Was Spirit baptism a completed historical phenomenon at the time Paul wrote 1 Corinthians, or is it a event that takes place regularly throughout the entire dispensation of grace?
Paul’s indication in his epistle to the Ephesians that there was but “one baptism” (Ephesians 4:5) demonstrates that by the time of the composition of that epistle, c. A. D. 57-62, Spirit baptism was a completed historical phenomenon and only immersion in water remained for the rest of the age of grace. The cessation of Spirit baptism had already taken place when 1 Corinthians had been written, c. A. D. 54, for following the events of Acts 19:1-7 (or, more properly, after Acts 2 itself) Spirit baptism, having fulfilled its purpose, ended.[i] The Jews, Samaritans, and Gentiles having received the Spirit (Acts 1:5, 8; 2; 8; 10; 19), the dispensational transition connected to the baptism of the Holy Ghost was completed and all believers subsequently received the Spirit immediately at the moment of regeneration (Romans 8:9). Christ baptizes no further groups or individuals with the Spirit. While Spirit baptism was a transitional event, and nothing in Scripture states or hints that it would continue until the end of the church age, the Lord Jesus specifically declared that water baptism would continue to be practiced by His church until His return (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16). For the entirety of the dispensation of grace immersion in water is commanded, but no such command is found for the transitional and passing event of Spirit baptism. “Repent and be baptized” in water (Acts 2:38, 41; 8:12, 36-39; 16:13-15, 32-33; 18:8; 22:16) is the continuing, enduring order from heaven, and refusal to do so is to reject the counsel of God (Luke 7:29-30). Thus, when Ephesians 4:5 indicates that one baptism, not two,[ii] was extant at the time of its composition, Spirit baptism must by that time have passed away. Water baptism could not have ceased, since it is to continue until the return of Christ and is mentioned in epistles composed after Ephesians (cf. 1 Peter 3:21). Were both water and Spirit baptism continuing events at the time the book of Ephesians was written, Ephesians 4:5 would have read, “one Lord, one faith, two baptisms.” Ephesians 4:5, therefore, demonstrates that Spirit baptism had ceased. This cessation of Spirit baptism also explains the entire absence of reference to it as an ongoing work in the New Testament epistles—indeed, to an almost total absence of reference to Spirit baptism in the epistles at all.[iii]
The UCD (universal church dispensational) view that 1 Corinthians 12:13 refers to the Holy Spirit baptizing believers into the universal church, the body of Christ, cannot be sustained. Scripture teaches that there is no universal church for the Holy Spirit to baptize believers into. Christ, not the Holy Ghost, is the agent in Spirit baptism. Spirit baptism had already ceased at the time 1 Corinthians was written, never again to take place during the church age, while water baptism was both ongoing in 1 Corinthians itself (cf. 1:14ff.) and enduring until the return of Christ. The historic Baptist view of Spirit baptism avoids the problems of the UCD view, for it is the position taught in the Bible.
[i] 1 Corinthians appears to have been written in the time period described in Acts 19:22-23, when Paul “stayed in Asia for a season,” and thus after the final event of Spirit baptism in Acts 19:1-7. Perhaps Paul’s recognition of the conclusion of Spirit baptism explains his employment of the middle voice pau/sontai for the glossolalia, in contrast to the passive katarghqh/sontai for the revelatory gifts of prophecy and knowledge that ended (cf. “1 Corinthians 13:8-13 and the Cessation of Miraculous Gifts,” R. Bruce Compton, Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal (2004) 97-144) with the completion of the canon.
It would be invalid to argue for a continuing action of Spirit baptism throughout the dispensation of grace based on the fact that Christ is called in oJ bapti÷zwn e˙n Pneu/mati ÔAgi÷wˆ John 1:33, employing a present participle. The declaration is a statement of God the Father recorded within the speech of John. The phrase, within its context, is: kaÓgw» oujk hØ¡dein aujto/n: aÓll∆ oJ pe÷myaß me bapti÷zein e˙n u¢dati, e˙kei√no/ß moi ei•pen, ∆Ef∆ o§n a·n i¶dhØß to\ Pneuvma katabai√non kai« me÷non e˙p∆ aujto/n, ou∞to/ß e˙stin oJ bapti÷zwn e˙n Pneu/mati ÔAgi÷wˆ. One could make a case for the participle fitting within the category of the futuristic present (pgs. 535-537, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, Daniel Wallace). Alternatively, one could say that the present participle is actually a simple gnomic present. The phrase ou∞to/ß e˙stin oJ bapti÷zwn e˙n Pneu/mati ÔAgi÷wˆ fits all the distinguishing marks of the gnomic category, which makes “a statement of a general, timeless fact. . . . in . . . general maxims about what occurs at all times. . . . [It] is generally atemporal” (pg. 523, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, Daniel Wallace). However, it appears most likely that the present participle is employed as a vivid description of the future action of the Messiah. Note that God had said, ∆Ef∆ o§n a·n i¶dhØß to\ Pneuvma katabai√non, employing an aorist for the action of John seeing the Spirit descend, although at the time God spoke to John the action of the Spirit’s descent on Christ was yet future. In any case, no temporal idea of Christ repeatedly or once-for-all baptizing is the force of the text. Rather, the articular present participle simply indicates that the Messiah, rather than someone else, is the One who is to perform Spirit baptism. The use is similar to the only other instance of oJ bapti÷zwn in Scripture, where the phrase describes John as “the Baptist,” ∆Iwa¿nnhß oJ bapti÷zwn. John’s disciples did not baptize—John alone had authority from heaven (Matthew 21:25) to do so, and he was consequently the unique one who performed his baptism. Similarly, the Lord Jesus is the only One who has the power to perform Spirit baptism.
Note that the only reference to oJ bapti÷zwn in the apostolic patristic writings is impossible to interpret as a repeated or continuing action—the articular participle refers to an individual who is going to baptize one other person. (Didache 7:4: “And before the baptism, let the one baptizing [oJ bapti÷zwn, present participle] and the one who is to be baptized [oJ baptizo/menoß, present participle] fast, as well as any others who are able. Also, you must instruct the one who is to be baptized [to\n baptizo/menon, present participle] to fast for one or two days beforehand.” Both the one baptizing and the one being baptized only act one time, not repeatedly. Compare the present infinitive to\ bapti÷zesqai in Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypo 46 for the single act of ritual bathing after ritual defilement.
Even if one wished to dispute the classification of oJ bapti÷zwn in John 1:33 as employed for vividness, and likewise rejected a classification of the present as gnomic, since it is obvious on the historic Baptist, UCD, and PCP positions that Spirit baptism did not take place before Pentecost, an argument built upon the present tense in John 1:33 would prove too much—it would lead to the conclusion that Christ, before Pentecost, was already baptizing with the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, the fact that Christ will baptize believing Israel with the Holy Ghost in the Tribulation period, as recorded in Joel 2:28-32, could have been excluded from the verse had an aorist been employed, not to mention the several records of the Spirit’s coming in Acts 2, 8, 10, and 19. Certainly no ground against the historic Baptist view, or in favor of either the UCD or PCP position, is gained by the oJ bapti÷zwn of John 1:33.
[ii] Indeed, that there was but one baptism would also suggest that fire baptism was not going on at the time the book of Ephesians was written, supporting the view that the baptism of fire is synonymous with the historically completed act of Spirit baptism. If the baptism of fire took place daily as men were cast into hell, then it would certainly appear that there was more than one baptism at the time the book of Ephesians was written. While it is true that an advocate of equating fire baptism with eternal damnation could argue that the baptism of fire did not pertain to the church at Ephesus, as it was composed of regenerated individuals, the fact that there were false professors in the membership of the Ephesian church (cf. Acts 20:29-31) who would, if fire baptism is hell fire, certainly experience it, demonstrates (as do other considerations) that Ephesians 4:5 provides at least some additional support for equating Spirit and fire baptism and viewing them both as a completed event fulfilled in Acts 2.
[iii] Titus 3:6, alluding to the outpouring on Pentecost, is the solitary reference of any kind whatever to Spirit baptism in the epistles. All other alleged references (as demonstrated below) refer to immersion in water.