The Baptism and Filling of the Holy Spirit

This paper was presented to Dr. Gregg R. Allison, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, in partial fulfillment for the requirements of 27080.

As Gregg R. Allison notes, the baptism with the Spirit and the filling of the Spirit are often two “overlooked works” that involve the third person of the Trinity.[1] The question of ‘what is the baptism of the Holy Spirit?’ is not entirely conspicuous; it requires on our part the task of theological formulation. In this article I will be arguing in favour for the position that both Wayne Grudem and Gregg Allison describe. For our purposes here, I find Allison’s definition as particularly helpful: Allison describes the baptism of the Holy Spirit as “the work of Jesus Christ in which he pours out the Holy Spirit on new believers thereby incorporating them into his body (Christ’s), the church.”[2] Additionally, I will seek to delineate the baptism of the Spirit from the filling of the Spirit, as well as to show that the doctrine of the baptism of the Spirit entails separability from the Spirit’s work of regeneration, but that such a baptism does not follow subsequently from regeneration.

JUSTIFICATION

In contrast to J. Rodman Williams who argues for a second blessing of the Holy Spirit subsequent to regeneration,[3] Scripture presents the baptism of the Holy Spirit as a one-time event that occurs at the moment of regeneration. This baptism of the Spirit is however not equal to regeneration; they are separate realities and are not dependent on each other.[4] Regeneration and baptism of the Spirit are separate realities since the agents of both are distinct: Christ is said to baptise with the Holy Spirit those who repent and believe in him (Luke 3:16; John 1:33; Acts 1:4–5; 11:16), whereas the Holy Spirit is said to regenerate sinners and impart new life to them (Titus 3:5; John 6:63; 2 Cor 3:6; Rom. 2:29).

On the other hand, the filling of the Holy Spirit—which occurs numerous times in the Acts alone (Acts 2:4; 4:8, 31; 7:55; 13:9, 52)—differs from the baptism of the Holy Spirit in that the former is an ongoing process in the lives of those who have already been baptised with the Holy Spirit. This distinction is known as the doctrine of separability.[5]


The baptism of the Holy Spirit is the work of Jesus Christ in which he pours out the Holy Spirit on new believers thereby incorporating them into his body, the church.


Now, in regards to the filling of the Spirit, we can and should confer the idea of subsequence. Those baptized in the Spirit subsequently can both grieve the Spirit—literally, ‘quench’ or ‘stifle’ (Eph 4:30; 1 Thess 5:19)—or, conversely, experience renewed fillings of the Spirit, as in the case of Peter and the disciples gathered together (Acts 4:8, 31). Indeed, that subsequent fillings of the Spirit can be experienced serves as the very impetus for the New Testament’s ethical teaching: believers are to seek the filling with the Spirit and so walk in him (Eph 5:18; Gal 5:16).


That subsequent fillings of the Spirit can be experienced serves as the very impetus for the New Testament’s ethical teaching: believers are to seek the filling with the Spirit and so walk in him.


WHAT ABOUT THOSE UNUSUAL PASSAGES?

But what about those instances where there seems to be a delay in receiving the Spirit? In my mind, before we deal with the unusual texts of Acts 8:14–17 and 19:1–7—where there appears to be a delayed reception of the Holy Spirit—we need to first wrestle with the apostles and their reception of the Spirit. The answer to the latter provides the way forward in answering the former.

I am inclined to agree with Grudem who argues that the apostles (and first disciples) were regenerated prior to Pentecost,[6] as opposed to Allison who argues that the disciples only believed at Pentecost.[7] Allison admits that the disciples demonstrate a small degree of the Spirit’s work prior to Pentecost (Luke 5:1–11; Matt 6:30; 8:26; 13:10–17).[8] However, this data seems to outweigh Peter’s words in Acts 11:17: “If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?”

Allison states that “Peter locates the disciples’ coming to faith in Christ on the day of Pentecost,”[9] since Peter recalls Pentecost and the giving of the Spirit as occurring “when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ” (emphasis mine) (Acts 11:17). The difficulty lies in the fact that this ‘when’ can also be translated as ‘after,’ since the aorist tense refers to an indefinite action. Thus, Peter is not necessarily stating that they believed the moment they received the Spirit, but that the Spirit was received after they believed. When this is considered in light of the disciples’ faith—albeit small, flimsy, and confused at times (prior to Pentecost)—it would seem consistent to maintain that they were in fact regenerate prior to Pentecost, just as any other person would be regenerate prior to Pentecost.[10]

The normative pattern that then emerges from Pentecost is not that the disciples had become regenerate, but that going forward all who repented and believed would now also be baptised with the Holy Spirit. Since “the day of Pentecost was the point of transition between the old covenant work and the ministry of the Holy Spirit and the new covenant work and ministry of the Holy Spirit,”[11] this “second experience” of the Spirit that the disciples experienced is not to be taken as normative for us today.[12] This interpretation seems to fit well with the literary structure of the book of Acts. Serving as a proleptic, over-arching structure for the rest of the book, Acts 1:8 speaks of the disciples receiving power when the Holy Spirit comes upon them, so that they might be witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the end of the earth.

With this in mind, the unusual passages of Acts 8:14–17 and 19:1–7 follow suit. Allison himself highlights that for Luke, these two events appear as unusual—even to the apostles—a delay is clearly not normative.[13] In the first text (Acts 8:14–17), the significance of the delay again lies in the unique salvation-historical situation: this is the incorporation of those who are not Jews into the New Covenant body of Christ. It would then make sense that this “Samaritan Pentecost”[14] would require apostolic affirmation. Secondly, in regards to the Ephesian disciples—along with Allison—it appears that these men had not yet been regenerated, since they knew only of John the Baptist’s teaching.[15] From now on, regeneration was ordinarily to be accompanied with the baptism of the Holy Spirit as the normative experience for all believers.


Anyone who wants to insist on either multiple incorporations into the body of Christ or a period of time between regeneration and this incorporation is at odds with Scripture.


Responding to those who claim they received a baptism with the Holy Spirit after conversion

What about those who have claimed to receive a baptism of the Spirit after being converted? In responding to those who claim they have received a baptism with the Holy Spirit after their conversion, I think two things are important as we engage with those individuals.

First, one needs to articulate the unique salvation-historical significance of Pentecost, showing how this event functions as the turning point between an old and new covenant, and that post-Pentecost, the normal experience is that of regeneration and baptism of the Spirit as distinct realities (the doctrine of separability), whilst simultaneously rejecting that there is any subsequent or causal relationship between these two realties. The salvation of the three thousand at Pentecost (Acts 2:38), Saul of Tarsus (Acts 9:1–19; 22:14–16), the conversion of the Gentiles (Acts 11:15–18), and the conversion of the Ephesians ‘disciples’ (Acts 19:1–7) serve as sufficient evidence that baptism of the Spirit is not an experience subsequent regeneration in a post-Pentecost world. Indeed, Paul’s words in 1 Cor 12:13 confirm Allison’s definition noted above: the baptism of the Holy Spirit is the work of Jesus Christ in which he pours out the Holy Spirit on new believers thereby incorporating them into his body (Christ’s), the church.[16] What is the purpose of the baptism of the Spirit? It is to incorporate believers into the body of Christ. Anyone who wants to insist on either multiple incorporations into the body of Christ, or a period of time between regeneration and this incorporation is at odds with Scripture—since the church is the very entity of those redeemed (1 Cor. 12:27; Eph 2:14–22; 4:3–4; 5:32).

Second, and as already substantiated above, one needs to distinguish between baptism of the Spirit and the subsequent fillings of the Spirit. Grudem rightly warns of the class system that can result in believing in a second blessing of the Spirit.[17] Verses such as Rom 15:14, Eph 4:3 and 1 Cor 12:11–13 quickly put such ideas to bed; according to Paul, “the parts of the body that seem to be weaker,” are in fact “indispensable.” (1 Cor 12:22) Instead, the church is to have “the same care for one another.” (1 Cor 12:25) I do think that there are those who genuinely consider themselves to have experienced a “baptism of the Spirit.” Such persons may of course be honest and sincere. In such cases I would want to not squash such fervour and zeal in our brothers and sisters, but instead fan into flame and sharpen their understanding of the Spirit’s work, seeking an opportunity to inform them that this is rather an experience of the Spirit’s filling, and not a baptism of the Spirit.

***

[1] Gregg R. Allison, “Baptism with and Filling of the Holy Spirit, Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 16, no. 4 (2012): 4.

[2] Ibid., 5.

[3] J. Rodman Williams, Renewal Theology (3 vols.; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 2:199.

[4] Allison, “Baptism with and Filling of the Holy Spirit, 12.

[5] Ibid., 11.

[6] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 770.

[7] Allison, “Baptism with and Filling of the Holy Spirit, 12.

[8] Ibid., 12.

[9] Ibid., 12.

[10] Grudem, Systematic Theology, 770.

[11] Ibid., 770.

[12] Ibid., 772.

[13] Allison, “Baptism with and Filling of the Holy Spirit, 12.

[14] Grudem, Systematic Theology, 774.

[15] Allison, “Baptism with and Filling of the Holy Spirit, 13.

[16] Ibid., 5.

[17] Grudem, Systematic Theology, 777.

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