Baptism in Corinth: 1 Corinthians 1:10-17


  • Disunity in Corinth
  • Baptism in Corinth


Once again we have the wonderful opportunity to baptise believers. Today we will be looking for some instruction on Baptism from 1 Corinthians 1:10-17. Lets remind ourselves of the situation in Corinth and then look at how this text by implication teaches us how baptism was practised in Corinth. The Corinthian Church was born on Paul’s second missionary journey. Paul started out in Philippi where he was beaten and imprisoned, then went on to Thessalonica where he was chased out by the Jews. Paul went on to Athens where there was small success, and then he came to Corinth. Corinth was a large wealthy port town, which was the capital of the province of Achaia, and although not a major centre of culture like Athens, it did boast wealth and intellectual pride. Corinth’s biggest boast was it’s temple to Aphrodite, with a thousand temple prostitutes. Corinth was also infamous for immorality.

The birth of the Church there is found in Acts 18:1-17. Paul joined up with two other Jewish Christian tentmakers, Aquila and Priscilla. And he began his ministry, in Pauline style, by starting in the local synagogue. The Jews resisted him and so he started to preach to the Gentiles. God appeared to Paul in a vision, to encourage Paul, and tell him that he had many people in this town that he was going to save (18:9). This resulted in Paul staying in Corinth for a year and a half, until the Church there was established. Acts 18:12-17 also gives us an account of the Jews attempt to try and take legal action against Paul, but the Lord delivered him. The account ends with Sosthenes the synagogue ruler who had converted to Christianity being beaten, this is likely the same Sosthenes who wrote the letter of 1 Corinthians with Paul (1 Cor 1:1).

Paul left Corinth for Syria, probably to stop off at his home Church in Antioch, and then he headed off to Ephesus. While in Ephesus two things happened that made Paul write the letter of 1 Corinthians. Firstly he heard from some people that gathered in the Church at Chloe’s house that there were divisions amongst the people (1:11), so he wrote to right this wrong. And it appears that a group of believers, Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaius, were sent to Paul from the Church with a letter asking various questions. Questions about marriage, food offered to Idols, spiritual gifts, etc. By the first group of people or the second Paul also heard that there were certain sins being tolerated, and people who resisted Paul’s apostleship and denied the resurrection. Out of this situation Paul writes his famous letter.

Imagine a Church in a city like Cape town, or San Francisco, or Rio De Janeiro. A place where many different religious points of view would pass through as well as some teachers. Some would be Christian some not. Corinth was this city and every night it’s 1000 temple prostitutes would descend upon the city to offer their services to get your money for their Goddess of love, Aphrodite. The Corinthian Church found themselves struggling to stay holy in a place so wicked. They were being influenced by false teachers to doubt Paul and his message, they had been wowed by other preachers and favouritism and man following like in Greek schools of philosophy was going on. Although advanced in knowledge and spiritual gifts, they were a Church without love. Although Christians they were still getting tangled up in the temple prostitutes and other forms of sexual immorality, and some were even getting involved in the ceremonies of other religions. And to top it all off they seemed to be full of pride regarding their spiritual progress. How would you start a letter to a Church like Corinth? Paul starts his letter with four key reminders. That he is God’s apostle, they are God’s Church, they have a holy calling, and are upheld by God’s grace. These are the main ideas in 1:1-9 before we get to our section.

Corinth was a sophisticated town where many teachers of philosophy and religion would pass through. In the first century it was common for the itinerant teachers teachings to be the talk of the town and to be debated by the public. Some teachers would gather disciples who would be faithful to their teachings, but this would result in conflict with others who were loyal to the teachings of others. The Corinthian Church was suffering due to a worldly practice of man following being practised in the Church just as it would be in the world. Our sinful hearts weakness for blind loyalty was destroying the Church. A modern day example would be the loyalty shown to local football clubs that result in bar brawls when supporters of opposing teams encounter each other. I doubt whether their were street brawls by those in the Corinthian Church, but their was probably disdain, disrespect, loud shouting, and so Paul describes it as ‘quarrels’ (v11), mocking another’s intelligence, and all the other tactics used in word wars and factionalism. Whether their was blood or not is irrelevant it was tearing about the body of Christ, and therefore a serious issue. This everyday dealing of being divided is not acceptable behaviour for those united to each other in Christ.

Paul alerts us to the fact that there were four parties. Those who followed Paul, Apollos, Peter, and those who claimed to follow Christ. We do not know for sure what each of these different groups believed, but there is one theory which seems very plausible and is helpful for us to examine. Many commentators feel that the Corinthian Church was divided in following the various leaders due to something specific about them. So Paul, he was known as the apostle to the Gentiles, he himself was free from the practice of the Jewish customs, and taught freedom from the practicing of various aspects of the law. His emphasis was we are saved by faith not law, and many aspects of his Jewish life were shed. Because his emphasis on salvation by faith was so strong, there were times when people thought that that Paul was saying that you didn’t have to keep the law at all. This is an accusation brought against Paul in Romans 6:1, and as we read 1 Corinthians it seems that some others may have misunderstood by want Paul meant that we are free from the Law. Look at 1 Cor 6:12, Ch.8, 9:21, 10:23, etc. It is highly likely that those who claimed to belong to Paul were mostly Gentiles who were abusing his teaching about freedom from the law.

Then there was the Apollos party. Apollos was from one of the intellectual centres of the world, Alexandria. Apollos was an excellent preacher and teacher, he was trained in the Greek rhetoric fashion and style, and was apparently a very forceful, brave, and convincing preacher. No doubt Apollos would have appealed to those who came out of backgrounds of philosophy and rhetoric. And if any had held on to some of their Greek philosophy and ways, they would cling closely to Apollos thinking that because of his background and ways that he would somehow authenticate the false elements that they were bringing in. It appears that there were those who were over emphasizing wisdom, and worldly styles of preaching, such people would have felt safest being associated with Apollos.

In almost every situation that Paul preached he started with the Jews and inevitably some Jews were converted to Christ. But Paul was ahead of his own. He had a deep understanding of the freedom in Christ from the ceremonial aspects of the Law and was even ahead of his Christian brethren in Jerusalem regarding this issue. But the Jews were very slow in leaving their practicing of the OT law, even some of the apostles continued to observe the OT dietary laws. Peter would be the man that these Jews would prefer. Peter was still a conservative Jew in his manner of life, and lived out his Christianity in such a way that committed Jews who were not Christians did not fault him. On top of that Peter was personally appointed by Christ, when he was still on earth, as an apostle, and so for those who gave their allegiance to those with the most authority, they would feel that somehow Peter is more authentic than Paul and follow him. So those with hang ups with the law, or who undermined Paul’s apostleship, they may have aligned themselves as followers of Peter.

Lastly, there were those who saw themselves as Christ’s. At first this sounds like the real deal, but Paul has put them in the groups that are wrong. And if there were those who did not like authority, who preferred to get there spiritual food straight from the source. They would have despised all this man following and arrogantly called themselves Christ followers. And if those who prided themselves on having spiritual gifts are the same people then, because of their gifts, their prophecies, and visions, they would have felt themselves above the disputes of the others, but in fact they were acting in the same way. Today you might find those who despise all creeds and confessions as if earlier Christians have nothing to teach them. They disregard the church leaders put over them and hear the Spirit telling them everything.

Paul is disgusted by their disunity, their pandering after man, and being taken in by appearances. He asks a number of hypothetical questions to shame them. In v13 Paul says, “Is Christ divided”, now one might expect Paul to say is a body divided, but this reference is more personal and helps the Corinthians to see that the Church is not merely another club, but because the Spirit indwells every believer to divide the Church is in one way to divide Christ. No doubt a sin no one would want to be guilty of. Christ is the head and we are the body of Christ. We are joined to him as a head is joined to a body, we belong to him as our bodies belong to our heads. This is an obvious picture of unity which is supposed to be reflected in our relationships, for this is a unity which is a reality by the Spirit. We are a part of the body of Christ, by the Spirit, and we are a part of each other by the Spirit. To divide against each other is to divide Christ against Himself.

Next he asks, “Was Paul crucified for you?” The obvious implication is that if Christ died for us then we should be loyal to him, and his body the Church, and not some man at the expense of following Christ and dividing the Church. No man can save you only Christ can. Christ alone is worthy of our allegiance because of who he is and what he has done. We give no man the obedience and loyalty we give to Christ. Whether we are working for a country that tells us to kill people or belong to a religious group that demands obedience to things God has not asked; we are loyal to Christ not man.

Next Paul asks, “Were you baptized into the name of Paul?” All believers were baptized. And they were baptized into Christ, not man. Baptism is an act of allegiance, a mark and declaration as to who you now follow. Paul is reminding these Corinthians that they gave their allegiance to Christ and that they have drifted from it, like a husband who is no longer keeping his marriage vows. Like a soldier who is fighting against his country and not for it, a doctor who is destroying life and not keeping it. It is a dramatic reversal to follow man and not Christ.

Paul’s final show of their foolish disunity on account of dividing to support who might have baptised them, is to point out that Paul was sent to primarily preach the gospel not to baptise in order to bring people to salvation, v17, ‘Christ did not send me to baptise but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.’