What Paul said About Baptism?

Paul’s message was specifically for the Gentiles who did not rely on ceremonial cleanliness. He explained to them –the Gentiles– that there is only one baptism and it is done by the Holy Spirit to join people together into one holy body –the body of Christ. Paul’s ministry did not include water baptism because the Gentiles didn’t need to end their relationship with the Mosaic Law. They needed to begin a relationship with the living God.

A dear friend, Doug Olsen of myredeemer.org, gave me permission to post here a great study on the important topic of baptism.

Paul Was the Apostle to the Gentiles

The apostle Paul was sent to the Gentiles while Peter and the others went to the Jews.

But on the contrary, seeing that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been to the circumcised (for He who effectually worked for Peter in his apostleship to the circumcised effectually worked for me also to the Gentiles), and recognizing the grace that had been given to me, James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, so that we might go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. (Galatians 2:7-9)

Baptism Was Not Part of the Gospel for the Gentiles

However, Paul’s message, which was for the Gentiles, did not include baptism. The Jews who had been practicing the law with its ceremonial washings for hundreds of years (with the purpose of pointing them to the coming Messiah) needed one last washing for closure. But the Gentiles didn’t. They needed a relationship with God without all the religious trappings.

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 1:14-17)

But Paul Did Baptize Gentiles in Corinth Didn’t He?

Maybe, but not necessarily. The account of his being in Corinth is found in Acts 18. It starts out stating that Paul went there to visit some Jewish friends that had escaped from Rome.

After these things he left Athens and went to Corinth. And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, having recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. He came to them, and because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them and they were working, for by trade they were tent-makers. (Acts 18:1-3)

In the book of Romans, Paul stated that his heart’s desire was for his fellow countrymen to be saved. According to this account in Acts 18, Paul had been ministering to those who were in the synagogue –no doubt to reach the Jews; but there were also Gentiles present. And it was at this point in time (Acts 18:6) that he became frustrated and his focus was moved from the Jews to the Gentiles.

Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks. When Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia, Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Messiah. But when they opposed Paul and became abusive, he shook out his clothes in protest and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent of it. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” Then Paul left the synagogue and went next door to the house of Titius Justus, a worshiper of God. (Acts 18:4-7)

One of the names of the people that Paul baptized (noted in 1 Corinthians 1:14-16) was Crispus. He must have been a Jew since he was the synagogue ruler!

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)

Here, it says that many of the Corinthians were believing and being baptized. Since Paul said that he only baptized Crispus, Gaius and the household of Stephanas, then others must also have performed the ceremony. Perhaps Gaius and Stephanas were Gentiles –we don’t know. But what we do know for certain is that Paul’s gospel was for the Gentiles and it did not include baptism (1 Corinthians 1:17).

Paul’s Resolution on Baptism

In 1 Corinthians 1:17, Paul identified two detractors from the cross of Christ. The first is cleverness of speech. It elevates the speaker above the Savior. He wanted his words to remain simple so that everyone could understand –and that their salvation would rest solely on the power of God (2 Corinthians 2:1-5).

The other detractor is baptism. He saw that it caused divisions in the church (1 Corinthians 1:10-17). Believers were becoming disciples (students) of Apollos and Peter and Christ. Paul’s mission was to bring people to a united faith in Christ.

Next: Is Baptism Essential?

Nghi Nguyen

- Scripture quoted by permission. All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2006 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.

Disclaimer: This is my own opinion on the topic, which does not necessarily reflect the church's theology, or beliefs of the individuals in it — Nghi Nguyen