Baptism with the Holy Spirit

This is part 9 of an ongoing study of the Holy Spirit. For previous parts of this study, click here.

In part 5 of this study we observed where God promised, through the prophets, to give his people new hearts by sending his Spirit (Ezek. 36:26-27) and to pour out his Spirit on all flesh (Joel 2:32-38).

In a similar manner, John the Baptist spoke of a coming one who would “baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Mark 1:7-8 (see also Mt. 3:11; Lk. 3:16)

John was baptizing with water, but the coming one, identified as Jesus (Jn. 1:33), would baptize with the Holy Spirit. We know that this is somehow tied to the events of Pentecost (Acts 2) because of what Jesus said to his disciples after his resurrection.

And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now“… “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Acts 1:4-5, 8

As we observed in parts 6 and 7, Jesus had spoken of a day when the Spirit would be given to those who ask the Heavenly Father (Lk. 11:13), and he identified himself as the source of the Spirit, who would be poured out on the thirsty (Jn. 7:37-39).

What is this baptism with the Holy Spirit that was referred to by the prophets, and spoken of by both Jesus and John?

Not “Baptism Of The Holy Spirit”

It may be interesting to notice that the Bible never actually speaks of a “Baptism of the Holy Spirit.” In fact, Paul says that the “unity of the Spirit” only involves “one baptism” (Eph. 4:3-6). This can only refer to the baptism that was commanded by Christ (Mt. 28:19; Mk. 16:16; Jn. 3:5) and his disciples (Acts 2:38; 22:16) and was referred to by Paul as the “washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5).

When it comes to “baptism” involving the Spirit, we only find the following phrases:

  • “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Mt. 3:11; Mk. 1:8; Lk. 3:16)
  • “This is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit” (Jn. 1:33)
  • “You will be baptized with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:5; 11:16)
  • “Be baptized… and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38)
  • “In one Spirit we were all baptized into one body” (1 Cor. 12:13)

There are also phrases that refer to Jesus “pouring out” the Spirit (Acts 2:17-18, 33; 10:45, Titus 3:5-6), and this also seems to be closely connected with Jesus’ promise to send the Spirit, but the phrase “Baptism of the Holy Spirit” never occurs in the Bible. Perhaps this is a difference without a distinction. But since many today refer to a “baptism of the Holy Spirit”, it should be noted that the phrase is never actually used in Scripture.

Popular Views of the Baptism

There are many who believe that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is an event that is described as occurring only a few times in the book of Acts. As noted above, Jesus’ “baptism” is most certainly tied to the events of Acts 2. Many will identify this baptism in the events of Acts 2:1-4, where the Holy Spirit filled Jesus’ disciples who were together in Jerusalem, and gave them the ability to speak in tongues. They will also point to Acts 10:44-48, when in an occurrence similar to that of Acts 2 (see 11:15), the Holy Spirit was poured out on Cornelius and the other Gentiles who were with him, giving them the ability to speak in tongues.

There are many variations of this view. Some will also include the events of Saul’s conversion (9:17-18), when the Samaritans received the Spirit by the laying on of hands (8:14-17), and/or when the Ephesians received the Spirit by the laying on of hands (19:6). Some will argue this “baptism” was a unique event that only occurred a few times in the first century. Some will argue that this is a baptism that all Christians should seek, even today. Some will say that this miraculous “baptism of the Holy Spirit” is the moment of conversion. Others will argue that this “baptism of the Holy Spirit” served an important purpose, but should be thought of as separate from the actual moment of conversion, which happens when a person is baptized in water.

What these various views hold in common is the belief that the “baptism of the Holy Spirit” is to be equated with miraculous signs described in those passages cited above. It is easy to see how many arrive at this view, as the book of Acts makes a strong and indisputable connection between the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the unique ability to perform miraculous signs and wonders.

An Event That Occurs at Every Conversion

What is sometimes overlooked is the way that Luke, in the book of Acts, speaks of the gift of the Holy Spirit for all who repent and are baptized (Acts 2:38-39), as available for all those who obey (Acts 5:32), and also speaks of the Holy Spirit’s presence among those who apparently lacked the ability to perform miracles (Acts 6:3). Paul also frequently speaks of the Holy Spirit being something that all Christians are baptized with and all Christians drink from.

For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

1 Corinthians 12:13

Paul also spoke of the Spirit’s role in the “washing of regeneration” for all Christians.

He saved us, not because of works done by use in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

Titus 3:5-6

And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of God.

1 Corinthians 6:11

Paul appears to be referring to the one baptism spoken of by Jesus, which was necessary to enter the kingdom of God, and which involved two elements: water and Spirit.

Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”

John 3:5

For this reason, Paul can also of the Spirit dwelling in all Christians (1 Cor. 6:19; Rom. 8:8-13), even though he recognized that the ability to perform miraculous gifts was not common to everyone (1 Cor. 12:4-11; Rom. 12:6-8).

The Importance of Reading Both Luke and Paul Carefully

The role of the Holy Spirit in Christians today has been the source of much confusion, disagreement, and sometimes division among Christians. I believe on of the primary reasons for this is because it is easy to read the book of Acts, and get the impression that the Holy Spirit is primarily connected with miraculous gifts, but it is easy to read the letters of Paul and be left with the impression that the Holy Spirit is common to all Christians and not necessarily miraculous. We must avoid the temptation to emphasize only those verses which fit our preconceived notions about the Spirit.

The key to rightly understanding the role of the Spirit is, I believe, to accept that both Luke and Paul were inspired authors of Scripture, and both shared at the same understanding of the Spirit. For this reason, Luke and Paul should not be pitted against one another. At the same time, we can also recognize that Luke and Paul were different individuals who wrote for different purposes, and thus emphasized different aspects of the work of the Spirit. It would be a mistake to assume that every time Paul refers to the work of the Holy Spirit that he was contemplating the same aspect of the work of the Spirit as described by Luke, and vice versa. The inspiration of both authors does not eliminate their individual personalities, writing styles, unique purposes, or unique points of emphasis.

So what was Luke’s point in emphasizing the miraculous gifts of the Spirit in the book of Acts? Did Luke view Jesus’ “baptism with the Spirit” as something limited to those special, miraculous occurrences, or did Luke, like Paul, view the baptism with the Holy Spirit as something which is available for all Christians? These questions will be the subject of the next two parts of this study.