The Baptism of the Holy Spirit
On September 12, 2020, the first-ever English language debate between a message pastor (Jesse Smith of Akron, OH) and an ex-message Christian (Rod Bergen from the Off The Shelf podcast) took place. The discussion was moderated by Jay Cox and Tim Kraus.
This article is one in a series of studies on the Holy Spirit and the baptism of the Holy Spirit - you are currently on the topic that is in bold:
- The Baptism of the Holy Spirit
- The Evidence of the Holy Spirit
- Speaking in tongues
- Holy Spirit
- Spirit of... (Bible Study)
- The Spirit (Bible Study)
William Branham early in his ministry taught that the evidence of the baptism of the Holy spirit was not speaking in tongues. However, he changed his mind several times as to what he truly thought it was. The questions is - Did he get it right?
- 1 What William Branham taught
- 2 The traditional Pentecostal understanding
- 3 What the Bible teaches
- 4 Details of William Branham's teaching
- 5 Footnotes
- 6 Navigation
What William Branham taught
William Branham always taught that the baptism of the Holy Spirit was a "third work of grace" in a Christian's life, following justification and sanctification. This is the traditional Pentecostal understanding of scripture.
Although he may have believed it early in his ministry, none of William Branham's recorded sermons indicate that he believed that the initial evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit was speaking in tongues. Rather, he initially taught that the evidence of the Holy Spirit's work in a Christian was love. He later changed this to a belief that it was the fruit of the Spirit as outlined in Galatians 5:22-23.
However, starting in 1964, William Branham began teaching that the evidence of the Holy Spirit in a believer's life was that they received the Word for the age in which they lived. This was his way of saying that if you didn't believe what William Branham taught and believed him to be a prophet of God, you did not have the Holy Spirit.
What message ministers teach
When asked whether people needed William Branham's message to be saved, one message pastor responded:
- “You can be saved without believing Brother Branham. You need Christ to be saved. In Acts 19, the Ephesians needed Paul and his teaching to be filled with the Holy Ghost. That’s the way I believe it for today. You need Bro Branham’s message to be filled with the Holy Ghost.”
But the Ephesians did not need Paul. The Holy Spirit had already been poured out and was available to ALL who believed.
- When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that the people of Samaria had accepted God’s message, they sent Peter and John there. 15 As soon as they arrived, they prayed for these new believers to receive the Holy Spirit. 16 The Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them, for they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then Peter and John laid their hands upon these believers, and they received the Holy Spirit.
- Even as Peter was saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who were listening to the message. 45 The Jewish believers who came with Peter were amazed that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles, too. 46 For they heard them speaking in other tongues and praising God. 
- 15 “As I began to speak,” Peter continued, “the Holy Spirit fell on them, just as he fell on us at the beginning. 16 Then I thought of the Lord’s words when he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 And since God gave these Gentiles the same gift he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to stand in God’s way?”
It's funny how Acts 2:38, is a much-quoted, passage by message ministers. But they don't really believe it.
- Peter replied, “Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 This promise is to you, to your children, and to those far away—all who have been called by the Lord our God.”
It says you will receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, and I don't see a P.S. after the verse that has any further requirements, such as you must believe that William Branham was a prophet.
The traditional Pentecostal understanding
Does that Bible teach that believers should seek a “baptism in the Holy Spirit” after conversion?
First, there is a subjective testimony of the Holy Spirit within our hearts bearing witness that we are God’s children:
- For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God...
- By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.
This would include being led by the Holy Spirit:
- For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.
In addition, if the Holy Spirit is genuinely at work in our lives, he will be producing the kind of character traits that Paul calls “the fruit of the Spirit”:
- But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
Another evidence of work of the Holy Spirit is continuing to believe and accept the sound teaching of the church. Those who begin to deny major doctrines of the faith give serious negative indications concerning their salvation:
- No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also. 24 Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father.
- We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.
Finally, a major area of evidence that we are genuine believers is found in a life of obedience to God’s commands:
- Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, 5 but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: 6 whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.
- Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.
What the Bible teaches
Pauls states in Roman 8:9-11:
- You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you. 
All, therefore, who belong to Christ have the Spirit of God. There are not 3 classes of Christians as William Branham taught:
- those who have been born again;
- those who have been sanctified: and
- those who have received the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
The contrast between being “in the flesh” and “in the Spirit” is a contrast between belonging to the old age of sin and death and belonging to the new age of righteousness and life. So characteristic of these respective “ages” or “realms” are flesh and Spirit that the person belonging to one or the other can be said to be “in” them. In this sense, then, no Christian can be “in the flesh”; and all Christians are, by definition, “in the Spirit.” We miss Paul’s intention if we think of being “in the flesh” here as the condition of mortality that continues to characterize even believers (Nygren), or as the moral weakness and proneness to sin that, more lamentably, we still possess (Dunn). For the rest of the verse makes absolutely clear that (1) to be a Christian is to be indwelt by God’s Spirit; and (2) to be indwelt by God’s Spirit means to be “in the Spirit” and not “in the flesh.” Paul’s language is “positional”: he is depicting the believer’s status in Christ, secured for him or her at conversion.
To be sure, a condition is placed on this being “in the Spirit”: having the Spirit of God dwelling in the person. But, as 1 Cor. 3:16 shows—addressed to the “carnal” (1 Cor. 3:1–3) Corinthian Christians, no less!—Paul believes that every Christian is indwelt by the Spirit of God. Indeed, this is just what Paul affirms in the last part of the verse, where he denies that the person who does not have the “Spirit of Christ” can make any claim to being a Christian at all. In other words, for Paul, possession of the Spirit goes hand-in-hand with being a Christian. However much we may need to grow in our relationship to the Spirit; however much we may be graciously given fresh and invigorating experiences of God’s Spirit, from the moment of conversion on, the Holy Spirit is a settled resident within. That Paul in the same verse can speak of the believer as “in the Spirit” and the Spirit as being “in” the believer reveals the metaphorical nature of his language. In the one case, the Spirit is pictured as entering into and taking control of the person’s life; in the other, the believer is pictured as living in that realm in which the Spirit rules, guides, and determines one’s destiny.
This is reiterated by Paul in Ephesians 1:13-14:
- And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.
F.F. Bruce comments on this passage thusly:
- The seal of the Spirit was received by the Gentiles here addressed as it had been received earlier by Jewish Christians—when they believed. The verbal form used here is identical with that found in Acts 19:2, where Paul at Ephesus asks a group of “disciples” if they received the Holy Spirit when they believed; it is a participial form meaning “having believed” or “on believing.
And Peter O'Brien is clearly in agreement with this interpretation:
- When the Gentiles believed the gospel, they were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise. The aorist participle ‘believed’ is best interpreted in this context as being coincident with the main verb ‘you were sealed’. The participle does not here express antecedent action,125 as though the Gentiles believed and then subsequently were sealed with the Holy Spirit. Rather, the believing and being sealed were two sides of the one event. A similar conjunction with the same verb form is found in Acts 19:2, where Paul asks a group of ‘disciples’ at Ephesus if they received the Holy Spirit when they believed.
Details of William Branham's teaching
William Branham's teaching on the evidence of the Holy Spirit changed significantly over his ministry.
Other Christian leaders were filled with the Spirit
- We've had great men to cross our nation: Billy Graham, Oral Roberts, and many of those great warriors of faith, great men, personal friends of mine. And I know they're good men, filled with God's Spirit and wonderful teachers.
The Baptism of the Holy Spirit
William Branham taught the basic doctrine of all Pentecostal churches that the baptism of the Holy Spirit was a separate event in a Christian's spiritual life:
- Notice, three stages: justification by faith, sanctification through the Blood; baptism of the Holy Spirit; then perfection, glorified.
- And there's just too much doubt in the church yet to take a flight. That's right. Got too many quills, too many loose feathers, so you know what He does? He gives us the third work of grace. She stands back there, and takes these big wings, and she begins to flop them like that, and a mighty rushing wind comes down through there, and all the loose feathers begin to fly.
- Oh, when that mighty rushing wind comes from heaven, the baptism of the Holy Ghost, all the doubting feathers will fly out of you.
- Now, there is also three in perfection, of the steps of grace, to the Church; justification, sanctification, baptism of the Holy Ghost. That consists of the New Birth, just like a natural birth is typed by it. Which, a woman giving birth to a child, the first thing comes forth is water, blood, and then life.
- The Bible said, in First John 5:7, or 7:5, I believe it is, that said, "There are three that bear record in Heaven; the Father, the Word," which was the Son, "and the Holy Ghost; these three are One. There are three that bear witness in the earth;" the Word, "the water, blood, and Spirit. Water, blood, and Spirit; these three agree in one."
- See, He makes three Comings. He come in three sons' names. He come in a trinity; Father, Son, Holy Ghost. See, all of it the same Christ, the same God, all the time. Now, we know He come to bring three works of grace; justification, sanctification, baptism of the Holy Ghost. Everything, in God, is completed in three's.
However, this teaching is in direct opposition to what the Bible says:
- In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
- On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ ” Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.
The Holy Spirit is love
William Branham initially believed that the Holy Spirit was the love of God and not speaking in tongues:
- Just like now, this is going to hurt you. But I'm responsible with God's Word, willing to discuss It, any time. Here's where you Pentecostal people has made your mistake, many of you setting here, of teaching the initial evidence of the Holy Ghost, speaking in tongues being the Holy Ghost. Why, speaking in tongues is all right, but that is an attribute. That isn't the Holy Ghost; that's what the Holy Ghost does.
- The Holy Ghost is the love of God. I can prove it by the Bible. "Though I speak with tongue of men and Angels, and have not love, it profit me nothing." If you want a apple tree, and just got an apple, you're a long ways from getting a tree. See, it's an attribute.
- If you want to know what I think the evidence of the Holy Ghost is, it's love. And that's right. I don't care what else, you can scream, shout, or do whatever you want to, if you haven't got love, Paul said, "You got nothing." That's right. You got to have love to go with this there. You got that without love, you haven't got it yet, 'cause God is love. And no--and there he goes. And up into the country...
The fruit of the Spirit
He later added that the evidence of the Holy Spirit was the fruit of the Spirit (which includes love):
- Heavenly Father, tonight, knowing that hour is close, knowing that we're living in the end time, knowing that those old trees are going on, here is that vine bringing tonight, filled with the Holy Ghost, bringing forth fruit, the evidence of the Holy Spirit, being among us. How thankful we are, Lord. We could raise our hands and praise Thee and praise Thee over and over for all Thy goodness and mercy. How wonderful and how marvelous are Thy ways. We thank and praise Thee with all of our heart.
- We put so much stress on the evidence of the Holy Ghost. The Methodist said you have to shout 'fore you got It. A lot of Methodist shouted and didn't have It. The Pentecostal said speak with tongues when you got it. A lot of them spoke in tongues and didn't have It. That's right. But, brother, when you come to a place where you got love, it never will fail.
- So, there's nothing you can say is the evidence of the Holy Ghost, unless it's your life that you live.
- There's not one thing left in the Bible, as "evidence of the Holy Ghost," only the fruits of the Spirit. Find out any place that Jesus said so. Yes, sir. The evidence of the Holy Ghost is the fruit of your Spirit. Jesus said so, "By their fruit you shall know them." "And the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, goodness, peace, gentleness, meekness. And the fruit of the enemy is enmity, hatred, malice, strife, and so forth; that's the fruit of the enemy." So, you can judge by the way you're living, where you're standing with God. If your whole heart is in love with Him, and you love Him and are gentle, and live with Him daily, you know you've passed from death unto Life. If it isn't, and you're otherwise, you're just impersonating a Christian. That's right. Which, all carnal impersonations will certainly be exposed. We know that.
- I believe in speaking in tongues, but I don't take it to be the only evidence of the Holy Spirit. No, sir. The fruit of the Spirit is the evidence.
- Now, don't you get a hold of that. I spoke with tongues, and that's the evidence of the Holy Ghost." If your life... If you can still cut your hair, if you can still do these things the Bible says not do; you could speak with tongues all day and night, and it's still nothing to do with God. The tree is known by its fruit.
The evidence is believing in William Branham
But then in 1964. William Branham changed his mind again and began teaching that the evidence of the Holy Spirit was believing William Branham's message:
- Now, that's no evidence of the Holy Ghost. See? You can't rely upon that. You can't rely upon the fruit of the Spirit, because the first fruit of the Spirit is love. And the Christian Science exercise more love than anybody I know of, and they even deny Jesus Christ being Divine. See? There's only one evidence of the Holy Spirit that I know of, and that is a genuine faith in the promised Word of the hour.
- Now we have been constantly saying that the true evidence of being baptized with the Holy Ghost is for the believer to receive the Word for the age in which he lives.
- The evidence of receiving the Holy Ghost today is just the same as it was back in the day of our Lord. It is receiving the Word of truth for the day in which you live. Jesus never did stress the importance of the Works as He did the Word.
The problem with William Branham's interpretation is that it is not based on the Bible.
The scripture does say that:
- When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.
However, this passage can only be interpreted properly by the context of Jesus' words. Who was he speaking to? The disciples! When the Holy Spirit was poured out on the day of Pentecost, the Spirit did lead them into all truth and they wrote it down on paper to form the New Testament, the source of truth for Christians. It is clear that the apostles were the divinely authorized agents through which the Holy Spirit proclaimed the final revelation of Jesus Christ.
Indeed, the apostles claimed this revelatory power (John 20:31; 1 Cor. 2:13; 1 Thess. 4:2; 2 Thess. 2:2; 1 John 2:19; 4:6), claiming the church was “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets” (Eph. 2:20). The early church recognized this authority and “they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching” (Acts 2:42). The apostles were the eyewitnesses of Christ (Acts 1:22), even Paul (1 Cor. 9:1; 15:5–9). Since these divinely authorized channels of “all truth” died in the first century, it follows that divine revelation ceased with them. If revelation ceased, there was no longer a need for miracle signs of a new revelation.
- Tyndale House Publishers, Holy Bible: New Living Translation (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2015), Ac 8:14–17.
- Tyndale House Publishers, Holy Bible: New Living Translation (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2015), Ac 10:44–46.
- Tyndale House Publishers, Holy Bible: New Living Translation (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2015), Ac 11:15–17.
- Tyndale House Publishers, Holy Bible: New Living Translation (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2015), Ac 2:38–39.
- The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Ro 8:15–16.
- The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), 1 Jn 4:13.
- The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Ro 8:14.
- The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Ga 5:22–23.
- The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), 1 Jn 2:23–24.
- The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), 1 Jn 4:6.
- The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), 1 Jn 2:4–6.
- The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), 1 Jn 3:24.
- The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), Ro 8:9–11.
- Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 489–490.
- The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), Eph 1:13–14.
- F. F. Bruce, The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1984), 265.
- Peter Thomas O’Brien, The Letter to the Ephesians, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1999), 119.
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- William Branham, 64-0726E - Broken Cisterns, para. 14
- The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Eph 1:13–14.
- The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Jn 7:37–39.
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- 155-2, SMYRNAEAN.CHURCH.AGE, CHURCH.AGE.BOOK CPT.4
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- The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Jn 16:13.
- Norman L. Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, Baker Reference Library (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 471.