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There is a great deal of confusion about the baptism of the Holy Spirit in Churches of Christ. Most of our theology of the Spirit has come in reaction to others, not from a comprehensive study of the Scriptures ourselves.

We reacted against the Calvinist “direct operation” position in the early days of the Restoration Movement. Our emphasis then on the importance of faith coming by hearing the Word of God made many of us virtually put the Holy Spirit into retirement when the New Testament was complete.

In later years, we have reacted against the excesses of the charismatic Pentecostal movement, particularly against their claim that speaking in tongues is the sign of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. We also reacted against their belief that all Christians should seek baptism in the Holy Spirit. Hence, they claimed all Christians should be able to speak in tongues. Some of us even accuse others of us of being “Pentecostal” when we teach any present, active role for the Holy Spirit.

Our early commitment to “the Word only” in bringing someone to faith in Christ made it easy for us to eliminate any activity of the Holy Spirit – beyond the influence He exercises through the Word – in bringing the believer to maturity in Christ. This meant we relied more on our own intellect to understand the Scriptures than we relied on the wisdom that came from God. After all, we reasoned, the wisdom of God is in the Scriptures, so when we depend on the Scripture we in reality are depending on God.

In my recent article on Jesus & John the Baptist in my series on Matthew, I slid right over a discussion of what John meant when he said the one coming after him “will baptize you in the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 3:11). In this series, I want to rectify that omission.

In this first post, I simply want to lay out the passages that talk about baptism in the Holy Spirit as well as those that mention baptism and the Holy Spirit together. In later posts, I will attempt to make sense of what the Scripture says on the matter.

Baptism and the Spirit in the Gospels

I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. – Matthew 3:11

As soon as Jesus was baptized, He went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on Him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased. – Matthew 3:16-17

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always to the very end of the age.” – Matthew 28:18-20

And this was his message: “After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.

At that time, Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. As Jesus was coming up out of the water, He saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on Him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”  – Mark 1:7-11

The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Christ. John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” – Luke 3:15-16

When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on Him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” – Luke 3:21-22

Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on Him.” I would not have known Him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is He who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ I have seen, and I testify that this is the Son of God.” – John 1:32-33

Baptism and the Spirit in Acts

On one occasion, while He was eating with them, He gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” – Acts 1:4-5

Peter replied, “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. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call.” Acts 2:38-39

As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as He had come on us at the beginning. Then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘”John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” So if God gave them the same gift as He gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God?” – Acts 11:15-17

While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”

They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”

So Paul asked them, “Then what baptism did you receive?”

“John’s baptism,” they replied.

Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is in Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. There were about twelve men in all. – Acts 19:1-7

Baptism and the Spirit in the Epistles

You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ….

Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” – Galatians 3:26-27; 4:6

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. Ephesians 4:4-6

This, I believe, is all the New Testament says directly about baptism and the Holy Spirit. If I have inadvertently overlooked some passage, please inform me so I can include it in this study. In future posts I will examine these texts to see what they mean. I will pay particular attention to what they mean for us today.

Was baptism in the Spirit something that was only for the apostles and the first Gentile converts? Was baptism in the Spirit only for a select few in the first century? Did baptism in the Spirit give miraculous, charismatic gifts? Should we pray today to the Holy Spirit to fall on us in a baptismal measure? Are we baptized in the Holy Spirit today? What does it mean to be baptized in the Holy Spirit? I will address these questions in later posts in this series.

NEXT (2): With the Holy Spirit and Fire


6 Responses

  1. REALLY looking forward to this series, Jerry! We are in the middle of a series on Sunday mornings on the Spirit…very good stuff. Our preacher really has a good grasp and is able to offer a healthy teaching on the Spirit (IMO). He made a good point this morning about how since Eden, “evil” has been able to occupy space in our soul if we allow it. The Spirit is the thing we are given to reclaim that space and offer us strength and resilience. I’ll forward your study to our preacher, I’m sure he’ll enjoy this as well.

    • Jon,

      I hope you will not be disappointed. I’m not sure that this will be a smoothly flowing series (at least not as much as I would like it to be), but will examine some of the blunders we have made in the past in our application of the Scriptures dealing with the Spirit.

      I like the point you said your preacher made this a.m. I have elsewhere asked, “If we think the devil can influence us and tempt us to evil, why do we find it hard to believe the Holy Spirit can influence us for good?”


  2. Jerry,

    Good point. I think we’ll find that it’s easy to accept that the Holy Spirit influences us from within. Remember Luke 17:21; …for the kingdon of God is within you.”

    Looking forward to learning from you still.


    • I forgot to add that I believe the Holy Spirit works within us, but also works for our maturity on behalf of God. I can’t explain how the providence of God works, but I believe it’s His Spirit that is doing the work.

      • Tony,

        Good to hear from you, as always! I agree that the HS is active in providence – and I agree that I do not know how providence works. I quit trying to explain how God does what He does a long time ago.

        I cannot fathom the mentality that changed the words of the song, I Know Whom I Have Believed from “I know not how the Spirit moves, convicting men of sin” to “I know just how the Spirit moves.” We have run so far from the Calvinist position of direct, irresistible influence that we have virtually eliminated the Holy Spirit, except as the inspirer of the Scriptures and worker of miracles in the 1st century.


  3. John 15:26“When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me

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