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Dr. J. Rodman Williams
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A Theological Pilgrimage: Chapter 11

By Dr. J. Rodman Williams

Chapters: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | Conclusion
Preface | Abbreviations | Bibliography

Chapter Eleven


One of the common criticisms of the Pentecostal/ charismatic movement is its lack of an adequate theology. This criticism comes both from within and without the movement. Russell Spittler, from within, has declared that "Pentecostals have made better missionaries than theologians. They write pamphlets, not books- -tracts, not treatises. When a Pentecostal book is published, it will reflect more likely personal testimony than reasoned argument."1 J. I. Packer, from without, has written that "the charismatic life stream still needs an adequate biblical theology and remains vulnerable while it lacks one....The charismatic movement is theologically immature, and its public speech and style seem on occasion half-baked as a result."2 Both statements declare the need- -the serious need- -for the development of a valid Pentecostal/charismatic theology.

In line with this need, the 1984 meeting of the Society for Pentecostal Studies had as its general theme, "Toward a Pentecostal/Charismatic Theology." Some fourteen papers were presented, and hopefully progress was made in the direction of a maturing theology. With this by way of background I should like to attempt a theological/biblical study.3 The title of my paper will be simply "A Pentecostal Theology."

A Pentecostal theology finds its scriptural basis primarily in several accounts in the Book of Acts. They are as follows: chapters 1 and 2; 8:4-24; 9:1-19; 10-11:18; and 19:1-7. There are some references to Old Testament texts, the Gospels, and the Epistles, but the focus is the specified passages in Acts.

The relevance of the Acts passages for Pentecostal theology is that all refer in varying ways to a particular event/experience of the Holy Spirit. For example, several expressions are used in Acts 1-2: "baptized in4 the Holy Spirit" (1:5); "the Holy Spirit...come upon you" (1:8); "filled with the Holy Spirit" (2:4); "the Holy Spirit ... poured out" (2:33); "receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (2:38). All refer to the experience in Jerusalem relating to Jesus' disciples which is described in 2:1-4. Another later reference to the event of Acts 2:1-4 is that "the Holy Spirit fell...on us" (11:15). One or more of these six expressions- -with some slight variations- -is found in all the subsequent narratives. See the Samaritan account in Acts 8:15-17 for "receiving" and "falling"; Saul of Tarsus in 9:17- -"filling"; the Caesareans in 10:44-47- -"falling," "outpouring," "receiving," and 11:15-17- -"falling" and "baptized in"; and the Ephesians in Acts 19:2-6- -"receiving" and "coming upon." It is apparent, linguistically if nothing else, that all these accounts refer to essentially the same experience.

Hence, what occurred on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1) in regard to the Holy Spirit is a repeated experience. The Day of Pentecost is, of course, a historic, once-for-all occurrence as are all events in history. However, the essential identity of the experiences of the Spirit following the Day of Pentecost with the experience of the Spirit on that day is apparent not only linguistically but also evidenced from some words of Peter. Peter, who of course was there on the Day of Pentecost, describes the Caesareans as "people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have" (10:47), and says later that "the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning" (11:15). If this is true of the events in Jerusalem and Caesarea- -often called the Jerusalem and Gentile Pentecosts- -it is certainly also true of the other occasions. In this sense we may properly speak of all these as Pentecostal experiences.5

Finally, it is of particular importance in Pentecostal theology that receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38) not only relates to certain events in Acts but also to events thereafter. For just following the statement about receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit are the words: "For the promise is to you and to your children and to all that are far off, every one whom the Lord our God calls to him" (Acts 2:39). The promise of the gift of the Holy Spirit6 in its fulfillment is the experiential center of Pentecostal theology.

In what follows we shall seek to identify various aspects of the Pentecostal event/experience. Our procedure will be that of utilizing the Jerusalem Pentecost as the archetypal and paradigmatic account. For even as the account in Acts 1 and 2 contains all the basic terminology, so likewise are all the fundamental factors related to Pentecostal experience found therein. It will also be apparent that not all the succeeding accounts make reference to all the various elements (any more than all make use of the terminology), but they may well be included. Let us now proceed to some elaboration of the Pentecostal event/experience and thereby of Pentecostal theology.

The Essential Reality

What lies at the heart of the Pentecostal event/experience is the dynamic presence of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is poured out on, falls on, comes upon; hence there is movement, action. As a result, people are baptized (i.e., immersed) in, filled with the Holy Spirit. All of this points to a momentous event and experience of the dynamic presence of God.

It occurs as a movement from God the Father through Jesus Christ. On the Day of Pentecost, just following the disciples' experience of the Holy Spirit, Peter declares the event to be the fulfillment of the promise in Joel: "And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh" (Acts 2:17; cf. Joel 2:28). Thereafter Peter adds that "exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he [Jesus] has poured out this which you see and hear"7 (Acts 2:33). The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Father and Son, thus the fullness of God's presence.
Hence, the essential reality is that of a mediated experience of the Holy Spirit. He does not, so to speak, come on His own so as to provide in Himself a direct awareness of God,8 but comes from God through Jesus Christ. Yet there is the immediacy of God's dynamic presence through the Holy Spirit. Paradoxically then, it is a matter of mediated immediacy. The Holy Spirit is fully and actively present, but it happens only through the instrumentality of Jesus Christ.

Next we may note the significance of this event in being called "the gift of the Holy Spirit." This means two things. First, what happens is wholly a matter of God's grace. A gift cannot be earned, else it ceases to be a gift. Second, the gift is the Holy Spirit Himself. Accordingly, the gift is not something the Holy Spirit gives- -such as holiness, life, even power- -but is the gift from Father and Son: the Holy Spirit.

It would be hard to overestimate the momentousness of this event. Since the Holy Spirit is God (though a distinct person) it means that at the heart of the Pentecostal experience is the reality of God's dynamic presence. As noted, in one sense it is an invasion from without (the Spirit falling upon, coming on); in another, it is an immersion, a submergence within (being baptized in); still another it is a penetration, a permeation all through (a being filled with). Persons in the totality of their being, even to their subconscious depths and suprarational heights, are possessed by God.

Truly the essence of Pentecost and its continuation is dynamic event. In this event God is moving,9 dynamic, even driving. The "sound...from heaven" like "the rush of a mighty wind" on the Day of Pentecost and "tongues as of fire" resting on each person dramatizes the divine action. It is the Spirit of God moving dynamically within the human scene. Although this imagery is not repeated in other accounts, the language of "coming upon," falling on," "filling with" continues to express this divine momentum.

We may turn back for a moment to the Gospels and the beginning of Jesus' ministry for the primary example of this dynamic presence of the Holy Spirit. After Jesus has been baptized by John in the Jordan, Luke's account reads: "the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form, as a dove" (3:21-22). The heaven "opened" is the antecedent to the great "sound" at Pentecost, and the dove "alighting on him" (Matthew 3:16) to the tongues "resting" on each person. Jesus thereby is "full of the Holy Spirit" (Luke 4:1), again the antecedent of those at Pentecost being "filled with the Holy Spirit."

Another way of describing it is to say that the same Holy Spirit that came from God the Father upon Jesus also came upon His disciples. In that sense it is a transferring of the Spirit. An Old Testament precursor of this may be found in the narrative about Moses and the seventy elders of Israel where the text reads, "Then the LORD...took of the Spirit that was on him [Moses] and put the Spirit on the seventy elders" (Num. 11:25 NIV). Jesus, of course, is far more than Moses, for (as we have noted) He is also the medium of the Spirit's coming. However, there is also a transferring of the Spirit. The same Spirit that was upon Jesus, even as upon Moses, now is placed not upon some elder but upon His disciples.10

However, as was observed at the outset, what happened to the disciples in Jerusalem at Pentecost was variously repeated on several other occasions in the Book of Acts. The Spirit that came upon Jesus now comes through Him to many others. The "just as" of Acts 10:47 and 11:15, which confirms the one-to-one correspondence between the Caesarean and the Jerusalem Pentecosts, doubtless applies to all other similar instances.

We have spoken of the dynamic presence of the Holy Spirit in the Pentecostal events and reviewed a number of linguistic expressions. How, one might inquire, does this compare with Old Testament events that use much of the same terminology? For one thing, the language of "coming on" is employed frequently in the early history of Israel. The Spirit "came upon" or "took possession of" a number of persons in the Book of Judges: Othniel (3:9-10); Gideon (6:34); Jephthah (11:29); Samson (14:19; 15:14); Saul (1 Sam. 10:10; 11:6; 19:23); David (1 Sam. 16:13). Thereafter, the Spirit "came upon" David's chieftain, Amasai (1 Chron. 12:18); Azariah a prophet (2 Chron. 15:1); Zechariah the son of a priest (2 Chron. 24:20). "Filled with the Spirit" terminology is used in connection with the craftsman Bezalel (Ex. 31:3); the prophet Micah (Mic. 3:8). Also there is the language of "falling": the Spirit "fell upon" the prophet Ezekiel (Ezek. 11:5). It is interesting, however, that the language of "outpouring" is not used except in reference to the future. We have already quoted from the promise of Joel: "I will pour out my spirit on all flesh" (Joel 2:28). To this futuristic reference we may add similar words from Isaiah: "I will pour my Spirit upon your descendants (Isa. 44:3); also from Ezekiel: "I will pour out my Spirit upon the house of Israel" (Ezek. 39:29).

What shall we make of all this? The answer, I would suggest, is that the Old Testament, for all that has been experienced of the Spirit's presence and activity, foresees a plenitude of the Spirit yet to come, for which the word "outpouring" is the vivid expression. There is undoubtedly in the Old Testament an active presence of God through His Spirit, for which the term "coming on" is the main representative. But there is far more to happen in the future: a day when God will bless without measure. The aforementioned prophecy in Isaiah, "I will pour out my Spirit on your descendants," continues with the words: "and my blessing on your offspring. They shall spring up like grass amid waters, like willows by flowing streams" (44:4). Hence, whatever the measure of blessing in the Old Testament, that to come will be far richer and greater. It will be verily the fullness of God's presence in the Holy Spirit.


The Primary Response

The primary response to the event of the Holy Spirit is praise. When human existence- -individually and corporately- -is bathed with the divine presence, there is only one truly significant response, namely, the glorifying of God. God has acted through Jesus Christ to pour out His Spirit, and so marvelous is its occurrence that nothing else can capture it but the high praise of God.

On the Day of Pentecost when the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit they all began immediately to praise God. This is apparent from the words of Acts 2:11 which record the multitude saying, "We hear them in our own tongues speaking of the mighty [wonderful, magnificent11] deeds of God" (Acts 2:11 NASB). It is not hard to imagine that, having so recently lived through the events of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection, they were praising God for the mighty deed of redemption. Also, now He had just fulfilled His promise to pour out the Holy Spirit. They had much to praise God for!

Years later at the Caesarean Pentecost essentially the same thing happened: their first response was the glorifying of God. This time the Spirit was poured out on the Caesareans (or Gentiles) assembled, and others (Peter and his fellow Jews) "heard them speaking in tongues and extolling [magnifying12] God" (Acts 10:46).

We might also note the connection between being filled with the Holy Spirit and praise in Paul's letter to the Ephesians. Paul writes: "Be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord" (5:18-19 NASB). In response to being filled with God's Spirit, psalms, hymns, spiritual songs break forth: the heart is filled with melody and rejoicing in the Lord.13

Now we come to the recognition in the Book of Acts of the close connection between praise and tongues. The Caesareans (the Roman centurion Cornelius and his household), as we have observed, were heard to be "speaking in tongues and extolling God." This probably does not mean two different, though closely related, activities, but rather that their speaking in tongues was extolling or praising God.14 This becomes all the more likely in reviewing the Jerusalem narrative, because there the praise of God was unmistakably done through tongues. To go back to Acts 2:4: "And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance." The "other tongues" were understood by the multitude as speaking in their own tongues "the mighty deeds of God." Hence they were tongues of praise.

Praising God in tongues may best be understood as transcendent praise- -praise that goes beyond ordinary capacity and experience. This praise is sometimes spoken of as "ecstatic praise,"15 or "praising God in ecstatic utterances."16 If such language is used, we must be careful to emphasize that "ecstatic" should not be taken to mean out of control, irrational, frenzied speech. Rather it is the praise of God that transcends ordinary utterance, subject to a higher control, hence suprarational. It is the worship of God in a speech, therefore, that is "other"17 than one's own native language. It is utterance through the enabling of the Holy Spirit.18

All of this is possible because of the new situation created by the event/experience of the Holy Spirit. God, while remaining transcendent, scales the heights and plumbs the depths of creaturely existence, thus effectuating a situation in which human existence is so penetrated by the Holy Spirit that response may come forth in a new spiritual key. A transposition thereby occurs wherein human language, as representative of this dynamic situation, can become, in an extraordinary way, the vehicle of the Holy Spirit for the praise of Almighty God.19

We may also understand this by focusing upon the situation of high spiritual intensity which results from the outpouring of God's Holy Spirit. The sense of God's abundant presence evokes a breaking forth in praise expressive of the occasion. Ordinary language, even music, may be inadequate to declare the wonder of God and His deeds. Herein lies the marvel: God through His Spirit goes beyond what has been uttered or sung before and brings forth a new language!

Now to return to the Book of Acts: let us observe that the last account, namely, concerning the Ephesians, relates tongues and prophesying. "And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them; and they spoke with tongues and prophesied" (19:6). Again, as in Jerusalem and Caesarea, the initial activity following the coming of the Spirit is speaking in tongues. Once more this points to praise- -as suggested by the additional wording about prophesying. Whereas prophesying in many biblical contexts signifies a closely related phenomenon to speaking in tongues, it is possible here that the reference is to transcendent praise. Let us consider this further.

We observe that on the Day of Pentecost after the disciples have praised God in tongues, Peter describes this as fulfillment of the words of Joel: "I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy." This seemingly unusual identification of prophesying with praise quite possibly has its Old Testament antecedents. One example is that of the Holy Spirit upon the seventy elders. Just following the words about the Spirit being "put on" the elders the text reads: "When the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied" (Num. 11:25 NIV). There is nothing said concerning what they prophesied; hence this is most likely an instance of transcendent utterance20 under the dynamic presence of the Holy Spirit. Not unlike the later Pentecost when the Spirit that had been upon Jesus comes upon His disciples, so the Spirit upon Moses came upon his elders; in both cases there is resulting inspired speech. One has only to ponder for a moment the awesome and transcending nature of each event to expect the response in speech to be carried beyond previous utterance. Such ecstatic utterance is none other than transcendent praise.21
Another Old Testament example in which praise and prophesying are closely related is that of 1 Chronicles 25:1 where David is said to have appointed persons to "prophesy with lyres, with harps, and with cymbals." Thereafter, certain ones "prophesied with the lyre in thanksgiving and praise to the LORD" (verse 3). Prophecy seems here identical with praise.

Returning to the New Testament and the Book of Acts, we emphasize again the intimate relationship of the event/experience of the Spirit and transcendent praise. In three of the five instances we have been considering, namely, Jerusalem (2:4), Caesarea (10:46), and Ephesus (19:6), such speech in "tongues" is specifically mentioned. In the case of Samaria nothing is directly said about the Samaritans speaking in tongues; however, such seems clearly implied. For just after the statement that "they received the Holy Spirit" (Acts 8:17) are the words: "Now when Simon [the magician] saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles' hands, he offered them [Peter and John] money" (8:18). What he saw that made him eager to pay money was, in all likelihood, the Samaritans speaking in tongues, something extraordinary, beyond his previous manifold occult practices. He was willing to pay for the power to lay hands on others for similar miraculous results. The Samaritans, we may therefore conclude, likewise responded to the Spirit's dynamic presence with transcendent praise.22

In the case of Saul of Tarsus and his reception of the Spirit, nothing is said about his speaking in tongues (see Acts 9:17-18). However, by Paul's own testimony to the Corinthians, "I thank God that I speak in tongues more than you all" (1 Cor. 14:18), we know he did. It is quite possible, though Luke does not so specify, that Paul first spoke in tongues when he was filled with the Holy Spirit. However, it may also be that he began to speak at a later time.

To summarize: in the majority of cases- -three out of five- -people who had received the gift of the Holy Spirit definitely did speak in tongues. There is strong likelihood of such in the fourth case, and a possibility in the fifth, making five instances where people did so speak. Based on the evidence in Acts we can draw no absolute conclusion that speaking in tongues invariably followed the reception of the Spirit; however, the texts do incline in that direction. This is further suggested by the fact that, as already noted, wherever tongues are explicitly mentioned, all speak. It is not the expression of just one or two but of everyone who has received the Holy Spirit. The commonality of speaking in tongues would strongly suggest their occurrence, whether or not directly mentioned, in all situations where the Spirit was given.

In the present-day spiritual renewal, the intimate connection between receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues is recognized everywhere. It happens again and again that when people are filled with the Holy Spirit, they immediately begin to speak in tongues. Indeed, since praise is the initial response to the gift of the Spirit, and tongues represent transcendent praise, one follows readily upon the other. In some instances, speaking in tongues may occur later. But that it does occur is the common testimony of the renewal through the world. Tongues are the Spirit-given opportunity for fullness of praise.


Purpose and Function

The basic purpose of the event of the Holy Spirit is that of enabling power.23 The biblical term for this power is dynamis- -power, strength, might, force- -and such comes from the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is transcendent, enabling power.

The key text for the event/experience of the Spirit is Acts 1:8, where Jesus declares: "You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth." The transcendent praise of God is the first thing; but the purpose of the gift is the enabling of witness and ministry.

The primary New Testament example is Jesus Himself. After the Holy Spirit's descent upon Him, and following His temptations in the wilderness, Jesus "returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee" (Luke 4:14) to begin His ministry. Thus the endowment of the Holy Spirit was clearly for enabling power. In a later summary of Jesus' ministry, Peter speaks of "how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power24 [and] he went about doing good and healing all that were oppressed" (Acts 10:38). Thus was Jesus enabled to carry forward His ministry.25 If He needed this enabling power, how much more those who follow Him!

It might be interjected that the coming of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus had nothing to do with His salvation or sanctification. Jesus, of course, had no need to be saved from sin or to grow in holiness. Hence, the coming of the Spirit was for a totally different purpose, namely, to enable Him to fulfill His vocation. As the Son of man, a truly human being though without sin, He needed this endowment of power.

Now to return to the Book of Acts: it is important to recognize that the words of Jesus in Acts 1:8 apply not only to the apostles (to whom they were originally spoken) but also to others thereafter upon whom the Spirit comes. Before the Day of Pentecost the number had already enlarged to approximately 120 (Acts 1:15). At least that many received the gift of the Holy Spirit and the accompanying power when the day arrived. Thus all upon whom the Spirit later comes will receive a like enabling power for witness and ministry.
In the case of Saul of Tarsus this is clearly spelled out. We have already noted that Saul was filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 9:17). This occurred through the laying on of hands by a disciple named Ananias. The Lord had spoken to Ananias: "Go, for he [Saul] is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel" (9:15). Thus the gift of the Spirit will be for the purpose of carrying forward this far-reaching witness.

It is not specifically stated in the account of the Samaritans, Caesareans, and Ephesians that the event of the Spirit was for the purpose of power for ministry; however, such would seem to be implied.26

In the case of the Samaritans, who had believed and been baptized, Peter and John came down from Jerusalem to pray for and lay hands on them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. The reason for this mission was quite possibly that the Samaritans might have the same empowering for ministry that Peter and John had received at Pentecost and thus become also a vital part of the witnessing outreach. It is not that some lack in the Samaritans' faith was remedied by the apostles' coming27 or that the purpose was to incorporate them into the Jerusalem church,28 but primarily that the Samaritans might receive the same empowering that Peter and John had received at Pentecost. Since Jesus had said, "You shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth," reference to Samaria could signify not only a people to whom witness is made but also by whom it is to be continued.

The Holy Spirit in Acts is unmistakably a "missionary Spirit." Hence when He comes upon people, it is for the basic purpose of driving them beyond themselves into a witness for Jesus Christ. They thereby become participants in the continuing outreach of the gospel to the whole world. There is an ever-widening missionary circle: Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, Caesarea, Ephesus. All represent a further extension of the gospel and additional persons and areas that through the gift of the Spirit become participant in the witness to Christ. Thus, though nothing is said directly in the biblical narratives about the ministry of the gospel through the Samaritans, Caesareans, and Ephesians, the fact that they also receive the Holy Spirit- -the "missionary Spirit"- -would suggest that they too become proclaimers of the Good News.

It should also be stressed that this enabling power was not only for witness by word but also by deed. When Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, the first thing mentioned is His word or teaching ministry: "he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all" (Luke 4:15). Thereafter, he goes to the synagogue in Nazareth and reads from the words in Isaiah: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor"- -hence a Spirit-anointed word ministry. But then the quotation continues, "He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind" (4:18), thus a ministry of deed also. After this, Jesus moves mightily in healing the sick, casting out demons, working miracles, and so on.

Likewise, when the Spirit came upon the disciples at Pentecost, they not only witness by word thereafter but also carry forward Jesus' ministry of miraculous deeds.29 Jesus, according to the Fourth Gospel, had said, "He who believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I go to the Father" (John 14:12). In the power of the Spirit sent from the ascended Jesus, they perform many mighty works. Although the apostles often do such works, Jesus does not limit such activity to them alone ("he who believes"). Indeed, the Book of Acts records the large company of disciples on one occasion praying, "Grant to thy servants to speak thy word with all boldness, while thou stretchest out thy hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of thy holy servant Jesus" (4:29-30). It is the ongoing ministry of Jesus to be carried forward by the whole body of Spirit-anointed believers. Examples of this are Stephen and Philip, who perform many miracles though neither is an apostle (6:8; 8:6-7).

The apostle Paul, looking back over his ministry, speaks of both word and deed in the power of the Spirit: "I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has wrought through me to win obedience from the Gentiles, by word and deed, by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Holy Spirit, so that from Jerusalem as far around as Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ" (Rom. 15:18-19). It was the power of the Holy Spirit that made all this possible.

The basic purpose of the gift of the Holy Spirit is dynamis- -enabling power for the ministry of the gospel.

Before proceeding further we might briefly look back to the Old Testament and observe the Spirit in His enabling power. Earlier we have called attention to the wide range of terminology in the Old Testament similar to the Book of Acts, e.g., such expressions as the Spirit's "coming upon," "taking possession of," "being filled with," "falling upon." Now we note that in all these instances the purpose of this activity of the Spirit is to enable a task, a calling, a vocation to be fulfilled. The Spirit endows a craftsman to design the tabernacle (Ex. 31:3), a judge to make decisions (e.g, Judg. 3:10), a king to rule wisely and effectively (e.g., 1 Sam. 16:13), a prophet to speak God's word (e.g., Mic. 3:8). In all these cases the Spirit comes as a dynamic presence for the purpose of enabling a task, a calling, a vocation to be fulfilled.

Likewise, we might mention the prophecies in Isaiah about a coming One who will act in the enabling power of the Holy Spirit. "There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse....And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him" (11:1-2); "Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen...I have put [or 'will put' NIV] my Spirit upon him, he will bring forth justice to the nations" (42:1); "The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good tiding to the afflicted" (61:1). The Spirit will "rest upon," be "put on," "anoint" the Messiah to enable Him to fulfill His manifold calling and ministry.

As we have previously commented, Jesus upon whom the Spirit came is the channel for that same Spirit to come upon others. This means, therefore, that the Spirit given at Pentecost and thereafter is for the central purpose of enabling people to carry forward His ministry after Him. Jesus received power for ministry when the Holy Spirit came upon Him; He promised power for ministry when the Holy Spirit comes upon His disciples: "You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses" (Acts 1:8). Hence, all occasions of the event of the Spirit in Acts refer basically to an empowering for witness and service.

Next we should observe that there is also a special function of the Spirit's coming, namely, testimony. In a sense we have been considering testimony already in that through the Holy Spirit testimony, or witness, is made to the world about Jesus Christ. As Peter on one occasion puts it: "We are witnesses to these things [about Jesus Christ and salvation], and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him" (Acts 5:32). But now we are referring not to the power to bear witness to the world (from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth) but to the role of the Holy Spirit in bearing testimony to God's acceptance and approval of those who belong to Him.

Let us begin with Jesus Himself. We have already made mention of the descent of the Holy Spirit from heaven upon Jesus and how with this enabling power He began His ministry. But now we may go back to the occasion of the Spirit's coming and observe that, immediately following Jesus' baptism and the descent of the Spirit as a dove, "a voice came from Heaven, 'Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased'" (Luke 3:22). In other words, the very coming of the Holy Spirit from heaven pointed to God's approval, as the words specify- -"my beloved Son...well pleased." This was demonstrative testimony to any bystander as well as to Jesus Himself that He was God's Son, approved and pleasing in His Father's sight.30

Now we may skip over to the account in Acts of the Caesareans and observe likewise that the coming of the Holy Spirit was testimony to their acceptance and approval by God. When the Holy Spirit falls on the Caesareans (evidenced by their praising God in tongues), Peter is thereby convinced the Gentiles have been accepted by God, for he declares, "Can any one forbid water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?" (Acts 10:47). Some time later when Peter rehearses these events to the apostles and brethren in Jerusalem and describes how the Holy Spirit fell on the Caesareans "just as on us at the beginning" (Acts 11:15), those in Jerusalem "glorified God, saying, 'Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance unto life'" (11:18). The gift of the Holy Spirit to the Caesareans was the divine certification of their salvation- -their "repentance unto life"- -and thus of acceptance and approval of God.

But not only is the gift of the Holy Spirit testimony to others of their acceptance and salvation, but also it was God's witness to the Caesareans themselves. On a later occasion Peter speaks to the apostles and elders how "God made choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles [at Caesarea] should hear the word of the gospel and believe." Peter immediately adds: "And God who knows the heart bore witness to them, giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us" (Acts 15:7-8). God "bore witness to them" means "shows that he accepted them" (NIV): it was the Gentiles' own certification that they had truly heard and believed, hence had come to salvation. Indeed, they were now sons of God- -attested by the Holy Spirit.31

It is also quite likely that the gift of the Holy Spirit to the Samaritans and the Ephesians had the same dual testimony and certification. In addition to the fact that the Holy Spirit- -the "missionary Spirit"- -was given for the enabling of witness to the world, His very coming at Samaria and Ephesus doubtless was also God's own attestation that they had been accepted as His children. The Samaritans in particular had long been despised by the Jews, and viewed as total outsiders. But now the Holy Spirit was also given to them. The far distant Ephesians likewise, by the gift of God's Spirit, were shown both to others and to themselves as accepted into God's family.

To move briefly to the contemporary scene: one of the striking features of the present Pentecostal (or charismatic) movement is the way in which people in many churches or denominations that have been long separated from, and even antagonistic to, one another have changed their attitude. For example, many Protestants who had become involved in the movement in the early to mid-1960s were ill prepared to accept Roman Catholics for the reason that they (the Protestants) were not at all sure whether Roman Catholics had experienced salvation. Then the Holy Spirit began to move among the Catholics with the resulting dynamic presence of God, transcendent praise, and powerful witness to the gospel. All the Protestants could do, like the apostles and brethren, was to glorify God and say: "Then to the Roman Catholics also God has granted repentance unto life!"


The Role of Faith

The Holy Spirit, in one event after another, is given to those who believe in Jesus Christ. Believing means to look to Him as Lord and Savior and through Him to enter into new life. The essentials are shown to be repentance and forgiveness: "that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations" (Luke 24:47). To all who so repent and receive forgiveness (usually accompanied by water baptism), and thus exercise faith, the Holy Spirit is promised. In the words of Peter on the Day of Pentecost: "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ32 for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you..." (Acts 2:38-39). The promise of the Spirit is to those who come to faith in Christ.

In all the Acts narratives that relate to the gift of the Spirit, faith in Christ is essential. Only those who believe in Him receive the Holy Spirit. This is demonstrated most clearly in the accounts of the Caesareans, Samaritans, and Ephesians. Let us observe each in turn.

Peter proclaims Jesus Christ, His life, death, and resurrection, and climaxes his message to the Caesareans with the words: "To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name. While Peter was still saying this, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word" (Acts 10:43-44). It is to those who believe in Christ (those "who heard the word") that the Holy Spirit is given.

Philip at Samaria "proclaimed to them the Christ" (Acts 8:5). As a result, the Samaritans come to faith and are baptized: "When they believed Philip as he preached the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women" (8:12). Later Peter and John come from Jerusalem and minister to them the Holy Spirit (8:14-17). Again, the Holy Spirit is received by those who had come to faith in Jesus Christ.

Paul proclaims Jesus Christ to the Ephesians before they receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. He reminds them that "John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is Jesus" (Acts 19:4). "On hearing this" the Ephesians "were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus" (19:5). Thereafter Paul lays hands on them and they receive the Holy Spirit (19:6). Once again, the Holy Spirit is given to those who believe in Christ.

In these three narratives faith is essential to receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is apparent also that believing in Jesus and receiving the Holy Spirit occur at the same time (Caesareans), shortly thereafter (Ephesians), or some days later (Samaritans). This does not mean that faith is only the background as if, so to speak, the Samaritans believed one day and received another; rather faith operates throughout.

Basically then it is a matter of faith not as a static fact, a once-for-all thing, but a living, even growing reality. Hence, to those believing, whether at the moment of initial faith or along the way of faith, the Holy Spirit is given.

We may better appreciate this understanding of faith by viewing the situation of the disciples at Pentecost. In a real sense they were believers in Jesus already. They had known Him in His life, death, and resurrection, had received His forgiveness33 and were waiting at His behest in Jerusalem. Hence they had believed surely, and now at Pentecost they were believing when the Holy Spirit came. Some later words of Peter to the apostles and brethren in Jerusalem about his recent experience with the Caesareans underscore this: "So if God gave them the same gift [of the Holy Spirit] as he gave us, who believed34 in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God?" (Acts 11:17 NIV). It was not that only at Pentecost the disciples had come to believe or that believing was a past action; it was rather that as believers the Holy Spirit was poured out upon them.

It is important to recognize before proceeding further that in the Acts accounts persons may be believers and not yet have received the gift of the Holy Spirit. In the case of the Ephesians Paul at the outset questions them: "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?"35 (Acts 19:2). Hence there may be a believing in Christ36 prior to the reception of the Holy Spirit. To be sure, faith- -a continuing believing- -is necessary to this reception, but the critical matter here is that Paul implies the possibility of genuine faith that has not yet resulted in the reception of the Holy Spirit.

Let it now be emphasized from the record in Acts: it is through faith in Christ that persons initially receive forgiveness. It is likewise through faith that they receive the Holy Spirit. Or to put it differently, it is the same Christ who through faith brings both the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Spirit.

We may speak, accordingly, of faith in movement, faith in process. Such a recognition of the dynamics of faith as depicted in Acts is essential to proper understanding of the reception of the Holy Spirit. At a certain moment in faith- -whether at the outset or somewhere along the way- -the Holy Spirit may be received. This moment may or may not coincide with the initial moment of receiving forgiveness of sins. It happened at the same time (Caesareans), shortly thereafter (Ephesians), days later (Samaritans37), or even longer (Jerusalem38). Whatever the case, faith in Jesus Christ is shown to be the essential matter whenever the Holy Spirit is given.

What must not be said is that forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Spirit are identical. For example, there are those who equate the gift of the Spirit with the gift of saving grace39 or regeneration. However, there is nothing in the Acts narrative to suggest such an equation. To say that the disciples had not experienced such grace before the Pentecostal gift of the Holy Spirit runs counter to any perceptive reading of the New Testament record. Or to claim that the Samaritans had not truly believed in Christ through Philip's ministry prior to their later reception of the Holy Spirit strains credulity.40 Surely the Ephesians had come to faith in Christ, and were baptized in His name, before Paul lays hands upon them to receive the Holy Spirit.

It is also apparent that there simply is no evidence in Acts that forgiveness of sins (salvation) automatically leads to the reception of the Spirit. Philip had brought the Samaritans to this point, but Peter and John were also needed to minister the Holy Spirit. Saul had begun to follow Jesus on the way of faith, but Ananias was needed to pray for Saul that he would be filled with the Holy Spirit. Paul had led the Ephesians to faith and baptism in Jesus' name, but it was necessary that he take a further step for them to receive the Holy Spirit.

Here we need to speak to another concern. There are those who may agree on the whole with our account of what happened in Acts, but either are unwilling to apply it to today or claim that the Epistles do not bear out the interpretation given. I will spend no time in relation to the first category, since it has few responsible adherents, but the second is important. Do the Epistles bear out what has been said regarding Acts? I have time and space for only a few comments, but trust they will be helpful.

First of all, it is important to recognize that the Epistles are written to Christian believers in various churches and situations. No epistle therefore directly shows people coming to faith in Christ or receiving the Holy Spirit. The dynamics of Christian beginnings have already happened. Second, as will be apparent, there is significant evidence for the reception of the Holy Spirit occurring subsequent to initial faith. Although such subsequence cannot be proven to be temporal, there can be no question of at least a subsequence in order (as will be noted). Such subsequence in order lends credence to a possible subsequence in time.

The main example is found in Ephesians 1:13- -"In him you also, who have heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and have believed [or 'having believed'41 NIV] in him, you were sealed42 with the promised Holy Spirit." The Ephesians' believing in Christ precedes their being sealed by the Holy Spirit. There is unmistakably a precedence in order (believing in Christ and then sealing); there is also a suggestion of temporal precedence in Paul's words43: "have believed" (or "having believed"). This becomes all the more likely if we look to the account in Acts 19 where, as we have observed, Paul raises the question that assumes the possibility of prior belief;44 moreover, after the Ephesians come to faith in Christ, he lays hands on them to receive the Holy Spirit.

We may say, then, that the narrative in Acts about the Ephesians shows a definite temporal order, however brief, from initial faith in Christ to a subsequent reception of the Holy Spirit. The whole event is described in its occurrence. In the letter to the Ephesians, Paul is looking back on what has already happened45 without detailing each aspect as it occurred. If we may properly use the narrative in Acts for illumination of the statements in Ephesians,46 we behold a temporal movement from initial faith to reception of the Holy Spirit. The Ephesians had come to faith in Christ before they received the Holy Spirit.
One further thing about the Ephesian narrative may be noted, namely, that Paul both baptized and laid on hands. The Ephesians had already been baptized "into John's baptism" (19:3). Upon their believing in Jesus, they "were baptized [by Paul] in the name of the Lord Jesus." Thereafter Paul "laid his hands upon them" and "the Holy Spirit came on them." It is important to observe that the act of baptizing in water related to their faith in Christ and the following imposition of hands to their receiving the Holy Spirit. All- -faith in Christ, baptism in Christ (going beyond John's baptism), laying on of hands, receiving the Holy Spirit- -were important factors in their Christian beginnings. In this Ephesians passage, Paul does not mention either baptism or hands, though they possibly may be assumed.

This leads to our second example, namely, another significant New Testament passage that refers in sequence to a number of basic Christian elements in sequence. Here we look at Hebrews 6 which reads: "Let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment" (vv. 1-2 NIV). Six "elementary teachings" are mentioned, the first two of which, repentance and faith, are obviously the most basic since it is by repentance and faith that one comes to salvation. The last two are climactic, the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment. In between are instructions about "baptisms"47 and the laying on of hands. "Instructions about baptisms" could refer to the difference between various Jewish lustrations or between John's baptism and Christian baptism,48 or how Christian baptism relates to repentance and faith. "The laying on of hands" very likely refers to the gift of the Holy Spirit49 as often imparted through the imposition of hands (as at Ephesus).50 It is quite interesting that the sequence of faith in Christ- -repentance, baptisms (probably John's and Christ's), and laying on of hands- -is the same as that in the Ephesian narrative of Acts 19. Moreover, the imposition of hands goes beyond matters of salvation (faith/repentance) into the area of reception of the Holy Spirit.51

With Acts 19 again as a possible historical precedent, Hebrews 6 demonstrates the dynamic movement from initial faith (and repentance) through the matter of baptisms into the reception of the Holy Spirit. Moreover, just as water baptism is a distinct and prior action relating to faith and repentance, so laying on of hands is distinct and subsequent in both Acts 19 and Hebrews 6. Thus this condensed passage in Hebrews, which enumerates elementary Christian principles, may be helpfully understood against the background of the narrative of such events as occurred in Acts 19.52

In regard to these "elementary teachings" in Hebrews, it is to be noted that the word "instruction" precedes baptisms and the laying on of hands (this is not the case in relation to the prior mention of faith and repentance). Is it too much to suggest that this is the area where instruction is particularly needed in our time? Of faith and repentance- -the area of salvation- -much is said, especially in evangelical circles, but what of baptisms (in the plural)53 and the laying on of hands?

But to return to our main point: both Ephesians 1:13 and Hebrews 6:1-3 bear out much of what has been detailed in various Acts narratives. While written in compact and non­narrative fashion, they both include the full dynamics of Christian beginnings. Moreover, there is subsequence in order (Ephesians) and in presentation (Hebrews) in dealing with initial faith and the reception of the Holy Spirit. The subsequence in order also suggests subsequence in time (especially in Ephesians), hence a possible later reception of the Spirit after initial faith.

A third example that may be mentioned is Galatians chapter 3. Paul first asks: "Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law, or by hearing with faith?....Does he who supplies [or 'gives'] the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith?" (vv. 2, 5). In Paul's questions there is unmistakable reference to the reception of the Spirit, that it occurs by faith (as we have previously observed), and that the working of miracles results from the giving of the Spirit.54 All of this sounds quite familiar against an Acts background. There is, however, nothing in these opening verses that states or suggests the temporal relationship to their salvation- -justification, redemption (the two Pauline terms most used in Galatians). As we move on, however, to verses 13-14, we read: "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us...that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith."

What is important here is that against the background of redemption ("Christ redeemed us"), we receive through faith "the promise of the Spirit." Note carefully: not that through faith we receive the Spirit but the promise of the Spirit. "The promise of the Spirit"55 is essentially the same expression as found in Acts 2:33 ("the promise of the Holy Spirit"56), and is the promise given to those who come to faith in Christ (repent, be baptized in His name, receive forgiveness of sins): "you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children and to all that are far off" (Acts 2:38-39). In Galatians the order is clear: first, there is redemption;57 second, to those who receive such through faith there is the promise of the Spirit. Hence, faith by which salvation is appropriated is accompanied by the promise but not necessarily at the same time by the realization of the promise.

Thus in Galatians, as clearly in Acts, and likely in Ephesians and Hebrews, there may be a separation in time between the occurrence of forgiveness of sins (redemption, salvation) and the reception of the Holy Spirit. It is still by faith in Christ (not "by works of the law"-Gal. 3:2) that such occurs, even though it may be on a later occasion.

We shall not take time to examine other relevant New Testament passages.58 It is hoped that what has been discussed in connection with Ephesians 1, Hebrews 6, and Galatians 3 will be sufficient to demonstrate basic congruity with the Acts narratives.


The Reception of the Spirit

We come finally to consider the actual reception of the gift of the Holy Spirit. The question here concerns three matters in particular: prayer, obedience, and the laying on of hands. How do they relate to the reception of the Holy Spirit?

In regard to prayer, it is apparent from most of the narrative accounts that prayer has much to do by way of background. We may begin with Jesus Himself and the coming of the Holy Spirit upon Him. The relevant passage in the Gospel of Luke reads: "Now it came about that when all the people were baptized, that Jesus also was baptized, and while He was praying, heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him" (3:21-22 NASB). Although no details are given, the Gospel clearly portrays a connection between Jesus' act of praying and the descent of the Holy Spirit.

The background of prayer is graphically set forth in relation to the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples at Pentecost. After the apostles had heard Jesus tell them "to wait for the promise of the Father" (Acts 1:4), they "went up to the upper room"(13), and along with several others "devoted themselves to prayer"59 (1:13-14). For ten days they continue in prayer, with their number growing to about 120, until the Holy Spirit rushes upon them at Pentecost.

In the story of the Samaritans the record reads that when Peter and John come down from Jerusalem to minister the Holy Spirit, their primary action is prayer: "Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God [i.e., had come to faith in Jesus Christ], they sent to them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit" (Acts 8:14-15). The praying in this case is done by the apostles, and such prayers (possibly including the Samaritans praying also) immediately precede the laying on of hands and the Samaritans' reception of the Holy Spirit (8:17).

The narrative about Saul of Tarsus is suffused with prayer. For three days Saul, blinded by the light from heaven, neither eats nor drinks (Acts 9:9) as he gives himself to prayer. Ananias, who will minister to Saul, is likewise in prayer. The Lord speaks to him in a vision and tells him to go to the house where Saul may be found, for "behold, he is praying" (9:10-11). Hence, extended prayer is the background for Ananias' subsequent ministry wherein Saul is filled with the Holy Spirit (9:17-18).

In the case of the Caesareans, prayer again is very much the background. The centurion at Caesarea, Cornelius, is described as "a devout man who feared God with all his household...and prayed constantly to God" (Acts 10:2). Cornelius is told by an angel in a vision that "your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God" (10:4). The angel then instructs Cornelius to send for a man named Simon Peter in another city. The next day Peter is praying (he "went up on the housetop to pray," 10:9) and also has a vision. As a result Peter goes with the delegation from Caesarea and proclaims the gospel to Cornelius and his household. Prayer on both sides- -Peter who will minister and the Caesareans who will receive- -precedes the event of the Spirit.

Only in the incident about Paul's ministering to the Ephesians is nothing said about prayer. However, since he does lay hands upon them to receive the Holy Spirit, this was probably preceded (as in Samaria) by prayer. Even the laying on of hands itself may be viewed as a kind of outward act of prayerful ministry.60

All in all, prayer is shown to be vital background for receiving the gift of the Spirit. One further Scripture passage highlights this all the more, namely, Luke 11:1-13. When Jesus is praying at a certain place, His disciples ask Him to teach them to pray. Jesus thereupon gives the "Lord's prayer," but then tells a parable emphasizing importunate prayer: "" (v. 9). It climaxes with the words: "If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"(v. 13). The asking- -meaning importunate, earnest prayer- -is background for God's giving the Holy Spirit.61 Prayer to the heavenly Father is channel for God's blessed gift.62

Why prayer is so important for the gift of the Spirit may be understood in light of the nature of the gift and the human situation. It is prayer which invites God's holy and dynamic presence63 to invade a believer's life. The channel needs to be open for this to happen. This may call for prayer over an extended time; or if the channel is in readiness, the Spirit may be immediately poured out. The moment Jesus looks to heaven after His baptism and prays the Holy Spirit descends: the channel is open and ready for a tremendous visitation of the Holy Spirit.64 The Caesarean centurion and his devout household are ready to receive God's dynamic visitation. The moment the blockage of sin is removed through forgiveness (hearing and receiving Peter's message) and they come to faith in Christ, the Holy Spirit is poured forth. The channel was already prepared.65

Here we must be careful not to overstate the case, but it seems quite likely that the reason in several instances for the Spirit not being given until some time after repentance and faith is that further preparation is needed. Jesus' own immediate disciples, though receiving forgiving grace by the risen Lord, had much debris in their channel- -some still doubting,66 many still divided in their devotion,67 all still concerned about material fulfillment.68 So they were told to tarry, to wait. Doubtless they needed the ten days of earnest praying as preparation for the Holy Spirit to be given. When at last they had become a vacuum- -emptied of nagging doubt, dividedness of heart, self-striving-the wind of the Holy Spirit rushed in. They were filled with the Holy Spirit.

Saul of Tarsus seems to have been very much in a similar situation. Although acknowledging the risen and ascended Jesus as Lord, he undoubtedly had much self-dying to do. The formerly proud, self-reliant, bitter Pharisee, now blinded by the glory of Jesus, needed time not just to rethink his theology but to surrender wholly to the Lord. Such surely was the burden of his three days of praying. At last emptied, Saul of Tarsus was likewise filled.

What shall we say about the case of the Samaritans? To compare them even briefly with the Caesareans shows a vast difference. Unlike the God-fearing, God-seeking household of Cornelius, they were a people caught up in many unclean practices69 and totally given over to Simon the magician (Acts 8:10). So even when they come to faith in Jesus, unlike the Caesareans, they are scarcely ready to receive the Holy Spirit. Hence, Peter and John's prayers with them may well have been to help them further to abjure the demons of their past70 and to make an unreserved surrender to the lordship of Jesus Christ.

Several things should be emphasized before proceeding further. First, in no case is God reluctant to give the Holy Spirit. He delights to "give good gifts" (Matthew 7:11)71 to His children; He delights to give the Holy Spirit. But He does not give to those for whom the way is not prepared. Second, moreover, since this is a gift, there is no way of earning it. Prayer- -earnest and importunate- -is a negation of all work: it is to allow God to remove the barriers so that He may take over. Third, at the heart of such prayer is self-surrender, the total yielding of the person to the lordship of Jesus Christ. Those thus empty before the Lord He delights to fill with His Holy Spirit.72

This leads next to a consideration of the matter of obedience. It will be recalled that on one occasion Peter declared: "We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him" (Acts 5:32). If prayer is background for the gift of the Holy Spirit, obedience is the proper attitude of heart and will.73

In the case of the original disciples who received the Holy Spirit, it is apparent that they obeyed Christ by waiting as He had commanded. According to Luke 24:49, Jesus had said: "Stay in the city, until you are clothed with power from on high." Acts 1:4 records that Jesus "charged them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father." This command of Jesus they fully obeyed, and God gave them the Holy Spirit. Saul of Tarsus similarly obeyed the words of Jesus. Acknowledging Jesus as Lord, "What shall I do, Lord?" he receives a command: "Rise, and go into Damascus" (Acts 22:10; cf. 9:5-6). Saul goes, waits, and prays. Ananias likewise receives a command: "Rise and go to the street called Straight" (9:11), where Saul would be found. The centurion of Caesarea is commanded by an angel: "Send men to Joppa, and bring one Simon who is called Peter" (10:5). Peter is told by the Spirit: "Rise and go down, and accompany them without hesitation" (10:20). In these latter two instances, those of the centurion74 and Saul, there is obedience on the part of both sides: the one to minister and the other to be ministered to.
Now these are all acts of specific obedience that relate directly to preparation for the gift of the Holy Spirit. Behind all of these we may refer again to the words of Jesus, earlier quoted: "" (Luke 11:9). These words, it should now be emphasized, are a strong command, indeed threefold, which relates altogether to the gift of the Holy Spirit. There may, or may not be, a direct word from Christ (as with the disciples and Saul), but such is not necessary. The words of Christ are inscribed for all to read and obey: Ask, seek, and knock. For the Holy Spirit, as Peter said, is given "to those who obey him."

But lest this be viewed only as a matter of obedience to a particular command relative to the gift of the Holy Spirit, we should recall the words of Christ in the Fourth Gospel: "If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor...the Spirit of truth" (John 14:15-17). Keeping Christ's commandments, striving to be faithful to His words, abiding in His truth: all such prepares the way for the gift of His Spirit.75 This does not mean that beyond faith obedience is required (not faith plus works), but this is the obedience that faith engenders, and to such faith/obedience the Spirit is given. For the Holy Spirit is given in the atmosphere of obedient faith.

All of this suggests that those who seek to walk faithfully in the way of Christ are living in an atmosphere conducive to the reception of the Holy Spirit. There may be failures, but the essential intention and direction is that of obedience to the word of the Lord. Already in some sense walking in the way of holiness,76 such persons are in a position for a further implementation of the Holy Spirit (who is the Spirit of holiness). Conversely, if a person is not walking in the way of faithful obedience to Christ; if he is harboring anger, lust, bitterness in his heart; if love has grown cold and holiness aggrieved- -such a one is hardly in a position to receive God's Holy Spirit. For obedience lies at the heart of faith, and it is by faith alone that the Holy Spirit is received.77

Finally, let us look into the matter of the laying on of hands. What relation has such an action to the reception of the Holy Spirit? What do the Acts narratives show?
The immediate answer is that there obviously is no necessary relationship. For in the case of both the disciples at Jerusalem and of the Caesareans, there is no laying on of hands. Of course, since the Jerusalem disciples were the first, there was no one who could have laid hands. In the instance of the Caesareans Peter was present and could have done so; however, there was no opportunity or need, for the moment they come to faith the Holy Spirit is given. In both cases it is apparent that hands were not involved; hence, they were not necessary.

In the other three instances- -the Samaritans, Saul at Damascus, and the Ephesians, there was laying on of hands. After Peter and John have prayer for the Samaritans, "then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit"78 (Acts 8:17). Following Saul's three days of praying and Ananias' "laying his hands on him," Saul is "filled with the Holy Spirit" (9:17). In regard to the Ephesians, "when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them" (19:6).

Since in the Acts accounts there is shown to be no necessary connection between imposition of hands and the reception of the Spirit, the question emerges: Why is there a difference between Caesarea79 on the one hand and the Samaritans, Saul, and the Ephesians on the other? Why the laying on of hands in the latter three instances? The answer would seem to be much in line with what was said about prayer and obedience: the Caesareans were so ready to receive everything from God that He immediately, without human mediation, pours forth the Holy Spirit. The others needed further help which the laying on of hands provided.

It is apparent that the laying on of hands, for one thing, is a dramatic symbol for the giving of the Holy Spirit. Hands placed upon a person clearly represents the Holy Spirit coming upon the person. Moreover, by the very act of allowing hands to be placed upon the head, the individual is thereby expressing submission and docility80 to a fresh work of God. Also hands signify contact, community, sharing- -a human channel for the divine gift. Although a person may receive the gift of the Spirit without human mediation, the imposition of hands may greatly facilitate this reception.

Now let us emphasize several matters. First, based on the accounts of Jerusalem and Samaria, God is not dependent on the mediation of human hands for the giving of the Holy Spirit. Other things, such as prayer and obedience, are far more basic. Second, where there is laying on of hands, there is no limitation to office. Apostles do lay hands in Samaria (Peter and John) and Ephesus (Paul), but a lay brother, Ananias, places hands on Saul. Third, there is no suggestion in Acts that the laying on of hands of itself81 confers the Holy Spirit. It is true that each time in Acts when hands are laid the Holy Spirit is received, but this is not because of any latent power in the transmitter.82 Rather it is due to God's grace operating through a human channel to the faith of those who are prepared to receive it.

Unmistakably there is need for much further consideration of the laying on of hands. It will be recalled that instruction about the laying on of hands (along with baptisms) belongs to "elementary teachings" (Hebrews 6:1). The proper understanding and practice of the laying on of hands is much needed in our time.

A word should be added about two things: God's sovereignty and human expectancy. Although we have been declaring that prayer is the regular background, obedience important preparation, and the laying on of hands the means, we must not overlook God's sovereign disposition. This to be sure is seen in that He may or may not use hands as a channel. In addition it would be an error to give prayer, no matter how fervent or protracted, or obedience, no matter how devout, the place of primacy. God as the sovereign Lord, regardless of such factors, is free to give His Holy Spirit to those who believe, when and how He wills. On the human side the only critical matter is faith- -a continuing belief and trust; but there is no guarantee of God's timetable of further action.
Moreover, if it is true- -as many firmly believe- -that we are living in an extraordinary time of the outpouring of God's Spirit, this is not first of all our doing but His. God has promised that "in the last days" He would pour out His Spirit upon all flesh; and if we are in the last of these "last days," then what is happening stems basically from His sovereign intention. It is not because we are more prayerful or obedient or saintly than generations before us, so that God is responding thereto and sending us His Holy Spirit. No, it is primarily and profoundly a matter of God's will and purpose. He is sending forth His Spirit, quite possibly in preparation for the consummation of all things.

But there is also the important side of human expectancy. The first disciples before Pentecost lived in expectation of the Spirit's being poured out. Although they did not know just when the promise of the Holy Spirit would be fulfilled in their behalf, they waited and prayed with full expectancy that it would come about. Moreover, after it happened to them, Peter declared that it was by no means a once-for-all event, but that the gift of the Holy Spirit was promised likewise to all who come to faith in Christ: "the promise is to you and to your children and to all that are far off, every one whom the Lord our God calls to him" (Acts 2:39). Surely this built up great expectation. Since, moreover, the promise was not just to people in that day but to those throughout the ages, then everyone called by God stands under the same promise. So should the expectation of the people of God be exceedingly great to enter into that promise and live more fully in the reality of God's dynamic presence and power.

Summary of A Pentecostal Theology

The critical center of a Pentecostal theology is the gift and reception of the Holy Spirit. In the early church, as recorded in the Book of Acts, the Holy Spirit was poured out upon, fell on, came upon people; and they were immersed in, filled with the Holy Spirit. The Spirit thus given and received came from God the Father through Jesus Christ. The result of this event was the dynamic immediacy of God's presence. Since the gift of the Holy Spirit was promised for all generations to come, it is available in our time.

The primary response to the gift/reception of the Holy Spirit in the early church was praise, the glorifying of God. In the Book of Acts, this praise came forth in tongues as a recurring expression of transcendent praise. This may be viewed as resulting from the dynamic penetration of the Holy Spirit bringing about a situation of high spiritual intensity. Since tongues occurred frequently in the early church as the primary response to the gift of the Holy Spirit, they may be expected likewise in the church thereafter.

The basic purpose of the gift/reception of the Spirit in the early church was enabling power. This was the case in Jesus' own ministry as well as His disciples thereafter: it was power for ministry. The gift was not for salvation or sanctification but for service in word and deed. At the same time the Spirit who came was a testimony to God's acceptance and approval: for Jesus as God's Son, for those after Him that they had repented unto life.

What was true in New Testament times is true also today: the reception of the Holy Spirit brings about both power for ministry and certification of sonship and salvation.
The role of faith was central in the reception of the Holy Spirit; only those who believed in Jesus received this gift. Each account in Acts makes this unmistakably clear. To believe truly (i.e., to repent and believe) resulted immediately in the forgiveness of sins, hence salvation. However, in many cases the gift of the Spirit did not occur at the moment of initial faith and salvation but shortly thereafter, or even days and weeks later. In such cases people were believers prior to receiving the gift of the Spirit. Hence, in the Acts narratives there is witness to a chronological subsequence of the gift of the Holy Spirit, not to faith but to salvation. On the matter of subsequence the Epistles, though there is no narrational description, attest to the reception of the Holy Spirit following upon salvation. This subsequence in order lends credence to a possible separation in time, and thus a confirming of the record in Acts. In any event faith, believing, continued to be the essential condition for the reception of the Holy Spirit. The role of faith, whatever the situation of subsequence, remains until today central in the reception of the Holy Spirit.

The reception of the Spirit in the early church occurred ordinarily against the background of prayer and self-surrender. The proper attitude of heart and will was obedience- -thus acting in accordance with Christ's command. Both prayer and obedience were the context, not the condition (which was faith only), for receiving the Holy Spirit. The laying on of hands, while not necessary, was often the external medium for the Spirit to be given.

However, the imposition of hands in and of itself did not confer the Holy Spirit. Far more basic was the matter of faith and prior salvation, prayer and obedience. Ultimately, the reception of the Spirit was due to God's grace communicated with or without human mediation to the faith of those ready to receive it. It follows that the same situation continues to prevail in our time.

Finally, it is apparent in the early church that both God's sovereignty and human expectancy were involved in the gift and reception of the Holy Spirit. Can this be any less true now?

Some Critical Points in A Pentecostal Theology

1. The gift of the Holy Spirit is a recurring event. The earliest church historical record (Acts) depicts the Spirit being given and received on several occasions. There is also the promise of the gift of the Holy Spirit to generations thereafter.
The Spirit was not given once-for-all at Pentecost.

2. The narratives in the Book of Acts that record the giving and receiving of the Holy Spirit are, in their unity and variety, the primary exegetical basis for the gift/reception of the Holy Spirit. Against the narrational background the Epistles may best be understood.
It is not proper to place the so-called didactic (e.g., Paul's epistles) above the narrational.

3. The gift of the Holy Spirit is the Holy Spirit Himself. He comes from the Father through the Son. The result is the dynamic and immediate presence of God.
The gift of the Holy Spirit is not an unmediated immediacy; the Spirit comes through the mediation of Jesus Christ.

4. The occurrence of tongues (glossolalia) in Acts is best understood as transcendent praise. Tongues of praise are expressive of the situation of divine penetration and high spiritual intensity. Tongues, accordingly, are the primary (though not necessary) response to the gift/reception of the Holy Spirit.
Glossolalia is not the speaking of foreign languages, nor is it a passing phenomenon of the early church.

5. The primary purpose of the gift of the Spirit is enabling power. It is to enable the believer to minister more effectively and to provide authentication of sonship and salvation.
The gift of the Holy Spirit is not the gift of saving grace; however, there can be no gift of the Spirit without prior grace and salvation.

6. Faith is basic to the reception of the Holy Spirit; however, the Spirit may not be given at the moment of salvation but at some time thereafter. Thus one may believe in Christ and not yet have received the Holy Spirit.
It is not correct to say that believers invariably receive the gift of the Holy Spirit at the inception of their faith.

7. The background of prayer and obedience, and often the laying on of hands, are the context for the gift/reception of the Holy Spirit.
The imposition of hands in and of itself does not convey the gift of the Holy Spirit.

The Challenge of A Pentecostal Theology

Five groups may here be addressed: (1) those who affirm that the Spirit of God is immediately present to all persons, hence without mediation through Jesus Christ- -often a feature of mysticism, especially in non-Christian religions; (2) those who claim that by virtue of salvation through Jesus Christ all persons have received the gift of the Holy Spirit- -the position of many evangelicals; (3) those who hold that through the proper sacramental action (baptism or confirmation) the Holy Spirit is invariably given- -sacramentalists in general; (4) those who stress the validity of the gifts of the Spirit for today but who hold that the gift of the Spirit is the release or actualization of what has been received in salvation or through the sacraments- -the viewpoint of many charismatics; (5) those who express much concern for the renewal of the church through such means as worship and fellowship, witness and service but who lay little emphasis on either the gift or the gifts of the Holy Spirit- -the perspective of many who might be called "renewalists."

My challenge is as follows:
(1) To many mystics- -there can be no immediate presence of the Holy Spirit without the redemptive action of Jesus Christ that makes possible the gift of the Holy Spirit. Faith in Jesus Christ whereby sins are forgiven is the precondition of God's immediate and dynamic presence. The urgent question to such mystics is: "Do you believe in Jesus Christ?"

(2) To many evangelicals- -the fact that a person has come to faith in Jesus Christ and thereby entered into salvation is no guarantee of the reception of the Holy Spirit. The gift of eternal life and the gift of the Holy Spirit are not the same. The critical question to such evangelicals is the Pauline one: "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?"

  1. To many sacramentalists- -the sacramental action cannot, ex opere operato, convey the spiritual reality. Only where there is vital faith is it possible to receive the Holy Spirit. The important question, similar to the preceding one, is: "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when the sacramental action occurred?"

(4) To many charismatics- -the gift of the Holy Spirit is a distinct and unique action of God, so cannot be viewed as simply a release or an actualization of what is already there. There is serious danger in such a viewpoint of minimizing the necessity of the special event/experience whereby the gifts may flourish. Perhaps the best word to such charismatics is: "Do not quench the Spirit" (1 Thess. 5:19).

(5) To many renewalists- -genuine and lasting renewal can only come about through the undergirding of various activities by the dynamic presence and power of the Holy Spirit. Otherwise renewal is little more than an accentuation of what is already there. The command of Jesus needs much to be heeded: "Stay [tarry, wait expectantly] ...until you are clothed with power from on high" (Luke 24:49).


1Pneuma: the Journal for Pentecostal Studies, vol. 5, no. 2, Fall, 1983, p. 39.

2Keep in Step with the Spirit, 231-32.

3A fuller elaboration of many of the matters discussed in this paper may be found in my book, The Gift of the Holy Spirit Today (1980). Also see Renewal Theology, vol. 2, Salvation, the Holy Spirit, and Christian Living (1990).

4Instead of "with" as is found in the RSV and most translations. The Greek word en may be translated as "in," "with," or "by." "By," in this context, however, is quite misleading.

5There are a number of other reasons besides the linguistic and empirical for speaking of the basic identity of the five experiences. This will become apparent as we proceed.

6That "the promise" in Acts 2:39 refers to the gift of the Holy Spirit is apparent from 2:33 where the promise is stated specifically as "the promise of the Holy Spirit." This is called "the promise of the Father" in 1:4 (cf. Luke 24:49-"the promise of my Father").

7"This which you see and hear" refers to the visible and audible demonstrations which accompanied the outpouring (see hereafter), but the basic reality is the Holy Spirit Himself.

8Mysticism, in some of its forms, speaks of a direct or unmediated sense of God's presence.

9The first reference in the Bible to the Spirit of God, i.e., the Holy Spirit, is that of "the Spirit of God...moving over the face of the waters" (Gen. 1:2).

10See Roger Stronstad, The Charismatic Theology of St. Luke, 77, on "the transfer of the Spirit motif." Stronstad's book has many valuable insights not only on Luke's "charismatic theology" but also on the Old Testament background.

11The Greek word is megaleia.

12Greek: megalunonton.

13Cf. also the relation between joy and the filling of the Spirit in Acts 13:52-"And the disciples were continually filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit" (NASB).

14EGT in reference to Acts 10:46 calls this "jubilant ecstatic praise."

15As in the quotation in the preceding note regarding Caesarea.

16F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, NICNT, 57. According to Bruce, this was "possibly" what occurred at Pentecost. He had just described the utterances at Pentecost as "words spoken by the disciples in their divine ecstasy."

17Acts 2:4. "Other" is sometimes taken to mean other in the sense of additional human languages. However, the more likely understanding of "other" in this text is qualitative otherness. Thayer has two headings under heteros ("other") referring to (1) Number and (2) Quality. "Number" would point to other tongues as additional, thus in the case of Acts 2:4, the speaking of additional languages such as Arabic, Greek, Chaldean; "quality" would signify difference in kind-"not of the same nature, form, class, kind."

18The word translated "utterance" is apophthengesthai, literally "to speak out." It is a term used "of the speech of the wise man [in Greek literature]...but also of the oracle-giver, diviner, prophet, exorcist, and other 'inspired persons'"(BAGD). This "inspired" speech is given by the Holy Spirit through human lips.

19C. S. Lewis in his address entitled "Transposition" (in Transposition and Other Addresses) describes how a transposition occurs whenever a higher medium reproduces itself in a lower. If viewed merely from the perspective of the lower, the higher may be completely missed. Concerning glossolalia (speaking in tongues) Lewis writes, "all non-Christian opinion would regard it as a kind of hysteria, an involuntary discharge of nervous excitement" (p. 9). However, "...the very same phenomenon which is sometimes not only natural but even pathological is at other times...the organ of the Holy Ghost" (p. 10). "Those who spoke with tongues, as St. Paul did, can well understand how that holy phenomenon differed from the hysterical phenomenon-although...they were in a sense exactly the same phenomenon" (p. 17). Lewis later speaks about "the inevitableness of the error made about every transposition by one who approaches it from the lower medium only" (p. 19). "Transposition" accordingly is an excellent term to express what happens when the Holy Spirit, the higher medium, is expressed in the lower, the human spirit. The vehicle of expression, human language, becomes transposed into a new dimension of utterance.

20Keil and Delitzsch have an interesting comment about the prophesying of the elders "not as the foretelling of future things, but as speaking in an exalted and elevated state of mind, under the impulse and inspiration of the Spirit of God, just like the 'speaking in tongues' which frequently followed the gift of the Spirit in the days of the apostles" (Commentary on the Old Testament, 1:70).

21Leon Wood identifies the elders' prophesying with praise: "In the instance of the seventy in the wilderness... 'prophesying' would be that these seventy began to render praise to God, when the Spirit was placed upon them" (The Holy Spirit in the Old Testament, 111).

22A. T. Robertson states that the word structure in Acts 8 "shows plainly that those who received the gift of the Holy Spirit spoke in tongues" (Word Pictures in the New Testament, 3:107). F. F. Bruce affirms that "the context leaves us in no doubt that their reception of the Spirit was attended by external manifestations such as had marked His descent on the earliest disciples at Pentecost" (The Book of Acts, NICNT, 181). For similar comments see Johannes Munck, The Acts of the Apostles, AB, 75 and F. J. Foakes-Jackson, The Acts of the Apostles, MC, 73.

23In Renewal Theology, vol. 2, I have more recently spoken of the first purpose of the coming of the Holy Spirit as guidance "into all the truth" (see pp. 237-43). Thereafter I speak of "power for ministry" (pp. 248-63), a fuller elaboration of the purpose described above.

24The Holy Spirit and power are not identical. As earlier observed, the gift of the Holy Spirit is the Spirit Himself, not something else. However, the basic purpose of the gift is power for ministry.

25In John 6:27 Jesus says that "on him [Jesus Himself] has God the Father set his seal"-literally, "this one God the Father sealed" (touton ho pater esphragisen ho theos). The idea of sealing here would seem clearly to refer to this anointing with power at the Jordan: "to dedicate," "to consecrate," "to endow with heavenly power" (TDNT, 7:949, n.83).

26According to R. R. Williams, "throughout Acts, the Holy Spirit is thought of as the means whereby Christians receive power to witness to Christ and His resurrection" (The Acts of the Apostles, 36).

27James D. G. Dunn holds that "the Samaritans' response was simply an assent of mind to the acceptability of what Philip was saying" (Baptism in the Holy Spirit, 65). Hence, Peter and John came down to lead them into a genuine Christian experience. This, I submit, is a faulty reading of the narrative.

28As, e.g., I. H. Marshall writes: "God withheld the Spirit until the coming of Peter and John in order that the Samaritans might be seen to be fully incorporated into the community of Jerusalem Christians" (The Acts of the Apostles, TNTC, 157).

29E.g., observe how Peter's sermon of Acts 2 is followed by a healing ministry in Acts 3.

30"This opening of the heaven, the descent of the Holy Ghost in a visible shape, and the voice from heaven, were to Jesus the final assurance from God that He was indeed His Son and the anointed Messiah, and that God wholly approved of His assumption of the work of redemption." So writes Norval Geldenhuys in The Gospel of Luke, NICNT, 147.

31Obviously there is a great difference between the approval given to Jesus who needed no salvation and the Gentiles who had received it. However, the Gentiles had been accepted through faith in Jesus whereby they likewise had become sons of God. Hence, it was as if God were saying to them because of their salvation through Christ, "You are my beloved sons; with you I am well pleased."

32Baptism itself is not essential to forgiveness of sins (as the account in Acts 10 will show), but the faith that baptism signifies is wholly necessary.

33The words of Jesus after His resurrection to the disciples, all of whom had forsaken Him, are three times repeated: "Peace be unto you" (John 20:19,21,26). They contain a strong note of forgiveness and grace. This peace, in the words of R. V. G. Tasker, is "the peace of the pardoned sinner" (The Gospel According to St. John, TNTC, 266).

34"When we believed" (RSV) is misleading. This suggests that Peter and the others at Pentecost did not believe until the time the Spirit was given. The Greek word involved here is pisteusasin, an aorist participle which may express action antecedent to or concurrent with the action of the main verb (see, e.g., A. T. Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research, 860-61). If concurrent, then "when we believed" would be correct. However, as Dunn says, "the aorist participle does in fact usually express antecedent action, but it is the context, not the grammatical form, which determines this" (Baptism in the Holy Spirit, 159). Since the aorist does usually express antecedent action, and, I would add, the context here suggests the same (the disciples had believed prior to Pentecost), then "who believed" is more accurate. However, since this is not only a matter of the past but a continuing reality, "believing" (embodying both antecedence and concurrence) may be an even better translation. Believing was both a past fact for the Pentecost disciples as well as a continuing reality ("after believing" (NASB) fails to capture the continuation of faith). (Also see previous chap. 5, nn. 15 and 19.)

35Pisteusantes is the aorist participle (as in Acts 11:17). "When you believed" (also NIV, NEB) is again misleading since it conveys only the idea of concurrence. "Since ye believed" (KJV) and "after" (NIV margin) both point to antecedence. Probably the best translation (though awkward) would be: "Did you receive the Holy Spirit, believing?" (antecedence and concurrence). However, I have retained the "when" since in this context (unlike Acts 11:17 supra) it, along with "since" or "after," points to a past believing wherein the Holy Spirit may not have been received. (Also see previous chap. 5, nn. 13 and 20.)

36Although it turns out that these "disciples" (Acts 19:1) did not yet have a saving faith in Christ (vv. 3-5), hence were not believers in a full Christian sense, this does not alter the fact that Paul viewed them as such in his initial encounter and question.

37Saul of Tarsus could also be mentioned here. Three days after his initial faith in Christ he is filled with the Holy Spirit. It is sometimes argued that Saul did not really believe until Ananias came to him. However, Saul recognizes Jesus as Lord (Acts 9:5; cf. with Acts 22:10), and when Ananias comes to him Ananias greets him as "Brother Saul" (Acts 9:17; 22:13). For a helpful discussion of this, see Howard M. Ervin, Conversion-Initiation and the Baptism in the Holy Spirit, chap. 5, "Paul's Conversion."

38Eduard Schweizer writes that, according to Luke, "days, and in exceptional cases even weeks and years may pass before endowment with the Spirit follows faith" (TDNT, 6:412). I agree with Schweizer that the New Testament record shows the possibility of a later impartation of the Spirit; however, I would prefer to say not "follows faith," but follows "initial faith." Clearly, people are still believing when they later receive the Holy Spirit.

39E.g., Dunn who writes that "the gift of the the gift of saving grace by which one enters into Christian experience and life" (Baptism in the Holy Spirit, 226).

40Contra Dunn who holds that "the Samaritans' response was simply an assent of the mind to the acceptability of what Philip was saying" but not true faith (ibid., 65; recall n. 27.

41The Greek word is pisteusantes; "having also believed" (NASB), "after that ye believed" (KJV).

42The Greek word for seal, sphragizo, may refer in the New Testament to power for witness and ministry. As stated in John 6:27 (as we have noted), Jesus declares about Himself that "him hath God the Father sealed [esphragisen]" (KJV). According to BAGD, syragizw in this context means "endue with power from heaven." Likewise 2 Corinthians 1:22-"he has put his seal upon [literally 'having sealed'-sphragisamenos] us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee" means "more than just 'provide with a mark of identification.'" It represents, according to BAGD, the same enduement of power. Hence, I would submit, we may view the sealing of Ephesians 1:13 in the same manner. The fact that this is "with the promised Holy Spirit" (literally, "the Holy Spirit of promise") lends further support to the sealing as primarily an enduement of power. However, sealing may also refer to certification, attestation, acknowledgment-to "attest, certify, acknowledge (as a seal does on a document)" (BAGD, syragizw, 2. c). Thus the sealing with the Holy Spirit, in this sense, brings an assurance of forgiveness, of salvation, of new life in Christ (recall the prior discussion of the testimonial function of the gift of the Spirit). Both attestation and empowerment are probably included. According to J. O. F. Murray, "the sealing [cf. Eph. 1:13] in the case of our Lord at his Baptism (Jn. vi. 27), and of the disciples on the Day of Pentecost (Acts xi.17), and of the household of Cornelius (Acts x.44, xv.8) was at once the Divine attestation of a spiritual fact already revealed and appropriated and the means by which the recipient was empowered to live up to the truth he had heard and believed" (Ephesians, CGT, 26).

43Since pisteusantes is an aorist participle which (as previously noted) usually expresses antecedence-or, as we have discussed, antecedence plus continuance.

44Quite significantly, the same aorist participle, pisteusantes, is used in both Acts 19:2 and Ephesians 1:13.

45There were, to be sure, only "about twelve" (Acts 19:7) involved in the earlier narrative and doubtless many more persons than twelve to whom the Ephesian letter was addressed. So obviously there can be no one-to-one correspondence between the two Scriptures. However, the pattern of Ephesians 1 clearly follows the narrated events of Acts 19.

46I recognize that such an approach, utilizing a narration in Acts to illuminate a Pauline letter, is quite different from the view that the so-called didactic (i.e., Paul's writing in this case) ought invariably to take precedence over narrative or historical parts. John R. W. Stott holds that "the revelation of the purpose of God in Scripture should be sought in its didactic, rather than its historical parts. More precisely, we should look for it in the teaching of Jesus, and in the sermons and writing of the apostles, and not in the purely narrative portions of Acts" (Baptism and Fullness, 8). Why not both-with the historical as background for the didactic? This is surely the case in the Gospels: the teaching of Jesus is to be best understood against the background of His life and ministry.

47The Greek word is baptismon; also translated as "baptisms" in KJV. RSV has "ablutions," NASB "washings," NEB "cleansing rites."

48According to TDNT, "baptismwn didachV, denotes the difference between Jewish [and pagan?] 'washings' [including John's baptism?] and Christian baptism" (1:545).

49F. F. Bruce refers this statement in Hebrews to "an early Christian practice, associated especially with the impartation of the Holy Spirit," and adds "that is most probably its significance here" (The Epistle to the Hebrews, NICNT, 116). Leon Morris writes: "It is Christian beginnings, perhaps with the thought of God's gift of the Spirit, that is in mind here" (Hebrews, EBC, 12:53).

50Also in relation to the Samaritans (Acts 8:17) and Saul (Acts 9:17).

51Hebrews 6:4, thereafter, also suggests both salvation and the reception of the Holy Spirit. Reference is made to those who have "once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit." "Once been enlightened" doubtless refers to salvation (cf. Heb. 10:32), "tasted the heavenly gift" probably to enjoying the graciousness of the Lord (cf. 1 Peter 2:3, esp. KJV), and "partakers [or 'sharers'] of the Holy Spirit" definitely suggests participating in the Spirit's presence and power. It is to be noted that one follows upon another.

52The sequence in Hebrews is also quite similar to Acts 8, the Samaritan account. First, in Acts 8 there is repentance (turning from their previous domination by Simon the magician) and faith in Christ, baptism (though not baptisms; however, they may have received such instruction), the laying on of hands, and the reception of the Holy Spirit (the overall pattern follows that of Peter's words in Acts 2:38).

53Of course, John's baptism is no longer a relevant issue. However, instruction about baptisms might legitimately include both baptism in water and baptism in the Spirit, especially how the latter may be received through the laying on of hands.

54Herman Ridderbos writes that "Paul reminds them [the Galatians] of their conversion and of their receiving the gift of the Spirit [italics mine]." Then Ridderbos adds, in regard to verse 5, "We are to think of those special operations of the Spirit by which in the early period of the Christian church the acceptance of the gospel was sometimes accompanied and confirmed (verse 5; cf. also Acts 8:14-17, 10:44-46, and 19:6)" The Epistle of Paul to the Churches of Galatia, NICNT, 112.

55The Greek phrase is ten epangelian tou pneumatos.

56The Greek phrase is ten epangelian tou pneumatos tou hagiou (parallels in Luke 24:48; Acts 1:4; 2:38-39).

57As likewise in Acts 2:38.

58Others that merit consideration include: John 7:37-39; Romans 5:5; 8:15-16; 15:18-19; 1 Corinthians 2:12; 2 Corinthians 1:21-22; Ephesians 5:18-19; Galatians 4:6; 1 Thessalonians 1:5, 4:8; Titus 3:5-7; 1 Peter 1:12; 1 John 3:24 and 4:13. Valuable discussions of most of these passages, and others, may be found in Spirit-Baptism: A Pentecostal Alternative by Harold D. Hunter, and Conversion-Initiation and the Baptism in the Holy Spirit by Howard M. Ervin.

59NIV translates: "they all joined together constantly in prayer."

60Francis A. Sullivan, SJ, writes that "even when no explicit mention is made of prayer accompanying the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Spirit (as in Acts 9.17; 19.6), we can rightly see the gesture itself as expressive of prayer, since it is obvious that the apostles were aware that this gift could only come from the risen Lord" ("Laying on of Hands in Christian Tradition" in Spirit and Renewal: Essays in Honor of J. Rodman Williams, Mark Wilson, ed., 45).

61One of the questions in the Heidelberg Catechism (Q. 116) is: "Why is prayer necessary for Christians?" Then follows the striking answer: "Because it is the chief part of the gratitude which God requires of us, and because God will give his grace and Holy Spirit only to those who sincerely beseech him in prayer, and who thank him for these gifts" (italics mine).

62Incidentally, this passage in Luke also demonstrates that the gift of the Holy Spirit is for believers, those who know God as Father and are truly His children. Further, the passage shows that the gift is not primarily for oneself (salvation, edification, sanctification), but for ministry to others since the importunate prayer is for bread to give to a visiting friend (see vv. 5-6).

63Recall our first section on "The Essential Reality.

64In Jesus' case, of course, there is no sin blocking the channel. His baptism was not for His own sins but an act of identification with others. Hence, once this has been done and He is about to begin His ministry, the moment has come for the descent of the Spirit to anoint and further empower Him. So does He pray, and the Spirit comes upon Him.

65Indeed, the whole narrative in Acts 10 about Cornelius and his household depicts a situation of earnestness, eagerness, and readiness for all that God has to give.

66Thomas in John 20:24-28. Also, even up to the moment of his ascension "some doubted" (Matt. 28:16-17).

67Peter and several others go fishing again; later Jesus asks Peter, "Do you [really] love me?" (John 21:1-17).

68Acts 1:6.

69Before they come to faith through Philip's ministry, "unclean spirits" come out of many (Acts 8:7).

70In the contemporary Pentecostal movement this has often been found necessary. See, e.g., Dennis and Rita Bennett, The Holy Spirit and You, chap. 4, "Preparing to Receive the Baptism in the Holy Spirit."

71Matthew 7:11 is the parallel verse to Luke 11:13. For "good gifts" or "things" in Matthew, Luke has "the Holy Spirit."

72John Rea puts it well: "Those seeking to be baptized and filled with the Holy Spirit must be willing to yield control of every part of their being to the Holy Spirit ....Yield your will so that your motives are pure....Yield your members, especially your tongue as the organ of expression of the Holy Spirit through you" (The Holy Spirit and the Bible, 181).

73Frederick D. Bruner writes that "the obedience spoken of in Acts 5:32 is an obedience which flows from [italics: his] the prior gift of the Holy Spirit" (A Theology of the Holy Spirit: The Pentecostal Experience and the New Testament Witness, 173). This is an extraordinary misreading of the text, prompted by Bruner's view that if the text really says otherwise, then obedience becomes a condition of receiving the Holy Spirit. Obedience, however, should be viewed not as a condition (the only condition is faith), but as an attitude of heart and will: it is really "the obedience of faith" (see hereafter). Incidentally, Schweizer has no hesitation in saying that "obedience must...precede [italics: mine] the reception of the Spirit according to [Acts] 5:32" (TDNT, 6:412). This, rather than Bruner's, is proper exegesis.

74At the time of the command to the centurion, Cornelius is not yet a believer. However, he does become a believer, at which moment the Holy Spirit is poured out. Hence, his obedience is caught up in faith: to such a one the Spirit was given.

75The close connection between Jesus' commandments and the gift of the Spirit to the apostles is shown not just in the specific command that He gave them to stay in Jerusalem (Acts 1:4), but prior to this Jesus had been giving other commandments to his apostles (1:2 KJV): "he had given commandments [plural] unto the apostles whom he had chosen." Hence we may believe that their obedience in the days prior to Pentecost was not only to the command to stay in Jerusalem, but also the obedience of heart and will to whatever else Jesus had commanded.

76This does not mean that one must be without sin to receive the Holy Spirit. If such were the case, no one would be a recipient, for all continue to sin. Hence, those who call for "complete sanctification" or total "heart purification" as necessary for the reception of the Spirit are asking for the impossible. What is necessary is not the attainment of perfection, but ever seeking, regardless of many a failure, to walk in the way of obedience.

77There was nothing said in the above section on obedience about the Samaritans and Ephesians. In the case of the Samaritans the delay in receiving the Holy Spirit may have been due to the need for more time after the beginning of faith for obedience to develop. Long devoted to idolatrous practices, they may have needed more time for commitment and obedience to Christ to replace their deep-seated commitment to Simon the magician. In the case of the Ephesians, the atmosphere is that of readiness to do what John the Baptist had commanded, and thereafter to follow Paul's injunctions (see Acts 19:4-6).

78Literally, they "were laying [epetithesan-imperfect tense] their hands on them and they were receiving [elambanon] the Holy Spirit." NASB translates: "Then they began laying their hands on them and they were receiving the Holy Spirit." The Greek tense suggests an action over a period of time, and possibly that the Samaritans one by one received the Holy Spirit.

79Omitting Jerusalem for the moment since, unlike Caesarea, as we have noted, no one was there who could have laid hands.

80Donald Gelpi, S.J., speaks of praying for "full docility to Christ." He adds: "...[this] is in effect to express one's willingness to do whatever God may be calling one to do, no matter what the personal sacrifice or suffering that call might entail. The person who cannot pray such a prayer and mean it is not yet ready for 'Spirit-baptism'" (Pentecostalism: A Theological Viewpoint, 183).

81In the Roman Catholic view, grace is transmitted through proper sacramental action, ex opere operato, in this case through the laying on of hands. Such a view, however, makes basically unnecessary all that has been said about faith, prayer, and the like: the Spirit is given-regardless. Some Roman Catholic participants in the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement seek to mitigate this by saying that the important matter is that of appropriating what has already been received sacramentally. That is where personal reception comes in. Kilian McDonnell, a leading Roman Catholic interpreter, while affirming ex opere operato speaks of "the scholastic doctrine of ex opere operantis [wherein] we receive in the measure of our openness" ("The Distinguishing Characteristics of the Charismatic-Pentecostal Spirituality," One in Christ, 10. 2 [1974], 117-18). My reply is that since there is no guarantee that the Spirit is given in sacramental action, there may be nothing to receive, or appropriate, ex opere operantis.

82Simon the magician is condemned by Peter for thinking that the power belongs to the transmitter. He offers money to Peter and John saying, "Give me also this power that any one on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit" (Acts 8:19). Peter angrily denounces Simon thereafter for thinking he could "obtain the gift of God with money" (v. 20).

Chapters: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | Conclusion
Preface | Abbreviations | Bibliography

Content Copyright 2003 by J. Rodman Williams, Ph.D.

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