For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body…and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.

1 Corinthians 12:13

It is really a blessed thing in our Christian fellowship and in our congregations that God never asks whether it is a big church or a little church!

A young pastor, when introduced to a well-known church leader, said, “You do not know me. I am the pastor of a little rural church.”

I think it was a wise reply that came from the churchman: “Young man, there are no little churches; all churches are the same size in God’s sight!”

But whether large or small, it must be an assembly of believers brought together through the name of Jesus to worship in God’s Presence—and with the right to receive all that God bestows.

With these roots we should ask ourselves if we are truly interested in spiritual attainment as were the New Testament believers. We must confess that the spiritual temperature among us may often be lower than in the early church. But we hold to the message that those who truly honor the Presence of the Savior are included in this relationship that goes back to the New Testament and to the apostles!

Lord, even small churches can be a large beacon in their communities through prayer and service. Glorify Yourself today through the good works of Your universal Church.[1]

  1. For indeed by one Spirit all of us were baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

This text presents a number of difficulties that stem from the expressions by one Spirit, baptized, into one body, and all were made to drink. The combination of these terms is unique. What did Paul have in mind when he wrote that all of us are baptized by one Spirit? And what is the significance of making everyone to drink of one Spirit? We comment on the italicized terms but admit that problems remain.

By one Spirit. The Greek text has the preposition en that can be translated either “by” or “in.” Most translators have adopted the reading by to reveal means or agency. They think that this interpretation is the better of the two, for it avoids the awkwardness of having two quite similar prepositional phrases in the same clause: “in one Spirit … into one body.” I prefer the translation by.

Conversely, other translators believe that the Greek preposition en denotes sphere or place and thus translate it “in.” They point out that in the New Testament, the Holy Spirit is never described as the baptizer. Rather, the Spirit is the sphere into which the baptismal candidate enters. The Gospels declare that Jesus baptizes his followers with the Holy Spirit (Matt. 3:11; Mark 1:8).

Baptized. When Paul writes, “all of us were baptized,” is he referring to a literal or a figurative baptism? If taken literally, Paul is talking about water baptism. However, the verb to baptize often conveys a metaphorical sense. For instance, Jesus asks James and John whether they are able to be baptized with a baptism similar to his own (Mark 10:38). Jesus is alluding not to his baptism in the Jordan but to his death on the cross (see also Luke 12:50; Acts 1:5; and 1 Cor. 10:2). It is preferable to state that Paul has in mind a figurative use of baptism.

Paul writes, “all of us were baptized,” and “all were made to drink of one Spirit.” These words extend to a circle that is far broader than the Corinthian community and includes all believers. This means that all true believers in Jesus Christ have been baptized by the Holy Spirit. The text teaches that regenerated Christians are incorporated into one body by the Holy Spirit but it says nothing about a subsequent baptism of the Spirit.

Some scholars interpret the text as a reference to the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. But this is difficult to maintain. First, in the present context Paul gives no indication of introducing a discussion on the sacraments. Next, the text simply does not allude to water baptism. Third, the assertion that the verb to make to drink refers to the drinking of the Communion cup cannot be sustained. And last, the Greek verb tense calls for a single occurrence of drinking, which is incongruent with the repeated observance of the Lord’s Supper.

The flow of this verse intimates that to be baptized means to become a living member of the church upon conversion. When spiritual regeneration takes place in individuals, they enter the body of Christ, that is, the church. Not the external observance of water baptism but the internal transformation by the Holy Spirit brings people into a living relationship with Christ.

Into one body. Here Paul stresses the unity of the church in its diverse forms. He notes the racial, cultural, and social differences that existed in the Corinthian church: there were Jews and Greeks, slaves and free. Regardless of their status and position in life, these people came together to worship God in one church. If the church should practice discrimination, it would be in direct conflict with the law of love. All people who are spiritually renewed in Christ are equal to one another.

The preposition into denotes movement from the outside to the inside. Persons who have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit leave the world when they become living members of the church. “For Paul to become a Christian and to become a member of the Body of Christ are synonymous.”

All were made to drink. In verse 13, the adjective all appears twice not to indicate two distinct stages of the Christian experience but to reinforce the new status. In fact, the verse itself “rules out any interpretation of baptism which requires it to be complemented by a later rite for the impartation of the Spirit. For this reason, Paul once more writes the expression one Spirit and says that all believers were made to drink of this Spirit. We sense that the two verbs baptize and drink have much in common. By looking for a parallel, we see similar wording in one of Paul’s epistles: “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:27–28).

In the Corinthian and Galatian passages, Paul stresses the unity in Christ Jesus regardless of racial, cultural, social, and sexual differences. He states that all were baptized by one Spirit into Christ. And he adds that the believers have been made to drink of the Spirit (v. 13) and have clothed themselves with Christ (Gal. 3:27). Just as Christians are clothed with Christ, so they are saturated with the Holy Spirit. The Greek verb potizoō can mean either “I give to drink” (Matt. 25:35) or “I irrigate” (1 Cor. 3:6–8). The second meaning is appropriate, for Jesus also connects the Holy Spirit to the concept living water flowing from the believer (John 4:10; 7:38–39). When this spiritual saturation occurs, the individual believer enjoys a bountiful harvest, namely, the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22–23).[2]

12:13 Paul goes on to explain how we became members of the Body of Christ. By (or in) one Spirit we were all baptized into one body. The more literal translation here is “in one Spirit.” This may mean that the Spirit is the element in which we were baptized, just as water is the element in which we are immersed in believer’s baptism. Or it may mean that the Spirit is the Agent who does the baptizing, thus by one Spirit. This is the more probable and understandable meaning.

The baptism of the Holy Spirit took place on the Day of Pentecost. The church was born at that time. We partake of the benefits of that baptism when we are born again. We become members of the Body of Christ.

Several important points should be noted here: First, the baptism of the Holy Spirit is that divine operation which places believers in the Body of Christ. It is not the same as water baptism. This is clear from Matthew 3:11; John 1:33; Acts 1:5. It is not a work of grace subsequent to salvation whereby believers become more spiritual. All the Corinthians had been baptized in the Spirit, yet Paul rebukes them for being carnal—not spiritual (3:1). It is not true that speaking in tongues is the invariable sign of being baptized by the Spirit. All the Corinthians had been baptized, but not all spoke in tongues (12:30). There are crisis experiences of the Holy Spirit when a believer surrenders to the Spirit’s control and is then empowered from on high. But such an experience is not the same as the baptism of the Spirit, and should not be confused with it.

The verse goes on to say that believers have all been made to drink into one Spirit. This means that they partake of the Spirit of God in the sense that they receive Him as an indwelling Person and receive the benefits of His ministry in their lives.[3]

Baptized by One Spirit

For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. (12:13)

In this verse Paul presents two important truths about Christ’s Body: its formation and its filling.

The Forming of the Body

The church is formed as believers are baptized by Christ with the Holy Spirit. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body. The Holy Spirit is the agent of baptism but Christ is the baptizer. At Jesus’ own baptism John the Baptist tells us that it is Jesus Christ, “He who is coming after me [and] is mightier than I,” who would baptize “with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matt. 3:11; cf. Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; John 1:33). As explained in the following verse, the baptism of fire is the judgment of hell, the burning of “the chaff with unquenchable fire.” As Savior, Christ baptizes with the Holy Spirit; as Judge, He baptizes with fire. All believers receive baptism with the Holy Spirit; all unbelievers will receive baptism with fire. Therefore every living soul will be baptized by Christ.

Parenthetically, it should be noted that Paul is not speaking here of water baptism. Water baptism is an outward, physical ordinance believers submit to themselves and which is performed by other believers, in obedience to Christ’s command (Matt. 28:19; cf. Acts 2:38). Water baptism plays no part in conversion, but is a testimony to the church and to the world of conversion that has already taken place inwardly Spirit baptism, on the other hand, is entirely the work of God and is virtually synonymous with salvation. The term baptizō (“to baptize”) is used in the New Testament to refer to figurative immersion in trouble (Matt. 20:22–23, KJV) or to spiritual immersion (Rom. 6:3–5) in Christ’s death and resurrection. As one can be immersed in water, so a believer is immersed spiritually into the Body of Christ.

It should also be noted that the phrase “baptism of the Holy Spirit” is not a correct translation of any passage in the New Testament, including this one. En heni pneumati (by one Spirit) can mean “by or with one Spirit.” Because believers are baptized by Christ, it is therefore best to translate this phrase as “with one Spirit.” It is not the Holy Spirit’s baptism but Christ’s baptism with the Holy Spirit that gives us new life and places us into the Body when we trust in Christ.

It is not possible to be a Christian and not be baptized by Christ with the Holy Spirit. Nor is it possible to have more than one baptism with the Spirit. There is only one Spirit baptism, the baptism of Christ with the Spirit that all believers receive when they are born again. By this the Son places all believers into the sphere of the Spirit’s power and Person, into a new environment, a new atmosphere, a new relationship with others, and a new union with Jesus Christ (cf. 1 Cor. 10:2, where Paul shows how the nation of Israel left Pharaoh and Egypt to become immersed and identified with a new leader, Moses, and a new land, Canaan).

The pouring forth of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost also reveals that this baptism was by Jesus Christ (Acts 2:32–33), in fulfillment of John the Baptist’s prediction (Matt. 3:11; etc.) and of Jesus’ own promise (John 7:37–39; 15:7–15; Acts 1:5). We are not told exactly how this is done, any more than we are told exactly how God can give a person a new heart and new life. Those are mysteries beyond our comprehension. But there is no mystery as to the divine roles in salvation. The Father sent the Son and the Son sends the Spirit. The Son is the divine Savior, and the Holy Spirit is the divine Comforter, Helper, and Advocate. The Son is the baptizer and the Holy Spirit is the agent of baptism.

Paul’s central point in 1 Corinthians 12:13 is that baptism with the one Spirit makes the church one Body. If there were more than one Spirit baptism, there would be more than one church, and Paul’s whole point here would be destroyed. He is using the doctrine of baptism with the Spirit to show the unity of all believers in the Body. Many erring teachers today have used a wrong interpretation of the baptism with the Spirit to divide off from the Body an imagined spiritual elite who have what the rest do not. That idea violates the whole teaching here.

For by one Spirit we were baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free. The apostle could not have stated the truth more clearly. One Spirit baptism establishes one church. There are no partial Christians, no partial members of Christ’s Body. The Lord has no halfway houses for His children, no limbo or purgatory. All of His children are born into His household and will forever remain in His household. “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Gal. 3:26–27). All believers in Jesus Christ become full members of His Body, the church, when they are saved. “There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph. 4:4–6).

It is interesting that those who advocate Christians’ seeking the baptism by the Spirit in order to belong to the spiritual elite cannot seem to agree on how that is to be done. They have many ideas and many theories but no scriptural method. The reason is simple: Scripture contains no command, suggestion, or method for believers to seek or receive the baptism of the Spirit. You do not seek or ask for that which you already possess. The believers in Samaria who were converted under the ministry of Philip had to wait a short while to receive baptism with the Holy Spirit, until Peter and John came up to Samaria and laid hands on the converts (Acts 8:17). In that unique transitional situation as the church was beginning, those particular believers had to wait for the Holy Spirit, but they were not told to seek Him. The purpose for that exception was to demonstrate to the apostles, and to bring word back to the Jewish believers in general, that the same Holy Spirit baptized and filled Samaritan believers as baptized and filled Jewish believers—just as a short while later Peter and a few other Jewish Christians were sent to witness to Cornelius and his household in order to be convinced that the gospel was for all men and to see that “the Holy Spirit had been poured out upon the Gentiles also” (Acts 10:44–45). Those special transitional events did not represent the norm, as our present text makes clear, but were given to indicate to all that the Body was one (Acts 11:15–17).

The Filling of the Body

When we were born again the Lord not only placed us into His Body, but placed the Holy Spirit in us. At salvation we are all made to drink of one Spirit. We are in the Spirit, who is in us. Just as there are no partially saved Christians there are no partially indwelt Christians. The Spirit is not parceled out to us in installments. God “gives the Spirit without measure” (John 3:34).

Like being baptized with the Spirit, being indwelt by the Spirit is virtually synonymous with conversion. It is a separate facet of the same glorious, transforming act. “However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him” (Rom. 8:9). A person who does not have the Holy Spirit does not have eternal life, because eternal life is the life of the Spirit. Thus Peter can affirm “that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, in order that by them you might become partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:3–4; cf. Col. 2:10; 1 Cor. 6:19).

Well–meaning and otherwise sound Christian leaders have caused great confusion, frustration, and disappointment in the lives of many believers by holding out the prospect of a second working of grace—which is called by many names. Time and energy that could be used in simply obeying the Lord and relying on what He has already given is spent striving for that which is possessed completely and in abundance. A person cannot enjoy what he has if he is forever seeking a nonexistent second blessing. An inadequate doctrine of salvation will always lead to an erroneous doctrine of sanctification. It is an ironic tragedy that those who seek a second blessing of grace cannot enjoy either. They do not enjoy the first blessing, although it is complete, because they are continually seeking the second, which does not exist.

The idea of the second blessing probably originated in the Middle Ages with the teaching that a person is saved when baptized, even though as an infant, and later receives the Holy Spirit at confirmation after coming of age. Sincere and otherwise biblical evangelicals modified the idea as a means for trying to enliven lifeless Christians. Because the church was lethargic, carnal, worldly, and fruitless, they sought to infuse vitality by encouraging believers to seek an additional work of God. But the problem has never been the insufficiency or incompleteness of God’s work. Christ gives no salvation but perfect salvation. And it is tragic that so many are seeking some “triumphalistic experience” of “deeper life,” some formalized key to instant spirituality, when the Lord calls for obedience and trust in what has been given in His perfect work of salvation (Heb. 10:14).

The being “filled up to all the fulness of God” of which Paul speaks in Ephesians 3:19 has to do with living out fully that which we already possess fully, just as does the working out of our salvation (Phil. 2:12). When we trust in Christ we are completely immersed into the Spirit and completely indwelt by Him. God has nothing more to put into us. He has put His very self into us, and that cannot be exceeded. What is lacking is our full obedience, our full trust, our full submission, not His full salvation, indwelling, or blessing.[4]

13 The sacrament that has incorporated us into Christ, i.e., into the church as his body, is the sacrament of baptism. All believers are baptized by one and the same Spirit into one body. In order to stress how wide a diversity is actually incorporated into that one body, Paul picks out two of the most obvious social distinctions in ancient society: Jews and Gentiles, and slaves and free people. If these sorts of people can all come together into one body, then anything that divides us as human beings—such as social status, economic level, ethnic distinction—should play no role in dividing us in the church.

Moreover, we have “all” (pantes, repeated from v. 12 and used twice in this verse) been given the same Spirit “to drink” (potizō, GK 4540). There is no special blessing of the Spirit that only some Christians receive; we all receive the Spirit and his blessings. The number of times Paul stresses in this section the universal gift of the Spirit to all Christians hints that some in Corinth may have claimed a “greater measure of the Spirit” than others. But according to Paul, the Spirit is a person, not a substance. We either have the Spirit or we do not, and if we have received Christ as Lord and been baptized into him, then we have been made to drink of the Spirit. Paul refers to God’s pouring out his love into our hearts by the Spirit (Ro 5:5), and Jesus refers to drinking of him as though drinking water (Jn 4:7–14; 7:37–39). This latter passage also relates our drinking of Jesus to our reception of the Holy Spirit.[5]

[1] Tozer, A. W. (2015). Mornings with tozer: daily devotional readings. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[2] Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of the First Epistle to the Corinthians (Vol. 18, pp. 429–431). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

[3] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1792). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[4] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1984). 1 Corinthians (pp. 311–314). Chicago: Moody Press.

[5] Verbrugge, V. D. (2008). 1 Corinthians. In T. Longman III &. Garland, David E. (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans–Galatians (Revised Edition) (Vol. 11, p. 367). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.


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