Any time you make the case for baptism as part of the plan of salvation you can expect to hear one of a short list of responses that have been given for years to try to refute the idea that baptism is necessary.

A while back we shared an article I wrote on why “baptism Sunday” is unbiblical, and the immediate response was to point to the thief on the cross as a reason why baptism isn’t necessary. So, I wrote this in response. More recently, we re-shared my article on the death of the Sinner’s Prayer and received the oft-used argument that Paul rejected baptism’s importance for our salvation in 1 Corinthians 1. The argument points to these two verses:

1 Corinthians 1:14 – “I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius…”

1:17 – “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.”

Many who deny the necessity of baptism point to these verses to say that Paul clearly didn’t place much importance on baptism. After all, the argument goes – if Paul was thankful he didn’t baptize anybody, and he came to preach instead of baptizing, then he must not think baptism was that important..

The problem with that argument is that it blatantly ignores the context. Paul was not writing about his views on baptism. He was writing about a church that had divided itself along the lines of which prominent church leaders they identified with. 1:12-13 show us that they were labeling themselves by the names of Apollos, Cephas (Peter), Paul, and Christ.

When Paul said that he was thankful that he only baptized a few, he was saying so directly in response to the divisions that were taking place. That’s exactly what he says in 1:15 – “…so that no one would say you were baptized in my name.” He didn’t say he was thankful that they weren’t baptized. He was thankful that he didn’t baptize them so they couldn’t claim him as their savior or leader (1:13)

It’s in the same spirit that he said that he didn’t come to baptize. His point was that he didn’t go there to make converts to Paul, but converts to Christ.

Even in that immediate context, though, Paul admitted that he baptized Crispus, Gaius, and the household of Stephanas. If it was unimportant, and he didn’t come to baptize, why did he baptize them? In that line of logic, it doesn’t make sense. It happened, then because baptism is important, and it’s an inevitable response to Gospel preaching, as we see all throughout the book of Acts.

Beyond the direct context, those who make this argument make Paul inconsistent. If you’re saying that 1 Corinthians 1:14 and 1:17 mean that Paul was de-emphasizing baptism, you’re saying he contradicted himself when he wrote

  • Romans 6:3-4 and Colossians 2:12, which both make the point that baptism unites us with Christ’s death, burial and resurrection.
  • 1 Corinthians 12:13, which tells us that it was by baptism that we were brought into the body of Christ.
  • Galatians 3:27, which says that baptism is how we clothed ourselves with Christ.
  • Ephesians 4:5, in which He listed baptism alongside the Trinity and one hope, faith, and body as marks of our unity.

That’s the bigger point that can’t be missed here. No Christian should ever make a Bible verse fight against another. If your interpretation of one verse makes you deny or reject another verse, you’re interpreting (at least) one of the two incorrectly. The goal should be to understand both verses in a way that makes them work together and not against each other.

The way to do that in this particular instance is not to reject all of the verses where Paul (and the rest of the NT writers) put great emphasis on baptism, but instead to read 1 Corinthians 1 in its proper context. When that happens we see that Paul never intended to downplay baptism, and we don’t make Bible verses contradict each other.

So many wrong beliefs and so many bad arguments come from using one Bible verse as a trump card against another. But God isn’t a God of confusion, and the Bible isn’t a book of contradictions. That’s why context matters. We should never quote a Bible verse until we properly understand the context that gives it meaning, and we should never, ever quote a Bible verse to contradict another.