The Holy Spirit Doesn’t Baptize Anyone into Anything

I’ve been surveying the doctrinal statements of numerous churches of late and I continue to come across a familiar mistake. It is also found in the Baptist Faith and Message of the Southern Baptist Convention. It reads, as do many statements in churches of other denominations:

“At the moment of regeneration He [i.e., the Holy Spirit] baptizes every believer into the Body of Christ.”

I agree with the BFM that Spirit baptism occurs at the moment of regeneration for all believers. The classical Pentecostal doctrine of Spirit baptism as separate from and subsequent to conversion lacks biblical warrant.

But this statement and others like it assert that the Holy Spirit baptizes every believer into the Body of Christ. The problem is that there isn’t a single, solitary biblical text which says that the Spirit baptizes anyone into anything. It is always and in every text Jesus Christ who baptizes believers in the Holy Spirit, the result of which is that we are incorporated into the Body of Christ.

Some have argued from 1 Corinthians 12:13 that Paul is describing a baptism “by” the Holy Spirit into Christ or into his body. Part of the motivation for this is the seemingly awkward phrase, “in one Spirit into one body,” hence the rendering, “by one Spirit into one body.” But what sounds harsh in English is not at all so in Greek. Indeed, as D. A. Carson points out, “the combination of Greek phrases nicely stresses exactly the point that Paul is trying to make: all Christians have been baptized in one Spirit; all Christians have been baptized into one body” (Showing the Spirit, 47).

The translation of the ESV is certainly the most accurate in 1 Cor. 12:13. It reads:

“For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and all were made to drink of one Spirit” (emphasis mine).

Much the same terminology appears in 1 Corinthians 10:2 where Paul says that “all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.” Here the cloud and the sea are the “elements” that surrounded or overwhelmed the people and Moses points to the new life of participation in the Mosaic Covenant and the fellowship of God's people of which he was the leader (see Grudem, Systematic Theology, 768).

In the other texts referring to Spirit-baptism (Matt. 3:11; Mk. 1:8; Lk. 3:16; Jn. 1:33; Acts 1:5; 11:16), the preposition en means “in”, describing the element in which one is, as it were, immersed. In no text is the Holy Spirit ever said to be the agent by which one is baptized. Jesus is the baptizer. The Holy Spirit is he in whom we are engulfed or the “element” with which we are saturated and deluged, resulting in our participation in the spiritual organism of the church, the body of Christ. Look closely:

“I [John the Baptist] baptize you with [Greek, en] water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He [Jesus] will baptize you with [Greek, en] the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matt. 3:11).

Identical language is used in Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; and in John 1:33. Then, when speaking of what would occur at Pentecost as the Holy Spirit would be poured out, Jesus himself echoed the words of the gospel authors and said: “for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with [Greek, en] the Holy Spirit not many days from now” (Acts 1:5). Peter says the same thing as he reflected on what happened when the Gentile Cornelius came to saving faith in Jesus (Acts 11:15).

Clearly, it is Jesus who baptizes his people “in” or “with” the Holy Spirit as the “element” in/with which we are immersed or saturated, the result of which is our spiritual incorporation into the body of Christ.

If the biblical authors had intended to teach that the believer is baptized “by” the Spirit they would most likely have used another preposition, probably hupo followed by the genitive, not en with the dative. This is what we see in such texts as Matthew 3:6, Mark 1:5, and Luke 3:7 where people were baptized “by” John the Baptist; or texts such as Matthew 3:13 and Mark 1:9 where Jesus was baptized “by” John; or Luke 7:30 where the Pharisees had not been baptized “by” John.

I can only conclude that those responsible for writing the BFM 2000 were misled by a mistranslation of 1 Corinthians 12:13. As I said, the Holy Spirit doesn’t baptize anyone in anything. I encourage all to read again the prophecy of John the Baptist that Jesus “will baptize you with [lit., “in”, the Greek preposition en] the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Matt. 3:11; Mk. 1:8; Lk. 3:16; Jn. 1:33; Acts 1:5; 11:16).

Dan Wallace, noted Greek scholar, disagrees and argues that the preposition en is an example of “means”. He writes: “the Holy Spirit is the instrument that Christ uses to baptize, even though he is a person” (Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, 374). However, Wallace is also clear that it is still Christ himself who is the agent of the baptism, i.e., he baptizes, not the Spirit. So, even if one accepts Wallace’s understanding (which I don’t), the point is still the same: Jesus Christ baptizes either “by means of” or “in” the Spirit, but the Spirit himself, contrary to the BFM, and contrary to numerous statements of faith in evangelical churches everywhere, never baptizes anyone.

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About Sam Storms

Sam Storms is the Lead Pastor for Preaching and Vision at Bridgeway Church in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Sam is on the Board of Directors of both Desiring God and Bethlehem College & Seminary, and also serves as a member of the Council of The Gospel Coalition. Sam is President of the Evangelical Theological Society. Visit