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The Person and Work of the Holy Spirit Series


Filled With the Spirit

Thu, 24 Apr 2008 - 12:46 PM CST

PART 1: Hermeneutics, Old Testament Promises, and Alternate Terminology

This series of essays will explore aspects of Pentecostal teaching on the baptism in the Holy Spirit. It will deal with the two related issues of the experience as subsequent to salvation and its accompaniment by speaking in tongues. Part 1 covers basic hermeneutical considerations, the Old Testament promise of the Spirit, and alternate terminology for Spirit baptism.1

Hermeneutical Considerations

Hermeneutical matters must be given serious attention as they relate to the doctrine of Spirit baptism, for two reasons: (1) The burgeoning Pentecostal/charismatic/third wave movement is not unified in its understanding of Spirit baptism. (2) Serious challenges from three sources have been directed at the doctrine from a hermeneutical standpoint: (a) cessationists, who argue for the discontinuation of extraordinary gifts after the first century; (b) noncessationists (continuationists) who are not part of the movement, who allow for the continuation of extraordinary gifts, but who reject the Pentecostal understanding of Spirit baptism; (c) some exegetes within the movement who question the hermeneutical validity of the doctrine.

The following presuppositions and key hermeneutical points have guided the writing of this series. They are given briefly to provide a background and framework for understanding the remainder of the series.2 The points are not necessarily listed in order of importance or in a strictly logical order. There is some overlapping and shading of one into another.

1. All Scripture is divinely inspired. The Holy Spirit, the divine Author, will not contradict himself in Scripture. Therefore, one biblical writing or writer will not contradict another.

2. A proper understanding of the discipline of biblical theology must control the exegesis of Scripture. The definition of biblical theology may vary, but its essence is that teachings must emerge from the biblical text and not be read into it.

3. A specific biblical writer must be understood on his own terms. A Pauline grid must not be superimposed on Luke, nor Luke’s on Paul. Since the Bible is not a work on dogmatic or systematic theology, different biblical writers may sometimes use similar terminology but with varying meanings. Illustration: Receiving the Spirit may have different nuances in Luke, Paul, John. What does each one mean by his use of the term?

4. Different biblical writers often have different emphases. John’s Gospel, for example, highlights the deity of Christ; Paul emphasizes justification by faith; Luke (both his Gospel and the Book of Acts) concentrates on the dynamic aspect of the Holy Spirit’s ministry. Since Luke focuses on this aspect of the Spirit’s work, it is important to understand what he says about the matter.

5. After a biblical writer is first understood in his own right, then his teachings should be related to those of other writers and the whole of Scripture.

6. Complementariness, not competition or contradiction, usually characterizes seemingly irreconcilable differences. What is the perspective of the particular writer? For example, does James really contradict Paul on the relationship between faith and works? Or are his statements guided by his reason for writing on the matter and so need to be interpreted in that light? Do Paul and Luke really contradict each other on the Spirit’s ministry?

7. Luke’s writings belong to the literary genre of history. But the Book of Acts is more than a history of the Early Church. Recent scholarship, especially, credits Luke with being a theologian in his own right, as well as a historian. He uses history as the medium for presenting his theology.

8. Within the framework of the historical–critical method of interpreting Scripture, the discipline called redaction criticism has gained wide acceptance in recent years. Its basic premise is that the biblical writer is an editor, and his writing presents his theology. He may take the material he has at hand and shape it in a way that will present predetermined, theological agenda. In its basic form, redaction criticism is a legitimate and necessary enterprise. But in its more radical form, it allows for the author to alter facts and even to create a story and present it as factual, in order to advance his theological purposes. To illustrate how this might function: Paul could not have asked the Ephesian men, “Having believed, did you receive the Holy Spirit?” (Acts 19:2; translation mine), because he teaches in his letters that the person who believes receives the Spirit at that time. Luke, therefore, either created the incident or else altered Paul’s actual words, in order for the narrative to reflect his (Luke’s) understanding of the Spirit’s work. This radical form of redaction criticism is unacceptable to those who hold a high view of the divine inspiration of Scripture. The superintending Holy Spirit would not permit a biblical writer to present as fact something that did not actually happen.

9. By nature the writing of history is selective and subjective, being influenced by the viewpoint and predilections of the writer. It is so with the Book of Acts but with the proviso that Luke’s historiography is ultimately not his own but that of the Holy Spirit.

10. Narrative theology is a relatively recent approach to hermeneutics. One aspect of it is called narrative analogy. By utilizing it, the author invites the reader to make a comparative study of similar stories to discover any patterns or echoes, such as repeated themes or phrases.3 This analogy aspect of narrative theology is closely related to the traditional Pentecostal approach of understanding the baptism in the Spirit in terms of Acts narratives.

11. One objection to the Pentecostal understanding of Spirit baptism is that it is based on historical precedent, which, it is said, cannot be used to establish doctrine. According to this view, it may be true that Luke records an experience of the Spirit subsequent to His work in regeneration and even that the experience includes glossolalia, but it is improper to formulate doctrine from this. In other words, the narratives are descriptive, not prescriptive, since there is no propositional statement that says the disciples’ experiences are for all believers.

Induction, however, is a legitimate form of logic. It is the forming of a general conclusion from the study of particular incidents or statements. How else can one justify the doctrine of the Trinity or of the hypostatic union—that Christ is both fully human and fully God, yet one person. The New Testament has no propositional statement about either of these doctrines. Therefore, it is legitimate to make an inductive study of the Acts incidents to determine the cumulative theological lesson(s) of those narratives.

One objection often raised by critics is that if we insist on historical precedent for a postconversion experience of the Spirit, we should consistently follow historical precedent by, for example, pooling all our financial resources or casting lots to make decisions. But nowhere was the Early Church told by God or actuated by Him to do these things, nor is there even a recurring pattern of them. They were activities thought by and done by the people on their own. But Jesus did command the disciples to wait until they were filled with the Spirit. Furthermore, being filled with the Spirit is a divine, not a human, activity.

12. Another objection to the Pentecostal position is based on authorial intent. The question is raised: What was Luke’s purpose/intent in writing Acts? The answer given is that it was to record the spread of the gospel throughout the Roman world; it was not to teach Spirit baptism. Yet how can the spread of the gospel be understood apart from the impetus behind it—the power of the Holy Spirit? Acts 1:8 is an encapsulation of the Book of Acts. The two main clauses in the verse are interrelated and cannot be divorced from each other: “You shall receive power” and “You shall be My witnesses.”4 If the mandate “Go into all the world” still holds true, then the enablement to do so will be the same as what Jesus promised.

13. Related to the previous objection is the idea that only representative groups in Acts had a special experience of the Spirit, to show the spread and inclusiveness of the gospel — Jews in Jerusalem (chapter 2), Samaritans (chapter 8), Gentiles (chapter 10), disciples of John the Baptist (chapter 19). There are several criticisms of this position: (1) Very often Paul’s postconversion, personal experience (9:17) of being filled with the Spirit is ignored or overlooked. It was not part of a group experience. (2) Did the early preachers not encounter any of John the Baptist’s disciples during the 20-year interim between Acts 2 and Acts 19? (3) Furthermore, were those men really disciples of John? Or were they disciples of Jesus needing further instruction?5

The Old Testament Promise of the Spirit

The Old Testament is an indispensable prelude to a discussion of the baptism in the Holy Spirit. The events of the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2) were the climax of God’s promises made centuries before about the institution of the new covenant, which would also inaugurate the age of the Spirit. Two passages are prominent: Ezekiel 36:25–27 and Joel 2:28,29.

The Ezekiel passage speaks about being sprinkled with clean water and so being cleansed from all spiritual filthiness. It goes on to say the Lord will remove the heart of stone from His people and give them “a new heart” and also put within them “a new spirit.” The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is the means by which this will take place: “I will put My Spirit within you” (verse 27). The result is that they will “walk in My statutes” and “will be careful to observe My ordinances.”

The promise is clearly related to the New Testament concept of regeneration. Paul speaks about “the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5), echoing Jesus’ statement about the need to be “born of water and the Spirit” (John 3:5). The transformation that takes place with the new birth results in an altered lifestyle, made possible by the indwelling of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit dwells within all believers (Romans 8:9,14–16; 1 Corinthians 6:19). Therefore, the idea of a believer without the Holy Spirit is a contradiction in terms.

Joel’s prophecy is quite different from Ezekiel’s. It does not talk about inner transformation, a changed lifestyle, or the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Instead, the Lord says, “I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind.” The result will be dramatic; the recipients will prophesy, dream, and see visions. This prophecy recalls Moses’ intense wish: “Would that all the LORD’S people were prophets, that the LORD would put His Spirit upon them” (Numbers 11:29). The parallels between Joel’s prophecy and Moses’ wish are unmistakable. In distinction from Ezekiel’s prophecy, here the results of the Spirit’s activity are quite different; they are dramatic and charismatic in nature. The Spirit comes upon God’s people primarily to empower them to prophesy. This is evident in Peter’s quotation of Joel in his Pentecost address (Acts 2:16–21). Peter inserts, “And they shall prophesy” (verse 18) in the middle of the quotation, repeating and underscoring that “your sons and your daughters shall prophesy” (verse 17). On the Day of Pentecost the disciples were “filled with the Holy Spirit”; they were not regenerated by that experience.

Must we conclude, then, that there were to be two separate historical comings of the Holy Spirit, given the substantial difference between Ezekiel’s and Joel’s prophecies? The answer must be no. It is better to speak of one overall promise of the Spirit that includes both His indwelling and empowering/filling God’s people. They are two aspects of the promised Holy Spirit’s work in the new age.

The promise of the Spirit was not completely fulfilled until the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2). But the virginal conception of Jesus by the power of the Spirit was the dawning of the new age. The descent of the Spirit upon Him at that time, together with the Spirit’s activity through Him throughout His earthly ministry (Matthew 3:16; Luke 4:18,19; Acts 10:38,39), serves as a model for all believers to whom the Lord in the Old Testament promised the indwelling and empowering of the Holy Spirit.

Terminology for Spirit Baptism

The Book of Acts contains over 70 references to the Holy Spirit. Since it records the coming of the Spirit and gives examples of the Spirit’s encounters with people, it is natural to turn to this book for specific terminology for Spirit baptism. The following expressions are used interchangeably:

  • Baptized in the Spirit (1:5; 11:16);
  • Spirit coming, or falling, upon (1:8; 8:16; 10:44; 11:15; 19:6);
  • Spirit poured out (2:17,18; 10:45);
  • Promise of the Father (1:4)—the Father gave the promise;
  • Promise of the Spirit (2:33,39)—the Spirit is the promise;
  • Gift of the Spirit (2:38; 10:45; 11:17)—the Spirit is the gift;
  • Gift of God (8:20)—the gift is from God;
  • Receiving the Spirit (8:15–20; 10:47; 19:2);
  • Filled with the Spirit (2:4; 9:17).

From the standpoint of frequency, the expression baptized in the Holy Spirit is used most often and occurs in each of the Gospels (Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; John 1:33). Filled with the Spirit occurs frequently but has a more inclusive meaning, which will be discussed later in this series.

Baptism in the Holy Spirit, the noun equivalent of the verbal baptized in the Holy Spirit, does not occur in the New Testament, but for ease of expression and identification, it is often used in its place. The term Spirit baptism also serves a useful purpose.

No one term fully conveys all that is involved in the experience. The terms should not be pressed literally; they are simply attempts by the biblical writers to help us understand better the meaning of the experience. Expressions such as baptized, filled, and poured out, for instance, emphasize that it is an experience in which the believer is thoroughly dominated or overwhelmed by the Holy Spirit. Among other things, the experience heightens and intensifies the work of the already indwelling Holy Spirit.

Baptized by and in the Holy Spirit

Does the New Testament distinguish between being baptized by the Holy Spirit and being baptized in the Holy Spirit? Seven passages contain both 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. The New Testament writers never speak 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 incorporates one into the body of Christ. The other is a baptism in the Spirit which empowers one for service.

Baptized in the Spirit. The Pentecostal experience is properly spoken of as being “baptized in the Holy Spirit” (Greek preposition en; Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; John 1:33; Acts 1:5; 11;16; see also Luke 24:49; Acts 1:8). This rendering most clearly translates the Greek and most adequately conveys the meaning of the experience. It is preferable for two reasons.

First, the preposition en is the most versatile 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 baptizes. It is a baptism by Jesus in the Holy Spirit.

Second, in is preferable to with because it conveys the imagery of baptism. The verb baptizo means to immerse or to dip. It would be awkward to say, “He shall immerse (or dip) you with the Holy Spirit.” The more natural rendering is “in the Holy Spirit.” The preference for “in the Holy Spirit” is strengthened by the analogy with water baptism, which takes place in water.

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, emphasizing that it is an experience 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 12:13).6 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 designates the Holy Spirit as the means or the instrument by which this baptism takes place. The experience Paul speaks 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 (the six in the Gospels and Acts, the one in 1 Corinthians) have a few 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 similarities, the two groups of passages have little in common. For instance, Paul mentions one Spirit. He does not use the full two-word designation “Holy Spirit”; he talks 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 uses expressions similar or identical to “en the one Spirit.” The immediate context, containing four such phrases, should be determinative.

First Corinthians 12:3 reads, “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 the Greek text contains the word the. In all these occurrences in the immediate context 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 talks about 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 in Acts. According to John the Baptist, it is Jesus who baptizes in the Holy Spirit. According to Paul, it is the Holy Spirit who 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 major Bible versions and translations 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.

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. Part 2 will deal with the question of subsequence. Part 3 will address the issue of tongues as a necessary accompaniment. Part 4 will discuss the purposes of Spirit baptism and also the inclusive terminology of being filled with, or full of, the Holy Spirit.
  2. Scholars within the classical Pentecostal tradition have written well and at length in this area. I mention a few: French L. Arrington, Donald A. Johns, Robert P. Menzies, William W. Menzies, Douglas A. Oss, Roger Stronstad.
  3. For further discussion of narrative theology, see Douglas A. Oss, “A Pentecostal/Charismatic View,” in Are Miraculous Gifts for Today? ed. Wayne A. Grudem, (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Publishing, 1996), 260–262; and Donald A. Johns, “New Directions in Hermeneutics,” Initial Evidence, ed. Gary B. McGee, (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishing, 1991), 153–156.
  4. Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Version, unless otherwise noted.
  5. This point will be covered in Part 2.
  6. Some respected scholars in the classical Pentecostal tradition prefer the translation in and interpret the clause to mean the Pentecostal baptism in the Spirit.


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