Friday, December 10, 2010

Baptism with the Holy Spirit

I have been teaching a class on the Holy Spirit this fall, and here is an outline of a lesson on Baptism with the Holy Spirit.

The Baptism with the Holy Spirit

In the last few lessons we have studied the identity of the Holy Spirit, as well as the work of the Holy Spirit in the Old and New Testaments. This week we are going to study an aspect of the Spirit’s work that ties together the expectation of the Old Testament and the fulfillment of the New Testament – the baptism in the Holy Spirit.

The Bible speaks of Jesus baptizing “with the Holy Spirit” in six passages (Matt. 31:1; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:6; John 1:33; Acts 1:5; 11:16). One more passage may speak of baptism “in” the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13, ESV and ASV). What does baptism with the Holy Spirit mean?

I. Various Views of the Baptism with the Holy Spirit

A. Various views in Protestanism

1. Calvinistic view: refers to regeneration.

2. Wesleyan view: refers to second work of grace.

3. Pentecostal view: refers to endowment, manifested in speaking in tongues.

B. Among brethren

1. The most common view is that baptism with the Holy Spirit only took place twice – the apostles on Pentecost and the household of Cornelius.

2. Some brethren (most notably Foy Wallace Jr) have argued that the household of Cornelius was not baptized with the Spirit.

C. I believe there is a better option – “Baptism in the Spirit” is simply one way to describe the coming of the new covenant and the era of Messianic blessings.

1. This does not mean that all Christians are supernaturally endowed to speak with tongues, as Pentecostalism suggests. This wasn’t even the case in the apostolic period (1 Cor. 12:10, 30).

2. In fact, a major source of confusion on this subject has been equating baptism with the Holy Spirit with miraculous signs, something that the text does not do.

3. As Moses Lard wrote in 1864: “Baptism in the Spirit does not consist in endowing the mind with miraculous powers, as seems to have been so generally taken for granted.” (Lard’s Quarterly I:275).

II. Baptism with the Holy Spirit in the Old and New Testaments

A. The Old Testament prophets looked forward to a new era of blessings through the Messiah, which included the pouring out of the Spirit.

1. Isaiah 32:15 – Israel will be desolate until the Spirit is poured from on high.

2. Isaiah 44:3 – God will pour His Spirit on Israel’s offspring, like water on a thirsty land.

3. Ezekiel 36:25-27 – God will sprinkle water to cleanse His people, give them a new heart, and put His Spirit within them to cause them to walk in His statutes.

4. Ezekiel 39:29 – God will pour out His Spirit on the house of Israel.

5. Joel 2:28-32 – God will pour out His Spirit on all flesh, followed by prophecy, dreams and visions.

6. Zechariah 12:10 – God will pour out on the house of David and people of Jerusalem a spirit of grace.

B. Observations regarding these OT statements:

1. Notice the comparison of the Spirit to water, “poured out,” connected with the “sprinkling” of the people, parallel to water on a thirsty land.

2. None of these passages suggest this pouring out would be limited to a handful of people. It is for the house of David, Jerusalem, the offspring of Israel, “all flesh.”

3. Except for Joel 2 there is nothing inherently miraculous in any of these statements.

4. This expectation continued into the New Testament period, as is reflected in the writings found at the Dead Sea. “Then, too, God will purge all the acts of man in the crucible of His Truth, and refine for Himself all the fabric of man, destroying every spirit of perversity from within his flesh and cleansing him by the holy spirit from all the effects of wickedness. Like waters of purification He will sprinkle upon the spirit of truth, to cleanse him of all the abominations of falsehood and of all pollution through the spirit of filth.” From the Manual of Disciple (1QS).

C. The fulfillment of this expectation in the New Testament.

1. John the Baptist taught that Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit (Matt. 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:15-16; John 1:33).

a) Nothing in these passages indicates that John was speaking only to the twelve. Indeed, he said this before the Twelve were chosen. Luke is specific that he addressed “them all.”

b) Against the backdrop of the passages in the OT, John’s promise was that Jesus was the one through whom God’s new era of blessing and salvation for His people would come.

c) And baptism was the perfect metaphor in light of the language comparing the coming of the Spirit with water in the OT.

d) In light of the OT promises, nothing inherently miraculous was expected.

e) Since it is always God who would pour out the Spirit in the OT, for John to say Jesus would do this indicates that Jesus is deity.

2. Jesus taught that He would baptize with the Spirit (Acts 1:5).

a) He said this to the apostles, but it is not correct to interpret this to mean it only referred to the apostles – Peter understood this statement to have wider application in Acts 11:16.

b) This is in keeping with the promise Jesus made in John 7:37-39, where once more the Spirit is described in terms of water – “rivers of living water.”

3. The Day of Pentecost (Acts 2).

a) We sometimes call this the “birthday of the church,” the first gospel sermon, the beginning of the kingdom, the “hub of the Bible,” and so on. It was a pivotal event.

b) And since the OT pictured the Messianic age as the time when God would pour His Spirit on His people, Peter says that the Day of Pentecost is the inauguration of that era of blessings (quoting Joel 2 in 2:17-21).

c) In order to bear testimony to those in attendance that this the start of something new, God enabled the apostles to speak in tongues – 2:1-4; cf. Heb. 2:3-4.

d) But the speaking in tongues is not to be confused with baptism with the Spirit. Rather, the speaking in tongues confirmed that the new age of the Messiah, the start of the new covenant, the outpouring of the Spirit, had begun.

e) The promise of the Spirit is for all who turn to the Messiah (Acts 2:38; cf. 5:32).

4. The Household of Cornelius (Acts 10).

a) The Spirit fell on Cornelius and his household in Acts 10, enabling them to speak in tongues. This was to bear witness that God accepted Gentiles on the same basis as Jews (Acts 15:8).

b) In Acts 11:16-17, Peter says that when he saw this he thought of Jesus’ promise. He realized that the age of Messianic blessings was for everyone, including Gentiles.

c) Normally in Acts miraculous manifestations of the Spirit took place by the laying on of the apostles’ hands (Acts 8:14-18; 19:4-6). As Peter says in Acts 11:15, what made the events at the house of Cornelius so remarkable was that the Spirit came on them “just as on us at the beginning,” without any human intermediary.

d) The normal course of events in Acts is baptism, then the giving of the Spirit. This was different. “In Acts 10 the tongues were evidence that God wanted the Gentiles to be received into His church along with the Jews. Thus these events were not intended to be paradigms of conversion. They were meant to be exceptions to the rule in the sense that every miracle is an exception; this is what gives them their evidential value” (Jack Cottrell, Baptism: A Biblical Study, p. 61).

e) To emphasize: what makes Acts 2 and Acts 10 unique is that there were miraculous signs without human intermediaries. They were miraculous signs that the Messianic age (the age of the outpouring of the Spirit) had begun and included Gentiles.

D. Summary:

1. The OT expectation of the pouring out of the Spirit on God’s people was fulfilled through the work of Jesus Christ who baptizes His people with the Spirit.

2. All Christians share this blessing at conversion (John 3:5; Titus 3:5). It is not miraculous.

3. On two occasions (Acts 2 an 10) God did give miraculous signs that this age had begun. But these signs are not to be confused with baptism with the Holy Spirit.


  1. Shane,

    I enjoyed your brief study here. I can't say I am convinced (yet). But I do think you are making some persuasive points. Thanks for the challenge.

    Jeff McDowell
    Naples, FL

  2. Good. ..... also it is good/vital to include in connection with the facts of His Spirit/the Holy Spirit with/in us is our complete living-loving-submission to Him. Not to get our focus off the Word of God but on God Himself, -- Andrew Murray wrote a little book that expresses this somewhat called: Full Blessing of Penticost.

    Dave - again.