On Baptism and bad teaching about the "Gifts of the Spirit"

Regarding Baptism in water

This page is going to deal with the subject of Baptism, in particular what many refer to as the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. This is usually equated with Speaking in Tongues, and although I support that while not being a practitioner, it is nonetheless true that the teaching that goes along with the experience of Charismatic Gifts gets really bad at times, due at least in part to the arbitrary insertion of words into the book of 1st Corinthians by the translators of the King James Bible, the handbook of nearly all Pentecostal denominations. To get a better idea of what Paul is actually teaching with respect to the Holy Spirit, we must first return to the subject of Baptism in general. At the other site I went into some background on how Baptism had been practiced by the Jews from the time of Moses on, and I mentioned some of the practices involved with it by both they and the 1st century Christian church. I’m now going to return to the subject and also take the opportunity to illustrate how (apparent) contradictions can occur in the Bible without their being contradictions at all. Here’s how...

At the other site I clearly state that Baptism, while important, is not a requirement for salvation, and give the reasons for that. I am now going apparently contradict myself and state emphatically that Baptism absolutely is a requirement for salvation!

OK--how is that not a contradiction?

Well, in the first case, I was writing about water Baptism, which is what comes to mind when people think of the word. Water Baptism isn’t a requirement for salvation! The idea that it is, typically comes from verses like Mark 16:15-16

And he said unto them, go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.

He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.

OK, get ready for a shock--Jesus was not (directly) talking about water Baptism, although He was including it as a secondary issue. He was referring to a higher concept in Judaism, that of (spiritual) immersion into the Messiah and through that immersion entrance into the Malkutshamayim--the Kingdom of God. Water baptism would have been the outward sign of this immersion (remember that the word Baptism means immersion) in the same way that the many other ritual Baptisms in Judaism signified diverse spiritual changes. This is why Paul, in Ephesians 4:5 says that there is One lord, one faith, one baptism, while the 6th chapter of the Book of Hebrews mentions that there is a doctrine of baptisms. Ephesians and Hebrews seem to be contradicting each other since one speaks singularly and the other in plural on apparently the same subject. In fact they are talking about different two different subjects with the same name. Paul is referring to spiritual baptism into Messiah--and since there is one Messiah there is only one Baptism/immersion into him--while the writer of Hebrews is dealing with the subject of the various water baptisms practiced by the (Christian) Jews, including water Baptism as symbolizing or proclaiming the spiritual Baptism into the Messiah.

To understand this idea of Baptism into the Messiah, one must recognize that Old Testament Scripture teaches that Jesus Himself would cleanse the nation of Israel (and we by extension) from its sins by literally functioning as a vessel for immersion:

And it shall come to pass, that he that is left in Zion...shall be called holy...

When the Lord shall have washed* away the filth of the daughters of Zion, and shall have purged the blood of Jerusalem from the midst thereof by the spirit of judgment, and by the spirit of burning.

--Isaiah 4:3-4

* The word washed here was viewed by some rabbis as referring to Baptism in connection with the removal of sin. This is backed up by the next verse from Jeremiah 17: 12-13

A glorious high throne from the beginning is the place of our sanctuary.

O lord, the hope** of Israel, all that forsake thee shall be ashamed, and they that depart from thee shall be written in the earth, because they have forsaken the Lord, the fountain of living waters.

** The word here translated as hope is very unusual, and is used in this context only three times in the Old Testament instead of the more common word tikva. The word is mikvah-- which is a ceremonial baptismal tank! Thus, this scripture can be understood in a deeper meaning as: O lord, the Baptismal font of Israel....

It is through scriptures like these that some sages came to understand that a Messiah would come to take away the sins of the people. This Messiah was known as the Messiah ben Joseph, taking his name from Jacob’s prophecy in Genesis 49: 22-26 regarding Joseph’s descendant being hated and wounded. This, coupled with prophecies like that of Isaiah 53, speaking of a Messiah that would suffer and die for the sins of the people, led these rabbis to expect a suffering Messiah in addition to the Messiah ben David, the conquering Messiah who would usher in the Kingdom of God.***

*** In fact many Jews in the time of Jesus were looking for three or four different Messiahs--the Messiah ben Joseph, the Messiah ben David, the Prophet like unto Moses, Elijah who was to come, etc. You can see this in John 1:21 when the Pharisees quiz John the Baptist on whether he is claming to be any of the expected Messiahs.

When Jesus revealed to His followers that He would fulfill both of these Messianic roles, at least some of the Apostles understood that He was literally the vessel of immersion that would wash away sin. Thus, recognition of Jesus as Messiah and a subsequent immersion into Him would bring one spiritually into the Kingdom of God. Paul states it this way in Romans 6:4-5:

Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we should walk in newness of life.

For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall also be in the likeness of his resurrection...


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 made to drink into one Spirit.

--1st Corinthians 12:13

The question now turns to how Baptism should be viewed by the church. Even in that ancient time the debate over whether water Baptism was merely symbolic or literally efficacious raged among the rabbis. Some Christians and orthodox Jews today believe that water Baptism literally bestows some spiritual regeneration or benefit, and literally removes sin and uncleanness. More liberal Jews, and most evangelical Christians, view Baptism as symbolic of a change in one’s status from a lower spiritual level to a higher one, for instance from an unsaved sinner to a saved member of the Body of Christ. This is why Jesus comes to John the Baptist for immersion--not because he has sin to repent of, nor because he requires Baptism to cleanse His spirit, nor even to be an example to us--but He undergoes Baptism at the hands of John because He is starting His ministry as a rabbi and thus the Baptism signifies he is changing status from the status of a lay person to a greater status, that of a teacher. (As a further note, Jesus would have undergone numerous Baptisms throughout His life--before every Jewish festival, for instance--again, not because immersion into water was spiritually efficacious to Him, but to signify His entering a period of special consecration to God.)

The conceptual difference of symbolic vs. efficacious is why some denominations teach that water Baptism is a requirement in order to have salvation. This is especially so with denominations that lean toward works- oriented salvation doctrine. Since Baptism is a Commandment, and since in their view righteousness and salvation come through obeying the Commandments, obviously if you don’t get Baptized you have broken the Commandments and will be lost. However, since the greater immersion is a spiritual immersion into Messiah, and that spiritual immersion is what actually saves rather than physical immersion into water, we must determine how one properly welcomes the Messiah into his life and experiences this spiritual immersion. Is it, like some Christians believe, through sincere, committed obedience to the Commandments of God? No! Remember the words of Jesus as He talks about Baptism into Himself...

He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.

One welcomes the Messiah into his life only through faith--and it is through this expression of faith that a sinner becomes immersed into the Messiah, washing away his sins in the process. This is why the second half of the sentence doesn’t say He who believeth not and is baptized not shall be damned--because the real immersion comes through the faith, not through obeying the Commandment to be immersed in water! Jesus could just as well have said: He who accepts me by faith, and through that faith is Baptized into me, shall be saved, while he who does not accept me by faith shall be damned.

This experience of spiritual immersion is also why Cornelius is filled with the Holy Spirit and speaks in Tongues before he is Baptized--he experienced spiritual immersion into the Messiah, forgiveness of sin, and sealing by the Holy Spirit at the point he responded by faith to Peter’s proclamation of the Gospel.

Baptism for the dead

Else what should they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? Why are they then baptized for the dead?

--1st Corinthians 15:29

Paul speaks matter-of-factly about an enigmatic form of baptism known as Baptism for the dead. Scholars have long wondered about the origins of this odd form of baptism. There is a slight possibility that some Christians of the time were being baptized in proxy for deceased (Jewish) ancestors in the belief that this was necessary for them to enter Heaven. (This is not too far removed from the Mormon church’s doctrine of proxy baptism, although that is predicated on being baptized for a deceased non-Mormon in the belief that this will permit the soul of the person to accept salvation and advance to a higher plane of Heaven than it otherwise could.) But since Paul speaks of it so passively, it is more likely he is referring to a known practice by some--but not all--Jews, which involved the ritual immersion of a body prior to burial, to symbolize the eventual Resurrection.

The Baptism of the Holy Spirit

In addition to immersion into the Messiah, there is another spiritual Baptism many Christians undergo known as Baptism of the Holy Spirit. Pentecostal and Charismatic denominations are chiefly where this experience occurs, and usually this event is equated with receiving the gift of speaking in Tongues. Before we deal with the subject in greater depth, we need to return to the 1st century and note some of the beliefs of the Jews in the time of Jesus.

First, we need to understand that the Jews by no means had their theology all together. There were still many revelations that would be received about the nature of God and Christ that would emerge as the church matured and teachers like Paul rose up to reveal mysteries of God that had not been understood by previous generations.

Now the Gospels record Jesus’ bestowal of the Holy Spirit in this way:

And behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you, but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high.

--Luke 24: 49

Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak; and he will shew you things to come.

--John 16: 13

Then said Jesus unto them, peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so I send you.

And when he had said this, he breathed on them and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost.

--John 20: 21-22

One of the biggest revelations would come later about the nature and person of the Holy Spirit. At the time of the crucifixion, the Apostles would not have understood they were receiving the third person of the Trinity. They would have equated the term Holy Spirit as being the equivalent of saying the power of God. You can see Jesus interacting with them on this level in Acts 1:8 when He says: But ye shall receive power after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be my witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost parts of the earth.

Today, we would hear this as Jesus saying: Ye shall receive power after the third person of the Trinity comes upon you. But the Apostles would have interpreted this statement more along the lines of: Ye shall receive power after the Power of God comes upon you. In their minds, this power of God--which to them would be no different in concept or substance than God Himself--would have enabled them to witness effectively the news of the Gospel in addition to working miracles and doing other supernatural deeds in connection with the task. Tongues never entered their mind--at this point. What would have entered their minds as Jesus breathed on**** them was that he was bestowing the Shekinah of God within them. The Shekinah is the indwelling presence of God, not the “Glory Cloud” many Christians assume. This act sealed them in the Holy Spirit and literally was the immersion into Messiah brought about through the Holy Spirit as He came to dwell within their spirits at that moment, not at Pentecost.

**** In the original language it actually says he breathed in them.

On the day of Pentecost, a few weeks after the Resurrection, the famous event of Acts 2 fell upon the Apostles as they worshipped at the Temple. (Note--this event probably did not occur at “the upper room” but within the Court of the Gentiles at the Temple, and occurred not with the 120 elders of the church, but with the 12 apostles, including Matthias--all of whom are described as “Galileans” by those observing. The term “the house” used in Acts 2, which leads some to conclude the event occured in the Upper Room, was a term for the Temple.) This event would have had an incredible significance to the Jews who observed it--far more than most Christians realize. What we call Pentecost was the Jewish Festival of Shavuot, which, although the culmination of an agricultural festival, also commemorated the giving of the Law at Sinai. Shavuot means “weeks” and refers to a seven-week period after Passover in which the Jewish people sanctify themselves to represent Israel’s existing as a holy nation. Jewish legend held that at the time the Law was given on Mount Sinai, the voice of God issued forth in all known languages and visibly formed as tongues of fire upon the heads of all present. Each was then asked personally if he would abide by the terms of the Law. The Jews would have seen this as a direct parallel with the most important event of Jewish history, and some would have understood it to mean that the Kingdom of God had come to earth, and that the Law was now being written in the hearts of the people as prophesied in the Old Testament. It is at this time that the Chabod, the radiance or Glory Cloud of God, comes upon the Apostles, manifesting in tongues of fire, while the Holy Spirit now activates His power through the Apostles, a power which will enable them to do great works, but more importantly to witness for Christ. A by-product of this is that the Holy Spirit manifests Tongues and enables the Apostles to praise God in languages they do not normally speak.


Some other points about this festival include the facts that:


Pentecost also commemorates the marriage of God to Israel, and by extension Christ to His church.

The Apostles would have stayed up all of the night before, praying and studying the Torah.

All would have been dressed in white.

It was by tradition the birthday of King David.

Gentile and Jew would be worshipping together in this feast, which promotes untity between Jews and Gentiles. In fact the High Priest would take two loaves of bread, representing Jews and Gentiles, and make a wave offering in the sign of a cross, allowing the wind thereafter to blow the crumbs away, mixing them together in the process, signifying unity.


Where much of the church has erred is in understanding just what constitutes both the Baptism of the Spirit, and the Gifts of the Spirit. The common Charismatic teaching has been that the Baptism of the Holy Spirit is the bestowal of supernatural power expressed first through Tongues, then by Prophecy, Miracles, etc. This is a misunderstanding of both the Baptism and the Gifts, and in fact the Methodists were actually closer to the target when they taught that there was a second-blessing of sanctification available to believers. While the Pentecostal denominations that descended from them incorrectly taught the experience for nearly a century because the only Bible they had to work from was the flawed King James translation, it is a fact that when a Christian seeks for the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, he is not seeking Tongues--he is seeking a supernatural assistance in witnessing for Jesus Christ and living a life of obedience to His Commandments as well as the empowerment to fill various functions in the Body of Christ he may be called to. With this understanding, is there any Christian reading this, whether he be Baptist, Pentecostal, Catholic or Nazarene, who would hesitate to get in line with me for that?

This misunderstanding of what the Baptism really is has divided the church since the dawn of the Charismatic movement, and many Charismatics have developed the attitude that they possess a greater capacity to serve Christ than their non-Charismatic brethren, while many non-Charismatics view “Tongue-talkers” as demon- possessed. Both are equally wrong, and the irony is that hordes of non-Charismatics have probably experienced the true Baptism of the Holy Spirit without ever realizing it because the Charismatic movement has convinced the world at large that this Baptism must be equated with Tongues.

Nearly all the problems can be traced to one little word in the 12th Chapter of 1st Corinthians. Below is the traditional King James rendition.

Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant.

Ye know that ye were Gentiles, carried away unto these dumb idols, even as ye were led.

Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.

Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.

And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord.

And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all.

But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal.

For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit;

To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit;

To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues:

--1st Corinthians 12:1-10

You will note that the word “Gifts” in verse 1 is italicized both here and in the King James Bible. This is because the word isn’t present in the original manuscripts. It was added to the translation is because the sentence is very difficult to understand as written. The first verse would literally translate as follows:

About but the spirituals, brothers, not I am willing you to be ignorant...

We might translate it thusly to make it more understandable to us:

Concerning spirituals, brethren, I am unwilling for you to lack understanding.

The problem faced by the translators of the King James Bible was in trying to decide what Paul meant when he said Concerning spirituals. “Spiritual what?” they wondered. Eventually they decided to insert the word gifts because it seemed to fit the context, and from that point on nearly all Bibles have followed suit and arbitrarily placed that word in the verse, leading to a mistaken conclusion and an incorrect doctrine regarding “the nine Gifts of the Spirit”. Through the arbitrary placement of this word in verse 1, ignoring verses 2-6 and picking up again at verse 7, the Charismatic movement has arrived at the conclusion that Paul is saying:

Now concerning the Gifts of the Spirit, brethren, I would not have you to be ignorant of the fact that there are nine of these, which include...

In fact he’s not! To get a clearer grasp of what Paul is saying, we must deal with the word gifts and determine what it means, and whether or not it fits the context of what Paul is writing on. There are actually eight Greek words translated as “gift” in the New Testament. Several of these words have a bearing on the subject of “Spiritual Gifts”, but two of them, Doma and Charisma are the main words that effect the topic we are concerned with:

   Doma gifts are administrative, and deal with church structure. Many would know the Doma gifts as the “Fivefold Ministry” of Ephesians 4:

But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift (Dorea--a presentation) of Christ.

Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts (Domas) unto men.

(Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth?

He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.)

And he gave (Didomi--bestowed) some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;

For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:

Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ:

--Ephesians 4:7-13

   Doma gifts are unquestionably still in existence, although the office of a prophet must be understood in three ways. Number One, as one who called to proclaim the testimony of Jesus Christ (...For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy--Rev 19:10); Number Two, as an individual gifted by God with foresight and wisdom, who is called to guide a church body in the right direction because of that wisdom; and, Number Three, as one appointed as a spokesman for God, used as a vessel to speak the words of God to the church. Some might assert that the third form of a prophet is no longer applicable to the church, although the Charismatic movement would obviously disagree. What distinguishes Doma gifts from Charisma gifts with similar names are that these are offices rather than specific talents or anointings.

   Charisma gifts are bestowed by the Holy Spirit freely, without being earned, again for edification of the Body of Christ. These sorts of gifts might be viewed as natural talents, or what we might term an anointing. There are seven Charismatic gifts listed in Romans 12:6-8.

Having then gifts (Charisms) differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether PROPHECY*****, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith;

Or MINISTRY, let us wit on our ministering: or he that TEACHETH on teaching;

Or he that EXHORTETH on exhortation: he that GIVETH, let him do it with simplicity; he that RULETH, with diligence; he that showeth MERCY, with cheerfulness.

***** The Charisma gift of prophecy can relate to a gift of foresight and intuition or a talent to testify effectively about Jesus Christ.


Finally, we deal with what many think are the spiritual gifts of 1st Corinthians 12. In fact the nine listed categories are actually a manifestation of the Holy Spirit.

But the manifestation (Phineros--a manifestation bringing enlightenment) of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal.

For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit;

To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts (Charisms) of healing****** by the same Spirit;

To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy*******; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues:

This manifestation is under the sole control of the Spirit of God, whereas the Doma and Charisma gifts often are offices or talents that a Christian can make use of at will, although it is possible for the Holy Spirit to periodically anoint a person with a charism of a specicifc type for a specific length of time. Dispensationists--although they too have misunderstood both what the Baptism and Gifts of the Spirit are--would hold that this manifestation no longer takes place and was meant only for the early years of the church, prior to the formation of the canon of Scripture.

****** It will be noted that “Gifts” of healing mentioned in 1st Corinthians 12 refers back to a Charisma. It is possible, although we can’t be dogmatic on it, that the “Gifts” referred to here are a talent for using natural methods to heal, rather than this being a supernatural, miraculous ability to heal--which would fall under the category of miracles.

******* It is through this manifestation of the Spirit, and not through either the office of a Prophet, nor through the charism of prophecy, that one stands up to proclaim “Thus saith the Lord”.

Only one spiritual gift (charism) is given to all Christians--that of Prophecy, as shown by Paul, who reveals that everyone in the church may prophesy--defining prophecy as testifying about the reality of Jesus Christ:

But if ALL prophesy, and there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all...

--1st Corinthians 14:24

For ye may ALL prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted.

--1st Corinthians 14:31

So where does Tongues fit into all this, and why does much of the church equate the Baptism of the Spirit with Tongues?

In all but one case in the Book of Acts, when people received the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, it is recorded that they spoke in Tongues. From this, the Charismatic movement concluded that Tongues should accompany the Baptism of the Spirit. However, Paul clearly states that not all Christians speak in Tongues. Therefore we must conclude from Scripture that while Tongues is certainly an evidence of the Baptism, it is not the only evidence. So while Tongues is a great thing, it in no way is a requirement in order to have the Baptism of the Spirit.

How is the Baptism of the Spirit obtained?”

One can always pray and ask God for it, but the Bible seems to indicate it is usually imparted by the laying on of hands, as Paul mentions 1st Timothy 4:14.

Where do phenomena such as being ‘Slain in the Spirit’ or ‘Holy Laughter’ fit into this?"

The term slain in the Spirit is no more to be found in the Bible than is the word Trinity. However, there are some incidents recorded in the Scriptures that bear a degree of similarity. For instance, King Saul in 1st Samuel 19, lies on the ground and prophesies naked; Daniel, in Daniel 8, faints after having a vision; Peter, in Acts 11 relates that he fell into a trance and had a vision; Paul, in Acts 22, relates his own trance and accompanying vision in the Temple, and so on. These incidents do not explicitly support the phenomenon as normal for believers--and certainly most of the “falling out” seen in Pentecostal environments is either faked, or the result of people worked up emotionally. However, this experience has been recorded within Christianity for centuries, and to dismiss it out of hand is probably too extreme.

I personally have never undergone being slain in the Spirit, so I cannot comment from personal experience. However, I did enjoy one occasion when God may have been sending me a message on the subject. This occurred at the Toronto Vineyard several years ago, when the men from the church I attended at the time flew there to observe the “Toronto Blessing.” At one point my pastor was being prayed for by John Arnott in front of the stage. As I approached from behind--out of the view of both men--I remembered the words of a well-known Christian radio talk show host with a Sadducee-like skepticism regarding just about anything supposedly supernatural in Christianity. One of this commentator’s favorite digs about the phenomenon is that the people of God seem to fall forward in Scripture, whereas the enemies of God fall backward--like most people who claim to be slain in the Spirit. This commentator mocks the experience for that reason among many. I recalled his words as I walked toward the stage, and I thought jokingly to myself: “Well, if my pastor goes down and doesn’t fall forward, then I guess it must not be of God.” At that instant, my pastor nose-dived forward, barely missing cracking his head open on the edge of the stage. Needless to say, I was struck at the coincidence. I later asked him about it to find he was as surprised at what happened as I was, since he said he had never fallen forward in such a manner before.

So far as other phenomena like Holy Laughter, weird noises, etc., there is woefully little in Scripture to support it. At best, Acts 2 suggests that some of the behavior of the Apostles under the power of the Holy Spirit was similar enough to drunkenness for some to mistake it for that. Nothing overtly supports the laughter or animal noises some claim to have experienced. However, so far as I am concerned, if someone undergoes these effects and comes out of it with a change of life prompting greater commitment to Christ, I’m not going to knock it, but I sure won’t claim the Scriptures support it. Frankly, I believe that much of the weird noises trace themselves to demons being exorcised from some of the people as the power of God flows through the assembly.

Despite being in Toronto for a week, I experienced none of the usual effects and was dubbed an “HTR”, or Hard to Receive, by the Ministry Team. However, despite this, I absolutely did have an encounter with God there in which He dealt with me on some things in my life, and warned me that I had some rough times ahead. True enough, the hell of the next two years was worse than the last 10 years put together, but God got me through it as He promised.

I would have preferred to laugh....


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