Category Archives: Acts

The Power of the Spirit (Acts 2)

by Scott

Acts 2 presents a paradigm shift in the way the body of Christ will function forever. The paradigm shift for the people of God would mirror that of the Messiah, Jesus Himself. And that is very important in Luke’s account of early church history as found in Acts. What happened in Acts parallels what happened to Jesus in Luke’s presentation in his Gospel.

As one theologian notes:

In the structure of Luke-Acts, the Pentecost narrative stands in the same relationship to the Acts as the infancy-inauguration narratives do to the Gospel. In the Gospel of Luke these narratives not only introduce the motifs which define the mission of Jesus, but they also show that Jesus will execute His mission in the power of the Holy Spirit. In a similar manner, the Pentecost narrative introduces both the future mission of the disciples and the complementary empowering of the Spirit. (Roger Stronstad, The Charismatic Theology of St. Luke, p49)

And so, in Acts 2, we find the fulfilment of Jesus’ promise in Acts 1:5:

for John baptised with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.

It is this paradigm shift event of Pentecost which thrusts forward the walking out of the thesis statement of Acts 1:8:

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.

The Spirit poured out means just this – an empowered people! When they were baptised with the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5) or filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:4) or clothed with power from on high (Luke 24:49), it gave them the power to be witnesses. Simply put, they could not have been the witnesses Jesus intended had they not been empowered, baptised, filled and clothed with the Spirit of God. We might have a theology that allows otherwise. But that theology fails knowing the reality of what Luke teaches us in Acts 1 and 2.

Thus, with the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, the first followers of Christ were not given a ministry of maintaining the status quo. Far from it! They were given power to be His witnesses!

As I said in a recent post, what if Acts 1:8 had said this:

But you will receive the ability to maintain the status quo when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.

Good grief, I am glad it does not say that. Though we so easily fall into the trap of carrying out such a ministry. Oh, so easily. I know. I’ve been there.

But rather the Spirit was sent and given as a gift to empower God’s people so that they might continue the works of Jesus as witnesses in all the earth. That was my major point in this recent article. This would allow for the whole Christ to be known in the whole earth.

Not only were all of God’s people an empowered community, but they were also a prophetic community.

What do I mean by this phrase – prophetic community? Well, let me break it down a little more.

First off, the Spirit would be poured out on all flesh, that is, all God’s people irrespective of gender or age. That, in and of itself, was quite a paradigm shift to the general nature of the old covenant, though we had little intimations that this would one day be a reality in the new covenant. That is why we read these words in Acts 2:17-18:

17 And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams;
18 even on my male servants and female servants
in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.

The Spirit given to all groups and all types of people. And what is the fruit of the outpouring of the Spirit of God? Go back and read these two verses. They shall prophesy! That is what these two verses emphasise as the by-product of the Spirit coming on all of God’s people.

And this makes quite a lot of sense when we realise that Jesus was the great prophet. Yes, more than a prophet. But still a prophet nonetheless, and a prophet par excellence. And He sent the Spirit to continue His exact same ministry in the earth today. The Spirit is the Spirit of prophecy, if anything else. And this is the same Spirit that indwells and empowers all of God’s people. Thus, we have a prophetic community.

Yes, I believe God gifts specific people as prophets and with prophetic gifts. But there is a sense in which the whole body of Christ carries a prophetic measure. And this measure should affect all areas of life, not just when we are used in the gift of prophecy. This affects right across every action, every word, every mindset, every thought, every attitude. Our whole lives are to be a prophetic pointer towards Christ.

Still, when we read 1 Corinthians 14, it seems in particular that prophecy, along with tongues, are the two most readily available gifts to the body of Christ. And tongues can function like prophecy when there is an interpretation of the public message in tongues (see 1 Corinthians 14:5). But we see Paul’s passion for the prophetic body of Christ with these words:

Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.

This was a statement to the church at Corinth. Not just a special group of prophets. Roger Stronstad articulately expresses this amazing reality in another of his books, The Prophethood of All Believers:

Jesus completed his redemptive ministry by giving orders to his disciples by the Holy Spirit about their imminent Spirit-baptism and empowering (Acts 1.2, 5, 8). Having ascended to heaven he then poured out the Spirit upon the disciples on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2.33). He thereby transferred the anointing and empowering Spirit from himself to them, just as the Lord had earlier transferred the Spirit from Moses to the 70 elders, from Saul to David, and from Elijah to Elisha. By this act of transferring the Spirit to his disciples, Jesus, the Spirit-anointed prophet, makes his disciples a community of Spirit-baptized prophets. This fulfils an ancient oracle of the prophet Joel about a future age of restoration and blessing when the entire nation or community of God’s people, irrespective of age, gender or social status, would have the Spirit poured out upon them. Thus, on the day of Pentecost Jesus inaugurated the prophethood of all believers. (p71)

And, so, with the pouring out of the Spirit on God’s people, we also have the prophetic community. We cannot get away from our nature as Spirit-indwelt and Spirit-empowered people. We are a community of prophets. These are the things I preached this past Sunday at Cornerstone. If you are interested, you can listen to the message by clicking on the audio icon below. Or you can download from our podcast site or iTunes.

The Power of the Spirit

by Scott

Because of what God has been stirring in me recently, I am currently looking at the power of God on Sundays at Cornerstone. And this past Sunday, I preached about the power of the Holy Spirit, based out of Acts 1:1-8.

Of course, I recently posted an article on the reason the Holy Spirit was given: 1) to continue the works of Jesus and 2) to empower the whole body as witnesses. But I thought it might be good to hear my thoughts on this same topic through the medium of audio recording. I also look at some things that I did not particularly address in the previous article.

You can listen to it by clicking on the icon below, or you can download from our podcast or iTunes.

Why the Holy Spirit?

by Scott

I would have to say that the second most important event of history, second only to the resurrection of Jesus, is that of the pouring out of the Spirit recorded in Acts 2. So important was it!

Now, what we must realise is that the feast of Pentecost had been annually celebrated for some time. It was connected to the feast of Shavuot, where the Jews also remembered the giving of the Law to Moses at Mt. Sinai.

So Acts 2 was not the recording of the first Pentecost. Hence, Luke’s words here: When the day of Pentecost arrived…(Acts 2:1). They were already expecting Pentecost to come. I’m just not sure they were fully expecting the fruitful harvest that came on that particular Pentecost as recorded in Acts 2. A greater gift was given here than at Mt. Sinai!

What had been intimated at and prophesied about for centuries past (see Numbers 11:24-30; Isaiah 32:14-15; 44:3; Joel 2:26-29), and promised by Jesus himself (John 7:37-39; Acts 1:4-5), had finally arrived. No longer was the Holy Spirit to be given to only a select few. He was to be given and poured out on all God’s people, no distinction made – male/female, young/old, Jew/Greek.

The Messianic age would also be marked as the age of the Holy Spirit! Fantastic news, no doubt.

But, one might ask: Why the Holy Spirit? Why was he given?

Good question. And while Scripture does not answer every single question we ask, it seems to clearly answer this question. It’s recorded by Luke, coming from the lips of Jesus.

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. (Acts 1:8)

Pretty clear, heh?

This statement in the early words of Acts stands as the thesis statement for the whole book. The account of Acts would be an outworking of this one statement. The Spirit would be given, and through such an event of extreme import, the people of God would be empowered witnesses.

This was not something for a group of twelve, or a group of twelve and a few other special people. Again, this was a reality for all of God’s people. Remember, the Spirit would not differentiate via gender or age or social barriers. This is one reason why Peter quotes Joel:

17 “‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams;
18even on my male servants and female servants
in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. (Acts 2:17-18; quoting Joel 2:28-29)

So, reason number 1 for the Spirit being given – that we might receive power and that we might be his witnesses. If there is anything that should mark the life of the Christ-follower it should be the power of the Spirit and the power of the Spirit to be his witnesses. No, I do not only mean that we all must be used in miracles and healings, though I am definitely not opposed to such. Rather, we are to know the power of God across all areas our lives. The power of God is to be available in every aspect, leading to a life that seasons with salt and shines with light.

I cannot imagine anything less.

So, as I shared in my last post, the Spirit of God was not given to ‘maintain the status quo’. It was not given to make sure we hold together nice meetings, a prayer meeting here, a Bible study there, a fellowship meal here, a finance meeting there. None of those are bad in and of themselves. But they are not necessarily the fruit of Acts 1:8, especially if it is tied into solely maintaining the status quo.

Can you imagine Acts 1:8 saying this?

But you will receive the ability to maintain the status quo when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you might possibly be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. (Acts 1:8)

I’m sorry, but I can honestly say I would not want any part of that. The Spirit was not given to make sure we all live out a nice and comfortable life in Christ. The Spirit was given that we might be empowered witnesses. Acts 1:8 does not get any clearer.

I am stirred deep by the reality of the reason the Holy Spirit was given when reading Acts 1:8.

The second reason the Spirit is given, not that it is subservient to the first reason I pointed out, is found in the very first verse of Acts 1:

In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach. (Acts 1:1)

Luke’s first volume, the Gospel of Luke, was an account of the things Jesus began to do and teach. Jesus was not finished. He had more to accomplish and say. Hence, he poured out the Spirit to continue his work, for the Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus (see Acts 16:7; Galatians 4:6; Philippians 1:19).

But, though the Lord of heaven and earth, as one man, accomplished quite a lot, he was not able to accomplish all as that one human being. Remember, he did not grasp at his equality as the divine (Philippians 2:6).

So, as I have emphasised, to continue his powerful work, Jesus pours out his Spirit to empower an entire body, though that body started at about 120 (Acts 1:15). Hence, why his words in John 14:12 make a lot of sense:

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.

Not a select few, but whoever believes. I know there are plenty to argue that this does not mean everyone, since Jesus was only talking to the disciples-apostles. Or that this does not really mean all of Christ’s works, since some of those works are not needed much any more because the gospel has spread enough and we have the testimony of Scripture.

I am glad that gospel has spread, though I am not sure we understand the power of the gospel at times, and I am glad we have the God-breathed Scripture. But I am not sure whoever believes can be any clearer as to whom Jesus envisioned when he uttered those words. Suffice it to say, I am clear on what Jesus clearly meant – whoever believes. But if you want more to chew on, here is a great article to read.

Now, let me also note that I do not believe the ‘greater works’ is so much speaking qualitatively as it is speaking quantitatively. You get me? We can’t really walk out much greater a manifestation of the works and power of God than raising the dead, healing the blind, seeing withered hands restored, etc. Thus, I believe this is speaking more about the whole Spirit-empowered body of Christ being able to accomplish more than the Son of God as one human being.

Can you imagine millions and billions of Christ-followers empowered with the same Spirit? I’m thinking greater works, quantitatively. Remember, the same Spirit that Jesus relied on in the flesh, even post-resurrection (see Acts 1:2), is the one who indwells and empowers the body of Christ now.

Of course, I am not so silly as to believe that John 14:12 is only speaking of major manifestations of God’s power through healings and miracles. The works of Jesus include compassion for the hurting, mercy for the downtrodden, food to the homeless, respect and love for our spouses, tender care for our children, overcoming the temptation of the enemy and flesh, etc, etc. But I could never deny and step back from recognising that the works of Jesus also include healings and miracles and other demonstrations of the powerful work of the Spirit. We cannot argue our way out of this one.

Again, whoever believes in me will also….

So, why was the Spirit given? Simply put: 1) to continue the works of Jesus and 2) to empower God’s people as witnesses, so that those works might continue. This didn’t stop with Jesus. And this didn’t conclude with Acts 28. This has been continuing for some 2000 years and will continue on until all is accomplished and he returns to marry his prepared bride.

Oh, that we might know his power.

Whence Tongues?

By Marv

The vital and dynamic interconnection we believers share with the Father and the Son through the Holy Spirit (since Pentecost) is patterned after that between the Father and the incarnate Son through the Holy Spirit (John 14:11,20). This is by divine design. The works we are empowered to do through this union, from loving our brothers and sisters to effectual prayer—and including “spiritual gifts” are likewise the same works as the Father did through the Son (John 14:12), now distributed through the Body (1 Cor. 12:12-13).

Is there not one exception? The gift of tongues evidently appears only after Jesus’ ascension, at the descent of the Spirit at Pentecost. Though we cannot say with certainty that Jesus never spoke in tongues, the textual evidence appears to suggest that tongues is new with the pouring out of the Spirit. This difference between Jesus’ ministry and the church’s ministry correlates with another difference. Jesus was “sent only to the lost sheep of the tribe of Israel” (Matt. 15:24). The Church is sent to “all nations” (Matt. 28:19).

Now Christ’s overall ministry has always been for the nations as well as to the Nation of Israel.

“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” (Is. 49:6)

There are foreshadowings of this ultimate purpose in the gospels. Jesus said, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32) on the occasion of Greeks coming to see Him (vv. 20-21). Yet this phase of ministry does not engage in earnest until the baton is passed, as it were, to the Church as Christ’s Body, after Christ’s bodily departure from the earth.

That the form of this added charisma, tongues, should correspond so clearly to the expansion of Christ’s mission from the Nation to the nations is more than suggestive that in itself it carries a meaning. It is called a “sign” after all; it signifies something. That the impartation of human languages evokes the confusion of tongues at Babel is also hard to miss. I think this is perfectly deliberate, and I want to explain how I think this works.

If we compare Babel with Pentecost as to their relative places in the outworking of God’s plan of redemption, we find each one at a corresponding and in some ways inverse pivot point. The first eleven chapters of Genesis, far from being a mere string of Hebrew folktales, threaded like so many beads at the beginning of the Torah, lay the groundwork for the rest of the Bible. These chapters communicate two major elements, without which nothing in the remainder of the Scriptures would make much sense. The first is the introduction of the problem, sin, human rebellion to the Creator. The second is the first steps undertaken by the Creator to effect redemption.

We see in Genesis 1 God’s method of creating by dividing. The Babel account is not so much a “curse” as a hindrance to man’s collective ability, in order to restrain his descent into utter ungodliness. It is redemptive, or an element in the redemptive plan. It is a divide and conquer plan. By confusing the languages of men, He creates nations. Once He has divided mankind into nations, He proceeds to create a Nation for Himself. That Nation, in turn, will one day serve to bring redemption to the nations.

Beginning with the call of Abraham (Gen. 12) God builds a people, and with the exodus and the giving of the Law, He constitutes them a nation, His Nation. This is all ultimately for the nations (Gen. 18:18), but for a period of time the nations—the Gentiles—are segregated from the Nation by the Law. Understand that our word “Gentiles” is simply a rendering of the Hebrew word for “nations” (goyim).

It hardly needs pointing out that a major ongoing theme throughout the Old Testament is the separation of Israel from the Gentiles. This theme of separation begins with Abraham, just after the account of Babel and continues on through the Gospels up to the inauguration of the Church’s mission to the “all nations.” Then there is a shift, a radical change in orientation.

I picture this as a 90 degree shift. If the various nations are likened to parallel lines, such as in the grain of wood, then OT Israel operated on a national orientation, along the grain. The Church, by contrast, is like a line cutting across the grain, in trans-national orientation, “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” (Rev. 7:9).

The book of Acts narrates the beginnings of this shift in orientation. It is one of the main themes of the book, which begins in Jerusalem and ends in Rome. In chapter one Jesus sets the tone: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (v. 8). In chapter two, they do receive power, just as Jesus said they would, and they proceed, in fits and starts to fulfill Christ’s mandate to be a “light to the nations.”

It can be no mere coincidence that the moment of this shift is signaled by a phenomenon that features the praises of God being voiced in that languages of the nations (Acts 2:5-6). Babel produced the inability to speak in one tongue, Pentecost produced the ability to speak in many tongues. Babel was the starting point of the national orientation, in which God would plant His Nation. Pentecost was the end point of that orientation, and signaled the transition to a trans-national orientation, in which Israel was one nation among many (Eph. 2:11-17).

This phenomenon of Spirit-empowered utterance was new, in that it appeared in trans-linguistic form, but Spirit-empowered utterance was nothing new, as a perceptible evidence of the Spirit coming on a person for service had been seen in the past:

When he [Saul] turned his back to leave Samuel, God gave him another heart. And all these signs came to pass that day. When they came to Gibeah, behold, a group of prophets met him, and the Spirit of God rushed upon him, and he prophesied among them. (1 Sam 10:9-10)

Were the disciples at Pentecost also among the prophets? Peter stood up on that day and directly declared this to be so (Acts 2:17-18). Though the phenomenon was “tongues” on this occasion, it was a manifestation of the prophetic promise of the New Covenant. Some two decades later (in Paul’s first letter to Corinth), we see that it was not a one-shot phenomenon, but remained and became part of the regular practice of the church (1 Cor. 14:26), attested to by Paul’s own use (v. 18), though it was not without controversy, apparently (v. 39).

Tongues functions in some sense as a “sign,” to unbelievers, Paul states (1 Cor. 14:22). I don’t think it is quite justified to specify as some do, to unbelieving Jews, but as we have seen, the form itself of the gift is a a declaration that the Spirit has been given also to the Gentiles (Acts 10:45-46), and would thus serve as part of what provokes Israel to jealousy (Rom. 11:11).

To say it is a “sign” is not to invoke the whole “temporary “sign-gift” construct. The sign-ness of tongues does not appear to express the totality of its usefulness. With it God is praised, with it the Church may be built up. We do not have much Scriptural narrative demonstrating an evangelistic use, but it would be surprising if this were not in the picture, and contemporary anecdotal evidence suggests it is. It is not just “an attestation to the validity of new revelation” or some such concept. At any rate, is a “sign for unbelievers” likely to be without use, as long as there are plenty of unbelievers to go around?

The Disciples in Ephesus – Acts 19:1-7

by Scott

One debated passage when it comes to the baptism of the Spirit, or the initial reception/filling of the Spirit, is that of Acts 19:1-7. The debate surrounds the questions of whether or not the twelve disciples mentioned in Acts 19:1-7 were actually born again or not. If they already were, I believe this has certain implications on our pneumatology. If they were not, then that has other implications on our doctrine of the Spirit.

So, here’s the passage up for discussion:

1 And it happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the inland country and came to Ephesus. There he found some disciples. 2 And he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” 3 And he said, “Into what then were you baptised?” They said, “Into John’s baptism.” 4 And Paul said, “John baptised with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.” 5 On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying. 7 There were about twelve men in all. (Acts 19:1-7)

So the passage identifies these twelve men as disciples (vs1), but were they authentic and real disciples?

Describing the situation of Acts 19:1-7, John Stott is persuaded they are not true believers, asserting:

There [in Ephesus] he [Paul] met about a dozen men who, if we may judge from Luke’s description of them, do not seem to have been Christians at all. It is true that he calls them ‘disciples’ (verse 1), but this need mean no more than professing disciples, just as Simon Magus is said to have ‘believed’ (8:13), although the context indicates that he had only professed to believe. (Baptism & Fullness: The Work of the Holy Spirit Today, p34)

So let’s consider these seven verses more carefully.

For starters, one interesting thing to note is that Luke uses the words disciple or disciples 30 different times throughout the book of Acts, one of those times being in 19:1. Even more, in all of the other 29 times the word is used, the context is definitely clear that Luke is speaking of true Christian disciples. Of course, it is possible that, in this one instance, Luke is not referring to true believers. But knowing he consistently uses the word as a positive affirmation of true disciples, it is highly likely he has done the same in describing these twelve men in Ephesus.

Secondly, here we have an example of our chapter and verse divisions not being helpful in seeing the larger context of Scripture. The whole ofActs 19 is actually specifically connected to the last five verses of Acts 18 where we learn about a certain man by the name of Apollos:

24 Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures. 25 He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. 26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him and explained to him the way of God more accurately. 27 And when he wished to cross to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. When he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed, 28 for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus. (Acts 18:24-28)

We see that Apollos had settled, at least for a time, in the city of Ephesus, which was the residence of the twelve ‘disciples’ ofActs 19. Concerning Apollos, we read that he was:

  • Competent in the Scriptures
  • Instructed in the way of the Lord
  • Fervent in spirit
  • Taught accurately the things concerning Jesus

But the problem is that he only knew the baptism of John (that is, John the Baptist). Therefore, Priscilla and Aquila were very helpful in the life of Apollos, becoming mentors to him in the faith.

We read that they ‘explained to him the way of God more accurately’ (18:25). Still, we never read that this was Apollos’ conversion. He was already converted and was a true believer. True, we would probably expect that Priscilla and Aquila would have seen Apollos finally ‘baptised into the name of Jesus’ (an expression used frequently in Acts – 2:38; 8:16; 10:48; 19:5). But this did not negate that he was already a true Christian disciple.

Therefore, keeping this in mind, we return to the twelve men of Acts 19:1-7.

Knowing Apollos’ ministry in Ephesus, it is most likely that these twelve were disciples of Apollos. The argument might arise that this is the problem – they were disciples of Apollos and not Christ. But such an argument does not hold up when we consider that, in the book of Acts, Luke refers to a group as ‘disciples’ of Paul (seeActs 9:25). Yet we can only expect that they were also true believers.

Thus, whether the word ‘disciples’ in 19:1 refers to being disciples of Christ or disciples of Apollos, it matters little. Why?

  • If they were disciples of Christ, which is highly likely since Luke uses the word everywhere else in Acts to describe true believers, then these twelve had to be true Christians.
  • If they were disciples of Apollos, which is also highly likely, then they would have been true disciples because Apollos was, himself, a true disciple.

Thus, Acts 19:1-7 presents to us a case of a group of twelve men that would have needed to be taught more accurately the way of God, just as Apollos had needed such in Acts 18:24-28. But they already were true believers.

Still, problems arise for many in regards to these Ephesians disciples. The next problem to consider is: If they were believers, why did Paul ask them if they had received the Spirit when they believed (vs2)? Paul makes it clear in other places that all Christians receive the Spirit at conversion (e.g.Romans 8:10-17; etc).

Such a question is definitely worth considering. But the problem is that we are walking down the path of conforming Luke’s emphasis of the work of the Spirit to Paul’s emphasis on the Spirit. As I have hinted at before, Luke has a very specific perspective on the charismatic activity of the ‘Spirit of prophecy’, all in regards to empowering God’s people for service. Paul’s emphasis is on the reception of the Spirit at conversion, bringing God’s people into union with Christ and making them the sons and daughters of God.

Though Acts 19:1-7 describes Paul’s activity, we must let Luke teach and emphasise the charismatic, empowering role that comes through the baptism of, or filling with, the Spirit.

Also, worth noting is that Paul asked, ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed (vs2)? Again, some will claim that Paul thought they had ‘believed’, but these Ephesian twelve had not truly believed. But we have already seen the high prospect that they were truly believers.

Next, some might have difficulty with the response of the Ephesians disciples to the question of Paul. They answer his question in this way: ‘No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.’

Our English translations for their answer are not very helpful. When we read it in the ESV, NIV, etc, it seems that they are not even aware that the Holy Spirit exists. But such cannot be true. They would have sat under the teaching of Apollos and he would have definitely known about the Spirit.

In vs3, we also see that they had been baptised into John’s baptism. It is possible that Apollos had received some teaching from John the Baptist, which he then had passed on to others, some of those being the disciples in Ephesus. Even John taught that the Messiah would come and baptise in the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:11). Thus, it is most likely they had heard about the Holy Spirit.

But what we must note is that the better translation of the response of the Ephesian disciples would be, ‘We have not heard that the Holy Spirit is given.’ Why? Well, consider what we just discussed above about how they would have heard of the Spirit. Recognising their connection to Apollos, and Apollos’ connection to John the Baptist, they would have known about the Holy Spirit.

But, also, we point out that the Greek wording of their response in Acts 19:2 is almost identical to the words of Jesus in John 7:39:

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. (John 7:39)

Literally, the bolded phrase in John 7:39 should be translated as, ‘for not yet was the Holy Spirit’. This is seen in Young’s Literal Translation.

Our English versions translate the bolded phrase as above because they are bringing out the intended message of the words, rather than a literal wording that might not make as much sense. Yet, when we turn to the words of Acts 19:2, we normally do not find the translators doing the same with the response of the Ephesians disciples, which we noted is very similar in the Greek.

Why?

This is probably due to one’s theology leading to a specific translation. Yet, both the middle phrase of John 7:39 and the response of the Ephesian disciples in Acts 19:2 are very close in the Greek text.

Therefore, these twelve men were not stating that they had never heard that the Holy Spirit existed. They were declaring that they did not know He had been given (as of yet). Thus, we cannot use their response in Acts 19:2 as a pointer to them not being true believers and disciples. And, therefore, I believe it looks more and more likely thatthese twelve in Ephesus were actually true disciples.

But Paul does recognise that they had not yet been baptised into the name of Jesus. Thus, he corrects this (vs4-5). And, as I noted above, this would have been similar to what Priscilla and Aquila had probably done with Apollos when they taught him more accurately the things of God.

Then, and only then, we read that the Holy Spirit came upon these twelve. These Ephesian disciples were true disciples, believers in Christ. But they needed some greater instruction. They needed to step into the fuller things of Christ – through water baptism and through Spirit baptism.

And here is the point: I believe such breaks down the typical package that we teach about Luke’s theology of the Holy Spirit in Acts. I understand that Acts is all about the outworking of the thesis in 1:8 – But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. And what is normally argued is that Acts 2 is the outpouring of the Spirit initially on the Jews, Acts 8 is the initial outpouring on Samaritans, and Acts 10 (with Cornelius’s household) is the initial outpouring on the Gentiles.

But I believe that the account of the Ephesian disciples in Acts 19, as well as the account of Paul’s delayed initial filling of the Spirit in Acts 9:17, both show that the package does not remain nice and neat. Theologically, I believe there is room to breathe that says the baptism/initial filling of the Spirit might not happen at conversion. Luke’s theological emphasis of the empowering work of the Spirit for service shows that a delayed reception of this empowering just might occur in the life of the believer.

In a perfect world, I would say it probably wouldn’t be that way. But I don’t believe the neat package stands with regards to the outworking of the thesis of Acts 1:8 throughout Acts. There are enough examples, even of the great Paul, that one might not receive such an empowering Spirit baptism/filling upon initiation-conversion.

And, so, practically in today’s world, how many Christians are believers in Christ, but have never truly known the empowering of God’s Spirit? They ‘prayed the prayer’, even truly believed upon Christ and repented of sins. Yet, they possibly have never been water baptised nor received the empowering baptism-initial filling of the Spirit like these twelve Ephesian disciples. This is part of God’s model for all Christians. Not just faith and repentance, but also that of the powerful working of God in water baptism (Colossians 2:11-12) and the powerful working of the Spirit through His baptism.

God, send Your Spirit to empower us, since that is truly Your desire.