34?: The Extension of the Holy Spirit

Studies in Acts

The Extension of the Holy Spirit”

Acts 19:1-7

 

Acts chapter 19 is another of those chapters that is like a travelogue or a slide show : it consists of several loosely assembled events strung together by a time frame. By way of outline we can divide the chapter into 4 parts:

 

  1. The extension of the Spirit in verses 1 through 7
  2. The explanation of the scripture in verses 8 through 10
  3. The explanation of the scripture in verses 11 through 20
  4. The exposure of a false spirit in verses 21 through40The Extension of the Holy Spirit”
  5. Acts 19:1-7Acts chapter 19 is another of those chapters that is like a travelogue or a slide show or a travelogue: it consists of several loosely assembled events strung together by a time frame. By way of outline we can divide the chapter into 4 parts:

     

    1. The extension of the Spirit in verses 1 through 7
    2. The explanation of the scripture in verses 8 through 10
    3. The explanation of the scripture in verses 11 through 20

    4, the exposure of a false spirit in verses 21 through 40

     

    As we come to this section of the book of Acts we enter a controversial area which we have touched on before and which comes up from time to time as we move through the book. But it is not by accident that it does recur. And it is important to go over it again when it does come up because people who are sincere believers in Jesus Christ differ, sometimes strongly, about the issues involved. Since they are differing viewpoints it is easy to slip into extremism on either side of the issues, leading to stereotyping, prejudice, and finally division among fellow Christians. The biggest reason passages like this can be difficult is the differing viewpoints have about spiritual gifts in general. Charismatics view all of the gifts, including tongues and prophecy, as being active and available to the church today. The word “charismatic” comes from the Greek word “Charis,” which means “gift of grace.” Today the term is associated with those who promote the expression of the gifts of tongues, prophecy, and miracles. These three abilities are sometimes called the “sign” gifts because they were used by God in the days before the completion of the New Testament to validate His message and messengers. Non-charismatics, on the other hand, believe that some of the gifts, such as tongues and prophecy are no longer needed because the New Testament has been completed, and they are therefore no longer needed and therefore are no longer being given.

    The late Dr. S. Lewis Johnson has defined these terms in this way:

     

    1. The gift of tongues as we find it described in the New Testament is a supernatural ability to speak in a language one has not studied.” The most famous occurrence of this gift was the first time it was used – the day of Pentecost, when people from all over the world heard the gospel preached in their own language, but many other instances of it are also recorded in the New Testament. The word always translated “tongues” in the New Testament is “glossa,” the Greek word for “language.”

     

    1. The gift of prophecy is the supernatural ability to receive a special revelation from God and to speak that revelation without error. During the years before the Old Testament was recorded, God spoke through men (and sometimes women) to whom he had given this gift. During the years before the Old Testament was written down, and again during the years before the New Testament was recorded God spoke through men (and sometimes women) Although that was a valuable gift, it is no longer necessary because in the written scriptures we have “all things that pertain to life and godliness,” as Peter later wrote. These were the 30 or so years between Jesus’ ascension and Paul’s first Roman imprisonment – a time of great change and development. At the beginning of the book believers worshipped in the synagogue on the Jewish Sabbath; toward the end they were meeting in house churches on the first day of the week.

     

    In the beginning, Christian doctrine was in the minds of only a few; by the end the Apostles had started to distribute doctrine widely through their writings; At the beginning only Jews were accepting Christ; at the end Gentiles were in the majority. The book of Acts, therefore covers some 30 years of transition. It represents a whole period of time when things were in a state of flux. We must be careful, therefore, that we don’t base our doctrinal foundations on this book, because we may be setting some things in cement which God had not fully formulated yet. And the first few verses of Acts 19 are a good example of that.

     

    The opening words – “and it came about” show that what happens next was more of a happenstance than a planned movement. Luke isn’t even sure how many people were involved – in all about 12 men (according to verse 7) – a smallish group by any standard. And, more significantly this incident is never mentioned again in the rest of scripture – Paul never uses it to establish a norm or set a standard of practice for the church. So, again, we should be careful in this “transitional” book. Always pay attention to the details of any situation recorded here. I have a pastor friend who had a new member who came into his church. And at the first celebration of the Lord’s Supper he attended, this man insisted that the lights were too bright, because he had read “somewhere in Acts” that it was recorded that on one occasion of celebrating the Lord’s supper the lights had been turned down low.

     

    So, with all that as background, let’s look at this controversial passage.

     

    As we saw earlier, the first 7 verses of this passage contain the story of the extension of the Holy Spirit to a new group of believers. The setting for that extension is in verse 1

     

    And it happened, while Apollos was at Corinth, that Paul, having passed through the upper regions, came to Ephesus. And finding some disciples . . .”

     

    We saw in the last verses of chapter 18 that Paul wound up his second missionary journey by coming back to Antioch, from which he had started the journey (18:22). Verse 23 summarizes a brief time he spent there, then after an unknown period of time he began the third missionary journey. After visiting other places where he had won people to Christ, he came to Ephesus here in these verses. And here he comes across these 12 or so men who were disciples of John the Baptist. (verses1b,3) A.T. Robertson, in his book Word Pictures in the New Testament describes them as “floating followers of the great John the  Baptist who drifted into Ephesus and whom Paul found. Some of John’s followers clung to him until his death (referred to in John 3:22 through 25). But as Paul got acquainted with these men he discovers some gaps in their knowledge of doctrine. So he begins the search for what they do know in verses 2 and 3:

     

    He said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” So they said to him, “We have not so much as heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.” (3) And he said to them, “into what then you were baptized? So they said, “into John’s baptism.”

     

    In the desert John, the Baptized had preached:

     

    Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand . . .”prepare the way of the LORD; make His paths straight.”

     

    Apparently, his message had impacted these men – they had believed and repented – they may have even seen Jesus. But after John was killed, they apparently left Jerusalem without hearing about Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection, and the coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. So in verses 4 through 6 they find the satisfaction t of their lack of knowledge. First, Paul gives them the report  about Jesus in verse 4

     

     Then Paul said,  “John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.”

     

    The gospel is always focused on Jesus Christ, not on any messenger of His, no matter how effective that messenger might be. The response to that is in verse 5

     

     When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.

     

    And the result is in verse 6

     

    And when Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them and they spoke with tongues and prophesied

     

    Now these verses open up some important questions to us. And the questions focus around the theme, “is this normative?” – is it expected of everybody who gets saved? And in answering that question there are several things to consider: First, we can’t say that the laying on of hands is necessary, because in chapter 10 Cornelius received the Holy Spirit without it, and so did many others. In fact, if we were to make a larger scale study, we would find that the laying on of hands was the exception, rather than the rule. Second, although these men spoke in tongues and prophesied, even that doesn’t fit the usual pattern. Pentecostal and charismatic churches have three basic doctrines concerning tongues and prophecy. The first is “subsequence” – the belief that after receiving Christ there is “a second work of grace” – an infilling and empowering of the Holy Spirit that comes completely separately and apart from salvation. The second basic doctrine is “Evidence” –  an outward, visible proof of having received Christ – through speaking in tongues and prophesying. And the third basic belief is “Seeking” – waiting for and pleading with God, for that experience.

     

    But is that what happened to these men? No. They believed, were baptized, received the Holy Spirit, spoke in tongues, and prophesied, in rapid order. There was no “waiting” or “pleading.” What actually happened here is that God gave these men their own experience of “Pentecost.” And He had done that before. The first Jews who believed had the original Pentecost, described in chapter 2:1-11 of this book. Then the first Samaritans had a similar experience in chapter 8, verses 14 through 17. And then the first Gentiles in 10:44-48. Each of these groups were unique in one way or another. And God gave each group their own experience of Pentecost to prove to the others that they were genuine Christians even though they were from a different group.

     

    These men were a unique group in that they were followers of the great John the Baptist. The giving of these particular experiences was for exactly that same reason. But on that same basis, there is no need now for individual Christians to have those experiences, for two reasons: First, the genuineness of salvation for all diverse groups has been established and proven by the original “sign gifts,” and second, besides that, we now have the completed text of scripture. Now our proof for any question or experience can be found there. There is no longer a need for miraculous signs and wonders.

     

    In conclusion, we might ask, why is this passage so important anyway? First, because it underscores the fact that everything we do, in belief and in behavior, must be based on scripture. No amount of tradition or sincere feelings can be taken as normative if it is contrary to the scripture.

     

    Second, it demonstrates the fact that scripture must be interpreted in its broad context as well as its specific statements. No one incident can be taken as necessarily normative.

     

    Third, it shows us the importance of separating the essentials from the incidentals. For example, in this passage it was not the receiving of the Holy Spirit that was essential, but the fact that the basis of salvation is faith in Jesus Christ alone. But it also shows the things that follow salvation, not parts of it.

     

    And 4, the exposure of a false spirit in verses 21 through 40

 

As we come to this section of the book of Acts we enter a controversial area which we have touched on before and which comes up from time to time as we move through the book. But it is not by accident that it does recur. And it is important to go over it again when it does come up because people who are sincere believers in Jesus Christ differ, sometimes strongly, about the issues involved. Since they are differing viewpoints it is easy to slip into extremism on either side of the issues, leading to stereotyping, prejudice, and finally division among fellow Christians. The biggest reason passages like this can be difficult is the differing viewpoints people have about spiritual gifts in general. Charismatics view all of the gifts, including tongues and prophecy, as being active and available to the church today. The word “charismatic” comes from the Greek word “Charis,” which means “gift of grace.” Today the term is associated with those who promote the expression of the gifts of tongues, prophecy, and miracles. These three abilities are sometimes called the “sign” gifts because they were used by God in the days before the completion of the New Testament to validate His message and messengers. Non-charismatics, on the other hand, believe that some of the gifts, such as tongues and prophecy are no longer needed because the New Testament has been completed, and they are therefore no longer needed and therefore are no longer being given.

 

The late Dr. S. Lewis Johnson has defined these terms in this way:

 

  1. The gift of tongues as we find it described in the New Testament is a supernatural ability to speak in a language one has not studied.” The most famous occurrence of this gift was the first time it was used – the day of Pentecost, when people from all over the world heard the gospel preached in their own language, but many other instances of it are also recorded in the New Testament. The word always translated “tongues” in the New Testament is “glossa,” the Greek word for “language.”

 

  1. The gift of prophecy is the supernatural ability to receive a special revelation from God and to speak that revelation without error. During the years before the Old Testament was recorded, God spoke through men (and sometimes women) to whom he had given this gift. During the years before the Old Testament was written down, and again during the years before the New Testament was recorded God spoke through men (and sometimes women) Although that was a valuable gift, it is no longer necessary because in the written scriptures we have “all things that pertain to life and godliness,” as Peter later wrote. These were the 30 or so years between Jesus’ ascension and Paul’s first Roman imprisonment – a time of great change and development. At the beginning of the book believers worshipped in the synagogue on the Jewish Sabbath; toward the end they were meeting in house churches on the first day of the week.

 

In the beginning, Christian doctrine was in the minds of only a few; by the end the Apostles had started to distribute doctrine widely through their writings; At the beginning only Jews were accepting Christ; at the end Gentiles were in the majority. The book of Acts, therefore covers some 30 years of transition. It represents a whole period of time when things were in a state of flux. We must be careful, therefore, that we don’t base our doctrinal foundations on this book, because we may be setting some things in cement which God had not fully formulated yet. And the first few verses of Acts 19 are a good example of that.

 

The opening words – “and it came about” show that what happens next was more of a happenstance than a planned movement. Luke isn’t even sure how many people were involved – in all about 12 men (according to verse 7) – a smallish group by any standard. And, more significantly this incident is never mentioned again in the rest of scripture – Paul never uses it to establish a norm or set a standard of practice for the church. So, again, we should be careful in this “transitional” book. Always pay attention to the details of any situation recorded here. I have a pastor friend who had a new member who came into his church. And at the first celebration of the Lord’s Supper he attended, this man insisted that the lights were too bright, because he had read “somewhere in Acts” that it was recorded that on one occasion of celebrating the Lord’s supper the lights had been turned down low.

 

So, with all that as background, let’s look at this controversial passage.

 

As we saw earlier, the first 7 verses of this passage contain the story of the extension of the Holy Spirit to a new group of believers. The setting for that extension is in verse 1

 

And it happened, while Apollos was at Corinth, that Paul, having passed through the upper regions, came to Ephesus. And finding some disciples . . .”

 

We saw in the last verses of chapter 18 that Paul wound up his second missionary journey by coming back to Antioch, from which he had started the journey (18:22). Verse 23 summarizes a brief time he spent there, then after an unknown period of time he began the third missionary journey. After visiting other places where he had won people to Christ, he came to Ephesus here in these verses. And here he comes across these 12 or so men who were disciples of John the Baptist. (verses1b,3) A.T. Robertson, in his book Word Pictures in the New Testament describes them as “floating followers of the great John the  Baptist who drifted into Ephesus and whom Paul found. Some of John’s followers clung to him until his death (referred to in John 3:22 through 25). But as Paul got acquainted with these men he discovers some gaps in their knowledge of doctrine. So he begins the search for what they do know in verses 2 and 3:

 

He said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” So they said to him, “We have not so much as heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.” (3) And he said to them, “into what then you were baptized? So they said, “into John’s baptism.”

 

In the desert John, the Baptized had preached:

 

Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand . . .”prepare the way of the LORD; make His paths straight.”

 

Apparently, his message had impacted these men – they had believed and repented – they may have even seen Jesus. But after John was killed, they apparently left Jerusalem without hearing about Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection, and the coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. So in verses 4 through 6 they find the satisfaction t of their lack of knowledge. First, Paul gives them the report  about Jesus in verse 4

 

 Then Paul said,  “John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.”

 

The gospel is always focused on Jesus Christ, not on any messenger of His, no matter how effective that messenger might be. The response to that is in verse 5

 

 When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.

 

And the result is in verse 6

 

And when Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them and they spoke with tongues and prophesied

 

Now these verses open up some important questions to us. And the questions focus around the theme, “is this normative?” – is it expected of everybody who gets saved? And in answering that question there are several things to consider: First, we can’t say that the laying on of hands is necessary, because in chapter 10 Cornelius received the Holy Spirit without it, and so did many others. In fact, if we were to make a larger scale study, we would find that the laying on of hands was the exception, rather than the rule. Second, although these men spoke in tongues and prophesied, even that doesn’t fit the usual pattern. Pentecostal and charismatic churches have three basic doctrines concerning tongues and prophecy. The first is “subsequence” – the belief that after receiving Christ there is “a second work of grace” – an infilling and empowering of the Holy Spirit that comes completely separately and apart from salvation. The second basic doctrine is “Evidence” –  an outward, visible proof of having received Christ – through speaking in tongues and prophesying. And the third basic belief is “Seeking” – waiting for and pleading with God, for that experience.

 

But is that what happened to these men? No. They believed, were baptized, received the Holy Spirit, spoke in tongues, and prophesied, in rapid order. There was no “waiting” or “pleading.” What actually happened here is that God gave these men their own experience of “Pentecost.” And He had done that before. The first Jews who believed had the original Pentecost, described in chapter 2:1-11 of this book. Then the first Samaritans had a similar experience in chapter 8, verses 14 through 17. And then the first Gentiles in 10:44-48. Each of these groups were unique in one way or another. And God gave each group their own experience of Pentecost to prove to the others that they were genuine Christians even though they were from a different group.

 

These men were a unique group in that they were followers of the great John the Baptist. The giving of these particular experiences was for exactly that same reason. But on that same basis, there is no need now for individual Christians to have those experiences, for two reasons: First, the genuineness of salvation for all diverse groups has been established and proven by the original “sign gifts,” and second, besides that, we now have the completed text of scripture. Now our proof for any question or experience can be found there. There is no longer a need for miraculous signs and wonders.

 

In conclusion, we might ask, why is this passage so important anyway? First, because it underscores the fact that everything we do, in belief and in behavior, must be based on scripture. No amount of tradition or sincere feelings can be taken as normative if it is contrary to the scripture.

 

Second, it demonstrates the fact that scripture must be interpreted in its broad context as well as its specific statements. No one incident can be taken as necessarily normative.

 

Third, it shows us the importance of separating the essentials from the incidentals. For example, in this passage it was not the receiving of the Holy Spirit that was essential, but the fact that the basis of salvation is faith in Jesus Christ alone. But it also shows the things that follow salvation, not parts of it.

 

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