What Is the Baptism of the Holy Spirit?

“The baptism of the Holy Spirit has been a subject of debate and much discussion among Christians over the years. What exactly does it mean to be baptized in the Spirit? Is it a distinct event that occurs after conversion, as some maintain, or an integral part of salvation universally experienced by all believers? And what is its significance redemptive-historically, particularly as it finds expression at Pentecost (Acts 2)?

In this article, we’ll seek to answer the question, ‘What is the baptism of the Holy Spirit?’ by examining the biblical evidence, analyzing various interpretations, and attending to its theological significance.”

Paul’s Theology of Resurrection (with Richard Gaffin)

How did Paul think about resurrection, and what role did it play in his overall theological understanding? Kirk sits down for a conversation with retired professor, Dr. Richard Gaffin, about Paul’s theology of resurrection. We explore questions like, what is the connection between Christ’s resurrection and ours? What is the relationship between Christ’s resurrection and the ministry of the Spirit in our lives? What does Paul mean when he says that Jesus was “raised for our justification” (Rom 4:25)? And how does Christ’s resurrection empower us for our mission as a church?

Access the episode here. (Available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, and more.)

The ABI’s of God’s Kingdom, Pt. 3 (How to Read the Bible, Ep. 13)

If we are to read each portion of scripture in view of the broader story of scripture, then what is that bigger story? What is the overarching storyline of the Bible? In this episode, we cover the next three epochs of that overarching story: Jesus’ arrival, the church and her mission, and Christ’s second coming.

Access the episode here. (Available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, and more.)

See all other content in this series.

The rhetorical significance of the prophetic gifts (Joel 3:1; English 2:28)

The following was a short exegetical essay for Dr. Richard E. Averbeck’s Hebrew Exegesis course at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

Be aware: I use the Hebrew Bible’s chapter and verse references in the following, which can be different than what one will find in English translations of Joel.

As evidenced by its inclusio placement, the Spirit’s outpouring serves a central role to the message of vv.1-2. Through the Spirit’s presence, the hope of YHWH’s presence among his people, anticipated in the immediately preceding verse (2:27), will be realized (Allen, 98). These factors indicate that Joel’s primary focus in 3:1-2 is the universal presence of God via the outpoured Spirit. As such, his mention of prophetic gifts has a subordinate function (Hubbard, 75). This leads to the question, what exactly is the significance of Joel’s reference to prophetic gifts in this passage? Through examination of Biblical and scholarly data, this article will conclude that Joel uses prophetic gifts as a rhetorical vehicle to communicate his primary message, which is YHWH’s intimate presence via the poured-out Spirit.

Throughout the OT, an intrinsic connection exists between prophecy and the Spirit (Num 11:25-29; 24:2; Deut 34:9-10; 1 Sam 10:6, 10; 19:20, 23-24; 2 Sam 23:2; 2 Kgs 2:9; 2 Chr 15:1; 20:14; 24:20.). As such, for God to grant individuals prophetic gifts is equivalent to God granting these individuals the Spirit’s presence (Turner, 551; Barton 95; Allen 98; Wolff, 66). Therefore, Joel successfully communicates the realization of YHWH’s presence via the Spirit by attributing prophetic gifts to “all flesh” (Allen, 98) As Stuart observes, “The verbs in the verse (‘prophesy,’ ‘have dreams,’ ‘see visions’)” each “describe revelatory functions associated with the fullness of God’s Spirit . . . .” (260). To be a prophet implies having the “Spirit of prophecy”; therefore, these prophetic gifts manifest the Spirit’s presence. As Crenshaw notes, the waw on וְנִבְּא֖וּ indicates result (165)—the outpoured Spirit results in, and is therefore evidenced by, these prophetic utterances. In summary, by claiming that everyone will prophesy, Joel anticipates an elimination of the previous era’s characteristic of only certain individuals, like prophets, being endowed with the Spirit (e.g., Jdg 3:10; Ex 31:3; Num 11:17; 1 Sam 16:13; Stuart 260-261). “The promise takes up the wistful longing of Moses expressed in Num 11:29 . . . and stamps it as a definite part of Yahweh’s program for the future.” (Allen, 99; cf. Barton, 95; Garrett, 368).

Nonetheless, the significance of Joel’s reference to prophetic gifts is not merely bound up with its function in demonstrating God’s presence among His people; it has a particular rhetorical importance within itself—it speaks to the immediacy in which all will relate to God (Crenshaw, 166). Contrary to Orelli (cited in Crenshaw, 166), who argues for a special significance to the pairing of certain gifts with certain groups of people, the various mediums of revelation in vv.1-2 are mentioned in order to enrich poetic parallelism (Hubbard, 75) and to emphasize the direct relationship all of God’s people will have with him (Wolff, 67). And as Wolff keenly observes, Joel’s focus is likely not prophetic proclamation, since all in view share in the prophetic gifts, but that all are prophets, i.e., have the Spirit of prophecy (66). In contrast to other prophecies about the eschatological Spirit, Joel’s point is not new obedience (Jer 31:31-34; Ezek 11:19-20; 36:26-27) or new creation (cf. Isa 32:25; 44:3; Crenshaw, 164-165); but rather, in continuity with the prophetic hope, Joel picks up on the Old Testament’s anticipation of an intimate relationship with God through the Spirit (Isa 32:15; 44:3; Ezek 11:19-20; 36:26-28; Jer 31:1, 31-34) by way of this “prophetic motif” (Num 12:6; Isa 50:4; Jer 15:16; 20:11; Hubbard, 73-75; Wolff, 66-67; Achtemeier, 149; Garrett, 368; Allen, 99).

In summary, Joel uses prophetic gifts rhetorically to communicate his primary message concerning the hope of intimate communion with God via the poured-out Spirit, universal to all God’s people in the “last days.” Joel’s point may not be that all of God’s people will literally prophesy, but that all of God’s people will have the Spirit. All will be prophets in a non-technical sense, i.e., having the Spirit of prophecy; but not all will be “prophets proper.” This understanding accords with the NT: Even after the redemptive-historical fulfillment of Joel 3:1-2 at Pentecost (Acts 2:16-21), not all have the gift of prophecy (1 Cor 12:10, 29); yet all do have the illuminating presence of the Spirit of prophecy (1 John 2:20, 27; cf. Jer 31:34).

The identity of the Spirit’s scope in Joel 3:1-2 (English 2:28-29)

The following was a short exegetical essay for Dr. Richard E. Averbeck’s Hebrew Exegesis course at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

Be aware: I use the Hebrew Bible’s chapter and verse references in the following, which can be different than what one will find in English translations of Joel.

In Joel 3:1-2, Joel describes the scope of the Spirit’s outpouring. Almost all commentators would understand the identity of this scope as referring to all the inhabitants of Judah. However, some, namely Barton, push back against this consensus by suggesting that aspects of the text do not fit neatly within a “merely Judah” perspective, but actually indicate a more universal extent. The significance of this exegetical issue is demonstrated by Barton’s observation that his interpretation would “make this prophecy one of the most ‘universalistic’ in the Old Testament . . . almost unparalleled in the Old Testament” (96).

The scope of the Spirit’s outpouring is identified asכָּל־בָּשָׂ֔ר. The high majority of commentators understand this as referring to all the inhabitants of Judah for the following reasons. (1) The 2nd person pronouns littered throughout this text indicate that this promise is limited to Judah, the addressee (Garrett, 369; Achtemeier, 148; Hubbard, 73; Wolff, 67). (2) Context: (a) As Wolff succinctly states, “According to the introduction in 2:19 this oracle . . . pertains to Yahweh’s people, and immediately preceding it the manifestation of Yahweh ‘in the midst of Israel’ has been announced (2:27)” (emphasis added, Wolff, 67; cf. Allen, 98). (b) Rather than addressing the nations in 3:1-5, Joel’s message to the nations awaits the final chapter (Crenshaw, 165; Wolff, 67). (3) Joel is most likely building upon, interpreting, or expanding the hope anticipated in texts such as Ezek 39:29 and Zech 12:10 which were intended for the “house of Israel” (Ezek 39:29) and restrict “the outpouring of a compassionate spirit to David’s descendants and residents of Jerusalem” (Zech 12:10; Crenshaw, 165; see also Garrett 369; Allen 98; Wolff, 67). (4) Crenshaw notes a (doubtful) suggestion made by Cheyne, that Joel intended כל־בשׂר to function as a poetic abbreviation for בישׂרל כל due to their phonological similarity (165). (5) The early church’s interpretation. As Allen keenly notes, “It was obviously in this sense [as referring strictly to Judah] that Peter understood it [Joel 3] in his exposition of the passage in Acts 2, especially in light of the amazement expressed at the ‘Gentile Pentecost’ in Acts 10:45” (Allen, 98).

On the other hand, Barton believes the message Joel 3:1-5 is ‘universalistic,’ extending beyond Judah’s borders. He provides the following arguments: (1) Although the previous commentators recognize that כָּל־בָּשָׂ֔ר can mean “everyone,” “the whole of humanity” (Wolff, 67; Allen, 98l Crenshaw, 165; cf. Gen 6:12-13; Isa 40:5; 49:26; Sir 8:19), nonetheless, they think the context restrains the meaning of “all” to “all Israel.” Barton, however, argues that this view conflicts with all other OT uses of כָּל־בָּשָׂ֔ר, which either means strictly “all humans” or “all creatures,” but none clearly meaning “all Israelites” (96). (2) The reference to male and female slaves quite likely includes non-Judeans (Barton, 96; cf. Crenshaw, 166). (3) The immediate context includes a promise of salvation for everyone who calls on YHWH (v.5) (Barton, 96). (4) The earlier church applied the message of this text to gentile converts, which, if nothing else, “took up a hint that is clearly present in the text” (Barton, 96).

One would be mistaken to assume that the interpreter faces these two perspectives in terms of “either/or.” Certainly, the majority of interpreters are correct to assert that the immediate context intends Judahites as the immediate recipients of this hope. However, the level of ambiguity, well pointed out by Barton, alludes to what becomes explicit in the New Testament—the eventual inclusion of Gentiles in this promise of the Spirit (Acts 10:45, Gal 3:14, 26-29). Ultimately, Joel uses vastly inclusive language primarily as a rhetorical device—defining “all flesh” as widely as possible in order to convey, “the major characteristic of the outpouring of the Spirit is its universality” (Garret, 369).