Holy Spirit Baptism: What the Scriptures say

The catch cry of the Pentecostal movement has been that Christians should expect an experience of the Holy Spirit subsequent to conversion with the special evidence of speaking in tongues. This experience is usually referred to as the ‘baptism in the Spirit.’ What does the Bible actually say it? In particular, what are the Scriptural references to Spirit-baptism in the New Testament and what do they actually teach?

“He will baptise you”

The exact phrase ‘baptism in the Spirit’ does not occur in Scripture (in the noun form at least) and there are (only) 6 references that use the verb form ‘baptise’ (in which the Spirit – as opposed to water – is the element).

Before Jesus came to John the baptiser with water, he said of Jesus, “He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 3:11, ESV). Two of the five other instances that the verb ‘baptise’ is used to describe Jesus’ activity of giving the Spirit are the parallel verses to Matthew 3:11 in the other synoptic gospels (Mark 1:8 and Luke 3:16). Each describes the future action of Jesus that began on the day of Pentecost, when he would be the One who gave God’s Spirit to (all of) God’s people.

Luke also records two other instances in his Gospel-sequel, the book of Acts: In Acts 1:5 he quotes Jesus’ (only) recorded mention of the phrase just prior to his giving of the Spirit (from heaven); “you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit not many days from now,” (ESV) and again in Acts 11:16 he quotes Peter remembering this same statement of Jesus after he had witnessed the conversion of Cornelius' household, accompanied by the same sign in Acts 2 (speaking in tongues).

The only other use of the verb (‘baptise’) in reference to the giving of the Spirit is recorded by the Apostle Paul speaking in the past tense to Christians: “For in one Spirit we were all baptised,” he says in 1 Corinthians 12:13 (ESV) to the church of Corinth.

“We were all baptised”

The only Scriptural reference in the NT mentioning Spirit-baptism that also contains direct instruction to Christians concerning it is 1 Corinthians 12:14. What Paul says (quite clearly) is that “we were all baptised” in the Spirit. In this statement he is (deliberately) generic and inclusive. Addressing everybody in the church at Corinth specifically but writing of Christians generally, himself included, and also including any Christian reader, he says, “in one Spirit we were all baptised...” And he follows this statement with a reiteration: “all were made to drink of one Spirit.” (ESV)

There is no difference (regardless of translation differences) between the baptism mentioned by Paul here and the 'baptism in the Spirit'. Though the NIV reads, “we were all baptised by one Spirit into one body,” the same Greek word en used in this verse is also the word used in the other five occurances of this phrase (and in those other instances the NIV translates using ‘with,’ not ‘by.’) This Greek word en may be translated 'in', 'with' or 'by,' however it is more accurate to use ‘with’ or ‘in’ because the baptism is not done by the Spirit (it is done by Jesus); the Spirit is the element (as opposed to water) (See Mt 3:11; Mk 1:8; Lk 3:16; Acts 2:33). It was with the one Spirit that we were all was baptised into one body.

“There is one baptism”

The fact that every Christian (without exception) has received from Jesus the baptism with the Spirit is also the implication of Ephesians 4:4-6, “There is one body and one Spirit--just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (ESV) Since there is only one baptism Pentecostalism cannot be true in teaching a second baptism by the Spirit. Although some passages speak about our baptism as one that is "into Christ Jesus" (Rom 6:3) and others as one "with the Spirit" (1 Cor 12:13), there can only be one baptism because there is only one God.

Matthew 28:19 teaches that our (one) baptism was in “the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”. The one God does not give multiple and separate baptisms, one in Christ and another in the Spirit. There are not multiple baptisms because there are not multiple gods; nor are there multiple names. The one Name is the Father and the Son and the Spirit. There are not separate baptisms because the Holy Persons of the triune Godhead are not separate; they are mutually indwelling. The Spirit is the Spirit of the Son, and the Son is in the Father. It is through one baptism in the Spirit that we have come to be in the Son, and through him in the Father also.

The conversion experience can only be interpreted correctly by a full understanding of the Trinity. To think of a baptism in the Spirit which is separate to our baptism into the Lord Jesus is to misunderstand the nature of God. It is to avoid false dichotomies like this that throughout Scripture the teaching about conversion is fiercely Trinitarian. For example, while the book of Colossians repeatedly emphasises that Christians are those who are ‘in’ and ‘with Christ’ through the gospel (Col 1:28, 2:10, 3:3) (without so much as a mention of the Holy Spirit), the books of Galatians and Romans on the other hand repeatedly pictures Christians as those who are ‘in the Spirit’ (Gal 3:1-5; Rom 8:1-17). However Paul is not inconsistent: To be ‘in Christ’ is to be ‘in the Spirit’, because the Spirit is the Spirit of Christ (Rom 8:9).

“The unity of the Spirit”

The unity of God is the foundation for our Christian unity. It is because we all have the one baptism in the Spirit that all Christians are one in God. However the Pentecostal teaching – that some Christians (only) have baptism in the Spirit while others do not – undermines this unity. This is why the Apostle Paul urges Christians in Ephesians 4:4-6: “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit--just as you were called to one hope when you were called—one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all”. All Christians are one in the Spirit because we all have one baptism with the one Spirit.

More on this topic

Baptism in the Spirit: The basis of Pentecostalism

Baptism in the Spirit: The Apostles' experience

Baptism in the Spirit: What Pentecostals believe | joe towns: christian discussion on pentecost, charisma, pentecostal and charismatic beliefs, the Bible and Jesus; including the origin and history of pentecostalism, baptism in the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues, gifts and miracles, divine healing and word of faith, prosperity and wealth, praise and worship, guidance and hearing the voice of the Holy Spirit.