“Into what then were you baptized?” (Acts 19:3)

By Marlin Kilpatrick

When the apostle Paul came to Ephesus he discovered certain disciples who had been wrongly baptized. These disciples had been baptized into John’s baptism, but John’s baptism was no longer operative. Paul asked, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” (Acts19:2, NASB). Here the word “believed” is used as a figure of speech where a part is put for the whole. It is as though Paul asked, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you were saved?” But what is the implication(s) of such a question?

Paul’s question, “Into what then were you baptized?”, in conjunction with his first question, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”, implies that, had they been properly baptized, they would have been baptized in the Holy Spirit; otherwise Paul would have had no reason to further question these disciples’ obedience. In this situation we can see a major difference between John’s baptism and the baptism that puts one into the kingdom. John’s baptism was in water and for the remission of sins (John 3:23; Mark 1:4), but the baptism which involves the “new birth” and which puts one into the kingdom is a baptism involving more than water–it also involves the Holy Spirit.

When Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, among other things he wrote, “For in one Spirit were we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Greeks, whether we be bond or free, and were all made to drink into one Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:13, ASV). If the Corinthian Christians were baptized in one Spirit (and Paul said they were), then why should we think it strange that all who obey the gospel are likewise baptized in the Spirit? The fact is, for the past several generations the church has been led to believe that any claim that the Spirit is working in the hearts (minds) of faithful Christians will lead us into Pentecostalism (sometimes referred to as Neo-Pentecostalism). But such fear is unwarranted. It does not necessarily follow that if the Spirit is working in the hearts of sincere, faithful Christians, then we have present-day miracles. Miracles in the Lord’s church have ended, just as Paul said they would (cf. 1 Cor. 13:8-10). And, even in New Testament times, not all who were baptized in the Spirit worked miracles.

Today, no one is being helped by the Spirit in a miraculous way. The Spirit always works in conjunction with his word. It is time that we put Neo-Pentecostal phobia to rest and begin asking ourselves, “Did you receive the Spirit when you believed?” And, if we did not receive the Spirit when we believed, then we need to inquire, “Into what then were you baptized?”