The baptism of the Holy Spirit is a supernatural occurrence in much debate since the dawn of the modern Charismatic and Pentecostal movements. Both sides of the debate would agree that this event has major benefits for the believer’s everyday experience. The Holy Spirit empowers and sanctifies believers; thus, experiencing the baptism of the Holy Spirit is pivotal for Christian growth and experience. How does one obtain this supernatural baptism? Does it occur simultaneously with regeneration, or does it have to be sought post-salvation by fervent prayer? What precisely does this baptism accomplish?

Spirit baptism is the efficacious intusposition[1] of every believer into the Holy Spirit by agency of Christ with the purpose of union with Christ resulting in numerous benefits of the indwelling Spirit. This definition will be determined by overviewing differing positions of Spirit baptism, developing a historical understanding of the term baptism, and a systematic analysis of the pertinent texts concerning Spirit baptism.

Two Major Positions

Before going into the differences of two of the major views of Spirit baptism, the similar ground will be helpful to traverse first. Both the charismatic[2] and non-charismatic positions agree on the agent, medium, and participant of Spirit baptism. The agent performing the baptism is Christ.[3] As John the Baptist says, “I have baptized you with water, but [the Messiah] will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Mark 1:8). Again, noting the reflective grammar above, the medium of baptism is also agreed upon: the Holy Spirit. John says he baptizes with water, but the Christ baptizes with the Holy Spirit. The final point of agreement is the participant of Spirit baptism: the believer. The unregenerate does not earn participation in this supernatural event. At this point, however, the agreement quickly falls apart.

Although the prerequisite of repentance and faith is of necessity, the question of when this baptism takes place is in dispute. Gregg Allison brings out two helpful distinctives when discussing Spirit baptism: separability and subsequence. Separability deals with the idea of whether or not Spirit baptism is one and the same with regeneration. Subsequence deals with when (logically or temporally) Spirit baptism occurs in regard to regeneration.[4] Both Allison and Williams affirm regeneration is separate from Spirit baptism[5]; however, Williams purports baptism occurs subsequently from regeneration given the necessary prerequisites of election, Christ’s atonement, and an individual’s faith and repentance. In other words, someone could be given a heart of flesh in place of their heart of stone and yet not experience the full power of the Holy Spirit.

The purpose and result of both views is also extremely different. For Williams, the purpose of Spirit baptism results in more missiological fervor. On the other hand, for the non-charismatic position, Spirit baptism is in part salvific—fulfilling the promise that Christ gave concerning the giving of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5).

Baptism in Historical Review

Rodman Williams examines several words used in tandem with the Holy Spirit and concludes, “. . . since we have noted the use of such other terms as ‘outpourings,’ ‘falling on,’ and ‘coming on’ associated with the coming of the Holy Spirit, we may properly speak of all these occurrences of being baptized in the Holy Spirit.”[6] In a footnote, Williams goes on, “BAGD [a comprehensive lexicon] points out that in the non-Christian literature of the period, the word baptize often meant ‘plunge, sink, drench, overwhelm. . . soak.’ Such contemporary meanings certainly affected the New Testament usage of the word.”[7] But is there really warrant for such certainty?

When Christ adapts baptism into his ministry (John 4:1-2), is he primarily thinking of someone soaking in a salt bath or the Johannine ritual influenced by Old Testament cultic rites? Furthermore, when the New Testament authors adapt the figure of speech “baptism” one can scarcely believe they had in mind a secularist overload fallacy.[8] Certainly, Williams’ view comes away with nothing more than a mystical emotive experience, not the fullness of the biblical authors’ intention in using “baptism” and its cognates. Baptism carries certain ritualistic meanings understood by Christ and the New Testament authors: initiatory, cleansing, and efficaciousness.

G.R. Beasley-Murray, in his extensive volume Baptism in the New Testament, concludes this about Johannine baptism:

In [John] the age-long traditions of ritual lustrations combined with prophetic anticipations of judgement and redemption and found a medium in the ablutions of men that looked for redemption in Israel. The success of the instrument was greater than he could have dreamed: to it the Messiah himself submitted, then invested it with power for the community of the Kingdom.[9]

The purpose of John’s baptism was for repentance (Mark 1:4). Beasley-Murray calls his baptism one of conversion—an individual turning from his sin to live a life in obedience to God.[10] Conversion implies an initiatory experience: moving away from sin, through the cleansing waters, to obedience to God. All of this typifies the eschatological baptism of the Holy Spirit administered by the Messiah.

Matthew and Luke refer to Christ baptizing with the Spirit and fire (Matt. 3:11, Luke 3:16), most likely alluding to prophetic texts concerning the Messiah (cf. Is. 4:2-5, Joel 2:28, Mal. 4:1). John baptizes to cleanse, pulling from his Levitical background, to emphasize the coming dual baptism of the Messiah via fire: purifying the elect and judging the reprobate. The candidate of John’s cleansing, conversion baptism was being prepared for the Messiah’s fire baptism.[11]

This conversion baptism was also meant to be efficacious: once for all time. John was not seeking “double dippers” who were concerned more with outward repentance (hence his rebuke of the Pharisees, Luke 3:7-9). Similar to its historical roots, Spirit baptism initiates the efficacious “already-not-yet” purification process in preparation of the eschaton, separate from the regenerating work, but in some sense salvific nonetheless.

Textual Development

One of the most important texts for understanding the purpose and result of Spirit baptism is 1 Corinthians 12:13, “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.” Of this, Chafer says, “The central truth is that the one Spirit baptizes all—every believer—into the one Body.”[12] One major result of Spirit baptism is being a part of the body of Christ. Grudem argues, “It was [Spirit] baptism that resulted in their being members of the body of Christ, the church.”[13] By logical extension, those who have not experienced Spirit baptism are not part of the church. Spirit baptism, as also seen from a historical perspective, is an essential supernatural initiatory rite of passage into the universal church. Anyone claiming to have received Spirit baptism far after salvation must wrestle with the telos of the doctrine, especially as indicated in 1 Cor. 12:13.

One passage that seemingly challenges this claim is Acts 8:4-17. Philip proclaims the gospel, performs signs, and the people believe. They are baptized by Philip, but do not receive the Spirit until after Peter comes and lays his hands on them. How is it that these people were not unified with Christ upon their profession and faith? Beasley-Murray asserts this withholding was due to the historical status of the Samaritans. Even in John 4, readers see the disconnect between Samaritan and Jewish worship. Will such a disconnect and racial tension continue in the newly inaugurated church? No. This Samaritan revival was not a rogue movement looked down upon by the Jewish Christian leaders; instead, it was confirmed by those very leaders.[14]

Another seeming delay of Spirit baptism occurs in Acts 19:1-7. The Ephesian “disciples” do not yet have the Holy Spirit though they have John’s baptism. Their case is one of defective faith. These disciples were not even aware there was a Holy Spirit (Acts 19:2). As Grudem argues, “It is likely they had not even heard that Jesus has come and lived and died. . .”[15] Post-salvific sanctifying experiences and “fillings” of the Spirit are certainly possible, but “baptism” itself is reserved for the initial outpouring.


Spirit baptism is performed by Christ on the candidate of the regenerate believer into the medium of the Holy Spirit (Matt 3:11, Mark 1:8, Luke 3:16, John 1:33, Acts 1:5). The purpose is to initialize the believer into the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:12-13). This use of the figure of speech “baptism” is consistent with other uses of the term in scripture (Gal. 3:27, Col. 2:9-13). Christ powerfully and permanently brings believers under the transformative power of the Holy Spirit, purifying them and uniting them with him. Post-salvific Spirit baptisms are at worst deceptions and at best misnomers.


[1] This word, literally meaning “placing into” used by Lewis Sperry Chafer in his Systematic Theology. He uses this term to differentiate from the literally meaning of immersion (which would result in physical death in case of water baptism). The effect, though “temporal” in case of water baptism, is permanent. Cf. Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, vol. 6, Pnuematology (Dallas, TX: Dallas Seminary Press, 1948), 139.

[2] In this  instance “charismatic” is referring to the charismatic, Pentacostal, and third wave movements as a whole. Not that there are no distinctions between them, even in regard to this subject, but for the sake of simplification this term is used. Throughout, this paper will focus on charismatic arguments made by J. Rodman Williams in his Renewal Theology.

[3] J Rodman Williams, Renewal Theology: Systematic Theology from a Charismatic Perspective (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1996), 199. Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), 706.

[4] Gregg R. Allison, “Baptism with and Filling of the Holy Spirit,” Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 16, no. 4 (2012),

[5] Chafer makes an interesting point on the doctrine of separability “. . . two mighty ministries of the Holy Spirit are here recognized—that of forming Christ in the believer or the regenerating work (‘I in you’) and that of placing the believer in Christ or the baptizing work He performs (‘Ye in me’).” Granted, Chafer takes the agent of baptism as the Holy Spirit and the medium as the body of Christ in 1 Cor. 12:13 unlike Grudem or Allison. Nonetheless, the purpose of separability stands: full and complete union with Christ. Chafer, Systematic Theology, 152.

[6] Williams, Renewal Theology, 198.

[7] Williams, Renewal Theology, 200. Cf. Frederick W. Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 164-5.

[8] What Williams committed in his footnote was what D.A. Carson calls, “illegitimate totality transfer.” In other words, listing out the entire semantic field for βαπτιζω and claiming all of these words apply to the meaning certainly distorts the actual meaning of the word. D A. Carson, Exegetical Fallacies, 2nd ed. (Carlisle, U.K.: Paternoster, 1996), 60-61.

[9] G.R. Beasley-Murray, Baptism in the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1962), 44.

[10] Beasley-Murray, Baptism in the New Testament, 34.

[11] The biblical theology behind “baptism” could certainly create an entire tome. Though this is not the place to work out the details in their fulness, the point still stands. Williams develops his idea of the figure of speech “baptism” from the secular literal meanings rather than the rich, ritualistic, biblical meanings initiated by John and furthered by Christ and Paul.

[12] Chafer, Systematic Theology, 143. Again, Chafer views the Spirit as the agent as opposed to Grudem, Allison, and Williams. The point, however, is the Spirit baptism is for all believers for the explicit purpose that they are in the body of Christ. Thus, it is also initiatory just as it is ecclesiologically and soteriologically significant.

[13] Grudem, Systematic Theology, 767.

[14] Beasley-Murray, Baptism in the New Testament, 117. Several other theories surround this text. Phillip’s baptism was defective, the Samaritan faith was not genuine, et. al. These theories are not warranted by the text. Cf. Ibid. 115-117.

[15] Grudem, Systematic Theology, 774.