The Person and Work of the Holy Spirit Series
Baptized by and in The Holy Spirit
Thu, 22 Apr 2010 - 9:17 AM CST
By Anthony D. Palma
Does the New Testament distinguish between being baptized by the Holy Spirit and being baptized in the Holy Spirit? Six passages contain the verb baptize and the noun Holy Spirit or Spirit. Do all these verses teach the same thing about the relationship between the two terms?
No “baptism of the Spirit”
First, we should understand that the New Testament writers never spoke about a “baptism of the Holy Spirit.” The term is ambivalent and could be used for either of two experiences of the Spirit. One is a baptism by the Spirit, which makes the believer a member of the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13). The other is a baptism in the Spirit, which empowers a believer for service (Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; John 1:33; Acts 1:5, 11:16; see also Luke 24:49; Acts 1:18). Is this distinction valid?
Baptized in the Spirit
The Pentecost experience is properly spoken of as one’s being “baptized in (Greek preposition en) the Holy Spirit.” This rendering most clearly translates the Greek and most adequately conveys the meaning of the experience. It is preferred for a couple of reasons.
First, the preposition en is the most common preposition in the New Testament and may be variously translated (in, with, by, among, within) depending on the context. We may eliminate the last two as not suitable at all in any of the passages we are discussing. We may also eliminate by in the Gospels and Acts passages since Jesus, not the Holy Spirit, is the One who does the baptizing. It is a baptism by Jesus in the Holy Spirit.
Furthermore, in is preferable to with because it is associated with the imagery of baptism. The verb baptizo means to immerse or to dip. If we substitute immerse for baptize in the Gospels and Acts passages, it would be awkward to say, “He shall immerse you with the Holy Spirit.” The more natural rendering is “in the Holy Spirit.” Versions that read “baptize with the Holy Spirit” may reflect the unconscious bias of nonimmersionist translators.
The preference for “in the Holy Spirit” is strengthened by the analogy with water baptism, which takes place in water. Why would John baptize at the Jordan River if the baptisms were not to be in water? Just as John immersed in water, Jesus immerses believers in the Holy Spirit.
A preference for in as the correct translation of the Gospels and Acts passages involves more than semantic hairsplitting. It reflects a correct understanding of the nature of the baptism in the Holy Spirit. It emphasizes that this experience is one in which a believer is totally immersed in the Spirit.
Baptized by the Spirit
Being baptized in the Holy Spirit should be distinguished from being baptized by the Spirit into the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:131). The same preposition en occurs in this verse, the first part of which reads, “For by [en] one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.” “By” indicates that the Holy Spirit is the means or the instrument by which this baptism takes place. The experience Paul spoke of is different from the experience mentioned by John the Baptist, Jesus, and Peter in the other six passages.
The two groups of passages we are discussing have a couple of similar terms, but it is questionable to insist that because certain combinations of words occur in different passages their translation and meaning must be the same in all. Apart from the few similarities, the two groups of passages have little in common. For instance, Paul mentioned the one Spirit; he did not use the full two-word designation “Holy Spirit”; he talked about being baptized “into one body.” Furthermore, the prepositional phrase “en the one Spirit” precedes the verb baptize; in all the other passages it follows the verb (the one exception is Acts 1:5 where, curious to some, it comes between Spirit and Holy).
Context often determines one’s choice in translating a word or expression. Therefore, we need to see how Paul himself used expressions similar or identical to “en the one Spirit.” The immediate context, the chapter itself, contains four such phrases.
Verse 3 reads, “Therefore I make known to you, that no one speaking by [en] the Spirit of God says, ‘Jesus is accursed’; and no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by [en] the Holy Spirit.” Verse 9, which continues Paul’s list of spiritual gifts, reads, “To another faith by [en] the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by [en] the one Spirit.” This last phrase is identical to the one in verse 13, the only exception being that in the Greek it contains the word the.
In all these occurrences in 1 Corinthians where en is linked with the Holy Spirit, the translation “by” comes much more easily and is more readily understood than any other translation. Furthermore, the entire chapter refers to the activity of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the reading “by one Spirit” is preferable.
This concept is mentioned in a slightly different way in Romans 6:3, which speaks about being “baptized into Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:27 also speaks about being “baptized into Christ.” This baptism is different from the baptism mentioned by John the Baptist, Jesus, and Peter in the Gospels and Acts. According to John the Baptist, Jesus baptizes in the Holy Spirit. According to Paul, the Holy Spirit baptizes into Christ or into the body of Christ. If this distinction is not maintained, we have the strange idea that Christ baptizes into Christ.
The distinction between being baptized by the Spirit and being baptized in the Spirit is not attributable to a Pentecostal hermeneutical bias. A comparison of the translation of en in 1 Corinthians 12:13 in major versions shows a decided preference even by non-Pentecostal scholars for the rendering by. The following have the word by: King James Version, New King James Version, New American Standard Bible, New International Version, Revised Standard Version, The Living Bible, Today’s English Version, The New Testament in Modern English. The translation in appears in the following: American Standard Version, New Revised Standard Version, New English Bible, New American Bible.
There is a clear distinction in the purpose of each of the baptisms. Incorporation, or baptism, into Christ or the body of Christ is found in 1 Corinthians 12:13. This differs from the baptism in the Holy Spirit, the primary purpose of which is the receiving of power (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:8).
Anthony D. Palma, Th.D., a longtime Assemblies of God educator, lives in Springfield, Missouri.
1. Scripture quotations taken from the New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission (www.Lockman.org).