Support from Commentators for Interpreting 1 Corinthians 12:13
as a Reference to the Church Ordinances
Many Biblical commentators, both Baptist and non-Baptist, have viewed 1 Corinthians 12:13 as a reference to baptism in water and the Lord’s Supper. Of course, many other commentators have adopted a large variety of alternative positions. The view that the first half of the verse is a reference to water baptism is somewhat more widespread than the position that the second half refers to communion—some commentators hold that baptism in water is spoken of in the first half of 1 Corinthians 12:13 while positing that the second half refers to something else. Almost all, on the other hand, who view the second half of 1 Corinthians 12:13 as a reference to communion likewise see water baptism in the first half of the verse. Some examples are worthy of citation.
A. T. Robertson affirmed that the baptism of 1 Corinthians 12:13 is water baptism, “a reference to a definite past event with each of them of different races, nations, classes, when each of them put on the outward badge of service to Christ, the symbol of the inward changes already wrought in them by the Holy Spirit.”[i] Albert Barnes stated that “Many suppose that there is reference here to the ordinance of baptism by water. . . . [including] Bloomfield, Calvin, Doddridge, etc.”[ii] John Wesley saw water baptism in 1 Corinthians 12:13,[iii] as did G. W. H. Lampe, evaluating both the New Testament and patristic doctrine.[iv] Henry Alford, in his classic Alford’s Greek Testament,[v] states the verse speaks of “the water of baptism . . . so (understanding the whole verse of baptism) Chry[sostom] Theophyl[act], Oec[olampadius] Rückert, Meyer, De Witt.” Alford also declares that “Luther, Beza, Calv[in] Estius, Grot[ius], al., refer the latter half to the Lord’s Supper.” The Expositor’s Greek Testament edited by W. Robertson Nicoll[vi] states that “Paul refers to actual Christian baptism” in 1 Corinthians 12:13, and further indicates that “Aug[ustine] C[alvin], Est[ius etc. understand] the poterion of the Lord’s supper (10:16, 11:25),[vii] as though kai coupled the two sacraments.” John Calvin, commenting on 1 Corinthians 12:8-13, wrote, “‘We are,’ says [Paul], ‘engrafted by baptism into Christ’s body[.] . . . He speaks . . . of the baptism of believers . . . Hence, with respect to God, this invariably holds good—that baptism is an engrafting into the body of Christ[.] . . . The Apostle, also, observes here a most admirable medium, in teaching that the nature of baptism is—to connect us with Christ’s body. . . . We have drunk into one Spirit . . . [Paul refers] to the Supper, as he makes mention of drinking . . . Now, though the cup forms but the half of the Supper, there is no difficulty arising from that, for it is a common thing in Scripture to speak of the sacraments by synecdoche. Thus he mentioned above in the tenth chapter . . . simply the bread, making no mention of the cup. . . . He teaches, therefore, that believers, so soon as they are initiated by the baptism of Christ, are already imbued with a desire of cultivating mutual unity, and then afterwards, when they receive the sacred Supper, they are again conducted by degrees to the same unity, as they are all refreshed at the same time with the same drink.”[viii] The Jamison, Faucett, and Brown commentary,[ix] commenting on “drink into one Spirit,” affirms, “There is an indirect allusion to the Lord’s Supper, as there is a direct allusion to baptism in the beginning of the verse.” Matthew Poole, commenting on “drink into one Spirit,” stated that “many others choose rather to interpret drinking in this place, of drinking at the table of the Lord, partaking of that whole action being set out here by one particular act there performed. This is probable, considering that the apostle, in the former part of the verse, had been speaking of the other sacrament of the gospel, and that he, speaking of the Lord’s supper, 1 Cor 10:17, had used this expression: For we being many, are one bread, and one body.”[x] Albert Barnes commented on the second half of 1 Corinthians 12:13, “This probably refers to their partaking together of the cup in the Lord’s Supper. The sense is, that by their drinking of the same cup commemorating the death of Christ, they had partaken of the same influences of the Holy Ghost, which descend alike on all who observe that ordinance in a proper manner. They had shown, also, that they belonged to the same body, and were all united together; and that, however various might be their graces and endowments, yet they all belonged to the same great family.”[xi] While it would be inaccurate to affirm that viewing 1 Corinthians 12:13 as a reference to the two ordinances the Lord Jesus gave His church is anything like the unanimous position among commentators on the passage, the position is very widely represented. Indeed, within the wider world of Christiandom “the most popular view of 1 Corinthians 12:13 is that Paul is describing Christian water-baptism . . . which incorporates the baptisand into the Body of Christ.”[xii] A reference in 1 Corinthians 12:13 to immersion in water cannot be dismissed as a new and novel position, although those who have only been exposed to heavy doses of universal church dispensationalism might wrongly think it is. On the contrary, viewing 1 Corinthians 12:13 as a reference to the church ordinances has been believed by many of the Lord’s churches and people, as well as by many within Christendom generally, and deserves to be evaluated sympathetically, and accepted on account of the strong exegetical merits specified in previous posts.
[i] Word Pictures in the New Testament, A.T. Robertson, comment on 1 Corinthians 12:13. Elec. acc. Online Bible for Mac, Ken Hamel. Oakhurst, NJ: Online Bible Software, 1996.
[ii] Notes on the New Testament, Albert Barnes. Elec. acc. Online Bible for Mac.
[iii] Notes on the Old and New Testaments, John Wesley (orig. pub. 1767). Elec. acc. Online Bible for Mac. Comment on 1 Corinthians 12:13.
[iv] The Seal of the Spirit: A Study in the Doctrine of Baptism and Confirmation in the New Testament and the Fathers, G. W. H. Lampe, 2nd ed. London: S. P. C. K., 1967, pgs. 56-7, 137.
[v] Alford, Henry, Alford’s Greek Testament (rev. ed). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1980 (reprint ed). Comment on 1 Corinthians 12:13.
[vi] Nicoll, W. Robertson (ed.), The Expositor’s Greek Testament. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2002 (reprint ed.), comment on 1 Corinthians 12:13.
[vii] The related verb potidzo is used for “to drink” in 1 Corinthians 12:13.
[viii] John Calvin, Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians, elec. acc. Christian Library Series, vol. 7, John Calvin Collection. Rio, WI: AGES Software, 1998.
[ix] R. Jamieson, A. R. Faussett, and D. Brown, A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments (1871), elec. acc. Online Bible for Mac.
[x] Annotations upon the Holy Bible, Matthew Poole (1700), elec. acc. Online Bible for Mac.
[xi] Notes on the New Testament, Albert Barnes. Elec. acc. Online Bible for Mac. The view that 1 Corinthians 12:13 refers to baptism in water and the Lord’s supper is, naturally, also advocated in other theological works outside of commentaries. For example, “[In] 1 Corinthians 12:13 . . . distinctions of Jew and Gentile, bond and free, are abolished. By the grace of the same Spirit (or perhaps ‘in one spirit’ of Christian love and fellowship) . . . all are joined in baptism to the one body of Christ[.] . . . Possibly there is an allusion to both sacraments. . . . Both our baptism and our partaking of the cup in the communion are tokens and pledges of Christian unity. They mark our union with the one body of Christ” (“Baptism,” in the Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, John McClintock & James Strong. Elec. acc. Christian Library Series vol. 2. Albany, OR: AGES Software, 2006. The author of the article in the encyclopedia, in common with all the Protestant commentators cited above, believes in universal ecclesiology, not the historic Baptist local-only position.).
[xii] pg. 129, Baptism in the Holy Spirit, James Dunn. Unfortunately, many of those who advocate this position, confusing ecclesiology and soteriology, follow Cyprian and affirm that the body of Christ is the universal realm of salvation, rather than the local assembly of those previously born again. The wider world of Christiandom is filled with heresy.