Life In The Spirit: Part 4

There are three noteworthy objections levelled against charismatics with regards to the Baptism of the Spirit. These are often related to a legitimately difficult translation of 1 Corinthians 12.13, the hermeneutical problem of interpreting narrative and the specific transient context of Acts. Again it must be said that it is not my aim to speak disrespectfully of any theologian or theological position but merely to answer some of the important questions levelled at charismatics.

1.The Exegetical Objection: 1 Corinthians 12.13

It is argued that 1 Corinthians 12.13 implies that all believers are baptized in the Holy Spirit at conversion. The Greek word ‘en’ can be translated as ‘in’ or ‘by’ so we need to look at its immediate literary context[1] for clues. Those who translate ‘en’ as ‘in’ view this verse as referring to the baptism of the Spirit. The logical conclusion is that this verse teaches that all believers are baptized in the Spirit and this rules out the possibility of a post conversion Spirit baptism. However those who translate ‘en’ as ‘by’ suggest that a baptism by the Spirit is distinct and different to the baptism in the Spirit referred to elsewhere. How do we translate this sentence?

1 Corinthians 12.13 (ESV) 1 Corinthians 12.13 (NIV)
For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body – whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and were all given the one Spirit to drink.

Those who choose the English Standard Version (ESV) translation draw attention to two primary interpretive clues. They are the adjectives (‘all’ and ‘one’) and the verb (baptized). The context reveals that Paul is teaching about unity to a church divided over spiritual gifts. Some thought their gifts where superior to others and still others thought the gifts should be discontinued all together[2]. Paul repeats the adjectives ‘one’[3] and ‘all’[4] stressing the unity we all share through baptism in the common Spirit. Hence the “body is one and has many members”[5] and that “in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body”[6]. The idea of a post conversion Spirit baptism being referred to in this text or elsewhere would go against the argument of all being filled with the one Spirit.

Secondly the verb “baptized in the Spirit” is argued to not be instrumental (baptized with the Spirit) since “that would be the only place in the New Testament where the Spirit is the agent of the Baptism” (Carson, 1987 p.47). The argument is one of frequency. This cannot be a baptism by the Spirit because it is irregular and does not occur elsewhere.

Some scholars like Grudem have suggested that “apart from one small difference (he refers to “one Spirit” rather than “the Holy Spirit”), all other elements are the same: the verb baptizo, and the prepositional phrase contains the same words (en plus the dative noun pneumatic)”. Therefore “the original hearers would have seen this phrase as referring to the same thing as the other six verses, because for them the words were the same” (Grudem, 2007 p.768).

While I admire and respect all of the scholars I just quoted there are some inconsistencies. Firstly, below are the parsed verbs of the phrase ‘baptized in the Holy Spirit’ in the seven verses that it occurs in the Bible. This comparison will show what the original hearers read or heard in their original language. A quick glance (even to an English speaker) at this table shows that the original hearers would not have heard the same words (contra Grudem) as the form of the verb baptizo changes dramatically throughout.

Transliterated phrase as it occurs Parsing Reference
baptizei en pneumatic Future, active, indicative, 3rd person, singular. Matthew 3.11
baptizei umas en pneumatic Aorist, active, indicative, 1st person, singular. Mark 1.8
baptizei en pneumatic Future, active, indicative, 3rd singular. Luke 3.16
baptizon en pneumatic Participle, Present tense, active voice, nominative case. John 1.33
en pneumati baptisthesesthe Future, passive, indicative, 3rd person, plural. Acts 1.5
baptisthesesthe en pneumatic Future passive indicative, 2nd person, plural. Acts 11.16
pneumati emeis pantes eis en soma ebaptisthemen Aorist, passive, indicative, 1st person, plural. 1 Corinthians 12.13

Lloyd-Jones stated that this verse “does not deal at all with the doctrine of the Baptism with the Holy Spirit” (Lloyd-Jones, 1984 p.173). The primary reason Lloyd-Jones gave was linked to the voice of the verb. Greek grammar demands that when a verb is in the passive or middle voice (to be baptized) the noun must be in the instrumental case (the Spirit baptizes). The sense is that one is baptized by the Spirit.

The passive voice indicates that an action is happening to you. So you would expect the writer to tell you who is carrying out the action happening to you. In this case you are being baptized. It is more plausible then that we should read ‘you are being baptized by the Spirit into the body’. It is less plausible to assume that the author meant to say that ‘you are being baptized into the Spirit and into the body’ without making the noun the instrument of Baptism. The passive verb points to the Spirit being the instrument for the baptism as the NIV, NASB, NKJV amongst others has it.

1 Corinthians 12.13 Bible Version
For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body NIV
For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body NASB
For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body NKJV
For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body ESV*

In response to Carson it must be noted that while a lack of frequency (the first time the Spirit is the means for the Baptism) is a clue it is not a solid exegetical reason that emerges from the text. This kind of argument cuts both ways. For example Lloyd-Jones argues that throughout the Bible it is the work of the Spirit to regenerate and engraft believers into the body of Christ. This is exactly what we see here and is inline with Paul’s broader concern for unity. Therefore Lloyd-Jones interpreted the meaning of this passage as being the same as Carson – that all Christians receive the Spirit at conversion and should therefore “not think of yourselves as separate units” and be unified (Lloyd-Jones 1984 p.178). But that the Baptism referred to is not the Baptism into the Spirit but the Baptism by the Spirit into the Body of Christ. All this to show that utilizing Scripture to interpret Scripture in this case could prove both translations.

In my view this is a very difficult verse to translate. Both sides of the argument have approached their translations utilizing the rules of the Greek language and the context of the verse. However it is my opinion that it is more plausible that this refers to a baptism by the Spirit as most English translations of the Bible have rendered it.

Furthermore if all believers receive the Baptism of the Spirit at conversion and therefore are engrafted into the body of Christ as Carson and Grudem suggest why do we see post-conversion Spirit outpouring in Acts? What explanation is given for the post-conversion outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Acts? These are normally explained as being special cases not to be repeated due to the transient nature of Acts.

2.The First Hermeneutic Objection: The Transient Nature of Acts

Many theologians could be quoted here[7] but I will follow Grudem’s argument which explains the Pentecost experience, the Samaritans and the disciples in Ephesus all as special cases not to be repeated due to the transient conditions of Acts (Grudem 2007 p.772-775).

It follows that Pentecost was the time of the fulfilment of the promise of the Spirit and the reason the disciples received a post-conversion experience was because “they were living at the time of transition between the old covenant work of the Holy Spirit and the New Covenant work of the Holy Spirit” (Grudem 2007 p.772). It’s important to note that this reason is not explicitly taken from Scripture. The disciples were told to “wait for the promise of the Father”[8] but they are not told why. No doubt it was a time of transition and fulfilment of the promise but this is not necessarily the explanation for why they were told to wait. While Grudem’s suggestion is logical and plausible it is none the less speculative at best to explain why Jesus told them to wait for a few days before he would baptized them in the Spirit. Grudem uses this rational to suggest that “though it was a “second experience” of the Holy Spirit, coming as it did long after their conversion, it is not to be taken as a pattern for us, for we are not living at a time of transition” (Grudem 2007 p.772). This is a strong conclusion based on an unsupported biblical explanation.

In Acts 8.4-25 after Phillip evangelized parts of Samaria Peter and John are sent to pray for the converts to receive the Holy Spirit. Grudem argues that the reason for the post-conversion outpouring was so that the empowering of the Holy Spirit came directly from the hands of the Apostles so that “it might be evident to the highest leadership in the Jerusalem church that the Samaritans were not second-class citizens but full members of the church.” (Grudem 2007 p.774) Again this line of reasoning is not supported by any exegesis. We have already established that the coming of the Spirit would be a sign of God’s inclusion of all people yet it cannot be imported into this particular pericope. Nor can we assume that the coming of the Spirit had to be tied to the Apostles themselves. It is described this way but there is no verses of Scripture that would suggest that only if the Apostles laid hands on the Samaritans then they would be viewed as fully included. The clear emphasis throughout the biblical narrative and in Acts is not on the Apostle hands as the instruments that validate inclusion into the people of God but on the powerful coming of the Holy Spirit. The instrument is not nearly as important as the gift of the Spirit.

The third special case is that of the disciples in Acts 19.1-10. Grudem argues that the disciples were not Christian since they had not heard of the Holy Spirit[9] and possibly never even knew that the Messiah had come, lived, died and was resurrected because Paul had to explain “John baptized with the Baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus”[10]. It is certainly possible that they may have been Christians without knowing about the Holy Spirit. Paul’s explanation doesn’t clearly prove that they had no knowledge of Jesus. Paul’s mention of Jesus may be a repetition of the gospel in order to explain the blessing of the Spirit. I haven’t explained the role of Jesus in the fulfilment of the promise because I think the readers of these blog posts have never heard about Jesus. Jesus is a part of the explanation and his inclusion in Paul’s instruction in no way proves ignorance by theses disciples. Grudem concludes that these disciples therefore heard the gospel for the first time and believed and received the Spirit.

He does acknowledge that even though they were first time believers they received the Spirit post-conversion since they were first baptized (vs 5) and then “when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came” (vs 6) which technically is after their conversion according to Grudem. He explains this as being so close that it is negligible. However Grudem doesn’t deal with Paul’s initial question to these unbelievers “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”[11] There are four questions that Grudem doesn’t deal with. Firstly the implications are that Paul viewed them as believers because that’s the event he refers to “when you believed?” Secondly, if Paul thought these disciples to be non-believers it makes no sense to ask them if they received the Spirit. It is inconceivable that Paul thought a pre-conversion Baptism in the Spirit was possible[12]. Thirdly, that the word disciple in Acts is never used of unbelievers. Fourthly, that to Paul a post-conversion outpouring was normative and therefore Paul enquires to ensure that they should receive the Spirit. And lastly if we are to view these and other passages in Acts as irrelevant for today due to the transient nature of the promise and fulfilment then why did the Holy Spirit allow it to be Scripture without recording a clear corrective? It appears that Scripture is clear in what it is describing but that the transient argument builds on speculation not exegesis to explain why these texts in Acts are not to be viewed as normative for contemporary Christians.

3.The Second Hermeneutic Objection: Doctrine Should Not Come From Narrative

Secondly, the hermeneutical challenge with narrative is that it’s difficult to differentiate between what the text describes from what the text prescribes. Therefore the narrative literary style of Acts makes it unfavourable for establishing doctrine and practice. While this hermeneutic apprehension is valid it must be noted that Acts is also the only New Testament writing that gives us the start and growth of the church. It has therefore ecclesiological relevance and should impact doctrine if we are to fulfil the great commission. The gospels are primarily biographical narratives of Jesus – his life, death and resurrection and the epistles are letters to established churches. Acts describes the beginning of the church. It reveals how churches are started and the beginning of the Christian life. If we dismiss Acts from shaping our doctrine we will have an incomplete doctrine of sanctification and ecclesiology.

Paul’s hermeneutic allowed him to draw instruction from the Exodus narrative “these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.”[13] The danger in differentiating the description from prescription is often linked to what is being described. In Acts it is not a horizontal action that is described (like polygamy) but a vertical one (Jesus Christ is baptising believers in the Spirit). Furthermore, the frequency of the post-conversion experiences recorded without any corrective  reference (unlike polygamy[14]) to its cessation seem to indicate that Luke intended the reader to view it as the continued work of Jesus[15] and therefore as normative Christianity. Furthermore no epistle denounces or is sentimental about the post-conversion outpourings in Acts. This indicates that for the writers of the epistles what happened in Acts was normative and probably continued happening.

Lastly what Acts describes is just the kind of dramatic encounter one would expect when we follow the promise of the Spirit thread throughout Scripture. What many describe today as the Baptism in the Spirit at conversion would not include the radical activity in Acts and would be an anti-climax if it was recorded in Scripture. Many of the theologians I have engaged with have a pastoral concern for the implication of a post-conversion Spirit baptism. It has the potential to create two categories of Christian and perhaps division. However charismatics also have a pastoral concern that believers are not given the power they require to live missional lives.

[1] For example “all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Matthew 26.52), “lest they trample them under foot” (Matthew 7.6) same as Luke 1.51 and “justified by his blood” Romans 5.9. The word ‘in’ cannot be used in any of these translation though in each case ‘en’ is used.

[2] In Corinth there was also a camp that wanted to exclude spiritual gifts from public meetings hence Paul’s “do not forbid speaking in tongues” (1 Corinthians 14.39).

[3] “one body” twice in vs 12 and mentioned once in vs 13 and “one Spirit” twice in vs 13.

[4] “all the members of one body” vs 12 “we were all baptized” vs 13 “all were made to drink”

[5] 1 Corinthians 12.12

[6] 1 Corinthians 12.13

[7] For example Millard Erickson who employs the transient argument and sees the recipients as “the last of the Old Testament believers (Erickson, 1994 p.880).

[8] Acts 1.4

[9] Acts 19.2

[10] Acts 19.4

[11] Acts 19.2

[12] See section 2.4 What will the Holy Spirit do.

[13] 1 Corinthians 10.11

[14] These verses seems to indicate that marriage has always been intended for one man and one woman polygamy Matt 19.9, 1 Timothy 3:2, 12.

[15] The gospel of Luke records what Jesus “began to do” by implication Acts reveals what he continued doing (Acts 1.1).