Holy Spirit Baptism: The examples in Acts – Part I

Does Luke, the author of Acts in the New Testament, intend in his narrative to demonstrate a normative pattern for Christian experience in all times in which conversion (or regeneration) is separate from baptism in the Spirit? He does according to Pentecostalism, which maintains that present day Christians should expect a two stage experience of the Holy Spirit (being firstly, regeneration and secondly, baptism in the Spirit).

The Basis of Pentecostalism Reviewed

The basis for this belief has been discussed previously (Baptism in the Spirit: The Basis of Pentecostalism). In summary, Pentecostal doctrine uses as its basis five narrative accounts in the book of Acts: The day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-42); the Samaritans (Acts 8:4-24); Saul (Acts 9:1-19); Cornelius (Acts 10:1-48); and Ephesus (Acts 19:1-7). Pentecostals contend that in each of these cases the groups of people concerned were believers who had already experienced regeneration before their experience of baptism in the Spirit; that is, they were ‘Christians’ before they were baptised with the Spirit.

This unique doctrine stands entirely upon their reading that in three of the narratives (Pentecost, Samaritans, Paul) baptism in the Spirit appears to be subsequent to regeneration and in the remaining two narratives (Cornelius, Ephesians) baptism in the Spirit appears to be logically separable from regeneration.

They reason that, since there seem to be instances in Luke’s accounts when time separates the Spirit’s work in the regeneration and Spirit-baptism of individuals, therefore regeneration and Spirit-baptism can be separate experiences (in time); and since they can be separated in time, they are therefore distinctive experiences (in identity).

Baptism in the Spirit: The Pattern in the Acts Narratives

The Pentecostal reading of the five accounts in the book of Acts used as a basis for Pentecostalism (Acts 2:1-42; 8:4-24; 9:1-19; 10:1-48; 19:1-7) does not do justice to the text or to the context. In each of the five accounts the New Covenant work of regeneration is seen to occur when Christ gives his baptism in the Spirit to individuals. In four of the cases this is more than clear (Pentecost, Paul, Cornelius and the Ephesians). In the case of the Samaritans, the narrative appears to need more careful comprehension by the modern reader. What we'll talk about in Part I and II of this article is how each of these examples in the Acts narrative actually demonstrates that baptism with the Spirit is the gift that Christ gives individuals in the New Covenant that causes conversion/regeneration; that is, Spirit-baptism makes people Christians.

The first disciples, Acts 2:1-42

The experience of the first disciples and Apostles has been discussed previously (In Baptism in the Spirit: The Apostles Experience). The group in Acts 2:1-42, although ‘believers’ (Acts 1:15), had not previously been given the Spirit before the day of Pentecost (John 7:39; 16:7). Although Pentecostals believe that the twelve Apostles who were part of this group had previously received the Spirit before Jesus’ ascension – when he breathed on them and said, “receive the Holy Spirit,” (John 20:22) – the surrounding context of Jesus’ teaching about the Spirit (John 7:39; 14:17; 16: 7; Acts 2:33) makes this reading a contradiction. It is impossible to read this statement as an indication that his disciples did at that moment receive the Holy Spirit. The disciples may have had a two-stage experience of Spirit in that he was ‘with’ them before the day of Pentecost when they received his indwelling (John 14:17). However they had only a one-stage experience of the reception of the Spirit in the new covenant. For they received for the first time the promised new covenant gift of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost. This was their regeneration experience, when Christ put his own Spirit to live in them (Acts 2:33).

Saul, Acts 9:1-19

In Acts 9:1-19, Saul sees a vision in which Jesus reveals himself as the Lord whom Saul had been persecuting (Acts 9:5-6). Although Pentecostals maintain that Paul experienced conversion at this moment prior to his reception of the Spirit in Acts 9:17, there is nothing in the text to indicate this. Quite the opposite: Saul at this time did not know the name of the Lord, who is Jesus. For he says, “who are you, Lord?” Although Saul was praying, this is no indication of his regeneration, for he had always prayed previously, as did the Apostles and Cornelius prior to their new covenant new-birth. When 3 days later Ananias prayed for Saul (that he might be “filled with the Holy Spirit”) it says “immediately something like scales fell from his eyes” (Acts 9:18). This was the moment of his regeneration, after which time he was baptised and began preaching Jesus as the Son of God; the moment Christ removed his Old Covenant blindness was the moment Christ flooded his heart with the Holy Spirit.

Cornelius’ household, Acts 10:1-48

In Acts 10:1-48 Cornelius’ household begin speaking in tongues and praising God while Peter was still preaching the gospel to them (Acts 10:44-46). In this instance the experience of baptism in the Holy Spirit obviously occurred at the same time as conversion (it was not subsequent). There is no evidence here either for a distinction between regeneration and baptism in the Spirit. On the contrary, their regeneration is here seen to have occurred by Christ pouring out his gift of the Holy Spirit on them (Acts 10:45) (Inseparability).

John's disciples in Ephesus, Acts 19:1-7

In Acts 19:1-7 Paul met a group of believers who had repented under John the Baptist. Like the disciples before the day of Pentecost, and Cornelius before Peter’s sermon to his household, they had ‘believed’ already even though they had not yet received the new covenant gift of the Spirit (Acts 19:2). They were repentant believers under the Old Covenant, but like John the Baptist, were yet without Christ’s baptism with the Spirit. Thus, Paul baptised them in the name of the Lord Jesus after telling them about Jesus and when he placed his hands on them “the Holy Spirit came on them” (Acts 19:6). Pentecostals admit that subsequence is not apparent here, as it is not in the analogous cases of the Apostles (Acts 2) and Saul (Acts 9) and Cornelius (Acts 10). Baptism in the Spirit is not logically separable from to their conversion here either. For the narrative highlights the fact that the Holy Spirit now came upon a group who had not previously received the Spirit.

The conclusion so far

The case of the original disciples is an example of the gift of the Holy Spirit being given for the first time to a group of previously Old Covenant believers. As explained here, the case of Saul (Acts 9) and Cornelius (Acts 10) are similarly examples of the gift of the Spirit coming at the moment of New Covenant regeneration. Likewise, the Ephesian disciples (Acts 19:1-7) had only repented under John the Baptist and not received the Holy Spirit before Paul told them the gospel of Jesus and placed his hands on them. The Ephesian narrative is an example of the conversion/regeneration of a group of John the Baptist’s disciples.

The conclusion so far is that each of the narratives discussed give examples of the New Covenant work of regeneration occurring when Christ gives his baptism in the Spirit to individuals.

The Samaritans, Acts 8:4-24

The only instance in the New Testament where it may be more difficult to the modern reader to see that conversion/regeneration occur by Christ giving his baptism in the Spirit is the Samaritan experience (Acts 8:4-24). In Part II of this article, we will talk about this example in closer detail. What we'll see is that the main point of this narrative is iin fact that conversion/regeneration does not occur until Christ's baptism in the Spirit has been given.

More on this topic

Baptism in the Spirit: The examples in Acts - Part II

Baptism in the Spirit: The Apostles' experience

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