Philip P Eapen
This is a concise overview of books and resources available on “Baptism in the Holy Spirit” with special attention on the historical context of the Pentecostal movement. Reading various books on this topic without understanding which tradition they represent will only serve to confuse readers. Given that there are several authors who have written on the Baptism, I have listed only the most authentic ones.
The phrase “Baptism in the Holy Spirit” is absent in the scriptures. In the phrase coined by John the Baptist, the word ‘baptism’ does not occur in the noun form but as a verb in the future tense.1 John spoke about his successor Jesus who would “baptize (immerse) in the Holy Spirit.” The metaphor of immersion must be understood in its context. Otherwise, we will unnecessarily wrangle about terminology instead of focusing on what the terminology refers to.
John was immersing people in water to “cleanse” repentant sinners of their guilt. It was a Jewish custom to take a dip in water to cleanse themselves of impurity and guilt after offering necessary sacrifices for the forgiveness of their sins. A few Jews asked John whether he was the Messiah. The Jews already knew that their Messiah would be characterised by the Holy Spirit. Therefore, John pointed out to them the obvious fact that he was just immersing people in water. “I immerse you with water.” He then went on to speak about the Messiah, “But the One who comes after me will immerse you in the Spirit and in fire.” This metaphor of immersion or baptism arose from that particular situation.
Jesus2 and the evangelists3 cited this metaphor when they spoke about the outpouring of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost in connection with John the Baptizer’s prediction. On other occasions, they did not refer to the “Pentecostal experience” as the “baptism in the Holy Spirit.”
Even Luke, while describing the events on the day of Pentecost, used the word “filled,” “received” and “came.”
“All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.”4
We must understand that the outpouring itself is more important than the metaphor of baptism used to describe it. We can use other metaphors to refer to the outpouring of the Spirit, as seen in other passages of the Acts of the Apostles.
Acts 4:8 – Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people!
Acts 4:31 – After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.
Acts 9:17 – Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”
Acts 13:52 – And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.
Acts 10:47 – “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.”
Acts 10:44 – While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message.
Acts 11:15 – “As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning.
Acts 19:6 – When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied.
From the early days of Methodism, some Christians emphasized sanctification, holiness, and Christian perfection. John Wesley and Asa Mahan are among those who wrote about Christian perfection that we can achieve in this life through victory over sin. They understood this attainment of sanctification as a second work of grace in a Christian’s life, subsequent to conversion. The doctrine of “Baptism in the Holy Spirit” as taught by the Holiness movement and Pentecostalism, as a distinct work of grace, has its roots in this teaching on Christian Perfection.
John Wesley, Plain Account of Christian Perfection, 1725-’77 on CCEL
Asa Mahan, Scripture Doctrine of Christian Perfection (1839) on archive.org
The Holiness Movement that began in 1867 taught about the “Baptism of the Holy Spirit” - a special empowering experience closely related to total sanctification.
Asa Mahan, Baptism of the Holy Ghost (1876) on archive.org
In this Holiness Tradition, the “Baptism in the Holy Spirit” was understood as:
- an experience of God’s power that was separate from the experience of conversion (The notion of ‘Separability’)
- an experience that happens after conversion (The notion of ‘Subsequence’)
More books were written from this perspective. The prominent ones are:
In 1899, Charles Parham instructed his students, at Topeka, to determine, through Bible study, the sure evidence of “Baptism in the Holy Spirit.” His students came up with an answer. According to them, speaking in tongues was the external evidence of “Baptism in the Holy Spirit.” A few days later, during the watch-night prayer service that ushered in the year 1900, some of Parham’s students received the “Baptism in the Holy Spirit” and they spoke in unknown tongues.
Thus, these new “Pentecostals” and their successors, added two more teachings to their understanding of the “Baptism in the Holy Spirit” in addition to what they received from the Holiness Movement:
Palmer and Stronstad espouse the classical Pentecostal view.
Gordon Fee is a Pentecostal scholar. He accepts the Pentecostal experience as a valid experience. But he critically examines the Pentecostal explanation of “separability” and “subsequence.” His books listed below are grounded in proper exegesis (and, in these, he is in conversation with Stronstad).
For an alternate view from a Pentecostal Pastor, read:
Narciso C. Dionson, “The Doctrine Of The Baptism In The Holy Spirit: From A Pentecostal Pastor’s Uneasy Chair,” Asian Journal of Pentecostal Studies, 2/2 (1999), pp. 233-242.
Frank D. Macchia’s “Baptized in the Spirit” examines the most recent trends in Pentecostal and charismatic theology, especially with regard to the displacement of Spirit baptism as Pentecostalism’s central distinctive.
The Asian Journal of Pentecostal Studies has several articles related to the baptism in the Spirit. There are also useful articles on Pentecostal Missiology, Church History, etc. To access all twenty-five volumes (fifty issues) of the Asian Journal of Pentecostal Studies, visit their site.
Vol 1/2, Roli G. dela Cruz – Salvation in Christ and Baptism in Spirit: A Response to to Robert Menzies, “Evidential Tongues: An Essay on Theological Method”
Vol 2/2, Dionson, “The Pentecostal Doctrine of Baptism in the Holy Spirit: A Pastoral Confession”
Vol 10/2, Wan, “Suggestions for a fuller Pentecostal pneumatology”
Vol 10/2, Tupamahu, “Biblical Versus Sacramental Approach: A Comparative Study of Robert P. Menzies and Simon Chan’s Views on Baptism in the Holy Sprit”
Vol 13/2, Paul W. Lewis, The Baptism in the Holy Spirit as Paradigm Shift
Vol 21/2, Dave Johnson, Baptism in The Holy Spirit vs Spirit Possesion in the Lowland Philippines: Some Considerations for Discipleship
Did Jesus tell His apostles that glossolalia was the “initial physical evidence” of the arrival of the Spirit?
Was Luke interested in telling his readers about “subsequence” or about any “initial physical evidence” of Holy Spirit baptism? Or, did we make him say what we wanted to hear?
Luke had his own reasons for describing the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, and on every other subsequent occasion. As faithful students of the Bible, we must discover Luke’s intentions and message. We must not impose our agenda on Luke.
What did Pentecostals lose because of they followed Charles Parham’s emphasis on initial physical evidence and on the timing of baptism of the Holy Spirit?
“… be filled by the Spirit:
19speaking to one another
in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs,
singing and making music
from your heart to the Lord,
20giving thanks always for everything
to God the Father
in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,
21submitting to one another
in the fear of Christ.”6
1. There is no second “work of grace beyond conversion” that can be pinpointed as “baptism in the Spirit.”
2. There is a connection between the reception of the Spirit and the experience of power for witnessing and service.
3. The empowering indwelling presence of the Spirit is more important than how or when we get initiated into that life. No doubt, we get initiated into that powerful Spirit-filled life through baptism in the Holy Spirit, which, Fee admits, is a biblically valid experience.7
4. A Christian’s empowered life in the Spirit is not about a single experience; it ought to be an ongoing experience.8 Fee sums it up thus: “For Paul life in the Spirit begins at conversion; at the same time that experience is both dynamic and renewable.”9
[to be concluded …]
Comments and Feedback
Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; John 1:33.↩︎
“For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with (ἐν) the Holy Spirit.” – Acts 1:5.↩︎
And I was reminded of the word of Our Lord, which he had said: ‘Yohannan baptized in water, but you shall be baptized in (ἐν) The Spirit of Holiness.’ Acts 11:16 (Aramaic Bible in Plain English).↩︎
“The essential matter, after all, is neither subsequence nor tongues, but the Spirit himself as a dynamic, empowering presence; and there seems to me to be little question that our way of initiation into that – through an experience of Spirit baptism – has biblical validity. Whether all must go that route seems to me to be more moot; but in any case, the Pentecostal experience itself can be defended on exegetical grounds as a thoroughly biblical phenomenon.” (Gordon Fee, Gospel and Spirit: Issues in New Testament Hermeneutics, (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1991), p. 110-111.)↩︎
Both Pentecostals and Evangelicals gave too much importance to the beginning of a Christian’s life in the Spirit by identifying the “baptism in the Spirit” as a “single” experience. Evangelicals said that it happens either at the time of conversion while Pentecostals claimed it was a subsequent experience. Evangelicals should learn that 1 Cor 12:13 is about unity of the Body of Christ effected by our common experience of the Holy Spirit; it is not about receiving Holy Spirit baptism at the time of conversion.↩︎
Gordon Fee, God’s Empowering Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul. (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1994), p. 863-4.↩︎
Philip Eapen, an environmental scientist by training, devoted his life to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ ever since he realized that the world needs Jesus Christ more than anyone or anything else. Apart from sharing the good news of Jesus Christ, Philip teaches Christians in order to equip them for service. He is supported by donations from readers. Philip is married to Dr. Jessimol and they are blessed with three sons and a daughter.
Date: Jan 31, 2023