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Bible Dictionaries

Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology

Baptism of the Holy Spirit

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Seven New Testament passages speak of baptism of/in/with/by the Holy Spirit. The varying prepositions reflect the fact that the Spirit is both the agent and sphere of this baptism. Six of these passages refer to John the Baptist's teaching, contrasting his baptism in water with Jesus' future baptism in the Holy Spirit. The seventh is 1 Corinthians 12:13 , which refers to the initiation of all the Corinthian Christians into the church.

In Matthew 3:11 and Luke 3:16 , John predicts that the Messiah who will come after him will baptize with the Spirit and fire. This expression is best taken as referring to the one purifying action of the Spirit that blesses believers and condemns unbelievers, and which embraces the entire work of the Spirit from Pentecost on, culminating in final judgment. Mark 1:8 and John 1:33 reflect this identical utterance of John, but mention only the baptism of the Spirit. It is unlikely that anybody in John's original audience knew exactly what he meant by these predictions.

In Acts 1:5 , however, as Jesus prepares to ascend into heaven, he refers back to John's words and predicts their fulfillment within "a few days." In just a little over a week, the disciples celebrate Pentecost and receive the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel 2:28-32 ( Acts 2:1-41 , esp. vv. 17-21 ). A number of years later, when Peter is ministering to Cornelius, the Spirit again manifests itself in dramatically similar ways (leading to the common labeling of this event as the "Gentile Pentecost"). These similarities lead Peter to reflect on Jesus' parting words again and to quote them to the Jewish-Christian leaders in Jerusalem in defense of his "scandalous" association with Gentiles (Acts 11:16 ).

It is clear that all six of these references to the baptism of the Holy Spirit have Pentecost-like experiences primarily in view. In 1 Corinthians 12:13 , however, it is not stated that all the Corinthians had experienced some dramatic, visible manifestation of the Spirit when they were baptized. The common phenomenon seems rather to be that of initiation. Just as baptism in water was the initiation rite symbolizing repentance and faith in Christ, entrance into the community of believers, and incorporation into Christ's body, so "baptism in the Spirit" referred to that moment in which the Spirit first began to operate in believers' lives. No particular style of the Spirit's arrival is paradigmatic; he may come quietly and almost imperceptibly or dramatically and tangibly.

The experience of the disciples at Pentecost is further complicated by the fact that they lived through the transitional period from the old covenant age to the time of the new covenant, which the complex of events beginning with the crucifixion and resurrection and culminating with Christ's exaltation and sending of the Spirit at Pentecost inaugurated. It is important to note that Pentecost was not the disciples' first experience of the Holy Spirit (John 14:17; 20:22 ), but that does not necessarily justify the generalization that the "baptism of the Spirit" will ever again be a "second blessing"—a deeper experience of the Spirit subsequent to conversion. Pentecost was a second blessing for the disciples because they were followers of Jesus both before and after his death. But there is no indication that Cornelius and his friends underwent any second experience of the Spirit. Their Spirit-baptism was simultaneous with their conversion to Christ. So too nothing is said about the Corinthians having any two-stage experience. If the entire church had been baptized in the Spirit, including the large number of "carnal" Christians Paul elsewhere rebukes (1 Corinthians 3:1-4 ), then clearly Spirit-baptism cannot guarantee a certain level of Christian maturity or holiness. And if no one spiritual gift was held by all Corinthian believers (1 Corinthians 12:29-30 ), then neither may Spirit-baptism be uniformly equated with the reception of any particular gift of the Spirit.

None of this is to deny that Christians often receive a renewed sense of the Spirit's presence or power one or more times after conversion. Luke employs the expression, "the filling of the Holy Spirit, " to refer to these occasions, particularly when bold proclamation of the gospel quickly follows (e.g., Acts 2:4; 4:8,31; 13:9 ). When one of these events seems particularly constitutive for a new stage of Christian experience, it may be appropriate, as Green suggests, to speak of a "release in the Spirit." But if one wishes to be faithful to biblical usage, one will reserve the expression "baptism in the Spirit" for the indwelling of God through his Holy Spirit at the moment of a believer's salvation. As Green, himself a charismatic, lucidly concludes (p. 134), all seven scriptural references "point not to a second experience, but to an unrepeatable, if complex, plunging into Christ, with repentance and faith, justification and forgiveness, sonship and public witness, the gift of the Holy Spirit and the seal of belonging, all being part of initiation into Christ, " even if "some parts of the whole [may be] seen sooner than others."

It is sometimes argued that certain passages that refer to baptism, without any further qualification, also teach about Spirit-baptism (e.g., Romans 6:4; Galatians 3:27; Colossians 2:12; 1 Peter 3:21 ). This interpretation is usually designed to protect these texts against a view that takes them to teach baptismal regeneration. But, in fact, the early church consistently used "baptism" without any qualifiers to refer to water-baptism. None of these passages, even when taken to refer to immersion in water, implies baptismal regeneration, but they do demonstrate how closely linked water-baptism and conversion were (and hence Spirit-baptism as well) in New Testament times.

Craig L. Blomberg

See also Baptism of Fire; Baptize, Baptism; Holy Spirit; Holy Spirit, Gifts of

Bibliography . G. R. Beasley-Murray, Baptism in the New Testament; J. D. G. Dunn, Baptism in the Holy Spirit; EDT, pp. 121-22; H. M. Ervin, Conversion-Initiation and the Baptism in the Holy Spirit; M. Green, Baptism .

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

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