How can I tell whether the Scriptures are speaking about water baptism or Spirit baptism when it refers to the subject?
It has generally been accepted that when baptism is mentioned in the New Testament without further qualification it is describing and speaking about water baptism. While this may be true, each individual context should be examined to determine which baptism is being dealt with. An analysis of the references to the words baptism, baptize, and baptized in the New Testament will help us to understand which aspect is in view. We find an example of this in the words of John the Baptist: “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” (Matt 3:11). In these words we have three different baptisms, John’s baptism unto repentance, the baptism of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and a future baptism of the ungodly who will experience divine judgment. Similarly, if we look at the references in Acts and in the epistles we will come to an understanding as to which baptism is being considered. If we consider the epistles we note there are 10 references to the subject of baptism in 1 Corinthians. Of these 10 references the only reference to baptism in the Holy Spirit is 1 Corinthians 12:13: “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body.” There are five other references to water baptism in the New Testament epistles (Rom 6:4; Gal 3:27; Eph 4:5; Col 2:12; and 1Peter 3:21). A simple answer with regard to the question is that context must always be the determining factor in exegesis.