I was very disappointed with *Ben Witherington’s comments on 1 Corinthians 1:13-17 in his commentary A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on 1st and 2nd Corinthians. His comments are the best example of the problems with theology (specifically systematic theology). He seems to ignore the context in favor of his theology.
Systematic Theology is, basically, a reference to various systems of doctrine. I find it interesting that in the Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms by Donald McKim, the definition for Systematic Theology says, “it MAY be based on scripture…” (emphasis mine). To boil it down, systematic theology is when you take your doctrines and beliefs and make a pair of glasses and then sit down and read the Bible through those glasses.
Back to Dr. Witherington – he says that Paul, in 1 Corinthians 1:13-17, is saying that baptism is obviously not that important (obviously I am summarizing). To argue that Paul is saying baptism is not important is to ignore completely the context. The Corinthians were attaching themselves to various teachers. It would make sense for some to attach themselves to the one who baptized them. Paul is saying that he is glad that he, that is Paul, did not baptize many of them himself (i.e. Paul did not dunk them in water). He is NOT saying that he is glad they were not baptized. David Garland’s commentary on 1 Corinthians understands this point! Garland says that Paul talks like he cannot remember if he baptized certain ones in order to make a point – it doesn’t matter if Paul baptized them or if Joe Schmoe baptized them.
If Dr. Witherington would like to argue against the necessity of baptism, he should really choose another passage from which to make his point, but I would find problems with those arguments as well.
I chose “In the context” as the name of this blog for a reason – a word or statement finds its correct meaning in the context. You can prove any doctrine you want when you ignore the context!
* Dr. Witherington has written some great material. His emphasis on Rhetoric, especially in Paul’s epistles, has shed some great light on New Testament studies. I have read and own many of Dr. Witherington’s books and commentaries. His commentary on Acts is magnificent. We are simply light-years apart on what we think the Bible teaches about certain subjects (especially baptism). My main problem is the manner in which he seems to ignore the context.