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A Theological Pilgrimage: Chapter 14

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 Fourteen


Introduction: Nomenclature

I am using the two terms "Pentecostal" and "charismatic" interchangeably. "Pentecostal," however, is often applied to the movement in the first half of the twentieth century that resulted in the separate formation of Pentecostal churches. "Charismatic" (at first called "Neo-Pentecostal") is the name often given to those of Pentecostal persuasion in the second half of the twentieth century who remained in their own churches. Both groups share basically the same perspectives.

There are, however, two aspects: Pentecost as continuing event and the validity of the gifts (charismatic) of the Holy Spirit for today. I will focus in this address on the former1 by setting forth ten biblical propositions with appended theological comment.

1. The event of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost originated from a mighty act of God: it is God Himself who sent forth the Holy Spirit.

Acts 2:16-17- -"This is what was spoken of through the prophet Joel...that I will pour forth of My Spirit upon all mankind"2 (cf. Joel 2:28). Jesus had earlier spoken of "the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name" (John 14:26).

Comment: One may speak of this sending as the third mighty act of God: the other two being the creation of the universe by God and the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. The third act, highlighting the Holy Spirit, was as distinctive as the other two. The church and theology have often failed to give due recognition to this third mighty act of God.

2. The background of Pentecost was the promise of God the Father and the exaltation of Jesus Christ.

(1) The promise of the Father- - Luke 24:49- -"Behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you." Acts 1:4- - "He commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father" (KJV).

(2) The exaltation of Jesus Christ- -John 7:39- -"The Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified." Acts 2:33- -"Having been exalted to the right hand of God, and having received the promise of the Spirit, He has poured forth this."

Comment: There are many promises of God in the Bible; however, since "the promise of the Father" uniquely relates to the Holy Spirit, it should be taken with utmost seriousness. Does God ever renege on His promises? In regard to the exaltation of Christ, it is important to recognize that the sending forth or giving of the Holy Spirit occurred through the channel of the risen and exalted Savior, Jesus Christ (recall John 14:26). The Holy Spirit is a mediated Spirit. This is contrary to any view that the Spirit comes on His own.

3. The Holy Spirit was sent to those believing in Christ, to the community of faith.

The 120 at Pentecost were firm believers in Christ. According to Luke 24:53, just following the Ascension of Jesus, the disciples "were continually in the temple praising God," and prior to Pentecost the 120 often gathered together for prayer (see Acts 1:!4). Peter many years after Pentecost spoke of what happened to him and others as occurring "after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 11:17).3

Comment: The sending of the Spirit accordingly was not to unbelievers. It is a critical error to view Pentecost as an act of God's saving grace. Rather the Spirit came to those who believed in Christ.

4. The sending of the Holy Spirit is variously described: clothing, baptizing, coming upon, filling, outpouring.

(1) Clothing- -Luke 24:49- -"You are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high." Cf. Judges 6:34- -"The Spirit of the Lord clothed Gideon with Himself" (Amp.).

(2) Baptizing- -Acts 1:5- -"You shall be baptized ['immersed'] in4 the Holy Spirit not many days from now." Cf. Acts 11:16.

(3) Coming upon- -Acts 1:8- -"You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you." Cf. Jesus Himself- -"the Spirit of God descending as a dove, and coming upon Him" (Matt. 3:16; parallels in Mark 1:10, Luke 3:22, John 1:32-33).

(4) Filling- -Acts 2:4- -"They were all filled with the Holy Spirit." Cf. Jesus Himself as "full of the Holy Spirit" (Luke 4:1).

(5) Outpouring- -Acts 2:33- -"[He] has poured forth this which you both see and hear." Cf. Joel 2:38- -"I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind."

Comment: All of these terms express the many-sided aspects of the event of the Spirit's sending and coming. It was an invasion from without (the Spirit clothing people, coming upon, poured out upon, an immersion within (being baptized), a permeation throughout (being filled with). This does not deny the Spirit's being already active (see Acts 1:2) and indwelling (see John 20:22). However, this was an experience of the presence of God in almost overwhelming reality.

5. Speaking in other tongues was the immediate accompaniment of the Holy Spirit's coming.

Acts 2:4- -Those "filled with the Holy Spirit...began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance." Cf. Mark 16:17- -"These signs will accompany those who have believed...they will speak in new tongues."

Comment: Speaking in other (or new) tongues was spiritual utterance, the language of the Spirit through human voices. The content of the tongues was praise: "We [the audience] hear them [the Spirit-filled disciples] declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues" (Acts 2:11 NIV). This was praise that goes beyond normal utterance, transcendent joyous praise. Some in the audience mockingly said, "They are full of sweet wine" (v. 13), but it was the joyful exuberance of the Holy Spirit!

Speaking in tongues was not proclaiming the gospel: they were not "missionary tongues." Proclamation came later. The first thing the 120 did, after being filled with the Spirit, was to speak in other tongues.

6. The purpose of the sending of the Holy Spirit was power (dynamis) for ministry.

Acts 1:8- -"You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth." Cf. Luke 24:47-48- -"that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all the nations...You are witnesses of these things"- -words of Jesus that preceded His statement about need of "power from on high." Also cf. Luke 4:14-15-"Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit....and He began teaching." Acts 10:38- -"God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and...He went about doing good, and healing all who were oppressed by the devil." Luke 24:19- -Jesus was "a prophet mighty in deed and word." So were Peter and the other disciples "mighty" after being filled with the Holy Spirit. See, for example Acts 2:14-40, a mighty message with some 3000 souls being saved (v. 41), and Acts 3:1-9, a mighty deed of healing for a man lame from birth.

Comment: the sending of the Spirit was not primarily for the benefit of those who received but for their benefit to others. The Spirit came at Pentecost for neither salvation nor sanctification but for ministry.

7. The context of the Spirit's coming was God's sovereign action and the disciples' earnest, expectant prayer.

Acts 2:1-2- -"And when the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven...." God's action was primary- -and sudden- -to them who were gathered together.

Acts 1:14- -"These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer, along with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers."

Cf. Luke 3:21-22- -"While He was praying, heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him."

Comment: God sent the Holy Spirit as He willed- -it was His sovereign action- -but not without regard to the prayerful attitude of those who were to receive. To those earnestly and expectantly praying, the Holy Spirit came with power.

8. The promise of the gift of the Holy Spirit is a continuing promise to those who believe.

Acts 2:38-39- -Peter's words: "Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children, and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God shall call to Himself."

Cf. John 7:38-39- -"Whoever believes in me...streams of living water will flow from within him. By this [John adds] he [Jesus] meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive" (NIV).

Comment: The word "promise" (recall Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4; 2:33) again refers to the Holy Spirit. But now the projection goes beyond the first disciples. The Holy Spirit in the future will be given to those who believe ( to those who repent and are forgiven). The word "gift" makes it clear that this coming of the Spirit will be of God's gracious doing. The gift here promised again is not salvation but presupposes such (those whom the Lord calls to Himself, i.e., calls to salvation). The promise extends to Jews and Gentiles alike of all ages and places. Thus the promise of the Holy Spirit to believers reaches far beyond the early Pentecost.

9. As the proclamation of the gospel extended beyond Jerusalem, believers variously received the gift of the Holy Spirit.

(1) Samaria- -"They believed Philip as he preached the good news...they were baptized, both men and women...The Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them....Then Peter and John [same day, later] placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit" (Acts 8:12, 16-17 NIV).

(2) Saul of Tarsus- -He acknowledged Jesus as "Lord" (Acts 9:1-3) and three days later (v. 9), after hands were laid on him by Ananias, Saul was "filled with the Holy Spirit" (v. 17).

(3) Caesarea- -Peter preached in Caesarea to the Roman centurion, Cornelius, his relations, and friends that "everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins," and at the same time "the Holy Spirit fell [or 'came' NIV] upon all those who were listening to the message...the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out upon the Gentiles also. For they [Peter and associates] were hearing them speaking with tongues and exalting God" (Acts 10:43-46).

(4) Ephesus- -Paul informed some dozen Ephesians of their need to "believe in Him [Christ]," and thereafter "when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking with tongues and prophesying" (Acts 19:4-6).

Comment: That these were all extensions of the Pentecostal event is apparent for several reasons:

(a) All who received the gift of the Holy Spirit were also believers. Some had been believers for many days (the disciples at the first Pentecost), some for a few days (the Samaritans and Saul of Tarsus), some only briefly (the Ephesians), some received immediately upon believing (the Caesareans).

(b) Much of the same Pentecostal language about the different events is employed: coming upon, filling, outpouring, and baptizing (see Acts 11:16 also in regard to baptizing).

(c) Speaking in tongues is explicitly said to have occurred not only at Pentecost but also in Caesarea and Ephesus. The Scripture may imply the same about the Samaritans5 and Paul (Saul of Tarsus himself later claims to speak in tongues- -see 1 Cor. 14:18). Speaking in tongues each time was the primary activity upon receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit; it was also initial evidence that the Spirit had been poured out (recall Caesarea- -"For they were hearing them speaking with tongues and exalting God").

(d) All such comings of the Spirit occurred as at Pentecost in connection with the extension of the gospel from one place to another. In the case of Saul of Tarsus, the text makes clear that the "filling" was in connection with Jesus declaring, "He [Saul] is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel" (Acts 9:15). Thus the Samaritans, Ephesians, and Samaritans were not only those who received the good news of salvation but also became empowered by the gift of the Spirit to bear powerful witness in word and in deed.

(e) The context, humanly speaking, of the various events was prayer.6 Saul of Tarsus was praying- -"behold, he is praying" (Acts 9:11) when Ananias came; the Roman centurion "prayed to God continually" (10:2); and Peter and John "came down and prayed for them [the Samaritans], that they might receive the Holy Spirit" (8:15). Earnest prayer, as at Pentecost, helped to prepare the way for the coming of the Holy Spirit.

Laying on of hands for the reception of the Holy Spirit is a new feature after Pentecost. This occurred in regard to the Samaritans, Saul of Tarsus, and the Ephesians, but not the Caesareans. Laying on of hands symbolically represents the Spirit's coming down upon people; it also points to the value of ministry of believers to one another.

10. Pentecostals7 today claim to stand in the succession of Pentecost.

They believe that the promise of the Spirit did not end with the book of Acts and that as believers they have received the gift of the Holy Spirit. They frequently claim that this has happened after earnest prayer and, in many cases, the laying on of hands. They freely use such terms as being baptized in the Holy Spirit, filled with the Holy Spirit, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and refer to speaking in other tongues as an immediate accompaniment and as initial evidence. Pentecostals attest that the Spirit has given them both a richer sense of God's presence, a higher language of praise, and a greater power for ministering the gospel in word and deed.

Comment: I am fully convinced that Pentecostals have recovered a vital dimension of the New Testament. It is the coming of the Holy Spirit to those who believe in such richness and fullness as to release tongues of transcendent praise and to enable the gospel to go forth with supernatural power and effectiveness.

It is hard to overestimate the importance of the Pentecostal witness for both church and world. Pentecost is a continuing event!

Concluding Remarks:

The coming of the Spirit should not be confused with His activity in either regeneration (in which there is new birth by the Spirit) or sanctification (in which He is the sanctifying Spirit). Both of these refer to the large and vital area of salvation and Christian living (dealt with especially in the New Testament letters) in which the Holy Spirit is fully active. However, the critical point is that the coming of the Holy Spirit is for an entirely different purpose. It presupposes a vital (saving, sanctifying) faith enabled by the same Spirit who now comes in dynamic presence and power.

Further, this coming of the Spirit does not invariably follow upon faith. Paul asked the Ephesian twelve, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when8 you believed?" (Acts 19:2). The question implies the possibility of believing without receiving. Thus while the promise of the Spirit always is present to those who believe, the reality may not yet have occurred. Hence it is highly important that Paul's question be raised again in our time. The evangelical question "Have you believed in Christ?" is and remains absolutely primary, for it deals with salvation. But now we must press on to the second question, not about believing in Christ but about receiving the Holy Spirit. For it is in the reception of the Holy Spirit that the door is opened to further vistas of God's presence and power.


1See my paper entitled "The Gifts of the Holy Spirit and Their Application to the Contemporary Church" for the latter.

2The New American Standard Bible (NASB) translation is used here and elsewhere unless otherwise stated.

3For other possible translations see Renewal Theology, vol. 2, p. 274 and n. 7.

4Rather than "with."

5Just following the Samaritans' reception of the Holy Spirit, the text reads, "Now when Simon [the magician] saw that the Spirit was bestowed through the laying on of the apostles' hands, he offered them money..." (Acts 8:18). Simon probably observed the newly Spirit-filled Samaritans speaking in tongues. See Renewal Theology, vol. 2, pp. 209-210, also n. 5.

6God's sovereignty was surely, as at Pentecost, also an important factor. For example, at Caesarea "while Peter was still speaking...the Holy Spirit fell" (Acts 10:44). God sovereignly broke into Peter's message!

7I mean by this term to include charismatics (see Introduction). I should add, however, that some charismatics focus almost entirely on the gifts (charismata) of the Holy Spirit.

8Or "since" (KJV), "after" (NIV note).

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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