Is the Baptism of the Holy Spirit Biblical?

By James M. Rochford

Like all evangelical Christians, Pentecostals in the Assemblies of God movement affirm that all Christians have the Holy Spirit at conversion. Pentecostal theologian Douglas Oss writes, “To my knowledge no classical Pentecostal holds the view that the Spirit is not received at salvation (which would clearly contradict Scripture). Those who believe in Christ also have the Spirit living within.”[1]

However, in addition to receiving the Holy Spirit at conversion, Pentecostals believe in a “baptism of the Holy Spirit”—whereby the believer is baptized into the Holy Spirit and given special power for ministry. (This is sometimes called “baptism of the Holy Spirit” or the “second blessing”)

To avoid arguing against straw men in this friendly discussion with our Pentecostal brethren, we will interact with the Assemblies of God position paper titled “Baptism in the Holy Spirit” (Adopted by the General Presbytery in session August 9-11, 2010). Hereafter we will refer to it as the AOG position paper.

Acts 2

The fulcrum of this debate on the second blessing can be centered on the book of Acts. As the AOG position paper states, “Luke’s writings—the third Gospel and the Book of Acts—provide the clearest understanding of the baptism in the Spirit.” Here we will consider each passage cited in the book of Acts to this effect:

(Acts 2:1-4) When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance.

Pentecostals interpret this passage through the lens of John the Baptist’s words: “As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Mt. 3:11-12). Hence they see Acts 2 as a fulfillment of John’s prophecy articulated here. Just as the believers in Acts 2 were told to “wait for what the Father has promised” (Acts 1:4-5), so Pentecostals claim that believers should wait for the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

And yet, we contend that Pentecost was a special event that was punctuated by certain signs—not to be expected in our day. There are a number of problems with the Pentecostal interpretation of Acts 2:

First, this passage really doesn’t fit with the Pentecostal scenario. The AOG position paper states, “The disciples’ experience at Pentecost serves as a paradigm for later believers.” However, we believe that Pentecost was a unique, one-time event, which we shouldn’t expect to be repeated today. In fact, there are a number of differences between Pentecost and Pentecostal practice today:

(A) The tongues mentioned in Acts 2 are not HEAVENLY LANGUAGES (as in 1 Cor. 14:9-13); instead, they are HUMAN LANGUAGES (v.4). The crowd even asked, “And how is it that we each hear them in our own language to which we were born?” (v.8). But this isn’t what we regularly see in Pentecostal services today, where believers are speaking in Russian, German, French, or Spanish! Instead, believers “baptized by the Holy Spirit” supposedly speak in unknown languages.

(B) Pentecost was not the SECOND blessing, but the FIRST blessing. Pentecostals hold that believers do gain saving faith when they come to Christ. But they gain the “Spirit baptism” in order to be used powerfully in ministry. However, this doesn’t fit with this passage, because these still hadn’t received the Spirit at all. Jesus says, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you” (Acts 1:8), implying that they hadn’t received the Holy Spirit. In Acts 2:4, “They were all filled with the Holy Spirit.” Nothing in this passage implies that they had the Holy Spirit, and then received an additional Spirit baptism.[2] Later in his first teaching, Peter says, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). This seems to place the gift of the Holy Spirit right alongside justification. We feel that seeing two comings of the Holy Spirit is gratuitous.

(C) There was FIRE and NOISE when the Spirit descended. Of course, this does not regularly (or ever!) occur in modern Pentecostal services, when believers are “Spirit baptized.”

We find it inconsistent to expect some parts of Pentecost for today, but not others.

Second, tongues do not always accompany salvation in the book of Acts. While tongues do accompany salvation in three instances in the book of Acts (2:4; 10:46; 19:6), they do not always follow it. For instance, later in this same chapter, 3,000 people come to Christ, but they never speak in tongues as these first believers did.

Third, while both Matthew 3 and Acts 2 refer to the Holy Spirit and fire, this is simply word association. Our first rule of hermeneutics is context—not word association. When we consider the very next verse in John’s speech, we read, “His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (Mt. 3:12). This refers to judgment—not speaking in tongues. This interpretation also parallels the earlier context which states that some were baptized and saved (v.6), while others were unrepentant and were judged (v.7). Thus we see nothing in Matthew 3 that would predict Spirit baptism—only salvation and judgment.

Acts 4

(Acts 4:31) And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness.

This passage doesn’t fit with the Pentecostal scenario, because this filling of the Holy Spirit happens more than once throughout the chapter (cf. Acts 2:4; 4:8). Thus this is probably referring to the perpetual filling of Ephesians 5:18—not a one-time second blessing or Spirit baptism.

Acts 8

(Acts 8:12-17) But when they believed Philip preaching the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were being baptized, men and women alike. 13 Even Simon himself believed; and after being baptized, he continued on with Philip, and as he observed signs and great miracles taking place, he was constantly amazed. 14 Now when the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent them Peter and John, 15 who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. 16 For He had not yet fallen upon any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then they began laying their hands on them, and they were receiving the Holy Spirit.

Pentecostals argue that there was a gap of time between the Samaritans coming to faith (v.14), and when they received the Holy Spirit (v.15). Moreover, when the Samaritans received the Spirit, they began to speak in tongues (v.17). Thus when the Samaritans receive the Holy Spirit, this is Spirit baptism.

Before offering our view on this difficult passage, we need to point out that this doesn’t fit with the Pentecostal view either. Again, Pentecostals believe that all Christians receive the Holy Spirit at justification. The AOG position paper writes, “At conversion, the Spirit baptizes into Christ/the body of Christ; in a subsequent and distinct experience, Christ will baptize in the Holy Spirit.” However, Luke clearly states that the Holy Spirit “had not yet fallen upon any of them” (v.16). This is the first blessing—not the second. This was a delay in receiving the Spirit—not a second blessing of the Spirit.

We believe that this passage in Acts relates to racism. That is, one of the major themes throughout the book of Acts is how to integrate Jews and Gentiles together—even though Jesus had taught this (Acts 1:8; Mt. 28:18-20). The early Christians were reluctant to believe that Gentiles (non-Jews) had access to the gospel (e.g. Cornelius, Acts 10-11). In Luke 9:52-54, James and John wanted to call down fire on the Samaritans. Here, John is sent to the same territory to see that God’s mercy (not wrath!) had reached these people.

Acts 9

(Acts 9:17) So Ananias departed and entered the house, and after laying his hands on him said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road by which you were coming, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.

Pentecostals claim that Paul had a three day delay between his conversion on the road to Damascus and his receiving of the Holy Spirit. The AOG position paper states, “There was a time span of three days between Saul’s conversion and his being filled with the Spirit.”

However, when we read Paul’s repeated account in Acts 22, we see that he himself delayed in receiving Christ in the first place. That is, while Paul met Christ on the road to Damascus, he didn’t receive him until three days later. When Paul recounts the story, he adds that Ananias asked him, “Why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name” (Acts 22:16). Thus it is relatively clear that Paul hadn’t called on Christ or had his sins washed away yet. He wasn’t a believer until Ananias approached him. Moreover, we feel uncomfortable taking Paul’s singular experience and projecting it over all Christians for all time. We consider Paul’s calling to be a unique experience and not normative for all Christians everywhere. That is, while Jesus appeared personally to Paul, we shouldn’t all expect this.

Acts 10

(Acts 10:44-48) While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message. 45 All the circumcised believers who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. 46 For they were hearing them speaking with tongues and exalting God. Then Peter answered, 47 “Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?” 48 And he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to stay on for a few days.

This passage doesn’t prove a later baptism of the Holy Spirit. Instead, it happened at the same time as their conversion. The AOG position paper frankly admits, “Unlike the experience of their predecessors, they had a unified experience whereby their conversion and their baptism in the Spirit occurred in rapid succession.” As Peter was speaking, they received the Spirit. The same is true of his recounting of the story in Acts 11:15-16. This doesn’t fit with the standard Pentecostal picture of Spirit baptism.

Acts 19

(Acts 19:1-6) At Corinth, Paul passed through the upper country and came to Ephesus, and found some disciples. 2 He said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said to him, “No, we have not even heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.” 3 And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” And they said, “Into John’s baptism.” 4 Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” 5 When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking with tongues and prophesying.

Again, here we see an example of people seeing a delay in getting the Holy Spirit. But as before, this isn’t the second blessing, but the first. They had never even heard of the Holy Spirit, which is not the same as modern believers today. These disciples had an incomplete knowledge of Christ—much like OT believers. They were baptized into the baptism of John—not Jesus. Since this is an odd circumstance (i.e. meeting believers in John the Baptist), we do not believe that this passage should carry much weight in this discussion, because such an event would never happen today.


First, narrative examples alone are an insufficient basis for such a crucial doctrine. We need NT imperatives or principles in order to develop such an important doctrine as baptism by the Holy Spirit. However, such teaching is absent from the epistles. Wouldn’t we expect to find Spirit baptism in the character qualifications of deacons and elders if it was so important for Christian ministry (1 Tim. 3; Titus 1)? Instead, the epistles are universally silent on the subject of Spirit baptism, and it affirms that all believers have the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13; Gal. 3:27; Rom. 8:9). We cannot find a basis for Spirit baptism in the book of Acts—especially when these passages are not uniform and consistent.

Second, most of these examples refer to the FIRST indwelling of the Holy Spirit—not the SECOND. When believers receive the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts, this refers to justification and coming to faith—not a baptism of the Holy Spirit. This is inconsistent with the Assemblies of God view.

Third, this theology has led to a multitude of divisions and church splits. It creates a theology of the “Haves” and “Have-Nots” in Pentecostal circles that has nothing to do with true spiritual maturity: the fruit of the Spirit. In August 2000, the General Council of the Assemblies of God stated: “We cannot agree with those who teach that the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22,23) alone are sufficient evidence a believer has been baptized in the Holy Spirit.” But we cannot agree on this point, because a deeds and doctrine are the only two evidences given for the sign of a spiritually mature believer—not Spirit baptism.

Fourth, even though we disagree with the Assemblies of God in regards to Spirit baptism, we affirm our unity in the faith, and we also affirm the good work of Pentecostals. Specifically, we appreciate the zeal, excitement, and evangelism in Pentecostal communities. Often, Pentecostal churches do more to reach people with Jesus’ message of love and forgiveness, than do evangelicals in cold and stuffy churches. So, we hope that this critique of Spirit baptism is viewed in the friendliest of terms.

Further Reading

Assemblies of God “Baptism in the Holy Spirit.”

[1] Grudem, Wayne. Are Miraculous Gifts for Today?: 4 Views. Counterpoints: Bible and Theology. Zondervan. 2001. 242.

[2] Pentecostals usually argue that the disciples had already been justified. When Jesus told them to “receive the Holy Spirit,” they had become believers (Jn. 20:22). However, do not equate this expression (“Receive the Holy Spirit”) to elsewhere refer to justification. For instance, regarding Acts 8, the AOG position paper states, “Laying on of hands by Peter and John was for them to ‘receive the Holy Spirit’ (verse 17), a practice the New Testament never associates with receiving salvation.” But these interpreters cannot have it both ways: If the apostles were already believers in Acts 2 because they had “received the Holy Spirit” from Jesus (Jn. 20:22), then this would mean that the Samaritans were not believers until Peter and John laid hands on them in Acts 8.