Slideshow image

What is baptism with or in the Spirit, and how is it important to you?

The answers are often contradictory and confusing.

This post endeavors to bring biblical clarity to this important subject. 

Let’s begin by identifying those texts that clearly refer to the baptism in the Spirit.

7 texts

From the perspective of the seven biblical texts that specifically refer to the baptism in the Spirit, five look toward a future event, one reports the event in the present, and one looks back to the past event explaining its significance. Here are those texts.

Just before he introduces Jesus Christ, John the Baptist states (Mark 1:8 NASB and the parallel passages Matthew 3:11; Luke 3:16; John 1:33),

I baptized you with [en] water; but He will baptize you with [en] the Holy Spirit.

Again, just before His ascension into heaven, Jesus directs his disciples not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised (Acts 1:4-5): 

Which you have heard of from Me; for John baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with [en] the Holy Spirit not many days from now. 

Ten days later, during the celebration of the feast of Pentecost, we read of the event of the baptism with or in the Spirit (Acts 2:1-4): 

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance.

About 20 years later, Paul points out the significance of the baptism with or in the Spirit (1Corinthians 12:13-14): 

For by [en] one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many. 

2 Observations

Here are two helpful observations before we look at the event itself.

The first observation is about the prepositions used: in, with, or by. I have inserted the Greek preposition en, which literally means “in,” but depending on its use and context, it can be “with” or “by.” So, what does this mean?

My conclusion is that the translation of en as “in” is the clearest and most accurate translation. One of the seven texts, John 1:33, is translated in the NASB as: 

I did not recognize Him, but He who sent me to baptize in [en] water said to me, “He upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining upon Him, this is the One who baptizes in [en] the Holy Spirit.” 

Of course, “with the Holy Spirit” is acceptable but not as clear. The significance of this distinction will (hopefully) become clear in a moment.

The second observation concerns the word “baptize,” which is simply a slight alteration of baptizō. This Greek word has not been translated; it has been transliterated or “English-ified.”

How should baptizō be translated?

A well-regarded Greek-English dictionary (BDAG) describes baptizō as meaning “plunge, dip, wash, baptize.” The ten-volume TDNT notes that baptizō “occurs in the sense of ‘to immerse’ from the time of Hippocrates, in Plato and especially in later writers.” It then points out that Josephus, a non-Christian contemporary of Paul, uses baptizō for “to sink [baptizō] the ship” (1:530).

Translating the Greek word baptizō as plunge, dip, wash, or immerse helps remove some of the misuses of this word that have developed. It also confirms that “in” is a more helpful translation for en.

This leads me to a general comment on baptisms in the Bible. 

4 elements of baptism

There are a variety of baptisms in the Bible, yet each has similarities in at least four areas: 

  • a baptizer,
  • a baptizee (person or persons being baptized),
  • a medium (such as water), and
  • a significance or meaning.

As for different baptisms, Matthew 3 refers to no fewer than four distinct types of baptism, including:

  • John the Baptist’s baptism (3:5-11);
  • “He will baptize you [in] the Holy Spirit (3:11b-12);
  • “He will baptize you [in] … and fire (3:11b); and,
  • The baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist (3:13-17).

To these, we could add the baptism of disciples/believers (Matthew 28:19; etc.), baptism into Moses (1 Corinthians 10:2), and others.

After carefully reading Matthew 3 and the other texts we have referenced, let’s analyze these four baptisms according to the four elements:Regarding the baptism in the Spirit, Jesus Christ is the baptizer or agent who immersed His followers in the Holy Spirit on Pentecost—the 50th day after His resurrection.

5 important points 

Please pay attention to these five points as you read and consider the evidence.

1.         This series deals with some of the Spirit’s ministries in our lives. For instance, when a person receives Jesus Christ (John 1:12-13), at the same time, they receive the Spirit and are sealed by the Spirit. The ministries of filling and walking by the Spirit are conditional upon the submissive response of the follower of Jesus. 

2.         Keep in mind that more than one of these ministries of the Holy Spirit may occur within the same context. If this is the case, we must be careful in distinguishing them from one another. A failure to distinguish these ministries will result in some confusion. The next paragraph provides an example.

3.         The event described in Acts 2:1-4 is the event of the baptism in the Spirit. We will explore that further in a future post. On this occasion, the disciples also received the Spirit and were filled with the Spirit (2:4)—two additional ministries of the Spirit. The receiving and filling of the Spirit involve the Spirit in us; the baptism in the Spirit involves the disciples having been immersed in the Spirit.

4.         Acts 2:1-2 describes the manifestation of the Spirit as a sudden noise from heaven “like a violent, rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting.” Remember that “baptism” is being immersed in some element. In this case, the Holy Spirit “filled the whole house,” thus those within the house were immersed or baptized in the Spirit.

5.         The event reported in Acts 2:1-4 is the birth of the Church, which is Christ’s body (1 Corinthians 12:13-14). 

So, how is the baptism in the Spirit important for you? That is one of the questions we will explore in the next post.

Let me know how you respond to this post with your comments and questions. You can contact me here

FORWARD TO the next post in this series

BACK TO How to Walk by the Spirit

Photo credit"When the day of Pentecost came" by Mark A. Hewitt of Panorama, South Australia ( Mr. Hewitt's site states, "You are free to use these works for noncommercial purposes." This is a non-commercial use.

Works by Mark A. Hewitt are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Click "yes" to receive resource-rich newsletters.

Helpful resources provided to 'living theology' subscribers.


Want to follow Jesus more closely?

Get your FREE copy of "Listening Well to Matthew."