Last Sunday, I listened to a faithful gospel preacher as he misinterpreted this passage. Sadly, I misinterpreted this passage most of my preaching life. It was all because I failed to understand that Holy Spirit baptism entailed no miracle whatever! As you, I was taught that there are three measures of the Spirit among men (while there actually are none—John 3:34), and that baptism in Spirit was a miracle. But this was all wrong, so sadly wrong, and these mistakes affected all of our biblical interpretation of passages that mentioned the Spirit and his relationship to us.
Think about the words in 1 Corinthians 12:12-13: “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of the body, being many, are one body; so also is Christ. For in one Spirit were we all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether bond or free; and were made to drink of one Spirit.” Please go immediately to Galatians 3:26-29 for the language of Paul there. And please return to John 7:37-39 immediately for the language there. Do you see concept and language connection?
But, because (1) we all knew there was only one baptism, and because (2) we all knew that water was for the remission of sins, we concluded that we must “interpret” 1 Corinthians 12:13 to mean that we were baptized “by” the Holy Spirit (usually taken to mean by the teaching of the Holy Spirit). How many times have you heard this “interpretation”? We were told that we were baptized in water in harmony with the teaching of the Holy Spirit. My, my! This was an honest but ignorant and unintentional interpretive mistake that we made. But most of us made it. Think! Is there any other passage in the New Testament that supports the claim that the Spirit is an AGENT who baptizes anyone? No! However, we do have passages that claim that JESUS HIMSELF would be the agent who baptized in the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:11; Luke 3:16).
Interestingly, Luke in describing the difference between John’s baptism and the Lord’s baptism, says that John baptized “with” water, using the dative case of the word “water.” However, he used the preposition “in” (Gr. en) when he said that Jesus would baptize “in” Holy Spirit. Now, we do not reject water as the element in the first baptism on the basis that the proper translation is “with water” rather than “in water.” Do we? No, we do not. Secondly, John said that Jesus would baptize not “with” the Holy Spirit but “in” the Holy Spirit! So, we allow “with” to mean “in” but in 1 Corinthians 12:13 we force “in” to mean “by,” and the only reason we did this was because we took baptism “in” Spirit to mean a miraculous baptism! We were trying, in our ignorance, to be logically consistent.
Too, in Matthew’s rendering of the account, in both references to water baptism and Holy Spirit baptism, he uses the same preposition, “in” (Gr. en). Whatever John was doing with water, Jesus would do with Spirit. If John immersed people “in” water, then Jesus would immerse people “in” Spirit. There is no getting around this. John in his preaching used both water and Spirit as elements. John and Jesus were both agents! We must be fair with the text. Ephesians 5:26 is no help in trying to get around what Matthew says that John did. Paul in Ephesians 5:26 says that Jesus cleansed us by “the washing of the water with the word.” But “the word” is applied to cleansing, and not to regeneration. And they are not the same. So, the passage does not support the interpretation of 1 Corinthians 12:13 that the Holy Spirit “baptizes” us through his teaching in his word!
Also, if Jesus in John 3:3-5 said that a person must be born of both water and Spirit, and if to be born of water means to be baptized in water, then just so does to be born of Spirit mean to be baptized in Spirit.
My good friend, Glenn Jobe taught me several years ago that Acts 1:8 proves that there is no miracle in Holy Spirit baptism. The verb “is come” is an aorist participle which indicates action antecedent to that of the main verb, “shall receive.” That is, the power which would enable the apostles to be the Lord’s “witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea and Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” came after their reception of their baptism in the Holy Spirit. The power did not come before nor at the same time as but AFTER the baptism! The KJV is helpful in its translation: “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you.” We have correctly taught that salvation follows baptism in water as Mark 16:16 teaches. The passage says that the one believing and being baptized shall be saved. Both “believing” and “being baptized” are aorist participles which indicate action prior to that of the main verb, “shall be saved.” It is an aorist participle in Acts 1:8!
Furthermore, while water baptism in the book of Acts is always connected to remission of sins, baptism in Holy Spirit is not. It follows forgiveness rather than to provide it. It is the regeneration of which Paul speaks in Titus 3:5-6. Only a forgiven man can then be given spiritual life! But, think about it: when we were baptized in water, we had to come up out of and leave the water. Water is not the church! When we came up from the water, we were already in the Holy Spirit, and remained in him! Jesus had immersed us in Spirit while we were being immersed in water. This is how and why it can correctly be said that we arise to walk in newness of life (Romans 6:3-4) because life was given us while we were under the water following forgiveness! But we remained in Spirit after we left the water. Following our immersion in water, we came up from it while remaining in Spirit! We are, Paul says, “in Spirit” (Romans 8:9). Being in Spirit is being in the non-personal but spiritual body of Christ (Romans 8:1; Colossians1:18). And just as with regard to any physical human birth, our spiritual birth entails two elements (John 3:3-5). And remember, before Paul mentioned our baptism in Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12:13, he had already reminded the brethren at Corinth that the Jews had been baptized unto Moses by being baptized in two elements (1 Corinthians 10:1-2).