…Christ didn’t send me to baptize, but to preach the Good News—and not with clever speech, for fear that the cross of Christ would lose its power. —Paul, 1 Corinthians 1:17
When Paul makes the above statement, he is attempting to settle controversies between groups of believers. These groups were making “carnal” divisions via claims of superiority among themselves, based on who had baptized them. A similar, current-day scenario would be social media squabbles fostered by Christian celebrity culture; or, an entire denomination / sect not accepting (as legitimate) the baptism of a believer from another sect. Paul’s answer is to proclaim that Jesus had not sent him to baptize but to preach the Good News.
Only, 2 verses earlier, the Apostle to the Gentiles claims he had baptized no one. He thanks God he has not baptized any of those, who were infighting. Then, catching his apparent memory glitch, and perhaps not wanting to waste the parchment, Paul pens his self correction by naming those he had baptized. Therein, we also have a plain example of the tension between errancy & inspiration.
What about “the Great Commission?”
How could Paul, if under inspiration, albeit errant, deny Jesus’ command (Matthew 28:18-20) to baptize in the name of the Trinity? There are a few considerations to take into account.
First, unlike fundamentalist and conservative evangelicals’ view of inerrancy (see further discussion HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE), many traditions of Christianity prioritize Paul’s written words as less “authoritative” than Jesus’ recorded words. For example, if one comes to an intersection of roads to find nonfunctional traffic light, which is stuck on red, and a traffic cop waiving traffic onward, then which does one obey? The traffic cop is obviously the right choice. In this analogy, Jesus is the traffic cop and Paul is the dysfunctional traffic light.
Second, as I’ve written before, the Great Commission is not what Fundamentalist Evangelicals Say. In that blog post, I share the limitations that even evangelical textual scholars place on passages pertinent to the subject of “the Great Commission,” as well as what Jews of Jesus’ era meant by “the world.”
Third, Paul’s claim of not being sent by Christ to baptize implies that baptism is not a sacrament requisite to regeneration. Those holding to sacramental Christian traditions disagree strongly with that assertion. But, being a mixture of Anabaptist and Quaker, I can find ample support for baptism not being a source of regeneration, or for not performing baptism at all.
No matter what one’s persuasion, Paul makes more controversy than allaying it, when he writes, “Christ did not send me to baptize.”
Sharing Paul’s Particular Calling
What we do gather is certainty about how Paul describes his particular calling. Apparently, Jesus had not sent Paul to baptize anyone, unlike the other Apostles. Also evident, Paul took liberty to baptize, despite baptizing not being particular to Paul’s mandate from the Lord. While Paul was not commissioned to baptize, we presume (by thinking the best of Paul) that Christ had not forbidden Paul to baptize.
Like Paul, many believers, even entire groups of believers, follow the Lord in a way that reiterates Paul’s particular calling. Just as Paul claimed Jesus gave him no commission to baptize, even so, Quakers (for example) follow Jesus by not baptizing. These groups may have received this particular calling from Jesus, in order to uphold what Paul also attempted: unity of believers in the face of supremacy claims and “carnal” divisions. To Paul, only unity and the Good News of Jesus crucified were essential.