By Johnny Stringer
When John the Baptist was baptizing people in the Jordan River, he affirmed that Jesus, being far greater than he, would administer two baptisms which he could not administer. Whereas John baptized in water, Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire (Matt. 3:11). The baptism of the Holy Spirit is of great interest to religious people, and there are those today who are convinced that they have received this baptism. Hence, it is important that we examine the scriptural teaching on this subject.
Some believe that the fire which John mentioned (Matt. 3:11) is connected with the baptism of the Holy Spirit. This is not so, for John was in the midst of a discussion of judgment in which fire was the means of punishment. He was specifically addressing Pharisees and Sadducees, urging these wicked people to produce good fruit (vv. 7-9). In verse 10, he warned of the punishment they would receive if they failed to bring forth good fruit, affirming that a tree that does not produce good fruit is cut down and cast into fire. Having said that, he spoke of Jesus’ ability to baptize with fire (v. 11). Then, in verse 12, he pictured Jesus as one who would separate the wheat from the chaff, and burn the chaff with unquenchable fire. This was a picture of judgment. It is obvious, therefore, that the fire discussed in this context is the fire of punishment. The fire of verse 11 is the same as the fire of verses 10 and 12. In verses 10-12, John spoke of fire three times. The first and last time obviously refer to the fire of punishment; it is to ignore the context to deny that the same is true of the fire in verse 11. It is a horrible thought to be baptized (immersed) in fire. John was warning the Pharisees and Sadducees that Jesus would indeed do this to those who did not bring forth good fruit.
John also mentioned that Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit. To be immersed with the Spirit would be to receive abundant and overwhelming spiritual influences. John was indefinite as to whom Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit. Obviously, not all in his audience would be, for some would be immersed with fire because of their failure to bring forth good fruit. John’s audience was mixed. Some would receive the baptism of fire; others would receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit. John’s purpose waste not to identify specifically who would receive each baptism; rather, his purpose was to stress that Jesus would administer two baptisms which he himself could not administer.
Promised and Given to Apostles
To learn specifically who would receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit, we must look to Acts 1 and 2. Acts 1:1-8 deals with what Jesus told His apostles after His resurrection, before He ascended into Heaven. It is made clear in the first four verses that Jesus was talking to His apostles. Speaking to the apostles, Jesus told them that they would soon be baptized with the Holy Spirit, and that they were to wait in Jerusalem for the fulfilment of that promise (vv. 4-5, 8). It is significant that the baptism of the Holy Spirit was never promised to any specific persons other than the apostles. The remaining part of chapter 1 discusses the ascension of Jesus and the activities of the apostles in Jerusalem as they waited for the baptism of the Holy Spirit which had been promised them.
In chapter 2, we read that they received that for which they had been waiting – the baptism of the Holy Spirit. On the day of Pentecost (a Jewish holy day) they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. The Spirit’s coming resulted in a sound like a mighty wind, the appearance of cloven tongues like fire, and the ability to speak in tongues. Verses 5-I1 make it quite clear that the word “tongues” in this passages means “languages.” The apostles were miraculously enabled to speak in foreign languages which they would have been unable to speak without the Spirit’s aid. Sometimes we use the word “tongue” to mean “language.” For example, we might say that Spanish is someone’s native tongue.
It was only the apostles who received the baptism of the Holy Spirit on that day. Since there were 120 disciples together in Jerusalem (Acts 1:15), some maintain that all 120 received the baptism of the Spirit on Pentecost. This is false. In the first place, Jesus clearly did not promise it to all 120, but to the apostles only (Acts 1:1-8). In the second place, when Acts 2:1-4 says that they were all with one accord in one place and were all filled with the Holy Spirit, the ones referred to as “they” are the apostles. This is seen by reading the last verse of chapter 1. Note how the passage reads, beginning with the last verse of chapter 1: “And they gave forth their lots; and the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles. And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place . . . . And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost” (Acts 1:26-2:4). In the third place, the apostles are the ones mentioned in the discussion regarding the things that took place on Pentecost. Verse 14 says that Peter stood up with the eleven. Verse 37 says that the people addressed their question to the apostles. If all 120 disciples received the same thing the apostles did, why did the people address their question to the apostles only? In the fourth place, while it is plain that the apostles received the baptism of the Holy Spirit, those who claim that all 120 received it cannot give one scintilla of evidence that they did. Actually, it is not my obligation to prove that the 120 did not receive it; it is their obligation to prove that the 120 did receive it. Until they do so, I cannot accept their groundless assertion.
There are those who believe that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is for all Christians. Where is the passage that says so? They cannot produce it. We read of the promise being made to the apostles and we read of the apostles receiving the baptism of the Spirit, but there is no scriptural promise that all Christians would receive it. Those who claim to receive it today should note that the baptism of the Holy Spirit resulted in certain effects which could be seen and heard by observers (Acts 2:33). If these effects are not seen and heard when they claim to receive the baptism of the Spirit, we are compelled to deny that they have received it. The effects on Pentecost included a sound like a mighty wind, the appearance of tongues like fire, and the ability to speak in foreign languages. These effects are not seen and heard today. Nonsensical jabbering is heard, but that is not a 42nd cousin to the tongue speaking of Acts 2. Experts in language who have tested modern day “tongue-speakers” confirm that they speak no language whatever.
Finally, it should be noted that baptism of the Holy Spirit is not the baptism which saves and is involved in conversion. Whereas Christ administered baptism of the Holy Spirit, the baptism taught in the Great Commission as being necessary for salvation is administered by men, not by Christ (Matt. 28:18-20; Mk. 16:16). Furthermore, whereas the baptism of the Holy Spirit was a promise simply to be received and enjoyed (Acts 1:4), the baptism that saves is a thing which we are commanded to do (Acts 2:38). Also, a study of Acts 8:35-39 clearly reveals that the baptism involved in conversion is water baptism. In enumerating the various things which Christians have in common, Paul said there was one baptism (Eph. 4:4-6). There is only one baptism which we all have in common; that is not Holy Spirit baptism, but water baptism.
Although Christians we read about in the New Testament generally did not receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit, many did receive the Spirit so as to have supernatural powers. Our next article will discuss these.
Guardian of Truth XXV: 18, pp. 279-280
April 30, 1981