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Thursday, July 20, 2023

Gospel Obedience at Corinth--What Really Happened?

Did Paul preach the same gospel at Corinth that he taught elsewhere?  Everywhere else he taught, as part of the gospel, baptism for the remission of sins.  One can go to Acts 16 and read two accounts, in the same chapter, of conversions made by Paul--Lydia and the Philippian jailer--in which in both instances those being converted were baptized. 

Paul himself, in his conversion, was baptized.  You may recall the words of Ananias to him, "Arise, and be baptized, and wash away your sins." (Acts 22:16 NAS)  I might add that it is hard to wash away your sins if you do not have any so evidently Ananias felt pretty sure that Paul still had some that needed to be taken care of.  Many modern-day preachers speak as though they know more about it than what Ananias did as they say men are saved at the point of faith without baptism and thus have no sins to wash away. 

There is a passage in 1 Corinthians that cause some people trouble on the subject of baptism--1 Cor. 1:14.  Paul preached baptism, personally baptized some, was baptized himself, and yet here he says, in writing to the church at Corinth, "I thank God that I baptized none of you, except Crispus and Gaius." (NAS)  What gives?  That is a good question deserving a response. 

We know Paul preached baptism at Corinth.  How do we know?  In Acts 18:8 we find the result of Paul's preaching at Corinth.  The text says, "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 NAS)  I stop here and ask a question.  If Paul was not preaching baptism at Corinth who was?  Someone was as people were being baptized.  However, if you will read Acts 18:5-8 you will see clearly the one doing the preaching was Paul.  But we read 1 Cor. 1:14 and doubt enters our mind. 

There is no need for doubt as will be shown.  If Paul preached one gospel in one location that had baptism in it and another gospel in another location that did not then why should any of us listen to anything he had to say?  He says, "Even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed." (Gal. 1:8 NAS)  If Paul preached more than one gospel he condemned himself by his very own words.  That did not happen.  

In the book of Galatians, Paul says in chapter 3:26-27, "For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.  For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ." (NAS)  We need for our study to emphasize the words "baptized into Christ".  

But first, what does the word "for" mean?  Has Paul not tied faith in Christ directly with baptism with his second use of the word "for" in this passage?  If you have faith in Christ you are baptized.  If you do not have faith in Christ you are not baptized.  It is that simple. 

True faith in Christ demands baptism for the reason that Jesus taught it.  You cannot have faith in Christ and yet lack faith in what he taught and commanded.  (See Matt. 28:19 and Mark 16:16 on what Jesus taught on the subject of baptism.  See also John 3:5.) 

Let me ask some questions based on this passage--Galatians 3:27.  Paul says, again, "For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ."  What about those who were not baptized?  Did they clothe themselves with Christ?  Did Paul say for all of you who were not baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ?  Is that what he said? 

How does one get into Christ, the only place salvation can be found?  Does not the text tell us clearly if we will only listen? 

If Paul preached baptism once he preached it everywhere he went whether the text says he did or not.  There is absolutely no choice but to infer that he taught baptism to both Lydia and the Philipian jailer or else how did they know about it and why did they do it? 

All of that said we need not make necessary inferences about baptism at Corinth for Paul in writing to the church at Corinth says in 1 Cor 12:13, "For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body."  Baptized into what body?  The body of Christ as per Gal. 3:27.  Who was baptized?  "We were all baptized," Paul says.  

One may object and say that the body is the church (Eph. 1:22-23) so baptism is just about getting into the church.  Baptism is about getting into the spiritual body of Christ and, yes, that is the church but that is also the very thing Christ is the Savior of.  "He himself being the Savior of the body." (Eph. 5:23 NAS)  He has not said a word about saving anything else save his body. 

One needs to get himself into Christ where salvation is and the road to doing that is certainly faith but not faith alone apart from repentance, confession of Jesus, and baptism for the remission of sins which places one in Christ.  God adds one to his church but not randomly.  He adds only those who meet his qualifications. 

The reader should not confuse being in the church mentioned in the Bible with denominations.  The thing Paul is discussing is not denominationalism which did not exist when Paul wrote and would not for hundreds of years to come.  One is baptized into the New Testament church, the one Christ established and gave his life for and which will be saved on the last day.  Everyone in the church will be saved provided they live faithful lives, a big if. 

Now to the passage at hand which troubles some, 1 Cor. 1:14-17, Paul speaking, "I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, that no man should 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, that the cross of Christ should not be made void." (NAS) 

There are two points about this passage that we have to keep in mind lest we be led astray.  (1) The problem at Corinth that Paul is discussing in the first chapter of First Corinthians is that of men making themselves disciples of various evangelists rather than of Christ thus creating division.  In verse 13 Paul says, "Has Christ been divided?  Paul was not crucified for you, was he?  Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?" (NAS)  "In the name of Paul" should read instead "into the name of Paul" (see the side margin notes in the NASB reference edition which lists the word "into" as the literal translation). 

Baptism is "into Christ" (Gal. 3:27) and not "into" man.  Only in Christ is salvation found.  No one at Corinth was baptized into any man's name other than Christ.  Paul was thus thankful he had not personally baptized many at Corinth "that no man should say you were baptized in ("into" is the literal translation--DS) my name." (1 Cor. 1:15 NAS) 

He says that in light of what was going on there.  Had he baptized more then the more likely there would be those claiming to be of Paul and Paul wanted no part of this division in the church that was occurring.  His point is that men are baptized into Christ, not into a man, and thus should wear the name of Christian only.  There is no such thing as being of Paul, or of Apollos, or of Cephas and it is wrong to claim allegiance to such and divide the church. 

(2) The second thing we must understand is that just because Paul did not do the baptizing does not mean that his helpers such as Timothy and others did not do so on his behalf in rendering aid to him in his work.  We know both Silas and Timothy were with him in Corinth (see Acts 18:5-8).  We have another account of this very thing with Jesus.  John says, "When therefore the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus Himself was not baptizing, but His disciples were) he left Judea." (John 4:1-2 NAS) 

We need to use our common sense.  Paul is not going to preach baptism and then not see that it is done when people respond to his preaching.  None of us think that Peter personally baptized the 3,000 who responded to his preaching on the day of Pentecost when he preached baptism for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38).  We are sure he had help.  If we were to find Paul had men traveling with him who did this work why should we be shocked?  1 Cor. 12:13 certainly proves someone was doing the baptizing there. 

I think we have pretty much covered the ground that needs to be covered concerning what happened in Corinth with regard to Paul's preaching and practice.  The same thing happened at Corinth that happened everywhere else he preached -- the same gospel, the same baptism for those who believed.    

One final comment – why did Paul say Christ did not send him to baptize?  Because any man can baptize another.  It is a physical act as far as immersion is concerned.  Anyone could do that for another but not every man could preach the gospel with Holy Spirit inspiration as could Paul.  That was his main mission and others could follow up his preaching by baptizing those being converted. 

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