Summary: This article was written and published April, 2016. What does the phrase “the baptism of the Holy Spirit” really mean? It has a lot of different understandings associated with it today, depending on which Christian group you happen to belong to at the present time. This article will help sift through all the various teachings that exist on this topic,  providing the Christian understanding of what Jesus meant when He used this phrase while speaking to His disciples in the first chapter of Acts.


This teaching came out of notes I had accumulated in various places, brought together to teach the distinctiveness of the present ministry of the Holy Spirit in gathering and forming the body of Christ (I Cor. 12:12-13). Now certainly the Holy Spirit has other ministries, especially towards the individual believer – the Christian is sealed with the Holy Spirit after he believes (Eph. 1:13), the Spirit now dwelling in him by which his body is the temple of God, the Spirit encouraging us to cry out in his hearts, Abba, Father (Rom. 8:15-16, Gal. 4:5-7). The Holy Spirit is always the direct instrumentality of God’s work, whether in the Old Testament or New. But God’s various workings are not all the same, nor are their results. For example, distinct to the New Testament and Christianity, the Holy Spirit dwells both in the individual believer (I Cor. 6:19) and the corporate body called the church (I Cor. 3:16), making both the temple of God. Sadly we are often unaware that the Holy Spirit inhabits the corporate church, the body of Christ (Eph. 2:19-22) – “…a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.”

I Cor. 12:12-13 (NKJV)

“For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body…”

I believe Scripture teaches there is only one baptism of the Spirit, and that this baptism is detailed above. This verse sufficiently ties into Acts 1:4-5 and Matt. 3:11. I do not agree with the Charismatic doctrine of a second work of grace for the individual believer. The baptism of the Spirit forms the body of Christ on earth. And this body is a corporate entity, although we are baptized as individual believers into the corporate body.  Individual redemption and sonship is first and precedes one’s entrance into the body. Both involve the action of the Holy Spirit, but they are distinct actions – one individual and one corporate. The baptism of the Spirit is involved in the corporate work forming the body. This gives us enough introduction to start with the notes. These start out speaking about the subject of prophecy, and hopefully you won’t mind this much; but eventually the notes turn to the topic of Pentecost and the sending of the Holy Spirit.

Prophecy is the revelation of the thoughts of God as regards the future, and His glory in Christ is the one blessed end of the prophetic word, as well as of all the divine actings. But if we make man or self the end-all, then what scripture speaks of as singleness of eye is completely gone; darkness ensues by the just judgment of God — a result as sure in the area of our spiritual understanding as it could be in our spiritual conscience (Matt. 6:22-23). What the Holy Ghost says about the whole written word is just as true about the prophetic parts – all 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 perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works. Still, the revealed acts of prophecy are the expression of the principles of God’s government of the world, and therefore the accomplishment portrayed in His word is the place where we learn these principles fully. This is surely what we have to ascertain. Otherwise we form our own notions or imaginations of that which God has given us – prophecy, whereby we might know His thoughts. Our responsibility is to gather of what God says; and though all scripture is given for our profit, it is in no way necessary that all should be about ourselves. The glory of God in dealing with the Jews is, in its place, as much the object of our faith as His dealings with Christians. And the apprehension of the distinctions in His ways, that is, real understanding of His word, depends on our knowing to whom the word of God applies.

Is this taking large portions of scripture away from the church? Not at all. There is no instruction in the past or future history of Israel, as revealed in God’s word, which the church does not itself possess; yet the instruction itself doesn’t necessarily attach itself to the church as being specifically about the church. That such passages referring directly to Israel may serve as examples and have an analogous application to Christendom, which is now grafted into the olive-tree of earthly testimony (Rom. 11), I do not deny — an application which calls for the utmost caution, and a right division of the word of truth. Why? Because each dispensation has its own peculiarities and distinctions, and in some cases there may be, and are, points of obvious and intended contrast. Still, the church is not the subject dealt with under the names of Judah and Israel, Zion and Jerusalem; and the effect of the mistaken and unrestricted accommodation of such passages, errors to which we all have become accustomed, has not only served to rob the Jews of their promises, but to lower and obscure incalculably the privileges of the church, so far as a correct present understanding is concerned.

There is now, however, a considerable number of Christians who admit that the only complete fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy involves the restoration of the literal Israel to their own land, and their national blessing and peace there, according to the new covenant, in the presence and personal reign of the Messiah (this is definitely the dispensationalist’s perspective). Hence, as a whole, they rightly refer the prophecies of future earthly glory to the same people whose sins and judgments also are detailed in those same passages (O. T. prophecies). They acknowledge that the reign of Christ over the converted Jewish people in the millennium is a very different thing from the secret counsels of God’s grace which, through faith, has quickened souls from the beginning (starting with Abel). For anyone, this is an important step in the right direction. But it does not go far enough. Often we fail to see that the rejection of Christ by Jew and Gentile on the cross, and His consequent exaltation at the right hand of God, and the intermediate ministry of the Holy Ghost here below till the Lord returns again, have made way for the accomplishment and revelation of an unique work of God, which had been kept secret from previous ages and generations (Col. 1:26, Eph. 3:1-11). This work is the church, Christ’s body.

It is not merely an increase of light as to the topic of salvation, on which the entire line of the faithful, from Abel downward, had depended. There was an unknown and hidden mystery respecting a body destined to be the companion of Christ in heavenly glory at His coming. Yet in the intermediate time between the two advents of Christ the assembly is called into manifestation and enjoyment of its privileges by the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven. The Spirit was to begin, sustain, and guide the church here below, while she patiently waited for the Bridegroom. With Old Testament saints the Holy Ghost had acted, He had given faith, He had quickened, He had worked efficaciously and savingly from the first, from Abel on; but there was no baptism of the Spirit till Pentecost. He was not sent (that is, in this new way) till Jesus was glorified (John 7:39). So the Lord teaches us in Acts 1:5, “Ye shall be baptized of the Holy Ghost not many days hence.” When just about to ascend He said this to the already believing, regenerate disciples. On the day of Pentecost the Holy Ghost did baptize them. Also He imparted many miraculous gifts, “the powers of the world to come”; but besides this He baptized them on that day, never before. Now it is certain that the formation of the body, the church, hinges upon the baptism of the Spirit, for “by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body.” (I Cor. 12:13) You cannot, therefore, have the body of Christ before the baptism of the Spirit; they are simultaneous and inseparable things.

Accordingly we there find for the first time “the church” spoken of as an existing corporation (Acts 2:47). The Lord Jesus, it is true (Matt. 16:18), had already said, “Upon this rock I will build my church”; but these words themselves prove that His church did not yet exist, save in the purpose of God. Upon this rock I will build my church. It was not yet building. The foundation had to be laid; in death and resurrection alone could it begin. It was essential, as a condition of the existence of the church, that in the cross the middle wall of partition should be broken down, and Jew and Gentile be made one new man: in the next place Gentile and Jewish believers were builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit (Eph. 2:14, 15, 22).

For the Comforter was now come, the promise of the Father, to be in and with them forever — that Comforter for whom it was expedient that Christ Himself should go away. The old Judaic order was nothing now before God. There was another and better temple, where God’s presence was. There was one body, wherein Jewish and Gentile distinctions were absolutely gone, the church on earth, and one Spirit who resided there. It is not a mere continuation of a believing people who looked to promise (the Jews), but established on accomplished redemption, an entirely new body appears, brought into union with Christ in His heavenly honors, between the first and second advent, while He is absent above. The latter terminus (the rapture) is admitted now by many who would dispute the former (the church beginning at Pentecost). It is confessed that the church is the bride, the Eve of the second Adam, and that the millennial saved people, though just as much saints, as truly redeemed by the blood of Christ, as we are, nevertheless answers to the type of Adam’s children, and not of his wife. That is, it is an acknowledged principle that sainthood, as in those who survive the second advent, does not necessarily constitute membership of Christ’s body. But as to the former terminus (Pentecost), even a far plainer proof has been here produced as regards the saints who preceded the first advent (Old Testament saints). Whatever may have been their many and precious promises, they are never in scripture called the church of God; no, it has been shown that they could not consistently be so termed, because they were not baptized by the Holy Spirit into the one body, and there is no other introduction other than by that baptism, which did not then exist. The true, the scriptural, limits of the church are the cross and the coming of the Lord Jesus {at the pretribulation rapture}; founded upon the one (the cross), and waiting for the other (the rapture), is that body, one with its Head on high, in which God dwells by the Holy Ghost; a new and unearthly body, having a path here below traced out for it, in many and important respects, quite distinct from what characterized the Old Testament saints, or what will characterize the millennial saints.

(The following paragraphs are additional in summary to the original notes) The baptism of the Spirit is the placing of individual believers into the one body of Christ (I Cor. 12:13). Everyone in the upper room before Pentecost were individual believers already. The baptism of the Spirit has nothing to do with individual salvation or regeneration, and is not the means by which we have the mutual indwelling of Christ in us, and we in Christ – mutual indwelling being associated with individual salvation and redemption. These individual believers in the upper room were to wait for the day of Pentecost, thereby waiting for the baptism of the Spirit. Any description of the individual Christian, the state we are placed in “in Christ”, or “Christ in” us, and privileges given to us as individual believers, should not be confused with the baptism of the Spirit which forms the corporate body of Christ, the church. Individual believers preceded the day of Pentecost; the baptism of the Spirit did not precede the day of Pentecost; the church body began to be formed on the day of Pentecost as a result of the Holy Spirit being sent down, and the baptism of the Spirit beginning the forming of the body of Christ.

The “pouring out of the Spirit upon” is a Jewish phrase and language. It is associated with external signs and outward manifestations such as visions, dreams, prophesying, etc. The Spirit came upon the prophets enabling them to speak the word of God, or to have visions and dreams revealing God’s prophetic word. It came upon others in Old Testament times to give strength to accomplish certain tasks or assignments. But I say this is a Jewish thing because it is always external and outward in manifestation and signs. The character of Judaism is a walk by sight and senses, the Jews requesting signs (I Cor 1:22). It is the Jewish character. Christianity is the opposite of this, a walk by faith. Joel’s prophecy, if we would read it from Joel’s book instead of just the part Peter quoted on the day of Pentecost, is really about a believing Jewish remnant (Joel 2:32) having the Spirit “poured out on them” before the great and terrible day of the Lord (Joel 2:28-31). I do not believe that the prophecy is to be understood as the Spirit being poured out on the entire nation or all people as some may think. God always saves a remnant in the midst of unbelieving Israel and Revelation 7:1-8 represents an end time Jewish remnant, much like He kept in the days of Elijah (I Kings 19:18). But can we not see that in the upper room on the day of Pentecost there was a believing remnant of Jews (the disciples), crying out to God, and looking for and expecting Jewish things (Acts 1:6, 11-12, 26). Even though we have to say the church began on the day of Pentecost, still consider what great Jewish character and ways this initial group had through the book of Acts up to Stephen’s death (Acts 7). The doctrine of the church had to wait until Paul would reveal it, the stewardship given to him (Eph 3:1-11, Col. 1:23-29).

At first the church was very Jewish, and only located in Jerusalem. Under the care of the twelve apostles, the church remained very Jewish, even using the temple as their meeting place. Even though they assuredly were the beginning of the church being gathered by the Holy Spirit sent down, and individually were baptized by the Spirit into the body of Christ (I Cor. 12:13), still they also represented a believing remnant of the Jews that God kept in the midst of the unbelieving nation of Israel. They perfectly fit the mold and definition of a Jewish remnant. And the Spirit of God was poured out on this believing remnant for power and signs in testimony to the unbelieving nation of Israel. All their preaching through Acts 7 was restricted to the Jews, offering the nation its last chance to receive the Messianic kingdom at that time, if the nation would repent (Acts 3:13-26). See for yourself how much Acts 3:17-20 is only Jewish ground and Jewish things. I have no doubt that the upper room group represented a believing Jewish remnant at the time, and the Spirit “pour out upon them” for power and signs for testimony to the nation – but how different in purpose is this from the baptism of the Spirit forming the church? It is completely different! They are not the same.