In I Corinthians 1:17 Paul writes “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel–not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.” This is said right after he states that he baptized very few of the Corinthians.
Now fast-forward to I Corinthians 3:5-9 which says:
“What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe–as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.”
In this quote, Paul assigns himself the role of planting a seed. We thus have a correlation between preaching the gospel and planting seeds, which exactly corresponds to the relationship established in the parable of the four soils between the gospel and seed in its farming motif. Notice then that Paul goes on to say that Apollos watered, in a context in which he has already explicitly said he did not baptize. It would follow then that watering corresponds to baptizing in the agricultural analogy that is in play. Paul preached the gospel <==> sowed seed on a field. Apollos watered <==> baptized them into the church.
Numerous thoughts leap to mind. Here’s a couple of them.
1. The parables are not isolated snippets of imagery with only one point and no correspondence to larger imagery that carries through the Bible. For instance, a well-developed agricultural motif is developed based on the fact that man is made of dirt, has seed sown in him, is watered by God, and is to bear fruit. This basic pattern (or portions of it) is central to stories, parables, exhortations, etc. For instance, Hebrews 6:7-8 comes to mind: “Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned.” Thus, in some instances, one might find the clearest expression of a particular motif in a parable. Using that motif to understand other passages is not, in and of itself, an improper use of analogy, even if such a use goes beyond the one single point the parable is presumed to teach by those who approach the parables in such a way.
2. Baptism is an ordinary step in salvation, but does not ensure ultimate salvation. We hear the word, we are watered in baptism, but as Hebrews 6 reminds us, we must grow the fruits of salvation and not the thorns of apostasy. Lest any readers be confused, I am not trying to say anything more than, for instance, the Westminster Confession of Faith states when it puts baptism as the means of entering the church and the church as the place in which salvation is ordinarily found. Rather, I am trying to say it in a slightly different way, in keeping with the language of scripture that I have cited.
I need to stop here and get back to work. Perhaps I’ll have the chance to put up a few more thoughts later.