Acts 19:1-4. If you’re familiar with the argument of the baptism of the Spirit you knew I would get to this passage. This is sometimes considered to be a schismatic story in the book of Acts, but while we are in the book of Acts I might as well put my two cents in on it.
The story goes that the Apostle Paul entered into the town of Ephesus and found certain “disciples” who neither had the Spirit nor even heard of it. The controversy lies in whether or not you believe these folks were full-fledged believers in Jesus or just people that were close, but not yet true followers of Jesus. It you assert that they are believers it more of a win for the idea that the Spirit is a secondary event that happens after you repent and receive Jesus, If you assert that they were NOT actual full-fledged believers it’s a win for the single event theory as my evangelical advocate. Here is the passage for reference:
“And it happened, while Apollos was at Corinth, that Paul, having passed through the upper regions, came to Ephesus. And finding some disciples he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed? ”So they said to him, “We have not so much as heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.” And he said to them, “Into what then were you baptized?” So they said, “Into John’s baptism. ”Then Paul said, “John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.” When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied. Now the men were about twelve in all.
My take on this is as follows. Paul asks if they had heard of the Spirit since they believed. We’ll, you’ve got to ask the question, believed in what? What was Paul taking about?
When Paul asks, “….since you believed?” it makes sense to concede that everyone in the conversation knew in what context Paul meant ”believed”. I’m pretty sure he meant since they believed on Jesus – what other topic would Paul be asking about? I can’t think of any. They may not have had all of their facts straight about proper water baptism in the name of Jesus and the promise of the gift of the Spirit, but I believe they were following Jesus the best they knew how.
I think this passage is best understood just as it simply reads – Paul found some disciples, some followers of Jesus, and asked if they received the Spirit yet. This makes total sense when we remember what we saw in Act 8 with Phillip and Samaritans – who, at least for me, undeniably didn’t receive the Spirit when they first believed. And from this passage in Acts 19 it doesn’t look like Paul preached salvation to them or shared Jesus with them, but just that they received new information about God’s gift of the Speirit and wre then water baptized but this time specifically into Jesus’s name (since their first baptism was botched or done with incorrect/outdated information) that included afterward the laying on of hands to which assisted in the receiving of the Spirit. That seems like a much simpler explanation to me rather than taking the position the these folks weren’t even believers in Jesus to being with.
Ok, for fun let’s say for a minute that these folks were NOT believers when Paul first met them. Lets accept that as a fact for a minute. Then according to evangelicalism all that the disciples would have needed to do was to just believe in Jesus to receive the Holy Spirit – right? If the Spirit comes automatically at the time one gives their life to Jesus what was the purpose of Paul laying hands on them to receive it? If Paul was an evangelical he would have been out of place to lay hands on them for the Spirit. Because evangelical believe that you received the Spirit when you just believe. But yet Paul DID lay hands on them to RECEIVE it. Which tells me that Paul believed that laying hands on them was integral part of the process for them to receive the Spirit. A process that is most often left out when we see the traditional altar calls for people to receive Jesus. For me, either way you look at it, that fact remains that the Spirit didn’t automatically come when they believed, whether they were believers before or just after their new water baptism. It had to come by the laying on of hands.
Paul’s next question “Into what then were you baptized” is also revealing. Paul equates the time at which a person is water baptized synonymous with when one ought to receive the Holy Spirit. We see this because when the disciples answered “no” to having the Spirit Paul brings up water baptism. Doesn’t it seem strange that Paul brings up water baptism when asking about the Holy Spirit? When the disciples said that they hadn’t yet received the Spirit Paul’s reasoning was probably something like this, “You didn’t receive the Spirit when you believed? That’s strange. When you believe in Jesus you get water baptized and we lay hands on you to receive the Holy Spirit. If they didn’t get the Holy Spirit when they were water baptized then they must not have been baptized into the same water baptism that apostles do. I’ll ask them for clarification on their water baptism…’Hey guys, into what then were you baptized?’
In my opinion, I believe that the normal order of conversion and coming into faith in Jesus was as followed: people heard the Word of Jesus, they repented (had a change of heart toward God) and believed in Jesus being raised from the dead for the forgiveness of sins, were water baptized and laid hands on to receive the promised gift of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. And I believe that this all happened within the same day. Not like today where we push out water baptism by weeks, months, and like in my case years. I talk about this more in my posts about the importance of water baptism.
And lastly, if a believer automatically receives all of the Spirit when they believe then why did Paul even ask the question, “Did you receive the Spirit when you believed?” That’s like asking someone, “Did you receive free shipping from Amazon when you signed up for a Prime account?” (forgive my modern example) That would be a dumb question because when you sign up for Prime you automatically get free shipping on your orders too. When you buy the Prime membership you get free shipping. Same with the evangelical approach, when you receive Jesus you get the Spirit. So if that is the case why is Paul asking if they received something that automatically comes with following Jesus?? So to take the position that Spirit automatically comes at the same time you believe goes against the very question Paul asked.
I spent time in parts three, four, and five giving a quick overview of what I found in the Bible about the Spirit and what is known as the gift or Baptism of the Spirit. I’ve heard lots of arguments negating the secondary experience and advocating for the single event theory. And for those who have studied it and disagree with my conclusions and interpretation I would guess I didn’t present anything new that you haven’t heard before. But after sharing and living this out for so many years it felt right to finally write it so I could share more complete and coherent way. In times past I’d try to share what I’ve come to know and I’ve either only had time for bits and pieces and/or never took it from beginning to end. There’s more to share, and I didn’t address all of the refutes I commonly get, but those are most of my main points for why I support the Baptism of the Holy Spirit with tangible evidence accompanying.
In part one I touched on the mainstream idea of the trinity. Since I was a late comer to believing in the Trinity I really was curious about what does my actual relationship to the different parts of the trinity look like. We could probably write books about that between the different thoughts out there concerning that subject. But what I will say it is that through the experiences in the Spirit that I had back when I was 21-22, and have since up to today, I have come to believe that the Spirit is a person and it is not just a power of God. You can have a relationship with the Spirit. In addition to John 14-17, where Jesus himself address the Spirit as a He not an it (which is compelling in itself), the book of Acts refers to the Spirit in way that only something with an interactive personality would make sense. A few examples are Acts 8:29, Acts 13:2, Acts 15:28, Acts 16:7, Ephesians 4:30, I Thessalonians 5:19, I Timothy 4:1.
I know there are verses that paint the Spirit as more of just the power of God, or just a part of God the Father or Jesus’s spiritual presence living in the believer. And then some would just plainly say what does it matter? They are all the same thing anyways, their all God. Pray to whoever you want. For me there is enough distinction, scriptural direction, and unique definition between the three to merit holding all of them as three independent manifestations/persons of our one God. So I feel that each person of the trinity should be embraced and taken to the fullest possible experience. As far as the person of the Spirit, there is sooooo much emphasis placed on being in relationship with the Spirit of God in the New Testament that for me I am not satisfied with the idea that it should all be about Jesus and the Spirit takes a back seat to Jesus. I recognize that they all agree with each other, even to the point where the Bible refers to the Spirit as the Spirit of Christ and Spirit of God. It’s all a journey of exploration and I don’t think we are ever going to “get it” entirely in this life. I doubt that if we handed God the most complete and deepest explanation we have of the trinity that He would said, “Perfect, you guys totally got it and fully understand my nature!”. Admittingly, I hold the equality and hierarchy of the trinity a little more loosely than most people ( I Corinthians 15 and John 14:28 are great passages to make a case for God the Father’s superiority). But I still consider myself a trinitarian.
Anyways, when we see the Lord face to face we can then ask Him about all of these funny questions that our inquisitive brains come up with. In the meantime, I will choose to know the Father and Son whom He sent and embrace the gift of the presence of the Holy Spirit while I wait for His return and arrival of fullness of His Kingdom.
*As always, I’d love to hear what’s on your mind so please drop your thoughts in the comment section below!