Q. Let’s talk about Rom. 6 for a minute. It seems clear Paul is talking about water baptism there, which he says is an image of being immersed or plunged into Christ’s death and being buried with Christ. In short it is an image of the death of the old person. After that one rises to newness of life, set free from the bondage to sin. But what was Paul’s actual theology of baptism? I ask this question because I don’t think he thinks water baptism is in itself the means of transformation or salvation or is somehow synonymous with Spirit baptism. I say this because in 1 Cor.1 Paul actually says— I thank God I did not water baptize more of you (since it’s led to further partisan activities). Now I can’t imagine Paul saying ‘I thank God I didn’t save more of you’. And when we actually get to a description of how transformation really happened in 1 Cor. 12 we are told ‘by one Spirit we have all been baptized into the one body…etc.’ In other words, it is the Spirit, not water baptism that causes the change and the integration into the body of Christ. In 1 Cor. 12 it is the Spirit who is doing the baptizing, not some human agent, and nothing is said there about a water rite. This whole approach seems to comport with both the Jewish idea that ritual purification takes place with water, when one washes off something one needed to get rid of, and it also comports with John’s baptism which has to do with the past, repentance for past sins. How would you view this line of reasoning? Does it comport with Paul’s thoughts about water baptism (which he rarely mentions)?
A. For me, “water baptism” is a redundancy. Paul never mentions “water baptism” because the word baptize means to dip someone into water. Paul assumes that baptism is in water, and that the Spirit is given in association with that event (1 Cor. 12:13; cf. Acts 2:38). In Romans Paul moves without any transition from faith (chs. 4-5) to baptism because baptism is the expression of faithfulness, the threshold into the new age. There is no indication of a later baptism of the Spirit. Baptism is not the means of salvation but an expression of faith. In 1 Corinthians 1, Paul did not say, “I thank God I did not water baptize…. He said, “I thank God that I did not baptize” when Corinthians used baptism as a means of partisanship. In 6:11, he says “you were washed, justified, sanctified.” I see no reason to think the washing was metaphorical. In 1 Cor. 12;13, the focus is on the corporate nature of baptism “into one body.” The Spirit and baptism are also closely connected here. It is true that Paul mentions baptism infrequently. However, in Galatians and Romans, he assumes that everyone has been baptized. He seems to give different meanings to the event, depending on the circumstances. In Romans, the focus is on the once-for-all entry into the transformation, while in 1 Corinthians and Galatians he focuses on the corporate nature of baptism, which erases all distinctions. These are not contradictory meanings, but they suggest a range of meanings for baptism.