The often quoted prooftext from the Bible against the concept of baptism, as means of grace by which God joins us to Christ and His saving work, is 1 Corinthians 1:17. People love to jump at the statement in that verse that Christ did not send Paul to baptize to say, “see, that proves baptism does not save since if it did, Christ would have sent Paul to baptize.”
In actuality, when read in context of what Paul was trying to say, the passage is saying the exact opposite of what they are arguing. What was Paul’s point? Let’s back up to verse 11. The apostle mentioned there was a quarrel going on among the Corinthians. What seemed to be the problem? Verse 12 is where Paul stated that they were divided between those who said they followed Paul while others said they followed Apollos. And there were others who say they followed Cephas (or Peter). And of course, others said they followed Christ.
That was a huge problem because the Corinthians, except the ones who said they followed Christ, misunderstood the nature of baptism. Baptism was for the purpose of making us followers of Christ, not followers of those ministers who baptized us. God used them to baptize us. Paul made it clear in verse 13 that the issue in regards to baptism was indeed it saves, but that it saves in the name of Christ, not Paul. That was why he said in verses 14-16 he thanked God that he did not baptize but a few. It was so that most who were baptized can’t say they were baptized in Paul’s name as he pointed out in verse 15. His point was not that baptism did not save, but that it did not save in Paul’s name. That is a huge difference in what he said.
If baptism does not save and is not a means of grace, Paul would have no need to say he was glad he was not sent to baptize so no one would make the mistake of thinking baptism was in Paul’s name or made those baptized followers of Paul (or whoever baptized them in person). He would have said it is irrelevant if he baptized or not, since baptism does nothing. His statements were the exact opposite: the fact that Paul hardly baptized disproved the claims salvation was of Paul or people were made followers of Paul via baptism. Or he would have said that he was glad he was not sent to preach the word so no one can say Paul saved, given folks who denied baptismal grace usually affirmed God saves through means of the word preached.
If anything, the passage often quoted against baptismal grace proves baptismal grace. It is a fallacious argument to say that since they were not baptized by Paul, they were not baptized at all for the forgiveness of sins. And such an argument has an unintended nasty side effect: it ends up arguing against one’s own view of being baptized right away even for profession of faith. Take such an argument to its logical conclusion, and one can say baptism is not even needed to show one’s faith.
Other passages disprove this argument. We read in 1 Corinthians 6:11 that those very folks were indeed baptized. They were washed, sanctified and justified. Paul addressed the same point in 1 Corinthians 3 in regards to salvation being of Christ, and not of either Paul nor Apollos. What he said in verse 6 was he planted the seed, and Apollos “watered.” Whether watering here referred to baptism or not, the point stands. His ministry had people with different roles by which God used them to reach others. Just because Paul did not baptize does not mean it did not happened. Nor does it mean no one else in his ministry baptized. It is a fallacious claim to try to explain away many passages in Scriptures that say: 1) baptism that saves you now; 2) those who believe and are baptized will be saved; 3) repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins, and you will receive the Holy Spirit; 4) buried with Christ in baptism and raised with Him to newness of life; 5) get up, be baptized and washed away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord, 6) buried with Christ in baptism and raised with Him to newness of life; 7) washed with water through the Word; 8) born of water and Spirit; 8) those who are baptized into Christ, through faith, are clothed with Him; and so on.
All this comes from the mindset baptism is our work, and works don’t save us. But none of the passages that say baptism saves say baptism is our work. If anything, we are told baptism is God’s work of grace to us. He is the main actor. We are the passive recipients. Faith alone receives the promises God presents in baptism: Christ Himself who comes to us to bring us forgiveness won for us at the Cross to us, newness of life the Spirit gives us, and salvation God gives us. It is pure grace. Here we stand.