"Thou hast given a banner to them that fear thee, that it may be displayed because of truth." — (Psalm 60:4)
"Lift ye up a banner upon the high mountain, exalt the voice unto them." — (Isaiah 13:2)
Devoted To The Defense Of The Church Against All Errors And Innovations
Vol.IV No.VII Pg.12-13
February 1942

Paul's Authority To Baptize

C. B. Douthitt

The contention that baptism is a "mere symbol" of no vital consequence is based often upon the passage: "For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel" (1 Cor. 1:17).

The Savior sent the apostles out under the great commission to teach all nations and to baptize believers (Matt. 28:19, 20; Mark 16:15, 16). On the day of Pentecost this work was begun. "Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven" heard the gospel and three thousand of them were baptized (Acts 2:38-41).

Paul, "an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God" (Eph. 1:1), claims to rank with the apostles who stood with Christ in the mountain of Galilee, when the great commission came from the lips of our Lord. To doubt his claims is to doubt the most of the New Testament, for Paul wrote the most of that volume while claiming to be "not a whit behind the very chiefest apostles" (II Cor. :12:11).

Eleven of the apostles were laboring under a commission that included the right to baptize believers for the remission of sins. If Paul labored under a commission that did not include this right, he was at least a "whit" behind the other apostles, provided baptism amounts to a "whit." And if baptism does not amount to a "whit," lots of good time was wasted in baptizing the many thousands that the Bible says were baptized.

Paul says he baptized Crispus, Gaius and the household of Stephenas (I Cor. 1:14-16). Consistency forces him who says Paul had not been furnished with the authority to baptize, to take the position that he acted rashly in baptizing even one. But Paul "kept the faith;" therefore, when baptizing he was doing what the Lord had authorized. If Paul had baptized without authority to do so, he could not have said that he had kept the faith.

God commanded penitent believers to be baptized for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38), and if it were true that one of the apostles did not have the authority to baptize, it would not make void the command of God. Nor does a desire to disparage a part of the great commission justify an "interpretation" of I Cor. 1:17 that denies Paul the right to baptize and charges him with over-reaching his authority when he baptized Crispus, Gaius, and the household of Stephanas.

"For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel" (1 Cor. 1:17). He does not say that the Lord forbade him to baptize or that the Lord failed to give him authority to baptize; but that the Lord's chief purpose in sending him to Corinth was to preach the gospel. Paul had helpers who could take care of the baptizing, as well as he. But he excelled in the gift of teaching: Therefore, it is appropriate for him to apply himself to the work in which he excelled, and leave to his helpers the most of that which they could easily and conveniently do. This comparison in no degree detracts from the importance of baptism. Paul preached baptism as a part of the gospel at Corinth and elsewhere, and those who believed under his preaching were baptized immediately (see Acts chapters 18 and 19). He "made so much of baptism" that the jailor wanted to go out in the middle of the night and obey that commandment, and he did (Acts 16:33).

Paul reached Corinth before his helpers (Acts 18:1-6), and knowing the importance of baptism, did not wait until his helpers came or until the meeting closed to do the baptizing, but immediately baptized the first converts at Corinth himself (see I Cor. 1:16; 16:15). So, in the light of what Paul preached and what he practiced, we conclude that the Lord's chief purpose in sending him to Corinth was to preach the gospel; that his helpers could do the most of the baptizing (Jno. 4:1, 2) ; that he preached baptism as a part of the gospel (Acts 18:8; 19:1-6) ; that in the absence of his helpers, he himself did the baptizing (I Cor. 1:1416).

An illustration: The elders of a certain church called an experienced evangelist, not to baptize, but to preach, the gospel in a protracted meeting. Did those elders for bid the evangelist to baptize? No, in the absence of the local preacher the visiting preacher himself did the baptizing. Didn't those elders want that evangelist to preach baptism as a part of the gospel? They most certainly did, and if he had not preached baptism as a part of the gospel, somebody else would have been doing the preaching before the meeting closed. Several in that church could do the baptizing more conveniently than the visiting evangelist could. Therefore, it was appropriate for the visiting preacher to apply himself to teaching and preaching and leave the baptizing to his helpers. Paul acted on the same principle while at Corinth.

The statement, "Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel," and yet not forbidding him the right to baptize, is necessarily elliptical. There are other elliptical statements in the Bible. Jno. 12:44 will serve as an example: "He that believeth on me, believeth not on me, but on him that sent me." Here the Savior is made to say that he that believes on him does not believe on him. But the contradiction is removed when the ellipsis is supplied: "He that believeth on me, believeth not on me (only), but (also) on him that sent me." That the words only and also should be supplied in the quotation is beyond question. In translating from the Greek to the English, words must be supplied in the English to make the meaning clear. The italicized words in the Bible are not in the original. They have been supplied by the translators. By trying to read a few chapters, leaving out the italicized words, their necessity can be seen clearly. Paul says he did baptize some and it is absurd to suppose he did so without authority. His statement in 1 Cor. 1:17, is clear when the ellipsis is supplied: "Christ sent me not (only) to baptize, but (also) to preach the gospel." The ellipsis in Jno. 12:44 removes a contradiction within the statement, and the ellipsis in 1 Cor. 1:17 removes the contradiction between Paul's statement and his practice. Jesus spoke Jno. 12:44 to show the chief purpose of believing on him; Paul spoke 1 Cor. 1:17 to show the chief purpose of his being sent.

"But why did Paul thank God that he had baptized but few of them, if baptism is a condition of salvation?" Paul himself tells us why he was thankful that he had baptized so few of the Corinthians: "Lest any should say that I had baptized in my own name" (1 Cor. 1:15). Here he is rebuking a spirit of faction that had sprung up among the Corinthians. Some were saying, "I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ," and lest some might assume to belong to him in an extraordinary degree, he is thankful that he baptized but few. He did not thank God that but few had been baptized, but that few of them had been baptized by him. Any other gospel preacher who wants Christ to have all the glory and honor would say the, same thing under the same conditions.

Some were saying, "I am of Paul;" therefore he must prove to them they are of Christ and not of himself. This he does by calling their attention to facts: (1) Christ was crucified for them, and not Paul; (2) they were baptized in the name of Christ and not the name of Paul. It follows that for them to be of Paul, he must be crucified for them and they must be baptized in his name; and for them to be of Christ, he must be crucified for them and they must be baptized in the name of Christ. Paul here states two necessary conditions before they can be of Christ: Christ must be crucified for them and they must be baptized in his name. Both of these conditions had been complied with; therefore they were "of Christ." Paul was not crucified for them and they were not baptized in his name; the conditions had not been complied with, therefore, they were not of "of Paul." How then could they be of Christ unless both conditions had been met unless Christ had been crucified for them and they had been baptized in his name? Paul could not have made this argument if the Corinthians could have been "of Christ" without being 'baptized in the name of Christ.