Spirit Baptism in the Gospels, part 2--Fire Baptism
While one who believes that the baptism with fire of Matthew 3:11 and Luke 3:16 refers to the damnation of the unconverted in hell—a position that should not be easily dismissed from the connection of the word “fire” in Matthew 3:11 to that in 3:12—can still agree with the conclusions made in other parts of this series concerning the connection between Spirit baptism and the church, the position that baptism with fire is synonymous with Spirit baptism deserves serious consideration and should be considered correct for a number of reasons. First, the reader of the gospels could very easily conclude that they were synonymous. One who simply reads “I indeed baptize you with water . . . but . . . he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire” (Matthew 3:11; ego men baptidzo humas en hudati . . . de . . . autos humas baptisei en Pneumati Hagio kai puri; cf. Luke 3:16) could very easily think that the same “you” receives both the Spirit and fire, namely, the “you” that receives water baptism, and that baptism Pneumati Hagio kai puri, as both “Spirit” and “fire” follow a single en in connection with the single verb “baptize,” refer to the same event. Furthermore, the men/de clause confirms the association of the several instances of “you” in the verse. Second, Acts 1:5 refers back to Luke 3:16. Why would not the entire action of the verse, the Spirit and fire baptism, happen at the same time? Third, in Acts 2:3-4, the baptism with the Spirit and the appearance of “fire” on the heads of those Spirit-baptized happens at the same moment. Would not Theophilus, reading Luke-Acts, recall Luke 3:16 and think that this was the baptism of the Holy Ghost and of fire? Fourth, the gospel accounts in Mark 1:8 and John 1:33 both record only baptism with the Spirit; fire is not mentioned. This suggests that there is one baptism with the Spirit and fire, since neither Mark nor John believed the reader needed to hear about the other, as if simply mentioning Spirit baptism covered both things. Fifth, in Acts, only a record of Spirit baptism as a fulfillment of John’s preaching is recalled from the gospels (Acts 1:5; Luke 3:16) and recorded (Acts 2), suggesting that baptism with the Spirit and fire was a single event predicted by John. Sixth, the parallel between Spirit baptism’s validation of the church and the coming of the shekinah on the Old Testament tabernacle and temple supports the unity of the two baptisms. Seventh, while one who believes baptism with fire is eternal torment affirms that one either receives Spirit baptism or fire baptism, the disciples in Acts never told anyone that, since they did not receive Spirit baptism, they were going to get fire baptism. Eighth, while Spirit baptism was a one time event, the lost who die are cast into hell moment by moment, day by day, so the baptism with fire would seem to not be a one time event, but something daily repeated, indeed, something that is going on continually worldwide. The two would then not be very parallel. One who wished to extenuate this difficulty might argue that the baptism with fire refers to the postmillennial future after the Great White Throne judgment, when all the lost in Hades are cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:11-15). In that case, while all the lost, throughout the entire Old Testament and into the Millennium, get cast into the lake of fire and thus allegedly receive fire baptism, only the tiny fraction of church age saints connected with the events in Acts receive Spirit baptism, thus making the two baptisms most discontinuous. John the Baptist also did not prophesy that all the lost would receive the baptism of fire—at the very least, people in the Old Testament dispensation are not referred to in his preaching. A fulfillment of fire baptism in the eternal torment of all the lost of all ages thus makes the alleged fulfillment strikingly different than the prediction. Ninth, no passage states that the eternal state of the lost is a fulfillment of the baptism of fire—the conclusion is an implication drawn from what are not foolproof premises. Last, maintaining that fire baptism is synonymous with Spirit baptism, on the historic Baptist view elucidated below, makes both Spirit and fire baptism, like literal immersion in water, ecclesiological, not soteriological events. Christ gathered His church from those who had received the baptism of John, and it is the church that received the baptism with the Spirit in Acts 2. John made “ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Lu 1:17) by bringing them to salvation and then baptizing them, so they could be part of the congregation Christ was gathering (John 3:29), which the Savior later authenticated by baptizing His assembly with His Spirit. Affirming that fire baptism is damnation in hell moves this latter baptism from the realm of ecclesiology to that of soteriology and eschatology. As literal baptism is not a means of receiving salvation, no metaphorical reference to baptism in the New Testament is ever clearly soteriological. The cumulative weight of the reasons above lead to the conclusion that, while the position that the baptism with fire is the eternal damnation of the lost deserves serious consideration, the position that the baptism with the Spirit and fire is a single event should be preferred.
 It should be noted in relation to this argument, the strongest one for connecting fire baptism and eternal damnation, that the fact that the Lord Jesus will do what is stated in v. 11, and will also do what is stated in v. 12, do not make the two synonymous. Verse twelve refers to the eschatological gathering of the saints to glory and the related damnation of the lost. Spirit baptism does not denote anything in v. 12. Nor does fire baptism, on either on the synonymous or the eternal torment view, have anything to do with the eschatological gathering of the saints as wheat into the garner at harvest time. Thus, an affirmation that the judgment of v. 12 defines fire baptism as eschatological damnation must explain why the entry of believers into glory is not Spirit baptism, and thus why v. 12 defines the fire baptism of v. 11 but does not define the Spirit baptism of the same verse.
See pg. 236, Christology of the Old Testament, E. W. Hengstenberg, trans. James Martin, vol. 4, 2nd ed. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1858 (elec. acc. http://books.google.com), for an argument in favor of fire baptism as hell based on the analogy of Malachi 3:2.
 In the words of Henry Alford on Matthew 3:11, “To separate off pneu/mati aJgi÷wˆ as belonging to one set of persons, and puri÷ as belonging to another, when both are united by uJma◊ß, is in the last degree harsh, besides introducing confusion into the whole. The members of comparison in this verse are strictly parallel to one another: the baptism by water . . . and the baptism by the Holy Ghost and fire” (Alford’s Greek Testament: An Exegetical and Critical Commentary, Henry Alford, vol. 1. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1980 (reprint of 1874 ed.). Similarly, the Expositor’s Bible Commentary (ed. Frank E. Gaebelien; Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1990) notes on Matthew 3:11, “Many see this as a double baptism, one in the Holy Spirit for the righteous and one in fire for the unrepentant (cf: the wheat and chaff in v.12). Fire (Mal 4:1) destroys and consumes. There are good reasons, however, for taking ‘fire’ as a purifying agent along with the Holy Spirit. The people John is addressing are being baptized by him; presumably they have repented. More important the preposition en (‘with’) is not repeated before fire: the one preposition governs both ‘Holy Spirit’ and ‘fire,’ and this normally suggests a unified concept, Spirit-fire or the like. . . . Fire often has a purifying, not destructive, connotation in the OT (e.g., Isa 1:25; Zech 13:9; Mal 3:2-3). John’s water baptism relates to repentance; but the one whose way he is preparing will administer a Spirit-fire baptism that will purify and refine.” James D. G. Dunn writes, “There are not two baptisms envisaged, one with Spirit and one with fire, only one baptism in Spirit-and-fire. Second, the two baptisms . . . are to be administered to the same people — uJma◊ß” (pg. 11, Baptism in the Holy Spirit).
One notes further that when a verb or verbal is associated with e˙n followed by two prepositional objects, as in the aujto\ß uJma◊ß bapti÷sei e˙n Pneu/mati ÔAgi÷wˆ kai« puri÷ of Matthew 3:11, the two objects are in the NT either universally or close to universally temporally simultaneous. For example, in John 4:24’s tou\ß proskunouvntaß aujto/n, e˙n pneu/mati kai« aÓlhqei÷aˆ dei√ proskunei√n, worship in both spirit and truth takes place at the same time. In Matthew 4:16’s toi√ß kaqhme÷noiß e˙n cw¿raˆ kai« skiaˆ◊ qana¿tou, the people sat in both the region and shadow of death at the same time. In Luke 4:36, e˙n e˙xousi÷aˆ kai« duna¿mei e˙pita¿ssei toi√ß aÓkaqa¿rtoiß pneu/masi, Christ commanded the unclean spirits with both authority and power at the same moment. The syntax of Matthew 3:11 is thus in favor of the view that the baptism of the Spirit and of fire takes place at the same time—the day of Pentecost in Acts 2. To make the baptism of the Spirit a Pentecostal phenomenon and the baptism of fire a much later act of casting the lost into the lake of fire does not suit the syntax nearly as well. There is no way that one can make Christ’s baptism with the Spirit happen at the same time as the judgment of the lost in hell. Compare the syntax of Matthew 3:11 to Matthew 4:16; Luke 4:36; 7:25; John 4:24; Acts 2:46; Ephesians 1:8; 4:24; 6:4, 18; Colossians 1:9; 2:18, 23; 1 Thessalonians 4:4; 2 Thessalonians 2:13, 17; 3:8; 1 Timothy 2:2, 7; 2 Timothy 1:13; 4:2; 2 Peter 3:11; Revelation 18:16.
The natural association in Matthew 3:11 explains the presence of the view that the baptism of the Holy Ghost and of fire refers to the single event of Pentecost in the patristic period. “Moreover, Christ is said to baptize with fire: because in the form of flaming tongues He poured forth on His holy disciples the grace of the Spirit: as the Lord Himself says, John truly baptized with water: but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit and with fire, not many days hence” (John of Damascus, An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, IV:9). Lampe mentions texts where Origin, Cyril of Alexandria, Maximus Confessor, and Didymus of Alexandria interpret as identical the baptism of the Spirit and fire (ba¿ptisma, IX, Patristic Greek Lexicon, ed. G. W. Lampe). Of course, this is not the only view found in the significant doctrinal and practical diversity of extant patristic writers. Basil, On the Spirit, 15:36, refers the baptism of fire to the eschatological judgment of believers, alluding to 1 Corinthians 3:13, a view also expressed as a possibility by John of Damascus following the quotation from IV:9 of An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith above. Unfortunately, this patristic view of fire baptism as eschatological instead of Pentecostal may be a reference to the developing doctrine of purgatory; compare Gregory Nazianzen, Orations 39:19. Taking a different view, Eusebius, following Origen, refers to martyrdom as baptism by fire (Church History, 6:4:3; cf. Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church (New York, NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1910), Volume 2, Ante-Nicene Christianity, 2:27). While a comprehensive analysis of all extant patristic literature was not undertaken, neither the works represented in the Church Fathers: Translations of The Writings of the Fathers Down to A.D. 325, ed. Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson, nor in A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, ed. Philip Schaff, series I & II, (elec. acc. Accordance Bible Software; orig. elec. text in the Christian Classics Ethereal Library) give any evidence for the view that fire baptism was reserved for those who did not receive Spirit baptism, and thus that the baptism of fire was specifically the damnation of the lost, nor does Lampe indicate the existence of such a view in the patristic period (cf. ba¿ptisma, IX, Patristic Greek Lexicon, ed. G. W. Lampe).
As the view that the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost took place at Pentecost is extant in the patristic period, so in the medieval period Anabaptists affirmed that just as water baptism “can pertain to none but the intelligent and believing,” so “the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost . . . was administered to the apostles by God Himself from heaven, [and] this did not at all relate to infants, seeing that all who were thus baptized, spake with tongues and magnified God. Acts 2:3, 4” (pg. 234, The Martyr’s Mirror, Thieleman J. Van Braght. 2nd Eng. ed. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1999).
 Of course, this must not be taken to imply that John the Baptist did not truly say the actual words in the different gospels, but rather that the NT writers, under inspiration, did not record the “and fire” phrase.
 As explicated in later posts on Spirit baptism in Acts.
Consider also the related comments of John Owen, commenting on the descent of the Spirit on Christ in the form of a dove, and on His coming upon the church at Pentecost:
The shape [of the Spirit] that appeared was that of a dove, but the substance itself, I judge, was of a fiery nature, an ethereal substance, shaped into the form or resemblance of a dove. It had the shape of a dove, but not the appearance of feathers, colors, or the like. This also rendered the appearance the more visible, conspicuous, heavenly, and glorious. And the Holy Ghost is often compared to fire, because he was of old typified or represented thereby; for on the first solemn offering of sacrifices there came fire from the Lord for the kindling of them. Hence Theodotion of old rendered hOÎwh◊y, Genesis 4:4, “The LORD had respect unto Abel, and to his offering,” by ‘Enepu/risen oJ qeo/ß, “God fired the offering of Abel;” sent down fire that kindled his sacrifice as a token of his acceptance.
However, it is certain that at the first erection of the altar in the wilderness, upon the first sacrifices, “fire came out from before the LORD, and consumed upon the altar the burnt-offering and the fat; which when all the people saw, they shouted, and fell on their faces,” Leviticus 9:24. And the fire kindled hereby was to be perpetuated on the altar, so that none was ever to be used in sacrifice but what was traduced from it. For a neglect of this intimation of the mind of God were Nadab and Abihu consumed, Leviticus 10:1, 2. So was it also upon the dedication of the altar in the temple of Solomon: “Fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt-offering and the sacrifices,” 2 Chronicles 7:1; and a fire thence kindled was always kept burning on the altar. And in like manner God bare testimony to the ministry of Elijah, 1 Kings 18:38, 39. God by all these signified that no sacrifices were accepted with him where faith was not kindled in the heart of the offerer by the Holy Ghost, represented by the fire that kindled the sacrifices on the altar. And in answer hereunto is our Lord Jesus Christ said to offer himself “through the eternal Spirit,” Hebrews 9:14. It was, therefore, most probably a fiery appearance [of the dove] that was made. And in the next bodily shape which he assumed it is expressly said that it was fiery: Acts 2:3, “There appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire;” which was the visible token of the coming of the Holy Ghost upon them. And he chose, then, that figure of tongues to denote the assistance which, by the miraculous gift of speaking with divers tongues, together with wisdom and utterance, he furnished them withal for the publication of the gospel. And thus, also, the Lord Christ is said to “baptize with the Holy Ghost and with fire,” Matthew 3:11. Not two things are intended, but the latter words, “and with fire,” are added e˙xhghtikwvß, and the expression is e˚n dia\ duoivn, — with the Holy Ghost, who is a spiritual, divine, eternal fire. So God absolutely is said to be a “consuming fire,” Hebrews 12:29, Deuteronomy 4:24. And as in these words, “He shall baptize with the Holy Ghost and with fire,” there is a prospect unto what came to pass afterward, when the apostles received the Holy Ghost with a visible pledge of fiery tongues, so there seems to be a retrospect, by way of allusion unto what is recorded, Isaiah 6:6, 7; for a living or “fiery coal from the altar,” where the fire represented the Holy Ghost, or his work and grace, having touched the lips of his prophet, his sin was taken away, both as to the guilt and filth of it. And this is the work of the Holy Ghost, who not only sanctifieth us, but, by ingenerating faith in us, and the application of the promise unto us, is the cause and means of our justification also, 1 Corinthians 6:11, Titus 3:4-7, whereby our sins on both accounts are taken away. So also his efficacy in other places is compared unto fire and burning: Isaiah 4:4, 5, “When the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion, and shall have purged the blood of Jerusalem from the midst thereof, by the spirit of judgment, and by the spirit of burning.” He is compared both to fire and water, with respect unto the same cleansing virtue in both. So also Malachi 3:2. Hence, as this is expressed by “the Holy Ghost and fire” in two evangelists, Matthew 3:11, Luke 3:16; so in the other two there is mention only of the “Holy Ghost,” Mark 1:8, John 1:33, the same thing being intended (pgs. 98-100, Pneumatologia: A Discourse Concerning the Holy Spirit, elec. acc. Christian Library Series vol. 9, John Owen Collection. Rio, WI: AGES Digital Software, 2005).