In Baptism in the Holy Spirit James D. G. Dunn argues that water baptism is only one element in the New Testament pattern of conversion and initiation. The gift of the Spirit, he believes, is the central element. For the writers of the New Testament, only those who had received the Holy Spirit could be called Christians. For them, the reception of the Spirit was a very definite and often very dramatic experience. It was a decisive and climactic conversion experience—which Christians recalled when reminded of their Christian faith and life. Dunn uncovers the place of the gift of the Holy Spirit in the total, complex event of becoming a Christian. His conclusions help readers deepen their understanding of the sacrament of baptism. Since its original publication in 1970, Baptism in the Holy Spirit has become a classic of New Testament scholarship. This new edition, published on the fortieth anniversary of its original publication, includes a new extended preface in which James D. G. Dunn engages with the debates about Baptism in the Holy Spirit since its first publication.
“But does the NT mean by baptism in the Holy Spirit what the Pentecostal understands the phrase to mean? Is baptism in the Holy Spirit to be separated from conversion-initiation, and is the beginning of the Christian life to be thus divided up into distinct stages? Is Spirit-baptism something essentially different from becoming a Christian, so that even a Christian of many years’ standing may never have been baptized in the Spirit?” (Page 3)
“For once again we stand at a watershed in salvation-history, the beginning of the new age and new covenant, not for Jesus this time, but now for his disciples. What Jordan was to Jesus, Pentecost was to the disciples.5 As Jesus entered the new age and covenant by being baptized in the Spirit at Jordan, so the disciples followed him in like manner at Pentecost.6 With the wider enjoyment of the messianic age made possible by Jesus’ representative death, so at Pentecost the new covenant, hitherto confined to the one representative man, was extended to embrace all those who remained faithful to him and tarried at Jerusalem in obedience to his command.” (Page 40)
“One was the Pentecostalist issue: whether the New Testament writers envisaged baptism in the Spirit as a second coming of the Spirit into a life subsequent to conversion—initiation. Alternatively put, whether the New Testament writers envisaged a coming or action of the Spirit into or upon the individual at conversion-initiation, which was different and distinct from the subsequent baptism in the Spirit. The other was the issue of sacrament: whether the New Testament writers conceived of baptism as a sacrament which conveyed (the gift of) the Spirit to the baptizand. Did the phrase ‘baptized in the Spirit’ actually refer to the sacrament of baptism, the ritual act conceived as the means by which the Spirit entered the baptizand’s life?” (Pages vii–viii)