Baptism of the Holy Spirit

The baptism of the Holy Spirit has been a subject of debate and much discussion among Christians over the years. What exactly does it mean to be baptized in the Spirit? Is it a distinct event that occurs after conversion, as some maintain, or an integral part of salvation universally experienced by all believers? And what is its significance redemptive-historically, particularly as it finds expression at Pentecost (Acts 2)?

. . . Six of the New Testament’s seven occurrences of Spirit baptism all use the exact same language, speaking of baptism “in” or “with” the Holy Spirit.1 In each of these constructions, Jesus is the agentthe one who performs the baptism, and the Spirit is the medium (or “element”) into which recipients are baptized. John the Baptist’s water baptism forms a comparison, making this all the more clear: as John (agent) baptized with water (medium), so Jesus will baptize folks with (or intothe Holy Spirit (Matt 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; John 1:33; Acts 1:5; 11:16). This corresponds with the explanation Peter gives at Pentecost, in which he also designates Christ as the agent of this baptism: “Having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he [Christ] has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing” (Acts 2:33).

In contrast, however, 1 Corinthians 12:13 speaks of Spirit baptism in a slightly different way. It’s mildly ambiguous: Does it designate the Spirit as the medium of this baptism once again (“in” or “with the Spirit”), or does it indicate agency (“by the Spirit”), naming the Spirit as the one who conducts this baptism? The preposition can have either function depending on the context. And English translations are split, with ESV, NRSV, NET translating it as “in” or “with,” suggesting the Spirit again is the medium into which recipients are baptized (with Christ as its presumed agent once again), and the KJV, NASB, CSB, NIV, and NLT using “by,” making the Spirit the actual agent of this baptism.

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Kirk Miller | “Baptism of the Holy Spirit: What It Means and How We Get It Wrong” | May 22nd, 2023


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3 comments

  1. I find it odd that Martyn Lloyd-Jones’s exegesis of these collective passages, viz., that they do indeed speak of a Providential event subsequent to, but not essential to, authentic conversion to Christ, was omitted from your list (footnote #11). In his study, “Joy Unspeakable”, the doctor, writing from experience and a disciplined hermeneutic, argues quite plausibly for a “2nd blessing” of the Spirit’s visitation.
    One of the sources of my appreciation and admiration of Lloyd-Jones’s contribution to the church is a preparedness to break ranks with the party men for the integrity or Holy Scripture. That could be unconquered rebellion in me, but I rather think it’s mostly a love of truth over the comforts of parochialism. Ever the vigilant exegete, he lines up with the majority report among confessional Reform academics from the limited window through which I see. Having read his studies in Romans, Sermon on the Mount, 1st John, the aforementioned and a few others, I believe I’m on safe ground in my assessment here. Of course I am equally indebted to many others, not least to the Puritans he so heartily commends. In any case, his inclusion to your partial list of men defending the other side most certainly bolsters its weight. A.J. Gordon is another.
    Thank you for your commitment and candor, and for the privilege of commenting. James Lumbert.

    • James,

      I read the Doctor on this question in the late 80s and early 90s. Ultimately his exegesis and theology were unsatisfactory. I understand that there are precedents within English Congregationalism, but it is still a second-blessing theology, which creates two classes of Christians — the New Testament knows nothing of this whatsoever. The post canonical history of the two end class approach to the church, and to the Christian life has been destructive.

      I am convinced that it is not possible to reconcile any position that advocates, continuing revelation with the biblical and Reformation doctrine of sola Scriptura.

      Resources On Continuing Revelation

  2. The Baptism of the Holy Spirit cannot occur outside of Pentecost. It was committed once and complete, like the every event in Redemptive History.

    The similarity of the Spirit for every believer is God’s Promise to those whom He chose in Christ before the foundation of the world – like Abraham, The Spirit was given to him – (Gal 4:4-6) BC Article 9.11 – and to us who believe. This is not a baptism. It is a deposit, the Sanctifier, guaranteeing our identity in Christ and our suffering.

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