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Matthew 28:19

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,

1 Corinthians 1:17

For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

Is Paul not aware of the great commission?

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  • Excellent, topic. This question deserves more upvotes. I've seen 1 Cor 1:17 abused quite often. I've never thought of linking these two verses.
    – Austin
    Oct 16 at 21:58
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How do we reconcile Matthew 28:19 and 1 Corinthians 1:17 on Paul's baptizing people?

This can be best explained by Paul's words in Romans 12:4-5

4 For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, 5 so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.

If we take another look at the Great Commission in its entirety we see it is a corporate command to a group so that the group as a whole is commanded to perform these functions:

18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you[plural]. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” -Matthew 28:18-20

So, with respect to baptism, what is an essential function of the whole, the body, is not the essential function of an individual member, Paul.

Now we know how essential baptism is to Paul:

  1. For, to Paul, the number of people who have been baptized into the Christ are the same as those who have put on Christ and are children of God:

25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. -Galatians 3:25-27

  1. For Paul, being resurrected with Christ was conditioned (if statement) upon us being baptized into him:

3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? ...5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. -Romans 6:3-5

  1. The very fact that Paul describes people as being baptized into Christ demonstrates his understanding that Baptism is how we are put into a covenantal relationship with Christ.

This is consistent with the great commission itself which describes baptism as one of two main actions required to disciple nations in his name and the name of the Father and the name of the Holy Spirit - the other being to teach them to observe all of Jesus's commands.

We should also consider that in the context of 1 Cor 1:10-17, Paul is concerned with people divided by which evangelist they follow:

11 For it has been reported to me by Chloe's people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. 12 What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? - 1 Corinthians 1:11-13

Paul is exacerbated by the division and emotes that he is glad he didn't baptize any of these crazy heads trying to divide the church in his name or Apollos' name or Cephas's name - wanting nothing to do with their nonsense.

14 I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name. 16 (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) -1 Corinthians 1:14-16

But in his emotional rant, he recalls he did actually baptize people and he's not sure how many.

So when we come to 1 Corinthians 1:17, Paul expresses how he sees his primary function is to preach the gospel (for which he is uniquely qualified and commissioned) and not to baptize. It's not that he isn't supposed to baptize, but it's not necessary that he himself does it. And in this case, the less he does it, the better because he doesn't want his personality to get in the way of Christ. Indeed he doesn't even desire the eloquence of his words to get in the way of the message.

17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. 1 Corinthians 1:17

This may also explain why Jesus did not baptize, despite his baptism commission, as Tony Chan rightly pointed out. He didn't want to inadvertently cause division amongst his many disciples based upon who was personally baptized by Jesus.

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  • Very good answer. +1.
    – Dottard
    Oct 16 at 21:25
  • +1 I agree. Good job :)
    – Tony Chan
    Oct 17 at 15:24
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John 4:

1 Now Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that he was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John— 2 although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples.

Jesus was a teacher and not a baptizer.

Matthew 28:

19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,

It's likely that Paul knew about the great commission from, e.g., Peter. In fact, it's likely that Paul knew that he was part of the work of this great commission. At the same time, Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:

17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

This is consistent with Ephesians 4:

11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up

The physical act of baptizing someone was a mechanical procedure. Paul saw himself as a preacher. He was gifted in intellectual prowess. He was busy with that.

Paul wasn't against baptizing people himself, 1 Corinthians 1:

14 I [Paul] thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius,

He just didn't see the physical act of baptizing someone himself as one of his main duties.

How do we reconcile Matthew 28:19 and 1 Corinthians 1:17?

Different folks different strokes.

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Jesus came and proclaimed the gospel of the kingdom. And the ‘great. Commission’ was given to the disciples to go forth and proclaim this. This included being baptised into this Kingdom.

MAT 28:19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, [snip]

But we need to disseminate this carefully. The commission was to reach the Jews, who had disseminated to all the nations. I appreciate this view will not sit comfortably with many traditionalists, but just for now, let this aside.

ACTS 2:5 And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven.

In Acts 2 we have the feast of Pentecost. Pentecost is a feast for the Jews. And Peter preached ….. to the Jews. Jews from every nation. Just as the ‘great commission’ demanded.

Now, the Gospel of the Kingdom includes water baptism. Immersion in water. So baptism was an integral part of this gospel.

1 COR 1:22 For Jews request a sign

This baptism is a ‘sign’. Signs are for those operating in ‘the flesh’. Jews are ‘in the flesh’. (And, the Law was to keep the ‘flesh’ in line). They are elements that can be perceived by the natural ‘senses’. So the baptism needs to be a physical/natural experience.

But we see that is was Paul who was to preach the Gospel of Grace to the Gentiles.

ROMANS 11:13 For I speak to you Gentiles; inasmuch as I am an apostle to the Gentiles,

The Gospel of Grace is not the same as the Gospel of the Kingdom. Both provide righteous [only] through Jesus. But, in the Gospel Paul preached to the gentiles, this involves baptism into Christ. Believers here are ‘in’ Christ. You are ‘baptised’ [immersed] into the ‘body’ of Christ. So this baptism is a spiritual baptism. But note, many still have or use water baptism as a witness to others of their conversation. And this is good - but it is still not the same as ‘baptism’ under the Gospel of the Kingdom.

Jesus, to the Jews, is Messiah. Their promised Messiah. And they can obtain righteousness the same way that Abraham obtained his. Via believing. Jesus frees them from the captivity of the Law, so that once again they can obtain righteousness through believing in their Messiah.

So both ‘gospels’ can lead to, and provide righteousness. But baptism is different in them. Many theologians don’t accept this difference in gospels, and this leads to ‘discussion’ and minor disagreement over baptism. And the answer to your question will depend on the view on these gospels you are comfortable with. The traditional theological stance is the gospels are the same - I say this to to alert you that my view, being different to this, needs careful consideration. You have other responses, and should carefully consider them as well.

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The great commission to make disciples under Rabbi Jesus.

Ephesian 4:20-21 (KJV):

But ye have not so learned Christ;

If so be that ye have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus:

It is not imperative that any one person does the water dunking.

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Paul was not sent to baptize. His commission and his message did not involve water baptism. Then why did he baptize the few? First, when you read Acts 18:1-8, you see that the Church of Corinth began with many Jews coming to know Jesus Christ as their savior. And since water baptism was part of a Jew’s conversion it carried over into Paul’s ministry. However, when Paul saw the confusion it caused he thanked God he only baptized a few and since Christ sent him not to baptize, he stopped. Taken from rightlydividing.org

On the other hand the apostles never went out to all nations. On the contrary, Peter was opposed when he went to the proselyte Cornelius (Ac.11-3)

They never discipled the nations as such. The Lord was not with them till the conclusion of that eon, but left them soon after, when He ascended. This commission cannot be carried out until His return in power and glory to bless all nations through his people Israel. (Rev. 11:17) From concordant commentary.

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