The Baptism of the Spirit

The Baptism of the Holy Spirit

– By Nate



The purpose of this paper is to evaluate three views on the baptism of the Spirit that have emerged within mainstream Christianity, to address their strengths and weaknesses, and concluding with a text-driven, biblical model of what the baptism of the Spirit looks like from the New Testament period into today’s “Christian” culture. Several issues must be specifically addressed when understanding a biblical model of Spirit baptism. This includes the time aspect,[1] what exactly does the baptism of the Spirit accomplish, whom does the Spirit baptize, and when does the act of Spirit baptism actually occur. This paper will seek to answer these questions from each view point and help the readers better understand the biblical exegesis involved and conclude that; the baptism of the Spirit is a special, one-time act which occurs during the church age at the time of salvation, by which an individual is identified with the body of Christ, uniting him with the death of Christ, which brings victory over sin.

The baptism of the Spirit is specifically mentioned in seven New Testament verses. John 1:33 states “he baptizeth with the Holy Ghost,” Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:8 and Luke 3:16 use “he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost,” similarly Acts1:5 and 11:16 use “ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost,” and finally 1 Corinthians 12:13, which includes the addition of “by one Spirit.”[2] Kaiser says, “Six of the seven passages directly refer to the “baptism of/in/with/by the Holy Spirit” contrast John the Baptist’s baptism by water with Jesus’ future baptism in the Holy Spirit.”[3] The seventh is from the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 12:13. However, all seven are identical in the use of the preposition en, “in, with.”[4] Therefore it is this same act of Spirit baptism that was laid out by John the baptist, then reinforced by Christ Himself, and then later confirmed by Paul. Thus this paper will not address different Spirit baptisms, rather is a study of the singular act that each of these seven passages reference.



The Reformed View


The reformed view of Spirit baptism is distinct in exegesis and hermeneutics. First, this position argues that Spirit baptism began with the events at Pentecost (as well as Samaria and Caesarea), whereby all those who believed in Christ (at that time as well as those who were to come in the future), received the Spirit as “Christian initiation” or more simply put, an act of identification into the body of Christ. This only occurs in what they define as “the new age.” Second, the reformed view believes that having God’s Spirit is synonymous with believing, for which Romans 8:9, 14 is used as a proof text. Third, this position holds to the unity of theology among the New Testament authors,[5] stating that all scripture was revealed and inspired to the original authors by the same God through one Spirit, therefore arguing that the same God would not reveal multiple agendas that would be in contradiction to one another. Fourth, those whom hold to the reformed view do not believe that the works of the Spirit (including baptism, regenerating, and sealing) are synonymous. These acts do occur at the same point in time (the point of σωτηρίας) and may share characteristics one with another, yet they are each distinct and only occur once.

A common claim against the reformed perspective is made that those whom hold to this view misuse scripture by placing the majority of interpretive weight on 1 Corinthians 12:13 alone. Using this passage to define the other six passages that deal specifically with Spirit Baptism. 1 Corinthians 12:13 is the only “Spirit baptism” passage that mentions being baptized into one body. Therefore the argument is that when those who are reformed attempt to define Spirit baptism, they choose to define it as an action or a symbol by which believers are identified with the body of Christ (His bride, the church). This definition comes solely from one passage and therefore imposes its doctrine onto the other six. The reason that the reformed hold to this overarching interpretation of I Corinthians 12:13 is that without it, there is no claim of a singular baptism[6] occurring at ones salvation. This then ultimately would result in allowing the interpretation of baptism as a subsequent act to salvation. Ralph Del Colle a professor of theology writes from a Catholic prospective, and see’s the exclusiveness of I Corinthians 12:13 as the reformed positions foremost down fall. Ralph writes this, “Can it really be established that there is a biblical doctrine of Spirit baptism that has to do with being “incorporated by God, in the Holy Spirit, into one spiritual body of Christ”? It is based largely on 1 Corinthians 12:13 as the interpretive lens for the other passages on Spirit baptism and underscores the pneumatological (and ecclesial!) aspects of the blessings of the new age.”[7] This is clearly an issue that those holding to the reformed perspective must address.


The Pentecostal View


Those within the Pentecostal perspective define Spirit baptism “as the coming of God’s Spirit into the believers life in a very focused way.”[8] Pentecostals believe that this special baptism is more than just a doctrine of the Spirit, they believe that Spirit baptism is a unique personal experience which changes are clearly seen by both the individual and others observing. Evidence for this visible change resulting from being baptized by the Spirit is supported by Pentecostals with the believers in Day of Pentecost, the Samaritan Believers, the Apostle Paul, and the Gentile Believers recorded in scripture. They use these examples seeking to prove that not only will there be evidence of Spirit baptism, but that baptism is always subsequent to salvation. This evidence that Pentecostals speak of is the “gift” of speaking in tongues. Pentecostals claim that speaking in tongues is a promised and immediate result of Spirit baptism (Acts 2:4). In fact, the General Counsel of Pentecostals drafted their “Statement of Fundamental Truths” in October of 1916, and in this statement they assert, “The full consummation of the baptism of believers in the Holy Ghost and fire, is indicated by the initial sign of speaking in tongues, as the Spirit of God gives utterance. Acts 2:4. This wonderful experience is distinct from, and subsequent to the experience of the new birth. Acts 10:44-46; 11:14-16; 15:8-9.”[9] The gift of speaking in tongues has become the standard in evidence of the Spirit, and is expected to be seen in all believers by the Pentecostals.

The strongest support that Pentecostals and Charismatic’s alike use to back their doctrine of Spirit baptism being a separate, subsequent event to salvation is found in Acts chapter eight. The argument here is that the Samaritan believers were in fact saved through Philip’s preaching of the word, yet they did not receive God’s Holy Spirit until a later time. Thus proving that not only is it possible to be “saved” without receiving God’s Spirit, but also claiming that it is the ordo salutis norm. The issue with this position is that the Samaritan’s receiving of the Spirit is not the normal situation. It is clear that all those who were believers at Pentecost received the Spirit immediately, and therefore were not commended by the apostles to seek out the Spirit’s coming as if it were another subsequent event. The truth is, that the Samaritan’s situation is a special circumstance. When one considers the history between the Jew’s and Samaritans, the meaning of this subsequent coming of the Spirit is better understood. The Jews and Samaritans despised each other; each side believed that they were superior to one another. The Jews did not believe it was possible for a Samaritan to be saved, and the Samaritans believed they had attained a higher religious knowledge than the Jews, and that their worship was superior. This situation in Acts chapter eight serves as a beautiful example of how God can use one situation to teach two distinct and separate people groups that He is the sovereign one. It was the Jewish apostles who had the humbling task of going to the Samaritans to lay their hands on them, thus acknowledging that they too were believers and were able to receive God’s Spirit. The Samaritans on the other hand had to likewise be humbled and acknowledge that Christ’s saving work, and gift of the Spirit had to come through the Jews. The principle here is neither a new doctrine of Spirit baptism, nor that of Spirit filling; rather it is an example of God’s sovereign power. In summary, the Pentecostal movement as a whole believes that the workings of the Spirit are always subsequent to salvation, resulting practically with the gift of tongues, and is therefore a sign or proof of ones salvation. This pnuematological position can be problematic to say the least. The most troubling issue that arises is that of the “supposed” saints that never received any special subsequent spiritual experience. Are these individuals then not true believers? This is clearly not the case, and can produce great doubt among those influenced by the movement that have not “experienced” the Spirit.


The Charismatic View


Dr. Larry Hart

In today’s “Christian” culture, Pentecostalism and Charismaticism are often lumped into one group, being labeled, as different flavors of the same ideology. Yet there are substantial differences between the two groups. As with the Pentecostals, the Charismatics hold Spirit baptism as the crux to their religion,[10] and the gift of tongues as a result of this subsequent baptism. This similarity is often what brings the two denominations under the same umbrella. Larry Hart, a leading professor in the Charismatic movement feels it important to point out the distinctions of the Charismatic faith in comparison to its close partner the Pentecostal. Hart notes what he believes the fundamental distinctions of the Charismatic faith are, “What is Spirit baptism then? Strictly speaking, Spirit baptism is a metaphor, not a doctrine. Further it is a metaphor whose usage is clearly not univocal within the New Testament. I will be arguing that in the New Testament Spirit Baptism refers to the following: (1) Jesus’ eschatological redemptive work; (2) Christian initiation; (3) the Christian life; and (4) empowerment for Christian mission and ministry. In addition it is essential that this understanding be fully integrated within a larger pneumatology.”[11] Hart goes on to point out that his approach to Spirit baptism is just one of many views within the Charismatic context, and acknowledges that there is not an official position on Spirit baptism within his denomination.[12]

The Charismatic movement then appears to differ from Pentecostals in that they see Spirit baptism used more metaphorically, and in the sense of Spirit filling rather than a definitive act of baptism. This difference between the two becomes most clear in their position of indwelling and tongues. Unlike the Pentecostals, the Charismatic’s do not believe that Spirit baptism is a sign of Spirit indwelling, and therefore does not always result in the gift of tongues.

The same arguments against Pentecostalism are applied to Charismaticism, though Walter Kaiser does make a notable claim against Charismatics. As previously quoted above, Hart states that there is no singular position on Spirit baptism within Charismaticism. Kaiser believes that this actually reinforces the claims made by the reformed position, which is that, no one passage can be used to build a doctrine on Spirit baptism without taking into account all the teachings on the subject. Kaiser states this claim against Hart, “It would appear that this is just another way of acknowledging the fact that no single text in scripture distinctively teaches that the baptism of John and Jesus predicted is distinct from the baptism that occurs when one is initiated into the Christian faith, or that no single text exists that would authoritatively back up the claim that speaking in tongues is the initial physical evidence that baptism in the Holy Spirit is a subsequent and distinct event occurring once some time our initiation conversion.”[13]



Exegesis of the text


1 Corinthians 12:13

It is important to note, through sound exegesis of the scripture, one can come to the conclusion that there is only one baptism of, in or with the Holy Spirit. 1 Corinthians 12:13 is the most common text in reference to Spirit baptism, here in this passage there is clear indication that baptism with the Spirit is connected with ones standing before God, not their current subjective state.[14] Therefore arguing that it is ones position in Christ that brings Spirit baptism, and not an extra biblical experience.

The verb ἐβαπτίσθημεν which is used in I Corinthians 12:13 conveys the idea of a completed past action. Paul was writing this epistle from a position subsequent to the events that had already occurred. John the baptist spoke of the future baptism which was to come, Christ in Acts spoke in affirmation to John’s prophecy, and therefore Paul is looking back at the event when the Spirit baptism first took place. This again is denoted with the aorist passive verb ἐβαπτίσθημεν.

Baptism is distinct from filling: Ephesians 5:18

There are those who make the claim that Spirit baptism and Spirit filling is a synonymous term. Yet this claim does not have strong scriptural support and tends to be more of an argument from silence. This can be illustrated from 1 Corinthians 10:1-5. Here Paul examines the condition of the Israelites with five “all” statements. “All under the cloud,” all passed through the sea,” “all were baptized,” “all ate,” and “all drank.” Then comes the powerful statement “nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased.” The idea here is that they were “all” apart of God’s people, living as a part of His community, yet most of them did not meet God’s expectation of His people. There was not the same filling of the Spirit available to the Israelites in the Old Testament as there is for those who are New Testament believers. The connection here is that even though they were of His people, there was the possibility for them to not be living in accordance with Him. Likewise for the New Testament believer who has received salvation, and has therefore been baptized by the Spirit, it does not necessarily mean that they are filled or “controlled” by His Spirit.

Ephesians 5:18 defines what is to be filled by the Spirit, and understanding this work of the Spirit helps one see that it cannot be synonymous with Spirit baptism. In verse 18, the verb πληροῦσθε is translated as “be filled” is in the imperative mood, making it clear that this is a command. Paul is not telling the believers at Ephesus that it would be helpful to be filled with the Spirit. Rather he is saying it is your Christian duty, your obligation, you must be filled with the Spirit.

The second aspect of the verb πληροῦσθε is the plural form, which literally translated is “you all be filled”. The plural nature of this verb is important because it is expressing that all believers are to be filled. By using the plural form, Paul is showing that each individual is therefore, commanded to be filled, not just a select few. This refutes any idea that being filled with the Spirit is something of a temporary nature as was in the Old Testament with individuals like Saul and Samson.

The third aspect of this verb πληροῦσθε is that it is in the passive voice. When a Greek word is in passive voice, another entity is acting upon the subject. This is the work of none other than the Holy Spirit himself.[15]

The fourth aspect of the verb πληροῦσθε is the present tense nature it carries. This conveys a continuous aspect in the verb. Literally stated it could read, “keep being filled”, showing that it is not a one-time event as it is with the indwelling of the Spirit. Rather we are commanded to be continually filled by the Spirit. Peter O’Brian points out this same continual aspect in his commentary on Ephesians. O’Brian writes, “Paul’s primary concern is to urge his readers to live by the spirit continually”.[16] This, in its self, argues against the filling and the baptism of the Spirit being synonymous, because they do not convey the same time aspect.

The baptism of the Spirit is the work that the Holy Spirit does at the moment of salvation, which symbolizes being brought into the body of Christ (the church). Likewise, the baptism of the Spirit is a definitive one-time event; therefore, this cannot be the same thing as the filling of the Spirit.

Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:7, 8; Luke 3:16; and John 1:33

In all these passages, there is no support for a baptism being subsequent to salvation. The message which is being conveyed is that the baptism will come, emphasizing the fact that during the time of the gospels the Holy Spirit had not yet come. Just before Christ was to die, He said to the disciples, “for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you” (John 16:7). Therefore proving that at the time of the gospel references to Spirit baptism, it had not yet occurred because the Spirit had not yet come.

In Acts 2, Christ’s promise was fulfilled and the Spirit was given on the day of Pentecost. The argument has been made that since the two groups in Acts 2 received the spirit at different times, then this must be proof of Spirit baptism subsequent to salvation. The fact is that the 120 individuals who received the Spirit first in verse two, were those who had already placed their faith in the risen Christ for the remission of their sins. And the multitude which was to follow received the Spirit at a later time because they were not yet regenerate at the Spirit’s initial coming. They did receive the Spirit once they believed, therefore showing that the gift of the Spirit does not occur as a special post-salvific event, but rather along with regeneration. John Stott points out the significance of these two occurrences,

“This distinction between the two companies, the 120 and the 3,000, is of great importance, because the norm for today must surely be the second group, the 3,000, and not (as often supposed) the first. The fact that the experience of the 120 was in two distinct stages was due simply to historical circumstances. They could not have received the Pentecostal gift before Pentecost. But those historical events have long since ceased to exist. We live after the event of Pentecost, like the 3,000. With us, therefore, as with them, the forgiveness of sins and the “gift” or “baptism” of the Spirit are received together.”[17]

Therefore from the event at Pentecost until the completion of the age, those who are called by God (and therefore redeemed) will receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit together with salvation (regeneration).





Though there are several views on Spirit Baptism, the views represented in this paper are the most common within American Christianity. Both the Pentecostal and Charismatic view share more than they differ yet each are distinct from the reformed position. From the research that has been gathered for this paper, the reformed position is clearly closest to a biblical view.

Being that Paul wrote 1 Corinthians 12:13 after the initial event of Spirit baptism occurred at Pentecost, clearly then, he is reminding his audience what exactly was accomplished by Spirit baptism in his summation of the doctrine. Therefore the uniqueness of 1 Corinthians 12:13 enables it to be the most referenced verse when defining Spirit baptism. Spirit baptism is therefore the work of the Holy Spirit, by which He identifies or places the believer into the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13). Clearly the work of Spirit baptism is distinct to the church age (Acts 1:5; 11:15-16), occurs only once at the time of salvation and is a gift designated to “all” believers (1 Corinthians 12:13; Ephesians 4:5). Because the baptism of the Spirit is the act by which believers are united into the body of Christ, it then becomes the believers union with the death of Christ, which as Romans teaches is the means by which one can have victory over sin (Romans 6:1-10) because we are likewise risen with Christ (Colossians 2:12).

[1] Such as is the baptism of the Spirit temporal, continuous or undefined?

[2] It is argued that in 1 Corinthians, Paul was referencing a different work of the Spirit than that of the previous six verses. This simply cannot be the case, as Kaiser notes, “If it is said that Holy Spirit in Paul’s Corinthians passage is the subject, that is, the baptizer, in what element then are these Corinthians baptized? A baptism metaphor demands that an element be specified; otherwise it could not be called a baptism.” Walter C. Kaiser Jr., Perspective on Spirit Baptism (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2004) 20. Furthermore, it is more likely that Paul is referencing the same work of that Spirit that both John the baptist and Christ had laid out before him.

[3] Kaiser uses the works of Stott to point out the relationship that all types of baptism share, “As John R. W. Stott noted, “In every kind of baptism (of water, blood, fire, Spirit) there are four parts.”[John R. W. Stott. The Baptism and Fullness of the Holy Spirit (Chicago: InterVarsity Press, 1964), 15] Therefore, God is the subject, or the baptizer, in all the baptisms. The object upon whom the baptism is being performed is the one being baptized. The element of the baptism is either the water, as in John’s baptism, fire, or as the case here, the Holy Spirit.

[4] Kaiser, Spirit Baptism, 19.

[5] The most common example of theological unity among authors, is the opinion that Luke and Paul where addressing two separate works of the Sprit in their respective writings. For example, that Luke was teaching that these works of the Spirit especially Spirit baptism were “subsequent to and separate from ones salvation experience.” Kaiser, Spirit Baptism, 23. Therefore, the reformed view takes the position that both authors were in fact writing under the same leading of the Holy Spirit, and were not teaching separate doctrines.

[6] Meaning only one baptism of the Spirit occuring at the time of salvation.

[7] Ralph Del Colle, Perspectives on Spirit Baptism (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2004) 43.

[8] Simon Chan, Pentecostalism in Context (Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997) 84.

[9] William W. Menzies and Stanley M. Horton, Bible Doctrines: A Pentecostal Perspective (Springfield: Logion Press, 1994) 263-264.

[10] Larry Hart, Perspectives on Spirit Baptism (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2004) 105.

[11] Hart, Spirit Baptism, 108.

[12] “There is no one “Charismatic position” on Spirit baptism. It is true, however, that the term Spirit baptism has taken on a life of its own theologically, and this is so largely because of the massive spread and pervasive influence of Pentecostal/ Charismatic religion. That influence raises at least as many practical and spiritual issues as it does theological.” Hart, Spirit Baptism, 109.

[13] Kaiser, Spirit Baptism, 177.

[14] W. Graham Scroggie, The Baptism of the Spirit, What Is It? ; Speaking with Tongues, What Saith the Scriptures. (London: Pickering & Inglis, 1956).

[15] At the same time, one must be mindful, just because this verb is in the passive voice does not justify the belief that the Spirit controls believers beyond their will. This is a command of action on behalf of the believer, yet it is clearly expressing that the Holy Spirit is the one whom completes this work of filling.

[16] Peter T. O’Brian, “Letter to the Ephesians,” The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William B. Erdmans Publishing, 1999), 387.

[17] John Stott, The Spirit, the church, and the world: the message of Acts (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1990).


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: