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The Baptism
of the Holy

The Baptism of the Holy Spirit

by Richard Nichols

Published in
The Informer
March, 1994

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Last updated:
April 30, 1999.

There are a number of figures in the Scriptures which depict the Holy Spirit. He is said to have descended upon Christ as he was baptized by John in the Jordan River "like a dove" (Matt. 3:16; John 1:32).  When Christians partake of the Spirit and his blessings they are said to "drink of one Spirit" (1 Cor. 12:13).  The expression "living water," (John 4:13,14) describes the eternal life and satisfaction which the Spirit is able to give.

Figures Used on The Holy Spirit

"Rivers of living water" (John 7:37-39) describes the abundance of the source of this eternal life and of the blessings which come from the Spirit.  "Pour forth" (Acts 2:17,18,33; 10:45; Titus 3:6) describes the descent and appearance of the Spirit.  "Filled with the Spirit" (Luke 1:15,41,67; 4:1) describes the control which the Spirit had in the lives of those whom the Spirit filled. "Baptized with the Holy Spirit" (John 1:32,33; Acts 1:5; 11:16) describes the overwhelming control which the Spirit had over the talents and abilities of those thus immersed in the Spirit.

These figures, like all figures, are to be understood by the literal likeness. The action of the Spirit referred to in each figure is exactly like the literal action pictured in the figure; but, the likeness is in one respect only, not in every detail.

For example, the Spirit is not like a dove in every respect, but when He came upon Christ, His descent resembled the descent of a dove. Actually, one cannot drink the Spirit, but the eagerness for, and the thirst-quenching effect of the Spirit in the life of the Christian is like one who being exceedingly thirsty drinks of cool, refreshing water.  Neither is the Spirit water, but as water quenches thirst, so the Spirit satisfies the soul of the Christian, and since the Spirit gives everlasting life and satisfaction, the Spirit's indwelling is likened to "LIVING water" -- that which does not pass away.  "Rivers" indicate the abundant supply.

The Holy Spirit cannot actually be poured out like water from a pitcher, but His descent is likened to something that is poured, because He came from above upon men on earth, and that coming was free to all upon whom he came.  Men were not actually "dipped" in the Spirit, because the Spirit is not a liquid or other substance into which a person can be dipped, but those in the New Testament baptized in the Spirit were overwhelmed by the power of the Spirit in their being so that they became instruments of the Spirit to do as the Spirit bade.  The baptism of the Spirit was like the baptism of suffering (Luke 12:50) -- there was an overwhelming effect upon the apostles of both the Spirit and of suffering.

Filling of the Spirit vs. The Baptism of the Spirit

In the New Testament there are nine persons or groups said to have been filled with the Spirit.  Those were Zacharias (Luke 1:67}; Elizabeth (Luke 1:41); John the Baptist (Luke 1:15); Christ (Luke 4:1); Peter (Acts 4:8); the apostles (Acts 4:31); Stephen (Acts 7:55); Paul (Acts 9:17; 13:9); Barnabas (Acts 11:24).

We know that some of these listed were not baptized with the Holy Spirit, but it is said of all of these that they were "filled with the Spirit."  Zacharias, Elizabeth, and John were filled with the Spirit before the baptism of the Spirit was even promised, which promise is found in John 1:32,33; Matthew 3:11,12, etc.

Christ was filled with the Spirit before the promise of the baptism was fulfilled, which fulfillment is indicated in Acts 1:5; Acts 2:23; Acts 11:16, etc.  Stephen and Barnabas were not included in either of the two instances of the baptism of the Spirit of Acts 2 and Acts 10, neither one being included in the Jewish "flesh" (or apostles), nor the Gentiles "flesh."

While the apostles, including Peter and Paul, were baptized with the Spirit, yet there is no reason to conclude that the filling of the Spirit mentioned in Acts 4:8; 4:31; 9:17; and 13:9 were instances of "re-baptisms" of the Spirit, but were doubtless such fillings as others had received.  If these were "re-baptisms" of the Spirit, then -- 1) The baptism of the Spirit was not very strong and did not last long, necessitating a re-baptism every few days.  2) If such were true, surely there would have been a record of more baptisms or "fillings" than we have.  And, 3) If these latter "fillings" were baptisms, they were different from those fillings of Zacharias, Elizabeth, John, etc.

A Promise, Not A Command

The Baptism of the Holy Spirit was a promise, not a command.  There are two distinct differences between truths, commands, promises, and blessings.  Truths are to be believed.  Commands are to be obeyed. Promises are to be received, and blessings are to be enjoyed.  Joel promised the baptism of the Spirit; which, he said, would visit "all flesh" (Joel 2:28-30).  Although Joel did not use the term "baptism," yet Peter, when referring to that prediction and indicating its fulfillment, used that term.  He said, "This is that which was prophesied..." (Acts 1:5; 2:1-21; Acts 11:16).  John promised the baptism of the Spirit (Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16).  This promise, however, was made to believers only, in contradistinction to unbelievers (Mark 16:11-20).

Christ Administered The Holy Spirit Baptism

John Said Christ would baptize, etc. (John 1:33; Matt. 3:11,12). Christ himself promised to send the Spirit (John 14:26; 15:26; 16:7-15; Luke 24:48,49 and Acts 1:5).

The Promise

Christ spoke to His apostles, and His apostles only, in the following passages in which the Spirit was promised -- John 14:16,26; 15:26; 16:7-15.  When Christ gave the Great Commission to the apostles, He promised the Holy Spirit (Luke 24:46-49).  Of the same occasion, we read another record of the same promise (Acts 1:5), which was a restatement of Matt. 3:11,12.  Another statement of the same promise is found in Acts 1:8.

The Fulfillment of the Promise

The apostles were baptized with the Holy Spirit, as Acts 2:1-21 reveals.  But, the 120, spoken of in Acts 1:15, were not baptized with the Holy Spirit, as the following reasons indicate.  The antecedent, the "apostles," is mentioned in verse 2.  The use over and over of "they" and "them" refers back to the antecedent, "apostles."  Luke is giving us the account of the apostles doing what Christ told them to do, "tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high" (Luke 24:49).  Luke is not giving an account of all 120 disciples who happened to be in Jerusalem, so in accounting for the actions of the apostles, he throws the entire number of disciples in within parentheses in verse 15.  But, parentheses in no way affects grammatical construction; rather, they serve to contain facts which help us understand what is being said without interfering with the narrative.

Luke inserts into his account of the apostles' actions in those days a quotation made by Peter in verses 15 through 22.  Luke again picks up his account of the apostles in verse 23, and tells how they choose two men, then prayed to God to choose between the two; which prayer Luke quotes in verses 24 and 25.  In verse 26, Luke again picks up the account of the apostles' doings in Jerusalem, and states that Matthias was numbered with the eleven, which made twelve called apostles in all. Of course, chapters and verses were added by men to help make Bible references easier.  Without any break we can see that Luke's account continues on about the acts of the apostles.  And we can see clearly that the apostles, not the 120, are said to have been baptized with the Holy Spirit in Acts 2:1-4.  The fact that those baptized with the Holy Spirit were "all Galileans" makes it improbable that the 120 were included.  While it is possible that the 120 were all Galileans, yet it is not likely.  But we do know that the apostles were all from Galilee.

Facts That Forbid the 120 From Being Baptized With the Holy Spirit

The "they" of Acts 2:1 can refer to none other than the eleven-plus-one of Acts 1:26, which excluded the 120.  Peter's standing up with the "eleven" instead of with 119 (Acts 2:14) disproves such a theory.  The fact that sinners cried out to the apostles instead of to the 120 precludes the idea (Acts 2:37).  When those of the multitude were pricked in their heart they only asked Peter and the other apostles, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?"  The 120 were not present.  Those converted on Pentecost continued in the "apostles' doctrine" instead of the doctrine of the 120 (Acts 2:42), which exposes "the holy spirit baptism of the 120" theory.  Signs and wonders were wrought by the apostles, not the 120, on Pentecost and the days which followed (Acts 2:43; Acts 5:12). This exposes the 120 theory.  If the 120 received the same power and performed the same work as the apostles did, why were there said to be just 12 apostles? Why were there not 120 apostles?  If there were no difference in the reception of the baptism of the Spirit, the divine guidance, and the work of the 120 and the apostles, then why make the distinction between the apostles and other Christians?  Strip the apostles of their extraordinary power and work (which was under the direct supervision of the Spirit) and the apostles cease to be apostles at all and are just like all other Christians.

Part 2 of this series.