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The Blue Letter Bible

Don Stewart :: Does the Holy Spirit Baptize the Believer with Fire?

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Don Stewart

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In referring to the coming appearance of Jesus the Messiah, John the Baptist said:

He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire (Matthew 3:11).

Does this mean the Holy Spirit baptizes the believer with fire for the purpose of purification? Or does it mean He will baptize the unbeliever with the fire of judgment?


Some see this promise referring to believers. On the Day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit baptized the believers as Jesus had promised. Jesus said:

For John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now (Acts 1:5).

Several days later Jesus promise was fulfilled.

Now when the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place . . . Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them (Acts 2:1,3).


Are the tongues of fire the fulfillment of this prophecy? On the Day of Pentecost the tongues were said to have been like fire. There is no reference, however, to the "fire" of the Holy Spirit.

Judgment On Unbelievers

Another interpretation has this prophecy referring to unbelievers. It is a reference to judgment for their sin. In the Old Testament, fire spoke of purifying the faithful and damnation for the wicked:

But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like refiners fire and like fullers soap. He will sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver; He will purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer to the Lord an offering in righteousness (Malachi 3:2,3).

The fire of judgment will be a work of the Holy Spirit upon those who do not believe. Another statement of John the Baptist seems to confirm this:

He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly purge His threshing floor, and gather the wheat into His barn; but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire (Luke 3:16,17).

Issue Stated

Does "with fire "furthers describes Holy Spirit baptism or does it describe a different aspect of baptism altogether?

Option 1. They Refer To The Same Thing

If spirit and fire refer to the same thing, they both may describe judgment or blessing. Many scholars believe that John preached only a message of judgment and both phrases refer to judgment. Therefore the Holy Spirit is understood to be a destroying wind that works together with fire. The wind blows away the chaff. Others believe that both phrases refer to the blessing experienced by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The fire refers to the tongues of fire that were exhibited. Problem with this view is that fire in the following verse clearly refers to judgment.

Option 2. Twofold Baptism

Because of this, many see a twofold baptism - one for the righteous (the Holy Spirit) and the other for the unrighteous (fire). It may be better to see these as one baptism which is experienced as either a judgment or a blessing. The fire will destroy the wicked but will purify the believer.

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