Divisions and Wisdom (Part 6 of 8) (series: Lessons on 1 Cor.)
by John Lowe
16 And I baptized also the household of Stephanas: besides, I know not whether I baptized any other.
And I baptized also the household of Stephanas
Before this he said he had baptized only Crispus and Gaius; but here he corrects himself, and remarks that he had also baptized the household of Stephanas, who is thought by the Greek writers to be the jailer, who was converted and baptized by the apostle at Philippi, but was now living in Corinth, and had become famous and a person useful to the apostle. At this point, it should be noted that this incident does not in any way support infant baptism, because first it must be proved that there were infants in this family, and that they were baptized. Then again, it is obvious that the household of Stephanas consisted of adult, converted, and very helpful persons; they were the first fruits of Achaia, and were engaged in the ministry of the saints: “I beseech you, brethren, (ye know the house of Stephanas, that it is the firstfruits of Achaia, and that they have addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints,)” (1 Cor 16:15; KJV). Paul is saying that Stephanas and his family have been enthusiastic, fixated followers of Christ; they were the main supporters of the work of God in Achaia, and Paul’s first converts there. He was one of the three messengers sent to inform the apostle of the state of the church in Corinth, and to deliver the letter that Chloe wrote to him.
I stated in the paragraph above that this incident doesn’t support infant baptism, but out of fairness to those who believe and support this practice, I would like to make the following comments:
1. Household. The family. The word comprises the whole family, including adults, domestics, slaves, and children. Epenetus is supposed to be one of this family.
2. It was the custom, for the apostles to baptize the entire household, whatever the age might be, including domestics, slaves, and children. The head of a family gave up the entire household to God.
3. Under the old dispensation, whenever anyone professed Judaism or entered into covenant with God as one of his people, all his children, and dependants, that is, all whom he represented, were included in the covenant and received circumcision as its sign. In the same way, under the Gospel, when a Jew or Gentile joined the Christian church, his children received baptism and were recognized as members of the Christian church—“And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway” (Acts 16:33; KJV).
4. The three statements that precede this one do not support either infant baptism or household baptism, since; once again we have no proof that the baptism was intended to provide salvation or forgiveness of sins. It’s more probable that it was for church membership. Also, those that were baptized could have been truly saved. See verse 14 under the heading “I thank God that I baptized none of you,” for additional comments.
that is, "besides" the above-mentioned persons,
I know not whether I baptized any other;
What Paul means to say may simply be, "I know who I baptized there; but I don’t know who of the original members of the church at Corinth may have moved away, or died; I don’t know who might have moved to Corinth from other places where I have preached and baptized, and consequently I cannot know whether I have baptized some of your present membership." It is evident, however, that if he had baptized any others, the number was small.
Could Paul have thanked God for his own neglect of duty? That’s not how these verses are to be understood; the proper interpretation is that, in view of the present circumstances within the church at Corinth, he is grateful that he baptized so few of them, because some there are claiming that he had baptized in his own name, made disciples for himself, and set himself up as the head of a sect. The truth is, he left it up to other ministers to baptize, while he applied his efforts to more useful work, and filled up his time with preaching the gospel. He thought his job was to preach, because preaching was more important than baptizing. He had assistants that could baptize when no one else was available, but there were none that could preach as well as he could; that’s why he says, Christ sent him not to baptize, but to preach the gospel. The primary business Paul performed among them was to preach the gospel and that was more important than baptizing (v. 17), the cross (v. 1822), Christ crucified, v. 2323.
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.
In this verse, Paul speaks of his method of preaching the gospel: Not with (the) wisdom of words, the enticing words of man’s wisdom: “And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (1 Cor 2:4; KJV). And not with a flourish of oratory consisting of philosophical language which the Greeks were so proud of, and there were many in the Corinthian Church who preferred this type of preacher; and consequently aligned themselves with them and opposed the ministry of the apostle. He did not preach the gospel in this manner, for fear that the cross of Christ should be of no effect, because the success of such preaching might be attributed to the powerful oratory of those who spread it, and not to the plain doctrine of a crucified Jesus, which would diminish or overshadow the honor of the cross.
For Christ sent me not to baptize,
Some think the apostle is referring to his particular mission from Christ, (Acts 26:1623) in which no mention is made of his administering the ordinance of baptism; but no doubt he had the same mission the rest of the apostles had, which was to baptize as well as preach; and indeed, if he had not been sent at all to baptize, it would have been unlawful for him to have administered baptism to any person at all; but, as we have mentioned before, Paul believed his main activity should be preaching Christ crucified to a lost world. As for baptizing, he left that work to those preachers who traveled with him, or who followed him from place-to-place.
Paul doesn’t mean to belittle baptism; he highly regarded it and he praised it in his Roman epistle: Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?...Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life; (Romans 6:3-4, KJV). He baptized some of his first converts; and would have baptized more, except he and the other apostles decided that their principle mission was to give their time and energy to preaching the Gospel, starting churches, and overseeing the churches in general. Actually, I would be surprised if Paul was physically able to do much baptizing, because from what I have learned his appearance was unimpressive, suggesting that he was physically weak. As far as we know, Jesus did not baptize anyone, and that is backed up by John’s Gospel: When therefore the Lord knew how the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John,…(Though Jesus himself baptized not, but his disciples,)…He left Judaea, and departed again into Galilee (John 4.1-3; KJV). See verses 14-16, for more on Paul’s teaching on baptism.
sent me--literally, "as an apostle."
but to preach the Gospel:
By now, it should be sufficiently evident that baptizing was considered to be an inferior function, and although every minister of Christ is qualified to administer it, the apostles had more important work. Preparing these adult heathens for baptism by the continual preaching of the word was of much greater consequence than baptizing them when they had been prepared to receive and profit by it. Paul was an extremely well-qualified preacher of the Gospel, because God had given him gifts that enabled him to be very effective. This was what he was sent to do, rather than the other, and he did it "not with wisdom of words".
not with wisdom of words,
Paul had been educated in Jewish learning at the feet of Gamaliel, but when preaching the Gospel of Christ crucified he laid aside his learning. He preached a crucified Jesus in plain language, and told the people that that Jesus who was crucified at Jerusalem was the Son of God and Savior of men and that all who wanted to be saved must repent of their sins, and believe in him, and submit to his lordship and laws. This truth didn’t need to be dressed-up in fancy words; it had its own majestic light that outshined everything else, and accomplished its purposes by divine authority and through the operation of the Holy Spirit, without any human assistance. The plain preaching of a crucified Jesus was more powerful than all the oratory and philosophy of the heathen world.
Paul’s method of preaching was opposed by a sect among the Jews called the Karaites who espoused a technique called Scholastic divinity, or the art of debate, and that may be what he is referring to here—those who speak with "wisdom of words". He declares he was not sent with, or to preach with, words of man's wisdom, with human eloquence and oratory, with great swelling words of vanity, but in a plain, humble, modest manner; this is the reason the false teachers despised him, and attempted to tear down his ministry: but he chose this way and manner of preaching for a reason, as we will see in the next line.