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Ambassador Baptist Church
1926 Babcock Blvd
Pittsburgh, PA 15209
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Ask the Pastor
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clear.gif - 808 Bytes What is your position on Spirit Baptism from I Corinthians 12:13?

You may click on verses to reveal pop-up Scripture

clear.gif - 808 Bytes I believe that the first phrase of I Corinthians 12:13 means this: “For under the leadership of the one Holy Spirit we all have been immersed in water into the membership of one local church.”

 Please allow me to explain how I have come to this conclusion. The first thing that we should look at in I Corinthians 12:13 is the context. The purpose of this section of the book is two-fold. First of all, Paul is teaching on the proper use of spiritual gifts. Second, he is teaching on the importance of unity in the body of Christ. The Corinthian church came behind in no gift (I Corinthians 1:7), but they were carnal because they could not get along with each other (I Corinthians 3:3). In chapter 12 Paul wants to show them the importance of spirituality (12:1 - note that the word “gifts” is in italics, and does not occur in the Textus Receptus), and show that being gifted and being spiritual are not the same thing.

 In verses 4-6 he uses the unity of the Trinity as a illustration of the unity that the church should have. Beginning in verse 12 he writes about the unity within the body itself, and shows how all the people, and all the gifts, are necessary. He then teaches how the members of body are to relate to each other. In verse 25 he states that there is to be no schism in the body, that it is supposed to be united. In verse 31 he introduces chapter 13 by stating that what he is going to talk about in that chapter is “more excellent” than having special gifts. He then opens chapter 13 by stating that no matter what gifts a man has, if he doesn’t have charity, he is nothing. The rest of chapter 13 shows the importance of love, and by extension, unity within the church. When he gets to chapter 14 he goes back to the idea of gifts, but he points out that they exist for the edification of the church (14:3-5). Thus, one of the central themes of this passage is unity and love within the body.

 Now, let’s look at 12:13 itself. It speaks of baptism into one body. What is that body? Paul himself uses the expression “body of Christ” in verse 27, so that must be the body that he is referring to in verse 13. Interestingly, he defines “body of Christ” in that same verse by stating “now ye are.” Who are the “ye”? According to 1:2, it is the local church, the ecclesia, at Corinth. Thus, Paul is calling the local church the body of Christ.

 In Ephesians 1:22-23 Paul states that the church is the body of Christ. Perhaps at this point we should define “ecclesia.” According to Thayer, an ecclesia is "a gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public place, an assembly." When Christ stated that He would “build His ecclesia”, He used a word that was already well known by His disciples. He did not coin a new term, nor did He redefine an existing term without telling His followers. They knew what an ecclesia was - it was the assembly where people went to conduct business. The Lord knew it as well, and He said that He would build an ecclesia of His own. Thus, by definition, a church is a local, visible assembly, and since the church is the body of Christ, I Corinthians 12:13 must be referring to a local church.

 Having established what the body is, let’s look at the word “baptized.” Many fine men believe that this baptism is a “Spirit baptism” into the universal body of Christ. I have three problems with that position. First, if the body is the church, and the church is local and visible, then Spirit baptism into a “universal church” is impossible, for that “church” does not exist. Second, Ephesians 4:5, in showing the importance of unity, mentions that there is “one baptism.” If there is only one baptism, which one is it, Spirit or water? We can not have both, since the Bible says that there is only one. Ephesians 4 is not speaking of one “mode” of baptism (immersion vs. sprinkling, for example), for the word “baptizo” means “to immerse.” Thus, at the time when Paul writes to the Ephesians, there is only one immersion. Because we know that there are numerous references to the importance of water baptism subsequent to salvation, there can be no question that water baptism is a Biblical truth for all believers. Since there is only one baptism, and we know water is a Scriptural baptism, this means that Spirit baptism can not be meant in I Corinthians 12:13. (As an aside, it should be noted that Ephesians 4:4 also teaches that there is only one body. There can not be two bodies, one local and one universal, for there is only one. Since we know that the Bible stresses the importance of the local church, it must be the one body that Paul is referring to).

 The third reason why I do not believe that Spirit baptism is being spoken of in I Corinthians 12:13 is because this passage, if it did refer to Spirit baptism, does not agree with other passages that we know speak of Spirit baptism. Most people who believe that this verse teaches Spirit baptism equate it with the statements of John the Baptist and Jesus Christ in Matt. 3:11, Mark 1:8, Luke 3:16, John 1:33, and Acts 1:5. If I might quote Charles Ryrie as an example:

“Since according to Paul in I Corinthians 12:13, Spirit Baptism places people in the body of Christ, and since the body of Christ is the church, the body began when those first individuals were baptized at Pentecost.”

 However, an examination of these verses show that what is being spoken about in the Gospels and Acts can not be the same thing that is being referenced in I Corinthians 12:13. Matthew 3:11 states,

“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, and with fire.”
In this passage, Jesus is the One doing the baptizing. He is baptizing believers. He is immersing them in the Holy Spirit, and He is doing it subsequent to their salvation. Let’s compare that with the supposed “Spirit baptism” of I Corinthians 12:13. There it would be the Holy Spirit doing the baptizing. Believers would be being baptized. They would be immersed in the body, and it would occur simultaneously with salvation. Please note that there are differences in three of the four points mentioned. Thus, if the Gospels and Acts teach the baptism of the Holy Spirit, whatever is happening in I Corinthians 12:13 is obviously not the same thing.

 Lest you think I am contradicting myself when I say that there is only one baptism, and then say that Spirit baptism existed in the book of Acts, please understand that I am saying that the baptism of the Holy Spirit did exist in the book of Acts, but by the time Paul wrote his epistle to the Ephesians, it was no longer in existence. We see the four instances of Spirit baptism in Acts (2, 8, 10, and 19), and they are the fulfillments of Christ’s instructions to His disciples in Acts 1:8 - Jerusalem {2}, Judaea {10}, Samaria {8}, and the uttermost parts {19}. Once this occurred, the baptism of the Holy Spirit was apparently no longer necessary, for we do not read of anything like it again in Scripture.

 So, in I Corinthians 12:13 we have water baptism into the local church. What does the expression “by one Spirit” then mean? I believe that we have two options. First, the Greek expression used here, “en eni pneumati” is also used by Paul in Philippians 1:27, and there it refers, not to the Holy Spirit, but to a spirit of unity. Since we understand that the original manuscripts were all written in capital letters, the capitalization of “pneuma” is an editorial choice. Thus, while the spirit in I Corinthians 12:13 could be the Holy Spirit, it doesn’t have to be. The verse could simply say that through the spirit of unity, which all believers are to have, they were baptized into the Corinthian church. The second option is that “pneuma” does refer to the Holy Spirit, and that the water baptism into the assembly was done under the influence of the Holy Spirit. One of Thayer’s definitions for “en” is “that with which a person is surrounded, equipped, furnished, assisted, or acts”. Thus, it could mean that under the direction and influence of the Holy Spirit they were baptized into the Corinthian church. Either is acceptable. My opinion is that the second option is correct, and that their baptisms were done under the leadership of the Holy Spirit.

 The only issue left is the expression “into one body.” Since the body is the local church, I believe that this verse teaches that people should become members of the local church when they receive water baptism from it. For example, I was baptized under the authority of the Mukwonago Baptist Church in Mukwonago, Wisconsin, and immediately became a member of it. When I baptize at our church, those who receive baptism automatically become members of our assembly. We baptize them “into the body.” As far as the word “one” is concerned, each of us was baptized into one body. I was baptized into Mukwonago Baptist Church, one body. Folks I baptize today are baptized into Ambassador Baptist Church, one body. I believe that membership can be transferred, but I was baptized into one body, the church that authorized my baptism. Paul and the Corinthian believers were baptized into different assemblies, but each person was baptized into only one assembly. Paul is using this again to teach the importance of unity in the Corinthian church. It is important to note verse 27 here, which was referenced above. Paul says that “we” were all baptized into one body, but he doesn’t say that “we” are the body of Christ. He says “ye”. If this was a Spirit baptism into a universal body, then he would have said “we” in verse 27, but he does not. He says “ye”, because while both he and the Corinthian church members had been baptized into their respective bodies, they did not all constitute one body of Christ.

 In summary, I believe that the first half of I Corinthians 12:13 means this, “For under the leadership of the one Holy Spirit we all have been immersed in water into the membership of one local church.” In his attempt to get the Corinthian believers to learn to get along with each other, Paul is reminding them that the same Holy Spirit led them all to be baptized into the same assembly.

 I hope you find this material helpful and informative.

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Pastor Dr. Mark Montgomery
Email: Ask the Pastor
Ambassador Baptist Church
1926 Babcock Blvd
Pittsburgh, PA 15209

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