Baptism: A Response of Faith


There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:4-6)

Paul wrote that there is “one baptism” (Ephesians 4:5). The two baptisms which are usually considered to qualify as this “one baptism” are baptism in the Holy Spirit and baptism in water. By making a comparison between the two baptisms, we are able to determine which was the “one baptism” that was still in force when Paul wrote the book of Ephesians and would continue for all nations throughout the following centuries. The answers to the following questions will help us draw a conclusion:

1. Who administered baptism with the Holy Spirit, and who administered water baptism?

John stated that the One coming after him – Jesus – would baptize with the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:11). Jesus told His disciples to make disciples of all nations by baptizing them (Matthew 28:19). Any baptism administered by man is water baptism, for man did not, has not, and cannot administer baptism with the Holy Spirit. Further, Jesus did not administer water baptism (John 4:2); any baptism administered by Jesus is Holy Spirit baptism.

2. Who was to receive baptism with the Holy Spirit and who was to receive water baptism?

Baptism in the Holy Spirit was promised only to the apostles. In considering the pronouns, the apostles can be seen as the ones t whom Jesus was speaking in Acts 1:2-5. The “apostles” were the ones to whom Jesus had given commandments (v. 2). To “these” He showed Himself alive, appearing to “them” He commanded “them” – the apostles – to wait for what the Father promised (v. 4) and said to them, “You will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now” (v. 5).

Earlier, during the Last Supper (John 13:2,4), Jesus had spoken privately to His apostles (Matthew 26:20; Luke 22:14). He had promised them that they would be given the Holy Spirit. The Spirit would teach them all things, bring to their minds all that Jesus had said, and guide them into all truth (John 14:25, 26; 15:26; 16:12,13). This was said only to the apostles because He said that He said this to them while “abiding with” them (John 14:25); “they had been with Him from the beginning” (John 15:27); and they were not able at that time to bear what He wanted to say (John 16:12).

On the Day of Pentecost the apostles were the ones who received the Holy Spirit. This conclusion can be drawn for the following reasons. (1) They are the ones last mentioned in Acts 1:26 and thus the “they” of Acts 2:1. (2) The apostles were standing with Peter when He addressed the crowd (Acts 2:14). (3) Peter defended those standing with him by saying that they were not drunk (Acts 2:15). (4) Those who were being accused of being drunk were those who, because they had been filled with the Holy Spirit, were speaking in other tongues (Acts 2:13, compare with v. 4). (5) All those standing with Peter were witnesses of the resurrection (Acts 2:32). The apostles were the special witnesses of the resurrection (Acts 1:20, 21; 4:33; 10:39-41). (6) The multitude (Acts 2:6) asked the apostles what to do (Acts 2:37), evidently because they were the ones who had been speaking to them. (7) The apostles were the ones exercising the miraculous powers (Acts 2:43) that had been promised through the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8). The church who had been promised to be taught all things and guided into all truth.

Even though baptism with the Holy Spirit was for the apostles, God made an exception by also baptizing the first Gentile Christians with the Holy Spirit. He did this to show: (1) The choice to preach the gospel to the Gentiles was God’s, not Peter’s or any other man’s (Acts 15:7-9). (2) Salvation was to be offered to the Gentiles (Acts 10:47, 48; Mark 16:16). (3) This showed that God would accept the Gentile – not as second-rate Christians, but as Christians of equal status with Jewish Christians (Acts 11:15-17).

The apostles and Cornelius, with his family and friends, are the only ones recorded in the Scriptures as having been baptized with the Holy Spirit. We may assume that Paul also was baptized with the Holy Spirit, because he said, “In no respect was I inferior to the most eminent apostles” and that he miracles he did were “signs of a true apostle” (2 Corinthians 12:11, 12). He had the same powers that the other apostles had received through the baptism in the Holy Spirit.

Jesus stated that water baptism was for all nations and all creation (Matthew 28:19; Mark 16:15, 16). Baptism in the Holy Spirit is recorded to have happened only two times. Wherever the gospel was preached, people received water baptism (Acts 2:41; 8:12, 38, 39; 9:18; 10:47, 48; 16:15, 33; 19:5). We can conclude these refer to water baptism and not baptism with the Holy Spirit because Luke stated that they were done in water or that they were administered by men. Peter’s writings (1 Peter 3:21) and Paul’s letters indicate that all Christians received water baptism (Romans 6:3, 4; 1 Corinthians 1:13; Galatians 3:27; Colossians 2:12).

3. How was baptism with the Holy Spirit administered, and how was water baptism administered?

Holy Spirit baptism was administered by the Lord, who poured out the Holy Spirit on the apostles and the first Gentile converts (Matthew 3:11; Acts 2:4, 17; 10:45). Water baptism was administered with human hands, by burying people in water and bringing them our of the water (Acts 8:38, 39; Romans 6:4; Colossians 2:12).

4. In whose name was baptism with the Holy Spirit and water baptism administered?

Jesus said that the Father would send the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ name, meaning by Jesus’ authority (John 14:26). Jesus instructed His followers to administer water baptism “in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). By doing so they administered water baptism in Jesus’ name, according to His authority.
5. What were the requirements in order to receive baptism with the Holy Spirit and water baptism?

Before they received baptism with the Holy Spirit, the apostles were required to wait in Jerusalem (Acts 1:4, 5). No such waiting was required of Cornelius, or of his family and friends (Acts 10:47-48). God sent the Spirit directly to them without andy qualifying action on their part. NO spiritual requirements were placed on those who received the Holy Spirit.

In order to receive water baptism, we are to hear God’s Word (Acts 8:12; 18:8), believe in Jesus (Mark 16:16), repent of our sins (Acts 2:38), confess faith in Jesus (Romans 10:9, 10). For those who have done these, no waiting is required (Acts 2:41; 8:12, 35-39; 16:33; 22:16; see 9:18).

6. On what basis are these baptisms received?

Baptism with the Holy Spirit was received as a promise (Acts 1:4,5). Water baptism is to be obeyed as a command (Acts 10:48). This means that whenever a baptism is commanded or received as a command, it must be water baptism. Receiving water baptism depends on our obeying the will of Jesus. Baptism with the Holy Spirit depended on Jesus. If Jesus does not give us this baptism, it is not our fault; rather, it is His choice. Our physical or spiritual actions cannot give us the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

7. Who received baptism with the Holy Spirit and who received water baptism?

Jesus gave the promised Holy Spirit to the apostles (Acts 1:1-8) during the Pentecost feast (Acts 1:26-2:6, 14, 37). (Later, this occasion was said to be “the beginning”; Acts 11:15.) He also baptized Cornelius’ household with the Holy Spirit (Acts 11:15-18; see 10:24). These two times are the only cases of baptism in the Holy Spirit baptism recorded in the Bible.

Some significance must be placed on the fact that when Peter witnessed the Gentiles; baptism with the Holy Spirit, he said that “the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as He did upon us at the beginning” (Acts 11:15). He did not say that the Spirit fell on them as He had ben falling on new Christians all along. He referred to the baptism with the Holy Spirit which the apostles had received in the beginning (Acts 2:4).

In agreement with this, Frederick Dale Bruner wrote concerning Peter’s statement:

He stresses that the Holy Spirit had come upon the Cornelius household “just as on us at the beginning” (v. 15). This remark is important. Peter does not say the Holy Spirit came upon Cornelius’ household “just as he always does with everyone.” Had Peter said this we would have to suppose that in the earliest church the Holy Spirit was always, or at least normally, given with the speaking in tongues. Gut that the only parallel Peter knows to draw to Caesarea is what had happened “at the beginning” reinforces the probability that after Pentecost the Pentecost manifestations were not only no t normative but probably not known. Frederick Dale Bruner, A Theology of the Holy Spirit: The Pentecostal Experience and the New Testament Witness (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1970), 194.

Later, Peter referred to this event by pointing out that “in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles would hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, testified to them giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us” (Acts 15:7, 8). In order to convince the brethren in Jerusalem that the Gentiles should be accepted, Peter did not state that the coming of the Spirit was an ongoing event for the Gentiles. Instead, he found it necessary to refer to the one time event for the Gentiles, when Cornelius’ household and friends were baptized with the Holy Spirit. For these reasons, the conclusion should be drawn that baptism with the Holy Spirit was not an ongoing event, but rather happened on only two different occasions: on the Day of Pentecost, when the apostles were baptized with the Holy Spirit, and when the door of salvation was first opened to the Gentiles. (Perhaps Paul should be included as mentioned above, 2 Corinthians 12:11, 12.)

Water baptism was administered to people of all nations. Read Acts 2:41; 8:12, 13, 38; 9:18; 10:48; 16:15, 33; 18:8; 19:5 22:16. These are obviously cases of water baptism, as is seen in the fact that those who were baptized were baptized by man and/ or were obeying a command. Other cases are found in the letters (Romans 6:3, 4; 1 Corinthians 2:12; 1 Peter 3:21).

8. What was the purpose of baptism with the Holy Spirit, and what was the purpose of water baptism?

The purpose of baptism with the Holy Spirit was to give the apostles power (Acts 1:8), to confirm the Word (Mark 16:20; Hebrews 2:3, 4), and to reveal the words of Jesus (John 14:26; 16:13). It prepared the apostles as special representatives of Jesus, for it enabled them to confirm their office with exclusive signs (2 Corinthians 12:12).

9. What results followed the two baptisms?

Through baptism with the Holy Spirit, the apostles performed miracles and were given God’s Word directly (Ephesians 3:3-5). Because the Gentiles were baptized with the Holy Spirit, Peter was willing to offer them baptism (Acts 10:47) so they could be saved (see Mark 16:16). The Jewish Christians were persuaded to accept the Gentiles converts as acceptable to God and worthy of their association (Acts 11:17, 18).

Water baptism resulted in forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38), a new life (Romans 6:4), and membership in the one body (1 Corinthians 12:13), the church of Christ (Ephesians 1:22, 23).

10. What actions immediately followed the two baptisms?

Those who were baptized with the Holy Spirit spoke in other languages (Acts 2:4; 10:45, 46). Those who were baptized with water rejoiced (Acts 8:39; 16:33, 34).


Perhaps a restatement of the meaning of baptism might seem repetitious but scholars generally agree that “baptism” refers to an action that takes place in water.

John Stott wrote,

First, baptism means water baptism unless in the context it is stated to the contrary. … Gut it is safe to say that whenever the terms ‘baptism’ and ‘being baptized’ occur, without mention of the element in which the baptism takes place, the reference is to water baptism. Whenever water baptism is not meant, however, the alternative baptismal element is mentioned; for instance, ‘with the Spirit.’ John Stott, Romans: God’s Good News for the World (Downers Grove, Ill.: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), 173.

With tis Albrecht Oepke agrees: “New Testament references to baptism should be thought of as water baptism unless the context indicates otherwise. Baptism means technically ‘to baptize in water.’ Hence it is unnecessary to specify a medium.” Albrecht Oepke, “baptizo,” Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vol. 1, ed. Gerhard Kittel, trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley, (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1964), 539.

The reader is referred to a fuller discussion of the Holy Spirit and baptism with the Holy Spirit by the author of this volume. Owen D. Olbricht, Holy Spirit, Person and Work (Delight, Ark.: Gospel Light Pub. Co., 1999).


In reviewing the two baptism, we are able to see which one continues and applies to all people today. Water baptism was for all nations for all times, while baptism with the Holy Spirit was only for a limited group of people. Baptism with water meets the needs of all sinners who want to be saved. Baptism with the Holy Spirit confirmed and revealed the words of Christ to the apostles, who preserved them for us in the New Testament. The recorded account Gentiles can receive salvation through Christ and b accepted on the same level as the Jews who become Christians.

Baptism with the Holy Spirit served God’s purpose in preparing the apostles for their great work and for opening the door to the Gentiles. Since those purposes have been served, baptism with the Holy Spirit has completed its work and has thus ended. Water baptism is still needed for all nations and therefore continues for all who seek salvation through the blood of Jesus.

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