What is baptism of the Holy Spirit? This question has been asked often by sincere people who desire salvation. Some believe the one baptism in Ephesians 4:4 was Holy Spirit baptism. Among some denominations it is a central doctrine, the first evidence of it in a person’s life is having the power to speak in tongues.
Let us begin by considering this statement by John the Baptist, “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: But he that comes after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear; He shall baptize you with the Holy Spirit, and, with fire” (Matt. 3:11). In John 14-16 we read of Jesus instructing his apostles about his departure from them. In doing so he promised to send the Comforter to them. “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you” (Jn. 16:13). The apostles would be without a Comforter when Jesus departed, but they would receive another Comforter (the Holy Spirit) to be with them. His mission would be to supply the needs of the apostles in carrying out the great commission given by Jesus.
Let us observe here that Holy Spirit baptism was a promise made by Jesus to his apostles and did not include anyone else, nor was it a command to anyone. The Holy Spirit baptism promised by Jesus had a distinct purpose. Jesus said, “He will teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance”; “He will guide you into all truth”; “He will show you things to come.” The apostles needed to be able to remember the things Jesus had taught them, along with additional truths that they were not able to receive while he was among them. This gives a definitive answer as to how the apostles wrote exactly what God desired them to write. They were guided by the Holy Spirit in all that they said and wrote on religious matters. The great scheme of redemption that was hidden with God from the eternal ages was about to be revealed in its fullness and completeness. The apostles would be perfectly equipped for their mission.
When Jesus appeared to the apostles after his resurrection, and instructed them about their receiving Holy Spirit baptism, he said, “But you shall receive power, after that the Holy Spirit is come upon you: and you shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8). They were informed that the promised Holy Spirit baptism would clothe them with power. About ten days later, on Pentecost, we read, “And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:24). The power associated with this baptism not only gave them the ability to teach perfectly God’s scheme of redemption, but they could also speak to people in languages they had not learned. This would be a great asset when they went to other lands in teaching the gospel of Christ. In this same connection we read, “And these signs shall follow them that believe; in My name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover” (Mk. 16:17-18). “And they went forth, and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following” (v. 20).
Not only would the power received enable them to speak in other languages, but also to work signs, wonders, and miracles, that would give credence and confirmation to their teaching, that it was from God. This was the sole purpose of this power: to teach God’s plan of salvation and to furnish proof that the word spoken by these chosen men was not from themselves, but from God.
This briefly outlines the baptism of the Holy Spirit from the time Jesus promised it to the apostles (only), to their receiving it, and their use of this power in going forth to teach and confirm the word spoken. This does not leave any room for anyone else to receive it. It was not a promise to anyone but the apostles. It did not save anyone. It was not a command given to anyone, not even the apostles, but a promise to be fulfilled to them. Other disciples received gifts of the Holy Spirit by the laying on of the hands of the apostles, but this was not the baptism in the Holy Spirit and they could not pass it on to anyone else.
Paul Was Baptized in the Holy Spirit
Paul also received the baptism of the Holy Spirit, as he was an apostle, and not inferior to the other apostles in any way, even though he was placed into the apostleship at a later date. Paul’s account is recorded in Acts 9, 22, 26. Combining the accounts, we read of Jesus’ appearing to Paul for the purpose of making him a witness (Acts 22:14-15; 26:16), and thus qualifying him to be an apostle. He was baptized in water for the remission of sins (Acts 22:16), according to God’s plan of salvation. He was to be filled with the Holy Spirit according to Ananias’ words in Acts 9:17.
The Case of Cornelius
This is the conversion of Cornelius, recorded in Acts 10. To get the full account we also must read chapters 11 and 15 also. The denominations have a field day with Cornelius’ account. One brother said, “When they are talking about prayer, they have him saved at this point. When they are talking about the Holy Spirit they have him saved at that point. If he was saved by prayer, he wasn’t saved by the Holy Spirit. If he was saved by the Holy Spirit then he wasn’t saved by prayer. They are going to have to decide when they want him saved.”
The truth is that he was not saved by either one. He was not saved by being a devout man and giving alms, nor by prayer, nor by the angel appearing to him, nor by the Holy Spirit coming upon him. In rehearsing the account, Peter said Cornelius was instructed to send for him; the angel told Cornelius that Peter “shall tell thee words whereby thou and all thy house shall be saved” (Acts 11:14). When Peter began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them. He had not yet spoken the words, but had just begun to speak. He later said, “God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe” (Acts 15:7). If he was saved when the Holy Spirit came upon him, then it was before he believed, for faith was to be produced by the words he would speak, as in every case of conversion (Rom. 10:17).
If Cornelius was not saved by the miracles that surrounded this event, then what their purpose? The use Peter made of them will reveal their purpose. He stated they were for the purpose of proving that the Gentiles should have the gospel preached to them and be admitted into the church. If that was not the purpose, then this inspired man misunderstood, and made the wrong use of it. I believe he understood the purpose. He then commanded them to be baptized in water, which was for the remission of sins (Acts 22:16; 2:38). Perhaps the account of Cornelius was another case of Holy Spirit baptism, for Peter described what happened as follows: “which have received the Holy Spirit as well as we” (10:47); “as on us at the beginning (11:15); “Then remembered I the word of the Lord, how that he said, John indeed baptized with water; but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit” (11:16); “Forasmuch then as God gave them the Holy Ghost, even as He did unto us” (15:8). These statements would lead one to believe it was Holy Spirit baptism. However, it would not have been necessary for them to have had all the powers conferred by Holy Spirit baptism according to the use that Peter made of this outpouring of the Spirit.
Conclusion: No one was ever saved through Holy Spirit baptism. It was an aid to the apostles in preaching the gospel. Paul said in Ephesians 4:4 that there is one baptism. There is but one baptism today that is commanded for all men everywhere. That is the baptism of water for the remission of sins which was commanded for all mankind in order to be saved.