Cornelis Bennema, «Spirit-Baptism in the Fourth Gospel. A Messianic Reading of John 1,33», Vol. 84 (2003) 35-60
The various ways of understanding "baptism in the Holy Spirit" has caused much division in both academic scholarship and the church. Most theories have been based on the Synoptics and Acts, but the phrase o( bapti/zwn e)n pneu/mati a(gi/w| is also present in the Fourth Gospel (1,33). However, Johannine scholarship has hardly given attention to this concept. This paper will seek to establish that o( bapti/zwn e)n pneu/mati a(gi/w| is a programmatic statement for Jesus’ nexus of soteriological activities in relation to people by means of the Spirit. "To baptize with Holy Spirit" refers to Jesus’ programme of cleansing people through revelation by means of the Spirit. Moreover, this concept is rooted in Jewish messianic traditions, which were able to expect a messiah who would judge, restore and cleanse by means of his Spirit-imbued word.
This eschatological judgement contains a dimension of cleansing, in that Israel will be purged, i.e., cleansed, from her enemies (PsSol explicitly uses the term kaqari/zw; cf. TestXII.Lev. 18,2-9). This is due to the Messiah’s dual task of judgement and restoration; the judgement of Israel’s enemies goes side by side with (or is part of) the "salvation" the Messiah will bring to Israel (cf. Isa 11,1-9; 42,1-7; 61,1-3). In the Psalms of Solomon, this cleansing is effected by the Messiah’s empowerment with the Spirit. Moreover, some Qumran writings occasionally attribute acts of cleansing to a messiah and/or speak of the cleansing capacity or effect of his word/teaching (4Q541; CD; cf. 11Q13). Hence, the Messiah’s (Spirit-imbued) word seems also instrumental in his activities of cleansing. It can be argued that those messianic texts which allude to Isaiah 11 naturally expect that the Messiah’s Spirit-provided revelatory wisdom, understanding and knowledge form the basis for his revelatory speech and teaching, and hence the Spirit also seems instrumental in the revelation the Messiah provides.
In conclusion, although there is not one document that explicitly attributes all the above functions to a single messiah, some common traits can be detected in the various portrayals of messiahs in messianic Judaism. Many of these messianic texts draw, inter alia, on Isaiah 11 and consequently envisage a messiah endowed with the Spirit in order to carry out his task. We may conclude, then, that at least some messianic strands within Judaism knew of a messiah who would perform acts of judgement, "salvation", cleansing and revelation by means of the Spirit (or by means of what the Spirit provides, such as wisdom, knowledge and might). If one also realizes that Judaism at large expected that God would bring about Israel’s eschatological salvation by means of his Spirit (e.g., Isa 32,15; 44,3; Ezek 36,25-27), then it will come as no surprise that messianic Judaism expected this to happen precisely through God’s Spirit-endowed Messiah. This conclusion coheres with our suggestion in section I concerning the basic meaning of the Johannine metaphor "to baptize with the Holy Spirit" in terms of Jesus’ activities of cleansing and revelation by means of the Spirit. Nevertheless, this idea needs to be substantiated by, and tested against, the presentation of Jesus and his activities in the Fourth Gospel.
III. Spirit-Baptism in the Fourth Gospel
Having suggested that the Johannine concept of Spirit-baptism refers to Jesus’ activities of revelation and cleansing through the Spirit,