Acts 19:1-7 – Subsequent Baptism, Laying of Hands, Tongues and Prophesying

While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples 2 and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” 3 So Paul asked, “Then what baptism did you receive?” “John’s baptism,” they replied. 4 Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” 5 On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. 7 There were about twelve men in all.

The primary question seeking to be answered in this analysis: what are the intended theological and soteriological principles illustrated by Luke in Acts 19:1-7? The preliminary study must include contextual analysis and identification of the ‘disciples’ in v. 1, but I will not document that analysis here. I will simply lead from my conclusions – i.e. 1) contextually, Luke is continuing to show the advancement and fulfillment of the gospel through Paul’s ministry, and 2) the disciples in 19:1 were most likely not ‘disciples of Jesus,’ but more likely, ‘disciples of John the Baptist.’

THEOLOGICAL IMPLICAITONS

This idea of ‘fulfillment’ is the essential theological implication of the narrative, but many have overlooked this focus for more unique soteriological aspects found within the scene. The narrative’s mention of subsequent baptism, laying of hands, and tongues are among the small items that are often wrongfully overemphasized.

Pentecostalism and Subsequent Baptism

Throughout Acts, it is apparent that there is no ritualized pattern of the Spirit’s indwelling.[1] Nonetheless, some sects of theologians have interpreted Acts 19:1-7 as an instance of subsequent baptism. It is thus inferred that a baptism of the Holy Spirit is necessary following the baptism linked to salvation. Fee notes that this was primarily stirred by those within the Pentecostal denomination from experience rather than evidence, leading to an eisegetical method of interpretation.[2] The text simply does not teach a necessary administration of subsequent baptism. “In Acts, this is the only case of a second baptism, where Christian baptism follows John’s baptism.”[3] There is a variation in the chronology of the coming of the Spirit in Acts; it comes before baptism in 10:47, at baptism in 2:38; 8:38f., and after baptism in 8:15f. There is no chronological pattern. Mark Lee states, “Luke is less concerned with when the inner spiritual dynamics of conversion or initiation take place than with who belongs to the new covenant community.”[4] Polhill accentuates that which is purposely affirmed in the passage: “the Spirit is always a vital part of one’s initial commitment to Christ and a mark of every believer.”[5] The focus is on the Spirit, not the chronological method of its reception.

The Laying of Hands

Others insist that Acts 19:1-7 necessitates the act of hand-laying to accompany baptism. “This, however, is the only instance in Acts where hand-laying directly follows baptism; and there is no evidence it was associated with baptism as a regular practice before A.D. 200.”[6] Peterson agrees and notes the specificity of the event:

Apart from the narrative about the Samaritans, this is the only account in Acts where the laying of hands is specifically linked with the coming of the Spirit… In this context, it expresses prayer for the recipients, while welcoming them into the fellowship of Christ.[7]

Again, Luke’s emphasis throughout Acts in regards to the Spirit is empowerment and fulfillment. He is seemingly not concerned with the moot particularities concerning the method of receiving the Spirit.

Tongues and Prophesying

Another item of controversy is the consequential manifestation of tongues and prophecy following the baptism. Similarly, some suggest that this implies the necessity of immediate tongues and prophecy in the act of baptism. This assertion, however, negates the specificity and uniqueness of the event. Bock notes, “This special distribution confirms that the Spirit has come and shows how John’s disciples are completed in their faith, pointing to the fact that John did point to Jesus.”[8] The particular manifestation of miraculous gifts following the baptism was not a paradigm of the norm, but rather it served a specific function for a specific event. It was an external confirmation of the power of baptism in the Spirit in contrast with John’s baptism. The reception of the Spirit circumstantially necessitated immediate perception.

CONCLUSION

Soteriology cannot be solely based on analogous narratives in the Scriptures. “Arguments from biblical analogies are especially tenuous. They may function well in preaching, but for theology they serve less well.”[9] Fee further notes that the subtle theological truths found throughout biblical narrative are difficult to establish due to questions of authorial intent and lack of universal agreement concerning the analogy’s teaching.

Acts is interestingly void of strict ecclesiological methodology, and there is a profound purpose in such a lacking. The work of the Spirit is diverse and teleological, which intimates the truth that it ought not to be constrained by ritualistic imitation. A serious “problem occurs when one would elevate such patterns to be mandatory patterns – necessarily repeated, or otherwise one is sub-biblical in some way.”[10]

Thus all of the methodology presented in Acts 19:1-7 is subsequent to the essential principle underneath the narrative. Jesus has come and fulfilled the forerunner’s message; one cannot linger in the preparational truths of the Messiah when the Messiah has come. The question of the mentioned disciples’ Christianity is beside the point, as are the processional nature of baptism and the consequential manifestation of tongues and prophecy. All of these elements culminate to accentuate the fulfillment and superiority of Jesus as the one whom John spoke of, each with their distinctive function to the specificity of that revelation in that specific event.


[1] This observation is crucial to the whole theology of Acts, and is central to debunking these false theological implications. Each of the proceeding sections will be corrected by this principle.

[2] “For [Pentecostals] the Bible was still central; and since their own experience of the Spirit was so vital, they knew that the God of the Bible and the God of their experience had to be one God. Hence they automatically expected to find the evidence for their experience in Scripture.” Gordon D. Fee, “Baptism in the Holy Spirit: The Issue of Separability and Subsequence,” Pneuma 7, no. 2 (Fall 1985): 88.

[3] Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 600. Bock adds, “There is no pattern in how the Spirit comes in Acts. The Spirit can come before or after baptism, as Acts 10 shows.”

[4] Mark Lee, “An Evangelical Dialogue on Luke, Salvation, and Spirit Baptism,” Pneuma 26, no. 1 (Fall 2004): 82.

[5]  John B. Polhill, Acts, New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: Holman Reference,1992) 400.

[6] Ibid., 400.

[7] David G. Peterson, Acts of the Apostles, Pillar New Testament Commentaries, (Grand Rapids, MI: Intervarsity Press, 2009), 532.

[8] Bock, Acts, 600. Emphasis added.

[9] Fee, “Baptism in the Holy Spirit,” 89.

[10] Ibid., 90.

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