I’d also encourage you to read my answers to questions and comments in Part II. We cover a lot of ground that’s not in the posts. And I answer objections.
That said, let me repeat three things:
- In this series, I’m merely answering a question that I’ve received numerous times from those who have read my books. So I’m not trying to convince anyone about anything. If you are happy with the classic Pentecostal doctrine of the baptism of the Holy Spirit (which argues that tongues is the initial evidence), you should probably skip this series because your view is going to be challenged. It doesn’t bother me at all if you wish to keep believing the Pentecostal thesis.
- I’m not a cessationist. I not only believe that all the gifts and ministries mentioned in the NT are extant (in operation) today, but I also believe in the baptism of the Spirit. I just don’t believe that it’s a second work of grace and that speaking in tongues is the initial evidence. Nor do I believe that all Christians who experience and minister God’s power speak in tongues. As I’ve said in the comments, I have functioned in all the gifts of the Spirit mentioned in the beginning of 1 Corinthians 12. So I’m not challenging a doctrine because I lack the experience it promises.
- If you wish to make a comment, be sure to do your homework first. If you make unsubstantiated, inaccurate, or nonsensical remarks, expect to receive some push-back. Just a warning.
What follows are the four occasions in the New Testament where the Spirit fell on new converts in a dramatic way: Acts 2, Acts 8, Acts 10, and Acts 19.
People either spoke in tongues, prophesied, or exhibited some other dramatic gift.
The question is why?
The Pentecostal thesis says that it’s because speaking in tongues is the normative experience or “sign” when people are baptized in the Spirit.
I find this unconvincing because of the reasons I sketched out in my last post. The math doesn’t work. There are Scriptures that just won’t fit the thesis without bending them.
Instead, I believe the reason why there was a dramatic expression of spiritual gifts (not just tongues) that accompanied these four specific occasions is because each situation was a new transition from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant when God’s Spirit would dwell in and upon the new people of God and through them create a new body on the earth. The body of Jesus Christ.
Let’s look at each case closely and see if the evidence supports my thesis:
Acts 2: This was the first time the Jews had received the Spirit and were plunged into the body of Christ. Tongues of fire rested upon their heads. This signified that the 120 were the new temple of God. Fire fell on the old temple at its dedication. Babel was being reversed (see Gen. 11). Instead of confusion, as at the tower of Babel when they spoke different languages and couldn’t understand one another, there was now unity. Instead of not understanding one another, they were magnifying God with different languages. And their tongues were understood by the people.
So tongues in Acts 2 served as a dramatic sign that the 120 in Jerusalem were the new Israel, the new temple, the new body, and the reversal of Babel. The prophecy of Isaiah 28 that God will speak through other tongues was fulfilled. In addition, Acts 2:11 does not say that those who spoke in tongues shared the gospel with the Jews who were visiting from all over the Empire. Instead, it says that the visiting Jews heard them “speaking in our own tongues the great things of God.”This text possesses the language of praise which comports with the idea that tongues is a prayer language as Paul states in 1 Corinthians 14. They were praising God for His wonderful works in the languages of the people.
Acts 8: The Samaritans were half Jew, half Gentile. The Jews despised them. Peter and John laid hands on them to receive the Spirit and the Spirit fell on them in a dramatic way. (Tongues isn’t mentioned, but the Spirit was evidenced in some visible way as indicated by Acts 8:18.)
Because the Spirit came on the Samaritans with the same drama that He had come upon the 120 Jews in Jerusalem, it erased all doubt of the reality of their incorporation into the body. It demonstrated clearly to the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem that God had made the Samaritans part of the same body that they were in.
Acts 10: In Cornelius’ house in Caesarea. This was a small group of Gentiles. The gospel was coming to the Gentiles for the first time in history. The Spirit fell on them while Peter preached (probably because Peter wouldn’t have laid his hands on them otherwise, as it was improper and unclean for a Jew to touch a Gentile).
The Spirit fell on the Gentiles in the same dramatic way that He did at Pentecost. So it left no doubt to anyone that God had made the Gentiles part of the same body as the Jews. (See Acts 11 for Peter’s explanation to the other apostles where he makes this very point).
Acts 19: Paul met twelve men in Ephesus. They were disciples of John the Baptist. They knew the baptism of promise, but not the baptism of fulfillment (the baptism of Christ). When Paul asked them if they had received the Spirit since/when they believed, he was probably asking: “Were you baptized into Christ, which endows you with the Holy Spirit? Or were you baptized only in John’s baptism?” They answered that they had only been baptized with the baptism of John . . . which looks forward, but doesn’t impart anything.
When Paul found this out, he baptized them in water in Jesus’ name, laid hands on them, and the Spirit fell on them. They spoke in tongues and prophesied. This dramatic sign made clear that the transition from the era of promise to the era of fulfillment . . . from John’s baptism to baptism into Christ . . . from the Old Covenant (symbolized by John the Baptist) to the New Covenant . . . was now complete. Again: these men were followers of John the Baptist who had taught about the baptism to come (Luke 3:16). They had been baptized under John in a baptism of anticipation (looking to the Messiah), not of fulfillment.
So the Spirit falling on them served as a dramatic sign that the age of fulfillment that John prophesied had indeed come and now baptism into Christ was the point where one receives the Holy Spirit. The disciples of John the Baptist were constituted into the one body in Christ with the Jews, Samaritans, and Gentiles. The transition was now complete.
So the pattern is consistent.
The four examples I’ve listed show that the Spirit fell on new converts in a dramatic way because it marked a transition that the New Covenant was breaking in and had been extended to Jews, Samaritans, Gentiles, and “the old guard” (the followers of John the Baptist).
Again, we don’t see the Spirit coming on any of the new converts in the book of Acts the same way as the above four cases because these were four transitional situations (e.g, in Acts 9, Ananias ministers the Spirit to Paul and Paul is “filled with the Spirit.” But there is no mention of tongues or any other gift, just a healing of his blindness. I give other examples in Part II).
Each of the four instances above left no doubt that God had plunged Jews, Samaritans, Gentiles, and the disciples of John the Baptist all into the same body of Jesus Christ. The dramatic expressions of gifts visibly demonstrated that the Old Covenant had come to an end and the New Covenant had begun.
To my mind, this explanation fits the evidence the best. And it doesn’t force one to twist the Scriptures, bend them, or ignore others to fit a certain doctrine.
In addition, I’ve been to scores of meetings where brand new converts were baptized in water in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and hands were laid on them to receive the Spirit (something I endorse). And in most of those cases, there was no dramatic gift that was made visible.
Later, however, there was clear evidence that the Spirit had been given to them. Some of them spoke in tongues, but most of them did not. Yet all of them exhibited the Spirit’s fruits and His other giftings, demonstrating what Paul made plain in Romans 8:9, “If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.”
A person who holds to the classic Pentecostal doctrine would say, “That person needs to be filled with the Spirit. He/she needs to be baptized in the Spirit” (or “Holy Ghost,” as it’s often put).
My answer . . . they already were.
Tomorrow we’ll examine what the baptism of the Holy Spirit is exactly. So stay tuned for Part IV . . .