In Christian theology, baptism with the Holy Spirit (also called baptism in the Holy Spirit or Spirit baptism) is distinguished from baptism with water. It is frequently associated with incorporation into the Christian Church, the bestowal of spiritual gifts, and empowerment for Christian ministry.
The term baptism with the Holy Spirit originates in the New Testament, and all Christian traditions accept it as a theological concept. Nevertheless, different Christian denominations and traditions have interpreted its meaning in a variety of ways due to differences in the doctrines of salvation and ecclesiology. As a result, Spirit baptism has been variously defined as part of the sacraments of initiation into the church, as being synonymous with regeneration, as being synonymous with Christian perfection, or as being a second work of grace that empowers a person for Christian life and service.
Before the emergence of the holiness movement in the mid-19th century and Pentecostalism in the early 20th century, most denominations believed that Christians received the baptism with the Holy Spirit either upon conversion and regeneration or through rites of Christian initiation, such as water baptism and confirmation. Since the growth and spread of Pentecostal and charismatic churches, however, the belief that the baptism with the Holy Spirit is an experience distinct from Christian initiation has come into increasing prominence.
In Christian theology, the work of the Holy Spirit under the Old Covenant is viewed as less extensive than that under the New Covenant inaugurated on the day of Pentecost. The Spirit was restricted to certain chosen individuals, such as high priests and prophets. Often termed the "spirit of prophecy" in rabbinic writings, the Holy Spirit was closely associated with prophecy and divine inspiration. It was anticipated that in the future messianic age God would pour out his spirit upon all of Israel, which would become a nation of prophets.
While the exact phrase "baptism with the Holy Spirit" is not found in the New Testament, two forms of the phrase are found in the canonical gospels using the verb "baptize", from the Greek word baptizein meaning to "immerse" or "plunge". The baptism was spoken about by John the Baptist, who contrasted his water baptism for the forgiveness of sins with the baptism of Jesus. In Mark 1 and John 1, the Baptist proclaimed that Jesus "will baptize in (the) Holy Spirit"; while in Matthew 3 and Luke 3, he "will baptize with Holy Spirit and fire".
Jesus is considered the first person to receive the baptism with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit descended on Jesus during his baptism and anointed him with power. Afterward, Jesus began his ministry and displayed his power by casting out demons, healing the sick, and teaching with authority.
The phrase "baptized in the Holy Spirit" occurs two times in Acts of the Apostles, first in Acts 1:4-5 and second in Acts 11:16. Other terminology is used in Acts to indicate Spirit baptism, such as "filled". "Baptized in the Spirit" indicates an outward immersion into the reality of the Holy Spirit, while "filled with the Spirit" suggests an internal diffusion. Both terms speak to the totality of receiving the Spirit. The baptism with the Holy Spirit is described in various places as the Spirit "poured out upon", "falling upon", "coming upon" people. To "pour out" suggests abundance and reflects John 3:34, "God gives the Spirit without limit". Another expression, "come upon" is related to a statement by Jesus in Luke 24:49, "I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high". The language of "come on" and "clothed with" suggest possession by and endowment with the Holy Spirit.
The narrative of Acts begins after Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection. The resurrected Jesus directed his disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the baptism in the Holy Spirit and promised, "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". After his ascension, he was given authority to pour out the Holy Spirit.
In the New Testament, the messianic expectations found in early Judaism were fulfilled on the day of Pentecost as recorded in Acts. The Christian community was gathered together in Jerusalem when a sound from heaven like rushing wind was heard and tongues like tongues of flame rested on everyone. They were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in tongues, miraculously praising God in foreign languages. A crowd gathered and was addressed by the Apostle Peter who stated that the occurrence was the fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel 2, "And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy". He then explained how the Spirit came to be poured out, recounting Jesus' ministry and passion and then proclaiming his resurrection and enthronement at the right hand of God. In response, the crowd asked Peter what they should do. He responded that they should repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins in order to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Peter finished his speech stating that the promise "is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself".
Baptism in the Holy Spirit occurs elsewhere in Acts. The gospel had been proclaimed in Samaria and the apostles Peter and John were sent from Jerusalem. The new believers had been baptized in water, but the Holy Spirit had not yet fallen on them. The Samaritans received the Holy Spirit when Peter and John laid their hands on them. The Apostle Paul was also filled with the Holy Spirit when Ananias of Damascus laid hands on him, and afterwards Paul was baptized with water.
Later in Acts, Peter preached the gospel to the household of Cornelius the Centurion, a gentile. While he preached, the Holy Spirit fell on the gentiles, and they began to speak in tongues. The Jewish believers with Peter were amazed, and the household was water baptized. While the apostle Paul was in Ephesus, he found disciples there and discovered that they did not know of the existence of the Holy Spirit and had only received John the Baptist's baptism. After baptizing them in Jesus' name, Paul laid his hands on them, and they began to speak in tongues and prophesy.
In the early Church, the laying on of hands on the newly baptized to impart the gift of the Holy Spirit was the origin of the sacrament of confirmation. In the Eastern church, confirmation continued to be celebrated immediately after water baptism. The two rites were separated in the Western church. According to Pentecostal historian H. Vinson Synan, "the basic premise of Pentecostalism, that one may receive later effusions of the Spirit after initiation/conversion, can be clearly traced in Christian history to the beginnings of the rite of confirmation in the Western churches".
Huldrych Zwingli, a leading Protestant Reformer in Switzerland, taught three distinct baptisms: water baptism, teaching baptism (having been educated about the Christian religion) and Spirit baptism. While full baptism included all three, Zwingli emphasized that the external baptisms of water and teaching could not provide salvation. The inner baptism of the Spirit alone could save because it conferred faith. According to Zwingli, the three baptisms could be given separately; Spirit baptism could occur first or last in the sequence.
Many Puritans believed that the experience of becoming a Christian was followed by a later and distinct experience of the Holy Spirit. This experience was characterized by receiving assurance of one's salvation. English Puritan Thomas Goodwin equated this experience with the baptism in the Holy Spirit and the "seal of the Spirit" referenced in Ephesians 1.
Synan traces the influence of Catholic and Anglican mystical traditions on John Wesley's doctrine of Christian perfection or entire sanctification, from which Pentecostal beliefs on Spirit baptism developed. Furthermore, theologian James Dunn notes early Methodist beliefs can be directly linked to Puritan teaching on the Holy Spirit.
Wesley taught that while the new birth was the start of the Christian life, "inbred sin" remained and must be removed through a lifelong process of moral cleansing.John Fletcher, Wesley's designated successor, called Christian perfection a "baptism in the Holy Spirit". His Checks to Antinomianism later became a standard for Pentecostally-inclined holiness teachers. On the subject, Fletcher wrote:
Lastly: if we will attain the full power of godliness, and be peaceable as the Prince of Peace, and merciful as our heavenly Father, let us go on to the perfection and glory of Christianity; let us enter the full dispensation of the Spirit. Till we live in the pentecostal glory of the Church: till we are baptized with the Holy Ghost: till the Spirit of burning and the fire of Divine love have melted us down, and we have been truly cast into the softest mould of the Gospel: till we can say with St. Paul, "We have received the Spirit of love, of power, and of a sound mind;" till then we shall be carnal rather than spiritual believers.
In mid-19th century America, the Wesleyan holiness movement began to teach that entire sanctification was less a process and more of a state that one entered into by faith at a definite moment in time. This second blessing, as it was commonly called, allowed Christians to be freed from the power of sin. Among adherence of the holiness movement, baptism in the Holy Spirit was synonymous with second blessing sanctification.
After his conversion in 1821, Presbyterian minister and revivalist Charles Grandison Finney experienced what he called "baptism in the Holy Spirit" accompanied by "unutterable gushings" of praise. Finney and other Reformed writers, known as Oberlin perfectionists, agreed that there was a life altering experience after conversion, but unlike their Wesleyan holiness counterparts, they conceived of it as an ongoing process enabling believers to devote themselves wholly to Christ's service. Similarly, the English Higher Life movement taught that the second blessing was an "enduement of power". According to this view, Spirit baptism gave Christians the ability to be witnesses for the gospel and to perform Christian service. Wesleyan teachers emphasized purity while Oberlin and higher life advocates stressed power as the defining outcome of Spirit baptism.
In the early 1890s, R.C. Horner, a Canadian holiness evangelist, introduced a theological distinction that would be important for the development of Pentecostalism. He argued in his books Pentecost (1891) and Bible Doctrines (1909) that the baptism in the Holy Spirit was not synonymous with the second blessing but was actually a third work of grace subsequent to salvation and sanctification that empowered the believer for service.Charles Fox Parham would build on this doctrinal foundation when he identified speaking in tongues as the Bible evidence of Spirit baptism.
The diverse views on Spirit-baptism held among Christian traditions can be categorized into three main groups. These are baptism with the Spirit as sacramental initiation (Orthodox and Catholic churches), regeneration (Reformed tradition), and empowerment for witness and vocation (Pentecostals and charismatics).
This holy ointment is no more simple ointment, nor (so to say) common, after the invocation, but the gift of Christ; and by the presence of His Godhead, it causes in us the Holy Ghost. It is symbolically applied to thy forehead and thy other senses and while thy body is anointed with visible ointment, thy soul is sanctified by the Holy and life-giving Spirit.
The Catholic Church teaches that baptism, confirmation, and the Eucharist--the sacraments of Christian initiation--lay the foundations of the Christian life. The Christian life is based on baptism. It is "the gateway to life in the Spirit" and "signifies and actually brings about the birth of water and the Spirit". The post-baptismal anointing (Chrismation in the Eastern churches) signifies the gift of the Holy Spirit and announces a second anointing to be conferred later in confirmation that completes the baptismal anointing.
Confirmation, then, is necessary for the completion of baptismal grace. When confirmed, Catholics receive the "special outpouring of the Holy Spirit as once granted to the apostles on the day of Pentecost". For the confirmand it increases the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit (wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord), unites more fully to Christ and the Church, and gives strength to confess Christ and defend the faith. The rite of confirmation orients toward mission, and many liturgical texts remind the initiate that the gift of the Holy Spirit should be used for service to the church and the world.
The main position on Spirit baptism among the Reformed churches, dispensationalists, and many Baptists is that the baptism with the Holy Spirit occurs simultaneously with regeneration, when those who have faith in Jesus Christ receive the Holy Spirit and are incorporated into the body of Christ.
Within Methodism and the broader Wesleyan tradition, baptism with the Holy Spirit has often been linked to living a sanctified life. The United Methodist Church has a sacramental view of baptism and confirmation. At the same time, the United Methodist Confession of Faith also affirms Wesley's doctrine of Christian perfection (also known as entire sanctification):
Entire sanctification is a state of perfect love, righteousness and true holiness which every regenerate believer may obtain by being delivered from the power of sin, by loving God with all the heart, soul, mind and strength, and by loving one's neighbor as one's self. Through faith in Jesus Christ this gracious gift may be received in this life both gradually and instantaneously, and should be sought earnestly by every child of God.
Similarly, the churches in the holiness movement emphasize entire sanctification as a definite experience linked to Spirit baptism. According to the Articles of Faith of the Church of the Nazarene, sanctification is a work of God after regeneration "which transforms believers into the likeness of Christ" and is made possible by "initial sanctification" (which occurs simultaneously with regeneration and justification), entire sanctification, and "the continued perfecting work of the Holy Spirit culminating in glorification". Entire sanctification (as opposed to initial sanctification) is an act of God in which a believer is made free from original sin and able to devote him or herself entirely to God:
It is wrought by the baptism with or infilling of the Holy Spirit, and comprehends in one experience the cleansing of the heart from sin and the abiding, indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, empowering the believer for life and service.
In classical Pentecostalism, the baptism with the Holy Spirit is understood to be a separate and distinct experience occurring sometime after regeneration. It is an empowering experience, equipping Spirit-filled believers for witness and ministry. Extending from this is the belief that all the spiritual gifts mentioned in the New Testament are to be sought and exercised to build up the church. Pentecostals believe that Spirit baptism will be accompanied by the physical evidence of speaking in tongues (glossolalia).
According to Pentecostal biblical interpretation, the Gospel of John 20:22 shows that the disciples of Jesus were already born again before the Holy Spirit fell at Pentecost. They then cite biblical examples in the Book of Acts 2, 8, 10, and 19 to show that it was common in the New Testament for Spirit baptism to occur after conversion. In following the biblical pattern, they argue, Christians today should also pray for this baptism which results in greater power for ministry and witness.
On the subject of Spirit baptism, Donald Gee wrote of the Christians on the Day of Pentecost:
With them it was not mere intellectual assent to some article in a creed defining an orthodox doctrine concerning the Holy Spirit. Neither were they satisfied to acquiescence to a vague idea that in some indefinite manner the Holy Spirit had been imparted to them upon conversion. They gladly and thankfully recognized His gracious operations in their regeneration and sanctification, but their own personal reception of the Holy Spirit was an intensely vivid experience. They knew when He came, where He came, and how he came. Nothing reveals this more than Paul's searching question to certain disciples whom he immediately sensed to be spiritually lacking in a vital part of their Christian inheritance--'Have ye received the Holy Ghost?' (Acts 19:2). The challenge was to experience, not to doctrine. How significant! An Ephesian 'Pentecost' speedily rectified their shortcoming, and it was an experience as vivid as all the rest had received--'They spake with tongues and prophesied.'
In Pentecostal experience, Spirit baptism can be quite dramatic, as shown by William Durham's account of his Spirit baptism:
I was overcome by the mighty fulness of power and went down under it. For three hours He wrought wonderfully in me. My body was worked in sections, a section at a time. And even the skin on my face was jerked and shaken, and finally I felt my lower jaw begin to quiver in a strange way. This continued for some little time, when finally my throat began to enlarge and I felt my vocal organs being, as it were, drawn into a different shape. O how strange and wonderful it was! and how blessed it was to be thus in the hands of God. And last of all I felt my tongue begin to move and my lips to produce strange sounds which did not originate in my mind.
In some accounts of Spirit baptism, Pentecostals report receiving visions, such as the account of Lucy Leatherman, an Azusa Street participant:
While seeking for the Baptism with the Holy Ghost in Los Angeles, after Sister Ferrell [sic] laid hands on me I praised and praised God and saw my Savior in the heavens. And as I praised, I came closer and closer and I was so small. By and by I swept into the wound in His side, and He was not only in me but I in Him, and there I found that rest that passeth all understanding, and He said to me, you are in the bosom of the Father. He said I was clothed upon and in the secret place of the Most High. But I said, Father, I want the gift of the Holy Ghost, and the heavens opened and I was overshadowed, and such power came upon me and went through me. He said, Praise Me, and when I did, angels came and ministered unto me. I was passive in His hands working on my vocal cords, and I realized they were loosing me. I began to praise Him in an unknown language.
Charismatics trace their historical origins to the charismatic movement of the 1960s and 1970s. They are distinguished from Pentecostals because they tend to allow for differing viewpoints on whether Spirit baptism is subsequent to conversion and whether tongues is always a sign of receiving the baptism.
The Catholic Charismatic Renewal believes that there is a further experience of empowerment with the Holy Spirit. As stated by Rev. Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, "baptism in the Spirit is not a sacrament, but it is related to a sacrament...to the sacraments of Christian initiation. The baptism in the Spirit makes real and in a way renews Christian initiation". Emphasis of the event is on the release of existing spiritual gifts already given to the individual through baptism in water and confirmation.
During the 1980s, another renewal movement emerged called the "Third Wave of the Holy Spirit" (the first wave was Pentecostalism and the second wave was the charismatic movement). Third wave charismatics stress that the preaching of the gospel, following the New Testament pattern, should be accompanied by "signs, wonders, and miracles". They believe that all Christians are baptized with the Holy Spirit at conversion, and prefer to call subsequent experiences as "filling" with the Holy Spirit. John Wimber and the Vineyard churches are most prominently associated with this label.
In the Latter Day Saint movement, the "Baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost" refers to the experience of one who undergoes the ordinance of confirmation with the laying on of hands to receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. It follows baptism in water and is essential to salvation. The gift of the Holy Ghost is the privilege of receiving inspiration, divine manifestations, direction, spiritual gifts, and other blessings from the Holy Spirit. It begins the lifetime process of sanctification.