What is the ‘baptism with the Holy Ghost and with fire’ from the biblical perspective?

Many will say that there is only one reference to this topic coming from the words of John the Baptist as found in Matthew 3:11:

11 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:

John was baptizing those who came to him when he saw that there were Pharisees and Sadducees among the crowd. He used the opportunity to presage the coming of the Messiah who would offer a second baptism; that of the Holy Ghost and fire.

The subsequent baptism of Christ had these two components. He was baptized with water by John, followed by the spirit of God descending upon Him. Could this be considered a baptism of the spirit? I would suggest this is the case.

In the first chapter of Acts, we are given the last words of the resurrected Christ to the twelve:

4 And, being assembled together with them, commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith he, ye have heard of me.

5 For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence.

This, I would suggest, is consistent with the message found in Matthew 3, that there are two baptisms – baptism of water unto repentance and baptism of spirit.

Shortly after the ascension of Christ, the twelve were gathered together on the day of Pentecost with this result:

2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.

3 And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.

4 And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.

So here we have these men being ‘filled with the Holy Ghost’ and having what appeared to be ‘fire’ standing upon them in literal fulfillment of the words of the Messiah and John the Baptist. They were baptized with the Holy Ghost and with fire.

In the tenth chapter of Acts, we read of Cornelius, a gentile whose prayers and alms were noted by God. He was to become the first non-Jew to be brought into the kingdom.

44 ¶ While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word.

45 And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost.

46 For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter,

47 Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?

48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then prayed they him to tarry certain days.

From verse 47 one can determine that Cornelius and his household received the same baptism that Peter and his associates received. I find it interesting that the sequence was reversed in the case of Cornelius, he having received the baptism of the Holy Ghost before the baptism of water unto repentance.

Further in the eleventh chapter of Acts, we read of Peter’s report of the incident to the brethren in Jerusalem:

15 And as I began to speak, the Holy Ghost fell on them, as on us at the beginning.

16 Then remembered I the word of the Lord, how that he said, John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost.

17 Forasmuch then as God gave them the like gift as he did unto us, who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ; what was I, that I could withstand God?

Peter relates that Cornelius experienced the same type of event as the apostles did on the day of Pentecost. He then links it also to the statement of John the Baptist uttered in Matthew. I would suggest that these three events are consistent – that the baptism with the Holy Ghost and with fire occurred in each case. As such, I would consider the baptism of fire a component in this second baptism.

Where else does one find reference to water and spirit? Of course, John 3 gives us the same message:

3 Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.

4 Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?

5 Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.

This dual birth has the same components as the baptism described earlier. In going back to the Greek, one can find that the ‘see’ found in verse 3 can be suggestive of perceiving or having knowledge of the kingdom of God. This is certainly different from the act of ‘entering’ the kingdom of God described in verse 5.

This earth has received its baptism of water. It will yet receive its baptism of fire. While the wicked will be consumed by that fire, the earth itself will be sanctified and purged of all dross and iniquity. I would suggest the same is true for us as individuals. The baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost will sanctify us and purge us of all iniquity.

I would suggest that the second baptism, described by John the Baptist, promised by the Savior, and experienced by the early church, is a glorious and life changing experience. It removes the burden of sin and guilt and leaves the person with a joy that is beyond description. It is truly the entry point into the kingdom of God.

8 Responses to “Baptism of Fire and the Holy Ghost – A Biblical Perspective”

  • OWIW:

    “Many will say that there is only one reference to this topic coming from the words of John the Baptist as found in Matthew 3:11:”

    I think you have made a striking observation about how sketchy the doctrine of baptism of water, fire and Holy Ghost is in the Bible. Particularly compared to how much more often and more clearly it is taught in the BofM and the D&C.

    Without the additional light and clarity contained in the scriptures JS brought forth, it would be easy to miss out on the importance of Baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost.

    The Book of Mormon teaches that the Gentiles will stumble because of the plain and precious things that have been taken out of the Bible.

    Could it be that one of the plain and precious things that was largely taken out of the Bible is a clear and definitive and repetitive explanation and empasis of how important the Baptism of water, fire and Holy Ghost is?

    After all, this is perhaps one of the most significantly misunderstood doctrines within Christianity.

    If this ordinance of baptism and the authority associated with it was more clearly taught in the bible, we would probably not have the hundreds of branches of protestantism today.

    This was a huge issue at the time of the LDS foundation movement, hence, we have Joseph Smith Publicly calling out Alexander Campbell during the King Follett Funeral Sermon on this very issue,

    “Alexander Campbell, how are you going to save them with water alone? For John said his baptism was nothing without the baptism of Jesus Christ. There is one God, one Father, one Jesus, one hope of our calling, one baptism (all these three baptisms only make one). I have the truth and am at the defiance of the world to contradict me if they can…”

  • Watcher,
    I think you are correct regarding the lack of clarity in Christendom today regarding the baptism of fire. All you have to do is read some of the christian websites on the topic.

    The way I went about it as to, first, determine where the fulness of the gospel was found. While it is clear that the Book of Mormon contains the ‘fulness of the gospel,’ Joseph Smith HIstory 1:34 narrows the scope to the ministry of the Saviour among the Nephites. It is clear to me that the principle of the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost is a major component of the gospel message Christ delivered that isn’t found in the current christian theology.

    Not only will the Gentiles stumble because of the plain and precious parts that were left out, they will also reject the fulness of the gospel according to 3 Nephi 10:16. In what form will this rejection take place? I believe that the redefinition of the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost to a imperceptible process over many years is just that – a rejection of the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

    By the way, that is a nice quote on Alexander Campbell. I wrote this piece originally for a discussion at allaboutGod.com on the topic of baptism of fire. There are plenty of opinions on the this topic there.

  • OWIW:


    I was recently perusing the “Braden-Kelley Debate” (an interesting debate that took place between an RLDS Elder and a Rev. of the Disciples of Christ in Kirtland Ohio in the 1880″s) http://www.solomonspalding.com/docs/braden/1884BnKa.htm

    And found it interesting that the Christian Minister rejected the belief that the baptism of the Holy Ghost was a standard part of the ordinance of baptism;

    [I believe in ] “One baptism — immersion into water in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit — into the remission of sins.

    My opponent teaches these errors in regard to baptism. I. Baptism for the miraculous gift of the Holy Spirit. II. That baptism in the Holy Spirit was universal in the church, in the apostolic age, and that it can be enjoyed now, and exists in his organization……. I believe… that there were never but two occasions of baptism in the Holy Spirit, one on the day of Pentecost in Jerusalem — the other at the house of Cornelius in Caesarea — that both were miraculous — direct miracles from Heaven and never were, and never will be repeated.”

    I thought it was interesting to see the above claims by a Christian Minister. This further substantiates your inference that the baptism of the Holy Ghost is somewhat sketchy in the Bible.

    And I believe that it supports my assertion that one of the plain and simple doctrines that was obscured, with possibly several clarifying statements taken out of the Bible, is the full documentation pertaining to what exactly constitutes the full baptism.

    Although the following declaration by John is very clear, it is easy to see why the Reverend assumed that the small number of references to the baptism of the Holy Ghost were just unique, miraculous events, not necessarily part of the traditional ordinance;

    “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”

    On a related issue, I have opined in previous posts that the baptism of water, fire and the Holy Ghost represented three separate and distinct parts of the full baptismal ceremony, not just two.

    Correct me if I am wrong but I seem to recall that you believe the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost refers to one and the same part of the ordinance, thus the full ordinance being composed of two baptisms instead of three.

    I found it interesting that Joseph Smith apparently viewed the ordinance as three parts;

    the following is taken from the King Follett discourse that I quoted in my previous remarks;

    (all these three baptisms only make one)

    The original dictation of the above quote did not have the parentheses which might lead one to believe those words have since been added by scribes. It was just part of his talk!

    I have since found a second quote from JS stating that there are three parts to baptism, but I cannot find where I put it!?!?

  • Watcher,
    Given that I am grateful when someone simply recognizes that this second baptism exists, the question of whether it consists of one or two parts is a big step forward.

    Here is what I have taken from the scriptures. It seems that this baptism throughout the Book of Mormon is spoken of as a tandem. An example being the reference in 3 Nephi 9:20 where the Lamanites were baptized with ‘fire and the Holy Ghost.’ Going back to the circumstance in question (Helaman 15:45) we find that it was a single event. They prayed and were enveloped in what appeared to be fire. It is noted as the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost, not the baptisms of fire and the Holy Ghost.

    Perhaps the discussion shouldn’t end there. In the scriptures, there are two references that speak of this baptism with different benefits. In 2 Nephi 31: 17, we find that the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost is necessary to purify us through a remission of our sins. I would suggest that this part could be likened to the baptism of fire burning out the dross (sins) in us.

    The second reference I would use is in D&C 39: 6 which reads:

    “And this is my gospel—repentance and baptism by water, and then cometh the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost, even the Comforter, which showeth all things, and teacheth the peaceable things of the kingdom.”

    Here we see this same baptism defined as bringing, not sanctification, but wisdom and knowledge. Something that the Holy Ghost is supposed to do for us. Could this be likened to the baptism of the Holy Ghost?

    Could the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost occur as a single event yet carry with it two parts? The first would be the remission of sins and the second would be the source for heavenly information?

    King Benjamin tells us what we need to do if we want to ‘retain’ a remission of our sins; the result of the baptism of fire. I would suggest there is a similar process we must follow to ‘retain’ the presence of the Holy Ghost and, thereby, receive continuous revelation.

  • OWIW:

    Interesting thoughts…

    I just found the other quote by Smith. It is in a book called “They knew the Prophet” Page 51

    The recollection was by Daniel Tyler;

    “Here we have baptism with water, baptism with the Holy Ghost, and baptism with fire, three in number…. Joseph Smith… said, there is but one baptism; it takes the baptism of water, of the Holy Ghost, and of fire to constitute one full baptism”

  • Watcher,
    I could see where both perspectives, whether there are two baptisms or three could be correct. As I see it, the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost has two purposes and could be considered two baptisms but the scriptures seem to indicate that it is contained in one event.


  • MelissaM:

    I need to review 2 Nephi 31-32 again about this doctrine.

    I believe the fulness of the Gospel is contained throughout the book, not just in the visit to the Nephites in 3 Nephi. I’m beginning to believe it is a literal guidebook to return to the presence of God -a guidebook that began long before Christ’s appearance after his resurrection.

  • Spektator:

    From my research, the doctrine of Christ is identified in three places in the latter day scriptures.

    2 Nephi 31-32
    3 Nephi 11:31-40
    D&C 10:67-69

    The gospel is defined in four places.

    D&C 33:11-13
    D&C 39:6
    D&C 76:40-42
    3 Nephi 27:13-21

    I have no doubt that the gospel and doctrine of Christ are amplified throughout the Book of Mormon as well as the D&C PGP, but the Joseph Smith – History, verse 34, has this reference in regards to the fulness of the gospel:

    “He said there was a book deposited, written upon gold plates, giving an account of the former inhabitants of this continent, and the source from whence they sprang. He also said that the fulness of the everlasting Gospel was contained in it, as delivered by the Savior to the ancient inhabitants;”

    This became important to me as I was trying to sort out what was the gospel of Jesus Christ and what man had added or replaced. I believe it is very important to know specifically how ‘the fulness of the gospel’ is defined because many have added items to the ‘gospel’ that don’t belong. For example, I do not believe that plural marriage is part of the gospel based on the definitions I found in the scriptures.

    I think a clear definition of the gospel is also important in the context of 3 Nephi 16:10 which tells us that the Gentiles will reject the fulness of the gospel. What did they reject? In my opinion, it was the true definition of the gospel – repent, receive a remission of sins through the baptism of fire and the Holy
    Ghost, and come unto Christ.

    I agree with your comment about the guidebook.

    Hope that helps understand my perspective.


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