Holy Spirit Baptism, or Water Baptism?

When Paul wrote his first inspired epistle to the church at Corinth, he wrote these words: “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:13).

When reading the verse above, those who are familiar with the Bible probably automatically think of similar passages, such as Acts 2:38-47, when people were added to the church upon baptism, or Galatians 3:26-28, where Paul said we are “baptized into Christ” and “there is neither Jew nor Greek…neither bond nor free,” etc. Those passages will be discussed, but the question that needs answering is, “What kind of baptism causes one to be added to the one body of the saved?”  In First Corinthians 12:13, was Paul referring to Holy Spirit baptism, or water baptism?

VERY FEW PEOPLE RECEIVED HOLY SPIRIT BAPTISM

Whatever this baptism is in First Corinthians 12:13, it is something that ALL Christians undergo when they are saved and added to the body of Christ; therefore, it CANNOT be Holy Spirit baptism, because that interpretation contradicts inspired conversion accounts. For example, in Acts 8:12-18, the Samaritans believed and were baptized in water, but did not “receive the Holy Ghost” until apostles were sent from another town to lay hands on them. The Samaritans were already baptized and saved for a significant amount of time before they “received the Holy Ghost.” If First Corinthians 12:13 were referring to all Christians being baptized by (or with) the Holy Spirit at the same point they enter the one body of the saved, that would not harmonize with Acts 8. It would also not harmonize with the conversion of the Ephesians in Acts 19, in which Paul baptized people in water, but they did not receive the Spirit until he (an apostle) laid hands on them. There is no reason to assume that what happened to the Corinthians in Acts 18 was any different than the Samaritans in Acts 8 or the Ephesians in Acts 19 regarding how they were saved or how they received miraculous gifts. They would have received miraculous gifts by the laying on of the apostle Paul’s hands after water baptism, not via Holy Spirit baptism (8:12-18; 18:8; 19:5; 6; Rom. 1:11; 2 Tim. 1:6).

Claiming that all Christians receive Holy Spirit baptism would not harmonize with the book of Acts as a whole, because the book of Acts is drenched with the water of baptism in conversion accounts, while Holy Spirit baptism is noticeably absent in the overwhelming majority of accounts. A great example is when the Holy Spirit Himself told Philip to go to the Ethiopian (Acts 8:29). After Philip “preached unto him Jesus,” the Ethiopian wanted to be baptized in water, so Philip baptized him, and the Ethiopian rejoiced (8:35-39). Note that “preaching Jesus” means emphasizing water baptism, not Holy Spirit baptism (Mark 16:15, 16). Also note that the Spirit did NOT say, “Philip, you stay here, and I will go baptize the Ethiopian into the one body”! The Holy Spirit sent a man to teach and administer water baptism in Acts 8 (Philip), Jesus sent a man to teach and administer water baptism in Acts 9 and 22 (Ananias), the Holy Spirit sent a man to teach and administer water baptism in Acts 10 and 11 (Peter), and more examples could be given. The duty to preach and baptize all nations was given to men, not the Holy Spirit! (Matt. 28:18-20; Mark 16:15, 16; Luke 24:47; cf. 1 Cor. 12:13).

What happened to Cornelius in Acts 10 made Peter think back to the beginning of the church (Pentecost), although Peter had been present in the events of Acts 8 with the Samaritans (Acts 11:15, 16; cf. 2:1-4; 8:14). This indicates that what happened in Acts 2:1-4 and 10:44-46 was highly unusual. In fact, such events are recorded nowhere else in the Scriptures. Those were two unique days—the first day Jews heard and obeyed the Gospel of Christ (Acts 2), and the first day Gentiles heard and obeyed the Gospel (Acts 10). Even when Holy Spirit baptism was recorded, it was not said to be for anyone’s salvation, or for them to be added to the one body. Beyond Acts, the New Testament repeatedly emphasizes water being involved in man’s salvation (Eph. 5:26; Heb. 10:22; 1 Pet. 3:20, 21; cf. John 3:5).

ALL CHRISTIANS HAVE RECEIVED WATER BAPTISM

The baptism of Acts 2:38 in the name of Jesus for the remission of sins was the water baptism that Jesus had commanded his disciples to administer throughout the world, beginning in Jerusalem (Matt. 28:18-20; Mark 16:15, 16; Luke 24:47). It was that water baptism of the Great Commission that caused people to be added to the Lord’s church/body (Eph. 1:22, 23), not Holy Spirit baptism. There is no Scripture teaching that anyone became saved when they were baptized with the Holy Spirit. When people obeyed the command to repent and be baptized in water for the remission of sins, they were saved and added to the church, the one body of the saved (Acts 2:41, 47; Eph. 5:23, 26; 1 Pet. 3:20, 21). This Great Commission baptism was not just for apostles to teach and administer, because we read of other people like Philip the evangelist teaching and baptizing people in water (Acts 8). In fact, the very wording of the Great Commission implies that others would be taught to make more disciples and baptize (Matt. 28:18-20). Therefore, it was not the Holy Spirit baptizing all these people into the one body. It was men baptizing people by (or through) the instructions of the Spirit, which is what Paul means in First Corinthians 12:13 (discussed further below).

Another way we know that the baptism of Acts 2:38 “in the name of Jesus Christ” was water baptism is because it was the same water baptism in the name of Jesus that Peter would require again in Acts 10: “Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized…? And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord…” (Acts 10:47-48). Yes, there were some unique events happening with Cornelius, such as them receiving miraculous gifts before water baptism, but that was an exception, not the rule. Those special events were necessary to prove to the Jews that Gentiles could also be baptized in water to be added to Christ’s church (Acts 10:15; 11:18; cf. 2:38-41, 47; 1 Corinthians 14:22). Remember, God could make a donkey talk miraculously if He wanted to, but that does not mean the donkey is a child of God on his way to Heaven! (Numbers 22:28; cf. 1 Sam. 19:15, 23; John 11:49-53). Even though Cornelius had received miraculous power, he was not saved and added to the church until he was baptized in water, just as every person is required to do per Jesus’ Great Commission! (Matt. 28:18-20; Mark 16:15, 16; Acts 10:6, 35, 47, 48; cf. 2:38-41; 8:35-39; 9:6, 18, 19; 16:15, 32, 33; 18:8; 19:5; 22:16). Miraculous gifts were separate from salvation in Acts 8 and 19, and they were separate from salvation in Acts 10 also.

God does not have one plan of salvation for the Jews, and a different one for Gentiles. In fact, Peter said so to Cornelius: “…God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him” (Acts 10:34-35). Cornelius feared God, then worked righteousness to be accepted by God when he was baptized in water for the remission of his sins (10:48; cf. 2:38-41). It was at that point, and not before, that he was added to the one body of the saved. Peter said that one cannot be in God’s favor (accepted) until he works the righteous commands of God to be saved (cf. Psalm 119:172). These are not the same kinds of works under consideration in Ephesians 2:8, 9, in which Paul is dealing with meritorious works, or, more specifically, works of the Law of Moses (see Eph. 2:10-19; Rom. 2:17; Gal. 2:15-19, etc.). Nobody can earn salvation, but nobody receives salvation without obeying what God said to receive it. God by grace saves when man by faith obeys (Matt. 7:21; Acts 2:38-41; Rom. 6:16-18; Heb. 5:9; 1 Pet. 1:22), and the consistent form of baptism throughout the New Testament is water baptism, not Holy Spirit baptism.

Paul’s language in First Corinthians 12:13 sounds like Galatians 3:26-28, so what kind of baptism is discussed in Galatians 3? Paul was discussing how and when people become children of God (by obedient faith through baptism into Christ). Which baptism causes one to become a child of God? To become a child of God, one must be born again, born of water and of the Spirit (John 3:5). Being born of water and of the Spirit is water baptism that is according to the instructions of the Spirit, the Word of God (John 6:63; Jam. 1:18; 1 Pet. 1:22-25). James said that God “begat us with the Word of truth” (Jam. 1:18; cf. 1:21). Peter said we are born of the incorruptible seed, the Word of God (1 Pet. 1:22-25). Jesus Himself, just 3 chapters after John 3:5 said, “It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life” (John 6:63). So Jesus equated the word “spirit” with His Words, and He said His Words quicken (give new life, when one is bo.rn again). Being born of water and of the Spirit is being born of water baptism via the Word of Jesus (cf. John 3:5; 6:63; Mark 16:16; 1 Cor. 14:37; Eph. 5:26, etc.).

Being “born of water” to “enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5) is also described as being “washed…in the name of Jesus” to “inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 6:9-11). Both passages are referring to the same requirement to enter the kingdom. Therefore, the birth of water in John 3:5 is a washing, not a natural birth from a mother’s womb. It is the “washing of water” for sanctification and spiritual cleansing mentioned in Ephesians 5:26 and Hebrews 10:22. It is baptism to “wash away thy sins” by contacting the blood of Christ in that burial (Acts 22:16; cf. Matt. 26:28; Acts 2:38; Rom. 6:3-5; Col. 2:11-13; Rev. 1:5).

The baptism “into Christ” of Galatians 3 is the same baptism “into Jesus Christ” that Paul referenced in Romans 6. He said it is a burial that causes one to walk in new life. Who has new life? Someone who has just been born of water (through the Word) has new life! (John 3:5; 6:63). The one with new life is the one who has just entered “into Christ” by baptism and is “a new creature:” “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature…” (2 Cor. 5:17).

What Jesus called being “born of water and of the Spirit” is what Paul called the “washing of regeneration,” which literally means the “washing of rebirth” (per the teachings of the Spirit – Titus 3:5; cf. John 3:5). When one demonstrates obedient faith by being baptized (in water) “into Christ,” he has been reborn, becoming a new child of God. This is exactly what Paul was describing in Galatians 3:26-28. This must also be the type of baptism mentioned in First Corinthians 12:13, because the language is so similar to Galatians 3, and being “baptized into Christ” equals being “baptized into the one body” of Christ (Gal. 3:27; 1 Cor. 12:13; cf. Eph. 5:23; 2 Tim. 2:10).

Holy Spirit baptism was a promise for a select few, but water baptism in the name of Christ (Great Commission baptism) is a command for all men to obey. In water baptism one is saved (1 Pet. 3:20, 21), but one cannot be saved while being outside the one body of the saved (Eph. 5:23). One’s sins are washed away by water baptism (Acts 22:16), he is spiritually cleansed by “the washing of water,” and since his sins are remitted/forgiven, the Lord adds him to His church (Acts 2:38-41; 1 Cor. 12:13; Eph. 5:26).

With that in mind, it can be logically proven that the baptism of First Corinthians 12:13 must be water baptism. Two things that are equal to the same thing are equal to each other. Stated another way: If A = C, and B = C, then A = B. If water baptism equals salvation (1 Pet. 3:20, 21), and being added to Christ’s church equals salvation (Eph. 5:23), then being baptized in water equals being added to Christ’s church. Therefore, the phrase “baptized into one body” in First Corinthians 12:13 must be referring to water baptism by the instructions of the Spirit, who guided men of the first century A.D. into all Truth (John 16:13).

THERE IS ONLY ONE BAPTISM—NOT TWO

Paul mentioned one Spirit and one body in First Corinthians 12:13. The epistle to the Ephesians lists “the seven ones,” also telling us there is one Spirit and one body, but it says there is only “one baptism” (Eph. 4:5). It further explains that the one baptism is the washing of water for sanctification and spiritual cleansing, not Holy Spirit baptism! “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word” (Eph. 5:25, 26). Most who are advocating Holy Spirit baptism from passages like First Corinthians 12:13 are also telling people that water baptism should still be performed today. In so doing, they are saying there are two baptisms today, when Paul said there is only “one baptism”! One of the easiest ways to detect false teachers is when they say there are two baptisms today, when the Bible plainly says there is only one!

There are several types of baptism found in the Bible, but by the time Paul wrote Ephesians, there was only one left for men on earth—“the washing of water by the word” (Eph. 5:26; cf. 4:5). This one baptism in water, which is for “every creature” until the end of the world, must be the type of baptism under consideration in First Corinthians 12:13 (Matt. 28:18-20; Mark 16:15, 16).

If anyone today is so careless as to claim that the one baptism is Holy Spirit baptism, he has denied what Paul himself taught in Ephesians; he has rejected the sanctification and cleansing that only comes through “the washing of water” (Eph. 5:26); rejected the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20); rejected forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38); rejected the only entrance into the one body of the saved (Acts 2:38-41, 47); rejected the Lord’s plan for saving man (1 Pet. 3:20, 21); and has thus rejected the Lord Himself (Matt. 7:21-23; Luke 6:46; 1 John 2:3-6; 2 John 9-11).

If all Christians were baptized with the Spirit when saved/added to the body, we would know it!  That is not the way it happened in the Scriptures, but that is the way some people are interpreting First Corinthians 12:13. If that were the case, as soon as people today became saved, they would do miraculous things like speak in foreign languages they had never studied! (Acts 2:1-11; 10:44-46). That does not happen, and such a doctrine does not harmonize with the Scriptures. As already stated, even when people received miraculous gifts, they were not directly tied to salvation; nor were such gifts received at the exact same time as receiving salvation in the body of Christ, so that interpretation of First Corinthians 12:13 is erroneous.

Being baptized with the Spirit involved receiving miraculous power (Acts 1:4-8; 10:44-47; 11:15, 16) that was only available for a temporary time during the first century A.D. (Zech. 13:1-3; 1 Cor. 13:8-12; Eph. 4:7-16). Since Holy Spirit baptism has ended, and there are no more apostles to lay hands on people, there is no way for anyone to receive miraculous power today! (Acts 1:22; 8:18; 2 Cor. 12:12; Eph. 4:5; 5:26). Miracles fulfilled their purpose in revealing and confirming God’s Word (John 3:2; Mark 16:20; Acts 2:22; Heb. 2:3, 4), and Holy Spirit baptism was a part of that temporary, miraculous system of revelation that has now been replaced by the perfect system of revelation, the complete canon of Scriptures, the Holy Bible (1 Cor. 13:8-12).

By the way, water baptism cannot be the same as “being baptized with the Holy Ghost.” Those two types of baptism did not happen simultaneously in the Scriptures, and they had completely different purposes and administrators. In Matthew 3:11, John makes it clear that being baptized with the Holy Ghost differs from being baptized in water: “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire.” Jesus also made this distinction, implying that when the apostles would be baptized with the Holy Ghost, there would be no water involved: “For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence” (Acts 1:5), so water baptism and being baptized with the Holy Ghost are not the same.

THE HOLY SPIRIT WAS NOT THE ADMINISTRATOR OF ANY BAPTISM

Paul could not have meant that all Christians are literally “baptized by the Holy Spirit,” because the Holy Spirit was not the actual administrator of any kind of baptism. Christ was the administrator of Holy Spirit baptism. John said, “…he [Jesus] shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost…” (Matt. 3:11; Luke 3:16; 24:49; John 1:33; cf. Acts 2:17). Jesus did so by the authority of God the Father (John 14:16, 26, 28; 15:26; Acts 2:33). If men were supposed to be the administrators of Holy Spirit baptism, how could any man even begin to baptize someone with the Holy Spirit? We do not have such power, but we do have power and authority from Christ to baptize penitent believers in water for the forgiveness of their sins (Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 2:38; 8:36-39). Men are the administrators of Great Commission baptism, which is for all men to obey in every generation, until the end of the world (Matt. 28:18-20; Mark 16:15, 16). The phrase “baptized WITH the Holy Ghost” is used in Acts 1:5 and 11:16, but nobody was literally baptized BY the Holy Spirit, as if the Spirit Himself were the administrator; so First Corinthians 12:13 must mean something other than a baptism being literally performed by the Spirit Himself.

BAPTIZED BY THE INSTRUCTIONS OF THE SPIRIT

So what DOES Paul mean when he says, “by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body”? The Bible is its best commentary, therefore, noticing similar passages will help us understand. For example, there is a similar passage in Ephesians: “That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word” (Eph. 5:26). The prepositional phrase “by the Word” in Ephesians 5:26 is like “by one Spirit” in First Corinthians 12:13, with both passages using the same Greek preposition. The phrase means “by (or through) the instructions of the Word,” or “by the instructions of the Spirit.” Through the revealing work of the Spirit, men learned they needed to be “washed in water” to be saved and added to the Lord’s one body. A similar phrase is also used in Hebrews 10:8: “by the law.” The Hebrews writer was referring to animal sacrifices which were “offered by the law.” What did he mean by that? Was the Law of Moses literally offering animal sacrifices, or were people offering animal sacrifices by the instructions of the law? Obviously, the phrase “by the law” means “by the instructions of the law.” The same phrase is used the same way in Hebrews 9:22, meaning “by the instructions, or teaching, of the law.”

Regarding Ephesians 5:26, was the Word of God literally grabbing people and immersing them in water, or were people being baptized “by the instructions of the Word”?  Obviously, the phrase “by the Word” means “by the instructions of the word,” and “by one Spirit” means “by the instructions of the Spirit” are we all baptized [in water] into one body. It’s no coincidence Ephesians 5:25, 26 sounds like First Corinthians 12:13. They both mention the church/body, and both mention baptism, but Ephesians makes it clear that the baptism under consideration is “the washing of water,” not being baptized with the Holy Spirit!

Yes, First Corinthians 12:13 is in the context of miraculous gifts, but what was the purpose of those gifts—to entertain and show off, or to teach people the Word of God and confirm that the teachings had come from God? Paul’s emphasis in First Corinthians 14 was that such gifts were to be used in a way that taught, edified, instructed–not in a way that was nonsensical or sensational. No doubt the Holy Spirit spoke through Paul, an inspired apostle, when he first came to Corinth, teaching the Corinthians about Christ and how to be baptized into the one body of the saved (Acts 18:8). Keep that in mind when studying First Corinthians 12:13. Remember, the role of the Holy Spirit in man’s salvation was to reveal and confirm God’s Word to teach people how to get to Heaven, not to be busy baptizing every believer on earth until the end of time! (Matt. 28:18-20; John 16:13; Acts 10:38; 1 Cor. 2:9-13; Heb. 2:3, 4).

CONCLUSION

The baptism of First Corinthians 12:13 cannot be Holy Spirit baptism because:

  • That interpretation would contradict inspired conversion accounts (Acts 8, 19, etc.).
  • A very select few received Holy Spirit baptism—not “all” Christians.
  • The duty to preach and baptize all nations was given to men, not the Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:18-20; Mark 16:15, 16; Luke 24:47; cf. 1 Cor. 12:13).
  • Great Commission baptism is water baptism administered by men for the remission of sins, the entrance into the body of Christ (Luke 24:47; Mark 16:15, 16; Acts 2:38-41, 47; 22:16; 1 Pet. 3:20, 21; Rom. 6:3; Gal. 3:27; Eph. 5:23, 26).
  • Water baptism equals salvation, and being added to Christ’s one body equals salvation, therefore, water baptism equals being added to the one body/church (1 Pet. 3:20, 21; Eph. 5:23).
  • There is no Scripture teaching that anyone became saved when they were baptized with the Holy Spirit.
  • The Holy Spirit was not the administrator when people were “baptized with the Holy Ghost” during the temporary miraculous period; the Spirit was/is not the administrator of water baptism; and the Spirit was never said to be the administrator of any kind of baptism.
  • Paul’s language in First Corinthians 12:13 is like Galatians 3:26-28, which was obviously referring to water baptism, when one is born of water and of the Spirit to become a child of God (John 3:5; cf. 1 Cor. 6:9-11; Titus 3:5).
  • There is only one type of baptism today, not two—it is “the washing of water” for sanctification and cleansing, by the instructions of the Word (Eph. 4:5; 5:25, 26).
  • The phrase “by one Spirit” is like “by the Word” or “by the law,” which means, “by the instructions of the Spirit” (cf. Eph. 5:26; Heb. 9:22; 10:8).
  • Ephesians 5:25, 26 sounds like First Corinthians 12:13, mentioning the church and baptism, but Ephesians makes it clear that the baptism under consideration is “the washing of water,” not being baptized with the Holy Spirit.
  • The role of the Holy Spirit in man’s salvation was to reveal and confirm God’s Word, not to be busy baptizing every person on earth until the end of time.

All the confusion about First Corinthians 12:13 is removed by rightly dividing the Word and studying how the rest of the Bible harmonizes with this verse. Fanciful interpretations that do not harmonize with the rest of the Bible must be rejected. Water baptism for the forgiveness of sins is the “one baptism” of the Great Commission that will last until the end of the world. Let us all be thankful that the penitent believer willing to confess his faith in Christ to men can be immersed in water, by the instructions of the Spirit, to be added to the one body of the saved! (1 Cor. 12:13; cf. Matt. 10:32; Acts 2:38-41, 47; 8:35-39; 17:30).

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