Is Baptism a Gospel Obligation?

Some religious leaders deny that water baptism is an essential component in God’s plan for human redemption. Frequently, 1 Corinthians 1:17 is employed to argue this point. What is the truth regarding this matter?
By Wayne Jackson | Christian Courier

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“If baptism is an essential requirement within the plan of salvation, why did Paul dismiss it as NOT being a part of the gospel (1 Cor. 1:17)?”

This is a common argument employed by certain denominational folks in an effort to negate the several compelling passages that associate baptism with the remission of sins. In 1 Corinthians 1:17, the inspired apostle wrote:

“For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel.”

For example, two modern writers have argued in this vein. We are saved by the gospel (Rom. 1:16). Paul, however,

“separates baptism from the Gospel, saying, ‘Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the Gospel.’ Therefore, baptism is not a part of what saves us” (Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe, When Critics Ask. Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1992, p. 428).

This view reflects a total misunderstanding or misrepresentation of Paul’s instruction in this important passage. Note, please, the immediate context.

The apostle addressed the problem of factionalism in the church at Corinth. Some of those Christians were inordinately enamored with the person who had immersed them — even to the point of adopting the baptizer’s name as a religious title (see vv. 12-13) — a practice not dissimilar to the common habit of wearing human titles in the modern world of “Christendom.”

In view of such a perversion, Paul expressed thanksgiving that he had personally immersed only a few of these people (cf. vv. 14-16). It was within this context that he wrote: “For Christ sent me not to baptize.” Baptism was not the problem; it was the perverted practice of certain Corinthians that warranted rebuke. W.E. Vine noted that “in abstaining from baptizing all the converts the Apostle had not given occasion for undue adherence to himself” (First Corinthians — Local Church Problems. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1951, p. 20).

The word “baptize” here denotes “to administer the rite” of baptism (see J.H. Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark, 1958, p. 94). Paul had not been commissioned to be primarily an administrator of baptism. The fact that he could remember only three names (cf. 1 Cor. 1:14-16) of those whom he had baptized, during an eighteen-month stay in the city (Acts 18:11), is clear evidence of that. His main function had been to proclaim the gospel.

The apostle was not disassociating himself from the importance of baptism as a component in the sacred plan of redemption (Mk. 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; Gal. 3:27; 1 Pet. 3:21); rather, he was contending that no special adoration was to be attached to the person administering the rite.

Since Paul himself was immersed in order to have his sins “washed away” (Acts 22:16), and inasmuch as he taught that by means of baptism one enters “into Christ” (Rom. 6:3-4; Gal. 3:27), he certainly is not about to disavow the divine command as an element apart from the gospel.

It is an egregious fallacy to employ 1 Corinthians 1:17 in an attempt to nullify God’s holy commandment.