Blog

Salvation

Salvation and the book of Acts

Baptism in water, baptism in the Spirit, and speaking in tongues

When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied.
Acts 19:5-6
Image

The following article was originally a letter written in response to a particular question concerning speaking in tongues. The question asked why, if speaking in tongues was always associated with conversion, it was not always mentioned in the stories of conversion in the book of Acts. The story of the Philippian jailer was put forward as a particular example, especially since the jailer had asked, "What must I do to be saved?"

Here is the relevant passage:

Acts 16:23-34
23 And when they had laid many stripes upon them, they cast them into prison, charging the jailor to keep them safely:
24 Who, having received such a charge, thrust them into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stocks.
25 And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them.
26 And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken: and immediately all the doors were opened, and every one's bands were loosed.
27 And the keeper of the prison awaking out of his sleep, and seeing the prison doors open, he drew out his sword, and would have killed himself, supposing that the prisoners had been fled.
28 But Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, Do thyself no harm: for we are all here.
29 Then he called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas,
30 And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved?
31 And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.
32 And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house.
33 And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway.
34 And when he had brought them into his house, he set meat before them, and rejoiced, believing in God with all his house.

The letter, reprinted below with some minor alterations, answers that question. In doing so, it also looks at the whole record of the book of Acts, and what the disciples and apostles actually preached concerning salvation. It shows that, even where not mentioned directly, baptism in water, and baptism in the Holy Spirit with the sign of speaking in tongues, were always the looked-for result, and the necessary accompaniment of belief and repentance. They were inseparable from the preaching of, and the salvation through, Jesus Christ.

As the record of the book of Acts is considered, the letter comes to four conclusions along the way, and a fifth as a result of the first four. Since the letter is a long read (60 minutes plus) copies of the conclusions are also placed here at the start. If you're in a hurry, you can click on one of the first four to be taken to the beginning of the section that explains that aspect.

Conclusion One

When the gospel was preached in the book of Acts, water baptism was preached, even where this was not specifically recorded.

Conclusion Two

When the gospel was preached in the book of Acts, the preaching was that of Acts 2, culminating in the message of verses 38–39, even where this was not specifically recorded.

Conclusion Three

When people in the book of Acts responded to the preaching of the gospel in belief, repentance, and obedience, they were baptised in water and baptised in the Holy Spirit, even where this was not specifically recorded.

Conclusion Four

When people were baptised in the Spirit in the book of Acts, they spoke in tongues, even where this was not specifically recorded.
And as a result of the first four conclusions:

Conclusion Five

In the stories of salvation in the book of Acts, the people were baptised in water and in the Holy Spirit, and they spoke in tongues as they received the Holy Spirit, even where some or all of these things were not specifically recorded.

The story of the Philipian jailer follows a particular pattern similar to many conversion stories in Acts. That is to be expected. This pattern, which I will look at in other stories in a moment, is in perfect harmony with the events and preaching of the day of Pentecost. That should also be expected. The Pentecost story at the beginning of Acts is the foundation and pattern for all which follow. The story there of the promise and outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and the preaching of the disciples, contains a lot of detail. Other later stories may individually contain greater or lesser amounts of detail, but they all conform completely both to each other, and the introductory preaching and example of Acts 1 and 2.

In the Acts 16 story, the Philippian jailer asks, “What must I do to be saved?” Paul and Silas respond, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.” Is this different to the teaching on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2? Peter and the disciples were asked on that day, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” Peter responded:

Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.
Acts 2:38-39

At a glance, this might seem to be a different answer (and many take it as such), but reading on in Acts 16 reveals the harmony:

And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway. And when he had brought them into his house, he set meat before them, and rejoiced, believing in God with all his house.
Acts 16:31-34

Many people don’t put much emphasis on anything past Paul’s initial quote, and fail to note that it was only the opening statement. Paul and Silas then “spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house”. The details of what the “word of the Lord” entailed are not recorded, but we are certain about one aspect: they were told to be baptised in water. We know this because when they heard the word of the Lord, they were all baptised, “straightway”.

This corresponds well with what happened on the day of Pentecost, after Peter had instructed the people as recorded above. Immediately after Acts 2:39 it reads,

And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation. Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.
Acts 2:40-41

The people in Acts 2 were not told to believe in Jesus Christ in response to their question because this had already been the main thrust of the disciples’ teaching to this point. This teaching had succeeded, and the people had become convinced that Jesus was indeed Lord and Christ:

Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ. Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?
Acts 2:36-37

Their belief then moved them to ask the same question asked by the jailer. If Paul’s answer is the initial answer to someone who does not or might not believe in Jesus Christ, Peter’s answer is part of the subsequent instruction of the “word of the Lord” to those who have come to believe, or at least understand the need. It’s very likely that the jailer, in a pagan environment, had no idea, or at least little understanding, of who Jesus was. Belief in Jesus Christ – who he is, what he taught, what he did, and why it matters – is always the starting point.

Those who are convinced though, still need to be moved to repent and seek forgiveness of sins. This is the looked-for result. Believing (as a mental acknowledgement) that Jesus is the Lord, the son of God, the Christ, is one thing; accepting his word and following his instruction to be saved is another. James notes that “the devils also believe” that there is one God, and Luke himself records that the “devils also came out of many, crying out, and saying, Thou art Christ the Son of God. … for they knew that he was Christ” (Luke 4:41). Neither a mental acknowledgement nor even verbal confession of the truth is sufficient of itself.

Peter’s answer on the day of Pentecost included a call to repent and be baptised with a view to “remission of sins”. If the subsequent instruction given by Paul and Silas to the jailer was the same as that given by Peter and the eleven, it is not surprising the jailer and all his household were baptised immediately. Like the thousands on the day of Pentecost, they “gladly received” the word that was spoken to them.

A pattern of record and result

The pattern in the story of the jailer (a simple record of preaching, with no details of the preaching, but the same results respecting baptism in water) is a pattern that consistently appears throughout the book of Acts.

Before reviewing the evidence for this, it’s worth looking again at the story of the 3000. This is the first story of conversion after the disciples have received the promise of the Holy Spirit. If we did not have all the detail of the disciples’ preaching in Acts 2 (specifically verses 38–39) the story of the 3000 would read like this:

Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ. Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?

[verses 38–39 omitted]

And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation. Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.
Acts 2:36-39

Again, if we read something like this in a later instance (like the jailer’s), we would understand that amongst the “many other words” the disciples spoke, they must have spoken of water baptism, since it was not mentioned elsewhere in the passage, yet the people were baptised. As noted, this general record of preaching combined with the recorded result of water baptism appears many times. It strongly, and very reasonably, indicates that the original specific record and preaching of Acts 2 is the foundation and template of the other briefer and more general records. It also clearly suggests that Luke did not need to record the details of the answer or the preaching every time, because the answer was already established, explained, and understood.

Take a look at the following examples:

The Samaritans

In Acts 8 we read:

Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them. . . . But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.
Acts 8:5–12

We are told only that Philip “preached Christ unto them” and that he preached “the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ”. The result was that those who believed the gospel he preached (whatever it was) were baptised. Later, they received the Holy Spirit. Clearly, baptism in water was one of the things spoken of when Philip preached Christ. And clearly, the whole story, including the later outpouring of the Spirit, reflects the pattern of instruction in Acts 2:38.

The Ethiopian eunuch

A little later Philip preached the gospel to the Ethiopian eunuch:

Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus. And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?
Acts 8:35–36

The eunuch’s response shows without question that, again, when Philip “preached unto him Jesus” he preached the need for baptism in water (even if nothing else), and the eunuch clearly understood that.

The Apostle Paul

In Acts 9 when Jesus appeared to Paul (Saul) on the road to Damascus, Paul’s reaction was pretty much identical to the jailer’s (who “sprang in, and came trembling” before being moved to ask his question):

And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do.
Act 9:6

This is another example of the fundamental question, “What must I do?” asked by the jailer, and the people on the day of Pentecost. A little further on when the Lord sent Ananias to tell Paul what he must do, we read,

And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost. And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized.
Acts 9:17-18

So, two points here: Christ’s answer to his question, “What wilt thou have me to do?” entailed having him filled with the Holy Spirit, and getting baptised in water. And again, while the actual instructions were not fully recorded here, the result was: he was baptised. The pattern of the Acts 2 answer is clearly evident, and Luke does not find it necessary to repeat it in full. However, in the later recounting of this story we are given fuller details of what Paul was actually told he must do:

For thou shalt be his witness unto all men of what thou hast seen and heard. And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.
Acts 22:15-16

Again, the same haste, the same instruction, and the same connection with the washing away of sins and calling on the name of the Lord mentioned in the Acts 2 story (Acts 2:17–18, 21, 38 – note the connection of calling on the Lord to be saved and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit). The intent of Jesus, that Paul should be filled with the Holy Spirit, and that he should be his witness unto all men, also recalls Jesus’ words to the disciples before the day of Pentecost:

But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.
Acts 1:8

Paul fully came to believe that Jesus was the Christ either on the road to Damascus or at least on reflection during the three days before meeting Ananias (if he was particularly stubborn, he may not have been fully convinced until his eyes were miraculously opened again – but I think we are all fairly certain it was earlier, on the road to Damascus). However, his sins were not washed away until after Ananias told him what to do, and he did it.

In Paul’s further recounting of his own story in chapter 26 neither baptism nor the Holy Spirit is mentioned (at least by Luke). The first account, then, mentions both baptism and the Holy Spirit, the second mentions only baptism, and the third mentions neither. Furthermore, none of these accounts record Paul receiving the Holy Spirit (only that this was Christ’s desire for him), and the first does not mention the instruction to be baptised. The second records the instruction to be baptised, but does not record that he was. Nevertheless, all accounts are in complete harmony with the preaching of Acts 2, and obviously with each other, omissions notwithstanding.

Lydia and her household

In the lead-up to the story of the jailer, Paul and his companions sought to “preach the word” in Asia, and were “forbidden of the Holy Ghost”. After seeing a vision of a man of Macedonia saying “Come and help us”, he understood the Lord had called them to “preach the gospel” there and they went to Philippi. There he spoke to a group of women, including Lydia:

And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul. And when she was baptized, and her household, she besought us, saying, If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and abide there. And she constrained us.
Acts 16:14-15

Again, Luke gives no specific record of “the things which were spoken of Paul” but we see clearly that at least one of the things spoken of was water baptism, because Lydia and her household also were baptised after hearing them. The record of baptism here is extremely matter-of-fact, and recorded in a manner which seems very “taken-for-granted”, or automatic. In our English version at least, it’s simply noted in the subordinate clause.

As the possessed woman said in the story of the jailer which next follows, “These men are the servants of the most high God, which shew unto us the way of salvation” (which was true, regardless of who said it, and again shows that a mental acknowledgement and understanding of the truth, and even verbal confession of the same, is not sufficient of itself). Lydia and her household had the way of salvation explained to them in “the things which were spoken of Paul”, earlier referred to as preaching the word, or preaching the gospel.

Crispus and the Corinthians

Again, another very simple and general record of Paul’s preaching and its results tells us:

And Crispus, the chief ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with all his house; and many of the Corinthians hearing believed, and were baptized.
Acts 18:8

Which reminds us of Jesus’ own words concerning preaching the gospel:

And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved… .
Mark 16:15–16

These passages all tie together both the answer of Paul to the jailer (to believe on Jesus Christ), and the answer of Peter to the Jews at Pentecost (to, among other things, be baptised). Obviously what the Corinthians “heard”, they responded to.

Should there be any doubt from the lack of detail in the record here that Crispus himself was baptised, Paul later records in 1 Corinthians 1:14 that he was in fact one of the few he had baptised personally.

The preaching and the result

Paul and Silas then, in the story of the jailer, “spake unto him the word of the Lord”, and the jailer and all his household got baptised. Philip “preached Christ unto them” and “the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ”, and the Samaritans got baptised. Philip joined the eunuch and “preached unto him Jesus”, and the eunuch asked to be baptised. Paul was told (in the first account of his conversion) that Jesus wanted him to be filled with the Spirit, and Paul got baptised. Lydia “attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul”, previously described as “preaching the word” and “preaching the gospel” and she and her household got baptised. The Corinthians “hearing” (no doubt the gospel, the word of the Lord, the way of salvation, the word of truth, the gospel of their salvation, what they ought to do), got baptised. They, and others, such as Cornelius, were baptised “the same day”, “straightway”, “when they believed”, “when they heard”, without hindrance, without tarrying, when “commanded”.

All of the similar records which served as examples above omit the specific instruction to be baptised. They do not mention it at all. Yet it was there, just as it was in the story of Pentecost, the story of Cornelius and his household, the story of the Ephesians in Acts 19, and the later account of Paul.

This leads us to understand something about the preaching of the early church. The omission of specific instruction in these stories, including the jailer’s, is not a negative record. The omission does not lessen baptism’s inherent position in the preaching of the gospel – far from it. It is actually positive evidence that baptism was always preached, and this preaching was understood. Luke took this as a given. And in doing so indicates that the church in general, and anybody reading Acts, would also take it as a given. Peter and the eleven, Paul and Silas (Luke’s companions), Ananias, Philip – all preached baptism in water as a matter of course.

This, in turn, is evidence that the message that was preached was the original message of Acts 2, culminating in the message of verses 36–41. In other words, this was, and therefore is, the normative preaching.

A question worth asking is: why wouldn’t it be?

Conclusion One

When the gospel was preached in the book of Acts, water baptism was preached, even where this was not specifically recorded.

Why then were they baptised?

So if the preaching of water baptism was normative, what was the baptism for? Does it stand alone? Or is it very much preached and undertaken in conjunction with the other aspect of Acts 2:38–39, the baptism of the Holy Spirit?

With one exception, there is no direct record of the people in the stories examined so far receiving the Holy Spirit. The Samaritans are the exception. Though there is no preaching on water baptism or on receiving the Holy Spirit detailed there either, the record shows that the people were baptised in water and records them receiving the Holy Spirit. In the full story of Paul, we are at least told that Christ’s intent is that he should be filled with the Spirit, and that he should be baptised in water. His baptism in water is recorded, but his receiving of the Spirit is not.

The Ephesians

If there is any doubt, however, as to the solid connection between baptism in water in these stories, and its relation to the teaching of Acts 2:38 and the promise of the Holy Spirit, it is dealt with in Paul’s own preaching in Acts 19:

And it came to pass, that, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper coasts came to Ephesus: and finding certain disciples, He said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost. And he said unto them, Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John’s baptism. Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should 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 his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied.
Acts 19:1-6

This is precisely the pattern of Acts 2, and the pattern Paul himself had been shown, and shows that baptism in water was undertaken, believing on Christ, as a demonstration of repentance, with a view to receiving remission of sins and the Holy Spirit. For as Paul indicates, John had originally taught,

I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire.
Matthew 3:11

This is the teaching Jesus himself reminded the disciples of in Acts 1. The Ephesians were to be baptised in repentance looking to the one who would give them the Holy Spirit, whom they had not yet received. This clears up any doubt about why people were baptised in water after Paul “spoke the word of the Lord” to them, and what the intent behind that baptism was – what they were baptised “unto”.

Paul was saved after the pattern of the preaching in Acts 2, and Paul preached the same preaching to others.

When Paul later wrote to the church at Ephesus he said, concerning Christ:

In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory.
Ephesians 1:13-14

A very simple fit with Acts 19. It’s unlikely though that Paul was writing only to the twelve men in the Acts 19 story here, which means that the pattern of conversion in the church as a whole fitted the pattern of conversion in the record of Acts in particular. Which, of course, we should expect. In which case, Paul’s teaching in both passages fits the pattern of the outpouring of “the promise of the Holy Spirit” at Pentecost, and the preaching established (or rather, reiterated) there.

Cornelius and the Gentiles

In the other quite substantial record of conversion, that of the Gentiles in the story of Cornelius, the pattern is clearly the same. This again confirms the foundational nature of the day of Pentecost event, and of the disciples’ answer to the people. (In this case “to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call”.) In Acts 10, the angel tells Cornelius to send for Peter:

He lodgeth with one Simon a tanner, whose house is by the sea side: he shall tell thee what thou oughtest to do.
Acts 10:6

This is clarified, should there be any doubt about what “oughtest to do” means, in Acts 11 where Peter recounts the angel’s words:

Who shall tell thee words, whereby thou and all thy house shall be saved.
Acts 11:14

In Acts 16, Paul’s words (or rather, “the word of the Lord” which he spoke) would lead to the salvation of the jailer, and his house. Here, Peter’s words would lead to the salvation of Cornelius, and his house.

Cornelius then sent for Peter, and said to him:

Immediately therefore I sent to thee; … . Now therefore are we all here present before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God.
Acts 10:33

In other words, they were ready to hear what they had to do to be saved. Peter, reaching an important point in his preaching about Christ, said:

To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.
Acts 10:43

Or, in other words, shall be saved. This message is the thrust of the same message already seen in Acts 2 and in Paul’s preaching to the Ephesians. It is the same message Paul presented to the jailer.

Cornelius and his whole household recognised the opportunity and promise of Peter’s words, obviously believing that Jesus was the Christ, and that he would grant them remission of sins. As a result, we read:

While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost. For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter, Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we? And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then prayed they him to tarry certain days.
Acts 10:44-48

When Peter much later recounted the conversion of the Gentiles here, he said,

… Men and brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe. And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us; And put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith.
Acts 15:7-9

Once again, as Paul similarly wrote to the Ephesians, they heard “the word of the gospel” and believed. God bore witness of their wholehearted belief by giving them the Holy Spirit. Only God knows the true state of the heart (Jer 17:9–10, 1 Cor 4:3–4), and only a whole heart gets results (Jer 29:13). Their hearts were purified – their sins remitted, or washed away – through faith, in the presence of faith, by the agency of the Holy Spirit.

When Peter had to explain back in Jerusalem why he (as a Jew) had entered the home of the “unclean” Gentile household, he said,

And as I began to speak, the Holy Ghost fell on them, as on us at the beginning. Then remembered I the word of the Lord, how that he said, John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost. Forasmuch then as God gave them the like gift as he did unto us, who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ; what was I, that I could withstand God?
Acts 11:15-17

The response of the Jews on hearing that the Gentiles had received the Holy Spirit when they believed on the Lord Jesus Christ was,

When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.
Acts 11:15-18

God had granted these who believed on his Son repentance unto life (remission of sins), just as he had the disciples who also believed on him, in the beginning. In this story also, Peter commanded them to be baptised in water, just as he had commanded “every one of” them to do on the day of Pentecost. And there is little doubt that the story and instruction here followed the principle and pattern of Peter’s earlier instruction.

The Samaritans

When a situation arose in Acts 8 where many people had “received the word of God” and been baptised, but had not yet received the Holy Spirit, particular mention is made of the fact. Peter and John came down to Samaria to pray with them:

Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John: Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost: (For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.) Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost.
Acts 8:14-17

Once again, in spite of a lack of details concerning the preaching in this story, it’s clear that the Samaritans were expected not only to be baptised but also to receive the Holy Spirit. “For as yet he was fallen upon none of them” – there was no suggestion that he might not, or that this was unlooked for. The Holy Spirit fell upon them at Pentecost, and fell upon Cornelius and his household, but the Holy Spirit had, as yet, not fallen upon the Samaritans.

Receiving the Holy Spirit obviously entails a freewill request on our part, and a request made in faith, expecting to receive. But though Jesus encouraged us in Luke 11 to ask, seek, and knock, and continue to do so where needed, he also encouraged us by explaining that the desire of the Father (whose promise it is) is “how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?”

The Samaritans, like everyone else, must ask for the promise of the Spirit, and ask in faith. The promise is available, but must be claimed. Baptism in water was called for and undertaken, but accompanying belief and repentance must be active and wholehearted to receive the promise of the Spirit (as indeed it needs to be to receive anything asked of the Lord).

Whatever the reason for the delay in receiving the Holy Spirit among the Samaritans, the pattern of instruction and sought-after result established in Acts 2 is identical to the process carried through and expected here.

As indicated already, the story of the Samaritans and the story of Cornelius, particularly, also show that baptism in water and baptism in the Holy Spirit are related but independent experiences. In the record of the book of Acts, receiving the Holy Spirit is always an event, never an assumption. There are four direct conversion records of people actually receiving the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts, and it is always a very distinct and very apparent event – as much as baptism in water itself is also.

The apostles’ testimony before the council

Bearing further witness to the preaching of the apostles, and possibly also to this perceptible and demarcating character of the baptism in the Holy Spirit, is the claim made before the council:

Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him.
Acts 5:31-32

This passage shows again that the day of Pentecost message, concerning the exaltation of Christ and the resultant opportunity for repentance and remission of sins, is expected to culminate in the gift of the Holy Spirit for those who gladly receive or obey the Lord’s instruction. (Something we have seen elsewhere to include water baptism, though, once again, not directly mentioned here.)

The council was likely aware of the report of what happened on the day of Pentecost, and since that time. They could not, even if they wanted to, claim to have partaken in the receiving of that gift.

The Corinthians

The brief record of the conversion of Crispus and the Corinthians also has been noted, and while it mentions in Acts only that the Corinthians heard the gospel, believed, and were baptised, Paul writes in 1 Corinthians not only of Crispus’ baptism but also of all the church:

For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.
1 Corinthians 12:13

Christ’s intent

When Paul was told by Jesus to go into the city, where it would be told him what he must do, Ananias explained that the Lord had sent him that Paul might be “filled with the Holy Spirit”. Without further detail of Ananias’ preaching, we read Paul arose and was baptised. In a later account, we read he was told to do so, “calling on the name of the Lord” with a view to “wash away [his] sins”.

The Ethiopian eunuch

One last passage that may be worth noting is the story of the Ethiopian eunuch, already covered concerning baptism in water. There is a variant reading (here in brackets) which would make the story read:

And when they were come up out of the water [the Holy Spirit fell upon the eunuch], and the angel of the Lord suddenly took Philip away … .
Acts 8:39

This reading appears in the Codex Alexandrinus, a number of other manuscripts and early versions, and is quoted by some early writers such as Jerome, Augustine, Ephraem, Didymus, and Cyril of Jerusalem. Some commentators think it likely it was in the original, but I mention it here only as a possibility to be aware of. If nothing else, it reminds us that omission is not necessarily evidence that something didn’t happen.

Conclusion Two

When the gospel was preached in the book of Acts, the preaching was that of Acts 2, culminating in the message of verses 38–39, even where this was not specifically recorded.

The fact of baptism in the Holy Spirit

If the preaching of Acts is the preaching of Acts 2 – and again, why should it not be? – then the records of conversion in Acts imply both baptism in water and baptism in the Spirit are present even where they are not mentioned.

While the records examined show the independent need for repentance and water baptism, it is the baptism of the Holy Spirit – “the promise of the Father”, in Jesus’ words – which holds by far the greater importance in the day of Pentecost message. As Jesus himself indicated, John the Baptist may have baptised, or washed, them with water, but they were about to be baptised with God’s Holy Spirit. Peter’s message, as reflected in Paul’s to the Ephesians, was to direct the people to repent, and to be baptised in Christ’s name with a view to receiving remission of sins. The baptism of the Holy Spirit was promised to those who did so – this promise being available to “as many as the Lord our God shall call”.

In summing up his message to the people who witnessed the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (the message that Jesus was the Christ and had died and risen again, and ascended), Peter said,

Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear.
Acts 2:33

In the story of Acts 2, and the words of Jesus in the lead-up to it in Acts 1, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit is obviously the central focus. In Acts 1, there is Christ’s command to wait for the coming baptism of the Spirit, which he calls “the promise of the Father”. There also we have his explanation of the power of the Spirit coming upon them, and the witness they will be to the world as a result. In chapter two the miraculous baptism with the Holy Spirit is recorded taking place in Jerusalem. Great crowds gather as a result and want to know what it means. The disciples describe the outpouring of the Spirit as the long-looked-for fulfilment of prophecy. The connection the baptism of the Spirit bore to Christ, his work, and his resurrection is explained. The reason is given for the granting and appearance of the Holy Spirit at that time. Finally, the people are told how they should go about receiving the Holy Spirit for themselves, by being baptised in repentance in Christ’s name every one with a view to receiving God’s promise. This is the foundational event of the book of Acts after the ascension.

In short, there are very large neon arrows pointing all the way through Acts 1 & 2 to the climactic statement,

For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.
Acts 2:39

But here’s the rub. As already noted, those who heard the preaching of Peter and “gladly received his word” were baptised. And yet, nowhere does it say that any of the 3000 or so who were baptised received the Holy Spirit.

Were they disappointed?

They saw the 120 receive the Holy Spirit. They heard what it meant. They knew the outpouring was prophesied. They knew the Spirit was now available through Christ’s death, resurrection, and exaltation. They heard that they too needed to believe on Christ, repent, and be baptised, and that they also would receive the Holy Spirit of promise and of prophecy. Being convinced, they did as God, and his Son, and his disciples said they should.

I ask again, were they disappointed?

I don’t have any doubt, and I’m pretty sure you don’t either, that they did receive the Holy Spirit. That’s understood – “and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls”. This is a story of conversion and salvation. Luke, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, did not record all the details. With all that has already been said and recorded, however, we get the point. They responded; God answered; they lived happily ever after (quite literally if they continued to abide in his word).

We know, to paraphrase Paul’s later question to the Ephesians, “unto what they were baptised”.

A template

What the story of the 3000 does do for us, however, is to provide a template for understanding all those other accounts we have seen where a simple record of the gospel being preached similarly resulted in baptism in water.

The 3000 were baptised with the intent of receiving the Holy Spirit. Paul was baptised with the intent of receiving the Holy Spirit. Nowhere does it record the 3000 receiving the Holy Spirit. Nowhere in any of the three accounts of Paul’s conversion does it record that Paul received the Holy Spirit.

But while the direct record of the apostle Paul receiving the Holy Spirit is completely omitted, we all “get it”. As in the story of the 3000, we understand that that was what he was baptised unto, that was what Christ intended for him, and the rest is history.

If we are intended to understand that the 3000 sought for and received the Holy Spirit of promise, we are intended to understand also that Paul sought for and received the Holy Spirit – as did, no doubt, the jailer Paul baptised. The preaching was established. The reasons were explained. The precedent was set.

The apostle Paul obviously received the Holy Spirit. But Luke does not record it.

As noted earlier, if we remove the specific preaching of Acts 2:38–39, the story of the 3000 reads just like any of the other stories which record water baptism in response to the preaching of the gospel.

Other general records in Acts

The other more general records of conversion in Acts are all similar to the following:

Howbeit many of them which heard the word believed; and the number of the men was about five thousand.
Acts 4:4

(To whom Peter had preached “Repent ye, and be converted . . .”.)

And believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women.
Acts 5:14

And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith.
Acts 6:7

And some of them were men of Cyprus and Cyrene, which, when they were come to Antioch, spake unto the Grecians, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord.
Acts 11:20-21

But the word of God grew and multiplied.
Acts 12:24

And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.
Acts 13:48

And it came to pass in Iconium, that they went both together into the synagogue of the Jews, and so spake, that a great multitude both of the Jews and also of the Greeks believed.
Acts 14:1

All of which, and others similar (by my quick reckoning: Acts 9:31, 9:42, 13:12, 17:11–12, 18:4, 18:25–26, 19:18–20, 28:24), are in complete harmony with the other conversion records and the Acts 2 story – again, despite the omissions of detail. They are shorthand reports of conversion. The one story here which does give a little extra information being the story of Apollos in Ephesus, whom Aquila and Priscilla took in and “expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly”.

The fuller accounts then explain those with less detail, and all demonstrate the “common salvation”, or “faith” as Jude writes, which was “once-for-all delivered to the saints”.

The record of Acts

In many instances where water baptism is recorded then, the preaching of water baptism is consistently not recorded, but presumed understood. Since these instances clearly follow the established pattern shown in the story of the 3000 at Pentecost, and elsewhere in Acts, where the preaching is actually specified, it is more than reasonable to understand the specific preaching of Acts 2 as the preaching of Acts in general. More than reasonable, it seems unavoidably required.

If this is so, then the more important aspect of that preaching – baptism in the Holy Spirit through Christ – seems also to be required. Further, the demonstration in the more detailed records of the baptism in the Holy Spirit being the goal, the culmination, and fulfilment of both this preaching and its resultant baptism of repentance, requires us to view its presence as understood in the record where it is unmentioned. As with the unspecified preaching of water baptism in many passages where baptism results, this omission actually indicates the seeking for and receiving of the Spirit is a given, and it is taken for granted as the goal of the belief, baptism and repentance.

The baptism of repentance in water is then the event most often recorded, as with the jailer and his household, simply to show that the Word of the Lord was received and acted upon. We know the rest. We know what that means. One passage simply tells us that some responded to the Word; that means they got baptised. Another passage simply tells us that some were baptised; that means they were seeking he who baptises with the Spirit, Jesus Christ, for the promise of the Spirit.

Some no doubt receive the Holy Spirit either before baptism (as with Cornelius), or the same day (as with the Ephesians), or sometime later (as with the Samaritans — the biblical record covers all the bases). Individual time frames in these stories will always vary, because the gift of the Holy Spirit, like any other “good thing” from the Lord, can only be obtained in a moment of genuine personal faith, and in the desire of a whole heart. Salvation may be obtained by many people, even all at once, but only as a more or less simultaneous collection of personal events.

Stories of conversion in Acts then vary in detail, but not in essence. Less detailed passages are explained by more specific passages. If we want to know more completely what Aquila and Priscilla actually taught Apollos, who “knew only the baptism of John”, we can likely find the answer, for example, in the following fuller story of the twelve Ephesians (who may even have received their own imperfect understanding at his hands).

So while the receiving of the Holy Spirit is not mentioned in the majority of conversion records in the book of Acts, or even in the majority of those which mention water baptism, the context clearly shows it is really to be understood as present in them all. That context demonstrates the book of Acts to be completely harmonious in its record of preaching, reaction, and result.

The terms

One final point to note before coming to a third conclusion on the record of Acts: the different terms used to refer to the receiving of the Holy Spirit in Acts are all interrelated:

  • They were “baptised with the Spirit” (Pentecost, Cornelius’ household, and implied in the Ephesians’ story by Paul’s reference to John the Baptist’s teaching).
  • The Spirit is spoken of as “falling” upon them (Pentecost, Samaritans, Cornelius’ household – and possibly the Ethiopian eunuch).
  • The Spirit was “poured out” (shed forth) upon them (Pentecost, Cornelius’ household).
  • They were “filled” with the Spirit (Pentecost, Paul).
  • The Spirit “came” upon them (Pentecost, Cornelius, Ephesians).
  • The Spirit was “given” to them (Pentecost [Acts 11:17, 15:8], Samaritans, Cornelius – and in general: Acts 5:32).
  • And they all “received” the Spirit (Pentecost, Samaritans, Cornelius, Ephesians, and Paul – implied in his own question to the Ephesians in Acts 19).

It’s worthy of note that all seven terms are applied to the Pentecost event. Secondly, the term “receiving” the Spirit is associated with all five instances where the Holy Spirit is mentioned.

If we refer outside the record of Acts, Paul’s being filled with the Spirit and receiving the Spirit obviously also connects with the “pouring out” (or shedding) in Titus 3:5–7.

Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
Titus 3:5-7

All of these records in Acts are connected directly or indirectly by the use of these terms.

Conclusion Three

When people in the book of Acts responded to the preaching of the gospel in belief, repentance, and obedience, they were baptised in water and baptised in the Holy Spirit, even where this was not specifically recorded.

How we know we’ve received the Holy Spirit

In all this discussion of baptism in water and baptism in the Spirit, I haven’t yet mentioned speaking in tongues. (Other than in my opening and unavoidably in a couple of biblical quotes). The original question this letter set out to answer concerned my view that speaking in tongues was the norm in the record of Acts.

I believe the principle of what we’ve gone through here already goes a long way to explaining the answer to that question, and it doesn’t take much to extrapolate from this to the next level.

As noted, baptism with the Holy Spirit is implied throughout the book of Acts. A direct record of people actually being baptised with the Spirit occurs four times (leaving the variant reading on the eunuch to one side). On three of these four occasions, speaking in tongues is expressly recorded as accompanying the baptism. In the only instance it is not, it has always been considered by many commentators to be clearly implied.

If the principle applies, it would seem on this basis alone that “at the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses, shall the matter be established”. Certainly, if we compare the proportion of omissions here (one in a total of four), speaking in tongues has a greater claim, on this basis, to being “understood” in receiving the Holy Spirit than baptism has to be included in the preaching of the gospel, or baptism in the Spirit has to be connected with the instances of water baptism. But as seen, I hope, omissions do not overrule clear context. In fact, as seen, omissions can provide positive evidence that something is in fact understood, and to be taken as a given. The exception can prove the rule.

Pentecost

The first instance is of course the day of Pentecost, on which “they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance”.

The multitude that gathered as a result had no idea that the speaking in other languages they found so fascinating was connected with the Holy Spirit, but simply asked “What meaneth this?”– referring to the tongues. Peter with the other apostles answered, “this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel”, and explained that this was the pouring out of God’s Spirit that Joel had prophesied. The disciples’ connection of “this” (speaking in tongues) with “that” (the outpouring of the Spirit) was not qualified further than that in the record, and the people in such case had no reason to separate them.

Peter then explained that behind this event was the man Jesus Christ, whom they had recently crucified. And then explained that the prophesied promise of the Father had been obtained by Christ through his death and resurrection, and poured out.

Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear.
Acts 2:33

Again, Peter and the disciples, certainly as far as the people were concerned, did not make a distinction between the pouring out of the Spirit, and “this, which ye now see and hear”. What the people saw and heard was everyone miraculously speaking in other languages. “This” is what they asked about. “This” is what Peter identified as the prophesied outpouring of the Spirit. Technically, Peter did not strictly say here that the Lord had shed forth the Holy Spirit. He said having obtained the promise of the Holy Spirit, Christ had shed forth “this” “which ye now see and hear”. But we know that “this” was the outpouring of the Spirit.

Nothing in the record here suggests Peter, or the other apostles, ever distinguished between the miracle and the promise. Why would they? All of the disciples (the number around 120 we assume), had received the Holy Spirit speaking in tongues. Did the disciples know it was to be different, or might be different, for the people they spoke to?

It is certainly reasonable to infer from the preaching and event recorded here that when the people were told they could also receive the promise, for it was to all, “even as many as the Lord our God shall call”, that they would expect to speak in tongues– as had everyone else. It is also reasonable to infer from the disciples’ preaching here that the disciples expected the same.

If I were seeing and hearing that event for the first time, and heard the identical preaching that is specifically recorded here for us, I would expect no different. Neither, I believe, in that precise situation, would anyone else. Certainly, unless the disciples were fully aware it might be different for others, and explained this at length, there would have been a lot of disappointed people among the 3000 when they were baptised and then received this supposed long-promised and prophesied “outpouring” invisibly and inaudibly.

If the disciples were aware, and taught the people, that receiving the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues did not necessarily go together, it is not recorded here. It is not recorded in the book of Acts at all. Perhaps that is an omission of detail. But we might do well to keep in mind that the teaching here (let alone the event) positively and directly connects them at least twice. This fact is not so easily explained, or rather walked back, by a simple omission of detail. “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder” is a principle worth bearing in mind.

It’s reasonable to suggest that the answer to these things, one way or the other, must ultimately be connected with why God chose the miracle of speaking in tongues in the first place. Because choose it he obviously did, and connect it with baptism in the Spirit he obviously did, in the record of Acts. Before we dismiss the need for the connection, we should understand why it exists.

The Gentiles

The second instance of speaking in tongues occurs in Acts 10. When Cornelius and the “many that were come together” in his house listened to Peter’s preaching, the Holy Spirit “fell on all them which heard the word.” All of them received the gift of the Holy Spirit. If we did not have the incidental record of speaking in tongues in verse 46 the story would read:

While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost. […] Then answered Peter, Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?
Acts 10:44-47

Which is essentially the record related for us in the rehearsing of the story in Acts 11, and expounded on in Acts 15. (Speaking in tongues is not mentioned by Peter in Acts 11, or at least, his mention is not recorded by Luke.) The fundamental event (and it is very much an event and not simply an assumption, even in this version), and the fundamental emphasis here, is that “the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word”. And that the Jews were astonished because on the Gentiles “was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost”, and that they had, as Peter said, “received the Holy Ghost as well as we”. This is the recorded fact that caused the Jews back in Jerusalem to hold their peace and glorify God, saying, “Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life”.

In such a record as the altered one above, incomplete (but accurate) though it may be, there is no question about the fact of this outpouring, or the timing of this outpouring, or the extent of this outpouring. We know who received the Spirit, we know when they received the Spirit, and we know, above all, they did receive the Spirit. And if we had no further information than this, we, or certainly I, would have no hesitation in identifying what happened here with the day of Pentecost template.

I’d like to restate that: I believe this account, simply as recorded above, and with no more context needed than the day of Pentecost story, would be clear and reasonable evidence that these people all spoke in tongues. I have no doubt whatsoever that if speaking in tongues was not mentioned in Acts 10 many would argue with that conclusion. But they would not do so because the internal evidence was lacking.

It may seem a strange thing to say (and I “speak as a fool”), but I would be quite happy if the reference to speaking in tongues in verse 46 did not exist, when it comes to demonstrating the connection we’re examining here.

However, in the actual record, after telling us the Holy Spirit fell on all of them, and that the Jews were astonished that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Spirit, we are given the additional information, “For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God”. With or without this information, the story is in harmony with, and points us to, the Pentecost event.

Were the Gentiles an exception?

It’s sometimes suggested that the Gentiles were a special case where things had to be very clear. Speaking in tongues was present so that everyone knew for certain they had received the Spirit. But what exactly did they have to know? That they had received the Spirit? Or that they had received remission of their sins? That God had “cleansed” them? If they are one and the same, then don’t we all have to know this? Don’t we all have to be certain? Remission of sins is the difference between life and death after all, and someone whose heart deep down is “keeping back part of the price” will not receive life.

We know from scripture it is easy for us to be “hearers of the word” and yet “deceive our own selves”. Peter wrote, concerning Cornelius and his household, that “God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us; and put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith”. God bore witness to the cleansing of the Gentiles’ hearts, as he had with the Jews’. There was no difference. The Gentiles are not the exception here; they follow the rule.

The Ephesians

The third instance takes place in Ephesus. Paul asked the Ephesians (seemingly after establishing they were baptised), “Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed?” or “Did you receive the Holy Ghost when you believed?” A lot of people today do not understand this question. They do not ask this question. They do not understand how it can be asked. They do not understand how it can be answered. That suggests a different understanding than that of the early church. How is it supposed to be answered? Most people today (who consider themselves “believers”) when asked, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed” are thinking to themselves “Doesn’t everybody?” Many are even offended.

When the men responded that they had no knowledge of the Holy Spirit, or perhaps no knowledge that the Holy Spirit had been given, Paul asked them, “Unto what then were ye baptized?” Either this suggests that Paul already had some indication that they had been baptized, or he assumed it as automatic for someone who “believed”.

This raises the question of what these men believed. We understand that for Paul “believed” meant “believed on Jesus Christ”, or perhaps more fully, “believed on Jesus Christ for the remission of sins”. But if Paul had already established that these men believed in Jesus, the explanation in verse 4 may not have been new to them, and may not have triggered the result recorded in verse 5:

Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus. When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
Acts 19:4-5

Whatever these men believed, and whatever Paul knew of their background, Paul’s own use and understanding of the term “believed” here shows a couple of things: One, not only is there a connection between belief in Christ, and receiving the Holy Spirit, there is also a degree of separation between them – they are independent as well as interdependent.

While nobody receives the Holy Spirit without faith in Jesus Christ, it is possible in some sense to believe in Jesus Christ without receiving the Holy Spirit. We have already seen this in the Acts record of the 3000 at Pentecost, in the story of Paul’s conversion, and in the story of the Samaritans. Belief that Jesus was the Christ in these cases clearly came some time before they received the Holy Spirit.

Paul’s question, however, also shows that belief in Christ is intended to bring us to the point of receiving the Holy Spirit. His connection of being baptised unto receiving the Spirit with being baptised believing on Christ Jesus shows how closely they are tied.

An identifiable event

The second thing Paul’s question concerning the Holy Spirit and belief shows is that Paul was able to ask his question because receiving the Holy Spirit was an identifiable experience. The gift of the Spirit was not to be automatically assumed on initial belief in Christ. If it was not identifiable, he could not ask the question, and we could not answer it. He did not ask them, for example, whether they had prayed to receive the Holy Spirit, but whether they had received the Holy Spirit. For Paul this was a simple question. And for Paul this obviously had a simple answer.

The whole story provides an example of how this principle works: Baptism in water (as this story itself clearly shows) is undertaken in the presence of belief in Christ. In fact, this story demonstrates that without belief in Christ, there is no baptism – their previous baptism was void. Hence, they were baptised again, “believ[ing] on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus”.

Paul could well have asked, “Have you been baptised in water since you believed? Or “Were you baptised in water when you believed?” The question is perfectly understandable because both baptism in water and belief in Christ are independent as well as interdependent. The question is answerable because the event of baptism in water is clearly identifiable – simple question, simple answer.

Paul can also ask, “Have you been baptised in the Holy Spirit since you believed?“ Or “Were you baptised with the Holy Spirit when you believed?” for precisely the same reasons. The question is perfectly understandable because both baptism in the Spirit and belief in Christ are independent as well as interdependent. The question is answerable because the event of baptism in the Spirit is clearly identifiable – simple question, simple answer.

Answering the questions

Once again, if we read this story without the reference to speaking in tongues (and prophecy), it would read like this:

And it came to pass, that, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper coasts came to Ephesus: and finding certain disciples, He said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost. And he said unto them, Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John’s baptism. Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should 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 his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them […] And all the men were about twelve.
Acts 19:2-7

I believe anyone reading this story simply as recorded above would have to ask themselves at least two related questions:

  1. How were the Ephesians supposed to know whether they had received the Holy Spirit when they believed?
  2. How did they know – how did Luke and Paul know, how do we know – the Ephesians received the Holy Spirit when Paul laid his hands on them?

Without further information than the above and only the prior example of Acts 2 before us, I believe the conclusion that these people spoke in tongues would be the simplest explanation for the latter, because it would be the best supported by other scripture and example.

However, if that was the case (and we know it was), that in turn suggests the former question is best answered by a slightly qualified explanation: not only did it happen, it was expected.

The Samaritans

The last story that contains an actual record of people receiving the Holy Spirit is that of the Samaritans. As already noted, Philip “preached Christ unto them” and the people in the city “with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spake, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did”. There was “great joy in that city”, and “when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.”

When the apostles at Jerusalem “heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John:”

Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost: (For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.) Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost. And when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money, Saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost.
Acts 8:15-19

So they had “received the word of God” as such, but they had not yet “received the Holy Spirit”. This is the only one of the four direct accounts which doesn’t record speaking in tongues. Neither, we should note, does it mention any other manifestation or identifiable sign, other than the laying on of hands. It records the preaching of Christ and the kingdom of God. It records belief. It records great joy. It records wonder at the miracles and signs which were done. It records baptism in the name of Jesus Christ. The question that first arises here is: how did the disciples know that the Holy Spirit had fallen on “none of them”?

The term “fallen upon” is the same term Peter applied to the event at Pentecost and the event in Cornelius’ household. The first three direct accounts then are connected by the same term (maybe four if the variant reading in the story of the Ethiopian is original).

The account records that “as yet he was fallen on none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus”. We have just seen in the story of the Ephesians that the “baptism of repentance” is undertaken believing on Jesus Christ, and the instruction on the day of Pentecost was similarly, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ … and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost”.

Some might take the Acts 2 statement on first reading to suggest that receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit is automatic. This passage shows that it is not. We do not automatically receive the Holy Spirit when we are baptised believing in Jesus Christ. We cannot assume that. Again, there is a degree of independence between baptism in water and baptism in the Spirit.

If the Holy Spirit can be received without external evidence, how could Luke suggest the Spirit had fallen on none of them? This appears to have been a large number of people. They are people, moreover, who have responded in obedience and repentance with belief and great joy. But a simple statement of fact – unexplained – tells us that none of them, not a single one, had received the Holy Spirit.

When people try to find a solution to this question, other than external evidence, they are usually driven to suggest one of the possibilities below:

  1. The apostles had not yet laid hands on any of them.
  2. No-one at all had yet laid hands on them, or prayed with them to receive the Holy Spirit.
  3. They themselves had not yet prayed to receive the Holy Spirit.
  4. No-one had yet mentioned the Holy Spirit to them, or discussed the availability of the Holy Spirit with them.

Each of these has problems, but the main problem with these suggestions is that there is a fifth:

  1. All of the above.

And when we turn to the story of Cornelius and his household we find that ‘e’ applies, apparently, to all of them. And in spite of this, “the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word”.

The apostles had not laid hands on the Gentile household. No-one had prayed with them to receive the Holy Spirit. They themselves had not prayed to receive the Holy Spirit. And if we can go by the recorded details of Peter’s preaching there, Peter had not yet gotten to the point of speaking about the gift of the Holy Spirit or even baptism in water. In fact, the Samaritans were, in a sense, one step ahead of Cornelius and the people he had gathered there, in that they had already been baptised, and no doubt with an understanding of what they were being baptised unto.

If it is entirely possible for the Holy Spirit, then, to simply fall upon people as they believe that Jesus Christ will grant them remission of sins, and if it is possible to receive the Holy Spirit in a manner invisible and inaudible, so to speak, how can we possibly know that not a single person in this city had received the Holy Spirit? And why would Luke not explain the reason?

If Cornelius or anyone else can receive the Holy Spirit simply in the process of desiring remission of sins from Jesus Christ, and the receiving can be invisible, how could we ever simply say of a group of people, who had been baptised in Christ’s name for the remission of sins, and had great joy, that the Holy Spirit had fallen on none of them? Can we discern between belief, baptism, great joy, and the gift of the Holy Spirit?

The solution that completely removes the mysteries here is the understanding that the gift of the Holy Spirit is accompanied by speaking in tongues, as it is in the other three accounts. Why shouldn’t it be? If we want a simple answer, and an obvious answer, being the one best supported by the three other records in Acts, we have it. Some may argue with this solution, but there is no doubt it answers the questions.

The implication

The reason many do not want speaking in tongues to be the solution here is that the omission of its mention in this passage has a profound implication. It would mean the fact was “understood”. And if it is understood, or a given, here, then it is positive evidence it is understood elsewhere as well – whether mentioned or not. No explanation was given, because no explanation was necessary.

Four accounts which all recorded speaking in tongues would be hard to argue with, but beyond doubt it would be argued with. Some will always say that maybe it didn’t happen that way in instances not recorded. Three clear witnesses, however, and one instance where it is seen to be understood, not needing explanation, is evidence that covers all instances, recorded or not.

As seen elsewhere in the Acts conversion stories, an omission of detail in the right context can be positive evidence that the presence of something is understood.

Simon the sorcerer

The second point of internal evidence in this story concerns the reaction of Simon the sorcerer:

And when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money, Saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost.
Acts 8:18-19

Simon’s reaction seems to indicate he saw something here that was new, something that was more than a simple laying on of hands and prayer, and it was something that excited him.

Since we know from the previous verses that the Holy Spirit “had as yet fallen on none of them”, we also know that, previous to this point, no-one had spoken in tongues. If anyone had, it would not have been possible to say that no-one had received the Spirit. And if the case had been different, and the Holy Spirit had already fallen on some or even one of them, we would not be able to say with any certainty (in the light of the other records) that none of them had spoken in tongues.

What this means is that if the Samaritans did begin speaking in tongues here, it would have been the first time Simon had seen this particular miracle (a miracle he understood to be the receiving of the Holy Spirit). And if the Samaritans were speaking in tongues one after another as Peter and John moved among them and prayed, the growing scale of the event would have astounded him all the more. These things would certainly and simply and reasonably explain his excitement.

And, again, in the light of the other records, it would be very difficult to suggest that no-one here spoke in tongues.

If what Simon “saw” was indeed what the Jews “heard” in the house of Cornelius, then “this, which ye now see and hear” on the day of Pentecost was the same thing seen and heard here as Peter and John prayed with them. The point has also often been made that Simon had

… beforetime in the same city used sorcery, and bewitched the people of Samaria, giving out that himself was some great one: To whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, This man is the great power of God. And to him they had regard, because that of long time he had bewitched them with sorceries.
Acts 8:9-11

And that though he himself had believed and “continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done” this is the first time he offered money for the ability to duplicate what he saw.

The evidence suggests that what he saw was miraculous, and excited him, and the record shows he knew this to be the receiving of the Holy Spirit. If we allow the record elsewhere to interpret the record here, it suggests he saw them speaking in tongues.

The laying on of hands

In connection with this, the passage here poses a similar question to the one looked at in the example of the Ephesians. Quite aside from the question of what Simon saw, how did the apostles themselves know that the individual Samaritans received the Holy Spirit when they prayed for them and laid hands on them?

Is the Holy Spirit imposed by the laying on of hands, whether the individual is seeking with a whole heart or not? Or does the Holy Spirit fall upon those whose heart is right, who are calling on God and expecting to receive something of him, as the result of a freewill request and with genuine faith in Jesus Christ? The first suggestion is not credible, since no man “shall receive any thing of the Lord” unless he “ask in faith, nothing wavering” (James 1:5–8), and the laying on of hands, or similarly, anointing with oil, must be combined with “the prayer of faith” (James 5:15).

Clearly, the laying on of hands, by an apostle or any other, unless in the presence of a wholehearted seeking and genuine faith, does not result in the gift of the Holy Spirit. God “is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” and “without faith it is impossible to please him”. So, again, how did Peter and John determine the result as they moved among the people? Did they look into their hearts? As God did with Cornelius? How did they know, and how can it be recorded, how can they say, that they laid their hands upon them “and they received the Holy Spirit”?

An answer to this question, of course, has already been given in the story of the Ephesians. “When Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied.” And as Peter said of Cornelius and his household, “And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us”.

A harmony of evidence

Summing up then, how could they know the Holy Spirit had fallen on none of the Samaritans? The story of the Holy Spirit falling on Cornelius and his household offers a simple explanation. How do we know what Simon saw? The story of what they saw at Pentecost offers a simple explanation. How did Peter and John know the Samaritans had received the Holy Spirit with the laying on of their hands? The story of Paul laying hands on the Ephesians offers a simple explanation.

Imagine if things were reversed. If the story of the Samaritans contained the information “and they spake with tongues, and prophesied”, and the story of the Ephesians didn’t, what would we believe happened at Ephesus?

If the story of Simon contained the information “for [he] heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God”, and the story of Cornelius didn’t, what would we believe happened at Caesarea?

These records all explain one another. The fact their individual pieces of evidence can be viewed as completely interchangeable and yet still make perfect sense demonstrates the underlying unity. This interchangeability is the more noteworthy because it must explain more than one type of question in these records. It must explain not only why someone was believed to have received the Spirit, but also why it was believed they hadn’t.

We can know, for example, that Cornelius and the Ephesians received the Spirit because they spoke in tongues. But this cannot show us that someone hasn’t received the Spirit, unless speaking in tongues always accompanies the giving. It is one thing to say that someone who speaks in tongues has received the Spirit, but another thing to say that someone who receives the Spirit will speak in tongues.

Only the latter understanding enables us to say someone has not received the Holy Spirit. And only the latter understanding can explain how we might know the Spirit had “fallen upon none of them”. It is also only such an understanding that enables us to understand and answer Paul’s question, “Have ye received the Holy Spirit since ye believed?” with either a yes or a no.

The three subsequent records

One final time before a fourth conclusion: Take the three subsequent accounts after Acts 2 of Acts 8, 10, and 19 and remove the references to speaking in tongues. Compare the internal evidence in each with the example and pattern of the original day of Pentecost event, and with each other.

Each of these accounts has at least two items of internal evidence which point in the same direction: The story of Cornelius shows the receiving of the Holy Spirit to be instant, identifiable in every case, and certifying. The story of the Ephesians shows the receiving of the Spirit to be likewise instant, identifiable, and to some degree independent of “belief”. The story of the Samaritans shows the receiving of the Spirit to be, again, instant, identifiable, to some degree independent of “belief”, and likely miraculous.

Imagine, again, that the only full record we have to compare with these accounts is the day of Pentecost story. There we see the event that happened to all, and there we see the apostles directly connect speaking in tongues with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit twice in their preaching. If we compare this with the three other accounts, what conclusion would we come to? And for which of these three accounts would we draw that conclusion?

Conclusion Four

When people were baptised in the Spirit in the book of Acts, they spoke in tongues, even where this was not specifically recorded.
And as a result of the first four conclusions:

Conclusion Five

In the stories of salvation in the book of Acts, the people were baptised in water and in the Holy Spirit, and they spoke in tongues as they received the Holy Spirit, even where some or all of these things were not specifically recorded.

The window of Acts

In this letter, I have tried to limit the focus closely to the record of Acts. The book of Acts holds a pivotal importance for our understanding of salvation. The gospels speak at length of salvation, but generally they do so looking ahead to and beyond the death and resurrection of Christ. The epistles also speak of salvation, but generally they do so to people already saved, and often in reference to their conversion in the past.

The book of Acts is the actual record of that salvation and conversion, starting in Jerusalem, and extending to “all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth”. It records how people everywhere were born again – born of water and of the Spirit with a view to entering the kingdom of God. It is the concrete example of how people repented and received remission of sins. It demonstrates the fulfilment of John’s baptism in water in Jesus’ baptism in the Holy Spirit. It portrays the gospel that was preached “to every creature”. All of which, in the record, takes place under the umbrella, or within the envelope, of belief in Christ and his word.

Whatever conclusions we might come to from first reading the gospels and epistles, it is the book of Acts, the actual history, the open window, which explains and clarifies the reality. If at times we find the discussion of salvation, belief, repentance, remission of sins, water baptism, or receiving the Holy Spirit in the gospels or epistles difficult to piece together or understand, we can and should open the window of Acts to see the example provided for us. This is the example by which we can judge the accuracy of our understanding. The experience and beliefs of too many people today bear no real relation to the original reality and preaching of the book of Acts.

Many people today identify only in a general or superficial sense with the stories of “belief” in the book of Acts, and maybe with something like the short answer of Paul to the Philippian jailer. Unfortunately, most of the important details and stories that explain the specifics of this belief and conversion are either unknown, ignored, or considered things to be explained away – explained away as unnecessary, deviations from the norm, or not for today. Many would identify, for example, with a figure like Crispus, who has “believed on the Lord”. But they are not a Crispus who, as we see more fully elsewhere, was baptised in water and in the Holy Spirit.

Central to this problem, I believe, is the misunderstanding or misrepresentation of what saved by faith really means.

Making the connections

In closing, when comparing the example of Acts with the gospels and epistles, it is instructive to look at Christ’s own opening comments in Acts 1:

And, being assembled together with them, commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith he, ye have heard of me. For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence.
Acts 1:4-5

Jesus says he has spoken to them already of the “promise of the Father”, the baptism with the Holy Spirit. Where in the gospels did he do this? Since Jesus himself is never elsewhere recorded as using the term “baptised” with the Spirit, or “promise of the Father” (except for the likely duplicate in Luke 24), which of the instances in which he discussed the Holy Spirit is he referring to?

And if, as we have seen, the experience of being baptised in the Spirit in Acts is recalled and referred to in the epistles, which of the many mentions of the Spirit in the epistles are speaking of the same “promise of the Father”?

What if all these references are simply speaking of the same thing? The gift and experience revealed in the book of Acts? Indeed, why shouldn't they be? Why can't they be? And if they are? Then we need to think again about Paul's question in Acts 19:

Have ye received the Holy Spirit since ye believed?

How belief really saves us

Read more …

The reason for speaking in tongues

Read more …

AUTHOR


Mark Wattchow

Mark Wattchow is the pastor of the Christchurch Revival Fellowship in New Zealand. The thoughts and understandings expressed here are solely his own.

Share this post