Water Baptism And Spirit Baptism In Luke Acts

Water Baptism And Spirit Baptism In Luke Acts

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Water Baptism and Spirit Baptism in Luke-Acts Another Reading of the Evidence

Sarah Hinlicky Wilson

Institute for Ecumenical Research, Strasbourg, France



Despite their disagreement on the interpretation of Acts regarding reception of the Spirit, both Evangelicals and Pentecostals operate from the assumption that the pur- pose of Acts is to provide a normative template of experience to be repeated in later Christians. Here it is argued that the purpose of Luke-Acts in reporting on the recep- tion of the Spirit is not to provide an experiential norm at all, but rather to highlight the contrast between John’s water baptism without the Spirit and Christian water baptism with the Spirit. A careful reading of Luke-Acts reveals a consistent and at times strident distinction between John and Jesus, suggesting a long-forgotten struggle in the early church to ascertain where the otherwise identical practice of water baptism by John and by Jesus’s followers diverges. This interpretation is supported by consideration of the missional focus of Acts and the issue of the forgiveness of sins.


Luke-Acts – baptism in the Spirit – mission – forgiveness of sins – John the Baptist – baptism

Commentators on the Acts of the Apostles tend to line up on either side of denominational fault lines. The two most significant fault lines are (1) that which divides commentators who hold a “sacramental” view of water baptism (Catholics, Orthodox, Lutherans, Anglicans, and certain other Reformation-era Protestants) from those who do not (Baptists, Mennonites, Evangelicals, Pen- tecostals), and (2) that which divides commentators who perceive a single gift of the Spirit at initiation (primarily Evangelicals, though Catholics et al. would logically fit here, too) from those who teach a two-stage reception of the Spirit

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(Pentecostals and related Charismatics/ neo-Charismatics). In addressing the quarrel between commentators in the latter group, I would like to bring again to the light a more or less forgotten fault line—what may be, in fact, the very first “denominational” fault line in the church. This is (3) the one that divides those who teach John’s baptism from those who teach baptism in Jesus’ name. I propose that this is, in fact, the real underlying concern in Luke-Acts that Evangelicals and Pentecostals typically bring to the table in their disputes over fault line (2), and that reconfiguring their understanding of these passages in line with the much earlier debate over John’s and Jesus’s baptism will alter the nature of their argument. And it will, not coincidentally, also offer some resources for conversation around fault line (1).

It is not my principal purpose here to analyze at length the evangelical- pentecostal dispute over “baptism in the Spirit,” but rather to offer an alter- native reading of the evidence in Luke-Acts. Before I do so, however, it may be instructive to say what in these very arguments prompted me to look for another explanation.1 For the sake of brevity, I will take James Dunn and his (in)famous work Baptism in the Holy Spirit: A Re-Examination of the New Tes- tament Teaching on the Gift of the Spirit in Relation to Pentecostalism Today2 to represent Evangelical Protestantism, and William P. Atkinson with his critical apologetic Baptism in the Spirit: Luke-Acts and the Dunn Debate3 to represent Classical Pentecostalism.

In short, what struck me above all about this debate was its fundamental assumption that the purpose of the language about baptism and the Spirit in Luke-Acts is to provide a template of experience that is to be appropriated and repeated by subsequent Christians. Dunn operates with a reified rubric

1 In good postmodern fashion, a word of self-disclosure: I am myself a Lutheran Christian,

baptized in infancy, and I hold to a “sacramental” view of baptism, though often the way this

“sacramental” view is characterized by evangelical or pentecostal critics is not recognizable

to me. However, my search for an alternate reading was driven not by a primary desire to

uphold “sacramental” teaching, but by genuine puzzlement over the various passages in Acts

that were brought to my attention by the study of Pentecostalism in my work at the Institute

for Ecumenical Research in Strasbourg, France. Puzzling it out is what made me come to love

Acts, a book I had hitherto ignored and even disdained. Every Christian should be grateful

when other Christians force us to read the Scripture more carefully: and for this reason alone

I am tremendously and gratefully indebted to Evangelicals and Pentecostals!

2 James D.G. Dunn, Baptism in the Holy Spirit: A Re-Examination of the New Testament Teaching

on the Gift of the Spirit in Relation to Pentecostalism Today, 2nd ed. (London:scm, 2010). 3 William P. Atkinson, Baptism in the Spirit: Luke-Acts and the Dunn Debate (Eugene, or:

Pickwick, 2011). Atkinson discusses at length such pentecostal interpreters as Stronstad,

Shelton, Turner, and Menzies.

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of “conversion-initiation,” an experience into which he folds reception of the Spirit.4 This initiatory experience, event, or process precludes the pentecostal “second blessing” for missionary empowerment.5 Atkinson, along with the pentecostal exegetes he analyzes at length, shares Dunn’s assumption of an experience of conversion or rebirth but argues for a further or more complete Spirit reception in a subsequent experience.6 Both, however, work from the assumption that discrete experiences are the key issue. As a result, Dunn and Atkinson alike devote inordinate time to discussing whether or not a particular person or group is “really” Christian, having had the “correct” experiences— the Samaritans of Acts 8 and the Ephesian disciples of Acts 19 pose particular difficulties.7 Hermeneutical gymnastics follow in their respective attempts to

4 A characteristic passage: “I hope to show that for the writers of the nt the baptism in or gift

of the Spirit was part of the event (or process) of becoming a Christian, together with the

effective proclamation of the Gospel, belief in (eìs) Jesus as Lord, and water-baptism in the

name of the Lord Jesus; that it was the chief element in conversion-initiation so that only

those who had thus received the Spirit could be called Christians; that the reception of the

Spirit was a very definite and often dramatic experience, the decisive and climactic experi-

ence in conversion-initiation, to which the Christian was usually recalled when reminded

of the beginning of his Christian faith and experience. We shall see that while the Pente-

costal’s belief in the dynamic and experiential nature of Spirit-baptism is well-founded, his

separation of it from conversion-initiation is wholly unjustified; and that, conversely, while

water-baptism is any important element in the complex of conversion-initiation, it is neither

to be equated or confused with Spirit-baptism nor to be given the most prominent part in

that complex event. The high point in conversion-initiation is the gift of the Spirit, and the

beginning of the Christian life is to be reckoned from the experience of Spirit-baptism.” Dunn,

Baptism in the Holy Spirit, 4.

5 Or “third blessing,” if following the Holiness strain of Pentecostalism.

6 This is too extensive an assumption to illustrate with a pithy quote, but see, for example,

Atkinson’s chap. 3 on “Pentecostal Alternatives to Dunn.” To his credit, Atkinson argues

convincingly that restricting further reception of the Spirit to missionary empowerment

alone overlooks other important works of the Spirit, such as joy, comfort, and mutual care

in the Christian community; Baptism in the Spirit, 78.

7 Dunn on the Samaritans: “If they believed and were baptized (v. 12) in the name of the Lord

Jesus (v. 16) they must be called Christians. But if they did not receive the Holy Spirit till

later they cannot be called Christians until that time (most explicitly Rom. 8.9)”; Baptism in

the Holy Spirit, 55. See also his attempt on pp. 63–68 to prove the inadequacy of Samaritan

response. Atkinson in Baptism in the Spirit does not lean so heavily on the language of

“Christian,” but the varieties of works of the Spirit at different stages pushes him (and other

pentecostal commentators) to a kind of cataloging of experiential stages that ultimately begs

the question all over again, as on pp. 80–81: “Luke reserved Spirit reception language for what

he described primarily as a permanent empowering. However, he did sometimes implicitly

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wrestle all the disparate vignettes of Acts into a basic template of personal experience.8 It goes without saying, within the parameters of this debate, that experience of the Spirit is the real meaning of being or becoming or growing as a Christian, so the stakes are high for the participants, even if the debate itself is carried out with scholarly detachment.

To the contrary: the primary concern of Acts is not to present a template of Christian experience, whether of the “conversion-initiation” sort or the “second-blessing” sort. Personal experience is not terribly important to Acts at all, though it has a little more foregrounding in Luke’s Gospel. For example, Luke never gives us the slightest idea of when, exactly, the disciples, or even Saul, “converted.” But even if a personal experience is highlighted in any given story, the intention is not to create a template, pattern, or norm for anyone else to follow. Acts simply does not operate on that level.9

Rather, the dominating intention of Acts is to narrate the ingathering of a sequence of communities from a state of alienation from God to a state of reconciliation to God, as we hear at the outset of the book in 1:8: “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.”10 The individual or personal experiences—indeed, of power for witness!—areillustrativeof the larger historical argument that Luke is making about the missionary movement of the good news of Jesus Christ. Illustrative, butnotnormative.Inthisrespect,pentecostalintuitionsaboutlinkingtheSpirit and mission are correct, though frequently explicated in a way that is not sustainable from the textual evidence.

So far, this is not a particularly novel insight.11 But there is another piece of the puzzle that bears more directly on the matter at hand. The question remains what water baptism, “Spirit baptism,” or any other kind of reception



10 11

indicate that the Spirit was directly at work in someonepriorto what he called the person’s reception of the Spirit … Luke recognized and wrote of direct activities in people’s lives, prior to their reception of the Spirit, that he would understand as the Spirit’s work.” Pentecostal exegete Gordon Fee takes up this topic helpfully in chap. 6 of his Gospel and Spirit: Issues in New Testament Hermeneutics(Peabody,ma: Hendrickson, 1991). C.K. Barrett, The Acts of the Apostles: A Shorter Commentary (London: t & t Clark, 2002), lxi, observes that in Acts converts “become members of Christ’s people. Christ bestows upon them the gift of the Spirit. Their sins are forgiven. These units form in Luke’s mind a single whole and he is not concerned to specify an order in which they occur.” All Bible quotations are taken from the English Standard Version.

Atkinson comments that mission characterizes “not only the programmatic import of Acts 1:8, but also the whole thrust of the later narrative”; Baptism in the Spirit, 76.

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of the Spirit play in Acts. Obviously, there could not be a debate between Evan- gelicals and Pentecostals unless there were significant and recurring mentions of baptism and the Spirit throughout Acts! But if Luke’s purpose is not to proffer a template of personal experience for either conversion or missional empow- erment in the Christian faith, then what is his purpose? What argument is he making about baptism and the Spirit in both his Gospel and his apostolic his- tory?

Luke’s primary purpose is to distinguish John’s water baptism without the Spirit from Christian water baptism with the Spirit. As we will see in what follows, at every key point along the way at which Christian water baptism and the Holy Spirit are mentioned in Acts, a contrast is made to John’s baptism. Herein we discover Luke’s real polemical purpose. Attempts to read off the pages of Acts a sequence of Christian experience apart from the contrast to John’s bap- tism must founder on the seeming incompatibility of the pieces of evidence. That is precisely the accusation leveled across either side of fault line (2): nei- ther side’s evidence adds up to a coherent whole. But grasping Luke’s portrait of Christian water baptism with the Spirit as a counterpoint to John’s water baptism without the Spirit draws all the disparate pieces into one coherent whole.12

The seminal challenge in the interpretation of baptism, by water or by the Spirit, lies in John the Baptist’s prophecy in Luke 3:16 (cf. Mark 1:8, Matt 3:11, John 1:33): “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”

The first thing to recognize is that John the Baptist, not Jesus, starts the business of baptizing in water. While ablutions for purity and immersions for proselyte conversion did exist in Jewish practice before John’s time, they were always self-administered. John was unique in performing the immersion/bap- tism upon another person—hence his nickname, “the Baptizer”13—and his



Dunn summarizes: “… a detailed study will reveal that for the writer of Acts in the last analysis it is only by receiving the Spirit that one becomes a Christian; water-baptism is clearly distinct from and even antithetical to Spirit-baptism, and is best understood as the expression of the faith which receives the Spirit …”;Baptism in the Holy Spirit, 5. The thesis presented in this article is thus almost diametrically opposed to Dunn’s, if for different reasons from the usual pentecostal opposition.

Daniel S. Dapaah,TheRelationshipbetweenJohntheBaptistandJesusof Nazareth:ACritical Study(Lanham,md: University Press of America, 2005), 47: “… John’s baptism was unique in that he personally immersed the candidates. With the exception of the immersion of

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baptism was neither for ritual purity nor for conversion to another religion. In the Synoptic Gospels, neither Jesus nor the disciples ever baptize.14 In all four Gospels, John’s baptism functions as a testimonial baptism for Jews. To be baptized by John is to identify oneself with repentant Israel, bearing fruits in keeping with repentance (Luke 3:8).

This raises a question that, for Luke, would become urgent: is forgiveness granted to the repentant reception of John’s baptism? Zechariah’s prophecy (Luke 1:77) and the introduction to John’s ministry (Luke 3:3) could be inter- preted in favor of this reading. The latter passage Luke has inherited on the strong authority of his predecessor (Mark 1:4) and so he cannot altogether dis- pose of it. But it’s the last time we hear even a hint of such a possibility. Acts links forgiveness exclusively with Jesus, and several passages therein highlight baptism in Jesus’s name and forgiveness in marked contrast to John’s baptism (Acts 2:38, 10:43, 13:38, 19:4). If John’s baptism of repentance could in any way grant forgiveness, Luke would prefer to downplay it.

Among other reasons, this is because Luke15 has to deal with the “scandal” of Jesus’s baptism by John, which could well imply Jesus’s inferiority to John, or Christian baptism’s inferiority to John’s baptism.16 Jesus alone needed neither to repent nor to be forgiven, so a strict interpretation along the traditional lines of Luke 3:3/Mark 1:4 would be problematic indeed. But this is exactly where Luke’s determined distinction between John’s water baptism and Christian water baptism begins. Jesus receives John’s baptism in order to identify himself and his ministry with repentant Israel, as is seen in Jesus’s own preaching of repentance (Luke 5:32, among many others). Jesus is not baptized by John to be forgiven. In fact, Luke might well like us to conclude that nobody is baptized by John to be forgiven. Luke wants us to see already now that John can




the Ethiopian eunuch by Philip (Acts 8), there is no clear parallel in any known Jewish baptismal rite in which someone immersed another.”

According to John 3:22, Jesus baptizes some time after John the Baptist does, but then in John 4:2 a correction is made, stating that only Jesus’s disciples baptized, not Jesus himself.

And also Matthew: he anticipates and responds to this perplexity in the dialogue between John and Jesus in Matthew 3:13–15.

According to Dapaah, “Clearly, the nt picture of John is overlaid with a developing Christian notion that Jesus was superior to John, a notion that is difficult to sustain in view of the abiding influence of John as baptizer and prophet at the beginning of the early church. John therefore became a problem …”; The Relationship between John the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth, 2.

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call people to repentance, but he himself cannot forgive them in his own name. Only Jesus as Lord has the authority to forgive sins.17

To drive home the point, Luke makes the startling move of bringing the report of John’s imprisonment much, much earlier into the Gospel story. Con- trast the version in Mark 6:14–29, which takes place after Jesus’s ministry is well underway, with the one in Luke 3:18–20, before Jesus’s ministry even begins. Literarily, at least, John’s business is finished at the very moment that Jesus’s is beginning, in Luke’s rendering. The imprisonment report actually interrupts the story of baptisms in the Jordan, such that John is not even mentioned in the account of Jesus’s own baptism! The event is relegated to the passive voice: “Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been bap- tized …” (3:21). Luke won’t go quite so far as to state explicitly that John had nothing to do with Jesus’s baptism or to name another baptizer, but the disso- ciation of Jesus from John is startling. It can hardly be accidental.

After Jesus’s baptism something unexpected happens: the Holy Spirit de- scends on Jesus in the form of a dove, in association with a declaration from heaven naming Jesus as “my beloved Son” (Luke 3:22). That is, evidently, not what usually happened when people were baptized by John (or whomever else).18 Thus Jesus’s own baptism foreshadows Christian baptism and its dis- tinction from John’s baptism because, in this one instance and uniquely, the Holy Spirit is associated with baptism itself. The Holy Spirit has already appeared and been active in Luke’s Gospel up to this point, but baptism accom- panied by the descent of the Holy Spirit is the starting point of Jesus’s ministry.

Thus already in Luke 3 we find a critical distinction being made between John’s baptism and Christian baptism against early church tendencies to con- flate or identify the two. The reason for the confusion is simple: the two bap- tisms look so much alike! Both are new on the Jewish scene. Both use water.



Dapaah observes: “Despite the fact that repentance and forgiveness are ideas current in Judaism and early Christianity, the precise phrase ‘for the forgiveness of sins’ … is used only once in Mark to describe John’s baptism. In Matthew, it is found in Jesus’ words in the institution of the Lord’s Supper (Matt 26.28). Elsewhere, it is found in statements about Jesus’ ability to forgive sin (Mark 2:10 and par). In Luke’s Gospel, the phrase ‘forgiveness of sins’ is consistently used in the context of christological affirmation that only Jesus has authority to forgive sin (Luke 1:77; 5:20–21, 32; 7:47–49; 11:4; 24:47). The evidence suggests that for the early Christians forgiveness of sins takes place only through Jesus Christ (Acts 2:38; 5:31, 10:43; 13:38; 26:18: Col 1:14; cf. Eph 1:7).Therefore, the description of John’s baptism as ‘a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins’ may not be a Christian formulation. It is probably pre-Christian in origin …”; ibid., 46–47.

John 1:32–34 highlights John the Baptist’s astonishment at the descent of the Spirit.

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Both are connected to the repentance and forgiveness of sins. Both identify the baptized with the true Israel. It is not at all surprising that some people (thenandnow!) would fail to distinguish the one from the other.19But in Acts, three new elements are added to John’s water baptism to make it a new, Chris- tian water baptism: 1) the gift of the Holy Spirit; 2) the explicit assurance of the forgiveness of sins; and 3) the extension of the people of God beyond the bor- ders of Israel to include all the nations of the earth.20We will turn now to the apostolic history to see just how this transformation of baptism takes place.

At the end of Luke’s Gospel, Jesus charges his disciples to proclaim “repen- tance and forgiveness of sins in his name to all nations, beginning from Jeru- salem” (24:47) but also to wait to receive “power from on high” (24:49). In Acts 1, just before his ascension, Jesus refers back to John the Baptist’s prophecy: “John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now” (1:5). He then repeats his own words from Luke 24, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you,” and adds the spe- cific purpose for the power: “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (1:8).

Note that two distinct promises regarding the Spirit are being made. One is the promised baptism in the Spirit, in direct contrast to John’s water-only baptism. The other is the empowerment by the Spirit for the sake of mission to the world, in contrast to John’s repentance-only (and probably Jews-only) baptism.



Ben Witherington iii, The Acts of the Apostles: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids,mi: Eerdmans, 1998), 569–570: “What the relationship of Christianity to a sectarian Jewish baptizing movement was, was a critical matter not just because of the relationship between Jesus and John, and the Jewish origins of Christianity, but because of the ongoing similarity in the rituals of the two groups, especially since in the Greco-Roman world rituals were widely seen as the essence or definitive aspect of religion.”

According to Dapaah, “… Jesus’ baptizing ministry is, in a real sense, a continuation of John’s baptism and that baptism as an external act is not the creation of Jesus. However, the relationship between Christian baptism and the baptism of John is not clear-cut, as no nt writer makes a direct link between the two baptisms. John’s baptism is not explicitly adduced as the archetype or model for Christian baptism … It may be pertinent to ask whether baptism would ever have become a Christian sacrament if Jesus had not been baptized by John … Luke suggests that the difference between John’s baptism and early Christian baptism is precisely that Christian baptism is linked to the promise of forgiveness of sins in the name of the risen Lord and the gift of the Spirit. This probably explains why the promise of forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Spirit received centre stage in the proclamation of the early church”; The Relationship between John the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth, 102.

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In Acts 2, what Jesus promised in Acts 1 takes place. The disciples “were all filledwiththeHolySpirit”(2:4).Thisallowedthemtospeakinmanyforeignlan- guages so that the Jews—onlyJews at this point!—who were visiting Jerusalem from all over the world would be able to understand their preaching. The rec- onciliation of estranged communities starts, not a little ironically, with God’s own people Israel. The disciples receive the “power from on high” that kindles the mission, first of all in Jerusalem, as Jesus said.When Peter preaches, he cites the prophet Joel as evidence of God’s age-old promise that the Spirit would be shed on all people, young and old, male and female (but Peter doesn’t grasp, quite yet, that “all people” includes non-Jews). When the stricken crowds ask what they should do, Peter replies, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (2:38).

Notice again the similarity to John’s baptism. The baptism to which Peter invites them still uses water, still involves repentance for the sake of forgive- ness (compare with the language in Luke 3:3), and so far is addressed only to Israel. The tremendous difference is that this water baptism in Jesus’s name21 (emphasized in both Luke 24:47 and Acts 2:38; cf. Acts 3:16) unambiguously for- gives sins and promises that the baptized will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The point might be made clearer if we rephrased the prophecy in Luke 3:16 thus: John baptizedonlywith water, but Jesus will baptize with waterandwith the Holy Spirit. Or: John baptized with water, but when Jesus’s disciples baptize with water, Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit, too. Both baptisms employ water and call for repentance, but only the latter assuredly grants the promised forgiveness along with the Holy Spirit in Jesus’s name.

As the rest of Acts unfolds, Luke goes to great trouble to emphasize the continuity of the water but the discontinuity of the Spirit in the two baptisms. He contrasts John’s baptism with Christian baptism by juxtaposing Christian water baptism with the Holy Spirit again and again. He will, however, make it difficult to determine an exact sequence of receiving Christian water baptism and receiving the Holy Spirit. Why he does so will become clear later; for now it can simply be noted that the inability to secure an exact sequence supports the thesis that creating a replicable template of experience is not Luke’s goal.

To recapitulate Acts 2: two of Jesus’s promises regarding the Holy Spirit were fulfilled on the day of Pentecost. The power of the Holy Spirit came upon the


It would take us too far afield here to delve into Trinitarian/Oneness Pentecostal debates in any depth, but the observation can simply be made that Acts proposes not a distinction between baptism in the name of Jesus and baptism in the name of the Trinity, but rather a distinction between baptism in the name of Jesus and John’s baptism.

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disciples to empower their mission into the world; and both the Holy Spirit and the forgiveness of sins were promised and granted with water baptism in Jesus’s name.

The next several chapters of Acts concern the disciples’ ministry in and around Jerusalem to fellow Jews. It is only after the stoning of Stephen and the ensuing persecution of the nascent church that they begin to move farther afield. Philip the table-server (Acts 6:5)22 is the pioneer: he travels to Samaria and starts preaching there.

The case of the Samaritans is a favorite for Classical Pentecostal accounts of baptism in the Holy Spirit, as it clearly indicates a time lapse between water baptism and the reception of the Holy Spirit. For Pentecostals, this indicatesthe difference betweenconversion(“But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women,” 8:12) and Spirit baptism (“Peter and John … came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, for He had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit,” 8:14–17). This is taken to illustrate the Classical Pentecostal doctrine of subsequence: baptism in the Spirit is separate from and subsequent to conversion.

There are, however, exegetical difficulties with the Classical Pentecostal position, even in this most important of stories invoked in its support. Sub- sequence doesn’t stand alone but is almost always in the company of two other teachings regarding Spirit baptism: speaking in tongues (or other charismatic gifts) as initial evidence, and the missionary impetus of Spirit baptism and tongues. While the Samaritan story does illustrate “subsequence,” no mention of speaking in tongues (or any other charismatic gift) is made at all. It is some- times said that tongues should be assumed or inferred here, since the gift is mentioned elsewhere in Acts (2:5–11, 10:46, 19:6). However, if Luke wished to emphasize tongues or other gifts as initial evidence, it seems a serious over- sight to have left it out. Further, and perhaps more importantly, there is no hint that the gift of the Spirit upon the Samaritans was to empower them for mis- sion. We hear nothing whatsoever of Samaritan missionaries.

On the other hand, if there is a definitive link between Christian water baptism and the gift of the Holy Spirit, in contrast to John’s baptism, why then


I assume, with other interpreters, that the Philip of Acts 6 is the same as the Philip of Acts 8, namely, a table-server who is later identified as both “one of the seven” and an “evangelist” in Acts 21, and thus not the apostle Philip of Acts 1.

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the delay here? Why didn’t the Spirit come immediately with the Samaritans’ reception of Christian water baptism?

These questions arise as a result of losing sight of the larger drama of Acts: namely, the gathering of all the estranged peoples of the earth into the fellowship of Jesus Christ, starting in Jerusalem and Judea but then moving on to Samaria. Thus, Luke’s purpose in Acts 8 is not to talk about tongues or about the distinction between conversion and Spirit baptism or about the link between Christian water baptism and reception of the Spirit. Instead, his purpose is to validate Samaria as a legitimate part of the newborn church.

It is essential to remember that, until this point, only Jews have been drawn into the circle of Jesus’s redemption.The Pentecost story in Acts 2 may uninten- tionally mislead by the list of peoples (“Parthians and Medes and Elamites” and so on), but the list refers to Jews in diaspora, not to Gentiles. These Jews have moved far away from Judea, many of them apparently no longer understand Aramaic, some of them only manage to offer their sacrifices at the Jerusalem temple once in their lifetimes—but still, they are Jews. Pentecost was an excit- ing event, not least of all because it linguistically reunited the people of Israel who had scattered to all corners of the earth and could no longer speak to one another. Recall the devastation of exile in Babylon and the Israelite attachment to both land and temple: Pentecost would have been something like a joyful family reunion. But precisely in this joy lay the danger of misinterpreting Jesus’s salvation as only for the children of Israel.

Jump ahead to Acts 8 and we meet, not far-flung Jews back home for a reunion, but, much closer to the church’s center in Jerusalem, the Samaritans. Samaritans were not especially welcome at the family reunion, viewed as they were as defective Jews. Yet, Jesus had tried to prepare the Jews for the ingathering of Samaritans into the family. In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus shocked his hearers by making the hero of one of his most famous parables a Samaritan, not a Jewish priest or a Jewish Levite (10:25–37). And he alerted his disciples to the fact that the gospel would be proclaimed to all nations in a certain sequence: Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, the end of the earth (Acts 1:8).What happens in Acts 8 is the extension of the mission from Jerusalem and Judea to Samaria—for the first time.

So Philip preaches, the people believe, and he baptizes them. Luke then indicates the surprising thing about this baptism: the Holy Spirit “had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.” He makes sure you know whose baptism it is—Jesus’s, not John’s—which is exactly why it is so peculiar that the Holy Spirit “had not yet fallen.” Word gets back to Jerusalem that the Samaritans have believed and been baptized, so the Jerusalem believers send Peter and John—the pillars

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and leaders of the church at this point—to Samaria to investigate just what Philip has been doing. Recall that Philip is one of the seven appointed to serve at table, not counted among the original apostolic Twelve. Upon arrival, Peter and John pray for the Samaritans to receive the Holy Spirit and lay their hands upon them. Then and only then the Spirit does indeed come upon them. Peter and John can now see for themselves that the Spirit has come upon the Samaritans, just as it did upon the Jewish disciples at Pentecost (and, though this is more incidental to our topic at hand, that the Spirit can come in response to the ministrations of someone other than a full-fledged apostle.)

Acts 8 thus reports the first time that a marginal, not-quite-Jewish group has been drawn into the community of believers. This fulfills Jesus’s promise of the sequence of the mission and foreshadows the much more dramatic inclusion of the Gentiles that will take place two chapters later. It is also worth noting that, after the inclusion of the Samaritans, Luke starts to offer other names for the believers in Jesus beyond the term Israel: now they can also be called followers of “the Way” (9:2; 19:9 and 23; 22:4; 24:14 and 22), “Christians” (11:26), and “a people for his name” (15:14, which especially emphasizes the gathering of Gentiles). Believers in Jesus inhabit a dual reality: they are a part of Israel and yet they are more than and beyond Israel. Both realities are essential to the whole story of God’s redemption.

The conclusion to draw from the Samaritan story, then, is that the Spirit was exceptionally delayed after Christian water baptism in order to establish the legitimacy of the Samaritans’ place in the church. It is the only time in Acts that we hear of such a delay, in fact.23 The mission to the nations is the focus of the story—though not the missionary empowerment of the Samaritans themselves in any special way. While the baptism-Spirit relationship is not the main purpose of the story, the report of the Samaritans’ inclusion does assume the close relationship that Christian water baptism in Jesus’s name and the gift of the Spirit ought to have. The narrative drama of the story would not work if that assumption were not already firmly in place.

The story has a fitting postscript: the baptism of another irregular Jew or Jewish proselyte, namely, the Ethiopian eunuch. He is on his way to Jerusalem “to worship,” and as he goes he reads the scroll of Isaiah, confirming his status on the blurry borderline of Israel. In any event, he is not to be considered a


We will see later that the case of the Ephesian disciples does not count because they did not receive Christian baptism but only John’s baptism, which would not have conveyed the Holy Spirit anyway.

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mere Gentile or pagan; narratively, Luke needs there to be no Gentile Christians until Peter’s encounter with Cornelius in chapter 10.24 Philip again is the one at hand to interpret the Scripture and then to baptize with water. Here nothing is said of the Holy Spirit or tongues or missionary empowerment at all, only of the water baptism itself.25We should not infer, therefore, the absence of any of these things as the main point of the story. Rather, the point is the widening circle, effected by a Christian water baptism. Now an Ethiopian who was a Jewish proselyte has been drawn in, too.

We see the tight connection between Christian water baptism and the gift of the Spirit again in the next chapter, which reports the conversion of Saul/Paul. When Ananias arrives in Damascus to visit the blinded persecutor of the church, he says, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit” (9:17). Immediately, Luke tells us, the scales fall from Paul’s eyes and he regains his sight—and his very first act is to get himself baptized, even before eating, although he has fasted for three days. Luke never tells us at which exact moment Paul’s true conversion takes place or when exactly the Spirit falls on him. All he does is draw the connection again: the Spirit and water baptism go together. This is more important than a specific experiential sequence.

Chapter 10 is a pivotal point in Acts, when the most monumental and consequential boundary is crossed. A pious man named Cornelius, who is a Roman centurion living in Caesarea, receives a message in prayer from an angel of God, telling him to find Simon Peter and hear what he has to say. Peter, meanwhile, is having a vision of his own, and an extremely disturbing one at that: a voice telling him to “kill and eat” (10:13) any number of animals that are unclean for observant Jews. Peter protests, but the vision repeats three times, insisting, “What God has made clean, do not call common” (10:15).



LukeTimothy Johnson,The Acts of the Apostles, Sacra Pagina 5 (Collegeville,mn: Liturgical Press, 1992), 159, comments: “The reader sensitive to the literary contours of Luke-Acts recognizes, of course, that the main issue is whether Luke meant the reader to see this as the start of the Gentile mission, and the answer to that is easy. The enormous effort Luke put into the Cornelius sequence (chapters 10–15) would make no sense at all if Cornelius did not represent a fundamentally new step.Whoever the ‘historical Ethiopian’ might have been, therefore, Luke clearly wants his readers to see him as part of the ‘ingathering of the scattered people’ of Israel.”

Note that textual variants insert a demand for a confession of faith or add the descent of the Holy Spirit, attempting to standardize and organize in baptism what Luke prefers to leave much more fluid. Ibid., 159.

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It is only once he has entered Cornelius’s house that Peter begins to under- stand the dream: he and Cornelius are both human beings and both under God, and “in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is accept- able to him” (10:35). So Peter consents to share the gospel with Cornelius. He mentions how Jesus’s ministry began “after the baptism that John proclaimed” (10:37, cf. 1:22), when God anointed Jesus “with the Holy Spirit and with power” (10:38)—notice again how mention of the Holy Spirit is used to distinguish Jesus from John.26 Jesus healed people and liberated them from demons, was crucified, was raised from the dead by God, and has commanded the disciples to preach forgiveness of sins in his name (here again: Jesus’s name linked with forgiveness vs. John’s baptism of repentance) to everyone who believes in him.

What happens next startles everyone. “While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, ‘Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?’ And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ” (10:44–48).

Several things are worth noting here. One is that speaking in tongues and extolling God serve as an indication that the Holy Spirit has fallen on some- one. The gift of tongues does function as evidence, if not necessarily initial evidence ortheinitial evidence. In this story it appears to be a case of glossolalia rather than xenolalia (contrasting with Acts 2:5–11), lacking any particular mis- sional orientation. Another thing to notice is the once-again tight connection between the Holy Spirit and water baptism. Because the Gentiles have received the Holy Spirit, Peter therefore commands them to be baptized. The order of events is reversed from the day of Pentecost—at which time Peter spoke of waterbaptisminJesus’snamefirst,tobefollowedbytheHolySpirit—butwhat- ever the order, the two evidently belong together.

If the inclusion of the Samaritans was disturbing enough that Peter and John had to go and investigate, the inclusion of the Gentiles is an order of magnitude harder for the Jewish believers back home to accept. Accusations begin to fly the moment Peter arrives back in Jerusalem. To counter their suspicions of his having flouted the law of Moses for no good reason, Peter recounts his


Johnson observes: “The movement from Galilee to Jerusalem is one of Luke’s fundamental structuring devices … John’s baptism is taken as the starting point of Jesus’ ministry in Luke 3:3; 16:16 and Acts 1:22. This mention of John’s baptism anticipates the statement in 11:16”; ibid., 192.

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dream and how he was brought to Cornelius’s house. He concludes: “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?” (11:15–17).

Once again, the story highlights the contrast between John’s baptism and that of Jesus. Peter sees a perfect parallel between what happened to his fellow believing Jews and what happened to the Gentiles at Caesarea. In fact, Jesus’s prophecy in Acts 1 and Peter’s recollection of the same prophecy in Acts 11 are the only two times in which the phrase “baptized with the Holy Spirit” is used in the whole book of Acts.The case of Cornelius is a second Pentecost, this time for Gentiles instead of for Jews. Faith and reception of the Holy Spiritoccurred in the same moment, and Peter sees that it would be wrong to withhold water baptism from them. Receiving the Holy Spirit is not an alternative to water baptism but all the more strongly urges it, in fact commands it. Peter’s accusers change their minds and rejoice: “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life” (11:18). Repentance is a key issue again, as it was for John, but this time the Holy Spirit is also a part of the equation.

The reception of the Holy Spirit by the Gentiles, as Peter witnessed with his own eyes, will ultimately resolve the controversy about their inclusion when it arises again in Acts 15 at the Jerusalem Council. Here it is finally and officially decided that the Gentiles also have a part in the salvation promised to Israel.

Paul similarly stresses the contrast between John’s baptism and the salvation that comes from Jesus. While preaching in the synagogue of Antioch in Pisidia, he reviews highlights from Israel’s history and recalls the promise to David of a savior. Then: “Before his coming, John had proclaimed a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. And as John was finishing his course, he said, ‘What do you suppose that I am? I am not he. No, but behold, after me one is coming, the sandals of whose feet I am not worthy to untie’” (13:24–25). This is all quite familiar: John deferring to Jesus and being able to offer only a “baptism of repentance”—note the omission of the “for the forgiveness of sins” phrase. But then, after reporting the story of Jesus, Paul concludes, “through this man [Jesus] forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you” (13:38)—something John had prophesied but could not himself provide.

The next water baptisms we hear about in Acts are household baptisms: of Lydia and her household (16:11–15) and of the Philippian jailer and his household (16:25–34). Both families appear to be Gentiles and come to the gospel of Jesus Christ without any preparation by John the Baptist, so there is no particular need here to make a contrast where the Spirit is concerned.

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But the distinction between John’s baptism and Christian baptism reappears in Acts 18:24–28. Here we learn about a Jew from Alexandria named Apollos who is visiting Ephesus. Luke heaps praises upon him: “He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit,27 he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus.” There was just one problem: “he knew only the baptism of John.” From Luke’s perspective, Apollos really must have been an extraordi- nary preacher to be absolved of such a serious oversight; it seems quite pos- sible that his extravagant praise functions as an apologetic self-defense for his endorsement of a flawed leader. The story continues: “He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately.” Apollos evidently accepted the correction and earned even more admiration from his fellow Christians: “And when he wished to cross to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. When he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed, for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus.” This story demonstrates how long the confusion over John’s and Jesus’s baptisms per- sisted, even among the earliest followers of Jesus, and why Luke had to work so hard in his history to distinguish them from one another. Even a great evan- gelist like Apollos was in need of “more accurate” information to supplement his own.28



There is some dispute among interpreters about whether the “spirit” referred to in this verse should be taken to be the Holy Spirit. Johnson makes a compelling argument against it: “The verb zeō means literally ‘to boil’ but can be used metaphorically for passion. It is not certain whether tō pneumati should be taken as a psychological statement: ‘he had a passionate spirit,’ or as a religious statement: ‘he was fervent in the [Holy] Spirit.’ In either case it is striking that Luke here avoids his stereotypical prophetic characterization: Apollos is not said to be ‘full of the Holy Spirit’”; ibid., 332. See also n. 32 below on the description of John the Baptist in Luke 1:80.

Again Johnson: “… although Apollos is described in highly favorable terms, Luke refrains from portraying him in the stereotypically prophetic terms that he has used for all his major protagonists. Apollos is ‘ardent in the spirit’ and ‘eloquent’ but he is not ‘full of the Holy Spirit’ nor does he speak ‘God’s word,’ or perform ‘signs and wonders.’ He is, the reader learns, not of the same rank as those called to be prophets by Jesus and the Spirit … the effect of it is to make Apollos a helpful but secondary participant in the messianic movement, not a prophet commissioned by the Spirit of God, but a teacher instructed by the Pauline school and commissioned by the churches”;The Acts of the Apostles, 335. Here again we see that water baptism in the name of Jesus and the Holy Spirit are associated, by way of negative example.

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The final account of baptism in Acts (other than Paul’s remembering his own in 22:16, which he in front of a Gentile audience links to the washing away of his sins and Jesus’s name) is that of the Ephesian disciples in chapter 19.29 Every other time Luke uses the worddisciples, he means it as a term of approval for Jesus’s followers.30 But the Ephesians present an unusual case. When Paul approaches them, he asks, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” They respond, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit!” (19:2). From Luke’s perspective, that is an extremely strange response. How could anyone believe in Jesus and yet not know about the Holy Spirit? This prompts Paul to inquire, “Into what then were you baptized?” His assumption is that, if they are believers, then they must have been baptized. Their answer: “Into John’s baptism” (19:3).

That explains it. As we have seen all along, John’s baptism was for repen- tance, but it did not bestow the Holy Spirit. The Ephesian disciples shared in John’s repentance and expectation of the Christ, but they didn’t realize that the Christ had actually come, or that he had sent his Holy Spirit upon believ- ers, either. Perhaps that is not altogether surprising. After all, Ephesus is a very long way from the Judean countryside, and news may have been slow to travel. But their example does show how widespread the John the Baptist movement was in the ancient world—from Ephesus in Asia Minor to Apollos’s hometown of Alexandria in Egypt—and may suggest a certain struggle between the Jesus movement and the John the Baptist movement.



This story, in conjunction with that of Apollos, is the one place where interpreters are most likely to notice and endorse the notion that Luke’s purpose was to distinguish John’s baptism from Christian baptism. To my knowledge, however, this has not so far led to a thoroughgoing analysis of all of Luke-Acts with an eye to the distinction of the two baptisms.

Dunn makes a big deal of the omission of the article from before the noun, but that seems driven as much as anything by his absolutist distinction between Christians and non- Christians: “It was not that Paul accepted them as Christians with an incomplete expe- rience; it is rather that they were not Christians at all. The absence of the Spirit indicated that they had not even begun the Christian life”; Baptism in the Holy Spirit, 86. To the con- trary, the precise point of the stories about the Samaritans, the Ethiopian eunuch, Apollos, and the Ephesian disciples is that thereis notsuch an absolute distinction; they are at var- ious stages along the way of being within Israel and within “the Way.” A vaguely termed set of “disciples” exactly fits the bill here and correlates to their ambiguous position. Dunn correctly observes that when Paul “discovered that the Spirit was lacking [among the Eph- esian disciples], all his energies were directed towards the object of bringing the twelve into the Christian experience of the Spirit”—but omits mention of the means by which he does it: namely, water baptism in Jesus’ name and the laying-on of hands!

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Paul undertakes the task of bringing the Ephesians up to date. “John bap- tized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus” (19:4)—again, any mention of “for the forgiveness of sins” has been dropped. On hearing this, the Ephesians are bap- tized in the name of Jesus. This is not a “rebaptism” in the Christian sense, since the first baptism was not Christian at all, but John’s. The baptism is followed by the laying-on of hands, the Holy Spirit comes upon them, and they begin to speak in tongues and prophesy. Here again we see the recurring themes: repentance; the distinction between John’s water baptism and Christian water baptism; the close alignment of Christian baptism and the Holy Spirit, and the disassociation of the Holy Spirit from John’s baptism; and the familiar though not mandatory features of the laying-on of hands and speaking in tongues. As with the Samaritan believers, the laying-on of hands by Paul the apostle signi- fies how the Ephesian disciples of John have now made a full and legitimate entry into the community of the church by water baptism in Jesus’s name and the reception of the Holy Spirit.31

Significantly, that is where Luke’s story of ingathering comes to an end. The Jews, the Samaritans, the proselytes, the Gentiles, and finally the disciples of John have all received Christian baptism and the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is the disciples of John who constitute the last category of ingathered peoples, not the Gentiles, as we might otherwise expect from Jesus’s prophecy—suggesting that their placement at the end takes on a heightened meaning. With them all communities, if not all individuals, are accounted for. After chapter 19, Acts takes a different turn, narrating Paul’s confrontation with the Roman political authorities that will eventually take him to his (anticipated) martyr’s death.


According to Witherington, “the larger issue which primarily prompted the inclusion of these two stories is the issue of the ongoing Baptist movement and its relationship to or with Christianity. The Baptist movement seems to have continued well into the fourth century a.d. and certainly would still have been an issue when Luke wrote Acts. Furthermore, these two stories in Acts speak of Baptist influence in as diverse places as Alexandria and Ephesus. It is then wrong to underestimate the importance for Luke of clarifying this issue”; The Acts of the Apostles, 569. Dapaah observes: “The need to repeatedly explain the relationship between John’s baptism and baptism in the name of Jesus shows the sensitivity of the relations between the Baptist group and the early church. Paul’s insistence on the re-baptism of the Ephesian disciples marks a significant turning point in the early church’s relation to John’s baptism. Luke re-defines John’s message and baptism in relation to Jesus, which seems to be unknown to both Apollos and the Ephesian disciples”;The Relationship between John the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth, 104.

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We have already seen how John the Baptist’s prophecy of baptism with the Holy Spirit in Luke 3 sets up the contrast between his baptism and Christian baptism in Jesus’s name in Acts. We will circle back now again to Luke’s Gospel to see other ways in which the Evangelist distinguishes the baptizer from the savior. Luke has to pull off a delicate balancing act: to honor John and yet subordinate him to Jesus, to endorse Mark’s report of John and yet address his own community’s later need to distinguish John’s baptism from that of Jesus. Luke has to show that John’s ministry and witness are genuinely sent by God, driven by the Holy Spirit—and yet not enough, not quite what Israel has been waiting for.

Reading backwards from the distinction in Acts between John’s baptism and Christian baptism may explain why Luke alone among the Evangelists gives a birth narrative—and an extended one at that—for John. The connection but distinction between Jesus and John is essential from the moment of conception onward. John is filled with the Holy Spirit already in his mother Elizabeth’s womb (1:15)—but this does not single him out; Elizabeth (1:41), Zechariah (1:67), and especially Simeon (2:25, 2:26, and 2:27) are all filled with the Holy Spirit, too. John is also compared to Elijah, which would logically suggest a comparison of Jesus to Elisha; Luke never says as much, but it is notable that Elisha receives a “double portion” of the Spirit that first fell upon Elijah (2Kings 2:9). And yet, while John and these others are filled with the Holy Spirit, only Jesus isconceivedthrough the Holy Spirit coming upon his mother, Mary (1:35), and there is a very strong contrast between her faithful response to the angel’s announcement and Zechariah’s faithless doubt.32 Zechariah prophesies that John will “give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins” (1:77), already foreshadowing the focus of John’s ministry, but the scope of Zechariah’s song is restricted to the redemption of Israel. Simeon, by contrast, already sees that Jesus will be not only “glory to your people Israel” but also “a light for revelation to the Gentiles” (2:32).

As prophesied, John undertakes his ministry of preaching repentance and practicing baptism in the wilderness. He doesn’t mince his words or his accusa- tions, and many wonder if he is the Christ. He avers that he is not, but another is coming who will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Luke leaves no


Luke 1:80 reports that John grew “strong in spirit,” but Luke otherwise takes such care to distinguish the Holy Spirit from other spirits that it seems unlikely that this verse is pertinent to the discussion at hand. The appropriate parallel is between this verse and the description of Apollos in Acts 18:25. Both men are certainly full of “spirit,” and are godly men at that, yet they are somehow lacking in the fullness offered through Jesus and his baptism.

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doubt how profoundly Jesus’s ministry is indeed informed by the Spirit: the Spirit leads Jesus to the wilderness (4:1), sends him back to Galilee in the power of the Spirit (4:14), and Isaiah’s prophecy “the Spirit of the Lord is upon me” is fulfilled when Jesus reads it in the synagogue (4:18).

Still, is Jesus entirely what you would expect after John? Jesus does preach repentance, but there is a very different texture even to this aspect of his preaching as compared to John’s. It is enough to prompt a pointed question: “The disciples of John fast often and offer prayers, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours eat and drink” (Luke 5:33; cf. 7:33–34). The apparent difference between the two ministries comes into stark relief in chapter 7, which in light of all that has happened so far in this Gospel is nothing less than astonishing. John sends some of his disciples to ask Jesus whether he is the one or if John should wait for another. This is incredible: how could John doubt it? Had he forgotten the dove and the voice from heaven—or did he not particularly like what Jesus was doing? Or was he not the one to baptize Jesus at all? Jesus responds not with an appeal to the events at the Jordan but to the works he is doing, works that evidently John is not doing: “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them.” But his concluding words are sharp: “And blessed is the one who is not offended by me” (Luke 7:22–23). As already observed, it is easy to imagine that the fierce preacher of repentance may have had his doubts about the one who forgave so easily. And it is even easier to imagine that John’s disciples may have struggled to transfer their loyalty over to Jesus, even after their beloved leader was beheaded.

Once John’s disciples depart, Jesus praises John; and yet again, there is a sharp barb at the end: “I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he” (7:28). At this, those who had been baptized by John “declared God just,” while those who had rejected John’s baptism also “rejected the purpose of God for themselves” (7:29). At this point, of course, there is no Christian alternative to John’s baptism. But once again it is evident that if Jesus’s words evoked this kind of affirmation of John’s ministry among the people, it may well have been difficult for the people after Pentecost to grasp what, exactly, distinguished Jesus’s baptism from John’s. Jesus’s test question about John’s baptism, whether it is of heavenly or human origin, during his debates in Jerusalem reinforces it as a neuralgic point of contention (20:4)—but, intriguingly, Jesus never actually answers his own question. And the confusion continues: John the Baptist resuscitated is one of the theories circulating about Jesus’s identity (Luke 9:9, 9:19), and in a perhaps muted rivalry Jesus’s disciples want to be taught how to pray just as John’s disciples were taught (Luke 11:1).

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Thus, looking at Luke and Acts together, we can see that the history of John the Baptist forms a pair of bookends around the gathering of all the peoples back to God through Jesus’s salvation—at the front end with John’s conception and birth, and at the far end with John’s disciples’ reception of baptism in Jesus’s name. Somehow John is the lynchpin of history: “The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached” (Luke 16:16)—but John is the moment of transition, not the fulfillment itself.

Two thousand years later, Christians simply take for granted that John the Baptist was the forerunner prophet making Israel ready for the Messiah. Luke and the other Evangelists have done their job so well that it rarely occurs to us that there may have been some kind of competition between John and Jesus or between their followers.33 And yet, two thousand years later, there remains a handful of followers of John the Baptist who do not accept Jesus as the Christ: the Mandaeans of Iraq. It is by no means impossible to imagine that one of Luke’s many purposes in writing his two-volume work was to “grandfather in” the Baptist to the gospel of Jesus Christ and help erstwhile followers of John make the necessary transition in their loyalties. It is also entirely plausible that


Dapaah observes: “Recent scholarly discussion has noted that John was an independent figure, in fact a major prophet, who is to be understood within the context of Second Temple Judaism”; The Relationship between John the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth, 1. He then (pp. 3–4) summarizes the questions posed by John’s own religious role: “(1) how closely did Jesus align himself with John’s mission? Did Jesus initially begin his public ministry as a disciple of John but later develop his own distinctive ministry, or was Jesus’ ministry a continuation of John’s ministry? (2) Why are the synoptists silent about Jesus’ Judean ministry described in the Fourth Gospel? (3) What happened to Jesus’ baptizing ministry when he came to Galilee (Mark 1:14 and par)? Did he start baptizing like John and then stop later in his ministry? If baptism did not go into remission in Jesus’ Galilean ministry, why are the synoptists silent about it in their accounts? Does the command to baptize go back to the historical Jesus (Matt 28.19; cf. Mark 16.15–16)? In short, how far does John’s ministry contribute to our understanding of the origins of Jesus’ ministry? (4) How did the early church define itself in relation to the followers of John? Can we detect any rivalry or tension between the early church and the Baptist’s movement? (5) Is there any evidence to suggest that the Jesus movement was a direct outgrowth of the Baptist’s movement? (6) In any case, how far can we trust our sources?” See also Johnson, The Acts of the Apostles, 338, commenting on Acts 19:4: “This is now the fifth time in Acts that John’s role as a precursor of Jesus has been clarified (Acts 1:5; 11:16; 13:25; 18:25). The need to repeatedly take up the issue, plus the fact that John apparently has disciples twenty years after his death in places as far from the Jordan as Alexandria (Apollos) and Ephesus, supports the portrait of John as an important religious figure in his own right.”

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Luke saw a need even among the faithful-to-Jesus to clarify just how John’s water baptism was taken up by Jesus and his disciples and transformed into a new thing. Luke’s purpose is to show where the one baptism and baptizer ends and the other begins—namely, with the Holy Spirit and the forgiveness of sins.

In light of the foregoing proposal, how ought we to think about what Pente- costals call “baptism in the Spirit”? It appears that a right reading of the mis- sionary intent of Acts and a right reading of the gift of the Holy Spirit to Chris- tians have been first conflated and then reified into a distinct, definable, and repeatable “experience” beyond what the text itself can affirm. Pentecostals take John’s and Jesus’s distinction between baptizing in water and baptizing in the Holy Spirit (Luke 3:16, Acts 1:5) to be about categorically different events, rather than pointing to the contrast between John’s water baptism without the Holy Spirit and Jesus’s water baptism (or that of his disciples) with the Holy Spirit. But the association of Christian water baptism with the gift of the Holy Spirit is very strong throughout Acts, while tongues and missional empower- ment are not mentioned in every account of the reception of the Spirit. The kind of tongues most useful for mission work, namely xenolalia occurs only on the day of Pentecost itself, not after. The exact phrase “baptized in the Holy Spirit” is used only twice in Acts: prophesying the Pentecost event (1:5) and recalling the Gentiles’ reception of the Spirit (11:16). However, many other terms are used interchangeably with “baptized in the Holy Spirit” throughout Acts: “received” (2:38, 8:17, 10:47, 19:2); “come upon” (1:8, 19:6), “filled” (2:4); “poured out” (2:33, 10:45); “fell” (10:44, 11:15); “given” (5:32, 15:8). These various verbs are often used to describe the same event. Sometimes the Spirit is the subject of the action (“fell,” “came upon”) and sometimes the object (“received,” “given,” “poured out”). None of them appears to function as a technical term, least of all “baptized in the Spirit” itself. A distinct, missionally empowering experience going by the name of “baptism in the Spirit” cannot be sustained from the text of Acts.

It helps at this point to recall a bit of early pentecostal history. Before Azusa Street,“baptismintheHolySpirit”wasaterminuseamongHolinessChristians. In a certain sense, it was a term in search of a definition. There was a great deal of dispute about what it really meant. Some took it to be synonymous with sanctification. The break of Pentecostals from the Holiness movement came from their identifying “baptism in the Holy Spirit” with a dramatic experience of missionary empowerment.34


See Donald W. Dayton,The Theological Roots of Pentecostalism(Metuchen,nj: Scarecrow, 1987).

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By the same token, it could be said that the pentecostal experience was an experience in search of a name and a justification. It is impossible to overesti- matethehostility,mockery,andrejectiononthepartof otherChristianstoward early Pentecostals. These others were often quite determined to conclude that Pentecostals were demon-possessed or delusional. Thus, an appeal to the Bible by use of a term already in circulation was a good way for Pentecostals to estab- lish the legitimacy of what they were experiencing.35

It would be a mistake, however, to conclude that a misapplied term or a reified experience means that these very reports of experience of the Spirit by Pentecostals are completely illegitimate, unfounded, and without any basis in the book of Acts at all. As it turns out, Acts speaks often of the Spirit at work in powerful ways quite apart from Pentecost itself or other reports of the gift of tongues. The Spirit is certainly at work in water baptism in Jesus’s name—but the Spirit is notonlyat work in water baptism in Jesus’s name!

Take, for example, this account from Acts 4:23–31, not long after the day of Pentecost and directly after Peter and John’s confrontation with the religious authorities:

When they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit, ‘Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed’—for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.


See Cecil M. Robeck Jr., The Azusa Street Mission and Revival: The Birth of the Global Pentecostal Movement (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2006).

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water baptism and spirit baptism in luke-acts


This sounds remarkably like pentecostal descriptions of encounters with the Holy Spirit. Believers gather together in an intense fellowship of prayer and beg God for the strength and boldness to bear testimony to the world. God responds with dramatic signs, the people are filled with the Holy Spirit, and they are empowered to continue on their mission. But this account in Acts 4 is in no way associated with baptism or called “baptism in the Holy Spirit.” Peter and John had already received the Holy Spirit before this moment (Luke affirms that Peter in front of the authorities had been “filled with the Holy Spirit,” 4:8), but here they receive the Spirit again or afresh, with a specific missional orientation—no surprise, since mission is Luke’s overall agenda in Acts.36 Stephen speaks by the Spirit against his opponents in the synagogue (6:10); the Spirit prompts Philip to talk to the Ethiopian eunuch (8:29) and then whisks him away to Azotus to continue his itinerant preaching (8:39–40); the Spirit sets Paul and Barnabas apart for mission among the Gentiles in Antioch and Cyprus (13:2) but prevents them from going to Asia and Bithynia (16:6–7). Reception of the Spirit is not a one-time event. The Spirit will come whenever the need arises. If there’s any flaw to pentecostal reasoning, it’s the restriction of the immersion in or infilling by the Spirit to a single event. (And if that’s the case, it’s a flaw shared by many other Christians as well!)37

We can say, then, that early Pentecostals were certainly correct to believe that spiritual gifts such as tongues and prophecy were intended by Luke-Acts to be a part of ordinary Christian existence; that the Holy Spirit continues to work and be active in spurring missions to places where the gospel has never been preached; and that the Spirit can be experienced perceptibly by the faithful rather than remaining a “silent partner.” It is unfortunate that all these correct interpretations of the Spirit in Luke-Acts became linked to the termbaptism— otherwise always used in the New Testament as the marker of the beginning of



See Atkinson’s helpful discussion in Baptism in the Spirit, 131–133, where he notes that the believers pray for boldness, not for the Spirit, but God responds by pouring the Spirit out on them again, precisely for an evangelistic purpose.

Apropos of this topic, Atkinson comments in response to Turner: “Luke, or any user of the term [“receiving the Spirit”], might acknowledge that the Spirit has already been performing other works in that person, or has perhaps been performing some of the associated works whose whole nexus will justify the term ‘receiving’ without operating them all, before that occasion when the complete nexus of activities first occurs and the person can validly be said to have received the Spirit”; ibid., 80. This is a more nuanced approach than the usual. Still, the question remains: when does a person know with certainty to have received the complete gift of the Spirit? Is this not at the same time claiming too much and expecting too little?

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theChristianliferatherthanastageontheway,orasametaphorforthecross— or were strictly defined as a particular kind of experience with evidential features. But that should not obscure the genuine insights that Pentecostals have reintroduced to a church that had long since forgotten them.

Likewise, recognizing the contrast between John’s baptism and Christian baptism allows for a better read on the “sacramental” view of baptism noted earlier. Luke does depict the Holy Spirit as given in juxtaposition with water baptism in Jesus’s name—before, during, or after, but somehow or other closely connected. The Spirit being given drives people to baptism (Acts 10:47), or reception of baptism contains a promise that the Holy Spirit will be given (Acts 2:38), but either way water baptism in Jesus’s name is not merely a rite or a human action of testimony alone. It is always commanded and commended, and it further grants the forgiveness of sin. Yet neither baptism nor the gift of the Spirit in affiliation with baptism is meant to be the end of the story. Long- since baptized Christians may rightly pray for more Spirit, for a refreshment of the Spirit, and for gifts of the Spirit.

Finally, we should return to the original issue of the depiction in Luke-Acts of personal experience of the Spirit. The lack of any unvarying sequence of water baptism and the bestowal of the Spirit (either might precede the other), and the occasional but not consistent mention of such things as tongues and laying-on of hands, is Luke’s narrative testimony to the sovereign freedom of the Spirit. God cannot be cornered and demanded to perform; people are not to be primed for an experience and then take it to be God’s own act. Long before Peter even thinks of baptizing Gentiles, the Spirit simply shows up and claims Cornelius. Acts wants to show the reader that the Spirit of God is at work among the disciples and headed out toward the nations to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ and the forgiveness of sins. Neither human responses of faith nor humanly performed rites (even as important as baptism) lead the way; only the Spirit does, but freely using such means as testimony and miracles and water baptism. Peter says in Acts 2:39, “For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” Acts 2:47 emphasizes that “the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” In both verses, the point is clear: faith and salvation are God’swork, first and foremost, in people close to the Jerusalem center of Jesus’s action or far from it.

While Luke’s Gospel depicts personal encounters between Jesus and various individuals, Acts has a more global perspective. Its agenda is to report and legit- imize the movement of the gospel from Jerusalem to all Judea and to Samaria and ultimately to the end of the earth, as Jesus promised in 1:8. Therefore, to try to extract a sequence of salvific or empowering experiences on thepersonal

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level from the book of Acts is to miss the bigger picture. Recall that after Luke has seen to the ingathering of the Jews (Acts 2), the Samaritans and a Jewish proselyte (Acts 8), the Gentiles (Acts 10), and finally John’s disciples (Acts 19), there is no moretalk of the Holy Spirit being given.In fact, there is verylittletalk of the Holy Spirit at all after that point. The job has been done: all the estranged groups (if not all their members) have been claimed, the original Jewish core of disciples has come to terms with the redefinition of the people of God, and it’s time to move on to another concern, namely, Paul’s confrontation with the Roman political authorities.

If Luke imagines any temporal sequence at all, it is that the Spirit moves first to bring the news of the gospel to a person or a community. Everything else flows out of that, in whatever order accomplishes the Spirit’s purpose. Acts is the story of the outward traveling of the gospel, which makes everything else possible: faith, repentance, forgiveness, water baptism, reception of the Spirit—ultimately, salvation.38


My profound thanks to Troy M. Troftgruben for his critical reading of this article and insightful suggestions; any remaining errors of judgment or scholarship are my own. An earlier version of this argument can be found in chap. 4 of my book, A Guide to Pentecostal Movements for Lutherans(Eugene,or: Wipf and Stock, 2016).

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