The words, “Many Corinthians, hearing, believed and were baptized” in Acts 18:8 record the consequence of the renewed efforts of Paul to preach after Timothy and Silas joined him in Corinth. He had come from Macedonia where the three had earlier taught. Paul had reasoned each Sabbath in the synagogue in Corinth, but opposition arose (as so often it did) from those Jews who would not accept the gospel. He left the synagogue and went into the house of a man named Titus Justus. However, Paul’s preaching was not in vain: the chief ruler of the synagogue believed and was baptized personally by Paul (1 Corinthians 1:14) and in addition, “Many Corinthians … were baptized”. Those converts were followed by others who heard and obeyed. God had told Paul, “I have many people in this city” and the church continued to grow.
These new disciples believed because they had first heard: that is the way through which faith comes (Romans 10:17). Then, after they had believed they were baptized. They were baptized for the same reason Paul was — to be saved (Acts 22:16). Of them Paul wrote, “For in one Spirit were we all baptized into one body, whether Jew or Greek, whether bond or free and were all made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:13). Although they all “drank of one Spirit” — through miraculous spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12:7-11), and the “gift of the Holy Spirit” was promised to those who are baptized (Acts 2:38), the Holy Spirit was not the element in which they were baptized — that was water — they were led to be baptized by the teaching of the Holy Spirit. God baptized men in the Holy Spirit (Joel 2:28); men baptize men in water (Acts 8:36; Hebrews 10:22; 1 Peter 3:21-22). The Corinthians had been baptized into one body; and just as the Romans had been, they had been baptized into the death of Christ (Romans 6:3). And when they were baptized, they had been baptized into Christ and had put Him on — just as the Galatians (Galatians 3:26-27).
Paul baptized Crispus, ruler of the synagogue, Gaius, and the house of Stephanas (1 Corinthians 1:14-15). He didn’t remember baptizing any others. He was thankful that he had baptized no more, lest any of them should say they had been baptized into his name (1 Corinthians 1:13-15). The apostle didn’t say he was thankful that none others had been baptized; he was thankful that he had only baptized the few he had, lest any should say he baptized by his own authority or into his own name. Paul preached but others, like Silas and Timothy, could baptize those who wished to be.
When Peter and John had been preaching to a multitude in Solomon’s Porch (Acts 3:13-26), they were arrested and put into prison. But many others were baptized: the number of disciples came to be about 5,000 men (Acts 4:4). These were baptized by someone other than Peter and John because they were in prison at the time. Paul wrote the Corinthians that “God sent me not to baptize but to preach the gospel” (1 Corinthians 1:17). We are not to understand that Paul was saying that baptism was no part of the gospel (as some insist was what he meant). He only meant that God had inspired him with the message of the gospel and others could, and easily did, baptize those who believed the gospel Paul preached and wanted to be saved.
Paul reminded the Corinthians that baptism was the point of separation between a lost man and a saved man; an old man and a new man — and yet they still could be lost. He wrote, “For I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea; and were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and did all eat the same spiritual food; and did all drink the same spiritual drink; for they drank of a spiritual rock that followed them: and the rock was Christ. Howbeit with most of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things were our example …” (1 Corinthians 10:1-6). The point Paul made is this: the baptism of Israel “unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea” was the time in which Israel was freed from their slavery in Egypt, and yet, although they were no longer slaves, there was still danger to them. They were on their way to the Promised Land, but they weren’t there yet. Many of them never saw that land because they displeased God in the wilderness and died there.
The example to the Corinthians was, just as Israel was free from the slavery of Egypt when they passed through the sea and the waters returned to their natural course again (that body of water separated them from their Egyptian slavery), so the Corinthians had, by their baptism into one body, been separated, from the guilt of their sin and were on their way to their Promised Land (Heaven) — but they weren’t there yet. The various lusts and devices which Satan, through his fiery darts, pierce us with, can cause us, if we yield to Satan’s overtures, also to “fall in the wilderness”. It is imperative that “if any man thinketh he standeth, let him take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:13).
First Corinthians was written for Christians who lived in Corinth in that day — and for us who live nearly 2,000 years later. We can still start, but fall. The words of Paul in 1 Corinthian 16:13 are a sober warning to us: “Watch ye. Stand fast in the faith. Quit ye like men. Be strong. Let all that ye do be done in love”.