Holy Spirit Baptism

The mere title of this letter conjures up doctrinal differences, emotional reactions and dogmatic opinions. Some people and/or denominations are so anxious to jump into the fray to support their definition of this particular area of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, that other equally, if not more important doctrinal considerations are largely overlooked or perhaps neglected altogether.

On the other hand there are those, who out of a fear often fostered by observing the misrepresentations and excesses of some in the “spirit filled” camp, have decided to maintain a somewhat safe distance from the “mysterious” Holy Spirit. This, coupled with a lack of sincere effort to diligently study scripture for a biblically based view of the Holy Spirit and all things related, has left many with little or no desire to explore the depths of true biblical spirit filled living.

In either of these two “camps” (and there are others) the ministry of the Holy Spirit is not properly understood or appreciated. Hence, the Spirit is grieved if not quenched, the Christian is ill equipped and the devil is all smiles!

I will not attempt to answer all questions related to Spirit baptism, nor even necessarily offer and support a particular doctrinal stance, encouraging you to do the same. What I will do is present a couple different opinions regarding Holy Spirit baptism from two slightly different doctrinal positions. In the end, I think we’ll find that in spite of slight differences we will draw a single important conclusion.

I will be oft referencing Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones, (deceased) reformed, protestant minister at Westminster Chapel in London for almost thirty years. I will also refer to the writings of Dr. Wayne Grudem (Grudem’s Systematic Theology) who is presently serving as Professor of Theology and Biblical Studies at Phoenix Seminary in Arizona.

I chose these two godly men because of the tremendous influence they have had in shaping sound theological and doctrinal thought through their writings, their lectures and most importantly their lives.Though they are just two men, they represent an extremely broad audience in the realm of theology and doctrine.

So, let’s get started. We have previously established in the last two Praiseletters that every Christian is spirit filled.

“But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.” (Romans 8:9)

We’ve established that the Holy Spirit is fully God. (see: God the Holy Spirit, last PL)

The Holy Spirit is the regenerating force which draws us, convicts us, transforms us and indwells us.

Dr. Grudem states in his preface to systematic theology that: “I hold that baptism in the Holy Spirit is a phrase best applied to conversion and subsequent experiences are better called “being filled with the Holy Spirit.”

Dr. Lloyd Jones, in his book “Joy Unspeakable” presents just the opposite. He believes at conversion we are filled with the Holy Spirit, but the Baptism in (by or with) the Holy Spirit is a subsequent work. Though it may on occasion occur at the time of our salvation it is still to be distinguished from being filled or indwelt initially by the Holy Spirit.

You may wonder why I am attempting to put a fine point on these issues. It is because there has been such debate and differing opinions in this area that disunity has often prevailed, dysfunction has sometimes arisen and even divisiveness has crept in and wounded some in the flock.

How can two godly, brilliant bible scholars differ on this issue? It’s a matter of interpretation on each other’s part, but keep in mind, I think we will all draw a similar and encouraging conclusion even amidst differing opinions.

Dr. Grudem points out that, “there are only seven passages in the New Testament where we read of someone being baptized in (or with) the Holy Spirit.” They are as follows: Matthew 3:11, Mark 1:8, Luke 3:16, John 1:33, Acts 1:5, Acts 11:16, and 1 Corinthians 12:13. (I encourage you to look up and read each of these.)

The 1 Corinthians 12:13 verse, which reads: “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body…” is one area where differing opinions come into play. Does this verse carry the same meaning of Spirit baptism as the other six?

Without getting “too deep in the weeds” let me just say it depends largely on whether you accept the phrase “by one Spirit” or “in one Spirit.” Some English translations use “by one Spirit” suggesting that this verse differs from the other six.

Dr. Grudem explains, “Those who support the Pentecostal view of baptism in the Holy Spirit after conversion are quite eager to see this verse as referring to something other than baptism in the Holy Spirit… In all the other six verses, Jesus is the one who baptizes people and the Holy Spirit is the “element” in which or with which Jesus baptizes people. Here in 1 Corinthians 12:13 (so the Pentecostal explanation goes) we have something quite different – here the person doing the baptizing is not Jesus but the Holy Spirit. Therefore, they say, 1 Corinthians 12:13 should not be taken into account when we ask what the New Testament means by “baptism in the Holy Spirit.”

Remember, this is but one opinion and explanation of this point in scripture.

Now, let’s look at another. Dr. Lloyd Jones believed in a subsequent work or baptism in (or with) the Holy Spirit after conversion. Here’s how he handles 1 Corinthians 12:13:

“I want to demonstrate that this verse… (1 Cor. 12:13) does not deal at all with the doctrine of the baptism with the Holy Spirit.” Jones agrees with Grudem that the Greek word en is the word herein used in this verse but goes on to point out that this word is often used in Greek in a casual sense. For example: Matthew 24:52 says, “All they that take the sword shall perish with (or by) the sword.” Jones says, “And there is the little word en and it means, of course, perish by the sword. You could not possibly translate that…perish in the sword.” He goes on to give several other examples of the Greek word en to mean, by as well as, in.

Jones then goes on to use a quote by Dr. Wuest (The Untranslatable Riches from the New Testament Greek) to bring clarity to 1 Corinthians 12:13.

“The personal agent in this case who does the baptizing is the Holy Spirit. He places the believing sinner into the body of which the Lord Jesus is the living Head. We could translate therefore, by means of the personal agency of one Spirit we all were placed in one body.

It is not the baptism with the Spirit, or of the Spirit, in the sense that the Holy Spirit is the element that is applied to us; it is the baptism by the Spirit.”

Confused? It’s ok, I don’t understand all the nuances and applications of a two letter Greek word either. I’m no scholar and don’t claim to be.

What I do begin to see however, and I hope you do as well, is that there is a work that the Holy Spirit does in us at conversion and there is also an ongoing work that He does in sanctification and equipping for power to boldly witness.

Another verse we should look at where Grudem and Jones (as well as others) disagree, though not harshly, is John 20:22, where it reads as follows:

“…He breathed on them and said to them, receive the Holy Spirit.”

The question is, did the disciples actually receive the Holy Spirit before the day of Pentecost? This is significant.

Dr. Grudem writes, “When Jesus breathed on his disciples and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit; it probably was an acted out prophecy of what would happen to them at Pentecost.”

I’ve heard this explanation often through the years and do not reject it, but I also find Dr. Lloyd Jones’ explanation quite enlightening and challenging.

“There is nothing in the text of John 20 that suggests this was a prophetic enactment. Take the words as they are and this is what you find: ‘Jesus said to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them and he saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost.’

Surely if our Lord was merely telling them that this was going to happen to them, he would have done what he is reported as having done in Acts 1 where he tells them ‘Tarry ye in Jerusalem until…’ There he is telling them that something is going to happen and he puts it quite plainly and quite clearly. But there is no suggestion at all of that in John 20. He says, ‘Receive ye the Holy Ghost.’

Let me be still more specific. If you consult the learned authorities on the whole question of Greek grammar and the meaning of the words, you will find that they are unanimous in saying that in the Greek the word ‘receive’ in verse 22, is the aorist imperative. And the authorities are also unanimous in saying that the Greek aorist imperative never has a future meaning.

This is a purely technical point, but a very important one. So many of our friends, who hold to the other teaching, do so in terms of the Greek and the original. So let us meet them on their own ground. Here – and again I defy you to find a single exception – the authorities are all agreed in saying that the Greek aorist imperative never has a future meaning – and I would emphasize the word ‘never’. So you see, the very word that is used is a word that wants us to see that what we are told happened then, did happen then; that when our Lord said to them, ‘Receive ye the Holy Ghost,’ they did receive the Holy Ghost. But there is still more. When we are told that our Lord ‘breathed’ on them and said, ‘Receive ye the Holy Ghost’, this same word ‘breathed’, here in the Greek, is the word that was used in the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament in two most important instances. The first is Genesis 2:7 which reads: ‘And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.’ The other striking example of this is to be found in the book of the prophet Ezekiel in a very well known passage in chapter 37:5-9 – the vision of the ‘valley of dead bones’.

‘Thus saith the Lord God unto these bones; Behold I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live…Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.’

The Septuagint translation of the Hebrew word breathe used there, is exactly the same word as is used here in our passage, and surely this is a most significant fact.”

Again…disagreement, differing opinions but ultimately not highly problematic. The significance of Jones’ explanation of that verse is if the disciples did in fact receive the Holy Spirit when Jesus breathed on them, then what happened at Pentecost had to be a subsequent work!

Now I’m sure some of you are thinking, “Well Dallas, what do you think? Dallas, what about speaking in tongues?”

What I think is not all that important, but I will tell you.

But first, what did Jesus say the Pentecost outpouring was about?

“But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest parts of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

Some of you perhaps want to know my opinion on speaking in tongues and how it relates to this matter.

A traditional “doctrinal distinctive” of many pentecostal believers is, “The initial physical evidence of the baptism of (or in) the Holy Spirit is speaking in tongues.”

I personally don’t think scripture makes this case in a dogmatic doctrinal sense. I believe in all of the gifts of the Holy Spirit and I believe they are still available to the church today for the edification of the church.

However, to single out one gift or others and say that if you haven’t experienced that gift or gifts, you have not experienced a Holy Spirit baptism, is not biblically accurate, in my opinion.

We know that on the day of Pentecost, the disciples spoke in other tongues, unlearned languages, so that all in attendance heard the gospel, each in their own language and 3,000 souls were added to the Kingdom. On two subsequent occasions (and a third implied), we know that people were filled with or received the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues.

However, there are numerous other mentions of individuals being filled with the Holy Spirit such as Elizabeth, Zacharias, Stephen and other references that say nothing of speaking in tongues.

I believe some people have in fact received a Holy Spirit baptism attended by speaking in tongues as well as other giftings, but I think to suggest that in the absence of a gift or gifts, a Spirit baptism did not occur, would be unfortunate.

This is the most challenging and difficult Praiseletter I’ve ever written out of the almost 300 I’ve penned.

There’s so much debate and division over this issue of Holy Spirit Baptism that it’s impossible to cover every area, address every idea and please every reader.

In the Spirit, with the Spirit, by the Spirit. Baptized, filled or received all seem to be terms that cause us to choose sides; at least in the way in which they are often used and explained.

So what can we gain from all this? What can we agree upon?

Again, we can look at Dr. Grudem and Dr. Jones and see that they both agree on an initial full entrance of the Holy Spirit into every true believer’s life. In reading their works, I can tell you they both agree on the ongoing sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit in every Christian. They both agree that the Ephesians 5:18 command, “Be filled with the Spirit” refers to a constant and ongoing filling of God’s spirit. They both proclaim clearly that all the gifts of the Spirit are still working today and they both clearly and strongly encourage every believer to seek for more from the Holy Spirit. Call it a baptism, call it an in-filling, or call it as a “coming down” of His Spirit upon us: both would encourage us to seek for all the Spirit has and might delight to do in and through us.

I agree!

I’d like to add one more thing, though I know this has surely been my most lengthy letter to date.

I feel sure that some of this talk of the Holy Spirit Baptism, gifts, tongues, etc… has caused some of you to think I lean a little too far to “that” side of things and I need to embrace a more staunch reformed position in such matters. Actually, I do!

In my studies it’s been enlightening if not surprising that many, and I mean many, of the great old patriarchs of the faith such as Luther, Calvin, Whitfield, Spurgeon, Edwards, the Wesleys, Finney, Moody and many others, testify to a profound experience or experiences in their lives of the Holy Spirit impacting, transforming and flooding them with joy unspeakable, often years into their lives and ministries.

A baptism, an infilling, a fresh receiving of Holy Spirit power, would well define and describe what they experienced!

Let me close with a wonderful quote from that most staunch Calvinist, Reformed Baptist minister:

“O my soul! Thou art ready to burst within me. Oh my heart! Thou art swelled with grief. The hot tide of my emotion would well-nigh overflood the channels of my veins. I long to speak, but the very desire chains my tongue. I wish to pray, but the fervency of my feelings curbs my language. There is a groaning within that cannot be uttered. Do you know who can utter that groaning? Who can understand it, and who can put it into heavenly language, and utter it in a celestial tongue, so that Christ can hear it? Oh yes, it is God the Holy Spirit; He advocates our cause with Christ, and then Christ advocates it with His Father. He is the advocate who makes the intercession for us, with groanings that cannot be uttered.” Charles Hadden Spurgeon

Kinda sounds like he leans a little to “that side” too!

Friends…there’s more! The Spirit of God is limitless, eternal and present within us. Maybe we should worry less about what He doesn’t do and desire more what He might like to do in and through us.

I don’t know about you, but I have no hesitancy to say, “God, I want and need a Holy Spirit Baptism!”