What does baptism mean?  Why should one be baptized?  How are we baptized?  What do the Holy Spirit and water have to do with it?  We shall review these issues, and others, in this essay, which is an attempt to help the reader understand what is meant when baptism is spoken of.

First, let us examine the word baptize. In Galatians 3:27, we see that believers are baptized into Christ, putting Him on as clothing.  In Matthew 3:11, John the Baptist told the people, “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”  Other verses echoing this verse are Mark 1:8, Luke 3:16, and John 1:33, in which we see the distinction between baptizing with water, which John was sent to do, and baptizing with the Holy Spirit.  In both uses, the word baptize is the Greek word that is transliterated as ‘baptizo’.  According the New American Standard Greek Greek Lexicon (, it has three meanings:

1) to dip repeatedly, to immerse, to submerge (of vessels sunk);

2) to cleanse by dipping or submerging, to wash, to make clean with water, to wash  one’s self, bathe;

3) to overwhelm.

From these definitions, we can understand that to baptize is to immerse or dip, with water in particular.  The second meaning would include the idea of changing someone, just as washing removes the unclean and leaves the clean. In the first use of the word baptize in Mat. 3:11 (mentioned above), there is no confusion, in that it would be natural to use the term baptize in conjunction with water.

However, in the second mention of the word, the means with which one is to be baptized is not water, but the Holy Spirit, and with fire. So then, are believers to have three baptisms, one of water, one of the Holy Spirit and one of fire? Not at all!  We know from Ephesians 4:4-5 that there is only one baptism. We also know from 1 Corinthians 12:3-14 that believers were baptized by one Spirit of God into one body of Christ.  Indeed, 1 Cor 12:13 states, “For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body–whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free — and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.” So if we were all baptized by one Spirit in one baptism, how do we reconcile the idea of baptism with water, the Holy Spirit, and fire?

Let us first look at the idea of being baptized with fire.  Whenever fire is spoken in the Bible, it generally represents one of four things: actual fire (Exodus 29:14; Leviticus 1:8); purification (Zechariah 13:9; Malachi 3:2-3); judgement and punishment (Genesis 19:24; 2 Kings 1:10; Amos 1:4-7; Matthew 7:19; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9; James 5:3; 1 Peter 1:7; Rev 3:18); or God (Exodus 13:21-22; Deuteronomy 4:24; Acts 2:3; Hebrews 12:29). In some cases, it may represent aspects of all of these ideas, as seen in 1 Corinthians 3:13-17.

So which is meant in Matthew 3:11 and Luke 3:16?  Since the Holy Spirit is one part of the Trinity, it seems redundant to say that believers would be baptized by the Holy Spirit and by God – although, to be fair Christ did command that believers be baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Fire came to rest on each of the Apostles when they were baptized with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2-4).  Fire has been used by God in passing Judgement (Genesis 19:24).  Given these facts, as well as the fact that one preposition was used to govern two objects in the original Greek, it is most likely that only one baptism refers to both blessing and judgement, as was prophesied in Isaiah 4.4. Thus the baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire will continue until all people experience final judgement, and refers to the Holy Spirit purifying the believers and condemning the unbelievers (Blomberg, “Baptism of Fire”; Blomberg, “Baptism of the Holy Spirit”).

Now that we have reconciled the idea of baptism with fire, let us look at the idea of baptism with the Holy Spirit. Some claim that baptism of the Holy Spirit was not prophesied in the Old Testament (Ryrie, 362).  However, Isaiah 44:3 seems to clearly point to a promise from Jehovah concerning the baptizing with the Holy Spirit: “For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants.” Other references that mention the pouring out of God’s Spirit can be found in Joel 2:28-29, and Zechariah 12:10.

In the New Testament, there are seven passages which speak of baptism of/in/with/by the Holy Spirit. Mark 1:8 and John 1:33 mention that John baptized with water but Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit.  Matthew 3:11 and Luke 3:16 echo that statement, but add that He would also baptize with fire.  Acts 1:5 recalls that John had baptized with water, but tells the disciples “in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”  In none of these verses is the idea presented that man must be baptized with water.  The baptism with the Holy Spirit occurred in Acts 2, where the disciples received the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, which is also the fulfillment of the prophecy in Joel 2:28-32.

Acts 10:44-11:18 show explicitly how God baptizes the believer with the Holy Spirit without the use of water.  In particular, Acts 10: 43-48 read, “’All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.’  While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message.  The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles.  For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.  Then Peter said, ‘Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water?  They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.’  So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.  Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.”   In this act of God baptizing with the Holy Spirit, God set the course for how baptism would occur for most believers.  Jesus Himself told Nicodemus that one must be born again, of Spirit, to enter the Kingdom of God, as seen in John 3:3-8. We know from Titus 3:4-7 that God saved us because of His mercy through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, thus what occurred in Acts 10-11 were not isolated events.  Only after the new believer was baptized with the Holy Spirit did they publicly announce their discipleship of Christ through baptism.  From these verses, we see the method of baptism for gentiles has four steps.  New believers must 1) believe in Christ; 2) receive forgiveness of sins through Christ’s name; 3) be baptized with the Holy Spirit; 4) be baptized with water in the name of Jesus Christ.

As we have seen, a believer can be baptized with the Holy Spirit without being baptized with water.  Can someone be baptized without receiving the baptism of the Holy Spirit?  Acts 8:12-17 shows that the Samaritans had accepted the word of God and been baptized into the name of the Lord.  But in while they were apparently believers, Peter and John prayed for them to receive the Holy Spirit, as the Samarians had not yet done so.  When Peter and John laid hands on the Samarians,  they received the Holy Spirit.  Acts 19:1-7 shows that Paul found some disciples in Ephesus who had received John’s baptism of repentance, done by water, but not the baptism of the Holy Spirit.  However, we know from this same verse that these people had apparently not heard the full Gospel, as they had not heard of the Holy Spirit.  Once Paul shared the full Gospel with them, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus and the Holy Spirit came on them when Paul laid his hands on them.  Apparently this laying on of hands for the reception of the Holy Spirit is an exceptional occurrence, as it is not spoken of outside of the book of Acts (White, p. 51).  Perhaps the laying on of hands was needed to cause these believers to pledge a clear conscience towards God, as spoken of in 1 Peter 3:21.

Who is it that baptizes the believer? 1 Corinthians 12:13 tells us that believers were baptized by one Spirit. Matthew 3:11, Mark 1:8, Luke 3:16, John 1:33 tell us that it is Christ who baptizes.

When does baptism of the Holy Spirit occur?  Acts 2:38 indicates it occurs when one believes the Gospel.  Certainly being born of the Spirit is an instantaneous event, as indicated by the idea that people must repent and be baptized so the Spirit can live within us (Acts 2:38, Galatians 3:5, James 4:5).  The ‘repent’ spoken of is the changing of one’s mind about the truth regarding Jesus and believing in Him (Acts 8:12, Romans 3:22).

Why should one be baptized and what does baptism with the Holy Spirit gain us?  1 Peter 3:20-21 shows us that baptism with water is symbolic of the baptism that saves us, spoken of in John 3:3-8 and Titus 3:4-7. It is through the ministry of the Holy Spirit that a person is born again (John 3:3-8), for it is the Spirit which give life (John 6:63).  Believers are renewed by the Holy Spirit, as Paul tells us in Titus 3:5 (Thiessen, p.255).   We know from John 14:26, the Holy Spirit also teaches the believer all things and reminds us of what Jesus spoke.  Also, every believer also receives gifts from Christ distributed by the Holy Spirit upon baptism (Ephesians 4:11, 1 Corinthians 12:11, Romans 12:6, 1 Corinthians 7:7, 1 Peter 4:10).  Being baptized “into the name” of Christ (Acts 19:5, Romans 6:3) indicates the believer has passed into Jesus’ ownership, which in turn indicates the believer was redeemed, as seen in Galatians 3:13-14 (White, p. 51). Romans 6:3-4 and Colossians 2:12 show us that believers have been baptized into Christ’s death, buried with him in baptism and raised with Christ to walk in the newness of life.  This in turn is a badge of discipleship of the Lord Jesus Christ and is an act of obedience in response our Lord’s command to be baptized, found in Mat 28:19 and Mark 16:15-16 (Lockyer, p. 260).

Some would say that Mark 16:16 in particular indicates a need for water baptism to ensure salvation, however the focus of the passage is not on baptism, but on belief. To clarify this, let us look at John 3:16-18, where it is made clear that who ever believes in Jesus Christ will have eternal life – no mention of baptism is made here.  Also, it is not clear from Mark 16:16 whether water baptism or baptism of the Holy Spirit is what was meant here.  Regardless, as we have seen, we are saved through belief in Christ, not water baptism; when a person comes to believe in Christ, he is baptized by the Holy Spirit.

While baptism gains us these things, it also requires something from the newly baptized believer.   Paul is clear that what is declared in baptism must be sustained thereafter.  The believer, having obeyed the Lord in being baptized, must continue to obey the Lord, maintaining an attitude like the Lord’s (Philippians 2:1-16), walk in the Spirit and bear the Spirit’s fruit (Galatians 5:16-25), count themselves dead to sin, not letting sin reign as we are told in Romans 6:11-12 (White, p. 52).

Do all believers receive the Holy Spirit? John 7:37-39, Acts 11:16-17, Romans 5:5, 1 Corinthians 2:12, and 2 Corinthians 5:5 all indicate that God gave all believers the Holy Spirit.  This is what one would expect, since as Acts 2:38, 10:45, Hebrews 6:4, and Revelation 22:17 all indicate, the Holy Spirit is a gift.  Being a gift, it is not a reward, and no merit is involved in receiving this gift.  To not possess the Holy Spirit is to not belong to Christ, as Paul declared in Romans 8:9 (Ryrie, p. 355).  First Corinthians 6:19 was written to a very spiritually mixed group: some were fine spiritual believers, but many were carnal and worldly.  Yet Paul does not say that only the spiritual group was indwelled by the Spirit, but that all the Spirit dwelled in all of them, carnal and spiritual.  Paul said this even though he believed at least one of them was living in gross sin (1 Cor 5:5) and others were involved in legal disputes (1 Cor 6).

Once baptized with the Holy Spirit, does the Holy Spirit remain with the believer?  Whatever sin could cause His departure would have to be more grievous than the fornication in chapter 5 or the legal disputes in chapter 6, for Paul does not exclude these believers from his statement that the Spirit dwelled in them (1 Cor 6:19).  Furthermore, if the Spirit leaves sinning Christians, then they are no longer Christians, according to Romans 8:9.  The Spirit can not leave a believer without throwing that believer back into a lost unsaved condition.  Disindwelling has to mean loss of salvation and loss of salvation must include disindwelling.  But we have the promise of the Savior, as shown in John 14:16, that He would pray to the Father to give another Helper “in other that He may be with you forever” (Ryrie, p. 356). Also, we know from John 3:16 that who ever believes in Christ will have everlasting life, and from 2 Thessalonians 2:13 we know that God chose believers “to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.” These things are reiterated in Titus 1:2, where we also see that God does not lie.

Thus, we see that baptism entails many things. There is the baptism of the Holy Spirit, by both the Holy Spirit and Christ, which occurs upon conversion. There is the baptism of water, which is done to publicly proclaim allegiance to God.  Baptism of the Holy Spirit is a gift from God.  It entails the Holy Spirit coming to live within us to teach us everything. The benefits are many, including being in Christ’s body. But with those benefits comes responsibility to continue to bear the Spirit’s fruit and obey God.


Number of Baptisms

Ephesians 4:4-5



1 Corinthians 12:13

Holy Spirit

Matthew 3:11, Mark 1:8, Luke 3:16, John 1:33



Matthew 3:11, Luke 3:16, Mark 1:8, John 1:33

Holy Spirit, Fire, Water


Acts 1:5


Acts 10:44-11:18


Duration of Effect

Rom 6:10, Ephesians 4:30


Time to Completion

Acts 13:52, 1 Cor. 6:11



John 6:63

Eternal Life

1 Corinthians 12:13,

Romans 6:3, Galatians 3:27

Entrance into Jesus Christ

John 3:3-8

Entrance into the Kingdom of God

Titus 3:5

Rebirth and renewal

2 Corinthians 1:22

Holy Spirit in believer’s heart

Romans 5:5

God’s love in believer’s heart

John 14:26


Ephesians 4:11,

1 Corinthians 12:11, Romans 12:6, 1 Corinthians 7:7, 1 Peter 4:10

Gifts of the Holy Spirit


1 Thessalonians 4:7-8

Called to live a Holy Life

Philippians 2:5

Have an attitude like Christ

Galatians 5:25

Walk in the Spirit


Blomberg, C. L. (1996). “Baptism of Fire.” In Walter A. Elwell, ed., Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Grand Rapids: Baker. p. 49.

Blomberg, C. L. (1996). “Baptism of the Holy Spirit.” In Walter A. Elwell, ed., Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Grand Rapids: Baker. p. 49-50.

 Easton, M.G. (1897). Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Third Edition. [on-line] Available:

Crosswalk Bible Study Tools/Online Study Library. (2008). [on-line] Available:

International Bible Society (1973, 1978, 1984). The Holy Bible: New International Version. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Henry, M. (no date known). Matthew Henry’s Commentary. Moody Press, 28th printing. [on-line] Available:

Lockyer, H. (1964). All the Doctrines of the Bible. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Ryrie, C. C. (1997). Basic Theology. Colorado Springs, Colorado: Victor Publishing.

Thiessen, H.C. (1949, 1977, 1979).  Lectures in Systematic Theology.  Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

White, R.E.O. (1996). “Baptize, Baptism.” In Walter A. Elwell, ed., Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Grand Rapids: Baker. pp. 50-53.



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