December 1, 2020

The Council

Proclaiming the truth to the world.

Baptized into Paul?

10 Now I urge you, brothers and sisters, 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. 11 For I have been informed concerning you, my brothers and sisters, by Chloe’s people, that there are quarrels among you. 12 Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, “I am with Paul,” [j]or “I am with Apollos,” or “I am with Cephas,” or “I am with Christ.” 13 Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I am thankful that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so that no one would say you were baptized in my name! 16 But I did baptize the household of Stephanas also; beyond that, I do not know if I baptized anyone else. 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not with cleverness of speech, so that the cross of Christ would not be made of no effect.

Thuyen Dinh Tran tried to argue that the Apostle Paul here is merely condemning the notion of being baptized into Paul and that Paul isn’t distinguishing between the Gospel and Baptism. He does this to defend his rather radical Lutheran doctrines of baptismal regeneration. The issue with this is that it obviously contradicts the passage.

Paul is addressing the rise of certain cliques that arose and were undermining Christian unity in the church at Corinth. Each had attached themselves to a certain popular figure to gain authority (Paul, Apollos, Peter, Christ, etc). Paul attacks them with questions to show that they are undermining the faith by this behavior. He asks them a series of rhetorical questions about whether he was crucified for them or whether they were baptized into his name. This is a rhetorical device to make them see what is truly important. It isn’t to posit that an actual phenomenon of baptism into Paul was occurring. Even if it were, this ignores the fact that Paul switches to actual baptism in the more relevant verses of the argument (14-17). Unless Thuyen wishes to state Paul was baptizing people for his own sake, then he must abandon his strange interpretation. It also may be the case Paul is using a rhetorical device to undermine the emphasis on baptism:

“The ‘afterthought’ of v. 16 functions rhetorically to emphasize the relative triviality of the issue of who baptized whom: ‘Well, all right, so I did baptize the household of Stephanas, but beyond that I don’t even know whether I baptized anyone else!’…Perhaps this is merely an elaborate rhetorical flourish on Paul’s part, a reductio ad absurdum of the Corinthians’ tendency to magnify the messengers and miss the message.” 1 Corinthians (WJK, 2011), 23-24.

One other criticism is that my position that baptism is separable from the Gospel and denial of the necessity of baptism is a new position. But I don’t think that is actually true and we have instances of arguments over this in the church. Even though I may not agree with Tertullian’s opponents on the reason they think baptism isn’t necessary, it is the case some at least thought it wasn’t necessary. That is to show a multitude of views existed (Chapters 12-15).

Older Lutherans believe that the text is speaking about the performing of baptisms. That Paul’s office was of such importance that baptism was not as important as the preaching of baptism. There are several difficulties with this line of argument. Why suppose the preaching of baptism is more important than baptism itself? Even Paul engaged in baptisms in this church and you can think of the Acts of the Apostles with the Ethiopian Eunuch and Philip (Acts 8:26-40). So, there is no evidence that it is beneath their office. Secondly, it is assumed that the Gospel includes baptism. That is a contention that is in debate and can’t merely be assumed. Paul identified this gospel that is more important than the implementation of baptism (which shows that the event of baptism isn’t as important as the preaching of baptism). He identifies this as the preaching of the cross.