Category Archives: Baptism

Witherington on 1 Corinthians 1 and Baptism

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.


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When was the Philippian Jailor saved?

“Then he brought them out and said, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ And they said, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.’ And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.” – Acts 16:30-34 

Let me say up front that I believe baptism is absolutely essential to the salvation of an individual. There is too much discussion of baptism in the New Testament to ignore its role in conversion. On the day of Pentecost – baptism. When Philip preached to the Samaritans – baptism. When Philip preached to the Ethiopian Eunuch – baptism. Saul’s conversion – baptism. The conversion of Cornelius – baptism. The conversion of Lydia – baptism. And with the conversion of the Philippian jailor – baptism. 

I am fully aware of the passages that say individuals are saved by faith, and I believe that with all my heart. The question is, “What does it mean to have faith?” 

The Philippian Jailor asked Paul, “What must I do to be saved?” Whatever the jailor meant by that, Paul took the opportunity to preach the Gospel – “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.” The problem is that there is not enough information in those few words to convert someone! Paul, Silas, and the jailor knew this to be true because in Acts 16:32 (the very next verse) we read that Paul continued to teach. Well, what did he teach? 

In Acts 8:5, we read that Philip preached Christ to the Samaritans. This had to be something similar to what Paul was teaching the jailor. So what does it mean to preach Christ? Acts 8:12 tells us that the people believed what Philip preached about the Kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ. We can infer that Philip preached about three things – the Kingdom of God, the name of Jesus Christ (the text states both of these), and baptism (how else would the people know to do it?). 

Baptism was always a part of the Gospel message. “He who believes and is baptized shall be saved…” – Mark 16:16. “Repent and be baptized…” – Acts 2:38. “Why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized and wash away your sins…” – Acts 22:16. “Baptism saves you…” – 1 Peter 3:21. 

The simple fact is that baptism is a part of belief in Christ Jesus. When one is baptized, he or she emulates the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. We die to sin, we are buried in water, and we rise to walk a new life. Ananias told Saul that baptism washes away sins. Side note: baptism is not a work that earns you salvation! I know of no one who argues or believes that. Baptism is simply an act obedience that brings one into contact with the blood of Jesus Christ which washes our sins away! 

So, back to our main question – When was the Philippian Jailor saved? Paul said that he would be saved when he believed in the Lord Jesus. Read the passage again – Paul teaches the Gospel, the jailor washes Paul and Silas’s wounds (probably an act of repentance – cf. Acts 2:38), and the jailor is baptized. After all of this, the jailor rejoices because he had believed in God! Without baptism, he had not yet believed in God. This is the main idea behind James 2:14-26. How can you say you believe in God when you have not done what God has commanded? Jesus said quite simply, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” – John 14:15 

Jesus said, “He who believes and is baptized shall be saved.” When was the Philippian Jailor saved? When his belief in the gospel led him to be baptized and his sins were washed away! 

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Posted by on August 27, 2010 in Acts, Baptism, New Testament


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