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

The Samaritans were not unique. They followed the pattern of several others in the Book of Acts. The Apostles, the Samaritans, Paul, and the Ephesian disciples all received the Spirit after believing. They were born again by the Spirit then baptized with the Spirit. Their experience was common.


Falling, Filling, or Baptism is Normative

To define what is normative regarding the baptism with the Spirit is difficult because God gave the Spirit baptism to one at conversion and to another after conversion. It is also difficult to define what is normative because neither Jesus nor the Apostles defined it according to the present day terminology of debate. Jesus and the Apostles spoke just as freely of the Holy Spirit falling upon someone as they did of a baptism or filling with the Spirit. They used multiple terms to describe the same experience.

In Acts, the Baptism with the Holy Spirit is only mentioned twice. First by Jesus, “You have heard from Me; for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now” (Acts 1:4-5). Three verses later, when Jesus described the Spirit baptism, He did not even use the word baptism. He only said, “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you” (Acts 1:8). Instead of speaking a baptism, He now spoke of the Spirit coming upon them. On the Day of Pentecost, when the event actually occurred, it was not stated that they were baptized, but filled with the Spirit: “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:4). The same experience was described as a baptism, a coming upon, and a filling.

Peter made the only other specific reference to the Baptism with the Spirit. In his report to the Jerusalem brethren he described the Spirit’s falling upon Cornelius’ household as a baptism: “And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them, as upon us at the beginning. 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 11:15-16).

Was it a falling, a filling, or a baptism? The Apostles were comfortable using numerous expressions. They did not define the fillings of the Spirit into a tidy theological definition for the purpose of determining what was normative.

If there is a normative Spirit baptism, it is this: The Spirit is sovereign in His affairs with men. Being in relationship with Him involves multiple fillings of which the Baptism with the Spirit is one which may occur at or after conversion.






1 John MacArthur, Charismatic Chaos (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1992), 172. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.

2 MacArthur 175.

3 MacArthur 189.

4 MacArthur 189-190.

5 Editor’s note: For perhaps the most thorough discussion of charismatic and Pentecostal definitions of Spirit baptism, see H. I. Lederle’s monumental work, Treasures Old and New: Interpretations of “Spirit-Baptism” in the Charismatic Renewal Movement (Peabody, Mass.: Hendricksen Publishers, 1988). In various places in this work, the “one-stage” or unified interpretation of Spirit baptism is identified with the cessationist position, see especially pp. 2-5.


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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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