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Baptism of Fire and the Holy Ghost
by William S. Bradshaw
Baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost refers to the experience of an individual who receives the ordinance of the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost. It is the second in a two-part sequence following baptism by immersion in water through which a repentant person committed to Christ and his gospel is born of God or born again. As Jesus explained to Nicodemus, "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God" (John 3:5). Commenting on this passage, Joseph Smith remarked, "Baptism by water is but half a baptism, and is good for nothing without the baptism of the Holy Ghost" (TPJS, p. 314). The baptism of fire, ministered by the Holy Ghost, is manifested through a set of personal sensations, impressions, and insights that constitute a spiritual witness from deity that one has received a remission of sins (2 Ne. 31:17). The baptism of fire inaugurates the transmission of spiritual gifts to the faithful to assist them throughout life in remaining true to their baptismal covenant (1 Cor. 12; Moro. 10:8-23; D&C 46:10-33).
The doctrine of the two baptisms was taught by John the Baptist: "I indeed baptize you with water, but he that cometh after me shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire" (Matt. 3:11). At Christ's baptism the Holy Ghost was manifested in the sign of a dove (Luke 3:22), and he appeared to the disciples on the day of Pentecost as cloven tongues of fire (Acts 2:3; see Jesus Christ). The ordinance of conferring the Holy Ghost initiated early Christian converts into the Church (Acts 8:12-17; 3 Ne. 18; Moro. 2-3; 6), and is a practice (often referred to as confirmation) restored to the latter-day Church and administered by the Melchizedek Priesthood (D&C 20:38-41).
As symbols for baptism, both water (used for washing) and fire (used in the smelting of metals, hence a "refiner's fire," Mal. 3:2-3) represent agents that cleanse and purify, the former externally, the latter internally, leading to sanctification (Alma 13:12; Moro. 6:4). In addition, fire suggests warmth and light, realized in tangible sensations such as a burning in the bosom and an awareness of enlightenment accompanying the reception of the divine spirit (D&C 9:8; 88:49).
For Latter-day Saints, baptism by fire and the Holy Ghost is a real phenomenon in literal fulfillment of God's covenant to those who repent and are baptized (2 Ne. 31:10-21). Through this experience a person may realize the promises Jesus made with regard to how the Holy Ghost would function as a Comforter, a witness of the Atonement, a teacher, and a guide to truth (John 14:16, 26; 15:26).
(See Basic Beliefs home page; Teachings About the Godhead home page; Teachings About the Holy Ghost home page)
Cannon, Elaine, and Ed J. Pinegar. The Mighty Change. Salt Lake City, 1978.
Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol. 1, Baptism of Fire and the Holy Ghost
Copyright © 1992 by Macmillan Publishing Company
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