In 1 Corinthians 1, the apostle Paul is in the midst of condemning the pride which resulted from division that he had heard existed among the Corinthian brethren (1:10-11). It appears that this pride is connected to certain preachers of the gospel and which of them baptized them (1:12-16). In the midst of this talk about their pride, Paul says in 1:17, “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect.” Many of our denominational friends like to point to this verse, in particular, to show that baptism is not a condition for the salvation of our souls. However, I would like to suggest that to simply look at 1 Cor. 1:17 and say, ‘See? Baptism isn’t essential!’ is both rash and Biblically unsound.
I believe it to be a safe assumption that we understand that the authors of the New Testament affirm both the importance of water baptism and the necessity of its role in the process of salvation (Matt. 28:19; Mk. 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; Rom. 6:1-11; Gal. 3:27; Col. 2:12; 1 Pet. 3:21). Because that is true, this verse cannot mean what many among those in the world of “Christendom” want it to mean. When approaching the Word of God, we must always keep this principle in mind: We must let Scripture be its own commentary. That we must read Scripture in light of the rest of Scripture. Because of that, I would suggest that Paul is saying that Christ did not send him to only baptize. However, Paul believed that Christ did send him to always preach baptism as a part of his commission to “preach the gospel” in accordance with places like Matthew 28:18-29 and Mark 16:15-16. The apostle Paul is not making some grand theological profession that baptism is no longer essential, but is simply trying to get the Corinthian brethren to see that to pride themselves on who baptized them is a useless feat and that the administrator of their baptisms is relatively irrelevant.
So the next time that one of our dear friends who denies the necessity of water baptism, I would ask that you keep these things in your mind and be able to demonstrate them with the utmost respect and kindness that we would want them to show us (Matt. 7:12).