How to counter a Charasmatic Interpretation of Acts 19

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Puritan Board Freshman
And it happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the inland[a] country and came to Ephesus. There he found some disciples. 2 And he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” 3 And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, “Into John's baptism.”
4 And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.” 5 On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying. 7 There were about twelve men in all.

This is one of the proof-text's used by the charismatics on their view on the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Now I am not totally cessationist, I guess I am currently somewhere in the middle of the road coming from a charismatic background. I have a few ideas on this passage, but they are not developed so I rather not saying something that may be heretical! Any assistance y'all can provide would be wonderful. Thanks.


Puritanboard Commissioner
The short answer is that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is one way Scripture describes when the Holy Spirit comes to indwell a believer- which is at salvation. The Holy Spirit (according to God's eternal decree) doesn't come insufficiently or part way as standard charismatic/pentecostal theology would assert. Look at the summary and proof texts in the Westminster Confession to understand this.

You will get some exegesis of the particular passage.

Here is one helpful summary of this and related topics in the form of a "Pastoral Letter:"

But reading it plainly and in its immediate context, its clear these people did not understand baptism (sign and seal of God's promises in Christ) when they just thought they were getting "John's Baptism."

It's not a case of them "getting" the Holy Spirit at a lesser level than having a second superior "getting" of the same Spirit. It's more about them misunderstanding baptism and salvation.


Puritan Board Junior
if the events in Acts are normative for the present day church, then the charismatics need to be given the point. But, that's the operative question, isn't it? Is the baptism of the Holy Spirit in Acts normative for all Christians, or does is it represent a transition period in salvation-history?


Puritanboard Commissioner
Is the baptism of the Holy Spirit in Acts normative for all Christians, or does is it represent a transition period in salvation-history?
The "operative" question is what is the Baptism of (in) the Holy Spirit?

Is it what happens when God regenerates a person? If not, how does God the Holy Spirit come in an incomplete way at salvation? (And what is their biblical systematic theology for that)

Semper Fidelis

2 Timothy 2:24-25
Staff member
The interpretation of the Holy Spirit falling on whole people groups is given its interpretation within the Book of Acts itself:

Now the apostles and the brothers who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcision party criticized him, saying, “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.” But Peter began and explained it to them in order: “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision, something like a great sheet descending, being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to me. Looking at it closely, I observed animals and beasts of prey and reptiles and birds of the air. And I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’ But I said, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing common or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ But the voice answered a second time from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, do not call common.’ This happened three times, and all was drawn up again into heaven. And behold, at that very moment three men arrived at the house in which we were, sent to me from Caesarea. And the Spirit told me to go with them, making no distinction. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man's house. And he told us how he had seen the angel stand in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon who is called Peter; he will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household.’ As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God's way?” When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.

(Acts 11:1-18 ESV)
The Book of Acts is focused on the following:
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
(Acts 1:8 ESV)
Consequently, we see the Spirit being poured out upon groups in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth (the Gentiles). It signifies the inclusion of those peoples.


Puritan Board Senior
A disciple of John who hadn't heard of the Holy Spirit- how could this be? My pastor recently made the argument that these disciples probably only knew part of John's ministry. He also pointed out Paul's answer to their ignorance: "John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.”

The thing these disciples lacked was believing in the Lord Jesus, ie conversion!


Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
If they were OT saints, and waiting for Messiah, and prepped even further by exposure to the ministry of the Messiah's forerunner, it would be more accurate to say that they needed to be "introduced" to Jesus, the fulfillment for which they waited (as over against conversion, strictly defined). :2cents:

J. Dean

Puritan Board Junior
John's baptism, as I understood it, was that the Messiah WOULD come, as contrasted with the gospel which says the Messiah-Jesus-has ALREADY come. In its barest essence, it's Old Testament vs. New Testament.

And not to get too far off track, but if you want to see a Pentecostal/Charismatic respond to you with stunned silence, ask them why so many in the Charismatic/pentecostal churches start blurting out tongues in the church when such a practice is specifically frowned upon by Paul in I Corinthians 14.


Puritan Board Senior
If they were OT saints, and waiting for Messiah, and prepped even further by exposure to the ministry of the Messiah's forerunner, it would be more accurate to say that they needed to be "introduced" to Jesus, the fulfillment for which they waited (as over against conversion, strictly defined).
Great point!!! Though their ignorance of the reality of the Holy Spirit does cast doubts in my mind as to whether they were Old Covenant saints. I definitely believe Apollos was one.

But does the Bible necessarily use "conversion" in the way we mean it today?

In the NKJV, the term "conversion" is used only 10 times, and 5 of those times are in the non-inspired section titles!

Psalm 19:7
The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul; The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple

Psalm 51:13
Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners shall be converted to You.

Matthew 18:3
[Jesus] said, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.

Acts 3:19
Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord

Acts 15:3
So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through Phoenicia and Samaria, describing the conversion of the Gentiles; and they caused great joy to all the brethren.
I'm thinking they all had to be "converted" whether saints or not.

Is the Greek the same in all the NT instances where it's translated "conversion?"
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Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
"Conversion" implies change or turnabout. My point regarding the terminology has partly to do with our technical use of it, which involves repentance from sin and faith toward Christ. I think that in most of the verses you point to, there is a call for just those things. Which we would expect from public and indiscriminate gospel proclamation.

What I sought to emphasize in my comment was that these persons spoken of in Act.19, assuming they were believing the revelation thus far come to them, had ALREADY some kind of repentance from sin and faith toward the coming Christ (both which were the core of JtB's ministry). Then the essential difference between the revelation they had already received and believed, and the revelation that comes to them through Paul, is that Jesus IS the Christ, and he has come and done his work to save his people from their sins. Like many persons who had gone out to JtB in the wilderness (we know not all of them), some sort of conversion had already taken effect. Now, that general acceptance of sin and hope in Christ must be particularized into Jesus of Nazareth.

We may be permitted, I'm sure, to speak of this transference using "conversion" language. And I would use Lk.22:32 as justification for it. There, Jesus speaks of Peter's "conversion" as future. I think Peter is "converted" at least by the beginning of the Gospels in the regenerative sense, but at the end there is a complex series of events in his immediate future, in which there will be a tremendous falling away, such that it may be said of Christ that as he hangs dead on the cross, no one believes in him! No, not as they must, if they will be saved from damnation. Peter and the rest of them must, in a sense, turnabout (to Christ) from their turnabout (abandonment). Peter's "conversion" is the more dramatic and meaningful for having most deeply and publicly denied the Lord--that Christ should make him, of all of them, his initial head-spokesman is nothing short of breathtaking. Thus Peter becomes a peculiarly useful exhibition of what it means to "convert" to Christ. ALL turning-to Christ, from having been turned-away from him are, properly speaking, "conversions."

But the language won't contribute to understanding IF it causes us to think of our faithful/believing OT-fathers (some of whom live into the early NT age) as typically "unconverted" people, who are not sorry for sin with a godly sorrow nor hope in the Promise. There are many Jews standing before Peter on Pentecost who have an OT "form of godliness, but denying the power thereof." They need to be converted in the fullest sense, just as similar Christians-in-name-only need conversion on the same grounds.

So, to repeat, the issue comes down to the associations between conversion and regeneration, and the desire to accurately represent both OT faith and proto-NT or Johannine faith as one that merges with the NT fulfillment of that hope. The NT call to faith in Christ is not a call to previous true-believers to fundamentally change their allegiance.


Puritan Board Freshman
One thing I like to do(when it is a charismatic who believes in baptismal regeneration) is get all of the conversion accounts in acts and lay them out in front of the charismatic. Then, show them the thread off continuity. Every single account of conversion in acts is preceded by Preaching of the death, burial, and Resurrection of Christ. And all of them end with the hearers being filled with the Spirit. Then i take them to the instances where baptism is not mentioned at all, like Acts 10:43-44 " 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 these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word." or Acts 16:30-31" Then he brought them out and said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" And they said, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household."
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