Gospel Gazette Online
Vol. 15 No. 1 January 2013
Page 2

Editorial

The Baptism of the Holy Spirit

Louis RushmoreWhen viewed in its biblical light, the baptism of the Holy Spirit is a topic of historical rather than contemporary significance. For instance, all faithful brethren acknowledge that there has not been an occasion of the baptism of the Holy Spirit for nearly 2,000 years. There are facets of the baptism of the Holy Spirit over which good brethren may disagree, but they concur that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is a PAST ministry of the Spirit, which Scriptures indicate will not occur again. Only Pentecostals, charismatics and Calvinists, all of whom discount the Word and opt for the spectacular, contend for the baptism of the Holy Spirit today.

Questions about the baptism of the Holy Spirit include: (1) To whom was the baptism of the Holy Spirit promised? (2) What was the purpose of the baptism of the Holy Spirit? (3) Who received the baptism of the Holy Spirit? (4) How should the baptism of the Holy Spirit be defined? The four general questions above entertain subordinate queries as well. (1) Is the promise of the Holy Spirit a promise to each generation including our own? (2) Was the baptism of the Holy Spirit given to men to save them from their sins? (3) Is the baptism of the Holy Spirit required today to enable men to understand the Bible? (4) Did the 120 disciples receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit as well as the twelve apostles? (5) Did Cornelius and his household also receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit? (6) When and where was the baptism of the Holy Spirit received? (7) Does baptism of the Holy Spirit mean the Spirit literally, personally entered the recipients of that baptism? (8) Does the baptism of the Holy Spirit signify the recipients of that baptism only received a certain measure of power from the Spirit? (9) Is there a difference between being “filled” with the Holy Spirit and being baptized with the Holy Spirit? (10) How could it be known when one was baptized with the Holy Spirit; did baptism of the Holy Spirit always produce a miraculous manifestation?

Holy Spirit Baptism Promised

The first biblical mention of the baptism of the Holy Spirit came from the lips of John the Baptist (Matthew 3:11). “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire.”

On that occasion, people were present from Jerusalem, Judaea and the vicinity of Jordan (Matthew 3:5). Many of the Pharisees and Sadducees also attended (Matthew 3:7). Though one might discern from verse eleven that at least some who were present then were godly souls, verses seven through ten equally indicate that some who were present were not acceptable to God, namely the Pharisees and Sadducees. Therefore, the promise of the baptism of the Holy Spirit was not to every soul present before John that day. If, then, the promise of the baptism of the Holy Spirit was only to some of those in attendance in Matthew Three, to whom in particular was the promise made? Other passages must fall under the Bible student’s scrutiny to appropriately answer that question.

However, before leaving the context of Matthew 3:11, note that two different baptisms are attributed to Jesus: (1) “Holy Ghost” and (2) “fire.” The “fire” does not pertain to the baptism of the Holy Spirit, but to the fruitless trees that were burned in verse 10 and the phrase in verse twelve that reads, “he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

Some of those present that day before John the Baptist were righteous souls, whereas others who were present were not. John promised some of them would receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit and others would receive a baptism of fire, both of which were to be administered by Jesus. At the baptism of Christ, John again identified Jesus as the administrator of the baptism of the Holy Spirit (John 1:32-33). “…[H]e that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost.” Jesus Himself claimed to be the administrator of this baptism (Acts 1:5). “For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence.”

The when, the who specifically and the how are not recorded in Matthew 3:11 for either the baptism of the Holy Spirit or the baptism of fire. A few of the apostles may have been present, who later received the baptism of the Holy Spirit. This is more than probable given consideration of other biblical references to the promise or the reception of the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

People today who pray for the baptism of fire pray amiss. Sadly, they may one day receive the object of their earnest prayers to their eternal dismay. The baptism of fire is equivalent to “hell” or the “lake of fire” (Revelation 21:8). Probably, misguided religious folk associate the “fire” of Matthew 3:11 with the “cloven tongues like as of fire” that accompanied the baptism of the apostles in the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:2).

John Chapters Fourteen, Fifteen and Sixteen promise the baptism of the Holy Spirit exclusively to the apostles of Christ. The opening verses of John Thirteen show the twelve disciples and the Lord had retired from public scenes for the observance of the Passover. Only the apostles were present to receive the promise of the baptism of the Holy Spirit throughout the following three chapters. Jesus promised the Holy Spirit (also called the Comforter) twice in Chapter Fourteen (John 14:16-17, 26), once in Chapter Fifteen (John 15:26) and once in Chapter Sixteen (John 16:7-15). The apostles alone were the ones to whom he reiterated that promise immediately preceding his Ascension to heaven.

“Until the day in which he was taken up, after that he through the Holy Ghost had given commandments unto the apostles whom he had chosen… And, being assembled together with them, commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith he, ye have heard of me. For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence.” (Acts 1:2-5)

No one besides the apostles were present in either the contexts of John 14-16 or Acts 1:2-5 to receive the promise of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, in the absence of additional passages that (1) also promise the baptism of the Holy Spirit to people other than the apostles, (2) show that others actually received what Jesus promised only to the apostles or (3) teach the purpose of the baptism of the Holy Spirit applies to others than the apostles, the Bible student must conclude that the promise of the baptism of the Holy Spirit was meant for the apostles alone. The promise of the baptism of the Holy Spirit was to the apostles only. No one has ever been commanded to be baptized in the Holy Spirit.

John Chapters 14-16 do contain material applicable today, though the promise of the baptism of the Holy Spirit does not apply to us today. Some statements of Jesus in those chapters were teachings that did not precisely apply to the eleven disciples present (Judas had already left). For instance, “Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words; and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings: and the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father’s which sent me” (John 14:23-24). All then present were faithful to Jesus Christ and therefore loved him.

Our Lord’s promise of mansions in heaven (John 14:1-3), though in the context spoken to the eleven apostles present, applies to other disciples, even today. Several other verses also promise heaven to godly disciples (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; 2 Corinthians 5:1, etc.). The difference between the promise of the baptism of the Holy Spirit to the apostles only and additional promises made to them in the same context (i.e., heaven) is primarily twofold. (1) The promise of the baptism of the Holy Spirit is not elsewhere in Scripture promised to or shown to have been received by others than the apostles. (2) The promise of heaven, etc. is promised in Scripture to others besides the apostles. Further, teachings and principles as noted above that Jesus taught were part of the Gospel teaching committed to men in the evangelizing of the world (Matthew 28:18-20; 2 Timothy 2:2).

Purpose of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit

The purpose of the baptism of the Holy Spirit is identified in the verses cited above in John 14-16. Nowhere does the Bible teach that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is a command to anyone, including souls today or that this baptism ever saved anybody from anything.

The purpose of the baptism of the Holy Spirit corresponds directly to the function of the apostles to whom this baptism was promised. The purpose of the baptism of the Holy Spirit concisely stated was: (1) to teach the apostles (in the absence of a written New Testament such as we have, John 14:26), (2) to cause the apostles to remember the teachings Jesus taught them personally (John 14:26), (3) to enable the apostles to testify (be true witnesses) of Jesus, (4) to guide the apostles into all truth (John 16:13) and (5) to show the apostles of things to come. Summarized, the baptism of the Holy Spirit was intended to infallibly and by inspiration teach the Word of God in the absence of written revelation, the New Testament. The baptism of the Holy Spirit was not primarily intended to enable its recipients to understand Scripture (the Bible), but to write Scripture (the Bible).

Admittedly, there were some accompanying effects of the baptism of the Holy Spirit that are also of special interest to and especially abused by Pentecostals and charismatics. The miracles that the apostles were able to perform after being baptized with the Holy Spirit were not an end of themselves as many today imagine. Miracles simply confirmed the teachings of the apostles to be the Word of God (Mark 16:20; Hebrews 2:3-4). Brother McGarvey in his commentary on the Book of Acts noted the efficiency of miracles to confirm the Word of God.


This power they now received, and upon the exercise of it depends the entire authority of the apostolic teaching. But power to establish the kingdom and to proselyte the world involved not merely the possession of the miraculous mental power above named, but the ability to prove that they did possess it. This could best be done by an indisputable exercise of it. To exercise it, however, by merely beginning to speak the truth infallibly, would not answer the purpose, for men would inquire, How can you assure us that this which you speak is the truth? …There is, indeed, but one method conceivable, by which they could exhibit this power to the immediate conviction of a multitude, and that is the method adopted on this occasion, speaking in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. (McGarvey 26)

Another effect of the baptism of the Holy Spirit on the apostles was the ability to transfer miraculous power (a gift of the Holy Spirit) to others (Acts 8:14-19). This effect of the baptism of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles contributed to the teaching purpose for which this baptism was given to the apostles.

Who Received the Baptism of the Holy Spirit?

Curiously, few if any brethren differ on to whom the promise of the baptism of the Holy Spirit was made, but some difference among faithful brethren exists regarding who received it. Of course, among the Pentecostals, charismatics and Calvinists are legions who in their minds remove the subject from historical significance to a daily happening. Among the churches of Christ, faithful brethren uniformly acknowledge that Holy Spirit baptism has not been perpetuated beyond the first century.

Any disagreements among our brethren regarding who received the baptism of the Holy Spirit, therefore, are academic and relatively inconsequential. These differences revolve around the definition of “baptism” in the terms “baptism of the Holy Spirit.” Here, the divergent views will be noted, after which a recommendation will be made. Again, this is not an area in which a test of fellowship must be made as long as all brethren concur that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is a past ministry of the Spirit, not happening today.

Not infrequently among denominational folk a claim is made that the 120 disciples mentioned in Acts One received the baptism of the Holy Spirit occurring in Chapter Two. This assertion is made by these people to bolster their contention that all disciples of all ages receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit in order to (1) work on their hearts, enabling them to respond to the Gospel, (2) illuminate Scripture so it can be understood, (3) and assist the believer in living righteously. Each of these actions is imagined to occur today separate and apart from the Word of God.

Our brethren who assert that the 120 received the baptism of the Holy Spirit, however, make no claims for the extension of the baptism of the Holy Spirit past the age of miracles, limited to about the close of the first century or shortly thereafter. Brother David Lipscomb wrote that the 120 received whatever the apostles received in Acts 2:1-4, and indicated it was a popular belief in his day. Interestingly, though, Lipscomb believed Acts 2:1-4 was not a reference to the baptism of the Holy Spirit, but to the gift of the Holy Spirit which the 120, including the apostles received then. He places the baptism of the Holy Spirit on the apostles at another, perhaps undisclosed time.

We have never heard it called in question that the whole one hundred and twenty were present. If the hundred and twenty were present the days preceding Pentecost, when Matthias was chosen in lieu of Judas, certainly there were additional reasons why all should be present on Pentecost. There will always be a difference in opinion as to whether more than the apostles received the gift of the Spirit on that day. We think likely the tongues like as of fire sat upon each of the apostles, but that all in the room received this outpouring of the Spirit, but in different degrees. …The apostles received the greatest measure of it. …We are constrained to believe that none on that day received the apostolic measure of the Spirit, because then all would have been apostles. (Lipscomb and Sewell 56, 57)

Brother Lipscomb believed that Joel’s prophecy denoting both genders would receive miraculous power was fulfilled on the Pentecost following the Ascension of the Lord. The above is his rationale toward that end. T.W. Brents also believed that the 120 were the ones filled with the Spirit in Acts Two (Brents 582-583). Brother Brents further agrees with Lipscomb that none present on Pentecost received the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

Probably most of our brethren recognize that the apostles received the baptism of the Holy Spirit in Acts Two. They understand that the 120 were not present and did not receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit. With this view I heartily concur.

Reviewing to whom the promise of the baptism of the Holy Spirit was made (John 14-16; Acts 1:2-5) alleviates any difficulty in determining who received that baptism. The apostles alone were the ones exclusively to whom the baptism of the Holy Spirit was promised. Therefore, only the apostles were the recipients of this unique baptism of the Spirit. Examination of the fulfillment of this promise bears out the event according to the promise, not contrary to it.

Acts One opens with Jesus addressing His apostles (Acts 1:2-8). He reminded them of His earlier promise to them that they should be baptized with the Holy Spirit (verse 4), alluded to John’s earlier promise that some should be baptized with the Spirit (verse 5) and told the apostles to wait in Jerusalem for the baptism of the Holy Spirit (verse 8). (Incidentally, Jesus interpreted John the Baptist’s reference to the baptism of the Holy Spirit and applied it to the apostles alone. No one else was present when Jesus made the application.)

Later in the first chapter of Acts, the apostles and other brethren totaling about 120 were gathered together. At this time Matthias was chosen to replace Judas in the apostleship (Acts 1:13-26). The first verse of Chapter Two suggests a time, perhaps days, intervened between the selection of Matthias and the arrival of Pentecost. Pentecost would be “fully come” with the commencement of the daylight hours, whereas, by the Jews’ reckoning of time, the day began at 6:00 p.m. the previous evening.

Almost uniformly, if not altogether so, among contemporary brethren, the context of Acts 2:1-4 is understood to chronicle the baptism of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles and them alone. Overlooking the somewhat unfortunate and arbitrary “Chapter Two” division supplies the needed antecedent for the pronouns that indicate who received that baptism.

…the antecedent of the pronoun “they” in Acts 2:1, is not the hundred and twenty of Acts 1:15, but “the eleven apostles” in Acts 1:26. Thus, only the apostles “were all together in one place.” Only the apostles “were filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:1, 4.). The allegation that others were in the building where the apostles were assembled and that while only the apostles received the baptism of the Spirit, others received a measure of the Spirit of less degree, is utterly groundless (Woods 51).

J.W. McGarvey adds:

It is indisputable that the antecedent to they is the term apostles; and it is merely the division of the text into chapters, severing the close grammatical connection of the words, which has hid this most obvious fact from commentators and readers. The apostles alone, therefore, are said to have been filled with the Holy Spirit. This conclusion is not only evident from the context, but it is required by the very terms of the promise concerning the Holy Spirit. It was to the apostles alone, on the night of the betrayal, that Jesus had promised the miraculous aid of the Spirit, and to them alone he said, on the day of Ascension, “You shall be immersed in the Holy Spirit.” It involves both a perversion of the text, and a misconception of the design of the event, to suppose that the immersion in the Holy Spirit was shared by the whole hundred and twenty. (McGarvey 24-25)

Further, doubtless not all the 120 disciples were Galileans, but the auditors of them affected by the baptism of the Holy Spirit recognized those speaking as Galileans (Acts 2:7). Formerly, angels dubbed the apostles “men of Galilee” following the Ascension of our Lord (Acts 1:11). This important evidence points to the select group of disciples, the apostles, as the ones singled out by the multitude and upon whom the baptism of the Holy Spirit took place.

The antecedent, “apostles,” to the pronouns in Acts 2:1-4 is contained in the phrase “and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.” In Acts Two, Peter, one of the apostles, standing with the other eleven apostles, addresses the multitude to explain the miraculous manifestations of the Holy Spirit which had confounded the masses. “But Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice, and said unto them…” (Acts 2:14). The multitude focused their attention upon the twelve apostles ONLY, who were natives of Galilee and were demonstrating a miraculous manifestation resulting from the baptism of the Holy Spirit upon them.

The apostles, then, only received the baptism of the Holy Spirit in direct fulfillment of Jesus’ previous promises to them alone. No fewer than all the apostles and no one along with the apostles received the baptism of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. This is precisely what one should legitimately expect, no more and no less, from the promise made concerning the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

However, good brethren contend that Cornelius and his household also received the baptism of the Holy Spirit (Acts 10 and 11). This writer sincerely believes a statement that Cornelius also received Holy Spirit baptism is ill-advised, though the problem is merely one of perspective and is not a subject over which heated controversy should arise. Debate should only be entertained were someone to assert that “The baptism of the Holy Spirit received by Cornelius and his household shows that every successive generation, including the present one, should expect to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit.”

Baptism of the Holy Spirit Defined

The effect of the Holy Spirit on Cornelius and his household is classed by some brethren as the baptism of the Holy Spirit, whereas other brethren, of whom I am one, do not consider this the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The pivotal point, determining one’s perception is the definition of “baptism” in the phrase “baptism of the Holy Spirit.” Brother L’Roy neatly assesses the matter.

If one defines the concept to mean being overwhelmed by the Holy Spirit and receiving power and authority to be an apostle, then only one recorded baptism of the Holy Spirit is in the New Testament. There would have of necessity have been two occasions since Paul would have received an unrecorded baptism in the Spirit. If one defines Holy Spirit baptism as the sudden outpouring from on high without human intervention or expectation, there are two recorded incidents of Spirit baptism; namely, Pentecost and Cornelius. (L’Roy 36)

In the strictest sense, there is no biblical record of a definition of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. There exists in Scripture the promise of it and passages describing its occurrence. Brother McGarvey cites the lack of definition and proceeds to discuss the occurrence. Following quotations by brethren Guy N. Woods and Foy E. Wallace, Jr. complement McGarvey’s observations. From examination of the enactment of Spirit baptism, these three scholars derive a definition for the baptism of the Holy Spirit that is warranted and consistent with the biblical account.

This is the immersion in the Holy Spirit which had been promised by Jesus, and for which the apostles had been waiting since his Ascension. …There is not, in the New Testament, a definition of the immersion in the Holy Spirit, but we have here what is possibly better, a living instance of its occurrence. …The immersion, therefore, consists in their being so filled with the Holy Spirit as to be attended by a miraculous physical power, and to exercise a miraculous intellectual power. (McGarvey 25)

The apostles were “filled” with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:4). This filling was figurative, not literal; and it refers to the endowment of power which was theirs, and not to a literal infusion of the Spirit. A few days later, following the memorable Pentecost day, the apostles were again “filled” with the Holy Spirit. If the filling was literal, had they lost their earlier reception? And, if the filling was literal and was the baptism of the Spirit, were they again baptized in the Holy Spirit on the occasion described in Acts 4:23-31? Thoughtful people will surely perceive that the pouring out of the Spirit, the filling of the Spirit and the baptism of the Spirit designated the bestowal of power upon the apostles by the Spirit and that the terms used are metaphorical, and not literal representations of what occurred. …the measures of the Spirit were measures of amounts of power which the Spirit exercised through those endowed, and not literal affusions of the essence of deity – the Spirit. The Spirit is a Person – not merely an influence. The influence which the Spirit wields today is solely through means – the Word of God which he (the Spirit) gave us. (Woods 51)

It was not the manner of the Holy Spirit’s descent from heaven that constituted the baptism of the Spirit, but their being filled or overwhelmed or endued and clothed – it was the result, not the manner of descent, that defines the Holy Spirit baptism, which the apostles only received. (Wallace 99)

In the broadest possible sense, if the baptism of the Holy Spirit is solely defined as the bestowal of measures of the Spirit and amounts of power which the Spirit exercised through those endowed, one might be allowed to say every miraculous manifestation of the Holy Spirit in essence represented some degree of baptism in the Holy Spirit. In such a proposition, the Holy Spirit is the source of all miraculous power. The apostles received a certain amount of power, presumably Cornelius and his household received a lesser degree of power and those upon whom the apostles laid their hands to transfer power also received a degree of miraculous power. Accordingly, some of our good brethren affirm Cornelius and his household, in addition to the apostles, received the baptism of the Holy Spirit. No one, though, argues that Cornelius and the members of his household possessed or used the same degree of miraculous power as did the apostles, for instance, being able by the imposition of their hands to transfer miraculous power to others.

It appears to me that the manner in which miraculous power was received in Acts Two and Acts Ten cannot legitimately be made the lone criteria for defining the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The effect of the baptism of the Holy Spirit must be permitted its voice in defining the matter. Admittedly, the effect was greater upon the apostles than upon Cornelius and his household. Yet, the miraculous power received in Acts Ten and Eleven is more nearly like what those upon whom the apostles laid their hands received from the Spirit. Therefore, if the definition of the baptism of the Spirit equates to receiving a measure of miraculous power, then advocates of Holy Spirit baptism at the house of Cornelius should be inclined to admit Holy Spirit baptism (but in a lesser degree, of course) was received by everyone else who received miraculous power in the first century. If some brother were to adopt this proposition I would not argue with him as long as he continued to acknowledge the long since cessation of miracles. However, I strongly disagree with such a proposition and the theory that Cornelius and his household received the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

In the strictest sense, the baptism of the Holy Spirit must be restricted to the apostles alone. First, the promise of the baptism of the Holy Spirit makes provision for the apostles only to receive it (John 14-16; Acts 1:2-8). On Pentecost, the apostles rather than the 120 received the baptism of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:26; 2:1-14).

Second, the degree of miraculous power received by the apostles, resulting from the baptism of the Holy Spirit, markedly differed from the degree of miraculous power received by all other recipients of miraculous power in the first century (2 Corinthians 12:12). This includes the occasion at Cornelius’ house.

In the final analysis, application of the baptism of the Holy Spirit to the household of Cornelius interferes with the only known promise of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Further, a revised definition of the baptism between Acts Two and Ten must be made before what occurred at Cornelius’ house can be called the baptism of the Holy Spirit. After that is done, the baptism of the Holy Spirit is less by definition than it was in Acts Two.

Agreed, the purpose for which the Holy Spirit made His presence known at Cornelius’ house was different from the Pentecost occasion. Further, the manner in which the Holy Spirit visited Cornelius’ home was similar to the Pentecost event. However, the biblical definition of the baptism of the Holy Spirit is determined chiefly by the promise of it announced before its occurrence, and second by the degree of its affect upon the apostles in Acts Two. Further analysis of the Cornelius episode in the Spirit’s miraculous ministry more nearly corresponds to the gift or gifts of the Holy Spirit received through the agency of the apostles. The promise and the Acts Two fulfillment of the baptism of the Holy Spirit do not have to be explained away if application of Spirit baptism is not applied to Cornelius.

Works Cited

Brents, T.W. The Gospel Plan Of Salvation. sixteenth edition. Nashville: Gospel Advocate, 1973.

Lipscomb, David, and E.G. Sewell. Questions Answered By Lipscomb And Sewell. edited by M.C. Kurfees. Nashville: Gospel Advocate, 1969.

L’Roy, Elmer. The Holy Spirit. Shreveport: Lambert Book House, 1966.

McGarvey, J.W. A Commentary On Acts Of Apostles. seventh edition. Nashville: Gospel Advocate, n.d.

Wallace, Foy E., Jr. The Mission And Medium Of The Holy Spirit. Nashville: Foy E. Wallace, Jr. Publications, 1967.

Woods, Guy N. Questions And Answers. Open Forum, Freed-Hardeman College Lectures. Henderson: Freed-Hardeman College, 1976.


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