Baptism and Inerrancy

Consider 1 Corinthians 1:14, which says: “I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius.” Does this verse show that Scripture contains an error? Someone might reason as follows. Anyone who writes (or asserts) v. 14 commits herself to a fatal conjunction:

(1) Paul didn’t baptize any of the Corinthians [1 Cor 1:14a]

but

(2) Paul baptized Crispus and Gaius [1 Cor 1:14b].

This is fatal, of course, because if (1) is true, then given that Crispus and Gaius were Corinthian believers, (2) is false. On the other hand, if (2) is true, then it’s (1) that is false. In other words, the conjunction of (1) and (2) is inconsistent. Hence, 1 Cor 1:14 entails a contradiction, and so Scripture is errant.

But notice: what 1 Cor 1:14 actually says is quite different–

(1*) Paul didn’t baptize any of the Corinthians except Crispus and Gaius.

This proposition is true if, of all the Corinthians (to whom Paul was writing), only Crispus and Gaius were baptized by Paul. There isn’t even the hint of contradiction in this claim. We only get a contradiction if we represent Paul’s ‘except’ statement as the conjunction of (1) and (2). But this is plainly a mistake.

Suppose, for example, that I assert (*) All human beings are sinners except Jesus. In asserting (*), I am not thereby committed to the following contradictory pair:

(3) All human beings are sinners.
(4) Jesus (a human being) is not a sinner.

Indeed, if we think about things carefully, we can see that if (*) is true, then the conjunction of (3) and (4) is false. That is, (*) doesn’t entail (3)-(4). This is because if (*) is true, (3) is false. Hence, any conjunction having (3) as a conjunct is also false. Or think of it this way. Since (3) and (4) are contradictory, it isn’t so much as possible that they be true together. Therefore (*), if true, can never entail this pair.

The moral of the story is simple. We must be careful and cautious as we make  our deductions from Scripture, especially when our seeming conclusions deny important, longstanding Christian doctrines. When it comes to biblical deductions: slow, painstaking, logically valid inferences are the order of the day. There are no close substitutes.

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