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The Person and Work of the Holy Spirit Series


Spirit Baptism: Its Nature and Chronology

Wed, 14 Apr 2010 - 11:00 AM CST

By L. Thomas Holdcroft

The issue to be considered is the extent and significance of the data that establishes the baptism with the Holy Spirit as an experience subsequent to conversion. The nature and chronology of Spirit baptism are among the basic differences between Pentecostalism and non-Pentecostal evangelicalism.

The Pentecostal position asserts that baptism with the Spirit is readily distinguishable from conversion and occurs later in time. The Assemblies of God “Statement of Faith” clearly implies this claim: “We believe that the baptism of the Holy Spirit, according to Acts 2:4,1 is given to believers, who ask for it.”

This statement asserts that the Pentecostal-type Spirit baptism is a gift to believers; and for men so to be classified in this present Church age they must already be regenerate. Hence, the specific intention of this statement is to teach that baptism with the Holy Spirit is an experience subsequent to conversion.

The apostle Paul has given us an important basic text: “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body” (1 Corinthians 12:13). There is wide agreement that this refers to the act of the Holy Spirit whereby He places the believer into the body of Christ. The Greek preposition en, translated “by,” entails the conventional instrumental relationship; the Holy Spirit is the instrument or agent performing the baptism. As Wuest remarks, it would be correct to translate this verse: “By means of the personal agency of one Spirit, we are all placed in one body.”2 Thus, this verse plainly describes the process whereby the criteria involved in conversion are achieved. “Baptism by the Spirit” stands as a biblical expression that denotes the experience of spiritual conversion. The expression has been called “the Pauline way of stating the being born again of John 3:7.” R.M. Riggs has noted: “They who are Christ’s have the Spirit of Christ. The Holy Spirit baptizes them into the body of Christ.”3

The word baptism is joined to Spirit (or Ghost, which is the same word) in another important basic text: “Ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence” (Acts 1:5). Three verses later, our Lord continued: “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses” (Acts 1:8). In the chapter that follows is the account of the first Pentecostal outpouring: “And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:4). Huffman notes: “The statement ‘they were all filled with the Holy Spirit,’ Acts 2:4, is a historical report of the promise, ‘Ye shall be baptized in the Holy Spirit not many days hence,’ (Acts 1:5).”4 He proceeds to cite W.E. Biederwolf who spoke of a “baptism with the Holy Spirit (post-regenerative)” which was a gift to the apostles and early Christians “filling them with power” and that is amply validated as a gift to today’s believers. Thus many Bible scholars, though non-Pentecostal, freely admit that the expression “baptism with the Holy Ghost” connotes an experience otherwise described as “Pentecostal.” It entails an enduement with power and the state of being filled with the Spirit.

The foregoing basic Scriptures identify two distinctive experiences provided for believers. Biblical terms denoting or describing each include the following:

Experience 1

• Baptism by the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13).

• Born of the Spirit (John 3:5).

• Spirit of life in Christ (Romans 8:2).

• Spirit of God dwells in you (Romans 8:9).

• Spirit in our hearts (2 Corinthians 1:22).

Experience 2

• Baptism with the Spirit (Acts 1:5).

• Filled with the Spirit (Acts 2:4).

• Spirit fell on them (Acts 10:44).

• Spirit came on them (Acts 19:6).

• They received the Spirit (Acts 8:17).

The expressions under “Experience 1” are selected somewhat at random, but they serve to illustrate the relationships entailed in “baptism by the Spirit.” That which the two columns have in common is that each names an experience relating to the Spirit, and that experience is a “baptism.” Thus, the expression “Spirit baptism” is completely ambiguous, and it is not difficult to see why the two baptisms may be confused. A chronology of Spirit baptisms is dependent on careful use of distinctive prepositions.

Unger adopts 1 Corinthians 12:13 as the “principal Scripture on the subject” of Spirit baptism. He sees two distinct experiences: (1) regeneration by the Spirit, and (2) baptism by the Spirit into the body of Christ. He explains the experience of the Upper Room disciples (Acts 2), the Samaritans (Acts 8), and Cornelius (Acts 10) as dispensational (that is, transitional in God’s dealings with man and therefore spectacular and not to be repeated). Concerning the Ephesian disciples (Acts 19) he alleges: “If regenerated, they were neither baptized, indwelt, sealed, nor filled with the Spirit.”5

He then has to proceed to say that even though this was 20 years after Pentecost, these men could not be saved until: (1) they underwent Christian baptism, and (2) they were Spirit-baptized in dispensational uniqueness. Unger errs in dismissing Scripture passages reporting Pentecostal phenomena as “dispensational” and in refusing to allow Spirit baptism to name anything apart from being placed into the body of Christ. Actually, the New Testament appears to unite being “in Christ” and “being a new creature” (that is, being regenerate), and they are not at all depicted as divine works separable in time.

Thus, the critics notwithstanding, the Book of Acts does give evidence that the “baptism with the Holy Spirit” is an experience subsequent to conversion:

1. Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost prescribed: (a) “Repent and be baptized … in the name of Jesus Christ,” and (b) “ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:35). The concept of two separate events is evident.

2. The Samaritan converts had believed and submitted to water baptism. Only then did they undergo the laying on of hands “and they received the Holy Ghost” (Acts 8:17).

3. The Ephesian disciples were already gospel converts and had been duly baptized in water, but only when Paul laid hands on them did they receive the Holy Spirit (compare Acts 19:6).

The evidence of the Upper Room disciples is not included because it is inconclusive at this point; the infilling with the Spirit in power may have been preceded by His indwelling in regenerative life, but Scripture does not say. Paul’s personal experience with the Holy Spirit is also omitted, because there is not enough scriptural evidence for the sequence of events.

Evangelist John R. Rice makes some interesting comments, which no doubt are justified, concerning the underlying issues in these matters. He discusses “the power of Pentecost, such as that which fell upon great evangelists — Charles G. Finney, D.L. Moody, R.A. Torrey, J. Wilbur Chapman, and others.”6 He notes that because of the issue over tongues, “A revulsion of feeling took place among leaders of Christian thought and it became popular to explain away Pentecost.”7 The outcome was that “Bible teachers who never had revivals, never knew the power of Pentecost for themselves and rarely won souls, became the spokesmen. … The tide of revival ebbed away as men teased to plead for and ceased to expect the power of the Holy Spirit.8 Rice’s point is that prejudice rather than a commitment to truth has been the motivation of many, and that an experience with the Holy Spirit subsequent to salvation is part of the specific provision of God and an urgent necessity for all who would enjoy spiritual power for effective service.

The claim that the baptism with the Holy Spirit is a definite experience subsequent to conversion is commonly one choice among at least four:

1. The believer’s total experience with the Holy Spirit is His role to baptize him into the body of Christ. This doctrine is taught by default by those who neglect the work of the Spirit in the believer’s life, and it is taught by deliberate design by those who deny such a work.

2. Being placed into the body of Christ is the only experience of Spirit baptism, and although there is a subsequent filling with the Spirit, it is not called baptism. This is the position of Merrill Unger, Samuel Ridout, Kenneth Wuest, and many others.

3. The believer is baptized by the Spirit into Christ’s body and later baptized by Christ in or with the Spirit for power for service. This is the position of Jasper Huffman, John R. Rice, R.A. Torrey, Rene Pache, and many others.

4. The believer enjoys two Spirit baptisms (see 3 above), and the evidence of the second baptism is speaking in other tongues. This is the position of the Assemblies of God. R.M. Riggs, E.S. Williams, Donald Gee, P.C. Nelson, Myer Pearlman, and a host of other Pentecostal brethren have expounded it.

The rejection of 4 leads one to assume 3; the rejection of 3 leads to 2, and so on. The rejection of 4 often results in a continuing downward trend, and that at great spiritual cost. Quite apart from the issue of tongues, it clearly is of manifest spiritual importance to enjoy a meaningful, personal baptism with the Spirit. This is God’s provision for spiritual victory and fruitfulness for His people.


1. The complete phrase, “baptism of the Holy Spirit, according to Acts 2:4,” denotes Pentecostal-type Spirit baptism, even though, as we shall note, “baptism of the Spirit” is non-biblical in usual translations.

2. Kenneth S. Wuest, Untranslatable Riches From the Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1945), 85.

3. Ralph M. Riggs, The Spirit Himself (Springfield, Missouri: Gospel Publishing House, 1949), 44.

4. Jasper A. Huffman, The Holy Spirit (Winona Lake: The Standard Press, 1944), 104.

5. Merrill F. Unger, The Baptizing Work of the Holy Spirit (Wheaton: Van Kampen Press, 1953), 73.

6. John R. Rice, The Power of Pentecost (Wheaton: Sword of the Lord Publishers, 1949), 88.

7. Ibid.

8. Ibid., 89.

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