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THE FIRST EPISTLE OF PAUL THE APOSTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS - Chapter 1 - Verse 17

Verse 17. For Christ sent me not to baptize. That is, not to baptize as my main business. Baptism was not his principal employment, though he had a commission in common with others to administer the ordinance, and occasionally did it. The same thing was true of the Saviour, that he did not personally baptize, Joh 4:2. It is probable that the business of baptism was entrusted to the ministers of the church of inferior talents, or to those who were connected with the churches permanently, and not to those who were engaged chiefly in travelling from place to place. The reasons of this may have been,

(1.) that which Paul here suggests, that if the apostles had themselves baptized, it might have given occasion to strifes, and the formation of parties, as those who had been baptized by the apostles might claim some superiority over those who were not.

(2.) It is probable that the rite of baptism was preceded or followed by a course of instruction adapted to it; and as the apostles were ravelling from place to place, this could be better entrusted to those who were to be with them as their ordinary religious teachers. It was an advantage that those who imparted this instruction should also administer this ordinance.

(3.) It is not improbable, as Doddridge supposes, that the administration of this ordinance was entrusted to inferiors, because it was commonly practised by immersion, and was attended with some trouble and inconvenience, while the time of the apostles might be more directly occupied in their, main work.

But to preach the gospel. As his main business; as the leading, grand purpose of his ministry. This is the grand object of all ministers. It is not to build up a sect or party; it is not to secure simply the baptism of people in this or that communion; it is to make known the glad tidings of salvation, and call men to repentance and to God.

Not with wisdom of words. ouk en sofia logou. Not in wisdom of speech, (margin.) The expression here is a Hebraism, or a form of speech common in the Hebrew writings, where a noun is used to express the meaning of an adjective; and means, not in wise words or discourse. The wisdom here mentioned refers, doubtless, to that which was common among the Greeks, and which was so highly valued. It included the following things:

(1.) Their subtle and learned mode of disputation, or that which was practised in their schools of philosophy.

(2.) A graceful and winning eloquence; the arts by which they sought to commend their sentiments, and to win others to their opinions. On this also the Greek rhetoricians greatly valued themselves; and this, probably, the false teachers endeavoured to imitate.

(3.) That which is elegant and finished in literature, in style and composition. On this the Greeks greatly valued themselves, as the Jews did on miracles and wonders. Comp. 1 Co 1:22. The apostle means to say, that the success of the gospel did not depend on these things; that he had not sought them; nor had he exhibited them in his preaching. His doctrine and his manner had not been such as to appear wise to the Greeks, and he had not depended on eloquence or philosophy for his success. Longinus (on the Sublime) enumerates Paul among men distinguished for eloquence; but it is probable that he was not distinguished for the graces of manner, (comp. 2 Co 10:1,10) so much as the strength and power of his reasoning.

Paul here introduces a new subject of discourse, which he pursues through this and the two following chapters—the effect of philosophy on the gospel, or the estimate which ought to be formed in regard to it. The reasons why he introduces this topic, and dwells upon it at such length, are not perfectly apparent. They are supposed to have been the following:

(1.) He had incidentally mentioned his own preaching, and his having been set apart particularly to that, 1 Co 1:17.

(2.) His authority, it is probable, had been called in question by the false teachers at Corinth.

(3.) The ground of this, or the reason why they undervalued him, had been, probably, that he had not evinced the eloquence of manner and the graces of oratory on which they so much valued themselves.

(4.) They had depended for their success on captivating the Greeks by the charms of graceful rhetoric and the refinements of subtle argumentation.

(5.) In every way, therefore, the deference paid to rhetoric and philosophy in the church, had tended to bring the pure gospel into disrepute; to produce faction; and to destroy the authority of the apostle. It was necessary, therefore, thoroughly to examine the subject, and to expose the real influence of the philosophy on which they placed so high a value.

Lest the cross of Christ. The simple doctrine that Christ was crucified to make atonement for the sins of men. This was the peculiarity of the gospel; and on this doctrine the gospel depended for success in the world.

Should be made of none effect. Should be rendered vain and ineffectual. That is, lest the success which might attend the preaching of the gospel should be attributed to the graces of eloquence, the charms of language, or the force of human argumentation, rather than to its true cause, the preaching of Christ crucified; or lest the attempt to recommend it by the charms of eloquence should divert the attention from the simple doctrines of the cross, and the preaching be really vain. The preaching of the gospel depends for its success on the simple power of its truths, borne by the Holy Spirit to the hearts of men; and not on the power of argumentation, and the charms of eloquence. To have adorned the gospel with the charms of Grecian rhetoric, would have obscured its wisdom and efficacy, just as the gilding of a diamond would destroy its brilliancy. True eloquence, and real learning, and sound sense, are not to be regarded as valueless; but their use in preaching is to convey the truth with plainness; to fix the mind on the pure gospel; and to leave the conviction on the heart, that this system is the power of God. The design of Paul here cannot be to condemn true eloquence and just reasoning, but to rebuke the vain parade, and the glittering ornaments, and dazzling rhetoric which were objects of so much esteem in Greece. A real belief of the gospel, a simple and natural statement of its sublime truths, will admit of, and prompt to, the most manly and noble kind of eloquence. The highest powers of mind, and the most varied learning, may find ample scope for the illustration and the defence of the simple doctrines of the gospel of Christ. But it does not depend for its success on these, but on its pure and heavenly truths, borne to the mind by the agency of the Holy Spirit.

{*} "not to baptize" "no so much to baptize" {+} "but to" "As to"

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