One of the manifold gifts that God lavishes on his people is Spirit baptism. I’ve written a post on the topic before, but I’d like to return to it, for a few reasons:
- As evidenced by the disagreement between Charismatics and Evangelicals on the topic, there’s a lot of confusion about what it is exactly.
- I’m convinced that a great many Christians don’t understand its meaning and place in their lives.
- I’d like to extend my earlier post by addressing some of the implications of the event.
I suppose I should begin with a terminology question. Some people call the event “baptism in the Spirit,” while others call it “baptism by the Spirit,” and others yet call it “baptism with the Spirit.” I’m calling it “Spirit baptism.” What’s up with that?
The variation goes back to the Greek language in which the New Testament was written. In the New Testament, as in English, the variable word in this expression is a preposition, ἐν (en). And in Greek, as in English, prepositions can mean a lot of things. In the earlier post I gave the following example:
- I eat ice cream with a spoon.
- I eat ice cream with hot fudge sauce.
- I eat ice cream with my wife.
- I eat ice cream with great joy.
The preposition with is correct in all those sentences, but it means different things in each use.
Similarly, “baptism en the Spirit” can legitimately be translated in any of the three ways noted above.
So how do you figure out which way is right?
You go to the context, which often clarifies the correct translation. In the case of Spirit baptism, one of its contexts does that. In Matthew 3.11, John the Baptist says that the one coming after him (Jesus, of course) “will baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire.” Now, if Jesus is the one doing the baptizing, then the translation “baptism by the Spirit” is clearly wrong. Of the remaining two, “baptism in the Spirit” makes more sense if you’re Baptist (and thus baptize by immersion), and “baptism with the Spirit” makes more sense if you’re not Baptist, and you baptize by pouring or sprinkling. Since I teach at a nondenominational school, I avoid the mode controversy by using the term “Spirit baptism.”
But I am Baptist, so I personally prefer “baptism in the Spirit.”
One important takeaway is that there’s no biblical distinction among all these phrasings; they’re all referring to the same thing. I’ve heard people suggest that there are two different Spirit baptisms based on the difference in English preposition. They’re wrong.
Another question we should address as we begin is the data source. There’s actually very little information in the Scripture on Spirit baptism—something you wouldn’t expect, to hear some people talk about the concept. It’s mentioned essentially in just three places:
- John the Baptist’s prediction that Jesus will baptize en the Spirit. That’s recorded in all four Gospels (Mt 3.11; Mk 1.8; Lk 3.16; Jn 1.33).
- Jesus’ prediction, just before his Ascension, that his disciples would be baptized en the Spirit in a few days. That’s recorded in Acts 1.5 and recalled by Peter in Acts 11.16. Of course, “a few days” later Pentecost happened (Ac 2.1), and though that account doesn’t mention Spirit baptism, pretty much everybody agrees that Pentecost was what Jesus was referring to back in Acts 1.5. Interestingly, the Pentecost account does refer to water baptism (Ac 2.41) and to the “pouring out” of the Spirit (Ac 2.17-18, 33 [same Greek word in all three verses]).
- Paul’s observation that Spirit baptism is connected with entrance into the body of Christ (1Co 12.13), which is the church (1Co 12.12).
That’s relatively little information to build on, but there are a couple of consequential data points:
- The fact that Jesus is the one baptizing, but the event doesn’t happen until after he returns to heaven
- The fact that the baptism places one into the body of Christ
Next time we’ll draw some conclusions from these facts.
Photo by Paul Bulai on Unsplash