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1 Corinthians Chapter 12, Part 3

by Karl Kemp  
6/08/2012 / Bible Studies

This is Part 3 of the three-part verse-by-verse study of 1 Corinthians chapter 12.

Further Discussion on the Meaning of the Words Baptism in the Holy Spirit in the New Testament.

Above, under 1 Cor. 12:13, we discussed this topic to some extent, and I referred the reader to rather thorough discussions on this topic in my other writings. Here I'll make a few additional comments, but this section consists mostly of excerpts from two Christian scholars.

There have been some changes in the past thirty years, but most Pentecostals and charismatics still hold the viewpoint that (the) baptism in the Spirit refers to an experience completely separate from (and typically subsequent to) the new birth. As noted above, I believe baptism in the Spirit, as these words are used in the New Testament (and the other expressions that are used in the New Testament that have essentially the same meaning, like receiving the gift of the Spirit) very much include the new birth and the sanctifying transformation wrought by the Holy Spirit. The excerpt that I included above under 1 Cor. 12:13 from Gordon Fee (a Pentecostal scholar who is well respected as an expert in New Testament exegesis) shows that I am in essential agreement with him on this point.

There are at least two reasons why Pentecostals and charismatics need to reconsider this topic. For one thing, it always is important for Christians to seek God for the balanced truth of what the Bible teaches. I have observed over the years that if we do not make finding the balanced truth a top priority item, we probably will not find it. The world, the flesh, and the devil are against us; if we do not make God and His truth a top priority, we will frequently fall short of the balanced truth. (The same thing is true regarding His righteousness, holiness, etc.)

One major problem is that most Christians assume they already have the balanced truth. How could they possibly fall short of the balanced truth? Has their church not taught it this way for a long time? Surely their church could not be wrong. Has God not blessed them? Has God not used them to help many? Just because God has blessed us and used us is no guarantee that we have everything right. If God only blessed and used those Christians that have everything right, He would not be using many Christians, or blessing many.

A second reason why Pentecostals and charismatics need to reconsider this topic is that the most common viewpoint among us is one of the most divisive issues in the body of Christ in our day. Unnecessary divisions in the body of Christ are a serious problem, but it is also true that this inadequate viewpoint regarding baptism in the Spirit tends to close the ears of the rest of the body of Christ to the important things they can and should learn from us.

I'll include several excerpts from the 1988 book "Treasures Old and New: Interpretations of 'Spirit-Baptism' in the Charismatic Renewal Movement" by Henry I. Lederle (Hendrickson Publishers). I found this book to be informative and helpful. Dr. Lederle (who taught at the University of South Africa at the time he wrote this book) informs us in the Preface that his "vivid charismatic experience" in 1980 overturned his doctrinal apple-cart in that he was a seminary graduate "with a Reformed [Calvinistic] background with both evangelical and ecumenical roots." I am substantially abbreviating the quotations from Lederle for this internet version of the paper. (As I mentioned, you could get a copy of the original version by contacting me.)

I'll include an excerpt from the Introduction. "In the sixties and seventies...a new religious awakening made its influence felt in Christianity. [I became a born-again Christian in the spring of 1964. Later that year I became aware of the Pentecostal/charismatic viewpoint, and by the spring of 1966 I had become involved in the charismatic renewal. Between 1967 and 1973 (and some later) I did a lot of teaching among Roman Catholic charismatics.] The charismatic renewal movement spread across the globe in less than a decade reaching all five continents, most Christian denominations of Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox heritage, and the lives of some sixty million people. ... The focus of this study is on...the doctrine of Spirit-baptism" (page xi).

I'll quote a small part of what Lederle says on page 31. He mentions that Gordon Fee (I quoted from Fee above under 1 Cor. 12:13) had argued in 1972 that the words baptism in the Spirit in the New Testament do not refer to an experience subsequent to salvation.

"Fee states that experience generally precedes hermeneutics [interpretation of the Bible] among Pentecostals [The Pentecostals are not the only ones who have this problem]: 'In a sense, the Pentecostal tends to exegete his experience [instead of the New Testament]. For example, the doctrine of Spirit-baptism as distinct from and subsequent to conversion did not flow naturally out of his reading of Scripture.' ... Fee considers the crucial point to be the experiential, dynamic quality of life in the Spirit: 'Everywhere for Luke [who wrote Acts] it is the presence of the Spirit that signifies the "real thing." ... Furthermore, in Acts the recurring pattern of the coming (or presence) of the Spirit has a dramatic, or dynamic element to it. It was experienced....' " Lederle's two quotations from Fee were taken from "Hermeneutics [Interpretation] and Historical Precedent: A Major Problem in Pentecostal Hermeneutics," in "Perspectives on the New Pentecostalism," ed. R. P. Spittler [Baker, 1976], pages 122, 131.

On page 32 Lederle mentions that Fee was influenced by James Dunn, a "Reformed New Testament scholar...who is a sympathetic critic with participant-observer experience in charismatic groups in England." (I'll quote from Dunn later in this section.)

"My basic contention [I'm quoting Lederle, page 66] is that the term [baptism in the Spirit] is being incorrectly applied and used today [in Pentecostal and charismatic circles], but the experience it refers to is a perfectly valid experience." On page 65 Lederle commented that he is "not against speaking of various 'entries' or 'comings' of the Spirit once the two-stage grid has been disposed of." This is important.

On page 216, "...this study contends the heartbeat of the charismatic contribution to Christianity at large is not Spirit-baptism but the acknowledging of the dimension of the Spirit which is experientially manifested in spiritual gifts or charisms. ...."

On page 230, "[The basic intention of the charismatic renewal] lies in vibrant, expectant faith; openness to the Holy Spirit and the wide range of his gifts; and a refusal to deny the experiential aspect of Christianity in order to appease rationalistic Western culture. [For many "Christians" it very much includes coming to an understanding of the gospel and salvation (including the new birth) through Christ Jesus for the first time. Many see for the first time that the Bible really is God's Word and that it is alive.] ... The charismatic renewal is a revival, a spiritual awakening, which needs to revitalize, energize, disturb and renew the contemporary expressions of the faith of the church. There are attempts in some circles to domesticate the charismatic renewal - to 'tame' it so that it amounts to roughly the same as traditional Christianity. ...."

Now I'll include several excerpts from James D. G. Dunn, who is a New Testament scholar from England ("Baptism in the Holy Spirit" by James D. G. Dunn. SCM Press, Ltd. 1970, published in the U.S.A. by the Westminster Press). It was mentioned above that Gordon Fee was influenced by Dunn. I do not know much about Dunn, and I do not agree with everything he says in this book, but I consider the overall teaching of the book to be quite important and quite perceptive, and I highly recommend this book. Throughout this book Dunn analyzes the many passages of the New Testament that are relevant to his topic(s). I am substantially abbreviating the quotations from Dunn for this internet version of the paper.

First I'll include an excerpt from the Introduction. "I hope to show that for the writers of the NT the baptism in or gift of the Spirit was part of the event (or process) of becoming a Christian, together with the effective proclamation of the Gospel, belief in ([Greek preposition]) eis) Jesus as Lord, and water-baptism in the name of the Lord Jesus; that it was the chief element in conversion-initiation so that only those who had thus received the Spirit could be called Christians; that the reception of the Spirit was a very definite and often dramatic experience, the decisive and climatic experience in conversion-initiation.... We shall see that while the Pentecostal's belief in the dynamic and experiential nature of Spirit-baptism is well founded, his separation of it from conversion-initiation is wholly unjustified.... ...

We shall see that the baptism in the Spirit from the start was understood as an initiatory experience.... The Pentecostal doctrine is built chiefly on Acts, but a detailed study will reveal that for the writer of Acts [Luke] in the last analysis it is only by receiving the Spirit that one becomes a Christian..." (pages 4, 5).

I'll include an excerpt from his chapter titled "Conversion-Initiation in the Acts of the Apostles." "... What the Pentecostal attempts to separate into two works of God is in fact one single divine act [not that all the ingredients of this "single divine act" come together instantaneously]. ... Faith would not justify [Dunn is using the word "justify" in the (very important) full sense that includes the transformation to righteousness by the Spirit. See the chapter of my book, "Holiness and Victory Over Sin," that deals with the meaning of the words justify/justification in the New Testament.] if God did not give his Spirit. Faith is only the reaching out of an empty hand to receive; it is what is received which alone ultimately counts" (page 96).

I'll quote from pages 135, 136 of Dunn's chapter XI, in which he deals with Paul's Corinthian letters. Dunn is commenting here on the third chapter of 2 Corinthians.

I'll quote part of what he said under verse 8. "Christianity exists in a completely new dispensation; Christians live in a time that is wholly different and miraculous - the time of the End. ... This is also the dispensation of righteousness (v. 9), which confirms what we have already concluded from Gal. 3: that possession of righteousness and possession of life = the Spirit, are synonymous (Gal. 3:21)." I had a footnote: I discussed Gal. 3:21, which is a very important verse, on page 39 of my paper, "The Christian, the Law, and Legalism" and on pages 103, 104 of my paper "A Paper on Faith." I agree that the heart of new-covenant salvation is having life by the Spirit, and that those who have life by the Spirit are enabled (and required) to live in righteousness by the life/Spirit of God through Christ Jesus and His atoning death, which is what Dunn is saying, if I understand him.

In his following paragraphs Dunn discusses water-baptism, which he deals with quite a bit in this book since it is part of conversion-initiation as it is presented in the New Testament. Dunn argues that in the New Testament water-baptism, which was (typically) preparatory for receiving the Holy Spirit, was not optional. "The NT writers would to a man reject any separation of the decisive moment of faith...from [water] way of putting the act of faith prior to [water] baptism, thereby reducing [water] baptism to a mere symbol.... Baptism properly performed is for the NT essentially the act of faith and repentance..." (page 227).

That is, Dunn is saying that water-baptism is the appropriate occasion, according to the New Testament, to complete the transaction of entering into salvation, through union with Christ Jesus and His atoning death, through repentance and faith. Dunn is not suggesting that there was no faith before being baptized in water, but that the faith transaction is not completed (based on the typical New Testament pattern) before submitting to the Lord Jesus Christ and His atoning death in water baptism. Most Christians I know do not agree with Dunn's viewpoint, but I believe he is mostly right (right, that is, in explaining what the New Testament says) on water-baptism.

Most Christians I know hold the viewpoint that the faith transaction is completed with a sinner's prayer (asking for forgiveness, inviting Christ into the heart, and, hopefully [sadly, this (along with repentance) is often skipped in our day], submitting to His Lordship). They believe that, at that time, the most important work takes place - they become born-again Christians (before they are baptized in water). Most of them believe that the convert should eventually be baptized in water, in obedience to Christ, but they do not expect anything significant to take place at that time in that the all-important transformation has already taken place (their sins have been washed away; they have been born again; the Spirit of God has come to dwell in them; and they have the power to begin to live for God [sadly, many skip telling converts about the enablement, and requirement, to begin to live for God in His righteousness and holiness]).

I am quite sure that this procedure can (and often does) produce acceptable results (this is pretty much what happened to me and to most of the Christians I fellowship with), assuming that the converts really understand the basics of the gospel and really submit to the gospel in faith (including repentance), and assuming that they are committed to press on in faith (by the grace of God), building their lives on the Word of God and truly being committed to the Lordship of Christ. It is, of course, also very important that the convert be part of a church that is committed to God and His Word. I am also quite sure that we will achieve better results if we come into better alignment with the balanced truth of what the New Testament teaches regarding water baptism. Furthermore, Christians can unite around the balanced truth.

I discussed water-baptism on page 126 of my book, "Holiness and Victory Over Sin" (see the footnotes too) and under 1 Cor. 15:29 on pages 6, 7 of my paper on 1 Corinthians chapter 15 on my internet site. I'll quote part of what I said there: "It's clear to me that the Bible teaches a much higher view of [water] baptism than that held by many Christians today. I'm not bringing this up because I think this is one of the biggest problems we have in the Body of Christ. (I believe we have much greater problems to deal with in the Body of Christ, especially dealing with the basic truths of the gospel and the need to live in God's will - in righteousness and holiness - by grace/the Spirit through faith.)

Furthermore, I'm not bringing up water baptism because of some special interest in this topic, or because of some special experience I've had; I'm not emotionally involved regarding this topic, and I'm not obligated to any particular viewpoint (we are obligated to God and His truth). I'm bringing it up strictly based on what the Bible seems to rather clearly say on this topic. I'm certainly not suggesting, nor do I believe, that people can't be saved or sanctified apart from water baptism. God has been very generous with His people (in blessing us in spite of our errors), but that's no excuse to maintain our viewpoints when they're wrong/when they don't line up with the balanced truth of what the Bible teaches. The more we do things God's way, the more He'll be glorified, His will will be accomplished in the church, the more He can bless us and use us, and the more we can unite around the balanced truth.

It seems that many have formed their view of water baptism mostly in reaction to someone else who was out of balance in a different direction (for example, against the viewpoint of baptismal regeneration or the viewpoint that it is impossible to be born again before being baptized in water). We need the balanced truth of what the Bible teaches in this area, as in every area. The following points are quite significant: The Bible mentions forgiveness/washing away of sins at water baptism (Acts 2:38, 22:16). It mentions becoming united with Christ in baptism, including being united with Him in His death on the cross (cf. Gal. 3:27; Rom. 6:3). He died an atoning death in our place; we are to die to sin and to the old man in water baptism, and the old man is to be buried (Rom. 6:3, 4; Col. 2:11, 12). John 3:5 seems to speak of water baptism as a preliminary to being born of the Spirit. I believe, in agreement with many, that the words "born of water" in John 3:5 refer to water baptism, which was quite prominent in that setting. Not only was John the Baptist baptizing (even Jesus was baptized by him), but Jesus (through His disciples) was also baptizing in water (John 1:25-34; 3:22-26; 4:1, 2). The baptism of John 3:5 is a baptism of repentance and faith.

Regarding the Biblical pattern that the life-giving, sanctifying, gift-dispensing Spirit typically comes to believers immediately after, and in close association with, water baptism, see pages 126, 127 in "Holiness and Victory Over Sin," including the notes. That reference also discusses Titus 3:5, which is another verse that apparently views water baptism as a preliminary to receiving the Spirit (not that there isn't room for exceptions to this pattern, cf. Acts 10:44-48). ((If God hadn't made it obvious that He fully accepted those Gentile believers by giving them the Holy Spirit, as on the day of Pentecost, it is totally unlikely that Peter would have baptized them. He knew it would be very controversial to baptize and accept those who were not circumcised: "Those who were circumcised took issue with [Peter]" [Acts 11:2]. See Acts 10:44-11:18.)) And 1 Pet. 3:21 even speaks of baptism saving us. As I mentioned, I'm not suggesting that these things (like forgiveness, dying to the old man, etc.) can't be received apart from water baptism, but baptism seems to be the most appropriate (Biblical) occasion to complete these transactions. We must continue to walk in the Spirit by faith (based on what God has said in His Word) throughout the rest of our lives on the earth, which is far from being automatic or always easy.

I believe it's necessary for us to understand that water baptism is meaningful and effective only if it's accompanied by the following indispensable things: We must hear the gospel and understand it (we must at least understand the basics of the gospel); we must repent and submit to the gospel (and God Himself) in faith; and we must have all the necessary work of the Holy Spirit (like His drawing, convicting, revealing, regenerating, and sanctifying work). Without these things water baptism is nothing more than another dead ritual. Some other verses to consider on water baptism are Matt. 3:1-12, 13-17; 28:19; Mark 16:16; Acts 2:41; 8:36-39; 9:18; 19:5; and Eph. 4:5.

May God's will be fully accomplished through this study of 1 Corinthians chapter 12!

Copyright by Karl Kemp Karl Kemp worked as an engineer in the space field throughout the 60s. He became a born-again Christian in 1964. He received an MA in Biblical Studies in 1972. He has been a Bible teacher for 45 years. See the website for more info on his books, papers, etc.

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