Monday, January 9, 2012

1 Corinthians 1:10-17 and Baptismal Regeneration

I once heard a Reformed seminary professor confess that several texts in scripture sound like baptismal regeneration, but because of one specific text, he denied the possibility. That text comes from 1 Corinthians,

"I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe's people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? 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 may say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power."

The argument goes something like this: Paul went to Corinth to save those who were lost. Paul preached the gospel but did not baptize. Therefore, Paul viewed the preaching of the gospel as saving but not the act of baptism.

My initial reaction to this argument is simple that the text has nothing to say directly about the effect of baptism, so that to infer from this that baptism serves a symbolic purpose (or something slightly above that) is stretching the text beyond what is exegetically tenable.

But if we are to infer anything from this text about the efficacy of baptism, I would argue that it necessitates something beyond a purely symbolic approach. Paul is assuming that those who baptized the individual in the congregation would be so identified with the one receiving the sacrament that those receiving baptism would attribute their Christian life to the hands of the baptizer.

Paul assumes a saving efficacy in the baptismal act, because he shows that those who were baptized by Paul would look at Paul in the role that Christ himself has in our salvation. As Paul rhetorically asks, "was Paul crucified for you?" I cannot imagine a situation in a church wherein a purely symbolic act would so divide a church that those receiving such an "ordinance" would divide themselves over who performed this ordinance for them.

This belief of the Corinthians is further seen as Paul references the fact that the Corinthians were baptizing for the dead. Would one go to such extremes for an act which has no spiritual significance other than an act of profession among men or entrance into an external covenant with no real soteric benefits? It doesn't seem plausible.


Martin Yee said...

Excellent rejoinder. Most Protestants have great reservations and objects to baptismal regeneration.

Pastor Alan Wollenburg said...

Indeed, brother, your words are well written. Our Lutherans, especially when we are in the minority (most of the time), always long for new ways to confess and teach the doctrine of baptism to our reformed. Simply, it is a bit arrogant (don'tcha think?) to insist that the only way I can become a Christian is if I decide on it -- what a mess that creates if followed logically.

Martin Yee said...

Pastor Alan,

Wow that was a brilliant thought. What a mess it is surely if we decide. But unfortunately most Protestants don't see that. They will think God did his part, we need to decide whether to receive it.

Matt said...

Here are some other commentaries I've found on this passage which I found helpful.

John Chrysostom (c. 347–407) Holimy on 1 Corinthians #3, Chapter 1 Verse 17.

And not by these only, but also by the next words, he greatly represses their pride, saying,Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the Gospel: for the more laborious part, and that which needed much toil and a soul of iron, and that on which all depended, was this. And therefore it was that Paul had it put into his hand.

And why, not being sent to baptize, did he baptize? Not in contention with Him that sent him, but in this instance laboring beyond his task. For he says not, I was forbidden, but, I was not sent for this, but for that which was of the greatest necessity. For preaching the Gospelis a work perhaps for one or two; but baptizing, for everyone endowed with the priesthood. For a man being instructed and convinced, to take and baptize him is what any one whatever might do: for the rest, it is all effected by the will of the person drawing near, and the graceof God. But when unbelievers are to be instructed, there must be great labor, great wisdom. And at that time there was danger also annexed. In the former case the whole thing is done, and he is convinced, who is on the point of initiation: and it is no great thing when a man is convinced, to baptize him. But in the later case the labor is great, to change the deliberatewill, to alter the turn of mind, and to tear up error by the roots, and to plant the truth in its place.

Not that he speaks out all this, neither does he argue in so many words that Baptism has no labor, but that preaching has. For he knows how always to subdue his tone, whereas in the comparison with heathen wisdom he is very earnest, the subject enabling him to use more vehemency of language.

Not therefore in opposition to Him that sent him did he baptize; but, as in the case of thewidows , though the apostles had said, Acts 6:2 it is not fit that we should leave the Word of God and serve tables, he discharged the office Acts 12:25. τὴν διακονίαν of a deacon, not in opposition to them, but as something beyond his task: so also here. For even now, we commit this matter to the simpler sort of presbyters, but the word of doctrine unto the wiser: for there is the labor and the sweat. Wherefore he says himself, 1 Timothy 5:17 Let the Elderswho rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially they who labor in the word and in teaching. For as to teach the wrestlers in the games is the part of a spirited and skilful trainer, but to place the crown on the conquerors head may be that of one who cannot even wrestle, (although it be the crown which adds splendor to the conqueror,) so also in Baptism. It is impossible to be saved without it, yet it is no great thing which the baptizer does, finding the will ready prepared.

Matt said...

On the First Epistle to the Corinthians by Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225 – 1274)

Then when he says, For Christ did not, he gives the reason why he baptized so few, saying: For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel. But this seems to be in opposition to the Lord’s command: “Teach all nations; baptizing them” (Matt 28:19). The answer is that Christ sent the apostles to do both, but in such a way that they preached in person, as they said in Ac (6:2): “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables.” But they baptized through their ministers, and they did this because the diligence or virtue of the baptizer contributes nothing in baptism, for it is indifferent whether baptism be given by a greater or lesser personage. But in the preaching of the gospel the wisdom and virtue of the preacher contributes a great deal; consequently, the apostles, being better qualified, exercised the office of preaching in person. In the same way it is said of Christ (Jn. 4:2) that He Himself did not baptize but His disciples did; of Him it says in Lk (4:43): “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also, for I was sent for the purpose,” and in Is (61:1): “The Lord has anointed me to bring good tidings to the afflicted.”

Matt said...

Dr. Paul E. Kretzmann (1921 - Popular Commentary)

1 Cor. 1, 17—31.The foolishness of the Gospel-message: V. 17. 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. V. 18. For the preaching of the Cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. V. 19. For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. The apostle here characterizes his office, trying to make it clear to the Corinthian Christians wherein the ministry of the Gospel really consists. He says of himself that Christ did not send him, did not entrust him with the office of an apostle, for the purpose of baptizing, but for that of preaching the Gospel. The appointment to this office did indeed include the work of administering Baptism, Matt. 28, 19. Incidentally, however, the work of preaching, of bearing testimony of Christ and His atonement, was the chief calling of the apostle. Without the Word of the Gospel the Sacraments have no efficacy. "Without the Word of God the water is simple water and no Baptism." The function of administering the sacrament of Baptism follows from the greater function, that of spreading the Gospel-message. "In the command to preach the command to baptize is included in this way, that he who is called to preach the Gospel is also empowered to baptize; but, on the other hand, not every one that is empowered and has the right to baptize thereby also is qualified and called to preach. Therefore Paul can say that Christ had not sent him to baptize, without thereby undervaluing Baptism as a means of grace. . . . The actual performance of the act of baptism, which belongs to the office of the Church, Matt. 28, 19, the apostles could have carried out through others, Acts 10, 48; cp. John 4, 1. 2, who were their hands and Christ's in this service. But the preaching of the Gospel, through which alone the practice of baptizing is made possible, they could indeed carry on in fellowship with others, but they could not personally omit this function or have it done only through a delegation of preachers, for they were trumpets in the world of nations and lights in the darkness."

Matt said...

And one final commentary.

1 Corinthians chapter 1, starting at verse 13: From Concordia Commentary by Greg J. Lockwood

1:13 Three Rhetorical Questions

Christ is not divided and neither should be his body, the church. Paul uses the Paul-group as an example. The questions he poses focuses them on Christ. Christ was crucified for them and it was into Christ’s name that they were baptized. What Christ did on the cross has been made available by God. It can be appropriated by believers through baptism. Salvation depends completely on Christ and what he did. How absurd it was to idolize Paul as if their salvation depended on him.

1:14-16 Paul as Baptizer

Because of God’s providence, Paul baptized very few of the Corinthians. God probably caused this to happen so that they would not come back later to use it in their inflated recognition of Paul. Crispus and Gaius were baptized by Paul. Crispus was the synagogue official who was an early convert in Corinth. He and his whole household believed in the Lord (Acts 18:8). Gaius is probably the man described in Paul’s letter to the Romans (written from Corinth) as the one who was the host of Paul and the whole church (Ro 16:23). But being baptized by someone and into someone are two different things. No one baptized by Paul could claim to be baptized into Paul. All Christians are baptized “into the name of Jesus,” which is a brief way of referring to Christian Baptism in the name of the Holy Trinity.

Finally, Paul recalls the “family of Stephanas.” How could Paul forget about them? He was probably so preoccupied with trying to remember those he had baptized, it didn’t dawn on him to consider those who were with him in Ephesus. Seeing Paul struggle with his memory reminds us that inspiration is not some mechanical dictation. Inspiration comes from the Holy Spirit and passes through the brain before the words were recorded. And yet, these words are the Word of God.

1:17 Paul as Preacher of the Gospel/Word of the Cross

Paul’s top priority was not to baptize. He was called to preach the Gospel. Others appointed by the apostles followed up this preaching with baptism. Similarly today, pastors are not primarily dispensers of the Sacraments. Their chief function is teaching and preaching, which draws people to the Sacraments. Paul’s job, which he was called by God to do, was to spread the Gospel in areas where the name of Jesus was not known. The job of the local pastors appointed by Paul then was not only to preach, but also to administer the Sacraments.