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Perspectives on Spirit Baptism: Five Views

In his response to Kaiser, Del Colle gently raises the question of the theological import of Kaiser’s Evangelical doctrine of Spirit baptism, since it did not exist before the Holiness/Pentecostal movements (41). In other words, it was only because of the Pentecostal challenge that Evangelicals formulated a counter-doctrine. (In fact, as a Pentecostal scholar-friend commented to me, this book would not exist if it were not for the Pentecostal movement.) Del Colle also questions Kaiser’s use of a single scripture—1 Corinthians 12:13a—whereby all other Spirit-baptism-related verses are interpreted (43).

Kaiser, taking his cue from Stott, uses this verse at least 14 times in structuring his Reformed position of Spirit baptism or rebutting the Pentecostal position. I was disappointed that Horton did not take him to task for his heavy dependence upon a single verse. His entire argument hinges upon a two-letter Greek word, the preposition en, which, according to him, must be translated in (“in one Spirit we were all baptized”) and must be univocal in meaning with the other six non-Pauline occurences. Furthermore, this Pauline baptism in the Spirit, once asserted, must be the one passage that controls the other six. Hence, the one-verse soteriology of Paul trumps the prophetic empowerment contexts of John the Baptist, quoted by Jesus, who was in turn quoted by Peter (and all by Luke).

Because of Kaiser’s misuse of 1 Corinthians 12:13a, I took a closer look at it and the other six that mention Spirit baptism, This is what I found: (1) Paul’s clause contains 11 words, of which seven do not occur in any of the other six passages (actually eight, since kai is not used in the same sense); (2) Of the 15 different words that are used in the other six, Paul matches only two of them identically (“in,” and “Spirit”), and even then, not by order; (3) Two words that Paul uses (“one body”) that are critical to his intent and Kaiser’s view do not occur in any of the other six passages; (4) Two of Paul’s words that are common to all the verses are separated by another critical word, “one,” transforming the critical phrase “in the Holy Spirit” in the six, to “in one Spirit,” which is balanced semantically by “in one body,” a phrase totally foreign to the six; (5) The verb in Paul’s verse (“were baptized”) occurs in a tense and person not found in the six.

Apparently, Luke and Paul were not describing identical Christian experiences, but I don’t come to that conclusion because of the grammatical differences. The greater point is made not with grammar but with contexts. John the Baptist’s statement, later quoted by Jesus, is adequately explained by Jesus (through Luke); it occurs in Acts 1:8, where Theophilus learns that this baptism, yet to come to the disciple-believers, will be for power to witness—elements not in view in 1 Corinthians 12:13a. (Furthermore, Kaiser jettisons his argument from authorial intentionality, knowing that it doesn’t help his cause at all here, for Paul does not intend to teach that Spirit baptism effects salvation/conversion here or in any other passage, neither does any other New Testament writer make such a statement. Also, his argument for a univocal en is weakened, in my mind, by his argument for an equivocal disciple in Acts 19:1.)

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About the Author: Robert W. Graves, M. A. (Literary Studies, Georgia State University), is the co-founder and president of The Foundation for Pentecostal Scholarship, Inc., a non-profit organization supporting Pentecostal scholarship through research grants. He is a Christian educator and a former faculty member of Southwestern Assemblies of God College in Waxahachie, Texas, and Kennesaw State University (adjunct). He edited and contributed to Strangers to Fire: When Tradition Trumps Scripture and is the author of Increasing Your Theological Vocabulary, Praying in the Spirit (1987 and Second Edition, 2017) and The Gospel According to Angels (Chosen Books, 1998).

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