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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: Baptism with the Holy Spirit

Don Stewart :: What Is the Baptism of the Holy Spirit?

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What Is the Baptism of the Holy Spirit? (Spirit Baptism)

Baptism with the Holy Spirit – Question 1

One of the Holy Spirit’s ministries that has attracted much attention is known as the “baptism of the Holy Spirit.” What is the baptism of the Holy Spirit? When does it occur? Who receives it? Who is baptizer?

There are a number of important points that need to be made about this difficult subject. They include the following.

1. This Phrase Baptism of the Spirit Is Not Found in Scripture

The phrase “baptism of the Holy Spirit” is not found in the Bible. The Bible speaks of a baptism “with,” “by,” or “in” the Holy Spirit. It never refers to the baptism “of” the Holy Spirit. Therefore the use of this term should be abandoned.

2. Baptism Is Either “in” or “with” the Holy Spirit

There is a difference between the baptism “with” or “in” the Holy Spirit. The Greek preposition is en and it may be translated either way. From a study of Scripture we find that Jesus Christ is the baptizer and the Holy Spirit is the means, or the sphere, into which the believer is baptized. In other words, people are either baptized “by” or “with” the Holy Spirit (means) or they are baptized “in” or “into” the Holy Spirit Himself (sphere).

3. Some Prefer to Call It Spirit Baptism Not Baptism with the Holy Spirit

Some prefer to call this subject “Spirit baptism.” This avoids using such terms as baptism “with,” “in,” or “by” the Holy Spirit. Spirit baptism is a neutral term and makes no judgment whether the baptism is with the Holy Spirit, by the Holy Spirit, or in the Holy Spirit. It is probably a good way to describe this particular doctrine.

4. This Is Not the Same as Water Baptism

Spirit baptism is not the same as water baptism. When the word baptism is used in the New Testament some passages clearly refer to water baptism while others clearly speak of Spirit baptism. In addition, there are certain passages where there is a difference of opinion among Bible believers as to whether it refers to water baptism or Spirit baptism.

The Rite of Baptism Always Has Four Elements

Baptism always contains four elements. This includes the one being baptized, the one who does the baptism, the element in which the person is baptized into, and finally the purpose of the baptism. This is true of water baptism and Spirit baptism.

Therefore it must be determined who is baptizing, who is being baptized, what element is the person baptized into, and what it the purpose of the baptism.

The Phrase Baptism with the Spirit Is Used Seven Times by Four Authors

The phrase “baptism with, in, or by the Spirit” occurs seven times in the New Testament. Four times they are the words of John the Baptist, once the words of Jesus, once they are the words of Peter, and the last use of the term is by the Apostle Paul.

John the Baptist Used the Phrase Four Times

Each gospel records John the Baptist using this phrase.

Matthew

In Matthew we read John saying.

I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire (Matthew 3:11 NRSV).

John uses this phrase about the ministry of the coming Messiah.

Mark

Mark records John the Baptist saying the following.

I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit (Mark 1:8 NET).

Mark uses the exact same phrase as Matthew.

Luke

Luke also records John’s words. He put it this way.

John answered them all, “I baptize you with water, but one more powerful than I am is coming–I am not worthy to untie the strap of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Luke 3:16 NET).

We thus find Luke making the same prediction about the coming Messiah as Matthew and Mark.

John

John the evangelist also recorded the words of John the Baptist who spoke of the person who will “baptize with the Holy Spirit.” The Baptist said.

I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit’ (John 1:33 NRSV).

The wording of the fourth gospel is a little different than the first three gospels but the meaning is the same.

In each case, we find that John contrasts his baptism in water with Jesus’ baptism with the Holy Spirit. According to John the Baptist, the baptism with the Holy Spirit would be a distinctive part of the ministry of Jesus Christ. In doing so, John contrasted the baptism in the Spirit, which Jesus would give, with his own water baptism.

Jesus Used the Phrase Once

The only recorded time Jesus Christ used the phrase is found in the Book of Acts. Before His ascension into heaven Jesus said the following to His disciples.

John baptized with water, but in just a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5 NLT).

It is important to note that this statement of Jesus was made after His death and resurrection but before His ascension. Therefore, He spoke of it as something future.

Jesus Spoke of the Promise of the Father and Receiving Power from on High

Jesus also spoke of the disciples receiving “power from on high.” This was a promise of God the Father. Luke records Jesus saying.

And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high (Luke 24:49 NRSV).

This is another reference to the “baptism with the Spirit.” The experience is known as the “promise of the Father” and consists of “power from on high.”

Simon Peter Used the Phrase Once

Simon Peter used this phrase when recounting what took place when the gospel was received by the Gentiles. We read of this in the Book of Acts. He said.

Then I remembered the word of the Lord, how He said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit’ (Acts 11:16 HCSB).

In this case, Peter is citing the words of Jesus.

The Apostle Paul Used the Phrase Once

The Apostle Paul used the phrase once. In his first letter to the Corinthians he wrote the following words.

For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body. Whether we are Jews or Greeks or slaves or free, we were all made to drink of the one Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13 NET).

Here Paul tells the Corinthians that they have already been baptized with the Spirit. It is something which has already taken place in their lives.

These seven instances are the only places in the New Testament where this doctrine is specifically mentioned.

There Are Others Places Where the Baptism with the Holy Spirit May Be in View

There are a number of other passages that may speak of the baptism with the Holy Spirit. For example, Paul wrote to the Romans and told them they had been baptized “into Christ.”

Or do you not know that as many as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him through baptism into death, in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too may live a new life (Romans 6:3, 4 NET).

This verse has been interpreted to refer to either water baptism or spirit baptism.

To the Galatians, Paul proclaimed that believers had been baptized “into” Christ. He explained it in this manner.

for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ (Galatians 3:27 NIV).

Again, this may refer to water baptism or to spirit baptism.

To the church in Ephesus, the Apostle Paul emphasized that there is only one baptism. He put it this way.

[There is] One Lord, one faith, one baptism (Ephesians 4:5 KJV).

What is the one baptism? Is it water or Spirit? Bible-believers disagree.

Paul wrote the following to the Colossians.

For you were buried with Christ when you were baptized. And with him you were raised to a new life because you trusted the mighty power of God, who raised Christ from the dead (Colossians 2:12 NLT).

These passages may also refer Spirit baptism or water baptism. Bible students are divided on this issue.

The Baptism with the Holy Spirit Began at the Day of Pentecost

There are certain things about the baptizing ministry of the Holy Spirit that all can agree upon. The first time people were baptized with the Holy Spirit was on the Day of Pentecost. John the Baptist predicted that Jesus would baptize believers with the Holy Spirit.

We read the following words of John.

I baptize you with water, for repentance, but the one coming after me is more powerful than I am–I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire (Matthew 3:11 NET)

According to John, the baptizing work of the Holy Spirit had not yet taken place when he was preaching and baptizing people in water. Therefore, we can conclude that the baptism with the Holy Spirit is bound up with the ministry of Jesus Christ. Whatever the baptism with the Holy Spirit may be, it has to be understood in the light of Jesus’ ministry.

It Was Still Future after Jesus’ Resurrection

After His death and resurrection, Jesus spoke of the baptism with the Holy Spirit as something still future. At His ascension Jesus told His disciples.

John baptized with water, but in just a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5 NLT).

This passage teaches that the disciples had not been baptized with the Holy Spirit at that time. It also teaches that they would be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from then. They were told to wait in Jerusalem until this took place.

The Promise Was Fulfilled at Pentecost

This baptism with the Spirit occurred on the Day of Pentecost. On that day, the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples with power. Peter stood up and boldly testified to Jesus Christ. After Pentecost, the disciples felt no need to remain in Jerusalem because this promise had been fulfilled.

Thus, each of these passages regarding the baptism with the Holy Spirit, as well as Acts 1:5, are prophetic. They are all looking forward to something that had not happened yet.

Later in the Book of Acts It Was Then Spoken as Something in the Past

A few years later, Simon Peter considered the baptism with the Holy Spirit as something that had already occurred. We read his words.

And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit’ (Acts 11:15, 16 NRSV).

This reference to “at the beginning” refers to the Day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit fell upon the assembled believers. The Holy Spirit came upon believers at a divine time in a designated place.

Nothing Said about It on the Day of Pentecost

Although the baptism with the Spirit occurred on the Day of Pentecost, nothing is specifically said about it when all the events of that day occurred. Acts chapter two, which describes what happened on Pentecost, does not mention the baptism with the Spirit at all.

The Baptism with the Spirit Is Never Defined in the Gospels

One of the difficulties in trying to understand the meaning of the “baptism with the Holy Spirit” is that the phrase is never defined for us in the gospels. We are never told what it would accomplish.

In addition, Jesus never spoke of it during His public ministry. His only recorded reference to it is after His death and resurrection.

It is clear that the Messiah would bring in some new ministry of the Holy Spirit. John the Baptist saw it as something that he was preparing the way for. His baptism was a call to the nation to repent of their sins to make way for the coming of the Messiah. He was the first to use the terminology, “baptism with the Holy Spirit.”

All Conclusions Must Be Held with Humility

Consequently any conclusion as to its meaning of the baptism with the Holy Spirit must be tested by the totality of what the Scripture teaches on the subject. Whatever position one holds must be held with humility and graciousness toward those who believe differently.

Unfortunately, the understanding of the baptizing ministry of the Holy Spirit has been a point of division between Bible-believing Christians. Some see it as a second work of grace; others feel it occurs the moment a person is saved, while still others believe it is an ongoing experience.

Though it is legitimate for believers to have genuine differences between each other on difficult subjects, it is not right for these differences to cause division among the body of Christ.

Summary – Question 1
What Is the Baptism of the Holy Spirit (Spirit Baptism)

The baptism with the Holy Spirit is both a difficult as well as an important doctrine. The following introductory points need to be made concerning it.

Though this particular ministry is popularly referred to as the baptism “of” the Holy Spirit, the Bible nowhere calls it such. The ministry is more properly spoken of as the baptism “with,” “in,” or “by” the Holy Spirit. Some prefer to call the subject Spirit baptism.

The baptism with the Holy Spirit is not the same as water baptism. It is important to keep the two distinct.

Four different people are recorded to have used the phrase baptism with the Holy Spirit – John the Baptist, Jesus, Peter, and Paul. Jesus referred to it as “the promise of the Father” and “power from on high.”

There are a number of passages that may speak of the baptism with the Holy Spirit that do not use the specific term. However, there are differences of opinion among Bible believers as to whether water baptism or Spirit baptism is in view.

The baptism with the Holy Spirit first occurred at the Day of Pentecost. Before Jesus ascended into heaven He spoke of it as something that was still to occur in the future. After Pentecost, it was looked upon as a past even. Therefore, all the references to the baptism with the Holy Spirit before the Day of Pentecost are prophetic in nature. After Pentecost the baptism with the Spirit is treated as a reality.

The baptism with the Holy Spirit is not defined in the gospels. Indeed, that which the baptism with the Spirit is to accomplish is never explained. Any attempt to understand exactly what it is must be the result of comparing what the totality of Scripture says on the subject. Since there are good Bible-believing Christians who have a difference of opinion on this matter it is important that we approach this subject with humility.

What It Means to Be Baptized and Filled with the Holy Spirit (Introduction) ← Prior Section
Was the Baptism with the Holy Spirit Predicted in the Old Testament? Next Section →
CONTENT DISCLAIMER:

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.


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