Q: Does Holy Spirit Baptism Still Occur? What Is The Baptism By Fire?
First we will deal with the baptism of fire. The only place in the Bible where baptism of fire is mentioned is in Matthew 3:11. There John the Baptist said, “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” John was talking to a large multitude of people. That group was made up of both the apostles (Jn. 1:40) and “Pharisees and Sadducees” (Matt. 3:7). John had said to this mixed group that Jesus would baptize some that were present (the apostles) in the Holy Spirit and others that were present (the rebellious Pharisees and Sadducees) in fire. He is clearly speaking of two different baptisms and not one. He had told the Pharisees and Sadducees that they must bear fruits worthy of repentance because Jesus would cut down every tree that did not bear good fruit and cast it into the fire (Matt. 3:10). Then he told them that Jesus would baptize in the Holy Spirit and fire (Matt. 3:11). He went on to say that Jesus would “thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (Matt. 3:13). So here are three references to fire in three verses. One of the great mistakes people make in studying the Bible is to isolate verses from their context. Fire is used in two verses in this context to refer to eternal punishment and so in keeping with the context we must conclude that fire in verse 11 also reverse to punishment. John was telling those Pharisees and Sadducees that if they did not repent and show it by their works then they would receive the judgment of fire (cf. Matthew 7:19; 13:40, 42, 50; 18:8; 25:41). Notice that when John was speaking to the disciples he did not mention the baptism of fire but the baptism of the Holy Spirit alone (Jn. 1:33). This is because those to whom the baptism of fire referred had left the scene. The Bible is clear that Jesus will be the one to render the sentence of eternal punishment to the wicked in the last hour (Jn. 5:28, 29; 2 Cor. 5:10).
It is supposed that the baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire is one baptism because at the fulfillment of the baptisms of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles in Acts 2 it says that “there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them” (Acts 2:3). Luke does not say that when the apostles were baptized in the Holy Spirit that they were also baptized in fire but received a visual confirmation of the baptism of the Holy Spirit in form of divided tongues that looked like flames, not that it was flames. Just like that sound that they heard was as of a mighty rushing wind not that it was a mighty rushing wind. Luke was giving a description of what it sounded and looked like when the apostles were baptized in the Holy Spirit. He did this by way of simile so that people could have some idea of these great events.
When we see John’s statement in context it becomes clear that the baptism in fire has nothing to do with the baptism of the Holy Spirit and that they are two very different things.
Now that we have addressed the baptism by fire let us deal with the first part of our question. “Are people still baptized in the Holy Spirit?” In order to answer this question we must first understand what the Bible says about Holy Spirit baptism.
First of all notice that the administrator of Holy Spirit baptism was Christ. John the Baptist said, “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matt. 3:11). God told John that Christ would be the administrator. John 1:33 “I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit to the Apostles. He said, John 14:26 “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you. And again in John 15:26 “But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me. Further, John 16:13 “However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. Regarding the events of Pentecost, Peter said, “Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear” (Acts 2:33). It is abundantly clear from these passages that Christ Himself would be the administrator of Holy Spirit baptism and that it would be administered after His ascension to the Father.
Now let us notice that the recipients of Holy Spirit baptism were the apostles and the household of Cornelius. The Lord just before He ascended, told the apostles, “you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now” (Acts 1:5). On the same occasion the Lord told the apostles to remain in Jerusalem “until you are endued with power from on high” (Luke 24:49). In Acts 1:8 Jesus told the apostles that they would receive power when the Holy Spirit came upon them. They were in Jerusalem when the Spirit came upon them (Acts 2:1-4). Almost no one would argue that this was not the first instance of Holy Spirit baptism.
Holy Spirit baptism occurred again in Acts 10:44-45. “While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word. And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also.” Peter later testified to the Jews, “And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them, as upon us at the beginning” (Acts 11:15). One has said of this phrase, “at the beginning,” that is “denotes that the Spirit of God had not fallen on the Jewish congregation, as it did on Pentecost, and from Pentecost till the conversion of the Gentiles, such a scene was never witnessed, even by the apostles; for he could find no parallel case to which he could refer in giving a description of it, save that which happened in Jerusalem on Pentecost.” “Peter had to go all the way back to Pentecost to think of another case like it” (Gus Nichols). The apostles received the baptism of the Spirit in the beginning for Jesus said it would be that (Acts 1:5). Cornelius also received the “baptism” of the Spirit because Peter said, “Then I remembered the word of the Lord…how He said you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:5; 11:16). Peter applied all of this, except “not many days from now,” to what happened. Peter also declares that God “…gave them the same gift as He gave us…” (Acts 11:17). The Greek word translated “same” here literally means “equal.” The word “same” used in Acts 11:17 is the identical Greek word used by Peter, “Simon Peter, a bondservant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained like precious faith with us by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 1:1). It is obvious that the word “same” means “equal” and is the same basic word found in Philippians 2:6, Christ “did not consider it robbery to be equal with God.” Cornelius and his house received the same or equal gift that the apostles received on Pentecost in Acts 2.
Now let us go on to notice that there were three distinct purposes of Holy Spirit baptism set forth by God’s word.
First, the Holy Spirit was to reveal all truth to the apostles, “However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come” (Jn. 16:13). James speaks of the “perfect law of liberty.” “But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does” (Js. 1:25). God has given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness. “His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue” (2 Pet. 1:3). Paul says the scriptures are able to furnish us unto all good works. “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16, 17). Jude states that the faith has been once delivered. “Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.” (Jude 3).
Second, the Holy Spirit was to confirm the truth spoken by the apostles. At the giving of the great commission, this promise was given. “Later He appeared to the eleven as they sat at the table; and He rebuked their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they did not believe those who had seen Him after He had risen.
And He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.’ So then, after the Lord had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs. Amen.” (Mark 16:14-20). The Hebrews writer states that God did confirm their word. “Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away. For if the word spoken through angels proved steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just reward, how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him, God also bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will?” (Heb. 2:1-4).
Third, the Holy Spirit fell on the Gentiles to bear witness that God would accept the Gentiles as he did the Jews. “And when there had been much dispute, Peter rose up and said to them: ‘Men and brethren, you know that a good while ago God chose among us, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them [bore them witness, KJV] by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us, and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith’” (Acts 15:7-9).
Now, more directly related to our question, we see by examining the biblical facts regarding Holy Spirit baptism that it had ended by A.D. 64 or before. Remember that on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2 there were two baptisms. The first was the baptism of the apostles in the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:1-4) and then Peter commanded the people on Pentecost to be baptized for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38). Then, in A.D. 41, when Peter went to the household of Cornelius there were two baptisms. The Holy Spirit fell on Cornelius and his house (Acts 10:44) and then Peter commanded Cornelius and his house to be baptized in water (Acts 10:47, 48). However, in A.D. 64, when Paul wrote the Ephesian letter, he said there is “one baptism” (Eph. 4:5). Holy Spirit baptism was a promise and was to be administered by Christ (Matt. 3:11). The baptism of the Great Commission, on the other hand, was to be administered by men (Matt. 28:19) and to last till the end of the world (Matt. 28:20). The only baptism administered by men was water baptism.
So to the question, “Are people still baptized in the Holy Spirit?” the Bible says no because its purpose has been fulfilled and thus it has ended sometime before A.D. 64 when the apostle Paul said that there was just one baptism. And to the question, “What is baptism in fire?” the Bible says that it is the fires of eternal punishment to which Christ will sentence the evildoer.
i Adapted from James Meadows, Lessons on the Holy Spirit, pp. 23-27.
ii Alexander Campbell, The Christian Baptist, Vol. II, p. 71.