In One Spirit

By Ron Daly

The expression “in one Spirit” (en heni pneumati) occurs in I Corinthians 12:13, which in the ASV reads, “For in one Spirit were we all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether bond or free; and were all made to drink of one Spirit.”

I Corinthians 12, 13. and 14 comprise one context in which Paul discusses the distribution, duration, and pro-per use of spiritual gifts. He informs the saints in Corinth that the gifts are not given for selfish ends which culminate in contentious rivalry but for the edification, growth, and stability of the body of Christ, as each member supplies his part by working in love.

The meaning of verse 13, relates directly to the correct interpretation of “in one Spirit.” Some of the Pentecostal movement insist that the expression designates the Spirit as the substance or element “in” which or “with” which one is immersed; hence, they see “Holy Spirit baptism,” a miraculous element, in the text. But, 1 believe their presupposition is invalid. The phrase “in one Spirit” does not indicate the “element” or “substance” “in” which or “with” which one is immersed in this text; rather it designates the Holy Spirit as the agent of the immersion.

How can we know that “in one Spirit” expresses agency? We should always look for similar phraseology by the same writer in the immediate context of the text under investigation, or in his other writings relating to the same subject. The context of chapter 12 supplies the answer as to the proper meaning and interpretation of the phrase “in one Spirit.”

“In one Spirit” (en heni pneumati) is a prepositional phrase, the preposition is en, which is used with (followed by) the dative singular form of the noun pneuma, which has as its modifier the dative neuter singular adjective, heni, grammatical form of heis.

Often prepositional phrases and their interpretation do make a difference in the meaning of a whole text.’ The Greek preposition en can have peculiar usages which are theologically important’ depending on the context and intent of the inspired writer. It is agreed by nearly all experts of Hellenistic Greek that en can mean “in, on, at, near, before, among, within, into, and by.”‘ In order to ascertain which of these uses we may ascribe to en we must closely examine the con-text, syntax, and look for identical or similar constructions by the same writer. In translating the phrase en heni pneumati, “by one Spirit” is to be preferred over “in one Spirit,” and we are using the word “by” as a preposition expressing “means or agency: through the means, work, or operation. And, I present the following reasons as the basis of my conclusion.

First the Spirit is not here indicated as the substance or element “in” or “with” which one is immersed because it is affirmed by the text “en heni pneumati were we all (pantes) immersed into one body.” But, the “immersion of the Spirit” was not promised to all, and therefore was not received by all (Acts 1:1-8,26; 2:1-4; 10:44-48; 11:12-18; 15:7-9).

Second, apart from 12:13 Paul uses en with the dative in the context four times: “speaking in the Spirit of God,” en pneumati theou la/on (v. 3a), “in the Holy Spirit,” en pneumati hagio (v. 3b), “in the same Spirit,” en to auto pneumati (v. 9a), “in the one Spirit,” en to heni pneumati (v. 9b). There should be uniformity in translating en in all of these instances, and most recent translations use “by” instead of “in” for en in all of these cases.’

Third, also, in the context, Paul attributes actions to the Holy Spirit as an agent, not as the substance or element! “Speaking in the Spirit” he is the one by whose agency the person speaks  the Spirit effects the speaking. “No man can say Jesus is Lord, but in the Holy Spirit”  the Holy Spirit is the agent who reveals the credible evidence by written and spoken testimony concerning the nature, claims, and authority of Christ (v. 3b; Jn. 20:30-31). “The word of wisdom is given through the Spirit,” dia tou pneumatos, (v. 8), by means of his agency. The Spirit, in the distribution of spiritual gifts was “dividing to each one severally even as he will,” hekasto kathos bouletai  as he determined  he was the active agent.

Since each of the preceding actions is ascribed to the performance of the Holy Spirit in the context which includes 12:13, then why cannot en heni pneumati express agency or some act performed by the Holy Spirit, especially since the same grammatical construction exists?

What was the Holy Spirit’s specific role in the scheme of redemption? To be the agent of the Godhead in the revealing of divine truth. Jesus called him “the Spirit of truth” (Jn. 14:17; 15:26; 16:13), who would “bring to the remembrance” of the apostles, the words of Christ, and “teaching them all things” On. 14:26), and he would “bear witness” through them, as he would be “guiding” them into all the truth, “declaring” things that were coming, and by means of these functions, he would “convict” the world of sin On. 15:26; 16:12-13) through apostolic preaching and teaching.

Sometimes an action is attributed to one person, yet through the figure of speech known as metonymy it is accomplished through another person or thing (cf. Lk. 16:29-31; Jn. 4:1-2; Acts 8:30).

Fourth, the consequence of en heni pneumati was “we were all immersed into one body.” This shows that the expression does not refer to the “immersion of the Spirit,” for it was not by such an act that believers gained entrance into the body of Christ! Entering the company of the saved, i.e. body of Christ, was the result of immersion in water which was commanded by the Spirit through the apostles and New Testament prophets (Acts 2:38; 10:47-48; Rom. 6:3-4; Gal. 3:27; Eph. 5:26).

An expanded paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 12:13 which would do no injustice to the text in its context could be worded as follows: “Brethren, let all of us be united in our use of the gifts of the Spirit, for by the revelation of truth given by one Spirit, and our obedience to it, we were immersed into (and comprise) one (spiritual) body, regardless of whether we are Jews or Greeks, nor does it matter whether we are slaves or freedmen; and we were all (without exception) made to drink richly of the gifts of one Spirit.”

So, the element in which the Corinthians were immersed is water (Acts 18:8; 10:47-48). The one by whose hands at least some of them were immersed was Paul (Acts 18:5-8; 1 Cor. 1:1,14-16). The instrument which affected their salvation in being immersed was “Paul’s speaking” (Acts 18:8-10; 1 Cor. 1:17,18-21; 2:1-7). The word of God is what he spoke unto them. The ultimate agent underlying Paul’s work, that gave him the gospel to preach, and the one whose word instructed them of their need for immersion was the Lord “by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 14:37; 2:9-14). Reasoning inductively, we therefore conclude that the Holy Spirit, by revealing the word of truth through the apostles and prophets, taught the Corinthians the necessity of immersion, and he is the agent that caused them to be immersed into one body.


New Testament Exegesis, Gordon D. Fee, The Westminster Press, 1983, p. 82, Section 3.3.4.

‘Grammatical Insights Into the New Testament, Nigel Turner, T & T Clark, 1983, pp. 118-119.

‘Cf. The following grammars of New Testament Greek: A Manual Grammar, Dana and Mantey. McMillan, 1957, p. 105, Section 112, A Short Syntax of New Testament Greek, H.P.V. Nunn, Cambridge University Press, 1973, p. 30, Syntax of New Testament Greek, Brooks and Winbery, University Press of American, 1979, pp. 29-45, An Exegetical Grammar of the Greek New Testament, W.D. Chamberlain, Baker Book House, 1984, pp. 34,35,118,119, Grammar of New Testament Greek, Vol. III, Syntax, Nigel Turner, 1963, T & T Clark, 1963, pp. 236-244, Gram-mar of New Testament Greek, G.B. Winer, T & T Clark, 1877, pp. 480-488, A Grammar of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, Blass, Debrunner, Funk, University of Chicago Press, 1975, pp. 117, 118, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research, A.T. Robertson, Broadman Press, 1934, pp. 584-591. Also, see the following Greek Lexicons: A Greek-English Lexicon, Louw and Nida, UBS, 1990, Vol. I, p. 798, Sections 90:6 and 90:10, et. al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, J.H. Thayer, Zondervan, 1979, pp. 209-213, Bauer, Arndt-Gingrich, University of Chicago Press, 1959, pp. 257-261.

‘Webster’s New World Dictionary, Second College Edition, World Publishing Company, 1970, p. 194.

‘The Simple English Bible, The New Revised Standard Version (uses “by” in each place except 12:13), Revised Standard Version, New American Standard Bible, (uses “by” in all instances with the marginal note “or, in”) King James Version, New International Version, The New King James Version.

Guardian of Truth XXXVII: 14, p. 8-9
July 15, 1993