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John's Water-Baptism versus the Baptism of the Holy Spirit

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Question #1: 

Hello Robert,

I'm not sure if you have answered this somewhere, but if you could give your interpretation. This deals with baptism, i am a firm believer that salvation is a gift given by GOD and that a baptism does not save. I find most people dis-agree with that view and it's easy to see why with many references if scripture that make it appear so. One such reference below makes it seem like a water baptism is required. I've heard some say that their tears shed in their acceptance of Jesus as savior is what they feel is sufficient to satisfy that verse. Can you elaborate. Thanks for your time in advance.

"Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God" (John 3:5)

In Christ,

Response #1: 

Good to make your acquaintance. This is a very involved question and a topic which is somewhat "hot" at present. While there are some materials for this on the site (see the links below), not I everything I have written about the topic of water-baptism is yet posted. For example, it is only recently that it has come to my attention that there are some people out there who actually see water-baptism in Jesus' conversation with Nicodemus in John chapter three (your citation – I assume you are getting this from someone else). I don't believe any of the materials yet posted at Ichthys at present deal with this particular verse and chapter, though I have written some about it in the recent past. Simply put, neither the word, nor the action, nor the concept of water-baptism occurs anywhere in this conversation or context, and indeed the word "water" is to be found only in verse 5. It never occurred to me before (that is, before being confronted by some misguided water-baptism-necessary-for-salvation folks) that anyone would find water-baptism in this conversation. After all, Jesus never water-baptized to anyone (as John himself makes clear in the next chapter: Jn.4:2), never mentioned water-baptism elsewhere (including in Matthew 28:16-20 where He is referring to Spirit baptism), and never suggested anywhere that any such ritual was necessary to be saved. Indeed, this context, John chapter three, is one of the strongest expressions of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ alone to found anywhere in the entire Bible. Therefore to assume that the mention of the word "water" reverses all that is to put on a very heavy set of blinders purely for the purpose of advancing one's own (in this case false) doctrinal agenda.

Naturally, the word "water" in John 3:5 has to be explained, and that is very easy to do. Throughout scripture, "water" is an extremely common symbol for the Word of God (Is.55:1; Jn.3:5; 3:8 [Greek]; 4:10; 4:13-14; 7:37-39; 1Cor.10:4; Eph.5:26; Heb.10:22; 1Jn.5:8 [Trinity]; Rev.7:17; 21:6; 22:1; 22:17; cf. Ex 17:5-6; Num. 20:8; Ps.42:1-2; 63:1; 84:5-7; Is.41:17; 44:3).

And the Spirit and the bride say "Come!" And let the one who hears say, "Come!" And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost.
Revelation 22:17

And this is precisely what we have here in John 3:5, with this use of the word "water" meaning the life-giving truth used by the Spirit to quicken those who believe (and often also for the Spirit who ministers the Word, making it understandable; cf. 1Cor.2:4-16). Moreover, this usage is certainly not unprecedented elsewhere in John's gospel:

(13) Jesus answered, "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, (14) but whoever drinks the water I give him (i.e., who believes in the gospel of eternal life through faith in Me) will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life."
John 4:13-14 NIV

He that believeth on me as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water (i.e., the truth will live in him, as a believer). But this spake he of the Spirit, [who ministers the Word received] which they that believe on him should receive.
John 7:38-39a KJV

Just as literal water is essential for life, so the Word of God is essential for spiritual life (with an initial "drink" necessary for initial regeneration). Thus, in John 3:5 our Lord's use of the word "water" represents the truth of the gospel to which the person in question responds in faith; the Spirit is then the Agent of regeneration for all who drink this water of truth (i.e., for all who believe the gospel message about Him). That interpretation is certainly affirmed everywhere else in this chapter where faith (i.e., in Jesus) is later very clearly expressed as the one single thing needful for salvation (and "water" is not repeated: i.e., Jn.3:10-12; 3:15-16; 3:18; 3:36).

Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water (i.e., the gospel which he believes) and the Spirit (i.e., the Agent of regeneration for all who believe and drink the "water of truth").
John 3:5 NIV

Just as in the communion ritual (the only authorized ritual for the Church Age) we drink the cup as a symbol of our faith in the work of Christ, so water in all these contexts represents our faith in what we drink, the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

It is true that there are instances of water-baptism in the gospels and in the book of Acts, but in my opinion the idea of any necessity to be baptized with water comes exclusively from tradition and not directly from any Bible verse – and how much more is that not the case for any false notion of water-baptism-necessary-for-salvation!?

It is well to start such considerations with three pertinent facts: 1) John said emphatically that while he himself was baptizing with water, that ministry was preparatory to the coming of the Messiah who would baptize with the Spirit (and fire) – as opposed to water (e.g., Mk.1:8); 2) Jesus never baptized anyone (Jn.4:2) and never even mentioned the ritual; 3) there is no water-baptism whatsoever in any of the New Testament epistles (including 1st Peter chapter three where the "baptism which saves" is Spirit baptism), only Spirit baptism – except in 1st Corinthians chapter one where Paul repents of ever having water-baptized anyone at all. From these critical points of emphasis throughout the New Testament, we can easily conclude that it is the baptism of the Spirit experienced by all true Christians at the point of salvation which is important, not the water ritual which looked forward to the coming of Christ.

Matthew 28 is a separate issue which you will find written up in the links below; suffice it to say here that "baptizing [someone] into the Person of Jesus" and the rest of the Trinity is something no human being can do; only the Spirit can do this. That is to say, the Greek text of Matthew 28:19-20 is not recording a verbal formula to be pronounced at a water ritual (as it is often wrongly assumed to be doing); it is in fact describing the act of a new Christian being united to Christ by the Spirit when he or she responds in faith to the gospel, so that it is the job of the disciples/apostles and of all of the rest of us to see to this Spirit baptism by sharing the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ, not by engaging in John's ritual water-baptism.

As to the instances of water-baptism in the book of Acts, it is well to consider that everything about the apostolic period was transitional. We no longer see the miraculous "sign gifts" of those days at work in the Church; we no longer have apostles; but now we do have the entire Bible. Acts is historical and it describes what actually happened. When it describes, for example, Peter in Acts chapter two (in a generally poorly-translated and much misunderstood passage by the way), after telling the audience to repent (i.e., change their minds about Jesus) for the forgiveness of their sins (i.e., through faith in Jesus), adding "and let each of you be baptized", well, that is certainly an understandable thing. John's ministry and Jesus' ministry were closely linked in contemporary Jewish minds. John was the forerunner for the Messiah; therefore accepting John's ministry and accepting Jesus as the Messiah went hand in hand for Jews of that generation. John was, in effect, a witness to and a voucher for Jesus as the Messiah, so that John's water-baptism, which is what all water-baptism really is, would naturally be an effective part of any gospel delivery for those in Israel who had lived through the events of both ministries. By connecting the gospel to John's water-baptism, Peter (and the others who do this with contemporary Jewish audiences) were merely giving further evidence of Jesus' Messiahship. We see this very clearly, for example, in Paul's gospel appeal to the Jews at Pisidian Antioch during the first missionary journey:

"Before the coming of Jesus, John preached repentance and [water] baptism to all the people of Israel."
Acts 13:24

The effect of these words is often overlooked. Water-baptism is John's baptism, and John's baptism is water-baptism – and it was directed towards and meant for the Jewish nation ("to all the people of Israel") in order to prepare them to receive the Messiah before He arrived on the scene. Now that the Messiah has come, now that the Church has moved beyond the generation to whom He came, now that the Church is composed of gentiles as well as Jews, now that the indwelling ministry of the Spirit is a reality, and now that the "mystery of the gentiles" being included into the Church has come to be fully understood, that is, now that the transitional period described by the book of Acts is long past, there is no further need for the ritual of John's water-baptism at all, for now we easily accept Jesus as the Christ without giving any thought to John. That was not the case in the time period covered by the book of Acts for the Jews for whom John's ministry had been a major event. Once the gospel message spread beyond this circle who had been so affected, however, connecting the Messiah with John's ministry (and thus with John's water-baptism) became secondary. Indeed, its continuation past the point of its usefulness was causing problems even during the later days of the apostles, and we see this in the epistles of both Peter and Paul:

I am thankful that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15so no one can say that you were baptized into my name.
1st Corinthians 1:14-15 NIV

(18) For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, (19) through whom[d] also he went and preached to the spirits in prison (20) who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, (21) and this water symbolizes [the Spirit] baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body (i.e., not a literal washing with water), but the pledge of a good conscience toward God (i.e., forgiveness through faith). It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ (i.e., the acceptance of Him and His work sealed by resurrection, and the resultant gift of the Spirit), (22) who has gone into heaven and is at God's right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.
1st Peter 3:18-22 NIV

Finally, it is well to consider our Lord's last words on this subject (just before He ascended to the Father), wherein He deliberately drew a clear line between John's water-baptism and the baptism which matters for the Church, the baptism of the Holy Spirit:

For John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Spirit not many days from now".
Acts 1:5

And He said to them, "It is not for you to decide the times and occasions which the Father has ordained on His own authority (i.e., the Second Advent et al. will happen on His time-table, not yours). But 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 1:7-8

The virulent re-emergence of the cult of water-baptism falsely taught as a necessity for salvation is a very disturbing trend and a definite "sign of the times". It shows that the number of Christians who not only do not understand (or are not willing to accept) the very clear truth of scripture (e.g., Eph.2:8-9), and who are instead placing their hope and faith in concocted rituals and unorthodox popular "teaching" wholly divorced from the Bible is growing by the day. During the Tribulation, the Great Apostasy is prophesied to claim the faith of fully one third of contemporary Christians (see the link: "The Great Apostasy"). As attention to the truth of the Bible and interest in serious Bible teaching continue to wane and give way instead to ritualism, legalism, and emotionalism, it is not difficult to imagine how such a thing could happen.

Here are those links I mentioned:

One Baptism: the True Meaning of Peter's Words at Acts 2:38.

Combating Legalism II

Is baptism necessary for salvation?

Baptism: Water and Spirit.

Is water baptism required for Christians today?

Baptism and Salvation.

The 'baptism which now saves you': 1st Peter 3:21.

Thank for your interest in the truth of God's Word. Please feel free to write back about any of this.

In our dear Lord Jesus who is the Word of God.

Bob Luginbill

Question #2: 

Hello--I hope you had a nice Thanksgiving. I wonder if you would look at this for me, what this guy wrote. This is a new one on me--that Jesus never wanted water baptism performed. This guy isn't Catholic or anything--I don't know what he is, maybe non-denominational--but his comments are really off the wall, if you ask me. He also boasts how he "bested" a Greek scholar friend of his, in another post, and mentions it in this post, as well. Well, I am consulting my OWN Greek scholar friend on this. Here is what he wrote:

"My dear lady, I have convinced a Greek Scholar and a Pastor of one of the largest churches in Mich, that Jesus never commanded water baptism, and they were gung ho for it simply because "Hey if he commanded it, it must be important", which doesn't deal with the question: "Why in the heck would Jesus care if People had 3 names chanted over them while they did a ritual involving H2O? What does chanting the names do? It's a Pagan influenced Interp. and distrotion of what Jesus meant. No doubt! The real Jesus wasn't into Magic chants! My Greek Scholar Friend ended up doing something that I had never thought of doing, after he realized he was mislead by the Masses. He looked up how the word "baptism" was used in secular writings since "baptism" isn't a religious word. Plato stated 500 years before Christ that he had been "baptized" with questions. Was he at a fair in a dunk tank when asked? How People use the word Baptism today is meaningless. You can't change the word to fit your agenda and beliefs, and respect the truth and flow/harmony of scripture. How can you actually say that you aren't putting a spin on "Christ sent me not to baptize", when you proclaim that this means he truly was sent by Christ to do it, just wasn't his main mission! Wow! That's not a Spin? If you can't admit that you put an obvious spin on Paul's words there, then what else are you putting a spin on? Do you know why we are even talking about that verse by Paul? Because I brought it up! Most Teachers avoid Paul's statements to keep their own dogma on this! Is that what Believers of what is written are to do? Can others see why they don't deal with these verses?

I told him we don't "chant" "in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit" when we baptize people; we say it once. Chanting implies saying it over and over again, like some mantra. He also acts as if he discovered 1 Cor. 1:12-18, where Paul says he wasn't called to baptize and had only baptized a few people. I told him Paul just meant that his main focus in the ministry wasn't baptizing, but preaching, and he was saying he hadn't baptized many, not that water baptism is wrong. I told this guy, who calls himself "Mr. Logic" that it wasn't the water baptism that was being divisive with the Corinthians, but the bragging of who baptized them is what caused the divisions. The fault was with their attitudes, NOT with water baptism done in the Name of God. This guy makes it sound as if Paul did a bad thing, he later regretted, baptizing these people. I said he was just glad he didn't do very many, so no one could boast about HIM, instead of Christ. For if we boast of anything, it should be of Christ, NOT Paul.

I also told him that I have heard lots of minister in my church (Missouri Synod Lutheran) deal with this verse, in sermons and in bible class, including my husband, who is also a minister in our church (though he is no Greek scholar, though he does know biblical Greek). No one is pretending this verse doesn't exist.

Lots of words in the bible aren't intrinsically "religious" but how they are used makes them so. And so what if Plato used it in a non-water reference? I told Logic that it has figurative meanings, such as "overwhelm" and that is what Plato meant. He was being "drowned" with questions, overwhelmed by then. And anyway, it's how the bible uses the word that counts, NOT how the secular world uses it.

Anyway, I would appreciate your thoughts. Do you know of any extra-biblical usages of the word, where it IS used of water washing, immersion, etc.? Thanks.

Response #2: 

Always good to hear from you – hope you and yours had a blessed time as well. This is one of those occasions where I would not wish to identify with the messenger or the form of the message, even though I agree to some degree with the content. To put things another way, the points you make are very good, and the way this person says things is very misleading and insulting, but I would not wish to "throw the baby out with the bath water" (no pun intended).

I have spent much time and spilled much ink on this issue over many years, and I am personally and firmly convinced that water-baptism is neither necessary for salvation (most main-line groups would agree with this, though there are of course some who erroneously teach that water-baptism is required to be saved), nor required of Christians at all (and here many would disagree).

I try not to be like the people Paul talks about in Romans 14 who "pass judgment on disputable things" which are not of great moment, but if asked I tell it like it is. I was water-baptized as a baby in the Presbyterian Church, confirmed by sprinkling as a young adult, and later immersed in a non-denominational church, but if I had it to do over again I would refrain altogether, based upon what I now understand the scriptures to say.

To address briefly the two verses in the email, the Trinitarian formula given by Jesus in Matthew 28:19 is unique and never actually used in cases of water-baptism in the book of Acts (there is no water-baptism in the epistles whatsoever apart from 1st Corinthians chapter one addressed below). In fact, correctly translated, it would be impossible for anyone today to do with water what Jesus commands in Matthew 28:19, for the Greek text says "baptizing them into" the Names/Persons of the Trinity. Though used by many as a formula, it is not a formula but a direct command. The only way to accomplish this command of unifying someone with the Trinity is through the Spirit, and indeed Jesus is speaking in Matthew 28 of Spirit baptism, not water-baptism. For the apostles, fulfilling this command this would be accomplished in the early days by the laying on of hands, but later on it would happen for them as it happens for all of us by giving the gospel which results in the baptism of the Spirit for all who believe (as with Cornelius and his family in Acts 10). Matthew 28:19 is the entry phase of the Christian life; Matthew 28:20, "teaching them", is the post-salvation phase of the Christian life. It does make a certain amount of logical sense that this summation of all we are to do in the Christian life as leaders and teachers in the Church would include giving the gospel and teaching the truth, but that is only recognized to be the case in this passage after we understand Jesus to be talking about Spirit baptism and not water-baptism. Significantly, He doesn't say baptizing them "with water", and we know from everywhere else in the New Testament that it is Spirit baptism which is crucial to the Church, while water-baptism is, as I say, never mentioned in the epistles in a positive light.

That brings me to 1st Corinthians 1:17. Of course Paul did occasionally baptize with water as this passage shows. Importantly, however, what this passage also demonstrates is that he didn't think it was a required ritual (otherwise his attitude as expressed here would be incomprehensible). This is the position I take as well. When dealing with the Corinthians, Paul is saying here that in their case it did them more harm than good to be water-baptized, and as I look at the history of the ritual in the Church and the division, confusion, and other abuses it has occasioned, well, I think we would all be much better off if we had followed Paul's lead instead of making water-baptism a tradition.

Significantly, one of the telling points against the necessity or requirement for the ritual is that almost no one can explain precisely what it is supposed to symbolize (i.e., it is never explained in the epistles precisely because it was never envisioned as a requirement). I do understand that denominations have position papers on this sort of thing, but what I mean is, the average person cannot tell you what it "means", and the average honest pastor can't in most cases really square the "symbolism" of water-baptism according to group tradition with how it is done and what is said about it in the Bible (apologies in advance if you and yours are exceptions to the rule). That is because water-baptism was a Jewish rite, not a Christian rite. The only legitimate water-baptism in scripture is John's baptism, and this was designed to lead Jews to repentance and faith in anticipation of the Messiah. That is the water-baptism that persists in the transitional, apostolic period, which began, of course, by ministering to Jews who were well acquainted with John's baptism. In my view, now that we have Jesus come in the flesh and after His resurrection, water-baptism should properly be considered as something akin to the Law that has been superseded (as I would argue a careful examination of the issue in the book of Acts will show).

To sum up, I have no great problem with groups performing the ritual as long as 1) they do not intimate in any way that it has anything to do with salvation, and 2) they do not use it as a device for emotional manipulation. It's one of those traditional things of which we would be better off rid, in my view, but I try to be careful about coming off as iconoclastic when I discuss the subject. Solid food is for the mature, and everything that is not of faith is sin. I would rather have a person not be exposed to this bit of truth if it is going to capsize their faith, but if we seek the truth we will find it out (even if it turns out to be something we were not expecting). In the end, it is the Spirit's baptism which creates and empowers the Church, so that perhaps the biggest problem I have with water-baptism is the extent to which it causes the true baptism of the Church to be underestimated or misunderstood.

As I say, this is an extremely brief treatment of one of the most complicated and controversial topics in the New Testament. I would be more than happy to point you to some links where I have written about this before (though I have still have much to say that is not yet posted).

Yours in Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #3: 

Hi--So, are you agreeing with this guy? I can't really tell for sure.

I and my church agree with you in part: baptism isn't necessary for salvation, though we believe that it does save, as Peter says in one of his epistles. However, I don't want to get into a theological discussion on that; that wasn't my main question here.

My contention is partly with Logic's assertion that it is somehow "pagan" to "chant" "in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, when baptizing, that we claim it is somehow a "magic" formula. Also, as I interpret Paul in 1st Corinthians, it isn't the act of water baptism that divides, but the attitudes of some of the Corinthians, who had it done to them, by certain prominent Christians, i.e., Paul, Peter, Apollos, etc. They became "name droppers", saying "well, I belong to Paul! I belong to Peter!", etc. It became a matter of boasting with them, and boasting is wrong. In vs. 31, Paul ends this particular discussion by saying that "if we boast, we should boast in the Lord." (paraphrased slightly) So, I think it is the Corinthians' attitudes that were being divisive, plus their boasting.

Also, it seems to me that Paul is simply glad that he didn't baptize too many people, so they couldn't go around bragging about how he, Paul, baptized them. This guy seems to think that Paul did wrong in baptizing these few people and when he supposedly found out how divisive it was, he quit doing it. In fact, elsewhere in his posts, he makes it sound as if it is WRONG to baptize.

And there IS water baptism in the NT; there is the case of the Ethiopian Eunich, whom Philip baptized IN water. And also in Ephesians, where Paul talks about how Christ gave Himself for the church, "having cleansed her with the washing of water by the Word." Which sounds like water baptism to me, combined with the word of God.

I know that the Trinitarian forumula isn't used in the NT, but I take it to mean we are to baptize in the Name of God--the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, all the ONe God, sharing a common name--YHWH. I think the examples in the NT have people being baptized into Jesus' name. And He IS God, after all. So, it's the same thing.

Also, I don't remember if I asked you or not if you know of any instances outside the bible where "baptizo" is used to mean getting wet. Logic said that it was used with some guy, who was "baptized" with questions. I take that to be figurative to mean "overwhelmed" with questions. Do you know of any instances outside the bible where it is used to mean getting wet with water?

Also, you think that the Trinitarian formula in Matthew 28 refers to "Spirit" baptism? How, then does one become "Spirit" baptized, in your opinion? In the NT, when Cornelius and his family heard Peter tell them the Gospel, they believed and the Holy Spirit came upon them and they believed, and the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and praised God. Is that what you would consider "Spirit baptism"--with or without speaking in tongues? If so, then why does Peter say, "'Surely no one can refuse the WATER for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit, just we did, can he?'" And he ordered them to be baptized in the Name of Jesus Christ." It sounds as if BOTH water and Spirit baptism occurred here. Just wondering your take on this. Thanks.

Response #3: 

No, I certainly don't think the traditional water-baptismal formula is a "pagan chant", just a misinterpretation of scripture. I also agree with you that the division water-baptism created at Corinth came from the Corinthian congregation, not the act of water-baptism itself. Water-baptism was most definitely used by the apostles in the early days of their ministries for reasons discussed in brief before, so one cannot say it was illegitimate at that time. I also agree that it is ridiculous to suggest that it was "wrong" for Paul to water-baptize – it most certainly was not. It was a tangible way of administering the Spirit before the universal Spirit-baptism began, and was also a way of tying into the water-baptism of John whose ministry validated Jesus as the Messiah for the benefit of Jewish believers who were aware of that fact. However, the 1st Corinthians passage does make clear that 1) the rite is unnecessary (otherwise Paul would have applied it universally), and 2) it can do more harm than good (as it certainly did at Corinth, regardless of who or what was responsible). Historically, these are good reasons not to do it, but that doesn't mean it is "wrong" (as long, as I say, that it is not taught as necessary or required, and not used for emotional manipulation).

So, yes, there most certainly was water-baptism in the early apostolic days. I would disagree about Ephesians chapter 5, and indeed this makes my point to my mind. When water-baptism is endowed with a non-scriptural importance, it ends up replacing truly important things, as in Ephesians 5 where the gospel is the "water" in view. Very frequently in scripture "water" refers to the Word of God (Is.55:1; Jn.3:5; 3:8 [Greek]; 4:10; 4:13-14; 7:37-39; 1Cor.10:4; Eph.5:26; Heb.10:22; 1Jn.5:8 [Trinity]; Rev.7:17; 21:6; 22:1; 22:17; cf. Ex 17:5-6; Num. 20:8; Ps.42:1-2; 63:1; 84:5-7; Is.41:17; 44:3). The problems with seeing metaphorical water as water-baptism are numerous and serious. Christ "washed us with the Word" = we heard the gospel and believed. But if water-baptism were in view, then even after believing we would still not be saved . . . until we had received a water-baptism. Now we are into very dangerous territory indeed.

I would have to disagree about the formula. If Jesus had been telling us to pronounce a formula in a very specific way, then of course that is what we would want to do (not something else which would not really be the same thing). The fact that all groups of which I know who water-baptize do use the triune formula says to me that they see things in exactly that same way, namely, "we better do what Jesus told us" (i.e., their understanding of it anyway). That really does beg the question of why there is no case of the triune formula in the actual water-baptisms in Acts. Why wouldn't they have done it "Jesus' way" if it were important to do at all? But as I say, the passage in Matthew doesn't mention water, and is impossible to fulfill through water (the Greek preposition eis cannot mean "in" as in a verbal formula; with baptizo it has to express motion: we are baptized "into" something). Only the Spirit can place us "into" Christ and the other two Members of the Trinity. And, after all, it is our position in Christ which is so all important in the NT, not whether or how we have been dunked in literal water.

As I implied in the last email, you are correct on your suspicions regarding the vocabulary. The complex of words surrounding the morpheme bapt-, which means to dip, are generally used of water when used in a literal way, but often are used metaphorically as well. For example, Jesus talks of the cross as a "baptism", and Paul recounts how the children of Israel were "baptized into Moses". The "dunking" identifies the "dunkee" with the medium into which he/she is "dunked". When we receive the baptism of the Spirit, there are two separate aspects of this blessing: 1) we are baptized "with" the Spirit (i.e., we have the Spirit in us as believers, and universally so: Rom.8:9); 2) we are baptized "by" the Spirit, entered into Christ, and into the Father and Spirit as well, becoming one with them, and one with Christ in particular. So the word/morpheme means to dip, and in secular Greek most often the medium into which the thing/person is dipped is water. However, just because a word has a literal sense does not mean it cannot be used in a figurative sense; and just because a word is sometimes used in a figurative way does not mean that it cannot have its literal meaning in any given passage. The context determines which is which.

Finally, on your second email, yes, Spirit baptism occurs for all who believe, when they believe. It no longer is accompanied by tongues and prophesying today, many of the spiritual gifts of the apostolic times having been now discontinued by the Spirit since we possess a completed Bible et al. Yes, Peter does say that "water" shouldn't be denied these new believers in Acts 10, but he doesn't say that they must be water-baptized to be saved or stabilized (or for any other such rationale). These believers were now saved and had been Spirit baptized, and Peter clearly understood this (he uses this example later when speaking to the Jerusalem council to show how the gentiles have been treated equally by God and should not be shut out of fellowship or made to confirm to Jewish tradition – with no mention of water):

"God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith."
Acts 15:8-9 TNIV

Thus it is faith that counts and the result of faith, God's seal of approval in the gift of the Spirit (2Cor.1:22; Eph.1:13; 4:30). Water-baptism is John's baptism, and as such is a "hold-over" from the prior Jewish age. There were many such "hold-overs" (e.g., circumcision, temple sacrifices, vows, keeping the Law in general) which had to be gotten past in order for the age of grace to start functioning truly on a grace basis. The apostles were human, and they had a pretty steep learning curve to climb after Pentecost (cf. Peter's failure to see the 2,000 years of the Church to come at Acts 3:19; and Paul's continuation with "vows" at Acts 18:18). Acts records what happens, but it is not necessarily dispositive in doctrinal matters for precisely this reason. It took a very detailed series of visions from the Lord and the verbal direction of the Spirit for Peter even to go into Cornelius and his company in the first place (and later on, of course, he was still not perfect in his application on this score: Gal.2:11-14). I have no doubt that Cornelius and co. were water-baptized. The point God is making in the passage is that even as gentiles, they only needed to hear the gospel and respond to be saved, for they received the Spirit along with His visible manifestations quite apart from any ritual observance.

In Jesus our Lord,

Bob L.

Question #4: 

Thank you for your opinion. I disagree with you on the Ephesians' verse, but think you are correct elsewhere. We Lutherans also believe it is something God does in us, not something WE do for God. But thanks for your help. Have a blessed Christmas!

Response #4: 

My pleasure.

You're certainly not alone on Ephesians 5 (although it does say "cleanse it with the washing of water by the word", after all).

Here's wishing you and yours a wonderful Christmas as well!

In our dear Lord Jesus,

Bob L.

Question #5: 

Hi Dr. Luginbill.

Let me first say that I wholeheartedly agree with you that water baptism plays no role in acquiring forgiveness/eternal life. However, I've read through your Q & A's on the question of water baptism in Acts, and I'm puzzled why you don't see Acts 19:5 as referring to water baptism. You said these disciples of John were baptized in the name of Jesus by the Holy Spirit in 19:5, and not by water baptism. The problem is that they didn't receive the gift of the Holy Spirit until Paul laid hands on him, in verse 6, which even you pointed out. Are you saying the Holy Spirit baptized them into the Body, but didn't actually indwell them (the gift of the Holy Spirit) until Paul laid hands on them? If that's it, then there's another problem - The gift of the Holy Spirit in Acts 10:44-48, is also referred to as the baptism of the Holy Spirit in 11:16, where Peter explains the events of 10:43-48. Also, just because water isn't mentioned doesn't mean that it's not there. Both the phrase "baptized in the name of Jesus" and most of the general references to men and women being baptized in the book of Acts seem to be a reference to water baptism, whether the texts explicitly use the word "water" or not (cf. Acts 2:38, 8:13, 10:48). Still, I agree with you that baptism has led to many battles in Church history, and again, I agree that it plays no role in getting eternal life.


Response #5: 

Good to make your acquaintance. I certainly would agree that water baptism was practiced during apostolic times. My position on the status of these believers in Acts 19:5 who were initially saved pre-Pentecost is that for this very reason they did not necessarily have the gift of the Spirit (the Spirit, after all, was not yet given when they first believed in response to the baptism of John because Jesus had not yet been glorified: Jn.7:39). Further, during the initial part of the apostolic period (as we know from multiple examples in Acts) the Spirit was given through the agency of the apostles by means of the laying on of their hands; nor was the Spirit apparently retroactively imparted to those who had previously believed (at least not initially so). This state of affairs was clearly arranged by God specifically in order to validate the apostle's authority, but it was not a situation that persisted once the gospel begin to spread to the gentiles generally (as we see Acts 10 where the Spirit comes upon the assembled crowd at the point of belief). By the time we get to the writing of Romans, Paul can say that all true believers have the Spirit (Rom.8:9).

The real problem in all this is the widespread misinterpretation of Matthew 28:19b. That verse means either "by baptizing them [with water] into the Name/Person of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit [through immersing them in water]", or "by baptizing them [with the Spirit] into the Name/Person of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit [through the laying on of your hands (initially)]". While I dare say most Christians uncritically understand "water" to be supplied as in the first translation/interpretation, there are very good reasons (written up in detail at the links below) why 1) the first interpretation is impossible (i.e., since no physical ceremony can make us spiritually one with the Trinity) and why 2) the second interpretation must be correct (i.e., the scriptural distinction between John's symbolic water and the Messiah's literal Spirit: Matt.3:11; Acts 1:5). Once we understand this, we are in a position to rightly divide the historical activities of the apostles, who very clearly had a steep learning curve to negotiate as Acts demonstrates time and again (a fact which does much to explain the persistence of some of them in symbolic water-baptism for some period of time).

To return now to Acts 19:5, based upon the above, it is my understanding of the essential meaning here that the brethren in question had undergone "John's baptism only", meaning that they were water-baptized, but not Spirit baptized. This is the deficiency Paul seeks to correct through the laying on of his hands and the mediation of the Spirit (because, clearly, they were believers, and, equally clearly, another ritual water-baptism could achieve nothing).

Personally, I see nothing in the context of Acts 19 which necessitates a second water baptism. I would read the introductory words of verse six, kai epithentos ktl. as temporally synonymous with the verbs of verse five, added to explain rather than to introduce an additional, subsequent action, so that the experience of these individuals is exactly parallel to the experience of Peter's audience at Cornelius house in Acts 10:

(5) When they heard [Paul's explanation of the gospel in Acts 19:4] they were [immediately] baptized [by the Spirit] into the Person of the Lord Jesus, (6) for when Paul placed his hands upon them [to mediate the Spirit], the Holy Spirit came upon them and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying.
Acts 19:5-6

Even if one prefers to go a different way with the exegesis here, it is of little consequence in my view for explaining the fundamentals of what is actually taking place. For we know that Paul did engage in water-baptism, but as with many other things (like circumcision and other Jewish practices), he came to have a greater understanding of the implications of grace as time progressed, eventually souring on water-baptism entirely (e.g., 1Cor.1:17; Eph.4:5: there is only one baptism). Clearly, in the context he sees the lack of the indwelling Spirit as "the problem" that needs to be corrected, not the mode or manner or formula of some water-baptism (so as to necessitate a second water-baptism).

Acts 19:4 thus demonstrates that the meaning of John’s baptism was to prepare for faith in Christ:

"John baptized a baptism of repentance for the people, speaking in regard to Him who was about to come after [John] so that they would believe, that is [believe] in Jesus [when they heard the gospel]."
Acts 19:4

This, after all, is the stated purpose of John's ministry:

And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.
Luke 1:17 NIV

There is much more on all this at the following links (my apologies ahead of time if you have already consulted them all, and do please feel free to write me back about any of this):

One Baptism: the True Meaning of Peter's Words at Acts 2:38.

Baptism: Water and Spirit

Baptism and following Jesus

The Baptism which now Saves You

Is baptism necessary for salvation?

Is water baptism required for Christians today?

Foot-washing, Bitter Herbs, Baptism, and Borrowed Faith.

The baptism of the Holy Spirit as distinct from speaking in tongues.

An Extended Conversation about the Baptism of the Holy Spirit.

Sin, Baptism, and the Book of Revelation.

Does baptism play a role in being born again? 

In the Name of the One into whom we have been baptized by the Spirit for all time, our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob Luginbill

Question #6: 

Another excellent response. I've spoken with one other person who sees Acts 8:16 the way your articulated it - the separation in several instances in Acts between baptism by the Spirit into Christ, and the baptism with the Spirit unto the sign gifts - which would merge later in Acts (cf. Acts 10:44) and in the epistles. Yes, this makes sense to me - it would be strange to think that a person could be forgiven without having yet been sealed by the Spirit. Your point is strong - the laying on of hands was to release the sign gifts. And yes, I already agree that the sign gifts are no longer available today. I also greatly appreciate your thoughts on 1 Cor 1:13-17. Obviously I knew that the Corinthians were wrong to divide and side with their favorite teachers, but I didn't think of it the way you did, even though I already agreed that 1 Cor 1:17-23 shows the superiority of the saving Gospel over the ritual of water baptism. I just got stuck on the phrase "in the name of." Dr. Luginbill, you've put my mind at ease on the expression of baptizo eis to onoma.

Response #6: 

Good to hear from you again. This is a standard argument often made in favor of water-baptism (I know that is not your intent). Some scholars have (incorrectly, I would argue) gone so far as to suggest that, really, there is no significant difference between eis and en in this connection. I strongly disagree.

In my reading of all the passages to which you refer, while it may superficially seem that they are referring to water (because the ritual of water-baptism is sometimes present in the context), yet the phrase baptizein eis to onoma actually retains the meaning set down for it in Matthew 28, namely, of a process of movement resulting in an intimate identification with the object. After all, that is what even water-baptism is meant to represent.

The morpheme bapti- has a special meaning in the New Testament. For example, Jesus' identification with the sins of the world, actually being judged for our sins in the darkness of the cross, is referred to by Him as a "baptism" although clearly no water is involved (Mk.10:38-39; Lk.12:50). The people of Israel during the exodus are said by Paul to have been "baptized into Moses" (1Cor.10:2), and here, significantly, we also have eis plus the accusative, Moses (comparable to "name" or person in Matthew 28, since Moses is here the person into whom they are said to have been baptized). Clearly, the people of Israel weren't immersed into water with someone reciting Moses' name over them. This passage only makes sense if we understand baptizo plus eis to mean the process of initiating a close and intimate identification of someone with someone (or something) else (i.e., of the people with Moses). In other words, while water-baptism is a ritual with no intrinsic power, when scripture says baptizein eis to onoma, something deeper, something which is actually meaningful is always in view, namely, a personal identification of subject to object that is accomplished without reference to water.

That is in fact also the case with the passages you mention. I will certainly admit that from our modern point of view we may be forgiven if we would wish that Luke had "been a little clearer" in his phraseology, but that really is a mistaken point of view. The scripture is the product of the Spirit's inspiration, and every aspect of its particular phrasing is of immense importance. It is also the case that God has so designed the Word that on the one hand coming to the precise truth is not an easy or overnight matter; on the other hand, the way scripture is structured allows it to be misunderstood by those who are not really interested in the truth in the first place (cf. Is.6:9-10 – oft quoted and paraphrased by our Lord).

Please consider that this account is written by Luke, who represented the apostle Paul, and that Paul has this same emphasis in his epistles, namely, that it is Spirit baptism which counts, not water baptism. Paul had water-baptized throughout the first and second missionary journeys (as they are traditionally called), but by the time he got to Corinth, the predominance of gentiles among those who responded to the gospel, and Paul’s growing understanding of the need to move entirely to a grace basis (versus compromising with the law – and water-baptism is associated with the law: Heb.9:10) had caused him to change his approach. He apparently ceased the practice of water-baptism (1Cor.1) just as he ceased the practice of circumcision (cf. Timothy’s circumcision in Acts 16:3 vs. what he says at Galatians: 2:2; 2:12; 5:2-6; 5:11; 6:12-15).

John’s baptism was a necessary link between Jewish traditionalism and the revelation of the New Testament following the cross, resurrection, ascension, and the gift of the Spirit – just as it had been a necessary link between the prophetic writings of the Old Testament and the coming of the Messiah. The latter was its true purpose; but in regard to the former it eventually began to cause more trouble than it was worth. Clearly, if the apostle Paul required some time to come to understand this point, we can see why Matthew 28 is phrased like it is phrased, and we can also see why the accounts of evangelism in Judea and Samaria (within the Jewish orbit) report water-baptism as a common accompaniment to reception of the gospel – it’s the way it had been done in the past. The gentiles had no such expectation of a water-baptism of repentance unless told to participate in such a ritual. And as we find in the case of all unnecessary rituals (circumcision again providing an excellent parallel), they inevitably lead to distortions in the truth which are worse than whatever good they might otherwise do (as is evidenced by the believers in Corinth who were boasting about who had done the dunking). As far as Acts 8 is concerned, the conversion of Samaria, a place firmly within the Jewish orbit and well aware of the baptism of John, happened early on, and while the Samaritans can be considered gentiles, I suppose, their view of things would have been decidedly Jewish. That has to be taken into account in our analysis of this passage. Luke, writing under Paul’s apostolic authority, reports what happened, and does so in a way that 1) accurately reflects events, and 2) avoids unnecessary offense. The notion that Luke would have understood this passage as "water only" neglects all of the above. Paul certainly did not understand the conversion experience in this way.

To turn to the details Acts 8:16, I can certainly understand how you would take it in the way that you do (this is how most people take it). However, please note that the word "water" does not occur in this verse. Yes, the Samaritans had been water-baptized. But, far more importantly for Luke and for us too I would hope, they had also been saved by believing in Jesus Christ. Since their salvation occurred after the cross, that salvation was indeed accompanied by their immediate and eternal identification with Jesus Christ: they were most assuredly "baptized into Christ" at the point of faith by means of the Spirit's action. This occurred completely independently of the water-baptism they received. Further, they had been baptized "by the Spirit" but not yet "with the Spirit", for He had not yet fallen upon them. Later on, there is no distinction between these two aspects of the Spirit's baptism, but at this early stage it was important to associate the visible manifestation of the Spirit with the ministry of the apostles (a subject I trust we have visited before).

So when one talks of "the baptism of the Spirit", though not always fully appreciated, it does have these two critical aspects of "by" and "with". The Samaritan believers received these in installments. They were "one with Christ", since they had been "baptized into His Person"; they did not, however, receive the indwelling of the Spirit or its accompanying visible manifestation through His outpouring until the arrival of Peter and John. Today, of course, we receive both the "by" part (which places us into union with Christ) and the "with part" (the reception of the Spirit within us) at the same time as we put our faith in Jesus (Rom.8:9). Interestingly enough, however, we do not now receive any visible manifestation of that outpouring or unction as was the case during apostolic times (the purpose of that dramatic and miraculous unction now having passed). So when I read "they had only been baptized into the Name/Person of Jesus", I understand this as a reference not to the water they received after salvation, but to the salvation and union with Christ they received when they believed. After all, the whole point in this paragraph is not the nature of their water baptism. Rather, the point is that although they had become believers in Jesus, yet they had still not received the Spirit in the way that those assembled in Jerusalem at Pentecost had done. That first "baptism" of the Spirit had not been associated with water at all! And no water is employed in order to bring about the unction of the Spirit on this later occasion either. Rather it is a case of the laying on of the apostles hands in order to bring about the pouring out of the Spirit upon those who had now become one with Christ – not through the ritual of water-baptism (whether it occurred or not), but through faith in His work and His Person into whom they had now entered, with whom they had now been eternally identified or "baptized". Secularists may scoff, but to me that is the clear meaning of the Greek text here.

The same logic applies to Acts 19:5-6. "When they heard, they were baptized [by the Spirit] into the Person of Christ" – that is, just as soon as they believed in Him. A point to note here, by the way, is that if one assumes that water is meant, then we are left ipso facto with an inseparable connection between water and salvation, as well as between water and the giving of the Spirit. Blessedly, such is not the case. The word "water" is also lacking here and has to be assumed to produce that (false) rendering.

1st Corinthians 1:13-17 constitutes a bit of a special case, since Paul is positing a hypothetical situation the more effectively to rebuke his audience. And Paul's argument is all the more cogent and all the stronger if we understand him to be drawing out the horrible ramifications of what the Corinthian factions were saying, namely, that they had become "one" with Paul (or whomever) rather than with one with Christ. What you say on this passage has merit except that the connection between water-baptism and "into the Person" exists (hypothetically) only in the mind of the Corinthians and not in fact. As they are wrong about the meaning of water-baptism, so they are wrong about its effects. Water-baptism did not put them into union with Christ anymore than it could hypothetically put them into union with Paul. They were saved by grace through faith. And that is why in this very same context Paul can say without contradicting himself in truth that water-baptism was not at all part of his mandate (something that could not be true if union with Christ or the giving of the Spirit or – God forbid – salvation had anything to do with water). But once again, please note, that if one takes the passage the other way, ignoring the fact of the hypothetical argument, Paul would be saying, in effect, that his water-baptism was what put them "into Christ", something that is not only horrifically untrue, but also something that would completely contradict what he says in verse 17 about not being sent to baptize.

The bottom line for me is that in every instance baptizo eis works as "into", referring to the creation of an intimate connection, but never works if we understand it to mean the same thing as "en/in", referring merely to a formulaic recitation. That consistency on both sides of the equation is what has hitherto been missed or unappreciated in my view. The fact that water may occasionally be in the background as a ritual conducted after the giving of the gospel does not in any way invalidate what Luke (or Paul) says or what scripture means by the employment of this key phrase.

In Jesus our dear Lord, in whom we are through faith by grace and the baptism of the Spirit,

Bob L.

Question #7: 

Hi Dr. Luginbill,

I asked a question about baptism a few months back - and I enjoyed your response. You and others have provided strong reason why water baptism was meant to be replaced solely by Spirit-baptism. However, you (and others) make the argument that the use of "eis" in the phrase "baptizo eis ho onoma" of Jesus in Matt 28:19 and Acts 19:5 can't refer to water, since water can't baptize/immerse a person into (eis) the authority/Person of Christ. Of course, the clearest references to water baptism in Jesus' name usually use "en" instead of "eis", but I've noticed that in Acts 8:16 - a clear reference to water baptism - "eis" is also used. Acts 8:16 specifically says that the Holy Spirit had not yet fallen on the Samarians - they had only been baptized into (eis) the name of the Lord. In this verse, baptizo eis ho onoma clearly refers to water since the Spirit had not yet baptized them. Now I'm not saying this proves in any way that Matt 28:19 refers to water also. My concern is that you and others take the position that the use of "eis" makes it impossible for water to be involved, when Acts 8:16 does use "eis" to refer to water. My suggestion is that you acknowledge that "eis" can be used to refer to water baptism, while still taking the position that Matt 28:19 and Acts 19:5 are Spirit-baptism. But even with that, there is similar phraseology in both Acts 8:16-17 and 19:5-6. One can very strongly argue that the 19:5-6 follows the same order as 8:16-17 based on the phrases used. 8:16 says they had only been baptized into the name of the Lord, and v. 17 says "then they laid hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit." In 19:5, the disciples at Ephesus are baptized into the name of the Lord, which you see as Spirit-baptism. I know you argue that Paul's laying hands on these disciples in 19:6 is an explanation of how they were (Spirit) baptized into the name of the Lord back in verse 5, rather than as a subsequent event. But you have to admit that the phrases are way too close to 8:16-17, where v. 16 says they were baptized into the name of the Lord and not yet baptized by the Spirit. That doesn't happen until the laying on of hands in verse 17. Don't worry - I don't believe water has regenerating power. 1 Cor 1:13-17, as well as 160+ verses make it clear that it is solely by Grace through faith we are saved. It's just a matter of accuracy with the use of "eis."

Hi again Dr. Luginbill. I forgot to include this in the e-mail I sent tonight. Aside from Acts 8:16, the use of "baptizo eis" also occurs in 1 Cor 1:13,15. Of course, Paul is being sarcastic when he asks them if he bapitzed them into (eis) his name in v. 13 , but notice how after he states that he is thankful he water-baptized none except Crispus and Gaius in v. 14, he adds "lest anyone should say that I had baptized into (eis again) my own name." Baptizo eis is repeated twice between v. 13 and 15, and while Paul is de-emphasizing baptism as a whole in the passage, he is clearly using the phrase "baptizo eis" to refer to water. Yes, he's being sarcastic and de-emphasizing water baptism b/c of the divisions it was causing, but baptizo eis still clearly refers to water here. Therefore, it must be acknowledged that baptizo eis can indeed refer to water, even if the phrase refers to Spirit-baptism only in Matt 28:19 and Acts 19:5.

I didn't mean to imply that the laying on of hands was only to release the sign gifts. I agree it was for the indwelling of the Spirit too, which we still have today of course. We have both the by and with baptisms of the Spirit today occurring at the same time, without sign gifts of course. It happens for the first time together in Acts 10:44. Since 19:5-6 is like the earlier situation in Acts, I agree it's like 8:16-17. Baptism by the Spirit into Christ first, and then with the Spirit by laying on of Apostle's hands. I have 1 problem though. How did the disciples in 19:1-7 who received John's baptism not know about Jesus? Most people take it that they had already believed in Jesus.

Response #7: 

I think the point of (frequent) confusion here rests with the word "disciple", a term that has become so loaded down with technical theological meaning (not to mention emotional response to supposed meaning) that it can easily disrupt a person's understanding of a passage. We get the word disciple from the Latin discipulus, meaning "student" (from disco, "to learn"). This is a precise translation used by the Vulgate of the actual Greek word mathetes, also meaning "student" (from manthano, also meaning "to learn"). In the New Testament the word conveys the idea it often has in secular philosophy of not merely academic study but commitment to a particular school of thought. Thus, a disciple is not merely a student but an adherent. The question is, "adherent of what or whom?".

In the vast majority of cases in the NT, this word means of course "adherent / follower of Jesus Christ". However, we also find "disciples of John" (Matt.5:14; 11:2; 14:12; Mk.2:18; 6:29; Lk.5:33; 7:18-19; 11:1; Jn.1:35-37; 3:25), "disciples of the Pharisees" (Matt.22:16; Mk.2:18), and even "disciples of Moses" (Jn.9:28). As can be seen from the citations provided above, the "disciples of John" are the most frequently referenced in the NT, and it is probably a case of such disciples here in the verses you ask about, Acts 19:1-7.

Notice that Paul bumps into "certain disciples", the use of the indefinite pronoun tis here (mathetas tinas) indicating that this a generic use of the word. Therefore I take the "disciples" of Acts 19 to be true followers / adherents of God, disciples of John in that they had undergone John's baptism (Acts 19:3-4), no doubt understanding in the vague manner of the eleven apostles before the fact that the Messiah was coming and that John was his herald, but not yet having heard about Jesus, His divinity and His work and on the cross and the necessity of faith in Him and His sacrifice for salvation. This interpretation is borne out by the text, for when Paul asks them about their baptism, they only know of "John's baptism", not the baptism of the Spirit, only after which of course did even the eleven become fully cognizant of Jesus' divinity and the import of His death for us all. Upon hearing their response, Paul explains that the whole purpose of John's baptism was so that those who underwent it might believe in Jesus (v.4). Once He explains the gospel to them in this way, then, we are told, "they were baptized [by the Spirit] into Jesus as soon as they heard" (i.e., heard this clear expression of the gospel and believed it).

While it would be possible I suppose that still at this late date (mid to late 50's A.D.) there might be some who were genuinely believers yet had not received the outpouring of the Spirit (i.e., the "baptized with" as opposed to the "into" part of the gift), about this same time Paul begins to describe the status of all believers as possessing the Spirit in every aspect (Rom.8:9, with Romans written in roughly this same period of time). For all these reasons it seems preferable as I say to understand this group as godly people who had been looking for the Messiah but who had not yet heard the gospel. That best explains Paul's actions and their response here to his giving of the gospel.

In our dear Lord Jesus,

Bob L.

Question #8: 

Hi again Dr. Luginbill. Technically, we are baptized "in" (en) the Spirit, not "by" the Spirit. The better translations of the NT keep the word "in" for en in verses like 1 Cor 12:13. Since Jesus is the One who baptizes us with/in the Holy Spirit, it's not accurate to me to speak of us being bapitzed "by" the Holy Spirit - We are baptized "by" Jesus "with" the Spirit, "into" (eis) His body. Looks like "in" and "with" are the same when it comes to the Spirit - so we can't have a "by" and "in/with". It seems to me that if there's no water in Acts 8:16, we'll have to find a new way to articulate the difference between two baptisms "in" the spirit in Acts 8:16. Or how about this - Is it perhaps possible that the spiritual "baptism into (eis) the name of Jesus" in Acts 8:16 and 19:5 has nothing to do with the Spirit? That is, rather than seeing two different types of baptism in the Spirit in these passages, baptism into the name of Jesus is just a matter of identification - neither water nor spirit are involved. After all, Acts 10:43 and hosts of other passages use "eis" when referring to the act of believing in Jesus - whoever believes INTO (eis) his name has remission of sins.

Response #8: 

On the one hand, in English, "by" and "with" are synonyms when it comes to expressing an instrumental function (that is, expressing the "thing by means of which" or "with which" something is done). In Greek, this was generally done with the bare dative case in classical times, but by the time of the New Testament we find the preposition en added to express the same thing. That is no doubt a result of the influence of the Hebrew instrumental which always uses the preposition be- (and is most frequently translated by en plus dative in the Septuagint). Thus, when we have en plus dative, it is usually the case that we will want to translate it "by" or "with" in places where there is an agent or instrument in view, but "in" when it is a question of static position only. The main potential for confusion here comes from the fact that English does not track Greek precisely so that what we mean by "by", "with", and "in" is not precisely the same as what is meant by the Greek en plus dative (and sometimes that difference is subtle and difficult to express).

So you make a good point. In terms of English (where the confusion lies), we have "the baptism of the Spirit", a phrase which very closely tracks the Greek noun plus genitive, and admits of (generally) both aspects of Spirit baptism (though occasionally is focused on one or the other). In fact, the Greek phrase en pneumati is an essential synonym of "baptism of the Spirit", admitting as it does of a "by", "with" or "in" translation (cf. Matt.3:11 et al.). For obvious reasons (the Bible is not a theological text book), scripture does not go to the lengths we must go to discriminate between the act of being baptized into Jesus and the fact of being given the special Church Age unction of the Spirit. While the Bible sometimes explains which aspect is meant as in Acts 8:16 (where we are told which aspect is in view: "the Spirit had not yet fallen" indicating the unction aspect only), occasionally we are left to figure it out from the context on those relatively rare occasions when only one aspect is meant or emphasized. That is certainly understandable, since for the vast majority of our people and our time, there has been no distinction. What distinction there was, was very short-lived and served the purpose of establishing the apostles' authority in the early phase of their ministry.

I'll admit that my chosen method of describing this distinction ("of" = totality; "by" = into Christ; "with" = unction received) is imperfect. It was just the best way I had found to put all three possibilities together simply. Since I always accompany such descriptions with an explanation of what I mean by these terms, I have hopes of having avoided great confusion.

I suppose to be clearer, I would do well to follow your advice and speak of 1) "the baptism of the Spirit" (generic), further explaining this as being broken down into a) the identification part, and b) the unction part of the blessing, without relying too heavily on potentially confusing prepositions.

With pisteuo, we have a different sort of construction since here 1) it is a case of a preposition used intrinsically with a verb, and 2) the verb is one of mental/emotional action (rather than physical or metaphorical motion). So while the parallel is interesting, I would be reluctant to make too much of it (a bit too much of an apples and oranges comparison I think).

Thanks again for your keen interest and shrewd observations. You're keeping me on my toes!

In our dear Lord Jesus,

Bob L.

Question #9: 

Hi Dr. Luginbill,

Since we last spoke on the expression "baptized into the name of the Lord," I found a website where the author argues that Acts 8:16 would be better translated, ""For not yet was the Holy Spirit fallen on anybody, but only they were beginning to be baptized into the name of the Lord Yeshua" (emphasis mine). When the Spirit fell on the Samaritans through the laying on of hands, their baptism into the name of the Lord would be complete. Before Peter and John showed up, their baptism into the name of the Lord was only in it's beginning phase. I remember when I first e-mailed you about baptism in Acts 19:5, you took the position that 19:6 was an explanation of 19:5. You originally told me that you "And when Paul laid hands on them" in 19:6 was not a subsequent action to 19:5, but an explanation of how the Ephesian disciples were baptized into the name of the Lord - a rare case where this baptism didn't take place until the laying on of hands. Then when I e-mailed you the second time, you took the position that 19:5 and 19:6 (as well as 8:16-17) involved a two-stage process of Spirit-baptism (baptized by the Spirit, and then with the Spirit for the manifestation of signs). I think the more natural reading of the text supports your first position. The 2-stage argument assumes that receiving (Gk -lambano) the Spirit in 8:15-17 is not receiving the Spirit himself, but only releasing sign gifts. If that's what Luke wanted to communicate, then he should have said that the Samaritans had not received manifestations. But Luke doesn't say that - he says flat out that the Samaritans had not received (lambano) the Spirit himself in any way, shape, or form in 8:15-17. And in 19:2, when Paul asks the Ephesian disciples if they had received (lambano again) the Spirit, he's obviously asking if they had received the Spirit at all, not just manifestations. So I think it's better to argue that 19:6 is the explanation of how they were baptized in 19:5. What I really want your opinion on is whether this website has a case for 8:16 being translated "beginning to be baptized", as this would further support our position of Spirit-baptism in these passages. Here' the link to the article - it's very short. Since you're an expert in the Greek, I need to know if this translation holds. Keep in mind the author believes 8:16 and 19:5 are special cases where people didn't receive the Spirit immediately at faith - but they were indeed saved beforehand.


Response #9: 

Let me begin by correcting a mis-impression. I went back and looked over that previous response and find no change of position on my part in regard to my understanding of Acts 19. I believe I agreed with you that the way I had been describing the two aspects of the Spirit's work at salvation, namely, entering us into Christ on the one hand (something that happens in every case) and the unction we receive on the other (i.e., the "pouring out" of the Spirit or "gift of the Spirit", often in Acts accompanied by "sign gifts") was potentially misleading. My understanding of this passage, then and now, is the same, namely that in verse 6 Paul put his hands on these disciples that they might receive the Spirit, and that verse 5 describes the first phase of the Spirit's work, their being placed into union with Christ as a result of their faith response to Paul's gospel message in verse 4. I have not gone so far as to absolutely and dogmatically contend that Paul used no water in this instance, but it certainly wasn't necessary and the text of verse 5, "on hearing they were baptized" in my view leans heavily "dry". We do know that Paul did water-baptize during the Grecian phase of the second missionary journey. As we all do, even the great apostle had a "learning curve" to climb. Where this first visit to Ephesus falls in the continuum is open to debate. However, the idea that "Acts 19:6 is an explanation of Acts 19:5" is not at all the way I would put it (I don't believe you will find this phraseology in my text). Rather, in my understanding of things verse 6 is the unction or "gift" ministry of the Spirit (still being mediated apostolically at this point, at least in some cases); verse 5 is the unification/salvation ministry of the Spirit.

One quick point here about that: if "on hearing they were baptized into the Person of Jesus" is not talking about their being united to Christ as a result of their act of faith in Him, then there is no indication of their salvation here at all. For water-baptism cannot save, and we so we cannot conclude anything from the fact of a person having been water-baptized or not. Clearly infants are not saved by water-baptism. And every person who submits to water-baptism is not a believer (people "join" groups for all sorts of reasons), nor is a person necessarily an unbeliever just because they have never been water-baptized. Now we know that these disciples did believe, because the gift of the Spirit was immediately given, just as soon as Paul put his hands on them. It seems odd to me that Luke would leave out the critical point: faith resulting in salvation (and so I don't think that he did).

On the issue of "beginning to be baptized", while I do not see how it would make much of a difference to this issue if properly understood (I'll get to that in just a second), the grammar of the Greek does not recommend this translation. What we have here is a periphrasis common to the pluperfect. The only thing unique about it is the use of the imperfect of the verb hyparcho as the finite companion to the perfect participle rather than the more usual imperfect of the verb "to be". Substituting hyparcho for eimi in Koine, however, is far from unusual, so that it would be questionable to read too much into that here (I note that, apart from the dubious argumentation in the sources quoted at the link and the even more dubious interpretation of them by the author of the piece, not one single parallel is provided of an instance where hyparcho is used in periphrasis with a perfect participle in a way any different from that of eimi – let alone where it can bear this most unlikely meaning). It is true that imperfects can occasionally be inceptive / inchoative, that is, they may sometimes refer to the beginning of an action, but it is rare for so much to depend on a reader "seeing" this use as being in play. Generally speaking, a good writer will only risk such a use when the context makes it obvious (which would certainly not be the case here). Moreover, I am not convinced that a perfect verb formation can ever bear that sense in the first place. In any case, to be accurate, the closest possible rendering along these lines which would even be remotely possible is "they had not yet begun to have been baptized"; otherwise, one loses the sense of the perfect here entirely. Since perfect passives are ungainly and somewhat cacophonous to the Greek ear, they tend not to be used by accident. Therefore, since it is overwhelmingly likely that Luke means this be understood as a traditional plu-perfect, rather than the very unlikely translation suggested above, it is far more probable that the versions are right here and that "had not yet been baptized" is undoubtedly correct.

To get to the main point (as promised above), my position on these things has always been precisely the same (though as I say I admit to some lack of clarity in presentation). The Spirit has always rendered believers one with Jesus on the point of belief. However, the actual presence of the Spirit in the believer as a result of His being poured out on the believer, that is, "the gift of the Spirit", was not, at the very beginning of the Church age, an automatic thing. Clearly, at the first Pentecost, the room was filled with those who had already believed in Jesus and who were thus already one with Him as a result of the Spirit's salvation-unification ministry. However it was only at the point when the loud noise was heard and the Spirit was seen being poured out upon them "like tongues of fire" that they received the second part of His ministry, "the gift of the Spirit". This dichotomy is now over; all who believe in Jesus today are entered into union with Him by the Spirit and are also given the gift of the Spirit (Rom.8:9), albeit not with the same overtly miraculous manifestations of the first Pentecost. However, for a time during the days of the apostles, and particularly in regard to the gentiles, this second ministry, "the gift of the Spirit", was mediated through the apostles directly in order to support the establishment of their authority within the Church. That is in my view what we see in both Acts 8 and 19, and that is also why the events of Acts 10 are so important (and were so surprising to the Jews who witnessed them first hand "who were astonished that the gift of the Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles" (Acts 10:45 NIV).

The question of where water-baptism fits into all this is really largely irrelevant because in fact it has no place, except that historically it has "muddied the [true] waters". Clearly, it was important in the ministering of the gospel to unbelieving Jews to connect the truth of Jesus' Messiahship to the water-baptism of John who heralded that Messiahship (and for that first generation of Jews that meant duplicating his water-baptism). But water-baptism has nothing to do with the gift of the Spirit (and still less with salvation). If there is any association at all it is that in the early days of the Church the gift was given when new believers were touched by the apostles, and that touching may have accompanied water-baptism in the early going.

Please feel free to write back about any of this.

In our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #10: 

Hi Dr. L. I wasn't referring to our last e-mail conversation. In that second conversation, you were clear in each e-mail that 8:16 and 19:5 showed a unique/rare 2-step process - Spirit entering us into Christ immediately at faith (true for everyone as you argued), and then laying on of hands for the unction of the Spirit (8:16 and 19:5 being rare cases where the unction was not received immediately). The only problem I remember was me arguing that technically we're not baptized by the Spirit, but by Jesus with the Spirit. You cleared that up back then. The conversation I'm referring to is the very first time I e-mailed you, long before our last conversation. The first time, we only discussed 19:5 I believe. In that first e-mail I remember you arguing that 19:6 was an explanation of 19:5. I was suspicious of the Benekeshet argument for 8:16 since no one has argued that before. Thanks for clearing it up. Now back to the 2-step argument, why didn't Luke just write that they had not received the manifestations of the Spirit? When he writes that they had not received the Spirit in 8:15, he makes it sound like the Spirit himself was not in them in any way, shape, or form. Would it have been impossible idiomatically to write "for as yet they had not received the manifestations of the Spirit?" And yes of course, I agree that water has no bearing on salvation, which you know.

Response #10: 

There is much in scripture that is not apparent at first blush, and the way in which the writers of scripture write, definitely inspired and directed by God the Holy Spirit, is not necessarily done in the way of an instruction manual with which we people of the 21st century are automatically conversant. Much of the reason "why" has to do with the principle of testing the true desire of Christians to find out the truth. Only those who seek find; only those who knock persistently are answered. So I appreciate your persistent "knocking"!

Yes indeed, there are two discreet parts to the Spirit's ministries. The first is the act of making us one with Jesus (and that incomparable blessing has many other ramifications and results); the second is the actual indwelling presence of the Spirit (the gift, the unction, the "falling upon" of Pentecost and Acts 8 etc.). As I say, today both ministries happen simultaneously at faith in Christ (though without the dramatic effects of the early days of Acts). In the case of the Samaritans of Acts chapter 8, however, they did not occur at the same time. The reason for this is in my opinion God's desire to show that the gentiles' inclusion into the family of God was a case of a grafted-in branch, making the authority of the apostles very clear through the need to have them lay on hands physically for the gift of the Spirit to be given. Luke is thus technically accurate in every way when he says that they had "not yet received the Spirit" and when he equates this with "for He had not yet fallen upon any of them". Both phrases refer to the indwelling of the Spirit, the unction of the Spirit, the gift of the Spirit (not to the Spirit's ministry in effecting salvation and putting us into union with Christ). As in Old Testament times, it was quite possible to be saved, even to be made one with Jesus through faith, and yet not be given the indwelling presence of the Spirit. This state of affairs, as I say, endured only for a very little while, so that by Acts 10 we see no further distinction being made as the Spirit begins to be poured out at the point of faith without the laying on the apostles' hands.

Keep fighting the good fight of faith!

In Jesus our Lord,

Bob L.

Question #11: 

Thanks Doc! I agree with you now. Of course, it would be nice if we had the ability to discern idioms at the drop of a hat, but yes, it takes study, and it makes for a more enriching experience. I wanted to ask you about Acts 22:16. In your e-mail Q and A on your website, you wrote to someone that Acts 22:16 was Ananias' unenlightened reply to Paul. Alternatively, is it possible instead that Ananias' reference to "be baptized and wash away your sins" was a reference to Spirit-baptism? I'm thinking the middle voice "get yourself baptized" could mean "get yourself baptized into Christ by believing/calling on His name." In Luke's account earlier in Acts 9:17, we are told that Ananias said to Saul, "Brother Saul, the Lord, who appeared to you on the road as you came, has sent me that you may receive your sight (1) and be filled with the Holy Spirit (2)." Then in verse 18, we read, "immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he received his sight at once (1); and he arose and was baptized (2). Since the filling of the spirit can only happen to those who have been baptized by the Spirit ( Acts 1:5,2:4), isn't it possible that "arose and was baptized" refers to the baptism and filling with the Spirit in the previous verse? My markers with (1) and (2) illustrate this. Receive your sight (1) and be baptized/filled with the Spirit (2). And he received his sight (1) and arose and was baptized (2). Or does the grammar of 22:16 not allow for this?

Response #11: 

What you suggest is certainly possible. I have "run this scenario through the computer" a couple of times myself. I suppose the main reason for hesitation on my part would be that we do see Paul water-baptizing early in his ministry, and that would seem to me a bit odd if he had understood the issue in all its depth and breadth for the point of his own salvation many years before.

The textual problems with this view: in Acts 22:16 it says "And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name" (NIV). Also at Acts 9:18 we find "He got up and was baptized". Ananias' connection of "washing away sins" with baptism suggests he has John's water-baptism-of-repentance in mind, and, somewhat more significantly, in these two accounts of Paul's salvation experience we have him "getting up". The Greek word is identical in both cases and indicates a change of posture wholly unnecessary if Spirit baptism alone were in view.

My assessment of what happened here regarding the gift of the Spirit is based on what it says at Acts 9:17: "the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit" (NIV). We find in verse 18 that Paul could see "immediately" thereafter, that is, after Ananias laid hands upon him, and I think beyond question that this miracle of regained sight was accompanied concurrently by the gift of the Spirit. True, Ananias was not an apostle, but we see many instances of apostolic associates and other believers of note being given these sign gifts in those early days. And after all, Ananias was responding to a direct vision from the Lord and a command to restore Paul's sight precisely by the laying on of hands (v.12 – compare with v.17).

As to the water-baptism in this passage which followed, as I say, Ananias was still linking acceptance of Jesus as the Messiah with the rite of John's water-baptism, and naturally enough for a Jew of that day and age. But Paul had been already accepted Jesus, probably from the moment our Lord rebuked him and revealed Himself to Him, and Paul had already been given the gift of the Spirit through Ananias' laying on of hands before he "got up" and engaged in the ritual of John's water-baptism.

That is how I understand this passage anyway. This interpretation also has the benefit of combining the fulfillment of the injunctions of Ananias into one point of time – "that you may receive your sight and be filled with Holy Spirit" – both of which would then have happened immediately as he touched Paul.

Keep up the good study of the Word of God!

In Jesus our Lord,

Bob L.

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