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Baptism in the Holy Spirit

Baptism with the Holy Spirit (alternatively Baptism in the Holy Spirit or Holy Ghost) in Christian theology is a term describing baptism (washing or immersion) in or with the Spirit of God and is frequently associated with the bestowal of spiritual gifts and empowerment for Christian ministry.[1][2][3] While the phrase "baptism with the Holy Spirit" is found in the New Testament and all Christian traditions accept it as a theological concept, each has interpreted it in a way consistent with their own beliefs on ecclesiology and Christian initiation.[4] One view holds that the term refers only to Pentecost, the "once-for-all" event for the whole Church described in the second chapter of the Book of Acts.[5] Another view holds that the term also refers to an experience of the individual believer distinct from salvation and initiation into the Church.

Before the emergence of the holiness movement in the mid-19th century and Pentecostalism in the early 20th century, most denominations believed that Christians received the baptism with the Holy Spirit either upon conversion and regeneration[5] or through rites of Christian initiation. Since the growth and spread of Pentecostal and charismatic churches, however, the belief that the baptism with the Holy Spirit is an experience distinct from regeneration has come into increasing prominence.[6]

Biblical description

Further information: Holy Spirit (Judaism)

In Christian theology, the work of the Holy Spirit under the Old Covenant is viewed as less powerful and less extensive than that under the New Covenant inaugurated on the day of Pentecost.[7] The Spirit was restricted to certain chosen individuals, such as high priests and prophets.[8] Often termed the “spirit of prophecy” in rabbinic writings, the Holy Spirit was closely associated with prophecy and divine inspiration.[9] It was anticipated that in the future messianic age God would pour out his spirit upon all of Israel, which would become a nation of prophets.[10][11]

While the exact phrase "baptism with the Holy Spirit" is not found in the New Testament, two forms of the phrase are found in the canonical gospels using the verb "baptize". The baptism was spoken about by John the Baptist, who contrasted his water baptism for the forgiveness of sins with the baptism of Jesus. In Mark and John, the Baptist proclaimed that Jesus "will baptize in (the) Holy Spirit"; while in Matthew and Luke, he "will baptize with Holy Spirit and fire".[12][13] Jesus is considered the first person to receive the baptism with the Holy Spirit.[14] The Holy Spirit descended on Jesus during his baptism, and he was anointed with power.[15] Afterward, Jesus began his ministry and displayed his power by casting out demons, healing the sick, and teaching with authority.[16][17]

The phrase "baptized in the Holy Spirit" occurs two times in Acts, first in Acts 1:4-5

The narrative of Acts begins after Jesus’

Baptism in the Holy Spirit occurs elsewhere in Acts. The gospel had been proclaimed in Samaria and the apostles Peter and John were sent from Jerusalem. The new believers had been water baptized, but the Holy Spirit had not yet fallen on them. The Samaritans received the Holy Spirit when Peter and John laid their hands on them.[26] The Apostle Paul was also filled with the Holy Spirit when Ananias of Damascus laid hands on him, and afterwards Paul was baptized with water.[27] Later in Acts, Peter preached the gospel to the household of Cornelius the Centurion, a Gentile. While he preached, the Holy Spirit fell on the gentiles, and they began to speak in tongues. The Jewish believers with Peter were amazed, and the household was water baptized.[28] While the apostle Paul was in Ephesus, he found disciples there and discovered that they did not know of the existence of the Holy Spirit and had only received John the Baptist’s baptism. After baptizing them in Jesus’ name, Paul laid his hands on them, and they began to speak in tongues and prophesy.[29]


In the early Church, the imposition of hands on the newly baptized to impart the gift of the Holy Spirit was the origin of the sacrament of confirmation. In the Eastern church, confirmation continued to be celebrated immediately after water baptism. The two rites were separated in the Western church.[30]

According to Pentecostal historian H. Vinson Synan, "the basic premise of Pentecostalism, that one may receive later effusions of the Spirit after initiation/conversion, can be clearly traced in Christian history to the beginnings of the rite of confirmation in the Western churches".[31] Synan further traces the influence of Catholic and Anglican mystical traditions on John Wesley's doctrine of Christian perfection or entire sanctification, from which Pentecostal beliefs on Spirit baptism developed. Wesley taught that while the new birth was the start of the Christian life, "inbred sin" remained and must be removed through a lifelong process of moral cleansing.[32] John Fletcher, Wesley's designated successor, called Christian perfection a "baptism in the Holy Spirit".[33] His Checks to Antinomianism later became a standard for Pentecostally-inclined holiness teachers. On the subject, Fletcher wrote:

Lastly: if we will attain the full power of godliness, and be peaceable as the Prince of Peace, and merciful as our heavenly Father, let us go on to the perfection and glory of Christianity; let us enter the full dispensation of the Spirit. Till we live in the pentecostal glory of the Church: till we are baptized with the Holy Ghost: till the Spirit of burning and the fire of Divine love have melted us down, and we have been truly cast into the softest mould of the Gospel: till we can say with St. Paul, "We have received the Spirit of love, of power, and of a sound mind;" till then we shall be carnal rather than spiritual believers.[34]

In mid-19th century America, the Wesleyan holiness movement began to teach that entire sanctification was less a process and more of a state that one entered into by faith at a definite moment in time. This second blessing, as it was commonly called, allowed Christians to be freed from the power of sin. The baptism in the Holy Spirit was generally understood to be synonymous with second blessing sanctification.[32] After his conversion in 1821, Presbyterian minister and revivalist Charles Grandison Finney experienced what he called "baptism in the Holy Spirit" accompanied by "unutterable gushings" of praise.[35] Finney and other Reformed writers, known as Oberlin perfectionists, agreed that there was a life altering experience after conversion, but unlike their Wesleyan holiness counterparts, they conceived of it as an ongoing process enabling believers to devote themselves wholly to Christ's service. Similarly, the English Higher Life movement taught that the second blessing was an "enduement of power". Spirit baptism gave Christians the ability to witness and to serve. Wesleyan teachers emphasized purity while Oberlin and higher life advocates stressed power as the defining outcome of Spirit baptism.[32]

In the early 1890s, R.C. Horner, a Canadian holiness evangelist, introduced a theological distinction that would be important for the development of Pentecostalism. He argued in his books Pentecost (1891) and Bible Doctrines (1909) that the baptism in the Holy Spirit was not synonymous with the second blessing but was actually a third work of grace subsequent to salvation and sanctification that empowered the believer for service.[36] Charles Fox Parham would build on this doctrinal foundation when he identified speaking in tongues as the Bible evidence of Spirit baptism.[37]


The diverse views on Spirit-baptism held among Christian traditions can be categorized into three main groups. These are baptism with the Spirit as sacramental initiation (Orthodox and Catholic churches), regeneration (Reformed tradition), and empowerment for witness and vocation (Pentecostals and charismatics).[38]

Eastern Orthodox

Main article: Chrismation

Orthodox Churches believe that baptism in the Holy Spirit is conferred with water baptism. The individual is anointed with oil (chrism) immediately after baptism. According to Cyril of Jerusalem:

This holy ointment is no more simple ointment, nor (so to say) common, after the invocation, but the gift of Christ; and by the presence of His Godhead, it causes in us the Holy Ghost. It is symbolically applied to thy forehead and thy other senses and while thy body is anointed with visible ointment, thy soul is sanctified by the Holy and life-giving Spirit.[39]

Roman Catholic

The Catholic Church teaches that baptism, confirmation, and the Eucharist—the sacraments of Christian initiation—lay the foundations of the Christian life.[40] The Christian life is based on baptism. It is "the gateway to life in the Spirit" and "signifies and actually brings about the birth of water and the Spirit".[41] The post-baptismal anointing (Chrismation in the Eastern churches) signifies the gift of the Holy Spirit and announces a second anointing to be conferred later in confirmation that completes the baptismal anointing.[42]

Confirmation, then, is necessary for the completion of baptismal grace.[43] When confirmed, Catholics receive the "special outpouring of the Holy Spirit as once granted to the apostles on the day of Pentecost".[44] For the confirmand it increases the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit (wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord), unites more fully to Christ and the Church, and gives strength to confess Christ and defend the faith.[45] The rite of confirmation orients toward mission, and many liturgical texts remind the initiate that the gift of the Holy Spirit should be used for service to the church and the world.[46]


Main article: Reformed theology

The Reformed position on Spirit baptism is that the gift of the Holy Spirit is given at the moment of regeneration, which, in Protestant terms, is not predicated on water baptism or membership in the visible church. Rather, all who have faith in Jesus Christ are members of the invisible church and as such are given the Holy Spirit.[5]


Main article: Wesleyanism

Within the Wesleyan tradition, baptism with the Holy Spirit has often been linked to a sanctified life. The United Methodist Church has a sacramental view of baptism, believing that it is by both water and Spirit and "involves dying to sin, newness of life, union with Christ, receiving the Holy Spirit, and incorporation into Christ's church". It also believes that baptism is the "doorway to the sanctified life" defined as "a gift of the gracious presence of the Holy Spirit, a yielding to the Spirit's power, a deepening of our love for God and neighbor".[47]

The churches in the holiness movement emphasize entire sanctification as a definite experience linked to Spirit baptism. According to the Articles of Faith of the Church of the Nazarene, sanctification is a work of God after regeneration "which transforms believers into the likeness of Christ" and is made possible by "initial sanctification" (which is regeneration and simultaneous with justification), entire sanctification, and "the continued perfecting work of the Holy Spirit culminating in glorification".[48] Entire sanctification (as opposed to initial sanctification) is an act of God in which a believer is made free from original sin and able to devote him or herself entirely to God:

It is wrought by the baptism with or infilling of the Holy Spirit, and comprehends in one experience the cleansing of the heart from sin and the abiding, indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, empowering the believer for life and service.[48]


In the Latter Day Saint movement, the "Baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost" refers to the experience of one who undergoes the ordinance of confirmation with the laying on of hands to receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. It follows baptism in water and is essential to salvation.[49] The gift of the Holy Ghost is the privilege of receiving inspiration, divine manifestations, direction, spiritual gifts, and other blessings from the Holy Spirit.[50] It begins the lifetime process of sanctification.[51]

Pentecostal and charismatic

Pentecostal and charismatic Christians believe that all Christians have the Holy Spirit dwelling in them.[52] However, they believe that the experience commonly called "baptism in the Holy Spirit" is a separate and distinct experience occurring sometime after regeneration. It is an empowering experience, equipping Spirit-filled believers for witness and ministry.[22] Extending from this is the belief that all the spiritual gifts mentioned in the New Testament are to be sought and exercised to build up the Church.[6] It is Spirit baptism that initiates the believer in the use of the spiritual gifts.

Pentecostals and charismatics look to the Bible to support their doctrinal position. According to their biblical interpretation, the Gospel of John 20:22 shows that the disciples of Jesus were already born again before the Holy Spirit fell at Pentecost. They then cite biblical examples in the Book of Acts 2, 8, 10, and 19 to show that it was common in the New Testament for Spirit baptism to occur after conversion.[53] In following the biblical pattern, they argue, Christians today should also ask Jesus for this baptism which results in greater power for ministry and witness. There are differences between Pentecostal and charismatic Christians' understanding of Spirit baptism.

Classical Pentecostalism

Classical Pentecostalism includes any denomination or group which has origins in the Pentecostal revival that began in 1901 and is most identified with the Azusa Street Mission of Los Angeles. Some Pentecostal denominations teach that speaking in tongues (see glossolalia) will always follow Spirit baptism, though this is by no means universally believed or practiced among Pentecostals.[54]

On the subject of Spirit baptism, Donald Gee wrote:

Therein lies the dynamic source of the whole subject. The early believers had all received the gift of the Holy Ghost as promised by our Lord and by Peter on the Day of Pentecost.

With them it was not mere intellectual assent to some article in a creed defining an orthodox doctrine concerning the Holy Spirit. Neither were they satisfied to acquiescence to a vague idea that in some indefinite manner the Holy Spirit had been imparted to them upon conversion. They gladly and thankfully recognized His gracious operations in their regeneration and sanctification, but their own personal reception of the Holy Spirit was an intensely vivid experience. They knew when He came, where He came, and how he came. Nothing reveals this more than Paul's searching question to certain disciples whom he immediately sensed to be spiritually lacking in a vital part of their Christian inheritance—'Have ye received the Holy Ghost?' (Acts 19:2). The challenge was to experience, not to doctrine. How significant! An Ephesian 'Pentecost' speedily rectified their shortcoming, and it was an experience as vivid as all the rest had received—'They spake with tongues and prophesied.'[55]

In Pentecostal experience, Spirit baptism can be quite dramatic, as shown by William Durham's account of his Spirit baptism:

I was overcome by the mighty fulness of power and went down under it. For three hours He wrought wonderfully in me. My body was worked in sections, a section at a time. And even the skin on my face was jerked and shaken, and finally I felt my lower jaw begin to quiver in a strange way. This continued for some little time, when finally my throat began to enlarge and I felt my vocal organs being, as it were, drawn into a different shape. O how strange and wonderful it was! and how blessed it was to be thus in the hands of God. And last of all I felt my tongue begin to move and my lips to produce strange sounds which did not originate in my mind.[56]

In some accounts of Spirit baptism, Pentecostals report receiving visions, such as the account of Lucy Leatherman, an Azusa Street participant:

While seeking for the Baptism with the Holy Ghost in Los Angeles, after Sister Ferrell [sic] laid hands on me I praised and praised God and saw my Savior in the heavens. And as I praised, I came closer and closer and I was so small. By and by I swept into the wound in His side, and He was not only in me but I in Him, and there I found that rest that passeth all understanding, and He said to me, you are in the bosom of the Father. He said I was clothed upon and in the secret place of the Most High. But I said, Father, I want the gift of the Holy Ghost, and the heavens opened and I was overshadowed, and such power came upon me and went through me. He said, Praise Me, and when I did, angels came and ministered unto me. I was passive in His hands working on my vocal cords, and I realized they were loosing me. I began to praise Him in an unknown language.[57]


Charismatics trace their historical origins to the charismatic movement of the 1960s and 1970s. They are distinguished from Pentecostals because they tend to allow for differing viewpoints on whether Spirit baptism is subsequent to conversion and whether tongues is always a sign of receiving the baptism.[6] Some charismatics remain within existing Protestant and Catholic churches while others have started new denominations.

The Catholic Charismatic Renewal believes that there is a further experience of empowerment with the Holy Spirit.[58] As stated by Rev. Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, "baptism in the Spirit is not a sacrament, but it is related to a sacrament…to the sacraments of Christian initiation. The baptism in the Spirit makes real and in a way renews Christian initiation".[59] Emphasis of the event is on the release of existing spiritual gifts already given to the individual through baptism in water and confirmation.

During the 1980s, another renewal movement emerged called the "Third Wave of the Holy Spirit" (the first wave was Pentecostalism and the second wave was the charismatic movement). Third wave charismatics stress that the preaching of the gospel, following the New Testament pattern, should be accompanied by "signs, wonders, and miracles". They believe that all Christians are baptized with the Holy Spirit at conversion, and prefer to call subsequent experiences as "filling" with the Holy Spirit.[6] John Wimber and the Vineyard churches are most prominently associated with this label.

Bible references

  • Matthew 3:11: …He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit…"
  • Mark 1:8: …He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit…"
  • Luke 3:16: "He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit…"
  • Acts 2).
  • John 1:33: …the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit."
  • Acts 1:4-5: …the Promise of the Father…"; …you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit…"
  • Acts 2:1-4: "All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages…"
  • Joel 2:28-29).
  • Acts 4:31: …they were all filled with the Holy Spirit…"
  • Acts 8:14-17: …prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit…"; …as yet the Spirit had not yet come upon any of them…"; …they received the Holy Spirit…"; …the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles' hands…."
  • Acts 9:17: …Jesus…has sent me…that you may…be filled with the Holy Spirit."
  • Acts 10:44-48: "The Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word…"; …the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out…"; …people who have received the Holy Spirit…"
  • Acts 11:15-16: …the Holy Spirit fell upon them…"; …you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit…"
  • Acts 19:1-6: "Did you receive the Holy Spirit…?"; …the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied…"
  • 1 Cor 12:13: "For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body--Jews or Greeks, slaves or free..."

See also



  • Arrington, French L. "The Indwelling, Baptism, and Infilling with the Holy Spirit: A Differentiation of Terms". Pneuma: the Journal of the Society for Pentecostal Studies vol. 3, no. 1 (Fall 1981).
  • Catechism of the Catholic Church, second edition. 1994.
  • Duffield, Guy P., and Nathaniel M. Van Cleave. Foundations of Pentecostal Theology. 1983. Los Angeles: Foursquare Media, 2008.
  • Encyclopaedia Judaica. Michael Berenbaum and Fred Skolnik, eds. 2nd ed. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2007. 22 vols. ISBN 978-0-02-865928-2.
  • . MacMillan, 1992. Accessed March 12, 2012.
  • Fletcher, John. . New York, 1833. Volume 2.
  • Gaffin, Richard B., Jr. Perspectives on Pentecost. P&R Publishing, 1979.
  • Gee, Donald. Concerning Spiritual Gifts. Springfield, Missouri: Gospel Publishing House. ISBN 0-88243-486-1.
  • Greenspahn, Frederick E. "Why Prophecy Ceased". Journal of Biblical Literature vol. 108, no. 1 (Spring 1989).
  • Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994.
  • Jacobsen, Douglas G. Thinking in the Spirit: Theologies of the Early Pentecostal Movement. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 2003.
  • Macchia, Frank D. Baptized in the Spirit: A Global Pentecostal Theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2006. ISBN 978-0-310-25236-8.
  • McDonnell, Kilian and Montague, George T. Christian Initiation and Baptism in the Holy Spirit: Evidence from the First Eight Centuries. Michael Glazier Books, January 1991. ISBN 978-0-8146-5009-7.
  • New Catholic Encyclopedia. 2nd ed. Detroit: Gale, 2003. 15 vols. ISBN 978-0-7876-4004-0.
  • New International Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements. Stanley M. Burgess, ed.; Eduard M. van der Maas, ass. ed. Zondervan, 2001. ISBN 0-310-22481-0.
  • Robeck, Cecil M., Jr. The Azusa Street Mission and Revival: The Birth of the Global Pentecostal Movement. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2006.
  • St. Cyril of Jerusalem. Lectures on the Christian Sacraments. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1951. ISBN 0-913836-39-7 (1986 reprint).
  • Synan, Vinson. The Holiness–Pentecostal Tradition: Charismatic Movements in the Twentieth Century. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997. ISBN 978-0-8028-4103-2.
  • Wacker, Grant. Heaven Below: Early Pentecostals and American Culture. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001. ISBN 9780674011281.

Further reading

  • Hayford, Jack W. Baptism with the Holy Spirit. Chosen, May 1, 2004. ISBN 978-0-8007-9348-7. Written from a Pentecostal perspective.
  • Montague, George T. Holy Spirit, Make Your Home in Me: Biblical Meditations on Receiving the Gift of the Spirit. Word Among Us Press, February 2008. ISBN 978-1-59325-128-4. Written from a Catholic charismatic perspective.
  • Phillips, Ron. An Essential Guide to Baptism in the Holy Spirit: Foundations on the Holy Spirit Book 1. Charisma House, June 7, 2011. ISBN 978-1-61638-239-1. Ron Phillips, a charismatic Southern Baptist pastor, writes about his own experience of Spirit-baptism and how the power of the Holy Spirit can be present in the lives of Christians today.
  • Torrey, R.A. The Baptism With The Holy Spirit. Kessinger Publishing, LLC, September 10, 2010 (originally published in 1895). ISBN 978-1-168-92945-7. While evangelical pastor R.A. Torrey distanced himself from the Pentecostal movement, he did believe the baptism with the Holy Spirit was a second work of grace.
  • Yun, Koo Dong. Baptism in the Holy Spirit: An Ecumenical Theology of Spirit Baptism. University Press of America, 2003. ISBN 978-0-7618-2636-1. The author analyzes nine different theologians' views on Spirit baptism from various Christian traditions (Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Dispensational, Pentecostal, and Reformed).

External links

Christianity portal
  • Assemblies of God Core Doctrines—Baptism in the Holy Spirit
  • John Piper, "This Is He Who Baptizes with the Holy Spirit"
  • "Baptism with the Holy Spirit" discussed from the non-Pentecostal/charismatic point of view
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