Baptism by fire

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The phrase baptism by fire or baptism of fire is a phrase originating from the words of John the Baptist in Matthew 3:11.

Matthew 3:11 "I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire" King James Version 1611

The phrase also occurs in Luke 3:16 and it might be taken as a reference to the fiery trial of faith which endures suffering and purifies the faithful who look upon God's glory and are transformed, not consumed (Mark 10:38, James 1:2-4, 1 Peter 1:7, 1 Peter 4:12). See also Dante's Purgatory 27:10-15.


Many Christian writers, such as John Kitto, have noted that it could be taken as a hendiadys, the Spirit as fire, or as pointing out two distinct baptisms - one by the Spirit, one by fire. If two baptisms, then various meanings have been suggested for the second baptism, by fire - including trial and testing of disciples, or the destruction by Christ of his enemies.[1] Of this expression, J. H. Thayer commented: "to overwhelm with fire (those who do not repent), i.e., to subject them to the terrible penalties of hell".[2] W. E. Vine noted regarding the "fire" of this passage: "of the fire of Divine judgment upon the rejectors of Christ, Matt. 3:11 (where a distinction is to be made between the baptism of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and the fire of Divine retribution)".[3] Arndt and Gingrich speak of the "fire of divine Judgment Mt. 3:11; Lk. 3:16".[4] Finally, as J. W. McGarvey observed, the phrase "baptize you ... in fire" cannot refer to Pentecost, because there was no "baptism of fire" on that day. Parted "tongues," which were merely "like as of fire ... sat upon" each of the apostles. Those brothers were not "overwhelmed with fire" on that occasion.[5]


In Mormonism the term relates to Confirmation (Latter Day Saints) and the phrase "baptism of fire" or "baptism by fire" appears several times in Latter-day Saint canonized scripture, including: Doctrine and Covenants 20:41; Doctrine and Covenants 33:11; Doctrine and Covenants 39:6; and 2 Nephi 31:13-17.

Military usage[edit]

In the military usage, a baptism by fire refers to a soldier's first time in battle. The Catholic Encyclopedia, and writers such as John Deedy, state that the term in a military sense entered the English language in 1822 as a translation of the French phrase baptême du feu.[6] From military usage the term has extended into many other areas in relation to an initiation into a new role - for example the directorship of an arts festival.[7]

Software Development usage[edit]

Whenever a newcomer to a development group is assigned a particularly difficult task, purportedly to have them trained in the crafts, it is said they are receiving a "baptism by fire".

Popular culture[edit]

The military concept is mentioned in the title song of the 1985 Dire Straits album Brothers in Arms, although the exact line is "Through these fields of destruction, baptisms of fire."

The military concept was also used in Hitler: The Rise of Evil when a German officer promoted Adolf Hitler to Corporal after being among 600 to survive a massive artillery bombardment during World War I, calling the barrage a "baptism of fire".

It is also the title of a song off Australian hard rock band AC/DC's 2014 album Rock or Bust.

It is also the title of a song by German thrash metal band Sodom off of their album Agent Orange and the Swedish black metal band Marduk off of their album Panzer Division Marduk.

The refrain of the Sabaton song 40:1, about the World War II Battle of Wizna, begins with the words, "Baptized in fire." These are also the very first words of the song.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Cyclopaedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature - Volume 1 - Page 640 John Kitto 1865 John McClintock, James Strong - 1871 "Whether this be taken as a hendiadys = the Spirit as fire, or as pointing out two distinct baptisms, the one by the Spirit, the other by fire ; and whether, on the latter assumption, the baptism by fire means the destruction by Christ of his enemies"
  2. ^ Thayer 1958, p. 94
  3. ^ Vine 1991, p. 308
  4. ^ Arndt & Gingrich 1967, p. 737
  5. ^ McGarvey 1875, p. 38. As quoted in: Jackson, Wayne, "What Is the Baptism of Fire?", Christian Courier, Christian Courier Publications, ISSN 1559-2235 
  6. ^ John G. Deedy The Catholic book of days 1990- Page 21 "Another incidental piece of religious history connected with that war: it provided the term "baptism of fire" its particular modern application; namely, a soldier's first experience in battle. baptized martyrs who died at the stake thus experienced a "
  7. ^ Tribune - Volume 71 - Page 31 2007 "ANYONE seeking a practical definition of the term "baptism of fire" should have been in Edinburgh last month, when Hannah McGill made her debut as artistic director of the city's International Film Festival. Edinburgh's film festival has been ..."
  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainHerbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "article name needed". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton. 
  • Arndt, William; Gingrich, F. W. (1967), Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, Chicago, IL: University of Chicago .
  • McGarvey, J. W. (1875), Commentary on Matthew and Mark, Des Moines, IA: Eugene Smith .
  • Thayer, J. H. (1958), Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, Edinburgh, Scotland: T. & T. Clark .
  • Vine, W. E. (1991), Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, Iowa Falls, IA: World .

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