Based largely on one statement in Ephesians 4 many Bible teachers insist that there is only one baptism in the New Testament, water baptism. The passage states “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.”(Ephesians 4:4-6) The words I have in bold fonts are the focus. If taken out of context and used as a stand-alone text many verses in the Bible can be construed to mean any number of things which are not true. This is one of those examples. The context is “unity” among believers and here Paul is attempting to get everyone on the same page. The baptism referred to here is almost certainly believer’s baptism in water. The point is that we who are saved share a common faith, in a common God, and have had a common baptism. We are together as one in Christ.
In the 2nd chapter of Acts there are clearly two distinct baptisms and another implied. There are 3 specific baptisms related to every believer. Unfortunately not all believers experience them the way God designed.
The first of these three baptisms is mentioned by John the Baptist and recorded in Matthew 3:11 and Luke 3:16. The Luke passage says “John answered, saying to all, “I indeed baptize you with water; but One mightier than I is coming, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” The “He” of this verse is Jesus. Later Jesus commands the disciples in Luke 24:49 “Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high.” They did wait as instructed and Acts 2 gives us the story of the sound of a rushing wind, tongues as of fire, and preaching in different languages with great power. When Peter recounted these events to the Jewish brothers as he defended baptizing Gentiles he said to them “And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them, as upon us at the beginning. Then I remembered the word of the Lord, how He said, ‘John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If therefore God gave them the same gift as He gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?”
When they heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God, saying, “Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life.” (Acts 11:15-18) So according to Peter the first baptism in Acts 2 is the “baptism with the Holy Spirit”.
In the act of this baptism, Jesus is the baptizer and the Holy Spirit is the medium. Jesus is the “who” and the Holy Spirit is the “what”. (It is worthy of notice that Peter’s testimony was that he received the gift “when (he) believed on the Lord Jesus Christ”. And further those who were saved had been “granted repentance unto life”. Is it possible then that the more important word in Acts 2:38 is “repent” rather than “baptized”?)
Most of our Pentecostal and charismatic friends teach that the Holy Spirit is the one who does the baptizing which is only one of their mistakes on the subject of the baptism with the Holy Spirit. Among those mistakes is that speaking in tongues is the initial evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit and in addition may teach that the sin nature inherent in the flesh is completely eradicated in conjunction with the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Both are false and easy enough for almost any Bible student to refute.
The 2nd baptism is the one that gets most of the attention, baptism in water. When Jesus gave the great command of the great commission He said “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20) Here the Scriptures cannot be clearer. 1. Go make disciples. 2. Baptizing them (disciples) 3. Teaching them (disciples). The disciples were to make more disciples by preaching the gospel, baptizing those who believed it, and then teaching them to obey all that Jesus had commanded. Interestingly, no plan for world evangelism has been devised that beats that plan. It is the only one that is tested and proven and mandated by Jesus Himself. It worked in Acts 2, it worked with the man from Ethiopia, it worked with the house of Cornelius, and it worked for the Apostle Paul. Preach the gospel (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) in the power of the Holy Spirit, baptize those who believe, and then teach them to be obedient to all Christ taught. This is not complicated.
In this baptism the baptizer is the disciples, Apostles, or any other believer, and the medium is water. The “who” is the person immersing the new believer and the “what” is water. Water baptism in the New Testament is clearly immersion. I can find no other method. Baptism is only for believers. It is only for those who believe the facts of the gospel or “good news” about Christ. The criteria is not church membership, what one believes ought to be said at baptisms, or even what one believes about baptism.
What about “baptism for the remission of sins”? John the Baptist baptized “unto repentance”, (Matthew 3:11). His water baptism was not actual “repentance” but was “unto” repentance. Those he baptized desired to be identified with the community of faith who had chosen to repent (change their minds) and follow the one who would come, of whom John preached. Being immersed in water was not the cause of repentance; it said to the onlookers “I have repented”. In exactly the same way baptism “for” the remission of sins is not a mechanical action that obligates God to forgive sins in conjunction with immersion. Over 50 times in the New Testament it is made plain that salvation is by faith. Obedience always comes after faith in Christ, not before. The “natural” or unregenerate mind is not subject to the law of God neither indeed can he be (Romans 8:7). Those who teach that no person can be saved until he or she is immersed also teach that only after baptism will they receive the Holy Spirit. That is inconsistent with Peter’s statement quoted above when he declared clearly that he received the Holy Spirit when he believed on the Lord Jesus Christ and the experience of Cornelius and those at his house.
When the believer is immersed in water he is saying to the world and to God, I am dying to myself and my way of doing things and I am being raised to live my life God’s way. We thus reenact the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus and are “marked out” as followers of Jesus and of the household of faith. Water baptism never stands alone and one baptized 100 times will still be lost if he or she did not first have faith in Christ. In baptism we look to Christ and what He accomplished on our behalf when He died for our sins, was buried, and raised from the dead. Water baptism does not join us to the church nor does it join us to God but it does cry out to a watching world “I belong to Christ and I purpose to live only for Him!” So we correctly sometimes say he or she was “baptized into Christ”. Of course we speak figuratively just as we do when we eat the bread and drink the cup. We are not literally eating the body of Christ or drinking His blood. We know that we receive Him by faith, not by physical eating. The symbols are not nearly as important as what they represent. We might eat unleavened bread, a cracker, or some other bread. And, we likely drink Welch’s grape juice, or perhaps even wine, but not literal blood. So the elements of the supper, when we commune with our Lord and His people, only represent His body broken for us and His blood shed for us until He comes.
In my view, water baptism is much the same. We are not literally dying when we go under the water, we are symbolically dying. We are “baptized into His death” in a figurative way, we are not literally dead as He was. We are symbolizing our death to self and sin and our being raised to live the new life He gives. Thus it was necessary for Paul to say right after he talked about being “baptized into His death”, “reckon yourselves to be dead” (Romans 6:11). We are baptized “for the remission of our sins” by submitting to immersion in the watery grave of baptism.
Just as Adam was our head before we became Christians so now Christ is the “new Adam”, our federal head. As in Adam all die, so in Christ all live (1 Corinthians 15:22). Because Christ is now our representative, when He died we died with Him (2 Timothy 2:11), and when He was raised we were raised with Him. Baptism is a beautiful and holy reenactment of those truths. Thus our eternal salvation was completed before we were born, completely outside of us or our abilities. “This is a faithful saying: For if we died with Him,We shall also live with Him.”(2 Timothy 2:11)
There is a 3rd baptism that took place in Acts 2 and following in the story of the growth of the church of Christ is the world. I call your attention to 1 Corinthians 12:13. “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit”. It is the blessed Holy Spirit who regenerates and creates a “new creature”. It is the third Person of the godhead who causes one to be “born from above”. And, it is He (the Holy Spirit) who places that person into the body of Christ, the universal church of Christ on earth and in heaven.
Here the baptizer is the Holy Spirit and the medium is the body of Christ. The “who” is the Holy Spirit and the “what” is the body of Christ.
- Baptism by Jesus with the Holy Spirit. The result is an empowered witness to Christ.
- Baptism by Christians of disciples in water in obedience to Jesus command in Matthew 28. The result is the identification of the disciple with Christ, with the body of believers, and separation from the world.
- Baptism by the Holy Spirit into the body of Christ. The result is the new disciple is “one” with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and with every other believer. The Holy Spirit Himself is God’s guarantee that person is safe for eternity.
I know many who read this will disagree with my conclusions. That is fine with me. I only ask this of you. Do I have as much right, and responsibility, as any other Christian to search the Scriptures and then teach what I find there? And, when we disagree shouldn’t we do so in a gracious way? Without question we should.
Next post: “How to grow a 1st Century church in the 21st Century”
Grace to you,
Thanks Royce, Well said!
Let me first say that I have loved this series and what an excellent post brother. I have often struggled with looking and searching the entire chapter not just 2:30 but the entire chapter and wondered if he wasn’t talking to the crowd about repentance. Again, thanks for this series and I am looking forward to your next series. God bless you brother.
Enjoyed this post and can’t wait till the next on “growing a church.”
If we look a little farther, we see a great picture of God in al that. True enough, Paul did write, “One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, in you all.” We know from long experience, and the testimony of the Apostles, that Scripture cannot contradict itself, so how do we handle these three mentioned? Our one Lord is Trinity. Eternally God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Our one Faith is so simple, yet so complex, that none of us can claim to know more than part of the light given us (Hey- good subject for a book series!). Why should we think the “one baptism” just means a quick splash? Instead, we see the Trinity in this trinity of baptism. Water baptism dates back to Jesus at the Jordan. Jewish tradition, as far as I know, does not involve somebody personally dunking the person, but supervising to make sure it is done properly, and we know that the Father approved Jesus’ baptism. When we first believe, it is the Spirit who baptises us into Jesus, and the Pentecost baptism was from the Father through Jesus, so that in all three it was the Father Who initiates it, but each of the Three has His hand in seeing to it. The Father approves out water baptism, the Spirit baptises us into Christ,, and Jesus baptises us in His Spirit! None of these is an option. Jesus did not say for the disciples to go preach, unless they wanted to stay around for something special, but in no uncertain terms to stay in town until they had received the Promise of the Father. Otherwise, are we really (completely) baptised, or set to serve?
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This is an interesting article – and has much that is good in it. As Robert stated well above, the Father Son and Spirit are all involved in our baptism.
However, your use of 1 Corinthians 12:13 mystifies me. Though many English versions translate it, “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body….”, the more literal ASV has it, “For in one Spirit were we all baptized into one body….,” as does the later English Standard Version. The Greek preposition is en, the same preposition used for the baptisms in Matthew 3:11 for “in water” and “in the Holy Spirit and fire.” This seems, to me, to indicate that the Spirit is the element, not the baptizer, in 1 Corinthians 12:13.
May God bless us as we both continue to grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord and His saving work.
Thanks for your comment Jerry.
You post a very thoughtful question concerning 1 Cor 12:13. After much consideration I don’t think the nuance of the preposition really changes the meaning substantially.
Jesus said in John 3 that one must be “born of the Spirit” and in John 6 “it is the Spirit who gives life”. And of course no person can come to God unless he is ‘drawn” to God, again the work of the Spirit.
In the Corinthian passage the emphasis of the text was the “oneness” of believers. They are “one” body with many members. When a sinner is saved the Spirit regenerates, creates, makes alive, makes new, and immerses the person into the mystical body of Christ (the church, Christ’s body) and then is Himself the seal, or guarantee that God will finally finish the transaction at the resurrection when our salvation will be fully realized. In that great body of Christ (the church) we are all made to drink of the same Spirit. I love the teaching of John 17 and Jesus prayer for those of us who would believe on Him because of the witness of his close associates in the first century. His prayer will be answered to the last detail.
Again, I appreciate your honesty and your always gracious way of expressing yourself even when you disagree. I can learn a lot from a brother like you.
Thank you for your gracious comments in your reply to my question.
My own understanding of this passage is that while there is one Christian baptism, there are two elements – both water and Spirit. As Israel was baptized by Moses in the cloud and in the sea (maybe without getting wet at all), and as the new birth is “of water and Spirit,” so our baptism is in water and Spirit.
Baptism in the Spirit began at Pentecost, but continues as the promise that is to “you and your children and to all them that afar off, even as many as the mouth of God shall call.” It was when Peter saw evidence that God had given the Holy Spirit to Gentiles that he would not withhold water that they should be baptized.
In your reply above, I appreciate they way you express the action of the Holy Spirit in bringing us to Christ and the fact that the Corinthian passage focuses on the unity of the body of Christ in the midst of varying gifts from the Spirit. The things that unify us, Paul stated throughout 1 Corinthians, are the universals: the Christ who died for us and in whose name we are baptized, the Spirit given to us by God, the one body of Christ of which we are members, the one hope to which we aspire. In fact, in 1 Corinthians the same universals appear that are in Ephesians 4:4-6. It is these that unite us; not our particular and often peculiar traditions of how we worship, our correctness of doctrine in every jot and tittle, etc. The universals are the true unity of the Spirit we are to maintain.
I’ve come to appreciate you through your articles and comments very much. Thank you for your kind spirit by which you demonstrate the love of God.
A good teaching. I am using part of it in teaching on the
three Baptisms. I would suggest that you read Robert Morris’s “The God I Did Not Know.” He goes into the work of the Holy spirit very deep but in a very easily readable manner.
And in fact Robert Morris identifies the same three baptisms in his teaching. Out of the mouth of 2 or 3 witnesses. Thank you brother.
Hi my name is Laura.. I really appreciate your post.. The pastor at church kept mentioning 3 baptisms and only got to the second one… I was curious about the third because of the revelation I had recieved 2 weeks before.. I asked several people and they didn’t seemed to understand what I was asking.. So thank you.. I haven’t been a Christian for very long, but the Lord has moved like a whirl wind with in me.. 8 months 9 days to be exact.. So thank you for your explanation.. Blessings ..!!
Wonderful discussions. I too have enjoyed Robert Morris book. I recommend Billy Graham’s – The Holy Spirit. He has a chapter on Baptism with the Holy Spirit. My first Holy Spirit book – Meet The Holy Spirit, by Jack Hyles, pub 1982, 1997, and is online and free, and has blessed me. I want to add the word – RECEIVE to your discussion. Like in Receive the Holy Spirit. A concordance shows the key is – Receive is active, like take it, welcome the Holy Spirit. We received (welcomed) Jesus, and we need to welcome the Holy Spirit. God doesn’t give us salvation or the Holy Spirit until we know what we are asking for. I was saved as a teenager and didn’t know about the H.S. What I knew scared me, so I ignored Him. Now, 50 yrs later, I welcomed Him, and He began His work in me. Maybe that can be called another Baptism, or filling, I’m not sure. I only know that one night, two years ago, in prayer, I asked H. S. to forgiveness me for ignoring Him all those years. I asked God to forgive me for ignoring His precious gift the Helper He gave me. Then I asked H.S. to begin teaching me, and guiding me. From that night, like never before, I continually read and study the Bible, study Christian books, and pray more deeply every day. It is good to see so many of us waking up to the H.S. Television preachers, Church sermons, books are all teaching about H.S. I believe Joel 2:28 told of how the H.S. would be with us in the latter days, and it seems they are very near.
I pray that you and I can get beyond debating terminology, and get on to finding our spiritual gifts, learning how to talk to God (prayer), and how to listen, finding out what services we are called to do, learning to witness for Christ, learning to submit our will to God’s will, learning how to continually be filled with H.S., Learning to day by day be transformed into the image of Christ.
Sorry to go on so long. I read and loved your discussion last night, and this morning was drawn to share some of my journey. Thanks.
Thanks for reading and for your comment Bill. One person who had a great influence on me in the early years about the Holy Spirit was not a Pentecostal or Charismatic but Dr John R Rice. I didn’t agree with him on everything he taught but I think he was exactly right about the Holy Spirit and our need for Holy Spirit power in our lives.
The baptism of the Holy Spirit is always about becoming an empowered witness for Jesus. Of course many people put the focus other places but the Bible record is clear.
Since I became a Christian at 15 years of age I have tried to have an open mind and to learn from a variety of sources, not just from those I agree with. I believe that all of God’s children are capable of teaching me something I need to know.
Blessings to you,
I am always trying to find things that can help fill in the gaps in the big picture. This teaching answers better than most. John 20:22 can not be denied that some of the disciples already had the Holy Spirit before the day of Pentecost. How do we explain this? I am not looking only for things that I agree with; however, for me to be open it must make a reasonable amount of sense. This goes a good distance in explaining some of the difficulties presented in the book of acts people believing yet no manifestation etc. I am currently adopting this belief; but as always I will pressure this to see if it holds water in all circumstances (harmony of scripture)
David, I am well aware that mine is a minority view. But, to only assume nothing happened when Jesus breathed on the disciples and said “Receive the Spirit” is not a fair treatment of a text in my opinion.
The key to my thinking on this (it’s been a long time since I wrote the post, so maybe I mentioned this…) is that Jesus said the Holy Spirit would not come until he was glorified. On the evening of resurrection day is when He spoke to them in John 20:22.
If we take Jesus words about the purpose of Pentecost (almost no one does it seems..) it was not so people could be indwelt by the Spirit, it was rather about being empowered witnesses. The supernatural preaching of the good news in many languages unknown to men who spoke is right in line with what Jesus said would happen if they would wait until they were endued with power…
The initial reception of the HS at conversion is different than being empowered by him (being filled). The disciples/apostles were filled again and again. And, in one of our favorite proof texts Paul instructed the Ephesian believers to “be filled with the Spirit”.
Thanks for your comment and for reading my stuff.
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I am so amazed at how intellectual we try to make the infilling of the Holy Ghost. I believed as a small child, but until I repented at 30 and wanted to be with God and change my ways with his help; only then I was filled with the HG and I did speak in tongues as the Bible said. At that time God delivered me from a couple of addictions immediately! Nothing can take that experience away from me. No one taught me, my eyes were truly opened at that moment and I knew that God was personal and real. And I have been running for Jesus a long time now. Praying for you to get all that God has for you.