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The Baptism with the Spirit—Distinct from Salvation? by Michael D. Peters

 

Apostles on the Day of Pentecost

The Jewish festival of Shavuot is known as Pentecost (Latin, fiftieth day) because it comes fifty days after Passover. Ten days after the Ascension, when the feast of Pentecost had fully arrived, the Apostles and those gathered with them received the other Comforter whom Jesus had promised. But was Pentecost their first reception of the Spirit? If the Baptism with the Spirit is an integral part of every Christian’s salvation experience then the Apostles, who were among the first people ever to receive the Baptism with the Spirit (Acts 2:1-4), could not have received the Spirit prior to Pentecost.

Biblical Christianity called for salvation that involved repentance, faith, new birth, water baptism, and Spirit baptism. All of it was included.

However the Apostles received the Holy Spirit prior to Pentecost. On the evening of Christ’s resurrection, Jesus breathed on them the Holy Spirit: “’Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.’ And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’” (John 20:21-22). The Apostles first received the Spirit on the day of Christ’s resurrection. This was seven weeks before the day of Pentecost.

If the Apostles received the Spirit when Jesus breathed upon them, then Pentecost was for them a later baptism with the Spirit.3 This means that their Spirit baptism was distinct from their regeneration and contradicts the idea that the Spirit baptism is an integral part of the initial salvation experience. MacArthur realizes this and explains that Jesus did not impart the Spirit when he breathed upon them, but that Jesus’ breathing was only a prophetic enactment that pointed forward to the Spirit’s coming at Pentecost. He affirmed that the interpretation of Jesus’ breathing as a prophetic enactment versus an actual impartation reflected the difference between a noncharismatic versus charismatic interpretation.4

However, long before this modern day controversy, John Calvin, who was noncharismatic, explained the relationship between Christ’s breathing of the Spirit on the day of his resurrection and the outpouring of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost:

But if Christ then bestowed His Spirit on the Apostles by breathing, it could seem superfluous to send the Spirit afterwards. I reply: The Spirit was given to the Apostles now in such a way that they were only sprinkled with His grace and not saturated with full power. But when the Spirit appeared on them in tongues of fire, they were entirely renewed.5

This is not just a sixteenth century view, as the modern day Anglican, Leon Morris, affirms that the reception of the Spirit cannot be reduced to just once: “It is false alike to the New Testament and to Christian experience to maintain that there is but one gift of the Spirit. Rather the Spirit is continually manifesting Himself in new ways. So John tells us of one gift and Luke of another.”6  The Lutheran, R.C.H. Lenski, explains the two receptions as reflecting different purposes: “Nor need the fact disturb us that those who already have the Spirit are said to receive him anew. Once he comes with one gift and one purpose, then he comes with other gifts and a greater purpose.”7 Belief that Christ actually imparted the Spirit when he breathed on them is a biblical belief not only held by charismatics, but taught by noncharismatic scholars as well. Both charismatics and noncharismatics teach that for the Apostles, their baptism with the Spirit was not an integral part of their initial salvation experience but a subsequent Spirit baptism.

 

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Category: Fall 1998, Pneuma Review, Spirit

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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