Baptism of the Holy Spirit



This phrase is sometimes used today in the sense of a “second blessing,” an infilling of the Holy Spirit subsequent to, and quite distinct from, conversion, and usually regarded as a deeper spiritual experience, ushered in by spiritual phenomena, such as glossolalia. Without discussing the rightness or wrongness of the view in question, it would seem to be more proper to use the Biblical phrase, “filled with the Holy Spirit,” to describe such an experience or state (Acts 2:4, etc). In Biblical usage “baptism of the Holy Spirit” is more general and somehow different, as will be seen from the examination of the texts.

Origins of the phrase.

These are prob. to be sought first in the saying of John the Baptist to his disciples, recorded in Luke 3:16 and parallels. John strongly contrasts his own preparatory rite of water baptism, a mere token of repentance, with the Spirit-baptism that will be given by the “mightier one” who is to succeed him. Water baptism was indeed long familiar to first-cent. Jews, from the practice of baptizing proselytes. The Qumran Community shows how widespread and manifold were ritual lustrations; and later heretical sects like the Mandaeans, centering around the Jordan Valley, seem to have continued many of these practices well into Christian days. Even on the fringes of the church, bare “water baptism” persisted until the days of Paul, as can be seen from the spiritless disciples at Ephesus (Acts 19:1-7). So unusual did Paul consider their case that he gave them re-baptism (a practice never recorded elsewhere in the NT), this time in the name of Jesus. He apparently did not consider them to have been Christians before; the manifestation of tongues and prophecy that follows would seem to have been the beginning of their Christian faith, not a later and higher stage.

Some critics have rejected this whole saying of John, as being a “back-projection” of the phenomena of Pentecost, which included “fire” as well as “Spirit” (Acts 2:3, 4); but this is impossible, since the saying is reported in all four gospels.

Since the baptism of Christ is the pattern of all Christian baptism, it is not surprising that Luke 3:21, 22 shows the “baptism of the Spirit” being fulfilled (doubtless in a very special sense) in the case of Jesus Himself, after His water baptism at the hands of John. This, coming after John’s testimony, was powerful confirmation of His words, and must have made a deep impression on His disciples.

If the first “root” is to be seen in the preaching of John the Baptist, and the second in the experience of Jesus at or after His baptism, then the third is in the express teaching of Jesus Himself. In John 3:5 Christ is recorded having said to Nicodemus “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” There has been much discussion of this v., for which see the standard commentaries; but the reference seems to be to Christian baptism in its two aspects of outward sign and experience signified. Nor does the Gr. text seem to indicate two separate occasions of “new birth”; the sole contrast is between “that which is born of the flesh” and “that which is born of the Spirit” (3:6).

Later usages.

These are surprisingly few. It is clear from Acts 1:5 that the promise of “baptism of the Spirit” was to be fulfilled for the first disciples at Pentecost. In the account of that day, however, and on subsequent occasions in the NT, the phrase used is “filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:4, Pentecost; 9:17, Paul’s conversion). This was apparently something which could happen repeatedly to the same group (cf. Acts 2:5; 4:8, 31). One clear instance of the original metaphor is in 1 Corinthians 12:13, “By one Spirit we were all baptized.” Here Paul, by the wording, must be appealing to the universal spiritual experience of all true Christians, not something unusual belonging to a minority. Otherwise his argument would lose all its point, if deprived of its universality of application.


“Baptism with water” seems therefore to be John’s baptism, or any other similar purificatory rite. “Baptism with water and the Spirit” seems properly to refer to Christian baptism at its two levels, not, of course, in any mechanical or ritualistic sense.” “Baptism with the Spirit” was seen by the Early Church to be the gift of Christ, fulfilled for the first disciples at Pentecost, and subsequently the initial experience of every Christian (1 Cor 12:13) enjoyed when he believed on Christ (Acts 19:2; Rom 8:9). “Filling with the Spirit” by contrast, appears to be something that can take place repeatedly.


O. Cullman, Baptism in the NT (1950); G. W. H. Lampe, The Seal of the Spirit (1951); G. S. Hendry, The Holy Spirit in Christian Theology (1957); J. D. G. Dunn, Baptism in the Holy Spirit (1970).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

1. The Biblical Material:

We observe next the fulfillment of these predictions as recorded in Acts. The gift of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost and the miraculous manifestations which followed are clearly the chief historical fulfillment of the prediction of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Among the manifestations of the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost were first those which were physical, such as "a sound as of the rushing of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting" (Ac 2:2), and the appearance of "tongues parting asunder, like as of fire; and it sat upon each one of them" (Ac 2:3). Secondly, there were spiritual results: "And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance" (Ac 2:4). In Ac 2:16 ff Peter declares that this bestowment of the Holy Spirit is in fulfillment of the prediction made by the prophet Joe and he cites the words in Ac 2:28 ff of Joel’s prophecy.

There is one other important passage in Acts in which reference is made to the baptism of the Holy Spirit. While Peter was speaking to Cornelius (Ac 10:44) the Holy Spirit fell on all that heard the word and they of the circumcision who were with Peter "were amazed" "because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Spirit." When giving the brethren at Jerusalem an account of his visit to Cornelius, Peter declares that this event which he had witnessed was a baptism of the Holy Spirit (Ac 11:16): "And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized in the Holy Spirit."

2. Significance of Baptism of the Holy Spirit:

We consider next the significance of the baptism of the Holy Spirit from various points of view.

(1) From the Point of View of Old Testament Teaching as to the Gift of the Spirit.

The prophecy of Joe quoted by Peter indicates something extraordinary in the gift of the Spirit at Pentecost. The Spirit now comes in new forms of manifestation and with new power. The various classes mentioned as receiving the Spirit indicate the wide diffusion of the new power. In the Old Testament usually the Spirit was bestowed upon individuals; here the gift is to the group of disciples, the church. Here the gift is permanently bestowed, while in the Old Testament it was usually transient and for a special purpose. Here again the Spirit comes in fullness as contrasted with the partial bestowment in Old Testament times.

(2) From the Point of View of the Ascended Christ.

In Lu 24:49 Jesus commands the disciples to tarry in the city "until ye be clothed with power from on high," and in Joh 15:26 He speaks of the Comforter "whom I will send unto you from the Father," "he shall bear witness of me"; and in Joh 16:13 Jesus declares that the Spirit when He comes shall guide the disciples into all truth, and He shall show them things to come. In this verse the Spirit is called the Spirit of truth. It was fitting that the Spirit who was to interpret truth and guide into all truth should come in fullness after, rather than before, the completion of the life-task of the Messiah. The historical manifestation of Divine truth as thus completed made necessary the gift of the Spirit in fullness. Christ Himself was the giver of the Spirit. The Spirit now takes the place of the ascended Christ, or rather takes the things of Christ and shows them to the disciples. The baptism of the Spirit at Pentecost thus becomes the great historic event signalizing the beginning of a new era in the kingdom of God in which the whole movement is lifted to the spiritual plane, and the task of evangelizing the world is formally begun.

(3) The Significance of the Baptism of the Spirit from the Point of View of the Disciples.

It can scarcely be said with truth that Pentecost was the birthday of the church. Jesus had spoken of His church during His earthly ministry. The spiritual relation to Christ which constitutes the basis of the church existed prior to the baptism of the Holy Spirit. But that baptism established the church in several ways. First in unity. The external bond of unity now gives place to an inner spiritual bond of profound significance. Secondly, the church now becomes conscious of a spiritual mission, and theocratic ideals of the kingdom disappear. Thirdly, the church is now endued with power for its work. Among the gifts bestowed were the gift of prophecy in the large sense of speaking for God, and the gift of tongues which enabled disciples to speak in foreign tongues. The account in the second chapter of Ac admits of no other construction. There was also bestowed power in witnessing for Christ. This was indeed one of the most prominent blessings named in connection with the promise of the baptism of the Spirit. The power of working miracles was also bestowed (Ac 3:4 ff; 5:12 ff). Later in the epistles of Paul much emphasis is given to the Spirit as the sanctifying agency in the hearts of believers. In Ac the word of the Spirit is chiefly Messianic, that is, the Spirit’s activity is all seen in relation to the extension of the Messianic kingdom. The occasion for the outpouring of the Spirit is Pentecost when men from all nations are assembled in Jerusalem. The symbolic representation of tongues of fire is suggestive of preaching, and the glossolalia, or speaking with tongues which followed, so that men of various nations heard the gospel in their own languages, indicates that the baptism of the Spirit had a very special relation to the task of world-wide evangelization for the bringing in of the kingdom of God.

3. Finality of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit:

The question is often raised whether or not the baptism of the Holy Spirit occurred once for all or is repeated in subsequent baptisms. The evidence seems to point to the former view to the extent at least of being limited to outpourings which took place in connection with events recorded in the early chapters of the Book of Acts. The following considerations favor this view:

(1) In the first chapter of Ac Jesus predicts, according to Luke’s account, that the baptism of the Holy Spirit would take place, "not many days hence" (Ac 1:5). This would seem to point to a definite and specific event rather than to a continuous process.

(2) Again, Peter’s citation in Ac 2:17-21 of Joel’s prophecy shows that in Peter’s mind the event which his hearers were then witnessing was the definite fulfillment of the words of Joel.

(3) Notice in the third place that only one other event in the New Testament is described as the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and for special reasons this may be regarded as the completion of the Pentecostal baptism. The passage is that contained in Ac 10:1-11:18 in which the record is given of the following events:

(a) miraculous vision given to Peter on the housetop (Ac 10:11-16) indicating that the things about to occur are of unique importance;

(b) the speaking with tongues (Ac 10:45,46);

(c) Peter declares to the brethren at Jerusalem that the Holy Ghost fell on the Gentiles in this instance of Cornelius and his household "as on us at the beginning" (Ac 11:15);

(d) Peter also declares that this was a fulfillment of the promise of the baptism of the Holy Spirit (Ac 11:16,17);

(e) the Jewish Christians who heard Peter’s account of the matter acknowledged this as proof that God had also extended the privileges of the gospel to the Gentiles (Ac 11:18). The baptism of the Holy Spirit bestowed upon Cornelius and his household is thus directly linked with the first outpouring at Pentecost, and as the event which signalized the opening of the door of the gospel formally to Gentiles it is in complete harmony with the missionary significance of the first great Pentecostal outpouring. It was a turning point or crisis in the Messianic kingdom and seems designed to complete the Pentecostal gift by showing that Gentiles as well as Jews are to be embraced in all the privileges of the new dispensation.

(4) We observe again that nowhere in the epistles do we find a repetition of the baptism of the Spirit. This would be remarkable if it had been understood by the writers of the epistles that the baptism of the Spirit was frequently to be repeated. There is no evidence outside the Book of Ac that the baptism of the Spirit ever occurred in the later New Testament times. In 1Co 12:13 Paul says, "For in one Spirit were we all baptized into one body, .... and were all made to drink of one Spirit." But here the reference is not to the baptism of the Spirit, but rather to a baptism into the church which is the body of Christ. We conclude, therefore, that the Pentecostal baptism taken in conjunction with the baptism of the Spirit in the case of Cornelius completes the baptism of the Holy Spirit according to the New Testament teaching. The baptism of the Spirit as thus bestowed was, however, the definite gift of the Spirit in His fullness for every form of spiritual blessing necessary in the progress of the kingdom and as the permanent and abiding gift of God to His people. In all subsequent New Testament writings there is the assumption of this presence of the Spirit and of His availability for all believers. The various commands and exhortations of the epistles are based on the assumption that the baptism of the Spirit has already taken place, and that, according to the prediction of Jesus to the disciples, the Spirit was to abide with them forever (Joh 14:16). We should not therefore confound other forms of expression found in the New Testament with the baptism of the Holy Spirit. When Christians are enjoined to "walk by the Spirit" (Ga 5:16) and "be filled with the Spirit" (Eph 5:18), or when the Spirit is described as an anointing (chrisma) as in 1Jo 2:20-27, and as the "earnest of our inheritance" (arrabon). as in Eph 1:14, and when various other similar expressions are employed in the epistles of the New Testament, we are not to understand the baptism of the Holy Spirit. These expressions indicate aspects of the Spirit’s work in believers or of the believer’s appropriation of the gifts and blessings of the Spirit rather than the historical baptism of the Spirit.

4. Relation of Baptism of the Spirit to Other Baptisms:

Three final points require brief attention, namely, the relation of the baptism of the Spirit to the baptism in water, and to the baptism in fire, and to the laying on of hands.

(1) We note that the baptism in fire is coupled with the baptism in the Spirit in Mt 3:11 and in Lu 3:16. These passages give the word of John the Baptist. John speaks of the coming One who "shall baptize you in the Holy Spirit and in fire" (Lu 3:16). This baptism in fire is often taken as being parallel and synonymous with the baptism in the Spirit. The context however in both Matthew and Luke seems to favor another meaning. Jesus’ Messianic work will be both cleansing and destructive. The "you" addressed by John included the people generally and might naturally embrace both classes, those whose attitude to Jesus would be believing and those who would refuse to believe. His action as Messiah would affect all men. Some He would regenerate and purify through the Holy Ghost. Others He would destroy through the fire of punishment. This view is favored by the context in both gospels. In both the destructive energy of Christ is coupled with His saving power in other terms which admit of no doubt. The wheat He gathers into the garner and the chaff He burns with unquenchable fire.

(3) In Ac 8:17 and 19:6 the Holy Spirit is bestowed in connection with the laying on of the hands of apostles, but these are not to be regarded as instances of the baptism of the Spirit in the strict sense, but rather as instances of the reception by believers of the Spirit which had already been bestowed in fullness at Pentecost.


Arts. on Holy Spirit in Hastings, Dictionary of the Bible (five volumes) and Hastings, Dictionary of Christ and the Gospels; article on "Spiritual Gifts" in Encyclopedia Biblica; Moule, Veni Creator; Smeaton, The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit; Kuyper, The Work of the Holy Spirit.