Being baptized with the Holy Spirit (aka Holy Spirit baptism) is a remarkably hot topic – often disputed among Christians today. And yet, there is little direct Scriptural reference to the explicit act of being “baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

In fact, there is much the Bible leaves to the imagination regarding the Holy Spirit in general. As a result, there is ample opportunity to go where Scripture does not take us. We may be inclined to take liberties in drawing conclusions. Furthermore, adding to the confusion about Holy Spirit baptism are the other types of baptism in Scripture.

However, there is information in Scripture about Holy Spirit baptism to examine. Let’s leverage the Bible Study Framework to answer this important and often misunderstood question.

In Christian theology, baptism with the Holy Spirit, also called baptism in the Holy Spirit or baptism in the Holy Ghost, has been interpreted by different Christian denominations and traditions in a variety of ways due to differences in the doctrines of salvation and ecclesiology.
WikipediaBaptism with the Holy Spirit, Wikipedia

How Scripture answers "What does it mean to be baptized with the Holy Spirit?"

Being baptized with the Holy Spirit only happened twice6 in the New Testament. Each occurrence3,4 marked “firsts” – the first conversion of Jews3, and then of Gentiles4. It was the miraculous ushering in of the kingdom of God for “the Jew first and also the Greek” (Romans 1:16).

The baptism with the Holy Spirit was foretold by John the Baptist1 and promised by Jesus2 when, “not many days” later on the day of Pentecost2, the apostles would preach the gospel to the Jews in Jerusalem, saving 3,000 souls. The second time we read of the Holy Spirit baptism is at the conversion of the first Gentiles4. It was a miraculous spectacle just like on the day of Pentecost5,6. In fact, it was a necessary display to convince Peter, his traveling companions5 and the Christian Jews back in Jerusalem6 of God’s acceptance of Gentiles into the kingdom4,5,6.

What it means to be baptized with the Holy Spirit can sometimes get mixed with other aspects of God’s promise of the Holy Spirit. For example, Holy Spirit baptism is not the same as water baptism4, nor is it the same as the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. As a result, other passages7 are sometimes promoted as speaking about this special Holy Spirit baptism but they are forced interpretations often taken out of context.

Answer built on scripture-blocks below

And he preached, saying, ‘After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’
John the Baptist preached about the fact that there was one coming after him that would be much greater than himself – someone for whom he was not even worthy to stoop before and untie his shoe. While John baptizes with water, this one coming after would baptize with the Holy Spirit.

The early days of John’s ministry and preparing the way for his cousin, Jesus. He was known for “baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance” (vs 4).  This is just before he baptizes Jesus, when John hears God testifying that the One he has baptized is the Messiah.

Parallel accounts of this appear in Matthew 3:7-12, Luke 3:7-17.

Scripture-block application to this question

The first mention of being baptized with the Holy Spirit by John the Baptist refers to what Jesus would do/bring.

And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
While Jesus was still with them [the eleven], He told them to remain in Jerusalem and wait for the promise from God.  Jesus had already told them about this and further told them that while John baptized with water, they would soon be baptized with the Holy Spirit.
Luke’s “part 2” account to Theophilus, where he opens with a brief summary (vss 1-11) that recaps/overlaps with the ending of the “part 1” (Luke 24:36-53).

Jesus, with His apostles (vs 2), is reminding them of the “promise of the Father” (“the Helper”) that He first told them about in the upper room before His crucifixion (John 14:15-17, 16:7-14). He is also referring back to the same thing John the Baptist had originally proclaimed, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” (Luke 3:16)

This is just before He ascends into heaven (vs 9) and the day of Pentecost (chapter 2).

Scripture-block application to this question

Jesus reiterates what John first said1, indicating it is imminent.

And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.
They [the apostles] were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in tongues other than their own as the Spirit directed them.
It is the day of Pentecost and Jews have made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem from all different nations (vs 5). The apostles have what appear to be “tongues as of fire” (vs 3) resting on each one of them to the amazement of the crowd. They are able to speak in everyone’s native tongue (vs 6) and Peter begins to preach to them of Jesus.
Scripture-block application to this question

This appears to be the baptism with the Holy Spirit that both John1 and Jesus2 referenced. It was “not many days” from Jesus’ statement and they received power (in this case speaking in a language they knew not).

While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?

While Peter was speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those Gentiles hearing the gospel message.  The Jews present with Peter were amazed since the gift of the Holy Spirit was being given to the Gentiles to the extent that they were speaking in tongues and praising God.  Then Peter declared that nobody could withhold the water needed for baptizing them since they had received the Holy Spirit just as they [apostles] had.

The church has grown among the Jewish community according to the pattern Jesus foretold (“you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Acts 1:8).  This pivotal chapter accounts the conversion of the first Gentiles to the Way.

Scripture-block application to this question

The Holy Spirit “fell on” the Gentiles (Cornelius et al) to Peter’s amazement. Peter’s conclusion is to baptize them for salvation.

!! scripture-block context extra important here !!

Importantly, it is after this (vs 48) that they were baptized with water. Two different baptisms with Cornelius. The first (baptism of the Holy Spirit) was for the benefit of Peter and his colleagues to demonstrate the Gentiles were accepted into the kingdom. The second (baptism with water) was for the benefit of Cornelius and his household, putting on Christ.

As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.

Peter was speaking as the Holy Spirit fell on Cornelius and his family/friends. He recalls Jesus telling him that while John had baptized with water, you (Peter) will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.

Peter is reporting back to the church in Jerusalem about his journey to Joppa and the conversion of the first gentiles (Cornelius and his family/friends – chap 10).

Scripture-block application to this question

Peter directly relates the “falling on” of the Holy Spirit to the gentiles in Joppa4 with the “falling on” that occurred to himself and the other apostles on the day of Pentecost3. He says, “If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed…” (vs 17). By Peter’s own testimony it was a necessary display by God to show the gentiles’ acceptance into the kingdom.

And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith.
God, who knows all mankind’s heart, bore witness to them [Cornelius and his household] by giving them the Holy Spirit just as He did to us [apostles], making no distinction between Jew and Gentile, having cleansed their hearts by faith [as well].
Following Paul’s first missionary journey where he established churches throughout Galatia, a controversy arises within the church, particularly among Jewish Christians concentrated in Jerusalem.  The issue is whether or not these Gentiles being converted by Paul need to first become Jewish by being circumcised.

Here, Peter is giving his testimony before the apostles and elders in Jerusalem (vs 6) and recalling the events surrounding the conversion of Cornelius (Acts 10) and the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2).

Scripture-block application to this question

Peter relates the spectacle (demonstration of power) that was the baptism of the Holy Spirit as a “witness” to removing the “distinction” between Jew and Gentile.

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body. Whether Jews or Greeks or slaves or free, we were all made to drink of the one Spirit.

Just as our bodies have many body parts that all together form one body, so it is with Christ’s body.  Regardless of whether you are Jew or Greek, slave or free, we were all baptized in one Spirit into one body, drinking of the same Spirit.

Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth addresses many serious and difficult issues they were facing.  Division among the body was a recurring theme – addressed in chapter 1 as following after certain prominent men (instead of Christ) – and here in chapter 12 as boasts in various spiritual gifts.

Scripture-block application to this question

According to the writings of Billy Graham, this passage is the only one used to answer this question. While it certainly mentions “Spirit” and “baptism” together, the reading of the text by itself does not support its application to “Holy Spirit baptism”. The fact that all are baptized into one body and one Spirit doesn’t mean this is “baptism of the Holy Spirit” being discussed. Further, it’s not unique for “Spirit” and “baptism” to be linked in other passages clearly speaking of water baptism (Acts 2:38).

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  1. Charlie Brackett at - Reply

    What Peter said in Acts 11:15-17 is impressive: “And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them, as upon us at the beginning.” Peter’s reference to the beginning refers to his sermon to Jews on Pentecost recorded in Acts 2. That was ten or eleven years before his sermon to the Gentile household of Cornelius (Acts 10). The Holy Spirit baptism in Acts 2 was on Jews, in Acts 10 on Gentiles with a decade or so between them.. Peter summed it up by saying, “Then I remembered the word of the Lord, how He said, ‘John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.'” (Acts 11:16) The inescapable conclusion was that the gospel invitation was to Gentiles as well as Jews. Impressive!

    • It is inescapable and the ten year gap is a really interesting point. A twice-in-their-lifetime event that occurred a decade apart! No wonder Peter reminding them of “the beginning” was the vivid correlation they needed to know God had welcomed the Gentiles into the kingdom. Of course, they also had the countless prophecies speaking about “the day” the “nations” would come to the house/mountain/city of the Lord.