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Baptism in the Spirit: Is it Normal to Receive At or After Conversion?


MacArthur substantiates this change by appealing to Greek definitions of the preposition en and affirms that it can either be translated as “by” or “with” depending on the case of the word following it. That is true, but before we address that, there is an obvious question should be asked: If “with” the Spirit is more accurate, why do so many English translations render the Greek preposition en as “by”? The King James Bible, The Revised Standard Bible, The New American Standard Bible, and The New International Version all translate this verse as “by the Spirit.”

Also, if Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians taught that at conversion everyone was baptized with the Spirit, why in Acts are disciples baptized with the Spirit after conversion?6 That would make the Spirit’s work in Acts contrary to the Spirit’s teaching in the epistles.

This would violate the synthesis principle of interpretation that MacArthur defined as:

The synthesis principle puts Scripture together with Scripture to arrive at a clear, consistent meaning. If we hold to an interpretation of one passage that does not square with something in another passage, one of the passages is being interpreted incorrectly—or possibly both of them. The Holy Spirit does not disagree with himself.7

The Holy Spirit’s workings in Acts will not contradict the Holy Spirit’s inspired teaching. If the Spirit teaches in 1 Corinthians 12:13 that every believer receives the Spirit baptism at conversion, yet in Acts, the Apostles, Samaritans, Paul, and Ephesians were baptized with the Spirit after conversion, then the Holy Spirit would be contradicting himself. That means the interpretation of 1 Corinthians 12:13 that says every believer is baptized with the Spirit at conversion is inconsistent with the Spirit’s work in Acts.


Meaning of 1 Corinthians 12:13

Is there an interpretation of 1 Corinthians 12:13 that is consistent with the Spirit’s work in Acts? If 1 Corinthians 12:13 is not addressing the Baptism with the Spirit but the Baptism by the Spirit, it is not contradictory.

It is not just a matter of the meaning of a preposition. It is a matter of who is doing the baptizing. The baptism with the Spirit is performed by Christ (Matthew 3:11). Whereas, Paul wrote about a baptism performed by the Spirit. Of course, it would be wrong to dissect the Trinity, but the Scripture does identify certain works with different persons of the Trinity.

Returning now to the meaning of the Greek preposition en. Kenneth Wuest, a Greek scholar, explained the use of this preposition as it refers to the Spirit’s work of baptizing believers into the Body of Christ:

The word “Spirit” is in the instrumental case in Greek. … The personal agent in this case who does the baptizing is the Holy Spirit. He places or introduces the believing sinner into the Body of which the Lord Jesus is the living Head. We could translate, “By means of the personal agency of one Spirit, we all were placed in one body.” …

This brings us to a careful distinction which we must make. It is not the baptism with the Spirit or of the Spirit, in the sense that the Holy Spirit is the element which is applied to us. It is the baptism by the Spirit. This baptism does not bring the Spirit to us in the sense that God places the Spirit upon or in us. Rather, this baptism brings the believer into vital union with Jesus Christ.8


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Category: Spirit, Summer 1999

About the Author: Michael D. Peters has ministered among charismatic and noncharismatic Christians for over twenty-five years. For the past 14 years (as of Fall 1998) he has pastored Christ the King Covenant Church in Webster Groves, Missouri. He hold a Masters in Theology from Covenant Theological Seminary and is presently pursuing a doctorate in historical theology at Saint Louis University.

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