Paul says there is one baptism (Eph 4:5). No one dare make that water baptism since Paul clearly makes it baptism by the Spirit in 1 Cor 12:13 and Gal 3:27. Yet it is a common mistake to conflate Paul’s baptism by the Spirit and the baptism with the Holy Ghost at Pentecost. The reasoning normally does not go further than that both baptisms utilize the Holy Spirit.
Yet, just because we read the same word (in Greek or English) it does not mean the context is the same. These two baptisms should be separated because of a difference in who is baptizing, who is being baptized, and why they are being baptized.
Who is Baptizing?
Mathew 3:11 is one of the most useful verses in the doctrine of baptisms. It clearly delineates who performs the different baptisms.
“I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire:” – Matthew 3:11
John performs the first baptism. Jesus performs the second and the third baptism.
John baptizes with water. Jesus baptizes with the Holy Ghost and fire. One thing is certain: water is never doing the baptism. John is the agent who performs the baptism with water. Jesus is the agent who performs the baptism with fire. Likewise, the Holy Spirit is not doing the baptism. Jesus is the agent who performs the baptism with the Spirit.
In Paul’s baptism of 1 Cor 12:13, we do not find John or Jesus performing the baptism.
“For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.” – 1 Cor 12:13
Here, the Spirit is baptizing us into the body (of Christ). Romans 6:3 explains this as well.
“Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?” – Romans 6:3
This baptism is into Christ. This cannot be the water baptism of John which was into water. It cannot be the baptism performed by Jesus which was with the Spirit. It is most obviously the unique baptism described by Paul in 1 Cor 12 which is performed by the Spirit into Christ.
Some will make much ado about the underlying Greek prepositions in the verses mentioned above. Those who wish to make the baptisms the same will say that the words ‘by’ and ‘with’ are interchangeable in the Greek. Although this is an oversimplification in some cases it may be true.
Yet, the preposition does not determine the context of the baptism. Rather the clearly translated context determines the rightness of the English preposition. If the verses are reread with any of the prepositional variations that are suggested it remains obvious that the agents and the objects are different.
Knowing that lengthy discussions about Greek translations are mostly red herrings and of minimal usefulness to English speaking people, following are two other reasons why the baptisms are different despite the preposition.
Who is being baptized?
The audience is a significant factor in determining the context and application of the baptisms.
John’s baptism with water was to repentant Israel. This is not contested as he was in the wilderness of Judea and was teaching the fulfillment of the Jewish prophecies to Jews under the Old Testament (Mat 3:1-6).
Jesus’ baptism with the Spirit which unarguably occurs at Pentecost is also unto repentant Israel (Acts 2:38). Peter’s message was to an audience entirely of “men of Israel” and proclaimed his message as a fulfillment of the prophecies given to Israel about the Messiah and the kingdom (Acts 2:14).
“Yea, and all the prophets from Samuel and those that follow after, as many as have spoken, have likewise foretold of these days. Ye are the children of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with our fathers, saying unto Abraham, And in thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed.” – Acts 3:24-25
It is evident that Peter was not preaching the same message that Paul taught about the cross, the Jew / Gentile church, the fall of Israel, their future destiny, or justification (see Peter vs Paul). Peter was following the law and righteousness with works as far forward as Acts 10:35 and Gal 2:11.
The nature of the audience and the message taught signifies a distinct baptism.
Why are they being baptized?
Both baptisms involving the Spirit do not utilize any earthly element. (Although you can make a case that the Holy Ghost baptism of Pentecost would not be evident without the laying on of hands; Acts 8:15-16.) Christ and the Spirit are the agent and object. In one Christ is the agent identifying New Testament Israel with the Spirit. In the other the Spirit is the agent identifying the new creature with Christ.
This simple difference is the most significant of all!
The purpose of the Holy Ghost baptism was to fulfill the prophecy of the New Testament in providing the power for the remnant of Israel to endure the tribulation, enter the kingdom, and supernaturally follow the law as was once required of them (Exodus 19:5-6).
“And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.” – Eze 36:27
In order to be a part of the New Testament the believing remnant needed Christ’s blood (Heb 9:15-16), water baptism (Luke 7:29, Mark 16:16), and the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5-8).
This purpose of the anointing baptism by Christ with the Spirit was to teach them all things (John 14:26, 1 John 2:27). If they rejected this power then there remained no more forgiveness for them (Heb 6:4-6, 10:24-27).
Contrast this purpose with the Spirit’s function for believers under grace.
“In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise,” – Eph 1:13
By baptizing (identifying) us into Christ’s death there is no need for a testament or list of good deeds to keep us in proper standing with God. Instead it is the Spirit itself which becomes the seal and evidence of our union with Christ (Romans 8:9).
Instead of baptizing us into Israel’s New Testament (Heb 8:10), we are baptized into Christ himself. This new creature is not identified with any national covenants but contains members of any nationality (Gal 3:38).
Whereas the Pentecostal baptism was necessary to establish the kingdom promised to Israel, the baptism by the Spirit is needed to place us into the body of Christ. They are different baptisms with different agents, different audiences, and different purposes.
The danger of conflating the two is seen in many different forms the most egregious of which is held by some of our Pentecostal friends that if you are not filled with the Pentecostal Holy Ghost baptism then you are not a member of the church. “Where are those signs that follow?” they ask (Mark 16:17-18).
The answer is only found in a Pauline division.