Spirit Baptism
1 Corinthians 12:13

[Including Important Grammatical Considerations]


The key passage on Spirit baptism is found in 1 Corinthians 12:13-"For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit." The "ONE BODY" spoken of in this verse refers to the Church (see 1 Cor. 12:27-28; Eph. 1:22-23; 5:30-32; Col. 1:18), the Body of which Christ is the Head. Spirit baptism is defined in 1 Corinthians 12:13 as that work of God whereby believers are baptized (immersed, placed) into Christ’s body, the church. How then does a believer become a member of the body of Christ? It is by Spirit baptism.

Note:  Some Baptist groups wrongly teach that 1 Corinthians 12:13 is referring to water baptism. They say that when a person is baptized in water he is then placed into the local church.  They interpret "one body" as "the local church" (they deny the existence of a universal Church).  Thus they are saying that water baptism is the means by which a person is placed into the local church (the local church being made up of water immersed believers).  However, the verse says nothing about water.  It simply says that the believer is baptized or placed into the one body.  It does not say he is baptized into water.  This Spirit baptism is something that takes place at the time of salvation, not at the time of water baptism.  The Lord adds to the Church daily such as should be saved (Acts 2:47).  It doesn't say that the Lord adds to the Church daily such as should be baptized.  As soon as a person is saved he is added to the Church, the body of Christ.  In Acts 5:14 we learn that "believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women."  This again implies that the moment a person believes (not the moment he is baptized in water) he is added  to the Lord, and to the Lord's body, the Church.

This passage thus provides us with the key to when the Church began:  If we can determine when Spirit baptism first began, then we will know when the Church began. When did God first baptize believers into His body? When were believers first placed into the body of Christ? To answer this is to determine the day on which the church began.

Spirit baptism was first predicted by John the Baptist in Matthew 3:11 (and in the parallel passages: Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; John 1:33):

"I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost (Spirit), and with fire" (Matthew 3:11; compare Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; John 1:33).

John’s baptism was a water baptism ("I baptize you with water"); Christ’s baptism would be a spiritual baptism ("He shall baptize you with the Holy Spirit"). The "fire baptism" is for the unsaved and this is yet future (see Matthew 3:12). Notice the phrase, "He shall baptize you with (Greek-en) the Holy Spirit." The verb "shall baptize" is in the future tense, indicating that Spirit baptism had not yet taken place when John the Baptist spoke these words. John was predicting that it would happen in the future, but he did not predict exactly when it would happen. Notice also that Christ is the Baptizer. He is the One who will place believers into the body of Christ. He is the One who will build His church. Christ is also the Baptizer in 1 Corinthians 12:13, as will be demonstrated later.

In Matthew 16:18 the Lord Jesus said, "I WILL build My Church." The future tense of the verb indicates that the building of the Church had not yet begun when Jesus said these words. He did not say, "I have built My Church." He did not say, "I am building My Church." No, the building project had not yet begun and thus the Church was yet future. At the time Jesus spoke the words of Matthew 16:18 the Church had not yet begun.

Today Christ is building His Church. He is adding to the Church daily such as should be saved (Acts 2:47). But the question is, when did this building program first begin?

In Acts 1:5 the Lord Jesus predicted that Spirit baptism was still future:

"For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence" (Acts 1:5).

According to our Lord’s prediction, Spirit baptism had not taken place yet, though it would soon take place. No one had yet been immersed into the body of Christ. Thus, the Church could not have begun prior to Acts 1:5. When Jesus spoke the words of Acts 1:5, His death and His resurrection had already taken place, and yet Spirit baptism had not yet taken place and the Church had not yet been formed. But the announcement of Acts1:5 was very significant because Jesus said that Spirit baptism would take place "not many days hence" (not many days from that time). This means that it would happen soon, in a matter of days. Indeed, as we shall learn, it happened just 10 days later on the Day of Pentecost.

The Day of Pentecost and the unique events that took place on that day are described in Acts chapter 2. In this chapter Spirit baptism is not specifically mentioned. It is not until Acts chapter 11 that we are specifically told that Spirit baptism took place on the Day of Pentecost: "And as I began to speak, the Holy Ghost fell on them, as on us at the beginning [on the Day of Pentecost]. Then remembered I the word of the Lord, how that He said, John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost" (Acts 11:15-16). Based on the clear statement of this passage we know that Spirit baptism first took place on the the Day of Pentecost. It was then that believers were first placed into the body of Christ. It was then that the Church began.

Acts 2
Jews were placed into the body of Christ.

Acts 8
Samaritans (half-Jews, half-Gentiles)
were placed into the body of Christ.

Acts 10
Gentiles were placed into the body of Christ.

But someone might raise an objection and say, "The Spirit baptism mentioned in Matthew 3:11 and Acts 1:5 is different from the Spirit baptism mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:13. In Matthew 3:11 and Acts 1:5 Christ is the Baptizer, but in 1 Corinthians 12:13 the Holy Spirit is the Baptizer. As we read the English Bible this seems to be the case, but the Greek construction of Matthew 3:11 and Acts 1:5 is practically identical to 1 Corinthians 12:13, as the following chart illustrates.

All four of these passages are talking about the same baptism, and the Greek construction in all four passages is closely equivalent, as the following literal rendering reveals:


Greek Construction
Matthew. 3:11 He (Christ) shall baptize you with (in) Holy Spirit
Acts 1:5 You shall be baptized (by Christ-Matt. 3:11) with (in) Holy Spirit
Acts 11:16 You shall be baptized (by Christ-Matt. 3:11) with (in) Holy Spirit
1 Cor. 12:13 We all were be baptized (by Christ-Matt. 3:11) with (in) one Spirit into one body

The order of the words in 1 Corinthians 12:13 has been altered in order to show that the same Greek construction is used. In the King James Version the Greek preposition en is translated "By one Spirit" (1 Cor. 12:13) which has led some to wrongly conclude that the Spirit is the Baptizer. But the passage should be understood in this way: "With (en) one Spirit were we all baptized (by Christ) into one body (the body of Christ, His Church)."

Not only did Christ place us into His body, but He also immersed us in the Holy Spirit.  "For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit" (1 Cor. 12:13).  We have participated fully in the reception of the Holy Spirit with all the abundant blessings which accompany this reception:

"Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost which (the word "which" refers to the Holy Spirit) He shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour" (Titus 3:5-6).

". . . having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:33).

"He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly (innermost being) shall flow rivers of living water. (But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.)" (John 7:38-39)

Praise God, the Comforter has come! The promise of the Father has been given! Spirit baptism began at Pentecost and continues throughout this present age whenever a person believes on Christ.

For other solid Biblical reasons as to why the Church  began at Pentecost, see  When Did The Church Begin?

Important Grammatical Considerations

We have already demonstrated that the grammatical construction of 1 Corinthians 12:13 is identical to the Spirit baptism passages found in the gospels and in Acts.  In each of these passages we learned that Christ is the Baptizer and He baptized in [Greek: en] the Holy Spirit (with or by means of  the Holy Spirit).

It is possible that both Christ and the Spirit had a part in doing the baptizing.  Christ could have baptized believers into the body by allowing the Spirit to actually do this work.  This is illustrated in John 4:1-2.  In John 4:1 we are told that Jesus baptized disciples, even more than John the Baptist baptized.  In John 4:2 we discover that Jesus Himself did not baptize anyone!  How could He baptize many but not baptize anyone?  The answer is that Jesus baptized many disciples but He did this by allowing His disciples to be the ones who actually did the work of baptism.  It’s possible that this is the case in 1 Corinthians 12:13. Jesus Christ is the Baptizer (in light of Matthew 3:11; Acts 1:5, etc.) but the actual work of baptizing was carried out by the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit was the instrument that Christ used to carry out His baptizing work. This concept is not foreign to the New Testament epistles.  We would all agree that Jesus saves and yet the actual work of salvation is carried out by the Spirit of God (see 1 Corinthians 6:11).  [Another example would be a comparison between Acts 10:38 and Luke 4:18. In Acts 10:38 we are told that God (the Father) anointed Jesus with the Holy Ghost.  In Luke 4:18 we are told that the Spirit anointed Jesus.  So God the Father anointed Jesus and He used the Spirit as His instrument in performing this anointing.]

It is certainly appropriate to say that Christ immerses His believers into the body of Christ, and thus has rightful claim to the title of the Baptizer.  In Matthew 16:18 we learn that it is Christ Himself who will build His Church.  In Acts 2:47 we learn that it is the Lord (Jesus Christ) who adds to the Church daily such as should be saved.  Consider also Acts 2:33 where the Lord Jesus is the One who sheds forth the Spirit.  The Lord Jesus, in perfect co-operation with the blessed Person of the Holy Spirit, accomplished this great work, to the praise of the glory of His grace. 

Further Grammatical Considerations

This section is somewhat technical, but the grammatical facts of the case argue strongly against the view that there are two Spirit baptisms in the New Testament (a view held by ultradispensationalists and others). According to this view, Christ is the Baptizer in Matthew 3:11 (and parallel passages); Acts 1:5 and Acts 11:15, and the Holy Spirit is the Baptizer in 1 Corinthians 12:13.  Ultradispensationalist Charles Baker, for example, argues for two baptisms and that the Holy Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12:13 is the personal agent (He is the Baptizer).

The construction is the preposition en used with the dative case:  “in one Spirit” or “with (by means of) one spirit.”   The translation “by” (KJV) could be problematic unless it is understood as “by means of” or “by the instrumentality of.”    But it does not mean personal agency.  If this is what Paul meant he would have most probably used the preposition hupo.  Dana and Mantey say the following:  “Hupo is most frequently used for expressing agency.  In fact, agency is expressed with the aid of hupo more frequently than it is by all the other methods combined” (A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament, by H. E. Dana and Julius R. Mantey, p. 112).

Example:  Matthew 3:11 says, “He (Christ) shall baptize you.”   Suppose we were to take this sentence and make it passive. It would then read as follows:  “You shall be baptized by Him (by Christ).”   If we were to write this phrase in Greek, the Greek preposition that would be used for “by” would be “hupo” and it indicates that Christ is the personal agent.  In other words, He (Christ) is the Baptizer, the One who does the baptizing.   Another example is in Matthew 1:22, “Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by (hupo) the Lord through (dia) the prophet, saying…(Isaiah 7:14 is then quoted).  Who was the One who spoke?  It was the Lord!  The Lord was the personal Agent.  He was the Speaker.  The prophet was the intermediate agent.  The prophet was the instrument that God used.  God was the One who spoke, but He used His prophet to do it.

In Matthew 3:11 and its parallel passages the same grammatical construction is used (en with the dative) with the same meaning.  John said, “I baptize you with (en) water. . . He will baptize you with (en) the Holy Spirit.”   John was saying:  “I am using water to baptize you but He will use the Holy Spirit to baptize you.”  Christ will use the Holy Spirit to baptize believers and He will use fire to baptize unbelievers, but whether it is believers or unbelievers, Christ is the Baptizer.  [John MacArthur has an excellent discussion of this in his commentary on 1 Corinthians.  See under 1 Corinthians 12:13.]

A. T. Robertson, in his monumental Grammar of the Greek N.T., cites many examples of “en” with the dative being used in an instrumental sense but gives no examples of it being used for personal agency.  This would mean that the Spirit was the instrument that Christ used to baptize believers into the body but the Spirit was not the personal Agent (that is, He was not the Baptizer except in the sense that He was the agent or instrument that Christ used to do this work).

In A New Short Grammar of the Greek Testament (10th edition) by A. T. Robertson and W. Hersey Davis, the authors point out that hupo is used for the direct agent (personal agency).  They then list four other prepositions which are sometimes used to express agency (apo, ek, para, pros), but en is not one of them.

The following discussion is by Daniel B. Wallace in Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (pages 373-374):

1. En + Dative for Personal Agency?


Some have suggested that either the naked dative or en + the dative can express personal agency in the NT.  However, once a clear definition is given for personal agency, this will be seen to be a rare or nonexistent category. Williams defines the dative of agency as denoting “the agent (personal) by whom something is done. The only difference between means and agency is that means is impersonal, agency is personal.”


This definition is a little too general. It would be better to say that when en + the dative expresses the idea of means (a different category), the instrument is used by an agent. When agency is indicated, the agent so named is not used by another, but is the one who uses an instrument. It may be noted here that an intermediate agent, usually expressed by  dia + the genitive, is an agent who acts on behalf of another or in the place of another. This agent is not, strictly speaking, used by another as an instrument would be. Thus,  en + dative to express means can be (and often is) used of persons, though they are conceived of as impersonal (i.e, used as an instrument by someone else). For example, in the sentence “God disciplined me by means of my parents,” “God” is the agent who used the “parents” as the means by which He accomplished something. The parents are, of course, persons. But they are conceived of as impersonal in that they are the instruments used by another.


According to our definition, if  en + dative is used to express agency, the noun in the dative must not only be personal, but must also be the agent who performs the action.   BDF accurately assess the NT situation of the naked dative used for personal agency:  “Dative of agency is perhaps represented by only one genuine example in the NT and this with the perfect:  Luke 23:15 [italics added].” In summary, we can say that there are no clear examples of the dative of agency in the NT, and even if the category does exist, it is, by all counts, exceedingly rare.

Wallace then gives two examples to illustrate his point and both of these examples relate to Spirit baptism: 

1)  Mark 1:8  “but He (Christ) shall baptize you with the Holy Spirit”


Here it is obvious that Christ is the agent (since “He [Christ]” is the subject) and the Holy Spirit is the means (and perhaps sphere) that the Lord uses to baptize.


2)  1 Cor. 12:13  “for by one Spirit we all were baptized into one body”


Our contention is that this is an illustration of en used for means. By calling “Spirit” means here does not deny the personality of the Holy Spirit.  Rather, the Holy Spirit is the instrument that Christ uses to baptize, even though He is a Person.  Since pneumatic hagio [Holy Spirit]  clearly indicated means in Mark 1:8 (as in several other passages dealing with Spirit-baptism), it is surely not unreasonable to see “Spirit” as the means here.  Furthermore, if the Holy Spirit is the agent in this text, there is a theological problem:  When is the prophecy of Mark 1:8 fulfilled?  When would Christ baptize with the Holy Spirit?  Because of the grammatical improbability of pneumati [Spirit] expressing agent in 1 Cor. 12:13, it is better to see it as means and as the fulfillment of Mark 1:8.  Thus, Christ is the unnamed agent.  This also renders highly improbable one popular interpretation, viz, that there are two Spirit baptisms in the NT.

[End of quotation from Wallace]

Dr. James Boyer taught Greek for many years at Grace Theological Seminary.  In his commentary on 1 Corinthians he says the following regarding the grammar of 1 Corinthians 12:13 (see his footnote):

The KJV rendering, "by one Spirit," is misleading.  This construction (Greek, en) is never used for the personal agent with a passive voice.  The consistent representation of this doctrine of Spirit baptism in the New Testament is that Christ is the One who does the baptizing (Matt. 3:11; Luke 316; John 1:33; Acts 1:5), that He does this in, or with the instrumentality of, or by means of, the Holy Spirit.  The historic occasion of that baptism on Pentecost was the receiving of that Spirit (Acts 2:38).

Thus, the theory that the Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12:13 is the Baptizer and that there are two Spirit baptisms in the NT is extremely unconvincing grammatically and highly improbable.  Indeed, Ephesians 4:5 says that there is "one baptism" (water baptism, of course, being a wonderful picture and symbol of that one baptism).

In summary, in dealing with the grammar of 1 Corinthians 12:13 we have concluded that Christ is the Baptizer and the Holy Spirit is the Instrument that Christ used to do this baptizing work.  We have understood the pronoun "en" with the dative in its instrumental sense and have translated it "with" or "by means of" or "by the instrumentality of."   Thus Matthew 3:11 could be paraphrased in this way:  John baptized with water but Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit.

There is another possibility allowed by the grammar, and this would be to understand the Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12:13 as the element (or sphere) into which the believer has been placed.  We would thus translate the pronoun "en" by the English pronoun "in."   Christ has baptized believers in the Holy Spirit (and "in" in this sense would almost carry the meaning of "into"). If we interpret Matthew 3:11 in this way we could paraphrase as follows:  John immersed in water but Jesus will immerse in the Holy Spirit.  That is, water was the element into which those baptized by John were placed and the Holy Spirit would be the element into which Jesus would place believers.

Although this view is grammatically possible, it does not seem to be the best view theologically in the light of New Testament teaching.  1 Corinthians 12:13 does not say that believers are placed into the Holy Spirit but it says they are placed into the body of Christ.  In Galatians 3:27-28 believers have been placed or baptized into Christ (with the result that they are in Christ).  This is also the case in Romans 6:3.  

In light of these considerations, it seems best to regard the Holy Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12:13 to be the One that Christ the Baptizer uses as His Instrument to place believers into the body of Christ, and this great work first took place on the Day of Pentecost, the birthday of the Church.


                                                                                George Zeller, November 2002

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