spirit is found in Ephesians 4:3-6 which includes only one baptism. Since it is the unity of the Spirit, this is His baptism, which we read of in I Corinthians 12:13. “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.” His unity unites all true believers today, even if we don’t obey this exhortation.