“Christ Did Not Send Me to Baptize”


There is a sharp divide in the religious world over the subject of baptism. Some, including myself, teach that baptism is necessary for salvation. Many others teach that one can be saved before or without water baptism.

Paul made an interesting statement in his first letter to the church at Corinth. Considered independently from the immediate context and the rest of the New Testament, it could easily be used to argue that baptism is not necessary for salvation. Notice what he told the brethren:

For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, so that the cross of Christ would not be made void” (1 Corinthians 1:17).

Paul said he was not sent to baptize. From that, are we to conclude that baptism is not a prerequisite to salvation? Before we jump to that conclusion, let us take a closer look at what the Scriptures teach.

Consider the Context

Paul was writing to the church in Corinth to address several problems. The first was the problem of division. After some introductory remarks at the beginning of the letter, he jumped right into this issue:

Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Corinthians 1:10).

This call for unity was necessary because of the divisions that existed within the church. He had received word that brethren were dividing along various party lines: “‘I am of Paul,’ and ‘I of Apollos,’ and ‘I of Cephas,’ and ‘I of Christ’” (1 Corinthians 1:12). We do not know for sure if these were the actual individuals the brethren were rallying around or if Paul simply used them to make his point. Regardless, as he continued he indicated that these parties were likely divided based upon who baptized the various individuals.

Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one would say you were baptized in my name. Now I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized any other. For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, so that the cross of Christ would not be made void” (1 Corinthians 1:13-17).

Even though Paul was not sent to baptize, he did baptize a few individuals (Crispus, Gaius, and the household of Stephanas). While he only baptized a few, he implied that all those to whom he was writing had been baptized. Consider the record provided by Luke:

Crispus, the leader of the synagogue, believed in the Lord with all his household, and many of the Corinthians when they heard were believing and being baptized” (Acts 18:8).

When Silas and Timothy came down from Macedonia to join Paul (Acts 18:5), work began in earnest to spread the gospel in Corinth. Interestingly, those who were “believing” were the ones “being baptized.

Instead of jumping to the conclusion that baptism is unnecessary for salvation because Paul said he was not sent to baptize, we should consider the context. The Corinthians who believed were baptized (Acts 18:8). After believing and being baptized, the brethren were dividing themselves into various parties (1 Corinthians 1:12). Paul appealed for unity (1 Corinthians 1:10) and stated that he had simply been called to preach the gospel, not to be the head of a sect (1 Corinthians 1:13, 17).

What the New Testament Teaches about Baptism

In 1 Corinthians 1:17, Paul wrote to baptized believers about the need for unity and to repudiate partisan divisions within their ranks. He was not teaching that baptism is unnecessary for salvation. The context does not suggest this about baptism. The rest of the New Testament certainly does not support this notion either.

When Paul was on his way to Damascus to persecute disciples, the Lord appeared to him on the road. He told Paul, “Get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do” (Acts 9:6). While in the city, Paul spent three days praying and fasting (Acts 9:9, 11), indicating his sincere repentance. The Lord called Ananias to go speak to Paul. In his defense before the Jews, Paul relayed what he was told by Ananias:

Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name” (Acts 22:16).

Despite his remorse and the days he spent in prayer and fasting, Paul had not been saved. We know this because he still had to wash away his sins. This would be done through baptism, not through prayer. Paul’s example shows us that one who is not a Christian cannot be saved by praying a “sinner’s prayer.” Baptism is necessary.

Notice a few other passages:

  • Jesus told His apostles, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned” (Mark 16:15-16). Who will be saved? Jesus said it is those who believe and are baptized. What if one believes but is not baptized? If one is not willing to obey, then that one does not have the kind of belief that God requires (cf. James 2:17, 26).
  • On the day of Pentecost, Peter said to the crowd that had been pierced to the heart, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). Forgiveness would follow repentance and baptism. “So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:41). To what were they added? “And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47). Those who were being baptized and those who were being saved made up the same group of individuals.
  • In preaching to the household of Cornelius, Peter “ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 10:48). This was a command, not an option they had been given.
  • When Paul and Silas taught the jailer in Philippi, the jailer “took them that very hour of the night and washed their wounds, and immediately he was baptized, he and all his household” (Acts 16:33). Paul did not wait until the morning to baptize them. Nor did he wait until the church was having a special baptismal service. He baptized them at that inconvenient hour in the middle of the night, indicating the urgent need of baptism.
  • Eternal life is found “in Christ” (Romans 6:23), but how do we get in Christ? “Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?” (Romans 6:3). “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Galatians 3:27). Baptism is how one gets into Christ.
  • While there are many other passages that teach these things about baptism, let us notice just one more. Peter wrote, “Baptism now saves you—not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:21). When an apostles says that “baptism now saves you,” how can we argue with him?

When we consider all of these passages, we can reach only one reasonable conclusion – baptism is an essential part of God’s plan of salvation.

Remember the Mission

While it is good to spend time explaining Paul’s words in order to show the harmony between this passage and the others that teach us about baptism, let us not fail to see the important lesson here about preaching the gospel.

For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, so that the cross of Christ would not be made void” (1 Corinthians 1:17).

Paul understood that there was a difference between his work (preaching the gospel) and the outward results of his work (individuals believing and being baptized). It can be easy for us to get discouraged if we work consistently in preaching the gospel, yet we see no tangible results (new converts). We could be tempted to compromise the message in order to appeal to more people, or perhaps even quit preaching altogether. We must not do either. We must continue to preach the gospel in its entirety (Acts 20:27) without making any changes to it (Galatians 1:8-9).

Paul recognized an important fact about preaching and conversions: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:6). All we can do is plant and water the seed. We cannot force people to respond. We must trust that the gospel is “the power of God for salvation” (Romans 1:16). Baptizing more people is not to be preferred over preaching the gospel in its simplicity and purity.

If we do not see the results we want (and many times we will not), it is natural to feel bad about that. We know what is in store for those who reject the gospel (2 Thessalonians 1:8-9) and we want as many people as possible to avoid this fate and be saved instead. But we must be discouraged to the point of surrender or compromise. Instead, we must do as Paul did – continue to faithfully do the work that we are to do in spreading the gospel.

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  1. Wayne D. Teel says

    Many religious folks will continue to claim baptism is not necessary for salvation and they will use the passage in 1 Corinthians 1:17 and ignore all other passages that teach the necessity for baptism in order to be saved. That is truly sad.

  2. Phyllis Damato says

    I love the order this article is presented! Will copy for my use in Bible Study, thank you