Can believers receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit before water baptism?

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Believers in the early church believed that the reception of the Holy Spirit is dependent upon the act of water baptism. And ordinarily, as in the case of the Samaritans (Acts 8:15–17), they first got baptized. Then, they received the act of the laying on of hands, attended by the gift of Holy Spirit. Therefore, they have taught that baptism has a sacramental authority, and so is an influential factor that produces divine grace for the receiver.

The story of Cornelius

However, the story of Cornelius in the book of Acts of the Apostles chapter 10 and 11 showed a new path. For Cornelius and his family received the gift of the Holy Spirit before they had been baptized by water. This indicated that the reception of the Spirit is not dependent upon the act of water baptism. For this reason Peter concluded, “Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” (Acts 10: 47). Thus, with Cornelius and his family, they received the gift of the Spirit first.  And all that remained was the outward act of bringing these believers into the society of the church by baptism.

God bestows His gifts as people are ready to receive them

This incident showed that God gives His gifts directly, as men are ready to have them (Acts 10:44). And it also showed clearly that no spiritual gifts, however great, thereby make obedience to certain outward forms, such as water baptism, unnecessary. In fact, the exceptional gift was bestowed for the very purpose of removing any doubt that those of the circumcision might have felt concerning baptizing the gentiles. Thus, the gift of the Spirit opened the way then baptism followed.

Baptism an outward symbol of an inner spiritual regeneration

The apostle Paul explained the true meaning of baptism in this way: “Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection,  knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin” (Rom. 6:3–6).

In His service,

BibleAsk Team

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