Here’s an intriguing question raised for me today by a friend, Rory.
Rory’s question came as follows (he gave me permission to post it):
In 1 Cor 12:13, the two regular options seem to be:
- Baptism in the Spirit is a synonym for conversion (so most conservative commentary)
- Baptism in the Spirit is a post-conversion experience of the Spirit (ala Pentecostalism).
The problem (or at least assumption) with the first is that Paul must have carefully catechised them in reformed soteriology whereby they’d recognise ‘Baptism in the Spirit’ to mean the point they became Christians and he must have been confident in how exhaustive his catechesis was (so that all would recognise it to be true of them). Possible I guess, but a stretch?
Problem with trad pentecostal reading is that speaking in tongues clearly not something that happened to ‘all’ and yet Spirit baptism did happen to ‘all.’
Isn’t it more likely, however, that the Corinthians has some common experience (perhaps when gathered?) at which point they all agree that they were ‘baptised in the Spirit.’ Ala the various incidents in Acts. Isn’t that the most secure way Paul could argue from a commonly agreed experience ‘all’ had to the point about their common sharing in the one Spirit (Seems to me that something like that would also work well for Galatians 3:2 etc).
Donald Robinson argued something like this.
Here’s the initial response I gave…
That’s an interesting question.
So the background is:
- Paul planted the church ‘with a demonstration of Spirit and of power’ (2:4). He did not water-baptise many (1:14)
- After Paul left, Apollos came and had influence (having apparently recently learned of Christian baptism and the Spirit – Acts 18:24-19:7)
- After Apollos left, divisions in the church became prominent, especially relating to baptism (1:13-17), and also to ‘the Spirituals’ (12:1). It seems likely to me that some people were water-baptised under Apollos’ ministry (so 1:10-17)
- In relation to the issue of ‘the Spirituals,’ Paul urges the recognition in 1 Corinthians 12 that all were baptised by one Spirit into one body
The question is: when? When (in the hearers’ estimation) were all baptised by one Spirit into one body?
A few initial observations:
- ‘all’ seems to mean ‘all categories’ – Jews, Greeks, slaves, free
- The key point is ‘one Spirit’ and ‘one body’ – that’s the issue in focus
- The context from 12:1 onwards seems to involve Paul stressing that the one God works ‘all in all,’ and thus the one Spirit is manifest not only in the special gifts of an elite few, but in all
So, in order to counter ‘spiritual’ elitism, Paul seeks to demonstrate that the one Spirit was the agent of the baptism of all into one body. But still, when did that occur? Did it occur when they were individually baptised? Did it occur when they corporately experienced a demonstration of the Spirit upon foundation of the church, in Paul’s initial ministry? Did it occur metaphorically in God’s salvific work in Christ? A few questions about these options:
- Is the Spirit elsewhere ever viewed as the agent of individual water baptism? (recall John the Baptist’s claim about Jesus’ baptising with the Spirit, which is intriguing and ambiguous)
- Is the event of corporate empowerment by the Spirit recognisably labelled ‘baptism in/by the Spirit’? (in Acts 18-19, we see water-baptism in the name Jesus, which brings Spiritual manifestations)
- Is there any relation here to the Israelites being corporately ‘baptised into Moses’ in God’s salvific act of the exodus, mentioned in 1 Cor 10:1-2? (Note that this is still a water event)
I guess my thinking would be as follows:
- The word ‘baptism’ most naturally refers to a water event
- If Paul were referring back to a foundational experience of the church, for which the newly baptised followers of Apollos were not present, would this not run the danger of exacerbating the spiritual elitism that he is here seeking to counter?
- Although it might be surprising for the Corinthians to hear that their water-baptisms were conducted by/in/with the Spirit (as you rightly recognise as a problem with conservative views), Paul does actually seem to be at pains here to explicitly bring the role of the Spirit into the ‘normal’ experience of every category of Christian. So this might explain why he would describe normal water-baptism as occurring ‘by one Spirit’
So it seems I’m landing on what you’ve called the ‘conservative’ position; although I recognise that it has its tensions, and I’m open to being wrong!
Rory’s reply is as follows…
yes, you’ve identified the clues that have lead me to toy with this (non-conservative, not quite pentecostal) position. Namely:
- At Pentecost itself you get an event describe as ‘baptism in the Spirit’ which, a) involves no water and b) is a corporate, shared, and date-marked event. (Notice as well with Pentecost that ‘baptism in the Spirit’ (Acts 1:5) results in people being ‘filled with the Spirit’ (Acts 2:4)—a similar structure to 1 Corinthians 12:13 of being “baptised” and then “drinking” the Spirit)
- The necessity of the implied reader of 1 Cor 12:13 consider it an uncontested fact with that ‘baptism in the Spirit’ did happen to all for Paul’s argument to work.
- The analogous way the ‘baptism’ in 10:1-3 was shared, corporate, date-marked event.
My further thoughts are that this is a good point – that the Pentecost ‘baptism in the Spirit’ involves no water. I’m reluctant, though, to think that Paul is referring to a similar event in Corinth. In part, this is because of my thought above that any such event would have occurred when Paul first arrived, and thus Paul’s mention of it would exclude a number of (already agitated) members of the present community, who had come to faith under Apollos’ ministry. To my mind, Paul’s appeal works if it can be said to be true of any Christian in the congregation, whether old or new.
Let me just try out the word ‘initiated’ in place of ‘baptised’:
For in the one Spirit we were all initiated into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
Couldn’t the point just be that as many of us as have come into the one body of Christ have come in through the agency of the one Spirit? I guess the sense of baptism here would indeed be analogous to Israel’s baptism into Moses in 1 Cor 10 – but without tying it to a date-stamped corporate event.
Any further thoughts/ideas?