Not wanting to distract from the current conversation, just hoping this will be of value to some, and to have opportunity to receive correction if in error.
1 Cor. 1:17 “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect.”
It is often claimed that this verse proves that baptism is not part of the gospel. I believe that such a view fails to properly account for the grammar, context (both local and historical), and logic of the passage.
The claim that Paul is contrasting baptism with the gospel is false. The verse makes no mention of the noun “baptism”, rather it uses the verb “to baptize”. Paul does not compare the verb “baptize” with the noun “gospel”; instead the comparison is between “baptize” and “preach”. Nor does this verse indicate that Paul was forbidden to baptize. The “not … but …” construction employed here is commonly found throughout the Scriptures, and it would be a mistake to insist that such a construction is intended to totally restrict the first part of the sentence. This construction is frequently used to demonstrate the greater importance of the second part of the sentence. A few examples:
John 6:27 “Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life …"
Jesus does not mean that we should cease all physical labor.
Acts 5:4 “… You have not lied to men but to God."
Peter was not saying that Ananias had been truthful with him.
1 John 4:18 “My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.”
This is not a prohibition against loving speech.
Read 1 Corinthians 1:10-17 for yourself. The issue being dealt with here is division in the church at Corinth. Paul uses three rhetorical questions in verse 13 to remind them that they are to be united in Christ. The first serves to point out that Christ is not divided. Then he asks “Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” - these questions were clearly intended to remind them that it was Christ (not Paul, or any other person) who had been crucified for them, and in whose name they had been baptized. Implicit in such a reminder is Paul's assumption that the Corinthians had been baptized; otherwise, his effort to correct their division would only have served to give them something else to divide over. Paul goes on to express thanks that he “baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius” (v. 14). Notice that he does not express any regret at having baptized these (or the household of Stephanas, v. 16), nor is there any indication that Paul had sinned in so doing. He plainly tells us the reason for his gratitude at having baptized only a few – that they were given no further occasion for division: “lest anyone should say that I had baptized in my own name” (v. 15).
As has already been pointed out, the text does not make a comparison between baptism and the gospel, but between the act of baptizing and the act of preaching. So the question is not whether Paul himself baptized the Corinthians, but whether he included baptism when he preached the gospel to the Corinthians. Acts 18:8: “Then Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with all his household. And many of the Corinthians, hearing, believed and were baptized.” In response to Paul’s preaching the Corinthians “believed and were baptized”. This implies that Paul did not consider including baptism in his preaching to be contrary to the message of the cross. Otherwise, he would have refrained from preaching it, “lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect” (v. 17).
In spite of all of this, some will cling to some variation on the notion that Paul would not have made such a statement if baptism were important. This is a straw man argument, which only serves to distract from the truth. No special significance is attached to the individual who performs the rite, no claim is made that you are saved by the one who baptizes you. Indeed, if Paul’s aim were to diminish the significance of baptism, then he weakens his own argument. After all, he appeals to their unity in Christ on two points – the crucifixion and their baptism (v. 13). If baptism is of little importance, then Paul has here made a most uneven pairing, uncharacteristic of a writer of his skill. I would argue that Paul has made no such blunder, but would instead appeal to the elegant symmetry that he employs – by emphasizing the crucifixion and their baptism, he reminds the Corinthians of the singular and undivided nature of Christ’s sacrifice on their behalf, and of their common connection to that sacrifice through their baptism. To deny the importance of baptism here is to destroy Paul’s argument.
Finally, by leaving the baptizing up to others (it required no special skill), Paul could spend more time preaching, which would actually result in more baptisms than if Paul had stopped preaching in order to personally administer the rite. It seems silly to claim that Paul deemphasized the importance of baptism by virtue of pursuing a course of action that would have resulted in more baptisms, not fewer.