Article of the Month






THE title of this article is suggested by the language of Acts 2:38, a passage rendered in the RV as follows: "Repent ye and be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of your sins; and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" And the purpose of this study is to reflect upon some of the basic problems with which these words of the apostle Peter confront the reader of Acts. In particular I have in view certain questions that relate to the teaching concerning the Holy Spirit as that comes to expression in this verse and in the larger context of this Lucan writing. Repentance and baptism will be under discussion very largely only as that may be required to illumine the basic question of the nature of the operations of the Holy Spirit.

An advantage of this approach is that, whereas such matters as repentance and baptism are not reflected, upon with sufficient frequency and fulness to allow dogmatic formulations of these doctrines on the basis of the data of Acts alone there is a pervasive occupation with the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. The distinctive approach of Luke to the history of the Christian church which the records may be summed up in terms of an interpretation of its origins and development as being basically and conspicuously the work of the Holy Spirit. Pentecost is viewed as the foundation of all that depicted in Acts is the age of the Spirit," an age, that stands apart as "the last days" of prophecy (Acts 2:17) which have been decisively introduced by the divine action in "pouring out" the Spirit.

Acts indeed is not narrowly pneumatological. The promise of the Spirit is "the promise of the Father" (1:4; Luke 24:49). And it is the exalted Christ who pours, out the Spirit (2:33) and thus is understood as carrying forward his ministry following his ascension through the Spirit (cf. 1:1f., 4f., 8). The work of the Spirit is thus integrated with that of the Father and of the Son. Nevertheless, it is the baptism and enduement of the Spirit that is pervasively and most conspicuously in the foreground.

So much would perhaps be generally admitted today as to the general approach of Acts to Christian history. But thereafter divergent viewpoints emerge, and many such differences appear in connection with the exegesis of Acts 2:38; With a view to a clarification of the issues at stake it is well to try to observe that some are much more basic than others. And one of such more basic issues concerns the question whether "the gift of the Holy Spirit" has in view saving operations of the Spirit upon the heart of man or certain extraordinary manifestations of the Spirit of a more external character.

On the supposition that Peter is speaking particularly concerning salvation in this passage and its immediate context, and that "the gift of the Holy Spirit" also must have in view the Spirit's saving action, the passage might appear to suggest a number interesting possibilities. According to Smeaton,1 the reference "is plainly to the sanctifying gifts of the Spirit and His gracious inhabitation", a view that would be quite compatible with the classic Reformed conception of salvation by grace alone. If, however, the gift of the Spirit were understood as signifying regeneration in the narrow sense, the passage would appear to have a Pelagian flavor. Or, if the reference to the reception of the Spirit were construed precisely and pointedly with the requirement of baptism, baptism could be understood as effecting regeneration or salvation in general, and the passage would seem to support certain high-churchly views of the sacrament.

More commonly today Acts is thought to have in view in this passage and in similar references the special and extraordinary manifestations of the Spirit such as the gift of tongues and that of prophecy. On such an estimate of the gift of the Spirit, Acts 2:38 points up quite distinctive perspectives. The soteriological difficulty mentioned above disappears. If the passage deals with the endowment of Christians with special powers it cannot be understood as impinging upon the doctrine of salvation by grace alone, On this approach,. however, other problems emerge. Though baptism would not then be understood as effecting regeneration, it still might be regarded as, ex opere operato, conferring miraculous gifts.2 And thus disturbing questions as to the New' Testament teaching regarding baptism would be thrust upon us. But even more, basic problems come into focus, problems relating to the distinctive viewpoint of Acts concerning the real nature of the Christian faith and practice. It has been widely held in modern times, for example, that for Acts the significance of the Spirit is wholly or largely exhausted in the bestowal of miraculous gifts, and that thus its doctrine of the Spirit is radically at variance with the Epistles which dwell upon the Spirit's saving influences upon the hearts of men in regeneration and sanctification.3 And the prominence of miraculous and charismatic features in the portrayal of early Christianity raises acutely the old problem as to whether such elements of "enthusiasm" belong to the original and essential nature of Christianity,.

Of special interest is the extensive discussion of Jackson and Lake in connection with their treatment of primitive Christianity in the first volume of their monumental Christian Beginnings.4 Concerning Acts 2:38 they assert:

The obvious meaning is - just as in Acts xix. 1-7 - that the gift of the Spirit is conditional on baptism; but this sudden introduction of baptism seems quite inconsistent with what was stated: the disciples had received the Spirit without having been baptized for that purpose, and. the words of Jesus in Acts i. 4 imply a baptism in Spirit as a substitute for baptism in water, not as a consequence of it. The redactor, however, like all his contemporaries in the Gentile Church, regarded baptism in the name of Jesus as necessary for admission to the Christian society and its benefits, of which the gift of the Spirit was one of the chief; it is therefore not strange if he introduced the references to baptism in ii. 38 and 41.5

This interpretation of Acts 2:38 presupposes the judgment that baptism is presented, in Acts from several contradictory points of view. Three are specifically distinguished: (1) "Baptism in water conferred the gift of the Spirit, but only if administered in the name of the Lord Jesus" (p. 337). This is said to be the viewpoint of Acts 19:1-7 and 9:17f. as well as 2:38. (2) Sharply opposed to this is allegedly the view of Acts 1:4 - 2:4 that the Christian baptism foretold by John the Baptist is by the Spirit and not in water, and this is thought to have been fulfilled on the day of Pentecost. This view is thought to be farthest removed from the outlook of the "redactor" of Acts who is said clearly to have regarded baptism as a Christian practice from the beginning. The sources of Acts 2 and 10-l1 contained nothing concerning baptism in water, it is held, but "it was found in the sources used for the second part of Acts, and the redactor, regarding it as a primitive custom connected with the gift of the Spirit, adapted the earlier narratives to agree with the later ones."6 Agreeing with neither extreme is the view that in Acts 8:8-19 "Baptism in water, even in the name of the Lord Jesus, did not confer the Spirit, which was given only by the laying on of hands by the apostles".7 On the background of this analysis Jackson and Lake conclude with the conjecture that Christian baptism in water does not go back to the time of Jesus and his immediate disciples, but owes its origin to the Seven and likely arose in the environment of the Hellenistic Diaspora, possibly through the influence of magical ideas and practices.8

We encounter in this discussion, accordingly, the judgment that Acts 2:38 particularly in its teaching concerning baptism and the gift of the Holy Spirit, is sharply at variance with the point of view of the Pentecost narrative, and that it is not completely reconcilable with other representations of Acts on the subject. At Pentecost there was a baptism with the Spirit with nothing said about water baptism; in Acts 2:38 and at other points, according to this approach, the gift of the Spirit is viewed as following upon, and even as being conferred by, water baptism. This analysis is regarded, moreover, as supporting a skeptical estimate of the origin of Christian baptism together with a conception of it as conferring benefits, including the Spirit, ex opere. This disparaging evaluation of the sacrament, as well as the divisive exegesis offered in support of it, will be recognized as rather characteristic of the modern approach to the subject of Christian origins.

Acts 2:38 assuredly confronts the interpreter with weighty problems. In order to evaluate the passage correctly it will be imperative to take account of all or most of the passages which have been mentioned, for thus only can one hope to do justice to the terms employed and to deal concretely with the questions raised concerning the alleged discrepancies of viewpoint in Acts. I shall pass in review four events or episodes which bear upon the understanding of Acts 2:38: (1) the Pentecost narrative in Acts 2; (2) the salvation of Gentiles in Acts 10 and 11; (3) Samaria's reception of the Word of God in Chapter 8; and (4) the episode concerning the disciples in Ephesus recorded in Acts 19. There is no want of diversity in these accounts; there is perhaps even more than is commonly recognized. But the question remains whether, if the distinctiveness of the several situations is discerned, one may not account for the diversity and still avoid the skeptical and divisive conclusions of such, constructions as those proposed 'by Jackson and Lake.

(1) The Pentecost Narrative

Pentecost, intimating that the prophecy of Joel concerning the outpouring of the Spirit has received fulfillment, is the foundation of all that follows. Peter interprets the days of the Spirit as constituting "the last days" (Acts 2:17), and this eschatological evaluation of Pentecost gives perspective to the ensuing history. Pentecost itself is not repeated. It stands apart from what follows as an event that occurred once for all when the ascended Christ decisively sent forth the Spirit to inaugurate the new order. Indicative of this fact is the consideration that the phenomena of the day of Pentecost were not repeated. In what follows there is nothing comparable to the "tongues as of fire" or the "sound as of a mighty wind being borne along". And evidently the speaking with tongues described in Acts 2 is not repeated. At any rate it is not the ecstatic speech which required the gift of the interpretation of tongues to be intelligible, which Paul refers to in I Corinthians, but a speaking in various languages which were understood immediately by representatives of various nationalities who were present on the occasion. Men heard in their own languages the proclamation of the wonderful works of God. This phenomenon accordingly has more in common with the gift of prophecy than with that of tongues.

It is entirely in keeping with the unique nature of Pentecost, therefore, that nothing is said immediately of persons coming to be baptized in water. The baptism with the Spirit on that day constituted a unilateral, eschatological action on the part of Christ, as immediate and miraculous as the resurrection of Jesus. If human cooperation or a human response had been indicated as being of the essence of what took place, the foundational significance of Pentecost would have been obliterated or obscured. Nevertheless, on the background of the unique happenings of that day, it would be entirely understandable that there should be subsequent mediations of the Spirit's gifts and actions on various occasions, and that these should be brought into intimate association with the baptism of Christian converts.

(2) Salvation of the Gentiles

The consideration of Pentecost prepares for the evaluation of Acts 2:38 and the response of 2:41, but a richer context is the narrative of Peter and Cornelius in Acts 10 and 11. Though this narrative contains various biographical features which illumine the career of the apostle Peter, it is evident that Acts dwells upon this story because its purpose is to delineate the main stages in the early expansion of Christianity and it regards the development in Caesarea as constituting an epochal phase of that history. It became clear once for all that the Gentiles in becoming Christians did not virtually have to become Jews first and conform to the Jewish manner of life, as Peter at first supposed. Peter's problem was not that of the salvation of the Gentiles as such, for on this both the teaching of the prophets and of the Lord was plain, but that of the possibility of their coming directly to Christ without the necessity that the wall of partition between Jew and Gentile should be broken down first.

Following Peter's vision, and while he was still proclaiming the message concerning Christ to the Gentiles

the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word. And they of the circumcision who believed, as many as came with Peter, were amazed because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Spirit. For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God (Acts 10:44ff.).

The epochal significance of the reception of the Holy Spirit on the part of the Gentiles is underscored by the observation that Peter justified his actions before the Church at Jerusalem virtually by characterizing this development as a repetition of what had happened at Pentecost. He declares:

As I began to speak the Holy Spirit fell upon them even as on us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord how he said, John indeed baptized with water, but ye shall be baptized in the Holy Spirit. If then God gave them the like gift as he did also unto us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God? (Acts 1:l5 ff.).

It is remarkable that Peter not only closely identifies the gift which the Gentiles received with that which the Christians had received at the beginning, but he even characterizes it as the baptism of the Holy Spirit, in fulfillment of the word of the Lord (cf. Acts 1:5). In linking up the developments in Caesaera with those of Pentecost, the epochal significance of the salvation of the Gentiles is powerfully emphasized. As at Pentecost when suddenly there was a sound from heaven manifesting the supernatural action of the coming of the Spirit, here the action of the Spirit does not wait upon the deliberations or actions of apostles, but immediately and directly initiates a new order of dealing with men. Indeed, in this instance the Spirit encountered the resistance of an apostle, and thus there was an additional reason for the action to take the form of a divine interposition. Yet, in spite of certain parallels with Pentecost, the development in Caesarea is undoubtedly viewed as somewhat subordinate to it, and as actually intimating the significance of Pentecost for the salvation of the Gentiles. Since the company at Jerusalem had been confined to Jews (cf. 2:5, 14, 22; 36), its concrete significance for the Gentiles had to await disclosure until the gospel moved out beyond the Jerusalem scene.

That "the gift of the Holy Spirit" has in view extraordinary, miraculous actions of the Spirit is rather evident from the context. When the Jews heard them speak with tongues and magnify God", they were assured that the Gentiles had received this gift. These gifts were probably glossolalia and prophecy (cf. Acts 19:6). That they were of an external nature appears from the observation that the Jewish believers who accompanied Peter were able to discern what was taking place. These gifts did not produce faith in a miraculous fashion, for the Gentiles were those who had heard and believed the word which had been spoken (cf. Acts 10:44; 11:17). But these events did serve to prove that the Gentiles were true believers, that "God had also granted unto the Gentiles repentance unto life (11:18). They were thus the divine seal upon these believers and the evidence to Peter that a new era in God's dealing with men had dawned.

There is also special interest in the fact that we are confronted with the administration of Christian baptism in a context where another baptism, the baptism of the Spirit, has been in view and has been closely identified with the gift of the Holy Spirit. Baptism with water is introduced in this narrative as a practice that is virtually taken for granted where there was evidence of Christian faith. Thus Peter, having received evidence of the presence of the Spirit, asks, "Can any man forbid water that these should not be baptized, who have received the Holy Spirit as well as we?" (Acts 10:47f.). Jackson and Lake suggest that the story is illogical in introducing the baptism with water after Cornelius had received the Spirit since, it is alleged, no apparent reason remains for baptism after the Spirit had been decisively conferred.9 But this is so only if baptism is understood as bestowing the Spirit more or less magically. Though indeed baptism and the gift of the Spirit are intimately associated in Acts, there is no evidence, as will be observed more fully below, to support the conception of baptism as an ex opere operato sacrament. And the narrative under consideration itself offers evidence that the relationship between baptism and the gift of the Holy Spirit is not viewed in the rigid and stereotyped fashion that is often supposed. The administration of Christian baptism, as Act appears to assume throughout, followed upon evidence of faith in Christ, and Peter had had to be assured of the presence of such faith by evidence of the extraordinary presence of the Spirit.

(3) Samaria's Reception of the Word

The proclamation of the gospel in Samaria also represented a significant stage in the expansion of the Christian church, as Acts 1:8 has suggested and as the account of the preaching of Philip in Acts 8 brings into sharp focus. As a result of Peter's preaching and healing work a company of men and women believed and were baptized (Acts 8:5 ff., 12f.). Evidently, so far at least as Philip was concerned, no special evidence was required that the Samaritans might hear the Word and be received into the Christian church on the basis of faith. Though the beliefs and practices of the Samaritans were somewhat, distinctive, they were not classified as Gentiles. The proclamation of the Word to them and their acceptance of it was a distinct step forward in the unfolding of the divine plan. But it was not such a radical development as was to take place in the approach to Cornelius the Gentile, and thus one may understand that the extraordinary evidence of divine approval given in Caesarea was not demanded in Samaria. Their faith in the Word was itself taken as evidence at they were bona fide members of the Christian community. And when the apostles take account of developments, their verdict is the same. The faith of the Samaritans was all that was needed to support the judgment that "Samaria had received the word of God", momentous though this evaluation was for the apostles who had come down from Jerusalem for the purpose of judging for themselves of the progress of the gospel.

In Samaria likewise baptism is regarded as the normal Christian practice following upon faith, just as in the story of Cornelius. There is little or no reflection upon the doctrine of baptism in either narrative. Nevertheless, one fact stand out sharply in both, a fact that is the more remarkable in the light of the exceedingly diverse situations which unfold. That fact is that in Samaria as in Caesarea baptism is not regarded as ipso facto conferring the gift of the Holy Spirit. In the case of Cornelius the gift was given first and baptism came at the end; in Samaria baptism preceded the bestowal of the gift of the Spirit, but that bestow waited for the coming of the apostles and their direct action through imposition of hands upon the baptized converts. The diversity in the administration of the special gifts of the Spirit is accounted for, therefore by the diversity in the historical situations. In both cases one may regard the sanction as divine, but there is the difference that in Samaria the sanction was mediated by apostolic action when the apostles were persuaded by what they saw, while in Caesarea the same action was directly given by the Spirit when Peter required proof that what was taking place under his eyes was indeed in accordance with the divine plan.

The Samaritans are described as not having received "the Holy Spirit" though they had believed and had been baptized. Only after the apostles prayed and laid their hands upon them did they receive the Holy Spirit (8:16, 17). This terminology pointedly calls attention to the special manner in which the doctrine of the Holy Spirit is being and may be set forth in Acts. What gift or gifts of the Spirit were being bestowed upon the Samaritans is not specified, but that they were external, miraculous gifts is plain from the reactions of Simon the sorcerer. "Now when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles' hands, the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money saying, Give me also this power that on whomsoever I lay my hands, he may receive the Holy Spirit" (8:18f.). Such gifts as prophecy and tongues evidently had been conferred, and Simon had been able to observe their manifestations. At this point at least, therefore, there is no reflection upon the relation of the Spirit to the origin of faith and the growth of the Christian life. To us that may seem baffling because the. theological questions are of paramount and perennial interest. But one may not insist that the writer of Acts had to reflect upon these questions in our terms, and one must recognize the peculiar appropriateness in a volume largely concerned with the external course of early Christian history of centering attention upon the extraordinary miraculous power of the Spirit in the accomplishment of the divine plan for the people of God.

(4) The Disciples in Ephesus.

The extraordinary incident recorded in Acts 19:1-7 may also illumine the basic problems before us, for there, likewise, the elements of faith and baptism and the coming of the Holy Spirit are in the foreground. The decisions are somewhat complicated by difficulties of translation and interpretation connected with the understanding of the incident as a whole.

One problem concerns the identity of the disciples who stood in astonishing isolation from the main stream of the Christian church. They not only had not been baptized with Christian baptism but they also seem strangely ignorant of the Holy Spirit. Can they nevertheless be regarded as Christians? The suggestion has been made that they were in fact disciples of the Baptist rather than of Jesus, but this view must be rejected. The term "disciples" in Acts 19:1 stamps them as Christians in view of the manner in which Luke thus designates Christians again and again (cf. Acts 6:1; 9:10:11:26). Moreover, they are spoken of simply as "believing" (19:2), and this terminology is consistently applied by Luke to Christians (cf. Acts 2:44; 4:4, 32; 18:8, 27). It is incredible that Luke should have used these terms without qualification if he were referring to non-Christians.

If, however, the disciples are Christian believers, their isolation from Christian history is the more difficult to explain. Nevertheless, all is intelligible if they were a small company of disciples who had not been in touch, especially at the time of their coming to faith in Christ, with developments following the resurrection and including particularly the happenings on the day of Pentecost. To the question of Paul, "Did ye receive the Holy Spirit when ye believed?", they answer, "Nay, we did not so much as hear whether the Holy Spirit was given". This rendering of the RV is indeed not literal, for the original literally reads, "We did not so much as hear whether there was a Holy Spirit". But the RV must be recognized as giving the true sense of the Greek. The force of the passage is like that of John 7:39 which is rendered in the RV by "the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified".10 These passages have in common the eschatological perspective given by the discernment that, through the messianic age, the age of the Spirit, was realized. On the background of Joel's promise of the outpouring of the Spirit, his coming could be spoken of as an absolutely new coming, though all the while it would be taken for granted that every one knew that the Spirit had been active during the old dispensation."11 In declaring that they had not so much as heard whether the Holy Spirit was manifested, the disciples accordingly disclosed that they had not heard of the fulfillment of the promise of the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost.12

In the main the developments at Ephesus correspond closely with those in Samaria which have just been reviewed. Following upon Paul's inquiries and his instruction as to the inadequacy of their baptism, they "were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus" (19:5). Paul at Ephesus like Peter in Caesarea and Philip in Samaria evidently assumes the necessity of the administration of Christian baptism following upon faith in' Christ. Moreover, in this context likewise baptism is not represented as conferring the gift of the Spirit for it was only after Paul had laid hands upon them that "the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with, tongues and prophesied" (19:6). The parallelism of the developments here with those in Samaria is marked, the only difference being that in this instance apostolic action followed baptism without delay while in Samaria it awaited the arrival of Peter and John from Jerusalem.

The gift of the Spirit is described in Acts 19:6 in much the same terms as in 10:46, and confirms the earlier conclusion that in all of these situations the gift is understood as having in view extraordinary, miraculous effects.

When now one turns back to a mere particular consideration of Acts 2:38, most or all of the problems with which it confronts the interpreter will appear to have been under review. And the disadvantages bound up with the brevity and summary character of this passage in Peter's discourse are largely overcome by taking stock of the information gained from a study of the other contexts in which the same features appear.

In Acts 2 two forms of baptism appear, that of Pentecost itself and the sacrament which Peter invites those who repent to undergo and which subsequently those who heard the Word underwent (Acts 2:38, 41). But the proximity of these two kinds of baptism does not point to a discrepancy of viewpoint or set up tensions within the narrative. In the perspective of Acts Pentecost forms the foundation for all subsequent actions and provides a distinctive perspective for all of the history that is recorded, and hence is in an entirely different category from the sacrament of baptism which was to be received by individual believers following upon their faith.

One may conclude with confidence that Acts 2:38 is not to be understood as teaching that the gift of the Spirit was conditional upon baptism, even though the command to receive baptism is followed with the promise, "and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit". In the several contexts where it has been possible to evaluate the question of the possible relation between baptism and the bestowal of the Spirit, it has been unmistakably clear that baptism is not conceived of as conferring the Spirit. The two are intimately associated, and the gift of the Spirit may well be regarded as the normal concomitant of baptism, but it never appears as the inevitable or immediate consequence of baptism. It would therefore be rash to insist that the words, "and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" in 2:38 indicate that baptism as such confers this gift.13

Moreover, Acts 2:38 itself provides a reason for resisting the conclusion that the gift is conditional upon baptism. For it must be underscored that Peter's basic and primary demand is for repentance, and his thought may be that the promise of the Spirit is assured upon the basis of conversion rather than merely as the consequence of baptism. This interpretation is given support by noting Peter's appeal in Acts 3:19: "Repent ye, therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out that so there may come seasons of refreshing from the presence of the Lord". Repentance will bring refreshing from on high, evidently through the work of the Spirit. But nothing is said of baptism. Similarly in Acts 2:38 baptism may be subordinated to repentance. That the accent falls more on repentance than upon baptism also gains support from the observation that in Luke 24:27 the gospel to be preached in Christ's name to all the nations is summed up in terms of "repentance and remission of sins".

That "the gift of the Holy Spirit" in Acts 2:38 must have in view miraculous powers will hardly appear doubtful when one recalls the other references to the gift of the Spirit which have been considered. And it may be significant that the very same word for gift (dwreav) is employed in Acts 8:20 where Peter condemns Simon for supposing that he could "obtain the gift of God" for money; in Acts 10:45 in connection with the amazement of the Jew's that "the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out upon the Gentiles"; and in Acts 11:17 where Peter speaks of it as "the like gift" which God gave to them.

The question remains, however, whether possibly on certain occasions, and particularly in Acts 2:38, the designation "the gift of the Spirit" may not be employed somewhat more comprehensively than is suggested by the above. May it not include gifts of a more distinctly religious and ethical character in addition to the miraculous charismata? Though Acts gives great prominence to the miraculous activity of the Spirit, and on occasion seems to refer to the Spirit as if there were no other kind of activity for which He was responsible, it is equally clear that the fruits of Pentecost are not restricted to miraculous activities. All of Christ's work is viewed as accomplished through the Spirit, and this would quite well allow that all of the gifts bestowed upon the church and upon individual Christians would be regarded as the gift of the Holy Spirit.

It would be particularly appropriate to regard the qualifications of wisdom and faith mentioned in connection with the appointment of the Seven as fruits of the Spirit (cf. Acts 6:3, 5). But it may be that salvation itself, considered comprehensively as the total saving work of God, is understood as the work of the Spirit. The quotation from Joel concludes with the intimation that the age of the Spirit is to be a time of salvation (cf. 2:21). The "seasons of refreshing" in Acts 3:19 also appropriately describe the joyous benefits of salvation experienced by those who turn to the Lord.

The external gifts, moreover, serve the purpose of affording evidence that God's saving purposes had been effectually realized. Thus Peter regards the extraordinary working of the Spirit among the Gentiles as proof that "to the Gentiles also hath God granted repentance unto life" (11:18). Similarly, even the pouring out of the gift of the Holy Spirit upon the Gentiles, referred to in Acts 10:45, may look beyond the gifts of tongues and prophecy themselves (v. 47) to the total application of Pentecost to the Gentiles. And thus one can hardly exclude the possibility that in Acts 2:38 "the gift of the Holy Spirit" promised to believers may comprehend the saving benefits of Christ's work as applied to the believer by the Spirit.

If, however, gifts of salvation and spiritual gifts in general may be comprehended in "the gift of the Holy Spirit", no support of a synergistic conception of salvation is forthcoming from the teaching of Acts. Acts 11:18 specifically recognizes that "repentance unto life" is the gift of God. It is the Lord who adds daily unto his church those who are saved (2:47). And those who believed are recognized as being such as were ordained unto eternal life (13:48).

The situation in Acts, in view of all these considerations is not as varied from that of the Epistles of Paul as has been often supposed. Paul as distinctly as Acts, as Gunkel also recognized, testifies to the presence of the miraculous work of the Spirit in the early church. Paul does dwell more fully and explicitly upon the ethical and religious work of the Spirit and through his teaching greatly enlarges our understanding of the doctrine of the Spirit. Because his epistles were concerned with the faith and life of his converts they could be the vehicle for such teaching in a way that Acts, largely absorbed as it was with the external course of Christian history, could not be. But even Acts is not without reflections upon the decisive divine ordination and accomplishment of salvation, and envisages the work of salvation as the fruit of Pentecost. Acts, therefore, has its own peculiar forms of expression and differences of emphasis in dealing with the Holy Spirit, but a broad unity of perspective with the rest of the New Testament also is evident.

Integrated with these historical and exegetical questions concerning the Spirit and the church is the divisive issue of supernaturalism. Such phenomena as the gift of tongues and prophecy, not to reflect particularly upon the many other miracles recorded in Acts, conspicuously center attention upon it. In the light of all the facts it appears that these miracles are not presented as isolated happenings, nor are they to be explained either as evidence of the penetration of magical notions and of a popular enthusiasm into the Christian church or in terms of a philosophy of irrationalism. For they are instances of decisive divine interposition in history which are aspects of a comprehensive divine plan that has in view the certain realization of God's saving purposes, pointing to goals and demanding responses which are profoundly religious and ethical. Pentecost undergirds the new dispensation, and thus gives perspective to all the individual instances of the supernatural and intimates their meaning in and for Christian history. Since these elements of the supernatural pervade the entire New Testament expression of Christianity, they cannot be evaluated except as one judges Christianity as a whole. If one recognizes Christianity to be the supernatural religion of individual and cosmic redemption, and its goal the transformation of men and the world by God almighty through his grace in Christ Jesus, the miracles will not appear as a burden or liability to Christian faith. They are, rather, significant aspects of that redemptive and revelational action of God in transforming the world, are indicative that that transformation has been begun and even has been realized in a significant manner and point to the consummation of "new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness".

Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia (1950)


  1. G. Smeaton: The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit (Edinburgh. 1882), p.30.
  2. Cf. F. J. Foakes-Jackson:. The Acts of the Apostles (London, 1931), pp. 18f.; C. Gore: The Holy Spirit and the Church (New York, 1924), pp. 53, 126 f.
  3. See especially H. G Gunkel: Die Wikbungen des heiligen Geistes, nach der populdren Anshatauung der apostolischen Zeil und nach der Lehre des Apostels Paulus (Gottingen, 1888).
  4. F. J. Foakes-Jackson and Kirsopp Lake: The Beginnings of Christianity, Part I, The Acts of the Apostles, Vol. I (London, 1920), pp. 337 ff.
  5. Ibid., pp. 339f:
  6. Ibid. ,p. 341.
  7. Ibid., p. 338. Cf. C. K. Barrett: The Holy Spirit and the Gospel Tradition (London, 1947) p. 142.
  8. Jackson and Lake: op. cit. pp. 341 f.
  9. Ibid., p. 340.
  10. John's oupw gar hn pneuma as a didactic statement is even stronger than the judgment of the Ephesian disciples: allv oud eij Peuma Agion estin hkousamen.
    It is remarkable that the RSV, which is not distinguished for the literalness of its translation, renders Acts 19:2b, "No, we have never even heard that there is a Holy Spirit", but in John 7:39 adopts the translation "for as yet the Spirit had not been given."
  11. Similarly John 1:17 states that "grace and truth came through Jesus Christ", as if grace, and truth had never previously been present in the world in any degee, and Galatians 3:23 speaks absolutely of the old dispensation as an order of affairs "before faith came", though Abra-ham's justification by faith has been a leading feature of the argument in this very chapter.
  12. It may be objected to the argument that the Ephesian group was Christian that thev had been baptized with the baptism of John (19:3), and therefore would more naturally be understood as being disciples of the Baptist than of Christ. Some matters concerning the relation of the baptism of John to Christian baptism are obscure, but evidently specifically Christian baptism began only with the establishment of the Christian church following the exaltation of Christ. On this view the baptism by the disciples of Jesus mentioned in John 4:1 ff. may best be understood as a continuation of John's baptism. Accordingly, the Ephesian disciples could be early believers in Christ who were baptized by John or, more probably, with his baptism by another. See G. Vos: Biblical Theology, Old and New Testaments, (Grand Rapids, 1948), pp.341 f.
  13. Jackson and Lake: op cit., p. 338, also contend that Acts 9:17 f. supports the view that baptism in the name of the Lord Jesus confers the Holy Spirit. Ananias tells Paul that the Lord had sent him "that thou mayest receive thy sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit". And immediately, when Ananias laid hands on Paul," he received his sight and he arose and was baptized." Like Acts 2:38 this passage is so brief that it is difficult to come to final conclusions regarding the relation of baptism and the bestowal of the gift of the spirit solely on the basis of its contents. Jackson and Lake state that there is a clear implication that the baptism of Paul was the fulfillment of the promise that he would be filled with the Holy Spirit. Even if that were the implication, it would not follow that baptism is regarded as conferring the Spirit. Actually the account is silent regarding the bestowal of the spirit upon Paul, and it is entirely possible that the baptism of Paul is introduced as an additional development, while the spirit is regarded as having been previously given in connection with the recovery of his sight.


Ned Stonehouse graduated from the old Princeton Seminary in 1927.He completed his doctorate at the Free University of Amsterdam. In 1929, when Gresham Machen and others left Princeton Seminary, due to the influx of Liberalism, to form the new Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia, Dr. Stonehouse joined the faculty as Professor of New Testament.


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