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  • Writer's pictureAnush A. John

Baptism in the Holy Spirit

The uniqueness of the Christian concept of God is that of the Triune nature of God – that God is One being with Three persons in the Godhead – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The church is the body of God’s work on earth. Though few people have questions about the role of God the Father and Jesus Christ in the church today, there seems to be some confusion about the role of the Holy Spirit in the church today.

One of the points of contention in some churches is that of the baptism of the Holy Spirit and its related issue - the filling of the Holy Spirit. The Pentecostal/charismatic churches believe that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is a separate event after conversion. At the opposite end of the spectrum are the Baptist/Brethren etc. churches that believe in the complete cessation of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

The key then is to understand what the baptism of the Holy Spirit really is and then the meaning of what it means to be filled in the Spirit will also be revealed.

What is the baptism of the Holy Spirit? What is the filling of the Holy Spirit?

Before we look at the answers to these questions, there is an important hermeneutical rule that needs to be addressed. It is the lack of knowledge of this rule that prevents an accurate exegesis and therefore the existence of wrong teaching that pervades certain churches.

Historical vs Didactic

There is a difference between historical accounts and didactic letters. Historical accounts focus on a collection of experiences. Didactical accounts focus on teachings. The New Testament contains both genres of content. The book of Acts is mainly an experiential, historical account. Even then it is not an account of ALL the things that happened historically. It is just a collection of some of the things that happened in the first century as collected by Luke the physician.

In general, we don’t formulate theology or theological principles from experiences. Instead, our experiences should be evaluated in the light of theological principles.

Hence, any argument for any doctrine should come primarily out of the letters or out of the didactic parts of the historical narratives and not out of the experiences themselves. Any doctrine that is purely formed out of inferences from experiences should be treated with suspicion.

For example. if you read the historical account in the book of Acts and then formulated your doctrine of the gift of tongues, as some churches do, then you will come to the conclusion that every time there was the expression or presence of the Holy Spirit mentioned, there was the use of the gift of tongues. But this is simply not true because when you read 1 Corinthians chapter 12 and 14 you find out that the gift of tongues has a much lesser role in the church.

At the same time, even though the Gospels are primarily historical accounts, we can obviously formulate theological doctrines from the didactical parts of it. So, for example, the majority of the doctrine of hell arises out of the teachings of Jesus in the historical accounts of the Gospels.

Only in cases where there is no guidance in the didactical accounts should anyone look at historical examples to infer doctrine.

Thus, for the questions on the baptism and filling of the Holy Spirit, we turn to the epistles and to the didactic parts of the historical books first, and then evaluate the experiences in the historical accounts based on established doctrine.

Baptism of the Holy Spirit

The charismatic churches believe that it is a separate event because of the examples in the book of Acts that seems to indicate it as a separate event.

So what is the baptism of the Holy Spirit from the didactical portions of scripture?

The term “Baptism in the Holy Spirit” occurs 7 times in the New Testament.

In the first four occurrences, John the Baptist is speaking about Jesus and predicting that he will baptize people in (or with) the Holy Spirit:

Matthew 3:11: “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”

Mark 1:8: “I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.

Luke 3:16: “I baptize you with water; but he who is mightier than I is coming, the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”

John 1:33: “He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” ’

From these verses, the conclusion that we can draw is that Jesus is the one who will baptize his followers with the Holy Spirit.

The next two passages refer directly to Pentecost:

Acts 1:5: [Here Jesus says,] “John baptized with water, but before many days you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.

Acts 11:16: [Here Peter refers back to the same words of Jesus that were quoted in the previous verse. He says,] “I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’

From these two passages, we understand that Baptism in the Holy Spirit happened on the day of Pentecost as recorded in Acts 2 and 3000 people were converted. (Acts 2:14).

All six of these verses use almost exactly the same expression in Greek, with the only differences being some variation in word order or verb tense to fit the sentence, and with one example having the preposition understood rather than expressed explicitly.9

The only remaining reference in the New Testament is in the Pauline epistles:

1 Corinthians 12:13 (NIV): “For we were all baptized in one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.”

The Greek text of this verse is similar to that of the other six verses.

Paul says ἐν ἑνὶ πνεύματι … ἐβαπτίσθημεν (“in one Spirit … we were baptized”). The only difference is that he refers to “one Spirit” rather than “the Holy Spirit” – but when you look at the context, there is no question that he is indeed referring to the Holy Spirit when he says “one spirit”. Otherwise, all the other elements are the same: the verb is βαπτίζω and the prepositional phrase contains the same words (ἐν, plus the dative noun πνεύματι from πνεῦμα).

This verse says that Baptism in the Spirit happens in order to add a person to the body of Christ.

Question: When does a person become a member of the body of Christ?

Answer: At conversion.

Baptism of the Spirit, therefore, happens when a person is added to the Body of Christ, and that is at conversion.

Now that the doctrine is established using the didactic portions of the scriptures, we can then explain the experiential in light of the didactic.

The Baptism of the Spirit occurred for the first time on the day of Pentecost (for it was still future when Jesus spoke of it in Acts 1:5, and Peter mentions it as happening first at Pentecost in Acts 11:15–16).

The Pentecost and the accounts of the works of the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts reflect the transition of the old covenant and the new covenant.

Even though the disciples were bei