Context, context, context! This another example of pulling a statement out of context to make a point that has nothing to do with it. St. Paul is not making a statement against the value of Baptism and considering the preaching of the Word to be objectively superior to it.
The context in which 1 Corinthinas 1:17 is found is all about the dissensions Paul is dealing within the Corinthian Church. “From what Chloe’s people have been telling me, my dear brothers, it is clear that there are serious differences among you. What I mean are all these slogans that you have, like: ‘I am for Paul’, ‘I am for Apollos’, ‘I am for Cephas’. ‘I am for Christ’. Has Christ been parceled out? Was it Paul that was crucified for you? Where you baptized in the name of Paul? I am thankful that I never baptized any of you after Crispus and Gaius so none of you can say he was baptised in my name. Then there was the family of Stephanas, of course, that I baptized too, but no one else as far as I remember. (1Cor 1: 11-16) THEN he says: “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the Good News….”
He was thankful that he never baptized them so that he could be neutral in the midst of their factional disputes—not because Baptism is unimportant. Incidentally, he mentions having baptized the FAMILY of Stephanas—not just the adults!
If St. Paul had scant regard for Baptism, he would never have written: “You have been taught that when we were baptized in Christ Jesus we were baptized into his death; in other words, when we were baptized we went into the tomb with him and joined him in death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the Father’s glory, we too might life a new life.” (Rom 6:3-4) He is saying here that when they were baptized, something really happened to them!
In 1 Peter 1: 19-21 St. Peter says: “Now it was long ago, when Noah was still building that ark which saved only a small group of eight people ‘by water’, and when God was still waiting patiently, that these spirits refused to believe. That water is a type of the baptism which saves you now, and which is not the washing of physical dirt but a pledge made to God from a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ…” The baptism which saves you now! This is not a slam dunk—because if one doesn’t want to accept this, he can insist that we are just talking symbol whenever we speak of baptism as so many Protestants do. But what the Catholic Church teaches about the sacrament of Baptism is what the early Church taught. It was the only prevailing understanding of the sacrament for the sixteen centuries. For more, log on to:
*]Baptism[/LIST] Fr. Vincent Serpa, O.P.