This is in response to an often asked question, “If immersion is essential to salvation, why would Paul say ‘Christ did not send me to immerse’?”
Let us first remember the most important rule of study: Context is king! Satan himself quoted scripture in Matthew 4:6, but he used it out of context to teach something it was never intended to teach.
Verse 10 really sets a good context telling us exactly Paul’s appeal. There should not be any divisions or dividing factions among the Lord’s people. The following 7 verses are a continuation of the thought in verse 10. In verse 11, Paul writes that there is quarreling and goes on to define what exactly that quarreling entails.
Before I move ahead, I think it is helpful to understand a phrase used in the Greek language at that time found in multiple Bible passages. A few are, Matthew 28:19; Acts 8:16; 19:5; 1 Corinthians 1:13, 15. The phrase is ‘eis to onoma’ translated ‘into the name of’. This expression means into the belonging of or into ‘the possession of’ (Bauer-Danker-Arndt-Gingrich’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, pg. 713). This phrase is often used in connection with immersion. Hence, when one is immersed, one is placed into the possession of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. One is immersed into a state in which they belong to Jesus Christ our Lord.
Just as congregations of Christ are congregations that belong to Christ, when these brothers and sisters are claiming to be of Paul, Apollos, or Christ, they are claiming to belong to that person. (verse 12)
I strongly encourage a reading of the American Standard Version as it most literally portrays the emphasis of Paul’s point by using the word ‘of’ in verse 12 and ‘into’ in verses 13 and 15.
The NASB does give ‘of’ for verse 12 and has a footnote for ‘into’ for verses 13 and 15
The NIV1984 and TNIV say ‘follow’ (v.12), but do give ‘into’ (v.13, 15).
The KJV and NKJV give ‘of’ (v. 12), but ‘in’ (v. 13, 15).
The ESV and NIV2011, use ‘follow’ (v.12) and ‘in’ (v. 13, 15).
(By the way, this proves to be a good reason why it is very helpful to use multiple translations in study and evaluate translations on a passage by passage basis.)
Paul argues that they cannot possibly belong to Apollos, Cephas, himself, or anyone else except Jesus. Paul does so by making three powerful points! First, Jesus is not divided. Therefore, you cannot belong to anyone else and be in unity with him (Matthew 6:24). Second, Jesus is the one who was crucified for us. It is only through the precious blood Jesus shed on the cross that we can be saved. No other’s blood has the power to wash away sins. Third, we cannot be someone else’s, because we were not immersed into a state in which we belong to them. We are immersed into the possession of Jesus the Messiah.
In verse 14, Paul writes that he is glad he didn’t immerse any except Crispus and Gaius. Reading verse 14 without reading verse 15 takes it out of its context. Verse 15 starts off with ‘so that’. This gives us the reason why he is glad he only immersed a few (v. 14, 16). The reason is because he did not want anyone to claim that they were immersed into his name, meaning into a state in which they belong to him.
This brings us to verse 17, the root of the original question. When Paul writes that Christ did not send him to immerse but to preach, we know a few things.
(1) If Christ did not give permission for Paul to immerse, then he was defying divine authority by immersing some (v. 14, 16). (2) Jesus instructs all his disciples to immerse people into his possession- Matthew 28:19. (3) Preaching Jesus includes teaching on immersion- Acts 8:26-40.
The conclusion we come to is that Paul’s point is something like this: ‘Christ did not send me to immerse people in order that there would be divisions and people claiming to belong to me.’
Summary in my own words: There shouldn’t be any division (v. 10) but there is (v. 11). Some say they belong to one other than Christ (v. 12). Did someone else besides Christ die for your sins? Were you immersed into the possession of someone besides Christ? (v. 13) Paul was glad he did not personally immerse these people ‘so that’ they could claim they belong to him (v. 14-16). Christ did not send Paul to immerse people so that they would claim to belong to Paul (v. 17).
People who use 1 Corinthians 1:17 in an effort to teach immersion is not essential to salvation are doing the same thing Satan did in Matthew 4:6. They are trying to make a point, the Holy Spirit through the pen of Paul was not trying to make.
Please do not take my word for it, but search these scriptures for yourself. I take all credit for any errors written. I take no credit for any truth taught, because all truth originates with God Almighty. May God receive all of the glory for any good that is accomplished through this article.
-Daniel Duvall, in the possession and under the dedicated protection of the Messiah