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Did Paul Water Baptize?

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By Justin Johnson

Yes, Paul did baptize some into water in his early ministry. In fact, Paul himself was water baptized by Ananias in Acts 9:18. Paul also circumcised Timothy (Acts 16:3), performed vows and head shavings (Acts 18:18), kept feasts (Acts 18:21), and even raises a man from the dead (Acts 20:10).

What we know is that water baptism did not begin at Paul. It had been in operation since the Mosaic Law and during Jesus’ earthly ministry and through Pentecost.

Secondly, Paul did not add anything to water baptism in meaning or in symbolism (see question on Romans 6:3-4).

Thirdly, Paul was given a dispensation of God that was ‘kept secret since the world began’ and so could not be the same message associated with water baptism (Rom 16:25, 1 Cor 9:17, Gal 1:11-12).

Lastly, Paul was eventually instructed by Christ upon further revelation not to baptize as is evident from 1 Corinthians 1:17.

“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.” – 1 Corinthians 1:17

Paul’s Multiple Revelations

It would be wrong to think that Paul received his dispensational information all at one appearance of Christ. At the very time of Paul’s first appearance Jesus left the door open to further revelations and instructions:

“And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do” – Acts 9:6

Also, in 2 Corinthians 12:1 Paul declares that he ‘WILL COME to visions and revelations of the Lord.”

Six verses later he mentions that he has already received an ‘abundance of the revelations’ (2 Cor 12:7).

In Paul’s retelling of his conversion on the road to Damascus in Acts 9, he describes Jesus’ purpose for him in containing multiple revelations:

“But rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, AND OF THOSE THINGS IN THE WHICH I WILL APPEAR UNTO THEE ” [emphasis added] – Acts 26:16

It is evident that Paul received multiple revelations of further instructions for this dispensation as his ministry progressed.

Paul and the Corinthians

It was in Acts 18:8 that Paul was ministering in Corinth and Crispis, the chief ruler of the synagogue and was baptized by Paul.

“And Crispus, the chief ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with all his house; and many of the Corinthians hearing believed, and were baptized. ” – Acts 18:8

That this baptism was water baptism is evident from Paul’s discussion of the event in 1 Corinthians 1.

Nevertheless, the next verse in Acts 18 describes that right after this joyous occasion of many in Corinth believing Jesus appears to Paul.

“Then spake the Lord to Paul in the night by a vision…” – Acts 18:9

It has already been established that Jesus spoke to Paul often in revelations for further instruction and encouragement. In this revelation, no mention of water baptism is recorded.

However, that Jesus spoke to Paul about water baptism after Acts 18 is evident from the letter Paul wrote later to the very Corinthians that were baptized.

“I thank God that I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Gaius; Lest any should say that I had baptized in mine own name. And I baptized also the household of Stephanas: besides, I know not whether I baptized any other. 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. ” [emphasis added] – 1 Corinthians 1:14-17

Paul spent a year and a half teaching the Corinthians face to face and then later writes them thanking God that he did not baptize any of them except Crispus and Gaius and a few others.

Jesus’ Further Revelations

Paul states that he was sent not to baptize but to preach the gospel. It is then obvious that the gospel that Jesus told Paul to preach did NOT contain baptism.

This is contrary to the gospel of the kingdom taught by John the Baptist, Jesus (on earth), and Peter at Pentecost which all contained water baptism for the remission of sins.

Rather, Paul’s gospel was without water baptism but a spiritual baptism into Christ (1 Cor 12:13, Rom 6:3-4).

Why then did Paul baptize the Corinthians? The most plausible explanation is that it was done in ignorance which was subsequently remedied by further revelation and instructions of Jesus Christ about the clarity of his gospel.

What we can know now reading back through Paul’s experience with the Corinthians that just as Paul was not sent to baptize but to preach the gospel, so we are sent as followers of Paul.

“Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ. ” – 1 Corinthians 11:1

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Published: January 30, 2010
Last Modified: May 21, 2014
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