Spirit Baptism in the Gospels, part 1
The only references in the gospels to Spirit baptism[i] are found in Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; and John 1:33. All of these are upon the lips of John the Baptist. John, the first Baptist preacher, prepared the way for the Lord Jesus by preaching the gospel and immersing people who had been saved, preparing people for Christ’s coming and His gathering of the church during His earthly ministry.[ii] John’s baptism is that practiced by Christ’s church and perpetuated from the first century until today[iii] by true Baptist churches; his baptism was not some other sort of non-Christian baptism.[iv] When “John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins[,] [a]nd there went out unto him all the land of Judaea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins” (Mark 1:4-5), then the Baptist preached to those he immersed that “there cometh one mightier than I after me, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose. I indeed have baptized you with water: but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost” (Mark 1:7-8). John thus identified the recipients of Spirit baptism with believers who had received his baptism. Spirit baptism was not received only by the apostles, but was for the church as an institution, the entire body of immersed believers. This was in line with Old Testament predictions, which affirmed that men and women, old and young, would receive Spirit baptism (Joel 2:28-29). The context of Matthew 3:11[v] and Luke 3:16[vi] likewise identify those who believe the gospel and are immersed with the recipients of Spirit baptism. When the Baptist, as recorded in John 1:19-33, specifically speaks to unbelieving and unbaptized individuals, to unconverted “priests and Levites . . . of the Pharisees,” he does not say that they will be baptized with the Holy Ghost.
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[i] The phrase is employed only in these verses. Luke 11:13 is also related, and will be discussed in later posts.
[ii] Christ started His church during His earthly ministry (Matthew 18:17) from people converted and baptized by John the Baptist (John 1:35-37) and promised that His assembly would overcome the powers of hell from that time to the end of the age (Matthew 16:18). Obviously already extant, the church was “added unto” on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:41, 47) with the conversion of three thousand men. The common idea adopted by UCDs that the church started on Pentecost is unbiblical. No verse anywhere states that the church began on that day. The Lord referred to His church twice in the gospels (Matthew 16:18; 18:17), without any indication whatever that it did not yet exist. Jesus Christ, the Bridegroom, had the church as His bride before Pentecost (John 3:29; cf. 2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:22-33). “God hath set . . . in the church, first apostles” (1 Corinthians 12:28), but the Lord appointed the apostles far before Pentecost (Mark 3:13-19; Matthew 10:2-4). Christ sang in the midst of the church (Hebrews 2:12), but His only recorded singing took place at the institution of the Lord’s supper (Matthew 26:30)—an ordinance given to the church before Pentecost (Matthew 26:26-31; 1 Corinthians 11:2, 17-34). Before Pentecost Christ was the shepherd/pastor of His church (John 10:14), which was already His flock (a term for the church; Matthew 26:31; Luke 12:32; Acts 20:28-29; 1 Peter 5:2-3), until He appointed Peter to pastor His first assembly after His resurrection (John 21:15-17). His church had a business meeting (Acts 1:15-26), a membership roll (Acts 1:15), a treasurer (John 12:6; 13:29), baptism (John 4:1-2), the Lord’s supper (Matthew 26:26-31), church discipline (Matthew 18:15-18), the power to bind and loose (Matthew 18:17-18), and the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) before it was it was “added unto” on Pentecost (Acts 2:41, 47). On the day of Pentecost in Acts 2 the church simply received the permanent indwelling of the Spirit and public recognition as the new institution for the course of the age of grace (cf. Exodus 40:35; the tabernacle; 2 Chronicles 7:1; Solomon’s temple; Ezekiel 43:4-5; the Millennial temple).
In relation to the only really significant objection to a pre-Pentecost foundation of the church, the question of how the assembly could begin before the official inauguration of the New Covenant with the death of Christ, Dr. Ron Tottingham writes, “[The objectors ask how] could you have a ‘new program’ (church) until you have the shedding of the ‘the blood of the covenant,’ of He who is the Life and Head of a ‘new and living’ institution? . . . Hebrews 9:14-18 . . . What is the answer which those . . . would give . . who would hold that Christ established the first Church during His personal ministry upon earth[?] . . . The New Testament Church [was not] ‘of force’ [Hebrews 9:17] until after the Resurrection. Even Christ still went to the temple [during His earthly ministry]. . . . Hebrews nine only states that the covenant of the Levitical ordinances lasted until the true Blood of Christ was shed. . . . The New Testament Church could not be ready for service at its ‘baptism’ at Pentecost unless it was built, or ‘framed,’ prior. Who ever heard of moving into a house [cf. 1 Peter 2:5] (the Holy Spirit moved upon and into the church at Pentecost) without a floor, frame, and more? . . . How then could the church begin before the New Covenant began? By being built [by] the Master Himself during His own personal ministry upon the earth. Then when he died as Testator of the New Covenant, His church of the New Testament (covenant) was ready and waiting to be ‘baptized’ [with] the Holy Spirit and begin [its] ordained service” (The Door-Step Evangel, 24:2 (March-April 2008) pgs. 1ff. (pub. Empire Baptist Temple/Great Plains Baptist Divinity School, Sioux Falls, SD)).
[iii] Christ promised that “the gates of hell shall not prevail” against His congregations (Matthew 16:18), but He would be with them “alway, even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20, cf. 1 Corinthians 11:26), since God would get “glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages” (Ephesians 3:21; cf. also “The Great Commission in Scripture and History,” Thomas Ross. http://thross7.googlepages.com). Consequently, there has never been a day since Christ started His church in the first century that faithful assemblies of believers have not been upon the earth. Any religious organization or denomination that originated in a period subsequent to the first century consequently cannot be the church that Jesus founded. In addition to the unscriptural practices of Catholicism, it is evident historically that it evolved over a period of centuries and has very little resemblance to the church the Lord Jesus started; it therefore cannot be the true church of Jesus Christ. The various Protestant denominations, such as Lutheranism, Anglicanism, Methodism, and Presbyterian and other Reformed groups, came into existence nearly 1,600 years too late to be the church Jesus founded, and the various splinter groups that have emerged since the Reformation, such as the Pentecostal denominations (Assemblies of God, Church of God in Christ, etc.), the followers of Alexander Campbell (Church of Christ, Disciples of Christ, etc.), Mormonism, Seventh Day Adventism, etc. also negate any claim to be Christ’s church by their origin, as they do by their anti-Biblical doctrines. However, assemblies that believed and practiced the Bible, as do good Baptist churches today, have maintained a continual existence under a variety of names (Anabaptists, Waldenses, Donatists, Novatians, Cathari, Christians, etc.) from the first century to the present. They certainly did not originate at the time of the Reformation, as the following quotations demonstrate: 1.) Cardinal Hosius (Catholic, a member of the Council of Trent, A. D. 1560): “If the truth of religion were to be judged by the readiness and boldness of which a man of any sect shows in suffering, then the opinion and persuasion of no sect can be truer and surer than that of the Anabaptists since there have been none for these twelve hundred years past, that have been more generally punished.” This Catholic prelate, living at the time of the Reformation, admitted that the Baptists had been around since A. D. 360; of course, allowing them an origin any more ancient would make his position very uncomfortable. 2.) Mosheim (Lutheran, A. D. 1755), said, “The true origin of that sect which acquired the name of Anabaptists, by their administering anew the rite of baptism to those who came over to their communion . . . is hid in the remote depths of antiquity, and is consequently extremely difficult to be ascertained.” 3.) Dr. J. J. Durmont & Dr. Ypeig (Reformed writers specifically appointed by the King of Holland to ascertain if the historical claims of the Baptists were valid), concluded in A. D. 1819 that Baptists were “descended from the tolerably pure evangelical Waldenses. . . . They were, therefore, in existence long before the Reformed Church of the Netherlands. . . . We have seen that the Baptists, who were formerly called Anabaptists, and in later times Mennonites, were the original Waldenses; and who have long in the history of the Church, received the honor of that origin. On this account the Baptists may be considered the only Christian community which has stood since the Apostles; and as a Christian society which has preserved pure the doctrine of the gospel through all ages.” 4.) Alexander Campbell (founder of the “Disciples of Christ” and “Church of Christ” denominations, A. D. 1824): “I would engage to show that baptism as viewed and practiced by the Baptists, had its advocates in ever century up to the Christian era . . . clouds of witnesses attest the fact, that before the Reformation from popery, and from the apostolic age, to the present time, the sentiments of Baptists, and the practice of baptism have had a continued chain of advocates, and public monuments of their existence in every century can be produced.” See pgs. 83-96, A History of Baptists, John T. Christian, vol. 1 (Texarkana, TX: Bogard Press, 1922), and History of Baptists, G. H. Orchard (Texarkana, TX: Bogard Press, 1987), pgs. iii-xxiv, for the original sources of the quotations here listed, and further information. Quotations and other evidence from non-Baptist or anti-Baptist authors of like effect could be greatly multiplied (e. g., the Reformed writer Leonard Verduin stated “No one is credited with having invented the Anabaptism of the sixteenth century for the simple reason that no one did. . . . There were Anabaptists, called by that name, in the fourth century.” pg. 189-190, The Reformers and Their Stepchildren, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1965). Baptist historians naturally affirm their own succession as well. The historical fact that Baptist churches have existed from the first century to the present confirms the truth, established by their Biblical doctrine and practice, that they are the churches founded by the Lord Jesus Christ. Consequently, all other “churches” are guilty of schism and division from the Lord’s true assemblies, and have no Divine authority to baptize, carry on the work of God, or exist at all. Nor is it surprising that non-Baptists are mistaken on the doctrine of Spirit baptism, as the doctrine authenticates Christ’s true church, which they have no part in.
[iv] The New Testament dispensation began with John, not on the day of Pentecost in the book of Acts (Mark 1:1-4; Matthew 11:13; Luke 16:16; Matthew 11:5; Mark 8:35)—otherwise Jesus Christ did not preach New Testament doctrine, the four gospels are not for Christians, the apostles, who were obviously saved before the book of Acts (Luke 10:20), were not Christians, and other equally absurd conclusions follow. John the Baptist preached about the Deity of Christ (John 1:23; Isaiah 40:3), His substitutionary death (John 1:29), repentance (Matthew 3:2), hell (Matthew 3:10-12), Christ’s bride, the church (John 3:29; Ephesians 5:32), etc. He required confession of sin (Matthew 3:6) and evidence of salvation (Matthew 3:8) before he would baptize people, so he baptized only believers, not infants. He immersed, not sprinkled or poured (Mark 1:5, John 3:23, etc.), and his baptism pictured Christ’s coming death, burial, and resurrection (John 1:31). He had God’s authority to baptize (Matthew 21:24-27), just as the church has that authority today (Matthew 28:18-20). The apostles had John’s baptism (Acts 1:22), but were never “rebaptized” when some supposedly different Christian baptism originated—nor were any other converts ever “rebaptized.” When Christ commanded His church to go into all the world, preach, baptize, and disciple converts (Matthew 28:17-20; Mark 16:15-16, etc.), He spoke to those who had received John’s baptism and were familiar with no other kind.
The alleged support for a distinction between John’s baptism and Christian baptism in Acts 19:1-7 is invalid. The individuals of Acts 19 were spurious “converts,” not real disciples of John the Baptist. They did not believe in the Trinity, and so were unsaved (John 17:3), for they had never even heard of the Holy Spirit (19:2), although John preached about Him (Matthew 3:11). Their spurious discipleship is indicated by the fact that the plural word “disciples,” mathetai, is nonarticular in 19:1—unlike every single one of the 25 other references in the book of Acts to the word (1:15; 6:1-2, 7; 9:1, 19, 26, 38; 11:26, 29; 14:20, 22, 28; 15:10; 18:23, 27; 19:1, 9, 30; 20:7, 30; 21:4, 16). Paul does not tell these “disciples” that John’s baptism has passed away and Christian baptism has now been inaugurated; he tells them what John the Baptist really said (19:4), upon which they believed John’s message as expounded by Paul and submitted themselves to baptism (19:5-7). Note that a truly born-again man with John’s baptism is not “rebaptized” in the immediately preceding context (18:24-28), simply instructed in the further developments of truth (for the fact that the gospel dispensation began with John does not mean that everything about God’s new method of dealing with people was instantly perfectly developed). Acts 18:24-9:7 supports, not undermines, the fact that Christian baptism is John’s baptism.
[v] In Matthew, the “you” baptized with water are the “you” baptized with the Spirit in Matthew 3:11. Note the connection made by the me/n/de/ clause: e˙gw» me«n bapti÷zw uJma◊ß e˙n u¢dati ei˙ß meta¿noian: oJ de« ojpi÷sw mou e˙rco/menoß i˙scuro/tero/ß mou e˙sti÷n, ou∞ oujk ei˙mi« i˚kano\ß ta» uJpodh/mata basta¿sai: aujto\ß uJma◊ß bapti÷sei e˙n Pneu/mati ÔAgi÷wˆ kai« puri÷. While preaching to unconverted Pharisees and Sadducees does appear in the preceding context (3:7ff.), those baptized with water in Matthew are those of the multitudes who repent and confess their sins (Matthew 3:6), not the unconverted. A comparison with the other gospel accounts confirms what can be deduced from the Matthean narrative.
[vi] One who would affirm that the preceding context of the verse refers to all the “people,” saved and unsaved, rather than to baptized believers alone, and thus does not make an association between the church and Spirit baptism, should consider that the “you” who are to be baptized “with the Holy Ghost” are the “you” who are baptized with water in Luke 3:16, and these are only the ones who bear the fruits of repentance (v. 8). Furthermore, a reference to the “people” does not require that unbelievers in the promised land are included, since 3:21 refers to a time when “all the people were baptized,” and clearly Luke does not mean that, contradicting 3:8, John baptized pagans, the immoral, and, indeed, every last person in the whole region, converted or not. The fulfillment of Spirit baptism as recorded in Acts fits the predictions in the gospels—Christ baptized with the Spirit believers who had already been immersed in water. Compare endnote 69.