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Bible Dictionaries

Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology

Baptism of Fire

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As John the Baptist preached in the Judean wilderness, he declared, "I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire" (Matthew 3:11; cf. Luke 3:16 ).

Throughout Scripture, fire often represents judgment (Genesis 19:24; 2 Kings 1:10; Amos 1:4-7; Matthew 7:19; 2 Thessalonians 1:8; James 5:3 ), including everlasting punishment (Matthew 18:8; Jude 7 ). But it can also have a positive, purifying effect on God's people (Isaiah 1:25; Zechariah 13:9; Malachi 3:2-3; 1 Corinthians 3:13-15; 1 Peter 1:7; Revelation 3:18 ).

In the context of John's preaching, it is natural to associate the baptism of fire with judgment (cf. Matthew 3:10,12; Luke 3:9,17 ). On the other hand, John is first of all addressing believers—those who are receiving his water-baptism. So some think of the fiery tongues at Pentecost as the fulfillment of his prediction. But the grammatical construction in Greek (the use of one preposition to govern two objects) is most naturally taken as referring to only one baptism that involves both blessing and judgment (cf. esp. Isaiah 4:4 ). Pentecost may well represent the firstfruits of purgation for believers, but the baptism is not complete until all people experience final judgment.

Craig L. Blomberg

See also Baptism of the Holy Spirit; Holy Spirit; Holy Spirit, Gifts of

Bibliography . J. D. G. Dunn, Baptism in the Holy Spirit; NIDNTT, 1:652-57.

Copyright Statement
Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Edited by Walter A. Elwell
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of Baker Book House Company, PO Box 6287, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49516-6287.
All rights reserved. Used by permission.
For usage information, please read the Baker Book House Copyright Statement.

Bibliography Information
Elwell, Walter A. Entry for 'Baptism of Fire'. Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. 1996.

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