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BAPTISM OF THE HOLY SPIRIT (5): By One Spirit Into One Body


One passage frequently overlooked in Restoration Movement studies of the baptizing in the Holy Spirit is 1 Corinthians 12:13. We looked at this briefly in the previous post as we looked at the abuse of spiritual gifts in the Corinthian church as a step in understanding what had happened at the house of Cornelius.

In this post, I want to take a closer look at this text and relate it more directly to John’s statement that the coming Messiah would baptize you with or in the Holy Spirit.

For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body – whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free – and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

By or In One Spirit?

The standard English translations use the preposition by one Spirit. The Greek here is en one Spirit. This is the same preposition John the Baptist used in Matthew 3:11.

I baptize you en 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 en the Holy Spirit and en fire.

The usual meaning of this word is in, with, or by, with the emphasis on being where you are after you have gone into but before you have come out of a place or thing [See Strong’s Concordance, #G1722, “a relation of rest (intermediate between G1519 and G1537).” G1519 is eis = into & G1537 is ek = out of – JS]. The NIV translates it as with in Matthew 3:11 where the meaning is clear, since John said he was baptizing with or in water. This is not one of the instances where the Greek en is best translated by water, though it could be so stated.

The more literal American Standard Version (1901), gives it as in one Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12:13, as it also does in Matthew 3:11.

What is the significance of this use of the same word by John the Baptist and by Paul? Is 1 Corinthians 12:13 talking about the baptism of the Holy Spirit? If so, it stands the traditional Restoration Movement understanding of baptism in the Holy Spirit on its ear.

Is The One Spirit In Which We Are Baptized The Holy Spirit?

T. R. Applebury (Studies in I Corinthians in Bible Study Textbook series: College Press, Joplin, Missouri © 1963, pp. 227-229) argues for a traditional understanding of baptism in the Holy Spirit being limited to the apostles (Pentecost) and the house of Cornelius. In his comment on 1 Corinthians 12:13, he says:

Since “in one Spirit” refers to all who were baptized into the one body of Christ, it cannot mean baptism in the Holy Spirit. Both the King James and the R. S. V. translate “by one Spirit.” But the fact remains that the Greek says “in.” While there are situations in which this Greek preposition must be rendered “by” or “with” in English, it seems most doubtful that this is one of them. Those English versions that have “by” seem to suggest that this has something to do with the baptism in the Holy Spirit. But the context has to do with the spirit of oneness of the believers in Christ who were baptized in water into His body. It makes good sense if we translate “in one spirit – small “s” – all were baptized into one body.” That spirit was not the spirit of a Jew or the spirit of a Gentile, it was not the spirit of a slave or a free man, but it was the spirit or attitude of faith in Christ which characterized all who were baptized into the one body. Since it was in this attitude of oneness that they were baptized, the apostle urges them to maintain this unity and overcome the jealousy and faction that had arisen over the abuse of the spiritual gifts. This “one spirit” forbids the unchristian conduct of the ear that would say, “I am not a part of the body because I am not the eye.” [p. 229 – emphasis added, JS]

His theology gets in the way of the plain reading of the text, even though he recognizes that the text says we are all baptized in one Spirit. His suggestion that using “by” instead of “in” makes this refer to the baptism in the Holy Spirit seems to me to have it backwards. To me, translating it “by” would be more likely to make the Spirit the baptizer, not the element of the baptism. Further, he goes on to make “spirit” here mean a spirit or attitude of oneness in Christ among the baptized believers, not the Holy Spirit – but the context is speaking of the varying gifts from the same Spirit. This is throughout the chapter.

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit….Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tonges. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and He gives them to each one, just as He determines. (1 Corinthians 12:4, 7-11. See also verses 28-30.)

It would be strange indeed for verse 12, then, to be speaking of the human spirit or attitude of oneness that causes the unity of the one body. I see no reason that verse 12 speaks of anything other than baptism in one Spirit, the Holy Spirit of God who is the giver of the various spiritual gifts and is the source of our unity in Christ.

At least, he attempts to explain why this text does not mean what it plainly says. Many prominent men who wrote on the baptism of the Holy Spirit did not even mention this passage. They ignored it all together.

A Similar Context Elsewhere

Paul had another great plea for unity in Ephesians 4:3-7.

Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There 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.

But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.

Paul even speaks of differing gifts, though in this context the giver is Christ – if that makes any difference. I do not believe it does.

The unity of the Spirit is the unity given by the Spirit and is found in the seven “ones” listed here: body, Spirit, hope, Lord, faith, baptism, and God & Father of all.

Note some of the elements here that are also in 1 Corinthians 12.

  1. There are different gifts. Ephesians 4:11 speaks of apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors & teachers. 1 Corinthians 12:28 speaks of apostles, prophets, and teachers as well as miracles, healing, helpers, administration, tongues, and interpretation of tongues.
  2. Unity of the body is a key thought in each of these texts.
  3. Both speak of one Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:7)
  4. 1 Corinthians 12 does not speak directly of hope, thought the extended context (chapter 13) does speak of the time when we shall know fully as we are now fully known.
  5. Both speak of one Lord (1 Corinthians 12:5).
  6. Both speak of faith (1 Corinthians 12:9), though the meaning here is likely not quite the same as when Ephesians speaks of “one faith.”
  7. Both speak of baptism
  8. Both speak of one God (1 Corinthians 12:6).

So, there are many similarities. The main one I want to stress is that Spirit in each of them certainly refers to the Holy Spirit.

But someone will say, “Ephesians says there is ‘one baptism.’ How can there be baptism in water and baptism in the Holy Spirit at one and the same time?”

We shall address that question in the next post of this series.

NEXT (6): BAPTISM Of Water and Spirit

PREVIOUS (4): Cornelius & the Baptism in the Spirit

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2 Responses

  1. A comment by RAY DOWNEN: The clear prophecy was that JESUS would baptize IN the Spirit. There is no prophecy that the Spirit would ever baptize anyone. There is clear teaching that in the Christian system there is ONE baptism. Jesus commanded a baptism to be performed by people who carried the gospel with them throughout the world. Inspired accounts show with no disputing that the baptism was performed exactly as Jesus had commanded. By people. In water.

    To distort 1 Corinthians 12:13 to make Paul (the writer) a liar who can’t be believed or trusted in his writing is easy. Just translate the phrase as BY one Spirit. That’s all it takes to create a second baptism where the apostle clearly believes there is ONE baptism. How can anyone believe that Paul was not inspired? They do so if they say he contradicts himself by creating a second baptism which brings sinners into the church, and which everyone experienced but none knew they had experienced.

    The “spirit” (the ONE spirit) in which sinners are baptized is the spirit which Peter calls for in Acts 2:38. REPENT and be baptized. We are called to turn away from sin and THEN be baptized. Our baptism is in the spirit of humility, of repentance. None are exempt. All sinners must repent or they will not be saved. Paul is calling for us to continue in the same humility of spirit. His subject is unity and shared love. That’s what he was writing to Corinthian Christians about.

    Is it really wise to say the apostle contradicts his teaching that there is ONE baptism? If he is wrong on that, what can we believe he’s right about? To read a baptism by the Spirit into 1 Corinthians 12:13 (a second baptism which comes as we enter the kingdom) is foolishness of the worst kind. It makes Jesus, Peter, and Paul mistaken about the new birth of water and spirit. .

    • Ray,

      I would refer you back to my comments in response to T. R. Appleby’s commentary on this in his volume on 1 Corinthians in the Bible Study Textbook Series. Perhaps you are familiar with this book (or maybe even with brother Appleby himself since I see you are from Joplin and that series was published by the College Press in that city). I believe the reasons I give for taking 1 Corinthians 12:13 as baptism in the Holy Spirit (not simply an attitude of humility or oneness) are adequate to establish that this is indeed the Holy Spirit Paul is speaking of, but not as the baptizer. The Spirit is, in this passage, the element in which (though this text does not state it) Christ baptizes.

      I would also suggest you read my next post in this series, https://committedtotruth.wordpress.com/2010/05/15/holy-spirit-baptism-6-one-baptism-or-two/. There I maintain that the one baptism of Ephesians 4 is the same as the new birth, which is of water and Spirit. Just as there is one new birth, there is one baptism – but is of two elements (similar to the way Israel was baptized by Moses “in the cloud and in the sea” (1 Corinthians 10:1).

      Thank you for your comment, even though I believe you misread what I wrote. OTOH, maybe I misread your comment.

      The long and the short of it is that I believe the one Baptism is in water AND Spirit – but that being baptized in the Holy Spirit has nothing to do with the Spiritual gifts, such as speaking in tongues, etc. Rather, it means that the Holy Spirit comes to live within the heart of the child of God (cf. Galatians 4:4).

      Again, thank you for your comment. Visit again!

      Jerry Starling

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