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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: Baptism with the Holy Spirit

Don Stewart :: Why Did the Apostle Paul Ask Certain Disciples If They Received the Holy Spirit upon Believing?

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Why Did the Apostle Paul Ask Certain Disciples If They Received the Holy Spirit upon Believing? (Acts 19)

Baptism with the Holy Spirit – Question 22

In Acts 19, we find the Apostle Paul asking certain disciples about their reception of the Holy Spirit. The question reads as follows.

While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul went through the inland regions and came to Ephesus. He found some disciples there and said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” They replied, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit” (Acts 19:1, 2 NET).

The King James Version translates the verse in this manner.

And it came to pass, that, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper coasts came to Ephesus: and finding certain disciples, He said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost (Acts 19:1,2 KJV).

Notice the first translation says “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” The King James Version translates it: Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed?

The King James translation is not necessarily the best translation of the Greek text. It seems better for the text to read, “Having believed did you receive the Holy Spirit?” or “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” This is how most modern translations put it.

It must be admitted, however, that it is not impossible to translate the text, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit after you believed?”

Was There a Period of Time Needed?

Does this account indicate that there is a period of time between salvation and the reception of the Holy Spirit? Did Paul find something lacking in their spiritual experience that would cause him to question if they had received the fullness of the Holy Spirit?

We Need to Understand the Historical Situation

When we understand the historical situation, we find that this is not the case. The background of this episode is found in Acts 18. The Scripture says.

Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately (Acts 18:24-26 NIV).

Apollos had an inadequate understanding of Jesus Christ – he knew of Jesus only as far as the ministry of John the Baptist. He knew nothing of the death, resurrection and ascension of the Lord. Neither did he know about the events on the Day of Pentecost. The husband and wife team of Priscilla and Aquila explained things more accurately.

Paul Met Other Disciples with the Same Beliefs

When Paul came to Ephesus he met other disciples who had similar beliefs as Apollos. These disciples were followers of John the Baptist. Indeed, they are not called Christians or believers in Jesus. Paul, noticing something lacking in their knowledge of Jesus Christ, asked them if they received the Holy Spirit when they believed.

If they had been baptized into Jesus Christ, they would have been familiar with the Trinitarian baptismal formula. Jesus made it clear how Christian baptism was to occur.

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19 NKJV).

Baptism is to be in the name, or authority, of the three members of the Trinity.

They Were Ignorant of the Events of Pentecost

They confessed that they were ignorant of the work of the Holy Spirit. We read their response in the Book of Acts.

They replied, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit” (Acts 19:2 NRSV).

This does not mean they had never heard of the Holy Spirit. This is basically the same phrase that Jesus used in John’s gospel when He said, “the Holy Spirit is not yet given.” These disciples had not heard about the events on the Day of Pentecost that occurred some twenty years earlier. This was when the Holy Spirit was poured out in a unique way upon believers in Jesus Christ.

Paul then asked them about their baptism.

So Paul said, “Into what then were you baptized?” “Into John’s baptism,” they replied. Paul said, “John baptized with a baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.” When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus, and when Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began to speak in tongues and to prophesy. (Now there were about twelve men in all.) (Acts 19:3-7 NET).

These disciples had believed John’s message about the coming Messiah. They had heard about the promise of the baptism with the Holy Spirit. Yet they had not heard anything after that. While Apollos had heard about Jesus, these disciples were ignorant of the fact that Jesus Christ had even come into the world! They had heard nothing of the death and resurrection of Jesus. In other words, they had never heard the gospel message. Thus, the reason they had not received the Holy Spirit, in the New Testament sense, is that they were not Christians.

When Paul then explained to them the facts about Jesus, the One whom John had spoken of, they became believers in Christ. These disciples of John were then baptized in water and immediately received the Holy Spirit. They also spoke with tongues and prophesied. This testified to the fact that they received the Holy Spirit in the New Testament sense – with power to testify of Jesus Christ.

Paul Laid His Hands upon Them

Scripture speaks of Paul laying his hands upon these believers when the Holy Spirit came upon them. This could have been when they were experiencing the act of being baptized in water or it might have happened after they were baptized. We are not told. In any case, Paul identified with these believers when he placed his hands upon them – they were now one in Jesus Christ.

Why Did Paul Ask the Question?

It is sometimes said that Paul asked these men the question about their reception of the Holy Spirit because he found something lacking in their spiritual life. Because they did not seem to have the power of the Spirit, Paul was prompted to ask them when they had received the Holy Spirit.

This Is Not an Indication of a Second Blessing

However this is not the case at all. The fact that Paul asked them if they had received the Holy Spirit is not an indication that the Holy Spirit comes after salvation. To the contrary, Paul knew that the lack of the Holy Spirit in their lives meant they had not come to a saving knowledge of Jesus.

To Paul, the lack of the Holy Spirit meant the lack of salvation. Paul could tell from conversing with them that they did not know about Jesus – they needed to become Christians. Therefore, the fact that Paul asked the question about the reception of the Holy Spirit refutes the idea that the Holy Spirit is given sometime after a person believes.

This Is a Case of Receiving the Holy Spirit upon Belief in Jesus

Consequently this was not a case of receiving the baptism with the Holy Spirit after salvation; it is rather an episode of the reception of the Holy Spirit at time of salvation. There was no delay in their experience with the Holy Spirit. He indwelt them as soon as they believed in Jesus Christ as the promised Messiah.

Summary – Question 22
Why Did the Apostle Paul Ask Certain Disciples If They Received the Holy Spirit upon Believing? (Acts 19)

Two believers, Priscilla and Aquila, encountered a believer in the city of Ephesus named Apollos who was a follower of John the Baptist. While mighty in the Scriptures, Apollos was ignorant of all of the facets of the ministry of Jesus Christ. They took him aside and explained to Him more completely what Jesus had accomplished.

Later, Paul encountered other men in Ephesus who were disciples of John the Baptist. These disciples had not heard the message of Jesus. This caused Paul to ask them about their baptism. When they confessed they had not heard of the Holy Spirit or Jesus Christ, Paul explained to them the message of salvation. Upon hearing the message they believed in Christ; the One whom John the Baptist said was to come. They are examples of people who lived in the Old Testament age that believed the promises of God but had not heard about Jesus Christ. They do not represent any example of a second work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers. Indeed, these men were not New Testament Christians until they met Paul. Once these individuals heard the gospel message and responded they became believers in Jesus.

Consequently, their story should not be viewed as a pattern of how the power of the Holy Spirit is received for modern-day believers. Theirs was a unique situation.

What Happened When the Gentiles First Received the Holy Spirit? ← Prior Section
Why Did the Holy Spirit Work Differently with Four Particular Groups in Acts? Next Section →
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