A Theological Pilgrimage: Chapter 5
By Dr. J. Rodman Williams
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3 | 4 |
5 | 6 |
7 | 8 |
9 | 10 |
11 | 12 | 13
| 14 |
15 | 16 | Conclusion
| Abbreviations |
BAPTISM IN THE HOLY SPIRIT - A Biblical
This article will be limited to a study of New Testament passages relating
to "baptism1 in the Holy Spirit." I will
note where such passages occur, and attempt to observe their meaning
and usage. The paper is written under the growing conviction that fresh
study in this area is of importance for the Church in our time.
As a biblical expression "baptism in2
the Holy Spirit" occurs in each of the four Gospels, twice in the
Book of Acts, and possibly in 1 Corinthians 12:13. According to Mark
1:8 John the Baptist said, "I have baptized you in water; but he
will baptize you in the Holy Spirit." In Matthew 3:11 and Luke
3:16 the words are added: "and fire." According to the Fourth
Gospel the words of John the Baptist are: "He who sent me to baptize
in water said to me, 'He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain,
this is he who baptizes in the Holy Spirit'" (John 1:33). According
to Acts 1:4-5 Jesus tells the disciples to "wait for the promise
of the Father, which, he said, 'you heard from me, for John baptized
in water, but before many days you shall be baptized in the Holy Spirit.'"
In Acts 11:15-16 Peter, describing the event at Caesarea, says, "The
Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. And I remembered
the word of the Lord, how he said, 'John baptized in water, but you
shall be baptized in the Holy Spirit.'" The other possible text,
1 Corinthians 12:13, reads: "For by3 one Spirit
we were all baptized into one body-Jews or Greeks, slaves or free-and
all were made to drink of one Spirit." Whether Paul is here dealing
with the same concept as the Gospels and Acts is not clear.4
We shall therefore focus on the six specific references to "baptism
in the Holy Spirit," and seek to elaborate various aspects.
The first matter to be observed is that the references in the Gospels
and Acts distinguish clearly between baptism in water and baptism in
the Holy Spirit. John baptized in water, but there is another baptism
which Christ performs, namely, in the Holy Spirit. There is no suggestion
that John's baptism in water is the medium for baptism in the Holy Spirit,
or any statement that one must precede the other. The promise in Acts
1:5 does mention John's baptism first, but no connection is drawn between
it and baptism in the Holy Spirit. It may be presumed that those who
first received the fulfillment of this promise (see Acts 2:1-4) had
been baptized by John, but nothing is directly made of it.5
Obviously the Gentiles at Caesarea received baptism in the Holy Spirit
(Acts 11:15-16) without regard to any baptism by John, and also without
having received water baptism in the name of Jesus Christ (see Acts
The latter point should be noted: there is also no necessity for water
baptism in the name of Christ to precede baptism in the Spirit. For
it is only after the Gentiles at Caesarea are baptized in the Holy Spirit
that they are baptized in water in the name of Jesus Christ. The Holy
Spirit "fell"6 (10:44), was "poured
out" (10:45); and following this, Peter asks, "'Can any one
forbid water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit
just as we have?' And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of
Jesus Christ" (10:47-48). In this case baptism in water, and in
the name of Jesus Christ, is unmistakably neither precondition nor medium
for baptism in the Holy Spirit. Baptism in water is not unimportant
(Peter "commanded" it to be done), even if, in this case,
the function is not that of preparing the way for, or being the instrument
of, baptism in the Holy Spirit.
We may now raise the question: Is there any further delineation in Acts
of the connection between baptism in water and baptism in the Holy Spirit?
As has been mentioned, the expression, "baptism in the Holy Spirit,"
occurs only twice in Acts, and the events describing its occurrence
are found in 2:1-4 and 10:44-48 (compared with 11:15-17). However, since
it has already become evident that such expressions in Acts as the Spirit's
"falling," being "poured out," refer likewise to
Spirit baptism, we may turn to the account of the Samaritans in Acts
8. According to this narrative the Samaritans, through the witness of
Philip, "believed" and were "baptized" (8:12), for
the Holy Spirit "had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had
only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus" (8:16). Here
is a clear case of water baptism in Jesus' name prior to the "falling"
of the Holy Spirit. Some days after their baptism Peter and John came
down from Jerusalem, and "they laid their hands on them and they
received the Holy Spirit" (8:17). Thus again baptism in water is
not depicted as a vehicle for the "falling"-or "baptizing"-of
the Holy Spirit, since the Spirit is "received" some time
thereafter. Nor is there any stress on baptism with water as a precondition,
although in this instance it undoubtedly preceded Spirit baptism.
Since from the above account it is evident that to "receive"
the Holy Spirit refers to the Spirit's "falling" and therefore
to Spirit baptism, we may now look at a further passage on receiving
the Holy Spirit and observe its connection with water baptism. I make
reference to Acts 19:1-7. Here Paul inquires of some twelve Ephesians,
"Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" It turns
out that these people have no knowledge of the Holy Spirit and, further,
have only been baptized "into John's baptism." Consequently,
after hearing that John had proclaimed the need for believing in Jesus,
"they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus." Following
this water baptism "Paul laid his hands upon them," and "the
Holy Spirit came on them." The picture is indeed an interesting
one: two different water baptisms-into John and Jesus-but in neither
is the Holy Spirit received. Only as Paul lays his hands upon them does
"baptism in the Holy Spirit" occur.
The Ephesian situation, in respect to baptism with water, is a kind
of composite of Acts 1 and Acts 8. Those baptized in the Holy Spirit
in Acts 2:1-4 had at most received only the baptism of John; those upon
whom the Holy Spirit fell in Acts 8 had only been baptized in the name
of Jesus Christ. The Ephesians in Acts 19 had received both water baptisms.
Further, in all three of these cases baptism in the Holy Spirit follows
upon the various water baptisms-either years thereafter (in the case
of the Acts 1 disciples), days after (in the case of the Samaritans),
or immediately following (in the case of the Ephesians). It is obvious
that there is no identification of water baptism with Spirit baptism,
nor is there any evidence that baptism in the name of Jesus, any more
than John's baptism, confers the Holy Spirit. This is all the more emphasized
in the account of Acts 10 where the Spirit is given prior to any water
baptism at all.
To summarize the relationship in Acts between water baptism and baptism
in the Holy Spirit: water baptism may precede (Acts 8 and 19) or may
come thereafter (Acts 10). It is even possible that water baptism may
not have occurred at all (some instances in Acts 1). We might add, however,
that the usual order would seem to be that of Acts 2:38 where Peter
declares to the assembled crowd: "Repent, and be baptized every
one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins;
and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." But the usual
order-if one bears in mind Acts 10-is not rigid; and there is no sense
of water baptism as conveying the Holy Spirit. However, after Acts 1
it is clear that whatever the sequence, all who are baptized in the
Spirit are baptized in water.
It is important further to recognize that water baptism has but one
distinctive purpose: it is "for"7 the forgiveness
of sins.8 Since baptism means immersion,9 hence, being
literally submerged in, surrounded by, and covered with water, it points
to the spiritual reality of total forgiveness in union with Christ.
This is the distinctive feature of water baptism: its relation to forgiveness
of sins. However-to repeat what was earlier said-there is no immediate
connection of water baptism with baptism in the Holy Spirit (which may
even have preceded water baptism). Water baptism is not also "for"
the Holy Spirit: this is the purpose of another action-to which we now
Next let us consider the connection in Acts between the laying on of
hands and baptism in the Holy Spirit. In contrast to water baptism,
the laying on of hands-wherever such is done-is closely connected with
In the Samaritan account several days following their expression of
faith and water baptism, the people are visited by Peter and John. The
two apostles pray for the Samaritans (8:15), and "then they laid
their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit" (8:17).
Laying on of hands, so to speak, was "for" the reception of
the Holy Spirit.
The picture is quite similar in the Ephesian narrative. We have already
noted that after the two water baptisms the Holy Spirit is received:
"And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came
on them" (Acts 19:6). The laying on of Paul's hands would seem
to be the outward symbol of the coming on of the Holy Spirit. Thus again-as
in the case of the Samaritans-a close connection is shown between the
imposition of hands and receiving the Holy Spirit.
However, we need immediately to add: first, there is no suggestion in
Acts that laying on of hands is essential for the Holy Spirit to be
received. The disciples at Jerusalem receive baptism in the Holy Spirit
without laying on of hands (Acts 2:1-4). Further, when Peter thereafter
proclaims the Christian message, and directs the people concerning what
to do, he says simply (as we have noted): "Repent, and be baptized
every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of
your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (2:38).
No mention is made of the need for imposition of hands to receive this
gift, nor in the narrative following is there any suggestion of such
an act occurring. The record only says, "So those who received
his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand
souls" (2:41). In the case of the Gentiles at Caesarea the message
of forgiveness of sins is preached by Peter; and "while Peter was
still saying this, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word"
(10:44). There is no laying on of hands.
Second, it would be unwarranted to conclude that where hands are laid
that they must be those of apostles. It is true that in both the Samaritan
and Ephesian accounts hands of apostles (Peter and John in Samaria and
Paul at Ephesus) are laid for the reception of the Holy Spirit. In the
former instance Philip the "deacon" (not the apostle) baptizes
with water but does not lay hands; further the text says that "the
Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles' hands."
But there is no statement in these narratives that only apostles could
have done this. It may be that in the Samaritan situation the laying
on of hands by leaders from Jerusalem was important to assure the long
despised Samaritans of their inclusion in the new Christian community;
thus it was fitting that apostles-and not elders for example-come down
for this occasion. In the case of the Ephesians while hands are laid
by Paul an apostle, there is no mention of his exercising a peculiarly
apostolic function. The whole emphasis is the Ephesian need, and Paul
as missionary rises to meet it both through water baptism and the laying
on of hands.
If, however, the idea persists that apostolic hands alone suffice, one
further narrative in Acts shows this to be mistaken. I refer to the
account of Paul's own receiving the Holy Spirit (Acts 9:17). The language
is that of Paul's being "filled with the Holy Spirit," an
expression earlier used to describe the Spirit baptism of the disciples
in Jerusalem. Acts 2:1-4, the record of the fulfillment of the promise
that "before many days you shall be baptized in the Holy Spirit,"
does not use the language of "baptism" but "filling,"
so that when the event occurred, the text says, "they were all
filled with the Holy Spirit." So it is with Paul (at that time
still called Saul): he too was said to be "filled." However,
unlike the disciples at Jerusalem, there was one to help him, a Christian
at Damascus named Ananias. Ananias is no apostle: he is simply described
as "a disciple at Damascus" (9:10). Ananias comes to Paul,
"And laying his hands on him he said, 'Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus
who appeared to you on the road by which you came, has sent me that
you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit'"
(9:17). Thus were hands laid not by an apostle but by a Christian brother.
The important matter is not that Ananias was executing an apostolic
office but that he was fulfilling a specific command of the Lord Jesus.
Ananias is later described by Paul as "a devout man according to
the law, well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there [in Damascus]"
(Acts 22:12); thus he was a man of strong faith and perhaps peculiarly
prepared through his devotion to the law to minister to Saul the Pharisee.
It may be suggested that a combination of factors, the most fundamental
being his devoutness,10 made him suited to exercise
the role of ministering to Paul's need. Hence, to repeat, the basic
qualification for the imposition of hands was not that of apostolic
office or function.
To summarize: the laying on of hands is frequently in Acts closely
associated with the reception of the Holy Spirit. It is in connection
with the imposition of hands, not water baptism, that the Spirit on
different occasions is given. However, the Spirit is also received without
the laying on of hands: thus there is no suggestion of hands as being
essential. Further, where hands are laid the emphasis does not rest
on office. Apostles may serve, but also a relatively unknown Christian
disciple may fulfill the role. Thus the sovereignty of God's Holy Spirit
to use or not use human means, to use or not use ecclesiastical position,
is shown in the Book of Acts.
It is now important to consider the relationship in Acts between baptism
in the Holy Spirit and Christian faith or belief. For it is readily
apparent in all the cases of Spirit baptism (whatever the language:
"outpouring," "falling," "filling," etc.)
that the essential background is faith. There may or may not be water
baptism, hands may or may not be laid, but without faith the Holy Spirit
is not given and received.
A brief review of salient passages will show the prior emphasis on faith
or belief. The Samaritans "believed Philip as he preached good
news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ" (8:12);
days later they receive the Holy Spirit (8:17). Peter preaches the word
to the Gentiles at Caesarea that "every one who believes in him
receives forgiveness of sins through his name," and at that very
moment the Spirit "fell on all who heard the word" (10:43-44).
Before the Ephesians receive the Holy Spirit Paul speaks of Jesus Christ
by reminding them that, "John baptized with the baptism of repentance,
telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him,
that is, Jesus" (19:4). Saul of Tarsus does not have the Gospel
preached to him by man, but has a direct revelation of Jesus Christ-"I
am Jesus, whom you are persecuting" (9:5); thereafter he is "filled
with the Holy Spirit" (9:17). The disciples at Jerusalem were already
believing witnesses to Jesus' resurrection (1:22)-and upon them the
Holy Spirit came in baptizing power (2:1-4).
The faith visited by the Holy Spirit is unmistakably faith centered
in Jesus Christ. Believing in Him-not in an idea, a doctrine, but a
person-serves as background for the reception of the Holy Spirit. The
Holy Spirit in Acts is invariably the Spirit given by Jesus Christ,11
and comes only to those who believe in Him. This belief involves a turning
from the former way, thus repentance, and brings with it the forgiveness
of sins, which is the way to life. But the one essential requirement
is faith in Jesus Christ, and to such faith the Holy Spirit is promised.
So says Peter on the Day of Pentecost: "For the promise [of the
gift of the Holy Spirit] is to you and to your children and to all that
are far off, every one whom the Lord our God calls to him" (2:39).12
We pass on to observe that in the Book of Acts faith, while the background,
may not be immediately accompanied by the gift of the Holy Spirit. Though
this has not been directly commented on before, some of the passages
cited in connection with such matters as baptism and the laying on of
hands have already illustrated or suggested this point. Perhaps the
clearest example is that of the Samaritans who "believed";
but it is several days before they receive the Holy Spirit. The Ephesians,
when they are first accosted by Paul, are asked, "Did you receive
the Holy Spirit when you believed?" (Acts 19:2).13
The question is important because it suggests the possibility of
believing without receiving the Holy Spirit. This is the case even though
it turns out that these "disciples" (so 19:1), who know only
John's baptism and are ignorant about the Holy Spirit, need to be reminded
of John's word about Christ, and have not received baptism in Jesus'
name. They do come to a positive faith in Christ, but it is only after
their new baptism when Paul lays hands on them that they receive the
Holy Spirit. So whether one understands Christian faith as already in
some sense present when Paul first encounters the Ephesian disciples,14
or as only eventuating through Paul's word, it is evident that this
gift of the Holy Spirit is subsequent to their initial faith. We may
next recall the case of Paul himself. Paul is encountered on the Damascus
road by the risen Lord (9:5), and for three days thereafter he is without
sight, and neither eats nor drinks (9:9). At the conclusion of those
days Ananias comes to Paul, and Paul receives the Holy Spirit. Thus,
though nothing is said directly about Paul's believing, the narrative
shows him acting under Jesus' lordship (at the command of Jesus to "rise
and enter the city" Paul goes [9:6]), and thus in some sense faith
in Christ is present. Now looking back at the first disciples in Jerusalem,
it is evident that they had for some time been believers before baptism
in the Holy Spirit occurred. They had confessed Jesus as Lord, had received
His forgiveness, and had known Him in His resurrection appearances;
but it was not until some weeks later that the Holy Spirit was given.
Thus faith in Jesus Christ was present before the gift of the Holy Spirit.15
What seems to be the case, over all, is that to everyone who believes
the Spirit is promised (recall Acts 2:38 and 39), but the promise may
well be fulfilled at a later time.16
The one instance where faith and baptism in the Holy Spirit are depicted
as simultaneous is that of the Gentiles at Caesarea. The text reads:
"While Peter was still saying this, the Holy Spirit fell"
(10:44). The word "this" refers to the message of the Gospel.
When that message was heard and believed, simultaneously the Holy Spirit
was given. There are a number of other incidents in Acts where people
come to faith in Jesus Christ, but nothing is said about a reception
of the Holy Spirit.17 However, in this paper I am
only commenting on those passages where some reference to the Holy Spirit
The question naturally follows: Why is there this disparity in Acts?
Why do some who believe receive the Holy Spirit immediately whereas
the Holy Spirit comes to others only at a later time? One answer, sometimes
offered, especially in the case of the Samaritans, lies in their peculiar
situation vis-à-vis Jerusalem. The Samaritans, while believing
and baptized, needed the assurance of the Jerusalem church that they
were fully incorporated (recall the long history of Jewish-Samaritan
antagonism) in the new people of God. Also, it is suggested, this signifies
that the Samaritans are likewise included in the missionary enterprise-the
Spirit being the "missionary Spirit" (see below), so that
Luke is saying that their baptism with the Spirit signifies that the
Gospel now also radiates outward from Samaria. Though there is surely
some truth in this analysis, one wonders, for example, why further on
in the same chapter the Ethiopian is likewise baptized by Philip but
nothing is done from Jerusalem or elsewhere to see that he also has
this symbol of inclusion in the larger church community. Also, when
the gospel is later preached in Antioch-a city at least as important
as Samaria, and indeed destined to become the radiating center of missionary
enterprise-"a great number that believed turned to the Lord"
(Acts 11:21). When the apostles at Jerusalem hear this, they send down
Barnabas, but not to perform some act such as laying on of hands for
the reception of the Holy Spirit. All that Acts says is that "When
he [Barnabas] came and saw the grace of God, he was glad; and he exhorted
them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose"
(11:23). Thus some better answer is needed to explain the Samaritan
delay in receiving the Holy Spirit.18
Though there can be no certainty of a final answer concerning the reason
for separation between initial faith and the reception of the Holy Spirit,
I would suggest that what is several times described in Acts is a kind
of faith in movement or in process. In thinking back again to the original
disciples gathered in Jerusalem (Acts 1) who receive the baptism in
the Holy Spirit (Acts 2), it is clear that what I have called their
faith or belief was much a matter of growth. It was not a static, once
for all thing; rather their minds and hearts were increasingly being
laid claim to by Jesus Christ. At a certain moment in this process of
faith, the Holy Spirit breaks through and they are baptized.19
Thus in one sense they had been believers for a long time; in another
sense this was the climactic moment within faith. We do not therefore
have to decide: Were they believers before, or did they only become
believers at the time of the gift of the Spirit. Rather it is better
to say that on the way of faith the Holy Spirit was poured out. This
same situation, I believe, obtains, for example, in the account of the
Ephesians. As we have noted, these people are called "disciples"
even though it becomes evident that they are not very far along the
Christian way. Further, the question of Paul, "Did you receive
the Holy Spirit when you believed?"20 points,
as we have observed, to the possibility of a faith that has not yet
received the Holy Spirit. Hence, one may see in this narrative a movement
from a kind of incipient faith, signified by John's baptism, to a focused
faith in Christ, attended by baptism in His name, even to the openness
of faith in which the Holy Spirit is given and received. The account
of Paul's experience is apropos of the same. It would, I think, be a
mistake to say either that Paul believed, and three days later was filled
with the Holy Spirit, or to say that Paul did not truly believe until
the Spirit came upon him. Paul was undergoing a process of inward change,
and faith was in movement. At a certain moment in faith Paul was able
to receive the fullness of God's Spirit. Finally, the same situation,
in general, would seem to have occurred among the Samaritans. At the
outset they "gave heed to what was said by Philip, when they heard
him and saw the signs which he did" (8:6). Thus some faith is evident,
even if perhaps superficial and miracle-impressed. Later they "believed
Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name
of Jesus Christ" and were baptized (8:12). This would seem to signify
a movement in their faith to a much deeper grounding in Jesus Christ.
Climactically, several days later-and after further inward growth-they
receive the Holy Spirit through the ministry of Peter and John (8:17).21
It is not without significance that, in the cases just described of
the Ephesians, Paul himself, and the Samaritans, various sets of circumstances
affected their coming to baptism in the Holy Spirit. The Ephesians,
though "disciples" and thus in some sense believers, obviously
had been inadequately instructed, for though they knew John's baptism
they had not heard of the Holy Spirit; indeed, they were not even clearly
directed to Jesus Christ. The Ephesians had much to unlearn as well
as to learn, and much to experience more profoundly. Thus Paul led them
step by step into a deeper reality of faith. They could scarcely have
come to baptism in the Holy Spirit any sooner. Paul himself earlier,
as we have observed, was struck down on the road to Damascus by the
glory of the risen Lord-an experience hard to imagine in its inward
effects upon the previously vehement and hostile Saul. It is scarcely
to be wondered that there was much inward turmoil, revolution, and change
before he was at the place of receiving the Holy Spirit. The Samaritans
had been long wrapped in superstition-they were laden with "unclean
spirits" (8:7) and had prostrated themselves before Simon the magician
(8:9-11). Once again, it is not really surprising that they, despite
their faith and baptism, did not for a time receive the Holy Spirit.
But what about the Gentiles at Caesarea? Why did they receive such an
outpouring of the Holy Spirit at the moment of their believing in Jesus
Christ? Again, no certain answer is given in the text. The Spirit was
poured out at the moment of Peter's proclaiming the good news of forgiveness;
and perhaps this signifies the sovereign unpredictability of the Holy
Spirit. Nor should this be discounted, for God surely moves in His Spirit
freely and not according to any preconceived pattern. However, while
recognizing this, the question is whether the text of Scripture affords
any answer in terms of the human condition. I think the Scripture does-when
read in the broader context of the Caesarean situation. The centurion
Cornelius is depicted from the outset as a God-fearing man, and therefore
in some sense also a man of faith. Throughout the whole narrative of
Acts 10 one sees in the centurion a righteous man, and open to whatever
God would have him do. Later when the gospel is proclaimed to him and
his household, Peter begins by declaring that "any one who fears
him and does what is right is acceptable to him" (8:35). Thus,
to this kind of man and household-far different from the Samaritans
in their pagan idolatry, quite other than Paul in his violence and vehemence,
and having far fewer problems than the Ephesians in their John the Baptist
background-the gospel is preached. Immediately, the ground being ready,
the Spirit is poured out upon the people in Caesarea.
All of this leads to a further consideration, namely, the relation
of prayer to the gift of the Holy Spirit. Several times prayer is mentioned
as the context wherein the Holy Spirit is received.
We may begin with Acts 1. It is apparent that the chief activity of
the disciples in Jerusalem during the ten days before Pentecost was
prayer. According to 1:4 the risen Lord "charged them not to depart
from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father." Following
His ascension, the apostles went to the Upper Room, and "All these
with one accord devoted themselves to prayer, together with the women
and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers" (1:14). Though
the disciples did other things, such as the selection of a successor
to Judas (1:15-26), the overall situation is one of continuing prayer:
this was their devotion. We may assume that this was not just prayer
in general, but for the fulfillment of the promise of the Father. One
should not fail to underscore also the note of unity: "All these
with one accord." Persistent prayer in unity of spirit: such was
the context for the gift of the Holy Spirit.
At Samaria prayer is again mentioned as preparatory to the coming of
the Holy Spirit. As earlier observed, the Samaritans believe, are baptized,
and some time thereafter Peter and John come down to minister to them
the gift of the Holy Spirit. Reference has been made to the laying on
of the apostles' hands. But now we should note that prior to the imposition
of hands, Peter and John engage in prayer: they "came down and
prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit" (8:15).22
The situation is somewhat different from Acts 1, for there those who
are to receive (the apostles and company) do their own praying-who else
could pray for them? In Samaria the recipients-to-be are prayed for
by others. But prayer unmistakably in each case is background and preparation
for the Holy Spirit to be received.
In the case of Paul, the atmosphere surrounding his reception of the
Holy Spirit is also that of prayer. Ananias, commissioned to go to Paul,
is addressed by the Lord in a vision, hence likely at a time of prayer
(9:10). We are told that in the vision the Lord says, "Rise and
go to the street called Straight, and inquire in the house of Judas
for a man of Tarsus named Saul; for behold, he is praying" (9:11).
Attention has already been called to Paul's fasting-neither eating nor
drinking-for three days. Thus prayer and fasting make up the context
for Paul's being filled with the Holy Spirit.
Now we come again to the centurion at Caesarea and his household. We
have made reference to his being a God-fearing man. It is apparent from
the beginning of the account that the situation is also one of prevailing
prayer: the centurion was a "devout man who feared God with all
his household, gave alms liberally to the people, and prayed constantly
to God" (10:2). To this man of constant prayer a vision is also
given; and acting on that vision, the centurion summons Peter to come
to him with a message from God. Thus the "Gentile Pentecost"
of Acts 10 is shrouded with a similar atmosphere of prayer and devotion
to that of the "Jewish Pentecost" in Acts 1 and 2.
The only account (among those we have been considering) not specifying
prayer is that concerning the Ephesians. All that is said is that Paul
laid his hands upon the people, and they received the Holy Spirit. However,
if one reads this story against the background of the other occasions
where hands are imposed for the gift of the Spirit (the two accounts
of Saul of Tarsus and the Samaritans: both prayer and the laying on
of hands in each instance), it would seem proper to conclude that Paul's
act here is likewise done in prayer. Indeed, the very laying on of hands
may itself be understood as an act of prayer, invoking the coming of
the Holy Spirit upon those who believe.
It is significant that the Gospel according to Luke likewise depicts
prayer as context for the coming of the Holy Spirit. This may be noted,
first, in the account of Jesus' own baptism: "Now when all the
people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was
praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him"
(Luke 3:21-22). Thus Jesus praying and thereupon receiving the Holy
Spirit is the primary example of later persons in Acts who likewise
in prayer receive the gift of the Spirit.23 Second,
on another occasion where Jesus is asked by his disciples, "Lord,
teach us to pray," He proceeds not only to give the "Lord's
Prayer" but also to stress the need for importunate prayer-"ask,"
"seek," and "knock"-and concludes saying, "If
you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children,
how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those
who ask him!" (Luke 11:1-13).24
To conclude: not only is faith viewed as essential for the gift of
the Spirit to be received (as we have earlier observed), but also the
Spirit is given within the situation, the atmosphere, the context of
earnest prayer. Further, this prayer is evidently of an expectant nature,
believing that God will give what He has promised. It is the prayer
of openness for all that God has to offer, and one that awaits in humble
submission His full impartation.
We have now to consider the significance of baptism in the Holy Spirit.
Primarily it is a matter of being immersed in the presence and power
of God. Even as baptism in water means immersion in water-the whole
person being submerged in and surrounded by water-so does baptism in
the Holy Spirit mean immersion in the reality of God's dynamic presence.
The language of the Spirit's being "poured out," "falling
upon," "coming upon" are various descriptions of the
Spirit's external coming; "filled" points to the internal
dimension-a being filled within; "baptism in the Holy Spirit"
highlights the central fact of being enveloped by, surrounded with,
immersed in the presence and power of God.
The immediate consequence of this spiritual baptism in several biblical
instances was speaking in tongues. In three accounts of the receiving
of the Holy Spirit, the response of glossolalia was prior to all else:
Acts 2:4-"they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to
speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance"; 10:45-46-"the
gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. For
they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God"; 19:6-"the
Holy Spirit came on them; and they spoke with tongues and prophesied."25
In two of the three instances (thus also likely in the third) it is
evident that speaking in tongues was an address to God of transcendent
praise-"telling...the mighty works of God" (2:11), "speaking
in tongues and extolling God" (10:46). These were "other tongues"
uttered by the Holy Spirit's enabling, thus transcending the capacities
of those who spoke them. All of this was the primary response of those
baptized, that is, immersed, in the presence and reality of the living
Baptism in the Holy Spirit primarily intends the endowment of power
for witness and ministry. According to Acts 1, at some time after Jesus
had spoken the words, "before many days you shall be baptized in
the Holy Spirit," He also said, "you shall receive power when
the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in
Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth"
(v. 8). So it was that on the Day of Pentecost, just following the filling
with the Holy Spirit and the immediate response of tongues of praise,
that "Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and
addressed them" (2:14), namely, the multitude of devout Jews who
had assembled. Thus did the apostles, Peter as spokesman, bear witness-and
with great power and effectiveness so that thousands came to salvation.
There is likewise power for ministry, indeed miraculous ministry. Following
the influx of three thousand souls, according to Acts 2:43, "many
wonders and signs were done through the apostles"; also in the
next account in Acts 3 Peter and John are channels for the miraculous
healing of a man lame from birth.
In the case of Paul it is also clear that the purpose of the gift of
the Spirit is power for witness and ministry. Before Ananias lays hands
on Paul for him to be "filled" with the Spirit, the Lord had
spoken: "Go, for he [Paul] is a chosen instrument of mine to carry
my name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel" (9:15).
Hence, it would seem proper to understand the gift of the Spirit elsewhere
mentioned-at Samaria, Caesarea, and Ephesus-as having to do with the
endowment of power for witness and ministry. This is to say that as
the gospel is proclaimed in an ever-widening circle, those who receive
it not only come to salvation but also are endowed with the Holy Spirit
for witness and ministry to others.
It is apparent that baptism in the Spirit is both a matter of the presence
of God and the power of God. It was said of Jesus Himself that He was
"anointed...with the Holy Spirit and with power," and that
as a result, "He went about doing good and healing all that were
oppressed by the devil" (Acts 10:38). So, when Jesus told His disciples
to "wait for the promise of the Father," it was the promise
of being immersed in the presence of God and an endowment of power for
the ministry in Jesus' name. Such is the full meaning of baptism in
the Holy Spirit.
In the Gospels and Acts two major events are attested: first, Christ's
life, death, and resurrection; second, the effusion of the Holy Spirit.
Through the first there is forgiveness and cleansing of sins-pointed
to by water baptism; through the second, there is baptism in the Holy
Spirit26-pointed to by the laying on of hands. While
closely related, they are clearly not the same.
It is also apparent that both forgiveness of sins and Spirit baptism
come from Jesus Christ. Forgiveness is through Jesus Christ, and it
is also He who immerses in the Holy Spirit. They are gifts from Christ,
and it is by faith in Him that both gifts are received.
While these gifts come from Christ, they are quite different from each
other. The first-forgiveness of sins-has to do with conversion, a radical
turning to Christ from sin; the second-baptism in the Holy Spirit-relates
to immersion in the reality of God's presence and the ensuing power
for witness and ministry. The former has to do with becoming a Christian,
the latter with Christian ministry. Together the two make up the fullness
of Christian discipleship.
Not only are these two gifts quite different in nature, but they may
also be separated in time from each other. Such separation, however,
does not mean a going beyond Christ or outside Christ, since He is the
source of both; nor does it mean a going beyond faith into a work whereby
the Holy Spirit is received. Temporal separation is a possibility; separation
from Christ and faith in Him is an impossibility.
It is also clear in Acts that those who believe may not yet have received
the Holy Spirit. Wherever that is the case, it is not viewed as satisfactory,
and steps are taken to see that the reception of the Spirit occurs.
This does not mean that such persons are not true believers, or that
they lack forgiveness of their sins, or that somehow their salvation
is incomplete. It rather means that they have not yet received that
endowment of the Spirit wherein the presence and power of the Holy Spirit
becomes fully effective in their lives. Particularly does this affect
their witness to the world. Thus believers who have not received the
Holy Spirit are ministered to for this presence and power.
Baptism in the Holy Spirit, accordingly, belongs not to some presumably
higher level of Christian attainment but to the foundations of Christian
faith and practice. For the true follower of Jesus Christ is not only
one who has received His forgiveness and entered into life, but also
has received His Spirit and entered into His ministry.
This article has sought to deal as objectively as possible with the
Scriptures specifically relating to "baptism in the Holy Spirit."
I have in no way sought to relate these Scriptures to the New Testament
epistles. It is surely a proper question to ask: What does the rest
of the New Testament have to say in this regard? Can we really apply
the biblical testimony in Acts to our contemporary situation without
further study? My brief answer here is twofold: first, of course we
must attend to the whole biblical witness, and not be guided only by
the record in Acts; second, we must, however, not fail to hear what
Acts has to say because it is the only canonical record to show what
the church was like in its origination. The Epistles were written to
churches that have had their foundations secured by apostolic work and
witness. Hence, we can believe that they all have already, for example,
received the Holy Spirit (e.g., see Gal. 3:2; Eph. 1:13); thus the Epistles
are dealing with matters that presuppose this. Hebrews 6:1-2 (NIV) speaks
of various "baptisms"27 and "laying
on of hands" as being "elementary teachings"-but also
belonging to "the foundation"-that should be left behind as
we "go on to maturity." But what if something as "elementary"
as "baptisms" is not well understood today; what if something
so foundational as "laying on of hands" is no longer truly
practiced? Do we not need a thorough reexamination?
I firmly believe that this calls us back to the record in Acts. It can
be the instrument of a new Reformation in our own time.
1 The noun "baptism" is actually not used in
the New Testament in the passages under consideration. It is the verbal
form, baptizein-"baptize," "baptizes," or "baptized"
that is to be found. This will be apparent in the study that follows.
I will, however, make use of the expression "baptism in the Holy
Spirit" as an inclusive term for the various verbal forms.
2The Greek word en is translated as "with"
in the RSV and in most other New Testament versions. However "in"
(ASV) may be the more likely translation, especially as used in connection
with "baptism." Hence I will be substituting "in"
for "with" in my use of the RSV throughout this article.
3The word here translated as "by" is also
the Greek en.
4Hence we shall not in this paper enter upon discussion
of the Pauline text.
5The Scriptures nowhere specifically say that the disciples
in Acts 1 had received John's baptism. Perhaps all the apostles had,
but what of the women, Mary the mother of Jesus, and Jesus' own brothers?
They are all depicted in Acts 1:12-14 as awaiting the fulfillment of
6The language of "baptism in the Holy Spirit,"
while not occurring in Acts 10, is used (as we have noted) in Acts 11
in regard to the same event viewed retrospectively. The Spirit's "falling"
(used in 10 and 11) is verbally identified (in 11) with baptism in the
7The word ei, "for," could suggest "for
the purpose of," "in order to obtain," thus requirement
for forgiveness to be received. However, ei may also be translated "concerning,"
"with respect to," "with reference to," "with
regard to." For example, note the earlier use of ei in the same
chapter (v. 25), where Peter prefaces a quotation from a psalm thus:
"For David says concerning him [the Christ]...." The word
translated "concerning" (RSV and KJV) is ei. Here ei clearly
means "regarding," "in reference to." etc. (Cf.
Rom. 4:20, ei translated as "concerning" [RSV], "with
respect to" [NASB]); Eph. 5:32, "concerning" [KJV], "with
reference to" NASB); 1 Thess. 5:18, "concerning" [KJV]).
8This was also true of John's baptism-he came "preaching
a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins" (Mark 1:4).
However, this was only preparatory to the baptism in Jesus' name, the
name which brought total forgiveness and salvation. 9baptiz = to "dip,
immerse" (BAGD); to "immerse, submerge" (Thayer); to
"dip in or under" (TDNT).
10This may be seen also in the fact that Jesus spoke
to him in a vision while Ananias was doubtless at prayer (Acts 9:10).
11Also note, for example, Peter's words about Jesus
on the Day of Pentecost to the assembled multitude: "Being therefore
exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father
the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this which you see
and hear" (2:33).
12The preceding words of Acts 2:38 might suggest baptism
in water as a prerequisite: "Repent, and be baptized every one
of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins;
and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." Two comments:
that baptism in Jesus' name before receiving the gift of the Spirit
is the usual pattern has been shown from a study of Acts 8 (the Samaritans)
and Acts 19 (the Ephesians), but that the Spirit was also given without
such baptism (Acts 10-the Caesareans) shows that this is no binding
rule. Further, even in Acts 2:38 the focus is "the name of Jesus
Christ" upon which or in which (the Greek preposition is either
epi or en, depending on the texts used) baptism occurs. This is not
to deny the importance of baptism, since it is regularly administered
(also in Acts 10-even if afterwards); it is only to insist that the
one binding requirement is faith in Jesus Christ for the gift of the
Holy Spirit to be received.
13The Greek word for "believed" is the aorist
participle pisteusantes. The aorist participle may express action antecedent
to or simultaneous with the action of the main verb (see, e.g., A. T.
Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek Testament, 860-61). If antecedent,
then a proper translation could be, "Have ye received the Holy
Ghost since ye believed?" (KJV). If simultaneous, or coincident,
then the RSV, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?"
is correct. Only the context can show which is better; though usually
the aorist participle expresses antecedent action (see James D. G. Dunn's
Baptism in the Holy Spirit, 159). Whichever is the more appropriate
translation for Acts 19:2, the text suggests the possibility of belief
not accompanied at the outset by the reception of the Holy Spirit.
14Eduard Schweizer holds that "In 19:1-7 Luke
is telling about Christians who have not yet experienced the outpouring
of the Holy Spirit" (see article on pneuma in TDNT, 6:413). This
may be saying too much, but at least they were disciples no longer of
John but of Jesus.
15The one exception to this interpretation might seem
to be that of Acts 11:17 where Peter, in reflecting upon the gift of
the Holy Spirit to the Caesareans, says (according to the RSV): "If
then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed
in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?"
This suggests that Peter and the others did not believe until the time
the Spirit was given. However, this is again an aorist participle, pisteusasin,
which may also represent (as earlier noted) antecedent time. In that
event the proper translation would be more like the KJV: "Forasmuch
then as God gave them the like gift as he did unto us, who believed
on the Lord Jesus Christ." Here, I submit, the antecedent aorist
much better fits the context.
16Schweizer summarizes the evidence by saying: "Days,
and in exceptional cases even weeks and years, may pass before endowment
with the Spirit follows faith" (TDNT, 6:412).
17Attention might be called to the Scripture in Acts
8 about the Ethiopian eunuch. Philip "told him the good news of
Jesus" (8:35), and this is followed by water baptism-"they
both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized
him" (8:38). The received text follows: "And when they came
up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught up Philip."
The Western text, however, reads: "And when they came up out of
the water, the Spirit of the Lord fell upon the eunuch, and the angel
of the Lord caught up Philip." This Western reading, probably an
interpolation, does however express the sense of the Book of Acts, namely,
that along with faith, and possibly baptism, the reception of the Spirit
is involved-even if the original text does not specify it.
18Dunn is likewise unconvinced by the argument as
generally outlined above (Baptism in the Holy Spirit, 62-63).
19I have already commented on the text in Acts 11:17
to the effect that the pisteusasin may represent either antecedent or
concurrent time in relation to the main verb. I would now suggest that
the participle may contain both ideas, and therefore the most adequate
translation would be neither the RSV, "when we believed in the
Lord Jesus Christ," nor the KJV, "who believed on the Lord
Jesus Christ," but simply "believing in the Lord Jesus Christ."
Belief was neither a past occurrence, nor had it suddenly come to be;
rather it was a process and within that process the Holy Spirit was
20Again, the best translation here for pisteusantes
may be neither the RSV (as quoted) nor the KJV, "Have ye received
the Holy Ghost since ye believed?" "Since" represents
the antecedent aorist, "when" the concurrent (see earlier
footnote). Neither translation satisfactorily embodies the idea of process.
The simplest, and perhaps the most direct, translation would be: "Did
you, believing, receive the Holy Spirit?"
21I have difficulties with Dunn's interpretation that
the believing of the Samaritans in 8:12 was only "intellectual
assent to a statement or proposition" (Baptism in the Holy Spirit,
65), so that only when the Samaritans received the Spirit did they "come
to genuine faith" (p. 67). This means for Dunn that in Acts until
a person receives the Holy Spirit he is not really a Christian. I submit
that this interpretation both misunderstands the text (only "intellectual
assent," for example?), and the dynamics of faith.
22Schweizer writes that "as a preparation for
reception of the Spirit prayer is far more important than baptism in
Luke's eyes" (TDNT, 6:413).
23According to G. W. H. Lampe (The Seal of the Spirit,
1951, 44), "thus Luke applies to Christ's reception of the Spirit
his repeated doctrine that the grand object of prayer is the gift of
the Spirit, and points to a similarity between this initial bestowal
of the gift upon Jesus at prayer and the later outpourings upon the
24In Matthew the parallel account does not speak of
the gift of the Holy Spirit but of "good things"-"how
much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those
who ask him" (7:11). I am not concerned to debate which may be
the original account (of course, Jesus could have said it both ways
on different occasions), but to note that Luke in both Gospel and Acts
stresses prayer-even persistent prayer-as the context for the coming
of the Holy Spirit.
25It is also probable that the Samaritans in Acts
8 spoke in tongues. Nothing directly is stated about the immediate consequence
of their reception of the Spirit; however, as F. F. Bruce says: "It
is clearly implied that their reception of the Spirit was marked by
external manifestations such as had marked his descent on the earliest
disciples at Pentecost" (The Book of Acts, 169).
26The Holy Spirit is of course also active in the
forgiveness of sins; indeed, without the Holy Spirit there could be
no repentance and forgiveness; for it is He who convicts of sin, brings
about forgiveness, and unites to Christ. However, the effusion of the
Spirit is a further dimension of the Spirit's activity in which-the
way prepared by forgiveness-He comes uniquely on the scene. It is the
coming of His presence and power.
27The Greek word (baptisrwn, from baptizmos) translated
in NIV (also KJV) as "baptisms" is rendered as "ablutions"
in RSV and "washings" in NASB, and is viewed by some as Jewish
ceremonial washings (see, e.g., F. F. Bruce, Hebrews, 115). However,
it is hard to see how such could belong to "the foundation"
and "elementary teachings [or 'doctrines' RSV] about Christ."
"Baptisms" seems the more natural translation, and especially
is this the case since just following the word "baptisms"
the writer to the Hebrews adds "laying on of hands." (For
a further discussion of Heb. 6:1-2, also Gal. 3:2 and Eph. 1:13, see
chap. 14, "A Pentecostal Theology.")
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11 | 12 | 13
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15 | 16 | Conclusion
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