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The Baptism of The Spirit

Pastor of Iglesia Conexiones, a baptist church in Jessup, MD. B.A. in Bible, B.S. English Ed., M.S. in Educational Leadership.

St. Peter Preaching at Pentecost

[Note to the reader. This article was updated on 10/25/21]

There are different views on the baptism of the Spirit. Some Christians believe the baptism of the Spirit occurs when a person first believes in Jesus, and other Christians believe it occurs later in a believer’s life as a second work of grace. In this article, I want to take a careful look at what the Bible reveals about the baptism of the Spirit so our faith can be based on what we can reasonably deduce from the Bible.

In The Book of Acts

In the New Testament book of Acts, we read that, on a day of Pentecost (a biblical holiday), a powerful wind entered the room where the Lord’s disciples were. Tongues of fire then appeared over the disciples; and, being filled with the Holy Spirit, they miraculously spoke in foreign languages they did not know (Acts 2:1-4).

We know this event is the baptism of the Holy Spirit because, in the same book of Acts, the Lord Jesus had previously told the disciples that they would be baptized with the Holy Spirit in just a few days (Acts 1:4-5). Also, the Apostle Peter explains that this event is what the Lord had been talking about (Act 2:33). Thus, Acts 2:1-4 describes the actual baptism of the Spirit.

Notice that the baptism of the Spirit means that the disciples were baptized with the Spirit instead of being baptized with water. John the Baptist had baptized people with water, but the disciples were baptized with the Holy Spirit.

Moreover, according to Peter’s sermon in the book of Acts, the baptism of the Spirit in Acts 2:1-4 was the fulfillment of Joel 2:28-29 (Acts 2:17-18).

Timeline for The Baptism of The Spirit (1)

As we examine the baptism of the Holy Spirit, we should keep in mind a timeline of the events. In the Tanach (Old Testament section of the Christian Bible), the baptism of the Spirit was a far future event prophesied by Joel in either the fourth of fifth century before Christ. In Acts 1, it was a near future event prophesied by the Lord Jesus just a few days before it happened. In Acts 2, the baptism of the Holy Spirit was a present event (the prophecy was fulfilled in Acts 2).

  • Prophesied by Joel in the fourth or fifth century B.C. (Joel 2:28-29).
  • Foretold by Jesus just a few days before Pentecost (Acts 1:4-5).
  • Fulfilled on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4).

In The Gospels

However, we need to note that the baptism of the Spirit is first clearly mentioned by John the Baptist in the gospels. John was proclaiming that people should repent and be baptized with water, and he was also foretelling that the Messiah (the Lord Jesus Christ) would soon come and baptize people with the Spirit (Matthew 3:11-12, Mark 1:8, Luke 3:16, John 1:26-27, 31-33).

Timeline for The Baptism of The Spirit (2)

  • Prophesied by Joel in the fourth or fifth century B.C. (Joel 2:28-29).
  • Foretold by John the Baptist three to four years before Pentecost (Matthew 3:11-12).
  • Foretold by Jesus just a few days before Pentecost (Acts 1:4-5).
  • Fulfilled on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4).

What The Baptism of The Spirit Means

Breath, Oil, and Water

When the Lord told the disciples that they would be baptized with the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4-5), he explained that this meant the Holy Spirit would come upon them and give them power to witness about him (Acts 1:5). In this context, the baptism of the Spirit means that the Holy Spirit comes upon a disciple of the Lord to give him power to tell others about Jesus.

The concept of the Spirit coming upon a disciple (or believer) goes back all the way to the Torah (Pentateuch, books of Moses), where God took some of the Spirit that was in Moses to distribute among others: and, as a result, they prophesied (Numbers 11:25-26). It may be helpful to understand that the word translated spirit is the same word translated breath, being distinguished only by the context.

Eventually, the Spirit came to be associated with oil because priests, prophets, and kings were anointed to indicate that they had been chosen by God and given the Holy Spirit to serve God (1 Samuel 16:13, 1 Kings 19:16, Isaiah 61:1. Zechariah 4:14).

When John the Baptist began to preach the baptism of repentance, he was telling people to undergo baptism (a Jewish ritual) to show that they were repenting of their sins and cleansing themselves to receive the Messiah. John also said to the people that, as he had baptized them with water, the Messiah would baptize them with the Spirit and with fire (Matthew 3:11-12, Mark 1:8, Luke 3:16, John 1:26-27, 31-33). John was really speaking about the same thing: the Spirit would come upon God’s servants. However, John cleverly replaced the figures of breath and oil with the figure of baptism.

Thus, the baptism of the Spirit is a synthesis of Jewish baptism and passages in the Tanach that compare the Spirit to a breath that comes inside a person and an oil that is poured on a person. The idea is the same: the Spirit comes into a person to give them power to serve God.

The Sound of a Powerful Wind

In Acts 2:1-4, another important element is mentioned: “a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind” (Acts 2:2, KJV). This sound is important because it represents the Holy Spirit. The sound was letting the disciples know that the Holy Spirit had come.

In the book of Ezekiel, God begins to speak to the prophet in Ezekiel 1:28. After God finishes speaking to the prophet in Ezekiel 3:11, the Holy Spirit lifts up the prophet and takes him away. The Spirit actually speaks to Ezekiel, and his voice sounds like a great rushing.

It is helpful to know that the same word translated spirit is the same word that is also translated breath and breeze. So then, Ezekiel is lifted up and taken away by a breeze whose voice sounds like a great rushing: that is a representation of the Holy Spirit.

The sound that filled the room on the day of Pentecost was letting the disciples know that the Holy Spirit had come from heaven and was now with them in that same room.

A Promised Fulfilled

Afterward, the disciples saw tongue of fire above them, and they were filled with the Spirit, and they began to speak in foreign languages they did not know how to speak.

Some of the people who came to see what was happening mocked the disciples, but Peter explained to them that this event was the fulfillment of a promise made by God in the book of Joel (Acts 2:16-21). According to the prophet Joel (Joel 2:28-29), God had promised to pour His Spirit on all flesh—Peter claimed that this promise was being fulfilled on Pentecost.

Peter went on to say that this gift (not the gift of tongues, but the pouring of the Spirit) was for all who would believe in Jesus Christ (Acts 2:38-39). Thus, the baptism of the Spirit is not for all people, but only for those who believe in Jesus Christ, those who repent and call on the name of the Lord.

What the Baptism of The Spirit Means

Thus, the baptism of the Spirit is the coming of the Holy Spirit into one who repents and believes in Jesus Christ for salvation to empower that believer to serve God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Additional Announcements of The Baptism of The Spirit

Now that we have a working definition of the baptism of the Spirit, it is important for us to realize that the Lord Jesus Christ foretold the baptism of the Spirit at various times during his ministry (John 7:39, 14:17, 14:26, 15:26). Clearly, he was referring to the time when the Spirit would come into the disciples.

John 20:22 is also a passage in which the Lord announces the baptism of the Spirit. John 20:22 is most likely not an instance of the baptism of the Spirit since the passage does not indicate that the disciples received the Spirit then. It is only a symbolical and prophetic action by which the Lord Jesus Christ is indicating to the disciples that they will receive the promise of the Holy Spirit (this passage also points to the Lord’s divinity in light of Genesis 2:7).

Additional Baptisms of The Spirit

However, the book of Acts records other events that can also be interpreted as baptisms of the Spirit on new converts to Christ and fulfillment of Joel 2:28-29. In Acts 8:14-17, the Samaritans receive the Holy Spirit after they believe in Jesus and the apostles lay hands on them. In Acts 10:44-46, righteous gentiles (gentiles who believed in the God of Israel) receive the Holy Spirit after they believe in Jesus (there is no laying of hands on them). And, in Acts 19:1-7, some disciples of John the Baptist (and probably Apollos) receive the Holy Spirit after they believe in Jesus and Paul lays hands on them.

One other event in Acts resembles the baptism the Spirit (Acts 4:31), but most likely it is not. The reason this event is most likely not a baptism of the Spirit is that these disciples had previously repented of their sins, believed in Jesus Christ, and received the promise of the Holy Spirit. They were not new converts to Christ.

Timeline for The Baptism of The Spirit (3)

  • Prophesied by Joel in the fourth or fifth century B.C. (Joel 2:28-29).
  • Foretold by John the Baptist three to four years before Pentecost (Matthew 3:11-12).
  • Foretold by the Lord throughout his ministry (John 7:39, 14:17, 14:26, 15:26).
  • Symbolized by the resurrected Lord (John 20:22)
  • Foretold by Jesus just a few days before Pentecost (Acts 1:4-5).
  • Fulfilled on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4).
  • Happens to Samaritan believers on whom the Apostles laid hands (Acts 8:14-17)
  • Happens to Cornelius and his house when they hear the gospel from Peter (Acts 10:44-46)
  • Happens to twelve disciples after they believe the gospel (Acts 19:1-7)

Scriptures That Do Not Refer to The Baptism of The Spirit

Not Mentioned in The Epistles

In the epistles, the baptism of the Spirit is not mentioned. There are some concepts that are related to it, but the baptism of the Spirit itself is not mentioned. We can say, then, that the baptism of the Spirit was a past event by the time the epistles were written.

However, there is a passage of interest, and that passage is 1 Timothy 4:14. In this epistle, the Apostle Paul mentions that he laid hands on Timothy to impart him a gift. That gift is not a spiritual gift, but the Holy Spirit Himself (the same gift Peter spoke of in Acts 2:38). Let us remember that Timothy met Paul in Acts 16:1-3, so Timothy may have been baptized with the Spirit in the same way there’s were in Acts 2, 8, 10, and 19.

Not Mentioned in 1 Corinthians

Some Christians interpret Paul’s words to the Corinthians as the baptism of the Spirit:

For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:13, KJV)

Nevertheless, in this passage, the word baptism is not present to say that believers have been baptized with the Spirit as with water, but that believers have been baptized by the Spirit into the body of Christ (the church) as people are immersed with water. This, then, is not the same baptism with the Spirit, but baptism into the body of Christ: identification with the church.

Timeline for The Baptism of The Spirit (4)

  • Prophesied by Joel in the fourth or fifth century B.C. (Joel 2:28-29).
  • Foretold by John the Baptist three to four years before Pentecost (Matthew 3:11-12).
  • Foretold by the Lord throughout his ministry (John 7:39, 14:17, 14:26, 15:26).
  • Symbolized by the resurrected Lord (John 20:22)
  • Foretold by Jesus just a few days before Pentecost (Acts 1:4-5).
  • Fulfilled on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4).
  • Happens to Samaritan believers on whom the Apostles laid hands (Acts 8:14-17)
  • Happens to Cornelius and his house when they hear the gospel from Peter (Acts 10:44-46)
  • Happens to Timothy after Paul lay hands on him sometime after Acts 16:1-3 (1 Timothy 4:14).
  • Happens to twelve disciples after they believe the gospel (Acts 19:1-7)
  • Not mentioned in the Epistles

The Baptism of The Spirit after Acts

The epistles of the New Testament never teach Christians that they need to be baptized with the Spirit. Instead, the epistles teach that all those who have believed in Jesus Christ have received the Holy Spirit in them (Galatians 3:2, 14, 4:6, Ephesians 1:13, Romans 5:5, Romans 8:9), that the Spirit is active in them (Galatians 5:5, Romans 8:14-16, 26), and that they must learn to walk (live) according to the character and direction of the Spirit (Galatians 5:16, 25, Ephesians 4:30, 5:18).

The epistles never teach that Christian leaders should lay hands on other Christians for them to receive the Holy Spirit. The laying of hands on believers for them to receive the Holy Spirit only occurred with the Samaritans (Acts 8:14-17), Timothy (1 Timothy 4:14), and the disciples of John the Baptist (Acts 19:1-7). Other factors may have been at work, for example: the Samaritans and the disciples of John the Baptist may have needed divine confirmation that they had to follow the leadership of the apostles instead of the doctrine of their previous teachers.

Finally, although tongues was often a sign that the new believers were baptized with the Holy Spirit, the book of Acts does not indicate that everyone who was saved spoke in tongues. Nothing is said about the three thousand souls receiving the gift of tongues (Acts 2:41), and the epistles clearly indicate that the gift of tongues is not for every believer (1 Corinthians 12:7-11, 30).

Have You Been Baptized with The Holy Spirit?

Because the promise of the Spirit is for all who repent and believe in Jesus (Acts 2:38-39), and because the Spirit indwells everyone who believes in Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:2, 14, 4:6, Ephesians 1:13, Romans 5:5, Romans 8:9), you can say you have been baptized with the Holy Spirit if you have indeed repented and believed in Jesus Christ.

No, you were not baptized with the Holy Spirit in the same way as the people in the Bible were, but the Holy Spirit does dwell in you and in everyone who has called on the name of the Lord (Acts 2:21).

The sound of a mighty rushing wind and the appearance of tongues enveloped in fire were unique and historical experiences that took place in that one Pentecost day, and that never again took place. However, their absence does not undermine the Lord’s promise.

Moreover, the New Testament never teaches that the gift of tongues and the laying of hands are necessary for every believer. Quite the contrary, they are not.

The one who baptizes with the Spirit is the Lord Jesus Christ (John 1:33). If you love the Lord and keep his commandments, God the Father loves you, and both the Father and the Son will dwell in you through the Spirit (John 4:23, John 7:38).

© 2020 Marcelo Carcach

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