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The Holy Spirit in Acts

by Barry L. Davis

The Holy Spirit's role in Acts cannot be overemphasized. On Pentecost (Acts 2), in fulfillment of John the Baptist's promise (Matt. 3:11), the Holy Spirit was poured out. The symbolism of a rushing wind announced the Spirit's presence and tongues like fire appeared on the heads of all who were gathered together (2:3). Empowered by the Spirit the apostles proclaimed the Christ to Jews from around the world. The Spirit enabled the apostles to speak in the languages of the people in the audience (2:4-12). It is debated as to whether the Spirit gave this ability to only the 12 or the 120 (1:15) but it cannot be determined conclusively. The filling with the Spirit described in 2:4 would also take place in Acts 4:8,31; 13:9 and appears to be a special outpouring of the Spirit for a special purpose. But the initial baptism of the Spirit was to remain with the believers and was given both to individuals and the Christian community as a whole.

By the preaching of the apostles through the power of the Holy Spirit men were convicted of their sins (2:37). The entire Christian movement, beginning at Pentecost, took its rise from the baptism in the Spirit (1:5,8) and was under His direction and control.

There is a lot of controversy surrounding the baptism in the Spirit in both Acts and the rest of the New Testament. The phrase seems to be better translated "baptism in" and not "of." The seven times this phrase appears in Scripture it is always in the dative case (Matt. 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; John 1:33; Acts 1:5; 11:16; 1 Cor. 12:13).

The two basic positions on this seem to be the Pentecostal position and what has been called the "two-episode" position which most restorationists seem to hold to. The Pentecostal position says that a person is saved and some time later has an experience in which he or she is "slain". Speaking in tongues is proof that the baptism has taken place.

The two-episode position holds that the baptism was only intended for the 12 on Pentecost and for Cornelius' household (Acts 10). No one else can receive this baptism. They believe there is a difference between "baptized in" and "gift of."

What appears to be more consistent with the Acts accounts and the New Testament as a whole would be that everyone receives the baptism in the Spirit but it is not necessarily received with the supernatural phenomena. This takes place, for the most part (Acts 8,19) at the moment of conversion and baptism. As the person is baptized in water, Jesus baptizes them with the Holy Spirit (2:38). The person is immersed both in God and in water. We come into Him and He comes into us. This position retains the uniqueness of the events in Acts 2 and 10, and also retains the events in Acts 6, 8, 13, 16, and 19 as assisting gifts.

This position seems to be supported by the universality of the Gospel texts (Matt. 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; John 1:33). The context is in no way limited. This could also be said of 1 Cor. 1:13 — neither Paul nor the Corinthians were present at Pentecost nor Cornelius' household. The giving of the Spirit as referred to in Acts uses a synonymous terminology.

1:5 baptized in

1:8 has come upon

2:4 filled with

2:17 pour forth

2:33 promise of...poured forth

2:38 gift of

2:39 promise of

4:8 filled with

4:31 filled with

6:3 full of

8:16 fallen upon

9:17 filled with

10:44 fell upon

10:45 gift of...poured forth

10:47 received the

11:15 fell upon

11:16 baptized in

11:17 gift of

15:8 giving them

19:6 come upon

John Stott says (Baptism and Fullness, p. 25) that "these penitent believers received the gift of the Spirit which God had promised before the Day of Pentecost, and were thus baptized with the Spirit whom God poured out on the Day of Pentecost."

The Spirit also directed throughout the book of Acts. He directed Philip to the Ethiopian eunuch and then "took Philip away" (8:29,39). The Spirit spoke to Peter at Joppa and led him to Cornelius in Caesarea (10:19; 11:12). The Holy Spirit told the church at Antioch to set Paul and Barnabas aside for missionary work that He had called them to (13:2). The Spirit prevented Paul from preaching in the province of Asia (16:6), and warned him about the Jew's plots against him (20:23; 21:11). The church in Acts and its members were definitely directed by the Holy Spirit.

The laying on of hands and its connection with the Spirit took place in Acts 8:17-18 and 19:6. Both of these texts are unique and problematic. In Acts 8 many have understood this as a type of "Samaritan Pentecost". This is a possibility but when 8:16 is considered it is seen that these people had been baptized only into the name of Jesus. There seems to be a connection here. The same could be said in the Acts 19 passage. There was something missing in the baptism of these men. This laying on of hands seems to be associated with an initial reception of the Spirit for those who had not yet received Him.

The other places where laying on of hands takes place in Acts (6:6; 13:3) appears to be more in the area of commissioning to a task rather than a supernatural gifting. Although the latter is possible here it does not appear to be the case.