Ephesians 4:3-6; One baptism, part 14. Baptism conflict in Corinth.

Class Outline:

Thursday June 3, 2021


Baptism in the epistles. There is no specific command to be baptized in water.


Last time we noted ROM 6:3-4; 1CO 10:1-4; 12:12-13; GAL 3:27-28; COL 2:9-15.


In 1Pe 3, water baptism is a means of public declaration of faith and that makes for a good conscience.


1PE 3:21

And corresponding to that, baptism now saves you —  not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience —  through the resurrection of Jesus Christ


Conflict of baptism in Corinth that led to division.


1CO 1:10-17

Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree, and there be no divisions among you, but you be made complete [Greek: katertismenoi = to be mended, repaired, or knit together again] in the same mind and in the same judgment. 11 For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe's people [business associates or slaves], that there are quarrels among you. 12 Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, "I am of [for] Paul," and "I of Apollos," and "I of Cephas," and "I of Christ [likely isolationists who thought they didn’t need any ministering]." 13 Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 that no man should say you were baptized in my name. 16 Now I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized any other. 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, that the cross of Christ should not be made void.


Paul’s endeavor to provide a cure for them entails first of all the joint sharing of their being in Christ, of whom no single group has a monopoly, “has Christ been divided (vs.13)?”


It is clear in Paul’s writing that this is a power struggle and not a theological controversy. Paul exhorts them to “be knit together again” and remove division by understanding that they are each beholden to Christ alone. Division is like a split in a garment or tear in a wineskin or a body divided.


The thought Paul has in mind is not bland unity that consists of identical parts, but the working of a symphony composed of a variety of instruments that are working together on the same piece and striving for the same purpose. This is just what Paul is going to present in EPH 4:1-16.


It is clear in this letter to the Corinthians that they are not split over differences in theology or doctrine, but that they are partisan because they are inflated with self-importance on behalf of one against another.


Paul draws on Christology as the cure.


It is common for Paul to appeal to his readers, which he considers as believers saved eternally, with the truth of the blessings all of them received at salvation. He follows a general formula that goes something like: “This is what you are in Christ and so this is how you should think and act.”


Then Paul adds an exposition of the nature of the gospel as centered in the cross of Christ (1:18-31; 2:1-5).


Remember, Apollos, at one stage, did not know of or understand Christian baptism by the Holy Spirit, nor the water ritual that represented it.


1CO 1:13 Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?


The concept was ridiculous. Did they believe in Paul for salvation? Did Paul die for them? They were involved in a power struggle and each group adopted the name that they thought would give them the advantage.


Notice also that Paul closely associates crucifixion and baptism as he did in:


ROM 6:3

baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?


COL 2:12

having been buried with Him in baptism


The person who performed the baptizing ritual was not important. Paul emphasizes this by revealing that Christ didn’t send him to baptize but to preach the gospel. Paul would not be putting down the ritual. He wasn’t the type to mince words. He would have come right out and said it if he knew water baptism to be nothing or a waste of time. We would conclude that someone else would have done the baptizing, but Paul, so often on the move and so often speaking the gospel publicly, was not burdened further by God with the task of performing rituals. Others could do that. And by saying this, Paul is not diminishing water baptism, for he shares that he had done it for some. More important to Paul is their unity based upon Christology.


The use in the passage of all the body in union with Christ and under His authority alone, beholden to Him alone: “Christ is undivided … Christ alone died for you ...You belong to Christ alone … You were baptized in the name of Christ.” These convey being committed to His ownership.


So then, the passage is about unity in Corinth, just like our passage in Eph 4. Neither passage is about salvation, for the readers are already eternally saved. They are about unity under the unique blessings that were given to the church alone. And, by the way, the church’s water baptism ritual and the baptism of the Spirit, God’s supernatural work upon us at salvation, are both unique to the church and therefore both examples of church unity.


The social and political background of this letter reveals that a number of Christians in Corinth were seeking enhanced status by claiming to be of a certain teacher, and then by being baptized by them. We can only imagine that they bragged about being baptized by “Paul” or “Apollos” etc.


Whoever baptizes is not an issue. Where or when is not an issue. If a person were baptized in the Jordan by some prominent minister or in a local river by an unknown, it wouldn’t matter.


Christ’s Lordship over us for life and death is signified by baptism in His name. By the baptism of the Holy Spirit, we are immersed in Him and He becomes our Lord.


The baptism of the Holy Spirit occurs at the moment we believe in Christ as our Savior, whether we received water baptism or not later on.


Baptism means immersion, and so we were, by the power of the Holy Spirit, entered into union with Christ and simultaneously entered into the body of Christ. These are permanent positions that cannot be lost for any reason.


1CO 12:12-13

For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. 13 For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.


One Lord, one baptism means unity and it also means one token of His rule over each of us. We all have one King.


If we love Him, we will keep His commands. All of us have the same commands, which is another aspect of unity.


EPH 4:4-6

There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.


So, when Paul refers to “one baptism” in this passage, is he referring to water baptism or the baptism of the Holy Spirit? We cannot say for certain. And if you were raised or taught the one or the other, my lack of commitment here might anger you. But I am only seeking the text and not any tradition.


EPH 4:1-16 is not about salvation, but the unity of the saved. Thus, Paul might mean Christian water baptism or the baptism of the Holy Spirit, both of which were held in common and were unique to the church.


Out of the dozen or so commentaries that I use to assist me in interpreting Ephesians, most of them think Paul is referring to water baptism, which somewhat shocked me. Still, others think he is referring to the baptism of the Holy Spirit.


We are never commanded to be baptized by the Spirit, though we are commanded to be filled by Him. This is because the baptism of the Spirit happens at salvation, which alone enters the believer into union with Christ in His death, resurrection, ascension, and session.


I think that the fear that Christians may have about admitting that Paul could be referencing water baptism is that they believe it is the same as saying that water baptism is a necessary part of salvation. The two statements are not the same, as Paul is not writing about salvation in this section, but about unity in the body of Christ. Another example in this wonderful sentence of seven features of our unity that might be interpreted in two ways, is “one faith,” which may refer to the body of faith (doctrines) or faith in Christ for salvation. There is one ceremony of water baptism for the church and there is one baptism of the Holy Spirit at salvation.



Personally, I lean towards interpreting Paul’s meaning of “one baptism” to refer to the baptism of the Spirit, but no one can say with absolute certainty. Division in the body of Christ, in the church throughout its history, has mostly occurred over disagreements in interpretation of things that cannot be known with surety from the scripture. This is exactly what Paul is trying to prevent in this portion of Ephesians.