What is the Baptism of the Holy Spirit?

Well, it’s been a long time since I’ve posted on here.  I’ve been working 60-70 hours a week (at 2 jobs) and still am…but I ended up doing some writing tonight that I’ll toss on here since it’s both a) long enough to be a post and b) of possible interest to some.  Because I’m already past my bedtime by 2 hours, there’s no pictures or editting tonight; just some quick Bible study that’s a horribly rough draft.

I won’t bother with the story of why I’m writing this, but I’m going to answer a single question.  What is the Baptism of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament?

Let’s look at every single instance that the Greek verb Baptizo (“baptize”) and the term Pneuma (“Spirit”) appear together in the Scripture. For those that don’t trust me, look at the results here:

So, here’s the verses:

Matt. 3:11, 3:16, 28:19; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; John 1:33; Acts 1:5, 2:38, 10:47, 11:16; 1 Cor. 12:13.

That’s every single passage in the Bible that uses the terms “baptize” and “Spirit” in the same sentence.

But wait, there’s one more verse. The noun form of Baptizo (Baptisma – “baptism”) also appears together with the Greek noun Pneuma in a single place:

Acts 18:25.

So that’s every place that the Baptizo/Baptisma/Baptismos word group appears alongside the noun Pneuma. If there’s any other passages that directly address the specific issue of the Baptism of the Spirit, they do it without using both terms related to transmitting the concept. Now there’s plenty of indirect allusions to the consequences of that baptism, or the evidences of receiving it, or any number of things…but that’s not relevant to instructing us as to what the Bible says the Baptism of the Spirit is (in it’s essential nature).

Let’s look at the Scriptures:

Matt. 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 fire.”

So the passage says that John baptized with water for repentance, but there was one coming (namely Jesus Christ) who will baptize “you” “with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”

So who’s the “you” in 3:11?

Well, Matthew tells us very clearly that John had a mixed audience. Matt. 3:5-6 tells us that there were many Jewish folks coming to John and believing his message, but Matt. 3:7 says that many Pharisees and Sadducees came out to listen to him as well. In addressing the Pharisees and Sadducees, John said the following:

“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” – Matt. 3:7-10

So, in Matt. 3:10 he is talking about judgment. Then, John turns to the whole crowd and says vs. 11-12:

“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 fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

The reason I say that John was addressing the whole crowd is because John clearly wasn’t baptizing the Pharisees and Sadducees “for repentance”. But, the Pharisees are still standing there and John then comments about the fire that he had mentioned in 3:10. He states that the one who is coming (Jesus), already has his winnowing fork (a tool used for separating the wheat from the chaff), and will separate the wheat from the chaff.

John’s crowd included both wheat (those who were being baptized for repentance) and chaff (the unrepentant Pharisees and Sadducees). What’s interesting is that the coming baptism is related to both the wheat and the chaff. One group (the repentant) will be baptized by the Holy Spirit and the other group (the unrepentant) will be baptized with fire. Many people claim that the “fire” that is being talked about in vs.11 is some sort of passion for God or his “manifest presence” in the form of spiritual manifestations (which it never ever means in the Scripture), but if one reads the surrounding verses, the fire in vs. 10 and the fire in vs. 12 is inescapably a destructive element.

This passage doesn’t spell out all the details regarding what this coming “baptism” is, but it definitely connects it with both repentance and judgment.

Addressing Matthew 3:11 also deals with Mark 1:8 and Luke 3:16, which are simply parallel accounts of the same event.

Matt. 3:16 – “And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him;”

So this is Jesus having the Holy Spirit descend upon him at his own baptism…but Jesus’ baptism was just a water baptism. The other surrounding events (i.e. the audible voice of God and the physical manifestation of the Holy Spirit himself) clearly don’t happen to anyone else, ever. There should be no need to expand upon the singular and peculiar nature of Christ’s own baptism…though John 1:33 does explain why the Spirit visibly descended upon Jesus.

Addressing Matt. 3:16 also deals with John 1:33, since they’re directly related and discussing the same events.

Matthew 28:19 – “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,”

Clearly, this is a command regarding water baptism.

Acts 1:4-5 – “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.”

Acts 1:4-5 directly refers to the promised baptism that John the Baptist spoke about in the the Gospel passages we’ve already looked at. That baptism was coming.

Now tongues was clearly the evidence of the reception of that baptism, but Acts 1:5 doesn’t tell us what that baptism was, at least in it’s essential nature. All we know is that the promised baptism was imminent in Acts 1:4-5.

Acts 10:47 – “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?”

Acts 10:47 is referring to water baptism, and the people who Peter wanted to receive that baptism were the Gentiles who spoke in tongues (Acts 10:46). The very fact that they had the evidence of receiving the Spirit of God should have made it clear that deciding to administer water baptism to them was a no-brainer.

Acts 11:16-17 – “And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit. If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?”

This is is Peter recounting his experience in Acts 10 for the Jerusalem council.

Acts 18:25 – “He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John.”

Clearly, in Acts 18:25 the term “baptism” is not modified by the term “spirit”, but they’re referring to separate ideas.

Finally, we have the last mention of “baptism” and “Spirit” (appearing in the same sentence) in the entire New Testament:

1 Cor. 12: 13 – “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.”

Now this is interesting. Paul writes that the Spirit baptizes “we” (And Paul has been talking to “brothers” since vs. 1) into one body, and those who are in that body are all “made to drink of one Spirit”.

So outside of the Gospels, the only Scripture that directly addresses the topic of the Baptism of the Spirit talks about how the Spirit baptizes people into the body of Christ.

In other words, that’s salvation, as a careful read of 1 Cor. 12:4-27 indicates (Paul is arguing that the same Spirit who brought you into the body of Christ hands out gifts for the common good of that body, and each person is responsible for using their gifts for serving that body).

Paul is clearly not talking about some sort of experience following salvation, but salvation itself.

Uh Oh.

And what’s worse is that this is the consistent teaching of the rest of the New Testament.

In Acts, after the incident of tongues where the crowd asked what the sign of tongues meant (Acts 2:12) and Peter’s answer to that question given in Acts 2:14-36, the crowd then asked what they should do in response to Peter’s answer in Acts 2:37. In Acts 2:38-39, Peter said:

“Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”

In other words, be baptized for repentance and then you’ll also receive the promised baptism of the Holy Spirit (which was promised in Matt. 3:11). That baptism is for who?

Elite Christians who have some sort of super spiritual experience after their salvation?

Not for a second.

The Holy Spirit was promised, by Peter, to inescapably be given to “everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”

That means everyone who is a Christian has received the Baptism of the Holy Spirit.

Again, in Acts 19, we have some people who had followed John the Baptist and received his baptism (Acts 19:1-3). They knew about the promise of the Baptism of the Spirit but didn’t know that the promise had already been fulfilled, so Paul gave the disciples of John the gospel of Jesus and they immediately were both baptized in the name of Christ (19:5) and simultaneously received the Holy Spirit (19:6).

In other words, they got the Baptism of the Spirit when they heard and believed the gospel of Jesus Christ.

So, if we’re taking out beliefs from the Bible, the case is clear.

I definitely believe in the Baptism of the Holy Spirit.

It’s when a person is baptized into the body of Christ upon hearing and believing the Gospel, and that’s the only teaching of the New Testament.

Anyone who says otherwise is in demonstrable, objective error.  They’re possibly teaching something they’ve learned from their experience, their confusion, their tradition, or any number of sources…but they’re not teaching something that they learned in the Bible (rightly understood and applied, of course).

One can debate the marks of that baptism (and I’ve already admitted that in the New Testament, the initial proof of the Baptism of the Spirit was speaking in tongue…though a person may want to read this, this and this before assuming that I would suggest that such is the case in our post-apostolic era), or the nature, purpose, extent, etc. of that baptism, but none of those debates really change the clear and uniform teaching of the New Testament as to what the Baptism of the Holy Spirit is.

If you’re a Christian, it happened to you when you became part of the body of Christ.

Until Next Time (which may be some time),

Lyndon “Dunked and Delivered from Damnation” Unger


15 thoughts on “What is the Baptism of the Holy Spirit?

  1. I’m a new reader who recently found your writings while researching Robert Morris because our small group is studying The Blessed Life. I had some questions about his theology and you and your links helped me understand a lot. I’m in discussion with our group now about my concerns and the leadership is supportive of them and that we not endorse his teachings for our church body. (Our pastor asked us to do the study this summer and to get back with him with our opinions as to whether he should recommend the book for other small groups to study this fall.)

    All of that to say thank you for your wise and bible based teachings. This one is also intriguing. I see you are very busy but I hope you will write again soon.

    • Thanks so much for your kind words Mona!

      Robert Morris is, without a question, one of the new generation of prosperity gospel preachers. I’ve wanted to write a critical interaction with “The Blessed Life” because it’s a spiritual cyanide capsule covered in a LOT of chocolate, but I simply don’t have the time.

      In a nutshell, the whole book reduces spiritual blessing to a formula that you can fake.

      As long as you take the right steps, God is obligated, by divine law, to give you more money.

      That’s absolute witchcraft in it’s purest sense (which I define as “attempting to direct the will or disposition of spirits/spiritual forces by rune, talisman, spell, ritual, or geography”).

      Also, when you read the book, notice where he learned the whole “prosperity message”.

      He never studied the Bible to figure it out; God “spoke” to him through various people, and he had a bunch of experiences, and then he read them back into the Scripture.

      That’s completely backwards to how it should be.

      Finally, take each one of his biblical supporting texts and look at them in their context. Ask yourself

      “Is this verse talking about the subject of money?”

      “Who was the original intended audience?”

      “What was the author trying to communicate?”

      When you sort through all his main supporting texts (and there’s only like 6-10), then ask yourself how his teaching can be “Biblical” if he has no scriptural support?

      Here’s some articles that I wrote that may help you sort through “The Blessed Life”:

      Understanding Prosperity Theology Part 1

      Understanding Prosperity Theology Part 2

      Prosperity Gospel Theology from the Horses’ Mouth

      Putting the Prosperity Gospel in a Biblical Category

      Look at #11 here.

  2. Thank you Dunked and Delivered Lyndon. I appreciate you taking very precious time from your busy schedule to write this. It’s the best teaching I have read on this topic. Such a teaching is very much needed for the many churches that are doing separate baptisms in the Holy Spirit.

    While some may think this is not a big deal, it is the accompanying teachings that go with it that seem to do more harm. Some churches teach that once you are baptized in the Holy Spirit you are imbued with special powers. They will now be able to speak in tongues (the gibberish type) cast out demons from saved Christians, engage in supernatural healings, prophesy including predicting the future, slay people in the spirit, cause people to levitate and basically possess the supernatural powers of the original 12 Apostles.

    The scary part to me is how often megachurches baptize children this way and they do so without the knowledge or consent of the parents. The kids go to children’s church or youth group and with no forewarning or request for permission, some leader stands on the stage and does this hocus pocus deal. The danger is when the kids believe they have superpowers on par with the original 12 Apostles, then what do they need a Bible for? Come to think of it, with those superpowers why would they need a Savior?

    This July, Gateway Church in Southlake, TX is holding a Gateway Student Conference for 4,000 students that is called “Do It Again” and it is going to be a 3 day Miracle Crusade in the old school style of Oral Roberts, James Robison and Benny Hinn. I can’t begin to describe how much damage this may end up doing. Kids will be manipulated by the Darren Brown style, leg growing tricks and other stage craft. Kids will leave believing that everyone else received their miracle then believing that God has abandoned them, because they are the only ones out of thousands that did not have their parents’ marriage restored, their grandparents’ cancer cured, their lost pets recovered, their sports prowess improved or whatever their request for supernatural intervention was.

    I’m pretty sure they will also do an arena wide baptism in the Holy Spirit. This last Wednesday they did an auditorium wide exorcism (without parental knowledge or permission) as a warm up for the conference. After the HS Baptism many kids will leave in hurt and confusion because no matter how hard they believed or tried they simply did not receive the gift of tongues, or have visions (something some of the kids at past GWS Conferences have claimed – such as seeing gigantic angels or 50′ tall Jesuses). I’m not speculating about kids feeling this way, I have seen it happen.

    Lyndon, you have now provided an excellent resource so hopefully those 4k kids will have something they can research themselves. I don’t think the harm is in the declaration of a separate baptism outside of the water baptism, so much as all the things that allegedly come with that act. Thank you.

    • Thanks for the kind words LT…and the other stuff is highly alarming.

      I’d agree that all the “tagged on” theology to the doctrine of subsequence (the proper name for separating the baptism of the Spirit from the indwelling that happens at Salvation) is spiritually destructive.

      There’s a reason false teachers have a special spot in Hell reserved for them. I pray that Robert Morris comes to his senses before he has to learn that truth first hand.

  3. Good to hear your writing again – I’ve very much missed it. This kind of study is always welcome and re-affirming to those of us who have come through the Word of Faith detour.

  4. Thank you for this article! A few weeks ago, Chris Hodges at Church of the Highlands taught that there are three baptisms. I was going to pass this along to some friends who go there, but then I read the comments from another article you wrote and changed my mind!

  5. Hi Lyndon!
    Thank you so much for all the work you put into your posts, I really appreciate it and always find them stimulating and edifying.
    I simply had a question about the instance in Acts 19 where Paul interacts with some disciples – he asks if they’ve had the baptism of the Spirit and they say they have only had the water baptism; can it be inferred that they were not of that point yet born again even though they were considered disciples?

    This post was very helpful to me because I went through both John MacArthur’s and Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ series on Ephesians at the same time and I remember distinctly the mention of this idea, the baptism of the Holy Spirit, since they both had different viewpoints.

    As I think about this issue, I wonder if those who hold to subsequence maybe have the right idea (the experience of being filled with the Holy Spirit) but the wrong term (baptism of the Holy Spirit). What are your thoughts on that?

    Grace and peace,
    Jared Michael

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