1 Corinthians 1:17
For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect.
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(17) Not to baptize.—Preaching was eminently the work of the Apostles. The deacons used to baptise (Acts 10:48). The mention of “the preaching of the glad tidings” affords an opportunity for the Apostle stating in vindication of himself why that, and not philosophy, was the subject of his preaching, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect.” Such, and not inability or ignorance, was the grand cause of his simplicity.

1 Corinthians 1:17. For Christ sent me not to baptize — Not chiefly: this was not the principal end of my mission. He did not call me in so wonderful a way, and endue me with extraordinary powers, chiefly in order to my doing that which might be done as well by an ordinary minister: (all the apostles, however, were also sent to baptize, Matthew 28:19 :) but to preach the gospel — Or to plant churches by preaching the gospel to those that never heard it before, Acts 26:17-18. “The apostles, being endued with the highest degrees of inspiration and miraculous powers, had the office of preaching committed to them, rather than that of baptizing, because they were best qualified for converting the world, and had not time to give the converted, either before or after their baptism, such particular instruction as their former ignorance rendered necessary. These offices, therefore, were committed to the inferior ministers of the Word.” The apostle here slides into his general proposition, respecting preaching the gospel, namely, the doctrine which he preached, and the manner in which he preached it. Not with wisdom of words Λογου, of speech, with the artificial ornaments of discourse, invented by human wisdom. This observation was intended to show the Corinthians how ill-founded the boasting of the faction was, who valued themselves on the learning and eloquence of their teachers. Lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect — Lest the bare preaching of Christ crucified, 1 Corinthians 1:23, as a fundamental article of Christianity, and the foundation of all our hopes, should be thought unavailing to procure salvation for guilty sinners. The whole effect of Paul’s preaching was owing to the power of God accompanying the plain declaration of this great truth, Christ bore our sins upon the cross. But this effect might have been imputed to another cause, had he come with that wisdom of speech which the Greeks admired. “To have adorned the gospel with the paint of the Grecian rhetoric would have obscured its wisdom and simplicity, just as the gilding of a diamond would destroy its brilliancy. Besides, it would have marred its operation as a revelation from God. For the evidence and efficacy of the gospel arise not from its being proved by philosophical arguments, and recommended by the charms of human eloquence, but from its being proved by miracles, and founded on the testimony of God.” — Macknight.1:17-25 Paul had been bred up in Jewish learning; but the plain preaching of a crucified Jesus, was more powerful than all the oratory and philosophy of the heathen world. This is the sum and substance of the gospel. Christ crucified is the foundation of all our hopes, the fountain of all our joys. And by his death we live. The preaching of salvation for lost sinners by the sufferings and death of the Son of God, if explained and faithfully applied, appears foolishness to those in the way to destruction. The sensual, the covetous, the proud, and ambitious, alike see that the gospel opposes their favourite pursuits. But those who receive the gospel, and are enlightened by the Spirit of God, see more of God's wisdom and power in the doctrine of Christ crucified, than in all his other works. God left a great part of the world to follow the dictates of man's boasted reason, and the event has shown that human wisdom is folly, and is unable to find or retain the knowledge of God as the Creator. It pleased him, by the foolishness of preaching, to save them that believe. By the foolishness of preaching; not by what could justly be called foolish preaching. But the thing preached was foolishness to wordly-wise men. The gospel ever was, and ever will be, foolishness to all in the road to destruction. The message of Christ, plainly delivered, ever has been a sure touchstone by which men may learn what road they are travelling. But the despised doctrine of salvation by faith in a crucified Saviour, God in human nature, purchasing the church with his own blood, to save multitudes, even all that believe, from ignorance, delusion, and vice, has been blessed in every age. And the weakest instruments God uses, are stronger in their effects, than the strongest men can use. Not that there is foolishness or weakness in God, but what men consider as such, overcomes all their admired wisdom and strength.For Christ sent me not to baptize - That is, not to baptize as my main business. Baptism was not his principal employment, though be 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, John 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 traveling 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 traveling 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 practiced 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 people to repentance and to God.

Not with wisdom of words - (οὐκ ἐν σοφίᾳ λόγου ouk en sophia 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 mentioned here, 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 practiced 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 endeavored 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; compare 1 Corinthians 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 people distinguished for eloquence; but it is probable that he was not distinguished for the graces of manner (compare 2 Corinthians 10:1, 2 Corinthians 10:10), 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 a 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 Corinthians 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.


17. Paul says this not to depreciate baptism; for he exalts it most highly (Ro 6:3). He baptized some first converts; and would have baptized more, but that his and the apostles' peculiar work was to preach the Gospel, to found by their autoptic testimony particular churches, and then to superintend the churches in general.

sent me—literally, "as an apostle."

not to baptize—even in Christ's name, much less in my own.

not with wisdom of words—or speech; philosophical reasoning set off with oratorical language and secular learning, which the Corinthians set so undue a value upon (1Co 1:5; 2:1, 4) in Apollos, and the want of which in Paul they were dissatisfied with (2Co 10:10).

cross of Christ—the sum and substance of the Gospel (1Co 1:23; 2:2), Christ crucified.

be made of none effect—literally, "be made void" (Ro 4:14); namely, by men thinking more of the human reasonings and eloquence in which the Gospel was set forth, than of the Gospel itself of Christ crucified, the sinner's only remedy, and God's highest exhibition of love.

For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the Gospel; baptism was not his principal work, not the main business for which Paul was sent; it was his work, otherwise he would not have baptized Crispus, or Gaius, or the household of Stephanas, but preaching was his principal work. It is very probable others (besides the apostles) baptized. It is hard to conceive how three thousand should in a day be added to the church, if Peter had baptized them all, Acts 2:41. The apostle goes on, telling us how he preached the gospel, and thereby instructing all faithful ministers how they ought to preach.

Not with wisdom of words, or speech. Wisdom of words must signify either what we call rhetoric, or logic, delivering the mysteries of the gospel in lofty, tunable expressions, or going about to evidence them from rational demonstrations and arguments. This was the way (he saith) to have taken away all authority from the doctrine of the cross of Christ: Divine faith being nothing else but the soul’s assent to the Divine revelation because it is such, is not furthered, but hindered, by the arguing the object of it from the principles of reason, and the colouring of it with high-flown words and trim phrases. There is a decent expression to be used in the communicating the will of God unto men; but we must take heed that we do not diminish the authority of God’s revealed will, either by puerile flourishings of words, or philosophical argumentation. For Christ sent me not to baptize,.... Some think the apostle refers to his particular mission from Christ, Acts 26:16 in which no mention is made of his administering the ordinance of baptism; but no doubt he had the same mission the rest of the apostles had, which was to baptize as well as preach; and indeed, if he had not been sent at all to baptize, it would have been unlawful for him to have administered baptism to any person whatever; but his sense is, that baptism was not the chief and principal business he was sent about; this was to be done mostly by those preachers of the word who travelled with him, or followed after him: he was not sent so much about this work,

but to preach the Gospel; for which he was most eminently qualified, had peculiar gifts for the discharge of it, and was greatly useful in it. This was what he was rather sent to do than the other, and this "not with wisdom of words". Scholastic divinity, or the art of disputation, is by the (f) Karaites, a sect among the Jews, called , "wisdom of words": this the apostle seems to refer to, and signifies he was not sent with, or to preach, with words of man's wisdom, with human eloquence and oratory, with great swelling words of vanity, but in a plain, humble, modest manner; on which account the false teachers despised him, and endeavoured to bring his ministry into contempt with others: but this way and manner of preaching he chose for this reason,

lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect; that is, either lest men's ears and fancies should be so tickled and pleased with the eloquence of speech, the elegancy of diction, and accuracy of expression, the cadency of words, and beauty of the oration, with the manner, and not with the matter of preaching, and so the true use, end, and design of the doctrine of a crucified Christ be defeated; or lest the success of the ministry should be attributed to the force of enticing words, and the strength and persuasion of oratory, and not to the energy of divine power attending the doctrine of the cross,

(f) Sepher Cosri Orat. 5. Sign. 15, 16. fol. 277. 2. 278. 1.

{19} For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: {20} not with {l} wisdom of words, lest the {21} cross of Christ should be made of none effect.

(19) The taking away of an objection: that he gave not himself to baptize many amongst them: not for the contempt of baptism, but because he was mainly occupied in delivering the doctrine, and committed those that received his doctrine to others to be baptized. And so he declared sufficiently how far he was from all ambition: whereas on the other hand they, whom he reprehends, as though they gathered disciples to themselves and not to Christ, bragged most ambitiously of numbers, which they had baptized.

(20) Now he turns himself to the teachers themselves, who pleased themselves in brave and glory-seeking eloquence, to the end that they might draw more disciples after them. He openly confesses that he was not similar to them, opposing gravely, as it became an apostle, his example against their perverse judgments: so that this is another place in this epistle with regard to the observing of a godly simplicity both in words and sentences in teaching the Gospel.

(l) With eloquence: which Paul casts off from himself not only as unnecessary, but also as completely contrary to the office of his apostleship: and yet Paul had this kind of eloquence, but it was heavenly, not of man, and void of fancy words.

(21) The reason why he did not use the pomp of words and fancy speech: because it was God's will to bring the world to his obedience by that way, by which the most foolish among men might understand that this work was done by God himself, without the skill of man. Therefore as salvation is set forth to us in the Gospel by the cross of Christ, which nothing is more contemptible than, and more far from life, so God would have the manner of the preaching of the cross, most different from those means with which men do use to draw and entice others, either to hear or believe: therefore it pleased him by a certain kind of most wise folly, to triumph over the most foolish wisdom of the world, as he had said before by Isaiah that he would. And by this we may gather that both these teachers who were puffed up with ambitious eloquence, and also their hearers, strayed far away from the goal and mark of their calling.

1 Corinthians 1:17. Rapid and skilful transition (comp Romans 1:16) to this (οὐ γὰρεὐαγγ.),[204] and theme of the section (οὐκ ἐν σοφίᾳΧριστοῦ).

οὐ γὰρ κ.τ.λ[205]] In the assured consciousness that the design of his apostolic mission was teaching, Paul recognised that baptizing, as an external office and one that required no special gift, should as a rule be left to others, the apostolic ὑπηρέται (Acts 13:5), in order to avoid, for his own part, being drawn away from following out that higher aim, which was his specific calling. A very needful and salutary division of duties, considering the multitude of those converted by him! Peter, too, acted in the same way (Acts 10:48), and perhaps all the apostles. Nor was this contrary to Christ’s command in Matthew 28:19, seeing that, according to it also (comp Luke 24:47; Mark 16:15), teaching was the main business of the apostolic office, while the baptismal command was equally fulfilled by baptism performed by means of others authorized by the apostles.[207]

οὐἀλλʼ] is not here, any more than elsewhere, to be taken as equivalent to non tam … quam (Beza, Piscator, Grotius, Estius, Storr, Rosenmüller, Flatt, Pott, and others; comp also Fritzsche, a[209] Marc. p. 785), but absolutely (see Winer, p. 461 ff. [E. T. 621 ff.]; Klotz, a[210] Devar. p. 9 f.); and the absoluteness of the negation is not at all to be set down to the account of the strong rhetorical colouring (Rückert, comp Buttmann, neut. Gr. p. 306 [E. T. 356]). To baptize was really not the purpose for which Christ sent Paul, but to preach (Acts 9:15; Acts 9:20; Acts 22:15; Acts 26:16-18); in saying which it is not implied that he was not authorized to administer baptism (εἰς μὲν γὰρ τὸ μεῖζον ἀπεστάλη, ἀπὸ δὲ τοῦ καὶ τὸ ἔλαττον ἐνεργεῖν οὐκ ἐκωλύθη, Theophylact), but sent in order to baptize he was not. Comp Chrysostom, Theodoret, and Theophylact.

ΟὐΚ ἘΝ ΣΟΦΊᾼ ΛΌΓΟΥ] does not belong to ἈΠΈΣΤ. (Storr, Flatt), which would be an involved construction, but links itself closely to ΕὐΑΓΓΕΛΊΖΕΣΘΑΙ, as telling in what element that does not take place. The negation is objective, attaching to the object (Kühner, II. § 714. 1; Baeumlein, Partik. p. 257 ff.), negativing actually the ἐν σοφίᾳ; hence not ΜΉ. That ΣΟΦΊΑ ΛΌΓΟΥ is not the same as ΛΌΓΟς ΣΌΦΟς, Λ. ΣΕΣΟΦΙΣΜΈΝΟς (Erasmus, Grotius, and many others, including Flatt and Pott), but emphasizes ΣΟΦΊΑ as the main conception, may be seen in Winer, p. 221 f. [E. T. 296 f.]: to preach without wisdom, of speech, without the discourse having a philosophic character,—as desired by the Hellenic taste. We are not to apply this, however, to the philosophic contents of the teaching (Storr, Rosenmüller, Flatt, and others), but to the form, which consists in the clothing of the doctrine in philosophic garb, in speculative skill, argumentative reasoning, illustration, elaboration of the matter, and the like, together with the effect which this, from the nature of the case, may have upon the doctrine itself. For it followed as a matter of course from Paul’s being sent by Christ, that he was not to preach a doctrine of this world’s wisdom (as did Plato, Aristotle, the Sophists, etc.); what he had to do was to deliver the substance of the εὐαγγελίζεσθαι—which is in truth given for all cases alike—without casting it in any philosophic mould; his speech was not to be ἐν σοφίᾳ, lest its substance should lose its essential character. This substance was the crucified Christ, about whom he had to preach, not in the style and mode of presentation used by the wisdom of this world,—not in such a way that his preaching would have been the setting forth of a Christian philosophy of religion. Even the dialectic element in Paul’s discourses widely differs from anything of this sort.

ἵνα μὴ κενωθῇ Κ.Τ.Λ[213]] aim of the εὐαγγ. οὐκ ἐν σοφ. λ.: in order that the cross of Christ might not be emptied (comp Romans 4:14) of its essence divinely effectual for salvation (Romans 1:16). The cross of Christ—that Christ was crucified (and thereby won salvation for us),—this fact alone was the pure main substance (“nucleus et medulla,” Calovius) of the apostolic preaching, and as such has the essential quality of proving itself in all believers the saving power of God, and of thereby, in the way of inward living experience, bringing to nought all human wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:18-19 ff.). Now, had the cross of Christ been preached ἐν σοφιᾳ λόγου, it would have been emptied of its divine and essential power to bless, since it would then have made common cause with man’s wisdom, and therefore, instead of overthrowing the latter, would have exalted it and made it come, totally alien in nature as it was, in place of itself. Bengel says well: “Sermo autem crucis nil heterogeneum admittit.”

With marked emphasis, ὁ σταυρὸς τοῦ Χριστοῦ is put last.

[204] Suggested naturally by what had been said in vv. 14, 16, and without any ironical side-glance at those who had prided themselves on their baptizers (Calovius); in particular, not levelled at boastings on this ground on the part of Jewish-Christians who had been baptized by Peter (Hofmann); nor yet against teachers “qui praetextu ceremoniae gloriolam venantur” (Calvin and Osiander). Such polemical references are dragged in without warrant in the text.

[205] .τ.λ. καὶ τὰ λοιπά.

[207] According to Ritschl, altkath. Kirche, p. 369, baptism was performed on the others by those three, who themselves had been first baptized by Paul, and who had become overseers. Against this view it may be at once urged, that if he had regarded the baptism of those three in that light, Stephanas would not have occurred to him only by way of afterthought. Besides, there must have been baptized converts there before a presbytery could be erected. Comp. Acts 14:23.

[209] d refers to the note of the commentator or editor named on the particular passage.

[210] d refers to the note of the commentator or editor named on the particular passage.

[213] .τ.λ. καὶ τὰ λοιπά.

1 Corinthians 1:17-31. Paul justifies the simplicity of his way of teaching by the contents of the gospel. This, like all that follows on to 1 Corinthians 4:21, is directed primarily against the pride of wisdom displayed by the party which certainly threatened most danger in the circumstances of the Corinthian church,—the party, namely, of Apollos (not that of Christ); see 1 Corinthians 3:4, 1 Corinthians 4:6. As to the Petrine and the Christine-party, there is no special entering into details; it is only in passing that the judgment is extended so as to include them also (see 1 Corinthians 3:22).1 Corinthians 1:17-25. § 4. THE TRUE POWER OF THE GOSPEL. To “preach the gospel” meant, above all, to proclaim the cross of Christ (1 Corinthians 1:17 b). In Cor[189] “the wisdom of the world” scouted this message as sheer folly (1 Corinthians 1:18). To use “wisdom of word” in meeting such antagonism would have been for P. to fight the world with its own weapons and to betray his cause, the strength of which lay in the Divine power and wisdom embodied in Christ, a force destined, because it was God’s, to bring to shame the world’s vaunting wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:19-25).

[189] Corinth, Corinthian or Corinthians.17. For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel] “Even the less earned can baptize perfectly, but perfectly to preach the Gospel is a far more difficult task, and requires qualifications which are far more rare.”—Augustine.

not with wisdom of words] Rather discourse, as in 1 Corinthians 1:5. Here the matter of the discourse as well as its expression is meant, though the latter is probably the predominant idea. For it is impossible to study the philosophy of the Apostolic and post-Apostolic period without seeing how much it consisted of word-play.1 Corinthians 1:17. Ἀπέστειλε, sent) A man should attend wholly to that, for which he is sent.—βαπτίζειν, to baptize) [even] in His own name, much less in mine. The labour of baptism, frequently undertaken, would have been a hinderance to the preaching of the Gospel; on other occasions [where not a hinderance to preaching] the apostles baptized; Matthew 28:19; especially [they administered that sacrament to] the first disciples.—εὐαγγελίζεσθαι, to preach the Gospel) This word, in respect of what goes before, is an accessory statement:[6] in respect of what follows, a Proposition. Paul uses this very [word as a] mode of transition, which is such that I know not, whether the rules of Corinthian eloquence would be in accordance with it. [Therefore the Apostle in this very passage furnishes a specimen, so to speak, of apostolic folly; and yet there has been no want of the greatest wisdom throughout his whole arrangement.—V. g.]—σοφία λόγου, wisdom of words) [On account of which some individuals of you make me of greater or less importance than they do the rest.—V. g.]—The nouns wisdom and power are frequently used here. In the opinion of the world, a discourse is considered wise, which treats of every topic rather than the cross; whereas a discourse on the cross admits of nothing heterogeneous being mixed up with it.—ὁ σταυρὸς τοῦ Χριστοῦ, the cross of Christ) 1 Corinthians 1:24. Ignorance of the mystery of the cross is the foundation, for example, of the whole Koran. [The sum and substance of the Gospel, as to its commencements, is implied, 1 Corinthians 1:18; 1 Corinthians 1:23; 1 Corinthians 2:2. He, who rejects the cross, continues in ignorance also of the rest of revealed truth; he, who receives it, becomes afterwards acquainted with its power (or, virtue, 2 Peter 1:5) and glory.—V. g.]

[6] The Latin, or rather the Greek word, is syncategorema. In logic categorematic words are those capable of being employed by themselves as the terms of a proposition. Syncategorematic words are merely accessory to the terms, such as adverbs, prepositions, nouns not in the nominative case, etc.—See Whateley’s Logic, B. II., Ch. i. § 3.—T.Verse 17. - Sent me not to baptize, but; that is, according to Semitic idiom, "not so much to baptize, as" (Matthew 28:19). The word "sent" (apesteilen) involves the meaning "made me an apostle" (apostolos). The primary function of the apostles was "to bear witness" (Mark 16:15; Acts 1:8, etc.). To preach the gospel. St. Paul again "goes off" at this word, and dwells for eight verses on the character of his preaching. Not in wisdom of words; not, that is, in a philosophic and oratorical style. The simplicity of the style and teaching of the apostles awoke the sneers of philosophers like Celsus and Porphyry. The cross of Christ. The central doctrine of Christianity, the preaching of a crucified Redeemer. Should be made void. The rendering of the Authorized Version is too strong; the cross cannot "be made of none effect." The word means "should be emptied" (comp. 1 Corinthians 9:15; 2 Corinthians 9:3; Philippians 2:7; Romans 4:14); made void of its special and independent power. The words, "the cross of Christ," form the emphatic end of the sentence in the Greek. Should be made of none effect (κενωθῇ)

Lit., emptied. Rev., made void. Compare is made void, Romans 4:14, and the kindred adjective κενὸν, κενὴ vain, 1 Corinthians 15:14. The nucleus of the apostolic preaching was a fact - Christ crucified. To preach it as a philosophic system would be to empty it of its saving power, a truth which finds abundant and lamentable illustration in the history of the Church.

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