As John the Baptist preached in the Judean wilderness, he declared, "I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire" ( Matt 3:11 ; cf. Luke 3:16 ).
Throughout Scripture, fire often represents judgment ( Gen 19:24 ; 2 Kings 1:10 ; Amos 1:4-7 ; Matt 7:19 ; 2 Thess 1:8 ; James 5:3 ), including everlasting punishment ( Matt 18:8 ; Jude 7 ). But it can also have a positive, purifying effect on God's people ( Isa 1:25 ; Zech 13:9 ; Mal 3:2-3 ; 1 Cor 3:13-15 ; 1 Peter 1:7 ; Rev 3:18 ).
In the context of John's preaching, it is natural to associate the baptism of fire with judgment (cf. Matthew 3:10 Matthew 3:12 ; Luke 3:9 Luke 3:17 ). On the other hand, John is first of all addressing believers those who are receiving his water-baptism. So some think of the fiery tongues at Pentecost as the fulfillment of his prediction. But the grammatical construction in Greek (the use of one preposition to govern two objects) is most naturally taken as referring to only one baptism that involves both blessing and judgment (cf. esp. Isa 4:4 ). Pentecost may well represent the firstfruits of purgation for believers, but the baptism is not complete until all people experience final judgment.
Craig L. Blomberg
Bibliography. J. D. G. Dunn, Baptism in the Holy Spirit; NIDNTT, 1:652-57.
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
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Bibliography InformationElwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Baptism of Fire'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology".