10 Holy Spirit: Baptism

by | Nov 11, 2020 | 01 Podcasts, Holy Spirit

While this topic is controversial, I think Scripture teaches that the baptism of the Holy Spirit has both an individual application (as applied to the apostles) and a universal application (as applied to all believers).

As with all divisive issues, my advice is: 1) know what you believe and why you believe it; and 2) understand the other side well enough to know why it fails to persuade you.

On this topic, since the biblical authors specifically address this question, we should be careful in claim any view is definitive.


  • The Holy Spirit is God’s agent of change in this world.
  • Broadly speaking his work can be categorized as: universal and individual. 
  • The universal work of the Spirit is the transforming work that the Holy Spirit does in all believers to give us saving faith. 
  • The individual works of the Spirit are the gifts and opportunities to serve the kingdom of God that the Spirit gives one believer but not another.

I think the baptism of the Holy Spirit can refer to either a universal or an individual work depending on the context. 

The debate

15As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ,  16John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.  17His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”  18So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people. – Luke 3:15-18

  • This idea is found in all four gospels: Luke 3:15-18; Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:8; John 1:26-27. None of them explain the nature of this baptism of the Holy Spirit.
  • There is much debate over the significance of the word baptism (βαπτίζω; Strongs G907). For example: Is the emphasis on being washed?  Is the emphasis on being immersed?  Is the emphasis on coming out clean? 
  • There is also debate about the meaning of the fire metaphor (e.g. purifying or judgment)
  • Since the next verse talks about judgment, I think the fire metaphor refers to judgment.
  • John the Baptist is contrasting 2 options: The saved will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.  Those unsaved will be baptized with the fire of judgment.

Jesus speaking to the apostles

On the night of his arrest, John records a long talk Jesus gave to the 12, which we call the “Upper Room Discourse.” Several times in that talk, Jesus tells the disciples that the Holy Spirit will empower them to carry on the ministry after Jesus leaves.

25“These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. 26But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” – John 14:25-26

26“But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. 27And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.” – John 15:26-27

12“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you. – John 16:12-15

  • Do Jesus’ words here apply to all believers everywhere or just to the 12 who are sitting at his feet? In other words, is Jesus speaking of a universal or an individual work of the Spirit?
  • This interpretative choice is highly debated and makes a great deal of difference how you understand the passage.
  • My conclusion is that Jesus is speaking of an individual work of the Spirit given to the twelve to equip them to be apostles.
  • While this passage does not include the phrase “baptism of the Holy Spirit”, I believe that is the event Jesus is describing.

1:1In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, 2until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. 4And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; 5for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” 6So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. 8But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” – Acts 1:1-8

  • Jesus is speaking specifically to the apostles here, describing the coming baptism of the Holy Spirit as something that will equip them to be his witnesses.
  • Jesus tells them, this is the baptism John the Baptist spoke about.  John baptized with water.  Jesus baptizes with the Holy Spirit and that is about to happen to you apostles.
  • Once again, the same interpretative decision has to be made:  In Acts 1, most everyone agrees that Jesus is speaking to his apostles. But do his words apply to all believers or not?
  • I think Jesus is speaking of an individual work of the Spirit given to the apostles to equip them for their ministry.

19On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” 22And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” – John 20:19-23

  • In Greek (as in Hebrew and Aramaic), the word for spirit and the word for breath are the same word (πνεῦμα; Strong’s G4151).
  • Jesus seems to be giving the apostles some sort of preliminary preparation for the authority they will have as apostles. 
  • The authority to forgive sins is related to this giving of the Spirit.
  • Since regular believers, do not have the authority to forgive sins, this is one of the clues that pushes me to understand this baptism of the Spirit on the apostles as an individual work of the Spirit. 

Pentecost: the apostles

2:1When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. 4And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. 5Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. 6And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. 7And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans 8And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? – Acts 2:1-8

  • There’s an audible, sound like a rushing wind.  There’s a visual tongue of fire which hovers over each apostle. 
  • The result is they begin to speak of the mighty works of God in languages they have not learned, but which are understood by the bystanders.
  • Peter, who recently denied he even knew Jesus, stands up and gives an impromptu sermon such that 3000 believe (Acts 2:14-41).
  • Up until this point, the apostles were not ready to take on their role.  This outpouring of the Holy Spirit is the last step in their preparation.

Jesus speaking to individual believers

10Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 11The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” 13Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” – John 4:14-14

  • The conversation with the woman at the well, Jesus is speaking of a gift given to all believers. 
  • Food and water are necessary for life. If we don’t eat and drink, we eventually die.
  • Food and water also satisfy our inner desires (hunger and thirst).
  • When we eat and drink, it both satisfies our desires and it keeps us alive.
  • This “well springing up to eternal life” is something that Jesus gives to all who follow him.
  • It will both satisfy and lead to eternal life.

37On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. 38Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” 39Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. – John 7:37-39

  • Earlier the Apostle John quoted John the Baptist as saying one was coming who would baptize with the Holy Spirit. 
  • Now the Apostle John associates this life-giving, thirst-quenching water with the coming of the Spirit.
  • John says everyone who believes will receive this Spirit – pointing to the universal transforming work of the Spirit. 

Pentecost: everyone else

12And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.” 14But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. 15For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. 16But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: 17“‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; 18even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. – Acts 2:12-18

  • Luke emphasizes how many different nations and languages were present at Pentecost (Acts 2:7-11).
  • Peter quotes, the prophet Joel predicting that the Spirit will be poured out on all kinds of people and they are witnessing it happen.
  • Another Pentecost-type event happens to the Gentiles in Acts 10:44-48.
  • The Jewish leadership becomes convinced that God has accepted the Gentiles (Acts 11:15-18) because of the giving of the Spirit to them.


  1. I understand the phrase “baptism of the Spirit” to have both an individual and a universal application – depending on the context.
  2. On the individual side, it is the empowerment of the apostles so that they can speak authoritatively for Jesus and perform signs and miracles that attest to their authority. 
  3. On the universal side, it is the pouring out of the Spirit on believers everywhere to spiritually transform them so they believe. 
  4. This universal work is new after the ascension of Jesus in its scope and reach across all nations and peoples. 

For more detail and explanation, please listen to the podcast.

Previous: 09 Holy Spirit: Power and Unity: Romans 15

Series: Who is the Holy Spirit?

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