On the Baptism with the Holy Spirit [If you read this, read the whole thing]

[First off, I apologize for the horrible formatting and the abysmal unicode support provided by wordpress; most Greek accents will be missing, this is only because wordpress would not render them]

Since the early 20th century, starting with the Azuza Street Revivals in Los Angeles, the Pentecostal movement and its teaching of Baptism in/with the Holy Spirit has been a staple in Evangelicalism. Spread with the teaching that the Spiritual Gifts are for today it has made a mark in lives of millions across the world. I grew up in a denomination whose roots date back to the Pentecostal revivals of the early 20th century, and because of this have been taught that Baptism in the Holy Spirit is subsequent to regeneration and salvation. But early this year as I studied more and more I became disillusioned that this is what the Bible teaches about the Baptism in the Holy Spirit. Don’t get me wrong, I still strongly believe that millions across the world experience a subsequent Holy Spirit experience after salvation, but I have been more and more convinced that Baptism in the Holy Spirit is not what it’s called. The purpose of this post is to examine the evidence Scripture gives and come to a conclusion. First we will look at what Pentecostalism teaches, then we will look at the evidence closer, and finally we will examine what is a Scriptural possibility for this subsequent experience that I know I had, and millions of others testify to.

The first reference we see in Scripture to the Baptism in the Holy Spirit is found in every Gospel, Matthew records John the Baptist as saying; “11“As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire””[1] (Matthew 3:11; cf. Mark 1:8, Luke 3:16, John 1:33).  The fulfillment of this is found in Acts, and is clearly Pentecost. Where the debate comes is when we ask; what specifically happened at Pentecost? The answer given by Pentecostals is that the Apostles experienced a subsequent experience to what we experience at conversion, and this experience involved the outpouring of spiritual gifts and a filling of the Holy Spirit that does not accompany salvation. They believe that this experience needs to be separated from salvation, and for this they give a few reasons; the Apostles were converted early in the Ministry of Jesus, so this could not be regeneration, and they specifically received the Holy Spirit from Jesus earlier. In John 20:22 we read that Jesus “breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”” Since the Baptism in the Holy Spirit is neither regeneration nor the initial receiving of the Holy Spirit, it must be a subsequent empowerment believers receive. In the book “Foundations of Pentecostal Theology” the authors write that “”The chief purpose of the Baptism with the Holy Spirit is that the believer might have power for Christian service.”[2] They bolster this argument by pointing to other New Testament passages where the Baptism of the Holy Spirit is seemingly after conversion. In Acts 8:5-8 Philip proclaims Christ in Samaria and received a very positive response, “there was much rejoicing in that city” (v. 8). Verse 12 tells us that they “believed Philip preaching the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were being baptized, men and women alike.” Despite this genuine conversion, we do not read of them receiving the Holy Spirit (Pentecostals take this to be the Baptism in the Spirit) until Peter and John came to Samaria.  In verses 14-17 we read

14Now when the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent them Peter and John, 15who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. 16For He had not yet fallen upon any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then they began laying their hands on them, and they were receiving the Holy Spirit.

The other example given of this pattern is the disciples whom Paul lays hand on in Acts 19. They had never even heard of the Holy Spirit, but when Paul lays hands on them “the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking with tongues and prophesying” (v. 6). Pentecostals claim that these disciples were saved, because Paul asked them “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” (v. 2, emphasis added), and only when Paul came did they receive the Holy Spirit.[3] It is seemingly clear that there is a pattern of salvation and then baptism in the Holy Spirit. Pentecostals say that to receive this Baptism we need to prepare ourselves; we need to repent of all known sins (Acts 2:37, 38; 17:30), be saved (Luke 11:13, Gal. 4:6), be water baptized (Acts 2:37, 38; 9:17, 18; 10:44-48), have a conviction of a need for the Spirit and a desire to grow closer to God (Mt. 5:6, Jn. 7:37-39), and a surrender of self to the will of God.[4] Once someone has prepared themselves they just need to pray for the Spirit to come and baptize them, or sometimes have elders lay hands on them and pray in tongues for the Spirit to fall. This experience becomes a changing point where people are filled with the Spirit and given spiritual gifts; some Pentecostals claim that the sign of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit is speaking in tongues. From this evidence it does seem that Baptism of the Holy Spirit is definitely a subsequent event to salvation, but does this hold when we survey what the rest of Scripture says?

The one Scripture that made me doubt this Pentecostal understanding is 1 Corinthians 12:13; “13For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body— Jews or Greeks, slavesor free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit” (ESV, emphasis added). Pentecostals defend that this verse should be translated “by one Spirit,” as the NASB translates it, and not “in.” The Baptism in the Spirit is mentioned 7 times in the Scriptures, and in every one of the circumstances, almost the same phrase in Greek is used:

Matthew 3:11

αυτος βαπτίσε υμας εν αγίω πνεύμα

Mark 1:8

αυτος βαπτίσει υμας εν αγίω μνεύματι

Luke 3:16

αυτος βαπτίσει υμας εν αγίω μνεύματι

John 1:33

ουτός εστιν ο βαπτίζων εν αγίω πνεύματι

Acts 1:5

υμεις βαπτισθ εν αγιω πνεύμα

Acts 11:16

υμεις βαπτισθήσεσθε εν αγίω πνεύματι

1 Corinthians 12:13

εν ενι μνεύματι  ημεις  πάντες εβαπτίσθημεν[5]

The only difference is word order and verb tense.[6][7] The first six verses contain the prepositional phrase “εν  aγιω πνεύματι”; the preposition εν (in, with, by), and the adjective αγιω (holy) modifying the noun πνεύματι (Spirit). In 1 Corinthians we see the prepositional phrase “εν ενι πνεύματι”; the only difference is the adjective ενι modifying πνεύματι instead of αγιω. This change makes sense in the context of 1 Corinthians, where Paul is emphasising unity; in one Spirit they were baptized. In all these verses the prepositional phrase modifies the verb βαπτιζω. The wording is so close that the readers of 1 Corinthians would have associated this baptism with the baptism found in the Gospels and Acts. The Baptism in 1 Corinthians 12:13 is “in” one Spirit, not “by” one Spirit.[8] This makes a huge difference for how we understand baptism in the Spirit. 1 Corinthians 12:13 tells us that we are baptized into “one body” in this baptism, this body is the body of Christ; the Church (see all of chapter 12, especially v. 12). If it is the Spiritual Baptism which makes us part of the Body of Christ, then it cannot be a subsequent event to salvation; it has to happen when we are saved. But how does that coincide with the rest of the Pentecostal evidences, don’t they disprove this understanding? A closer look at the supposed “pattern” of subsequent baptismal events in Acts reveals that this is not as solid as it seems. The disciples who Paul encountered in Ephesus do not appear to actually have had saving faith in Jesus. We see this from a few different statements, here is the encounter;

1It happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the upper country and came to Ephesus, and found some disciples. 2He said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said to him, “No, we have not even heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.” 3And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” And they said, “Into John’s baptism.” 4Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” 5When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking with tongues and prophesying. 7There were in all about twelve men. (Acts 19:1-7)

In verse 2 we read that they had never even heard of the Holy Spirit, and then in verse 3 we read that they were only baptized into John’s baptism; so it is likely they were followers of John who probably had never even heard of Jesus. In verse 5 they are then baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus; immediately following this Paul prayed and the Holy Spirit came on them. Because they were now saved they received the empowering that came with the New Covenant, and they entered into the body of Christ. Before we look at the Samaria event we should examine what exactly the Baptism is. Clearly from 1 Cor. 12:13 it is something that happens at salvation, but the disciples were already regenerated before Pentecost so that cannot be what it is. It is important to understand what happened at Pentecost. Pentecost was not just an outpouring of power for ministry; it was the receiving of the new covenant working of the Holy Spirit and the beginning of the New Testament Church. The Spirit was at work in the Old Testament times, but at Pentecost He empowered all the Apostles, and all believers following (Acts 2:39), for ministry. At Pentecost the Apostles were baptized into the Body of Christ and the Church was formed.[9] Grudem writes in his Systematic Theology that “The Day of Pentecost was certainly a remarkable time of transition in the whole history of redemption as recorded in Scripture. It was a remarkable day in the history of the world, because on that day the Holy Spirit began to function among God’s people with new covenant power.”[10] This is the understanding of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit that best seems to fit the data the Bible gives us about it. But how does that fit with John 20:22, didn’t the Apostles already receive the Spirit in this New Covenant way? Verse 22 seems to indicate this, but if we look at verse 21 it seems to indicate at this very moment Christ sent them out. But this did not happen until the Day of Pentecost, they were supposed to wait in Jerusalem “until you are clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:34). It is best to see these both as prophetic; Jesus was speaking in advance of what was to come at Pentecost.[11] So what about the Samaritans, was this a subsequent event they experienced, or did they only receive the Spirit[12] after John and Peter came? Some have suggested that maybe Philip had an insufficient understanding of the Gospel, so they were not truly saved. This is unlikely; he had been prominent in the Jerusalem church and he allowed them to be baptized, so he must have thought that they were truly saved.[13] What then was the reason for the delay in their receiving of the Holy Spirit? A good explanation is found in the Bible knowledge commentary:

It was necessary for the apostles in Jerusalem to commission Peter and John to Samaria for several reasons. Normally the Holy Spirit baptizes, indwells, and seals at the moment of faith, but in this instance the delay served several purposes: (1) Peter and John’s prayer (for bestowing of the Holy Spirit) and their laying on of hands (resulting in the coming of the Spirit) confirmed Philip’s ministry among the Samaritans. This authenticated this new work to the Jerusalem apostles. (2) Also this confirmed Philip’s ministry to the Samaritans. This message Philip had preached was validated by the coming of the Spirit, a mark of the coming kingdom (cf. v. 12; Jer. 31:31-34; Ezek. 36:23-27; Joel 2:28-32). (3) Perhaps the most important aspect of God’s withholding the Spirit till apostolic representatives came from the Jerusalem church was to prevent schism. Because of the natural propensity of division between Jews and Samaritans it was essential for Peter and John to welcome the Samaritan believers officially into the church.[14][15]

If this is the nature of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit, then what do Pentecostals and Charismatics worldwide experience?

An examination of the Biblical evidence and the preparations Pentecostals go through for the Baptism in the Spirit yields a twofold answer to this question. First off it is important to understand the process of Sanctification in a Christian’s life. Many have charged the Pentecostal’s understanding of the Baptism in the Spirit with producing a culture of two kinds of Christians; the Spirit baptized, and those who have not received the baptism. This is much like the Holiness movement, out of which Pentecostalism rose, had an understanding of “ordinary” and “sanctified” believers.[16] In the Christian life we undergo the process of Sanctification; this is the Spirit’s progressive work in our life to make us holy and more like Christ (which will be perfected when we are glorified). While there is a dichotomy between unbelievers and believers, you are either one or the other, there is not a dichotomy but differing levels of maturity between Christians. A new Christian is at the very beginning of the process of sanctification, and is just starting to become spiritually mature; someone who has been a Christian throughout their life will be much more spiritually mature. We can do things in cooperation with the Spirit to become more sanctified;[17] we can practice spiritual disciplines, such as reading our Bibles, fasting, sacrificing things in our lives for a time, etc., and we can continually confess our sins to the Father and ask for forgiveness (Matt. 6:12).[18] Pentecostals and Charismatics instruct those who desire to be baptized in the Spirit to go through numerous steps to prepare themselves. I mentioned a few in the first part of this post;[19] if we do these things, and are not regularly doing them, then we are guaranteed to grow in our spiritual maturity. All this preparation will produce a boost in the spiritual maturity of all those who go through them to draw closer to God.[20] And in conjunction with this boost in sanctification there are subsequent experiences with the Holy Spirit, which we will explore in the next part of this post, mentioned in the NT; the filling or infilling of the Holy Spirit. If believers are seeking to be filled with the Holy Spirit and grow in spiritual gifts then He will come and fill them, even if their theological understanding of the experience is misunderstood. This combination of an infilling of the Spirit and the significant spiritual growth that comes through the preparation for His baptism can explain a lot of what we see in the Pentecostal world, but Grudem suggests another explanation for some people’s experiences. In all our church’s there are people who are not truly saved, sometimes it is because of a deficient understanding of what it means to be saved (saying a prayer when they were younger, or even as an adult, but never surrendering their life to the Lord), or maybe because they only attend church for the fellowship. This is especially true of liberal churches were the truth of the Gospel is not taught. What happens to these people who think they are saved but are not experiencing a true Christian life and the Christian experience with the Spirit, who are not actually experiencing the Spirit’s work in their lives, when a Charismatic preacher comes to town and speaks at their church? If they desire to grow closer to God and pursue Him in the path of the Baptism in the Spirit they will actually get saved, and if they get saved they will experience a significant amount of spiritual growth.[21] Together these three answers can explain what Pentecostals experience, but what exactly are these subsequent experiences with the Spirit I mentioned?

Throughout acts we see instances where people who experience the Spirits Baptism are said to be filled with the Holy Spirit, and it seems that these statements aren’t looking back to what happened at Pentecost but are describing a new experience. Before we look at these experiences it is important to note that the language of being filled with the Spirit is seen before Pentecost. In Luke 1:15 Zacharias is told that his son, John the Baptist, would be “filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother’s womb.” In v. 41 of the same chapter we read that Elizabeth, John’s mother, was filled with the Holy Spirit; immediately after this she blesses Mary. In v. 67 we read that “Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied.” Even in the Old Testament we see this same terminology. In Exodus 31:3 (cf. Ex. 35:31) we read that Bezalel was filled “with the Spirit of God in wisdom, in understanding, in knowledge, and in all kinds of craftsmanship”. He was filled so that he could make artistic designs (31:4) for the tabernacle. In Deuteronomy 34:9 Joshua was filled with the spirit of wisdom, which may have referred to either his inner spirit or the Holy Spirit (cf. Isa. 11:20), and was empowered for leadership.[22] In all these case the filling of the Spirit seems to be an empowering, an equipping with gifts, or inspiration (for Elizabeth’s blessing of Mary), for ministry. In the post-Pentecost New Testament accounts we read of the same sort of thing. Some understand the filling of the Spirit in Acts 2:4 as a separate event from the Baptism of the Spirit that happened at the same time.[23] Here we read that “they [those in the upper room] were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance.” In Acts 4:8 Peter, standing before the High Priest and the rulers of the people, was filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak to them and delivered a bold message. In Acts 4:23-31 John and Peter return to their “own companions” (4:23) and they began to praise the Lord. In v. 31 we read that “when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness.” Here we again see the filling of the Spirit, those being filled had already been baptized in the Spirit and previously filled (Peter in 2:4), and an empowering with boldness to speak God’s word. Stephen, a man who was already “full of the Spirit and wisdom” (see Acts 6:3 for a description of the seven who were chosen, of whom Stephen was one) and “grace and power” (Acts 6:8), was filled with the Holy Spirit when he was stoned and “gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:55). After Paul’s experience with the Lord on the Damascus road he came to Ananias, who was sent “so that you [Paul] may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 9:17). Lastly in the narrative of Acts we see that Paul, on his first missionary journey, was “filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 13:9) as he rebuked Elymas the magician. Lastly in Eph. 5:18 Paul tells; “18And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit” (ESV). Wayne Grudem notes that “He [Paul] uses a present tense imperative verb that could more explicitly be translated, ‘Be continually being filled with the Holy Spirit,’ thus implying that this is something that should repeatedly be happening to Christians.”[24] Synthesising all these occurrences of people being filled with the Holy Spirit we can see that this is a subsequent experience to the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, and it is one that we can receive continually. It can be a long-term characteristic of our lives, as with Stephen, or an empowering for ministry.[25] Some may object to the idea of continually being filled with the Spirit; how can something which is full be filled again? Like a balloon, which is full of air even when only partially inflated, we can be continually filled and filled again.[26] Only Christ had a complete and perfect fullness of the Spirit in His life; the Spirit without measure (John 3:34).

Even though what I have talked about here is a drastic change from the traditional Pentecostal understanding of baptism, it should be an encouraging one. We have all been baptized in the Spirit from salvation. We are all part of the Body of Christ and the Spirit, “who apportions to each one individually as he wills” (1 Corinthians 12:11), will give to us gifts to use in ministry. Because of this baptism we can be equipped from salvation for the ministries that the Spirit prepares for us. During our lives, as we continue to grow in spiritual maturity, we can continually ask for the Spirit to infill us and empower us. And, like those who prepare for the Pentecostal baptism of the Spirit, we should always be pursuing those things in Scripture which we are commanded to do so that we may be progressively sanctified through the power of the Spirit.

Duffield, Guy P., and N.M. Van Cleave. Foundations of Pentecostal Theology. Los Angeles, California: L.I.F.E Bible College, 1987.

Goodrich, Richard J, and Albert L Lukaszewski. A reader’s Greek New Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2007.

Grudem, Wayne. Systematic theology : an introduction to biblical doctrine. Leicester; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press ; Zondervan, 1994.

Holmes, Michael W. The Greek New Testament: SBL Edition, Logos Bible Software, 2010;

New American Standard Bible: 1995 update. 1995 (Matt 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; John 1:33; Acts 1:5; Acts 11:16; 1 Co 12:13). LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

Walvoord, J. F., Zuck, R. B., & Dallas Theological Seminary. (1985). The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Ac 2:4). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.


[1] All Scripture references are from the NASB unless otherwise stated

[2] Guy P. Duffield and N.M. Van Cleave, Foundations of Pentecostal Theology (Los Angeles, California: L.I.F.E Bible College, 1987), 308.

[3] Ibid., 306.

[4] Ibid., 313–314.

[5] New American Standard Bible: 1995 update. 1995 (Matt 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; John 1:33; Acts 1:5; Acts 11:16; 1 Co 12:13). LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

[6] Wayne Grudem mentions that in Mark the preposition εν is implied, but this leads to no difference in translation (the Greek text used in The Greek New Testament: SBL Edition and in A Reader’s Greek New Testament (2nd Ed.), which uses the Greek text that is used by the NIV, both include the preposition in Mark 1:8) Wayne Grudem, Systematic theology : an introduction to biblical doctrine (Leicester; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press ; Zondervan, 1994), 767; Holmes, Michael W. The Greek New Testament: SBL Edition, Logos Bible Software, 2010; Richard J Goodrich and Albert L Lukaszewski, A reader’s Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2007), 87.

[7] Grudem, Systematic theology, 767.

[8] Ibid., 767–768.

[9] Ibid., 769–770.

[10] Ibid., 772.

[11] Ibid., 769.

[12] It can be noted that they were not said to be Baptized in the Holy Spirit, what was said was that they were receiving the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:17)

[13] Grudem, Systematic theology, 773–774.

[14] Walvoord, J. F., Zuck, R. B., & Dallas Theological Seminary. (1985). The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Ac 8:14–17). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books. (Emphasis in the Original)

[15] See page 774 of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology for a similar explanation

[16] Grudem, Systematic theology, 775–776.

[17] Wesleyans believe that perfection is available in this lifetime, but the majority of Evangelicals would say it is not until glorification.

[18] It is important to clarify that when we pray for God to forgive our sins we are not asking for forgiveness in the legal sense, for that has already been given for all our sins when we were saved (we were Justified), but we are asking for forgiveness as a Child coming to his Father and repenting of those things which interfere with our relationship with Him.

[19] See Duffield and Cleave, Foundations of Pentecostal Theology, 313–314.

[20] Grudem, Systematic theology, 779.

[21] Ibid., 780.

[22] Walvoord, J. F., et al.; The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Dt 34:9.

[23] Walvoord, J. F., et al.; The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Ac 2:4.

[24] Grudem, Systematic theology, 781.

[25] Ibid., 782.

[26] Ibid.

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