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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Baptism of Fire.

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The words of John the Baptist (Matthew 3:11), "He that cometh after me shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire," have given occasion to various interpretations. Some of the fathers (e.g. John Damascenus) hold it to mean the everlasting fire of hell. Others of the fathers (as Chrysostom, Hom. 11 in Matt.) declare that by fire, in this passage the Baptist means the Holy Spirit, who, as fire, should destroy the pollutions of sin in the regeneration conferred by holy baptism. Others again, as Hilary and Ambrose, as well as Origen, believe it to mean a purifying fire through which the faithful shall pass before entering Paradise, thus giving rise to the Romish doctrine of purgatory. Others think that it means the fire of tribulations and sorrows; others, the abundance of graces; others, the fire of penitence and self-mortification, etc. (Suicer, Thesaurus, p. 629). Some old heretics, as the Seleucians and Hermians, understood the passage literally, and maintained that material fire. was necessary in the administration of baptism; but we are not told either how, or to what part of the body they applied it, or whether they obliged the baptized to pass through or over the flames. Valentinus rebaptized those who had received baptism out of his sect, and drew them through the fire; and Heraclion, who is cited by Clemens Alexandrinus, says that some applied a red-hot iron to the ears of the baptized, as if to impress on them some mark. The simplest and most natural view is that the passage is not to be interpreted of any separate form of baptism from that "with the Holy Ghost;" but the expression "with fire" is epexegetical, or explanatory of the words "with the Holy Ghost." Such a mode of expression, in which the connecting particle and only introduces an amplification of the former idea, is very common in the Scriptures. The sense will therefore be, "He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, through the outward symbol of fire," viz. the "cloven tongues like as of fire" (Acts 2:3). (See PENTECOST); (See HOLY GHOST). It must be admitted, however, against this view, that "fire" elsewhere is the symbol of vengeance or destruction, and that in all the parallel passages it has this import (see Kuinol in loc.). It would therefore be more appropriate to understand the fiery baptism to be the temporal and eternal punishments to which the Jews were exposed, in contrast with the spiritual baptism offered as the other alternative (comp. the context in Matthew and Luke;' also the parallel passages, in Acts). (See FIRE).


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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Baptism of Fire.'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/tce/b/baptism-of-fire.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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