Disclosures and Disclaimers: 1) This is NOT meant to be exhaustive by any means. 2) This is a “leaning,” of mine but NOT NECESSARILY a “view.” In other words, I am still studying, and I make that clear to whoever I speak to concerning the subject. 3) THE POINT is simply to have a “conversation” from another point of view to see where an individual with said view is coming from. 4) The Churches of Christ, many mainline protestants, Roman Catholics, and Orthodox Catholics generally have a different view concerning baptism than what is represented here (though the Eastern Orthodox is not as black and white about it in some cases). This article looks at where other Christians are coming from. 5) My personal view is a nuanced “hybrid” of the view represented in this article and the view represented by most Churches of Christ. It is closer to the Eastern Orthodox perspective. I have that view based on the data from Scripture, Apostolic fathers, and Ante-Nicene fathers. I’ll write an article on that one day in the future.


There has been much division in Christendom over the fundamentals of Christian citizenship. Those who claim Christ as Lord tend to find ways to disclaim others. This is an unfortunate truth because, while Christianity is a kingdom, it is also a family. When one turns away from another who proclaims Christ, he not only turns away a civil partnership, but he turns away a brother or sister as well.

While a follower of God should not accept someone as part of the spiritual family if God Himself would not suggest the individual has a relationship with Him, it is also true that one most certainly would not want to disfellowship a brother or sister either. It is better to be too gracious than not gracious enough. One should at least be gracious enough to reevaluate one’s answer to the question, “What makes one a member of the spiritual family?”

Not only does Scripture say that an individual must be adopted as a child of God to be in His family, but it says that one must have the Spirit of God to be a child of His (Rom. 8:9-17). There are no children of God who do not have the Spirit of God, and therefore, there are none without the Spirit who are saved. The indwelling Spirit and adoption into God’s family go hand-in-hand.

The question becomes, “When does a believer receive the gift of the Spirit?” Some suggest that God does not give the Spirit to anyone. Some say that only the “elect” receive the Spirit. Others suggest that when one believes in the gospel, one receives the Spirit. Which is true?

Brother Wayne Jackson says this concerning baptism, in The Acts of the Apostles: From Jerusalem to Rome: “Those who responded to Peter’s command not only were promised forgiveness of sins, but also the gift of the Holy Spirit.” [1] Many believe that the point in which an individual receives the gift of the Spirit is in baptism. This view seems to be consistent with the Scriptures.

First, the definition of baptism will be discussed. Second, there will talk about “how many” baptisms there are in reference to the church and the Spirit, asking which baptism is the correct baptism. Third, this article will study some possible disagreements and how said disagreements can be resolved. Last, the answer to this question will be explored.

What does Baptism Mean?

As always, the best place to start when arguing any subject is semantics and etymology. One must define what he/she means before there can ever be any productive conversation. Such is why it is good to now define baptism. This will be done by acknowledging the literal meaning of the term, discovering the popular definition of the term, and studying the symbolic concept behind the word. The first thing to note before moving forward is that “baptism” is a transliteration. What that means is that someone took all the Greek letters that spell “baptism” and found English letters to correspond to them. Baptism is not an English word!

William D. Mounce’s Analytical Lexicon to the Greek New Testament defines baptism, “to dip, immerse; to cleanse or purify by washing.” [2] Literally, the word “baptism” carries the concept of purifying by immersion. However, like with many English words today, words do not always hold to their literal meanings. One must likewise look at the popular use of a term to further understand how the audience would have interpreted the word. Remember, the Bible was written for all people, including the modern generations, but the Bible was written to specific people in specific contexts.

Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stewart explain the above concept well in How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth. They say that in the context of exegesis, “there are two basic kinds of questions one should ask of every biblical passage: those that relate to context and those that relate to the content.” [3] Exegesis means reading out of the text what the author intended the reader to understand. One does this by researching the cultural context of the original readers. After this, one should look at the literary content. In other words, when one does a word study on “baptism,” he should also look at the surrounding text to see how baptism is used.

The popular meaning of baptism seems to simply be “covering” or “coming over.” This is evident when one examines places like 1 Corinthians 10:1-3 when Paul speaks of the “baptism of Moses.” The Israelites were not dipped into anything or purified. They walked on dry land between the water. The Lord was over them in a cloud. They were covered.

Another example was in Acts 10 and 11, when the same event was explained three different ways. Some said that the Spirit fell on the people, some said it was poured on the people, and others said the Spirit immersed (or baptized) the people. This tells the reader that, in some literary contexts, all the above terms can be synonymous. Baptism, at times, means something more than just immersion. But it also means to be over someone or cover them. The imagery means to be overcome.

How Many Baptisms are in the New Covenant?

Ephesians 4:4-6 presents a problem when it says, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” [All Scripture is from the NIV unless otherwise noted]

John the Baptist, Jesus, Peter, Paul, and all the Christians in Acts 11 agree that there are two baptisms in reference to post-resurrection Christian initiation. There is a baptism of water and a baptism of the Spirit. Is this a contradiction to the “one baptism” mentioned above? The purpose of John’s baptism of water was to symbolize the coming Messiah and His baptism of the Spirit, as is seen in Luke 3:16 and John 1:31-33. John says that Jesus will baptize by the Spirit. He was not just speaking to the future apostles when he spoke those words. He was speaking to everyone.

In Acts 1, right before Jesus ascends into the heavens, He references not only John’s words but also words prophesied all the way back in Joel. John R. W. Stott says, in The Message of Acts, “It was His Father’s promise (4a, presumably through such Old Testament prophecies as Joel 2:28ff., Is. 32:15 and Ezk. 36:27), His own (since Jesus Himself had repeated it during His ministry, 4b), and John the Baptist’s, who had called the ‘gift’ or ‘promise’ a ‘baptism.” [4] Jesus confesses there are two baptisms.

Peter reminisces on these concepts in Acts 11:15-16 after Cornelius and his house were all immersed by the Spirit. Some suggest this was a one-time thing. That burden of proof would be on said individual because Scripture has already said this was to happen, and it never said it would stop. Such a view is speculation at best.

After the baptism of the Spirit in Acts 10, Peter still had the gentile converts baptized with water as well. There are still two baptisms. There is a baptism in water and another in the Spirit. According to Rene Pache, in The Person and Work of the Holy Spirit, “the case of the heathen at Cornelius’ house is still more striking since, in this connection, it is comparable to ours; they were baptized with the Spirit immediately upon their conversion to Christianity, and they became regenerated (Acts 10:44; 11:15-16).” [5] In essence, Pache is saying that the believers were immersed by the Spirit of God at the moment of genuine belief.

Paul, while speaking of unity, mentions the same concept when he says, “You were all baptized by/in one Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:12-13). Leon Morris says this in his book, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: 1 Corinthians, “Paul emphasizes what the Spirit does. “By one Spirit” is really ‘in one Spirit’ (the construction is the same as that in Mt. 3:11, ‘with water, ‘with the Holy Spirit’). It points to the Spirit as the element ‘in’ which they were baptized.” [6] Another time Paul says something similar is in Ephesians 1:13-14 when he says, “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession to the praise of his glory.”

If John, Jesus, Peter, Paul, and the first Jewish and gentile Christians all agree that there is a baptism of the Spirit, why does Ephesians 4 say there is a single baptism? And of which baptism is it speaking? The Christians in the first century were still baptizing with water as well (Acts 10:47-48). Water and Spirit baptism were not inherently simultaneous (Acts Chs. 2 & 11; Eph.1:13). Only one of these baptisms has the power to save, and only one is fundamental for Spiritual unity. That is the context of Ephesians 4.

Paul explains in Titus 3:5 that it is the Spirit that gives the Christian the continual washing of regeneration. Baptism does not automatically mean water. Baptism, in the NT context, means to cover and make pure. At the point of faith, one is covered and filled by the Spirit’s baptism (1 Cor. 12:13), receives gifts as the Spirit sees fit at some point following the baptism (1 Cor. 12:11), is unified with God and the church by said Spirit (Eph. 4:3-6), and made a child of God (Rom. 8:9-17).

God has always been a God who has a physical sign to parallel His spiritual covenants with man. He has had circumcision with Jews (which is paralleled as a sign with water baptism in Colossians). He had a rainbow with Noah. He had festivals and sacrifices. All these things are physical signs of a spiritual reality. The blood of bulls and goats did not literally take away sin, as seen in Hebrews 10 and Micah 6. They are commands “to take away sins”, but nothing more in reality than physical objects and ceremonies. It was all about faith, trust, and commitment. Water baptism is a sign of the Spiritual baptism one receives at the point of genuine faith. The “one baptism” in Ephesians 4 is almost certainly the baptism that unifies, glorifies, and sanctifies the faithful person spiritually. It can easily be argued that one is a child of God when he/she receives the Spirit of God by Spiritual baptism at faith. Man is saved in Christ, by grace, and through faith, being sanctified by the Spirit.

Common Disagreements

Some may protest that there are a few places that would contradict this view of salvation. The first that comes to mind is 1 Peter 3:18-21, which says, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it, only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also, not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”

Baptismal regenerationists suggest that this passage proves water baptism is the avenue to salvation. First, remember that baptism does not automatically mean water baptism. Second, remember that just because water is mentioned does not necessarily mean it is connected to the “type” of baptism that is mentioned. Third, Noah’s story is a metaphor, describing how, like the world was made clean by water because of the power of God, Christians are purified by a renewed Spirit (vs. 18). Fourth, the water was only a “symbol” (vs. 21). Fifth, this opposing view would contradict everything else we know about water and Spirit baptism in the New Covenant.

Another protest might be John 3:5, where Jesus says, “Unless one is born of water and of Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of Heaven.” Opponents would proclaim that the word “unless” is also translated as “except” and, therefore, only those who are water baptized can enter the kingdom. First, Jesus said this in the time of the Old Covenant, and there was not a “Christian baptism” that Nicodemus (a Jewish Rabbi) could have experienced. Second, baptism is not once mentioned in the context of Nicodemus and Jesus. Third, the only baptism he would have been familiar with would have been John’s baptism or washings. Fourth, “born of water” is most likely speaking of physical birth. In other words, like most Jews, Nicodemus thought he was naturally born into the kingdom. Jesus informs Nicodemus that being born a Jew is not good enough. He must be born of Spirit as well because the kingdom of Heaven is a spiritual kingdom. Fifth, water is often used in both covenants as a physical sign of the Spirit (Jhn. 7:37-39).

Last, some say that in places like Acts 19:2, Acts 2:38, and Acts 22:16 that the characters believed first and then were baptized. This would mean that they were not saved until they were baptized with water. In Acts 19:2, there were people who were “disciples” (which means “followers”) who had not even heard of the Holy Spirit. However, a careful look at the context shows that they were disciples, not of Jesus, but of John. They had not yet heard the Gospel of Christ. Sam Storms, in Tough Topics, says, “When Paul discovered they had not received the Spirit, he knew immediately they were not Christians. Upon realizing that they were disciples of John, Paul proclaimed Jesus, in whom they believed, at which point they received the Holy Spirit.” [7]

In Acts 2:38 it does not specify which baptism they were to have. However, in the context, before and after, there is a heavy emphasis on the immersion of the Spirit. Even if Peter were referring to water baptism, that would not negate Spirit baptism (see context). Being “pricked to the heart” is not necessarily genuine faith. Anyone can feel emotion. Even the demons believe in Jesus. But Peter said to repent. Repent means to change one’s mind. Confess means to acknowledge. Who is the hearer to change his mind towards? Jesus’ way over his own way. What is he to acknowledge? Jesus as Lord as opposed to his own lordship. This is synonymous with the biblical definition of genuine faith. Biblical faith is an active belief. It’s about a change in trust and commitment. They were unaware that they were able to respond. And as a result, they had to ask how to respond. Peter says to change and be immersed.

Last, in Acts 22, Paul tells his conversion story. He was told to “arise, be immersed, wash away your sins; calling on the name of the Lord.” First, there is no evidence that, at that time, Paul knew any more than the Jews in Acts 2 knew when they were “pricked in the heart.” He didn’t know the Gospel message, as far as we can tell, until Ananias came (vs. 14). Second, “calling” in Greek describes how the baptizing and the washing were to be accomplished. He did not say, “call on the Lord and have your sins washed away by being baptized.” But rather, “be immersed and have your sins washed away by declaring Jesus as Lord.” The salvation and baptism were accomplished by calling on Jesus.

Concluding Thoughts

In Free in Christ, Cecil Hook says, “when a person is baptized, he is baptized into Christ, into the body, into the church, into the kingdom, into the family of God, etc., whether he understands all of that or not.” [8] That is the question being addressed in this discussion. How is one in the family of God? At what point can a Christian call another “brother?”

Tim Woodroof beautifully puts it this way in The Spirit for the Rest of Us: “the Messiah, dripping with Spirit, immerses all who come to Him with that Spirit.” [9] Being filled, immersed, and covered by the Spirit at the point of genuine faith is consistent with the Scriptures. When He falls on you and is poured out like He was in the early church, He has made you a child of God. He helps the Christian to conform to the likeness of Jesus (Rom. 8:28-29; 2 Cor. 3:18). He brings the believer to the Father.

Norman L. Geisler, says in A Popular Survey of the New Testament, “Jesus referred to baptism as a work of righteousness (Matt. 3:15), and the Bible declares clearly that it is ‘not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us (Titus 3:5).” [10] This was in the context of the possible salvific power of water baptism in Acts 2:38.

So, it seems we are a child of God at bapitsm; the baptism of the Spirit. There has been cultish division in the family of our Father for too long. It is time to accept all who accept the Christian God (1 Jhn 1:6-7) and love the child of God (1 Jhn. 2:10).

Also See Related Post: Interpreting John 3:5: “Born of Water and Spirit”; An Exegetical and Applicable Analysis of Titus 3:3-8; What is the Gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38)?

[Works Cited
[1] Jackson, Wayne. The Acts of the Apostles: from Jerusalem to Rome. Stockton, CA:
Christian Courier Publications, 2005, 29.
[2] Mounce, William D. The Analytical Lexicon to the Greek New Testament. Grand
Rapids: Zondervan, 1993, 112.
[3] Fee, Gordon D., and Stuart Douglas. How to Read the Bible for All its Worth. Grand
Rapids: Zondervan, 2014, 30.
[4] Stott, John R. The Message of Acts. Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1990, 36.
[5] Pache, Rene. The Person and Work of the Holy Spirit. Chicago: Moody Press, 1979, 73.
[6] Morris, Leon. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: 1 Corinthians. Grand Rapids:
Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1985, 171.
[7] Storms, Sam. Tough Topics: Biblical Answers to 25 Challenging Questions. Wheaton,
IL.: Crossway, 2013, 274.
[8] Hook, Cecil. Free in Christ. Beaverton, OR: Cecil & Lea Hook Publishing Ministry, 1995, 87.
[9]  Woodroof, Tim. A Spirit for the Rest of Us: What Jesus Said about the Holy Spirit and How
it Applies to Your Life. Abilene, TX: Leafwood Publishers, 2009, 36.
[10] Geisler, Norman. A Popular Survey of the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Bakers
Books, 2007 132.]

Also See: Interpreting John 3:5: “Born of Water and Spirit”