Baptism in the Holy Spirit

Why Did Jesus Breathe on Them?

There are considerable differences of opinion between the various churches over the "Baptism in the Holy Spirit." We need to understand this debate because it is very relevant to us.

The Roman Catholic church teaches that everyone baptised (sprinkled) in water by an ordained priest is saved, born of the Spirit and sealed by the Spirit at the moment of baptism, (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1995, p.349 para 1215, p.362 para 1267, p.364 para 1274), even if they are only a baby. Baptism achieves all this, and the teaching is called "baptismal regeneration", meaning baptismal rebirth.

The older Protestant churches vary widely on the meaning and importance of baptism, but most baptise babies. The Book of Common Prayer (for Anglicans) teaches baptismal regeneration (Book of Common Prayer, p.207, Publick Baptism of Infants), and at Confirmation the person is "strengthened" and "increased" in the Spirit.

The Evangelical churches (Baptist, Brethren) teach that "born again" and "baptised in" the Spirit are the same thing. This happens to converts when they believe and confess Christ. Water baptism is symbolic only and plays no part in the salvation process.

Most Pentecostal churches differ from all the foregoing. They say a person is "born again" of the Spirit and saved, when they believe and confess Christ. Baptism plays no part in the salvation process. Most believe "baptism in the Spirit" is a "second experience" of the Spirit, the "initial evidence" of this experience is speaking in tongues, and its purpose is to give believers power to witness for Christ, (Assemblies of God in Australia, United Constitution, April 1993).

WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY? - It is easy to show that the first two options are not Biblical! Young children were not baptised in Scripture because they cannot believe: ACTS 8:37; MARK 16:16. Nor can they receive the Holy Spirit because that also needs faith, JOHN 7:39; GALATIANS 3:2. For most this teaching is wrong because the person needs not believe.

The Evangelical approach is also flawed. In ACTS 8:12 and ACTS 19:2, we find "believers" who have not received the Spirit. See ACTS 8:17 & ACTS 19:6. This is confirmed in EPHESIANS 1:13, "after you believed you were sealed with the Holy Spirit". The apostles believed during Jesus' ministry, MATTHEW 16:16; JOHN 20:28, but did not receive the Spirit until the Day of Pentecost. So the Holy Spirit is NOT normally received when people first believe. He comes later, though it could be seconds later!

PENTECOSTAL TEACHING - This is the interesting one. Pentecostals try to prove a first and second experience of the Spirit from Scripture as noted above. There are two key passages for them. First is 1 CORINTHIANS 12:12, "For by (in) one Spirit are we all baptised into one body". This verse applies to all. The phrasing here is exactly the same as in the other six references to "baptism in the Spirit", like MATTHEW 3:11; ACTS 1:5 & ACTS 11:16, which all say (or imply) that Jesus baptises us in, Greek: en, the Spirit. Evangelicals say the verse is talking about "baptism" in the Spirit, or "born of" the Spirit, like all others.

Pentecostals deny this because it says all must have the baptism in the Spirit, which for them is the "speaking in tongues" experience, to be in the Body of Christ. They suggest it means the Spirit "baptises" us into The Body of Christ at conversion, and Christ baptises us in the Spirit later. The Greek grammar does not support this in any way!

BREATHING ON THEM - The second passage is in JOHN 20:22. On the Resurrection Evening, Jesus, "breathed on them and saith unto them: Receive ye the Holy Ghost". Pentecostals believe those present were "born again" at that moment and "baptised" in the Spirit on the day of Pentecost. For many reasons, this is not so. Note that Thomas was not with the other apostles and was not "breathed on" later.

The word Jesus used: "Receive", Greek: "lambano", is the only word used every time the "baptism" in the Holy Spirit is referred to in Acts. (ACTS 2:38; ACTS 8:17; ACTS 10:47; ACTS 19:2). So it refers to the baptism with the Spirit, and not to being "born again", if we make a distinction between the two.

Therefore Jesus was commanding them to be "baptised" in the Spirit as soon as possible when He said: "Receive ye the Holy Ghost."

Jesus gave two pre-conditions for the coming of the Holy Spirit. First He said:

"If I depart, I will send him unto you" (JOHN 16:7). His "departing" was clearly His ascension from the Mount of Olives after 40 days of "appearing to" His disciples. At that time he again told them to wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit to come, ACTS 1:8. The Spirit could not "come" before Jesus "went". The Spirit "came" later on the day of Pentecost.

Also the Holy Spirit could not come until Jesus was "glorified" (JOHN 7:39). This must refer to Jesus being "exalted" to the right hand of God, "receiving" the promise of the Holy Spirit from Him, and giving the Spirit to us, ACTS 2:33. It was not possible for the Spirit to be given before this!

Before Jesus breathed on them He said: "As my Father hath sent me, even so send I you" (JOHN 20:21). Then He spoke of them "putting away" the sin of others. LUKE 24:33-49 records the same meeting and says Jesus told them to wait in Jerusalem until the promise and power came. Clearly Jesus was commissioning them to go and preach after they received the Holy Spirit. There was no change at all in the disciples after Jesus breathed on them, which confirms that nothing happened at that time. The dramatic change came on the Day of Pentecost.

Jesus' act of breathing on the disciples was like a parable. It reminds us of the creation of Adam. When God breathed into Adam he became a "living soul". When Jesus breathed on the disciples and said: "Receive ye the Holy Spirit", He was showing that this would be the receiving of new life.

Unless people receive the Holy Spirit they do not have the new life Jesus intended for them!

THE CONCLUSION - So there are many different positions on this issue. We believe the true position is between the evangelical and pentecostal versions, except that being "born of water" in baptism is also essential. To be "born again" of the Spirit and "baptised" in the Spirit are the same thing. There are two different experiences. The Holy Spirit did not "come" until the Day of Pentecost, just as the evangelicals say.

When we receive the Holy Spirit we speak in tongues as is evident in Acts. Paul assumed everyone in the church spoke in tongues, 1 CORINTHIANS 14:18,23,26. We are not born again, or baptised in the Spirit until this happens, but may be believers as in ACTS 19:2. All believers should receive the Spirit which becomes the "earnest" or pledge of our salvation (EPHESIANS 1:13-14). Without that assurance we take our chances at the Resurrection. While this is a challenging position to adopt, and upsets many people, we believe it is the only one supported by The Word of God.

Auckland Christian Assembly - New Zealand.

Taken from HQL-9826, p. 4-6