The Holy Spirit and Baptism

And he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, “Into John’s baptism.” (Acts 19:2-3 ESV)

Acts 19:1-7

“We have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” Paul encountered a group of believers in Ephesus who had an inadequate grasp of the Christian faith. It is, I suppose, of historical interest to note that there existed groups of Christians who practiced John’s baptism of repentance instead of Christian baptism in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Luke’s interest, however, goes beyond the words or form of baptism employed. The Ephesian Christians knew that the Christian faith requires repentance (that was the meaning of John’s baptism) and learning (Luke calls the believers “disciples”, which means “students”). They didn’t recognize, however, the degree to which the Christian life entails the present, dynamic experience of God and his kingdom in the Christian community.

When Paul corrected the deficiency of the believers with instruction and Christian baptism, they “began speaking in tongues (languages) and prophesying.” Modern believers tend to focus on the ecstatic phenomenon of glossolalia. Paul’s dicussion in 1 Corinthians 12-14 clearly demonstrates that the phenomenon of ecstatic speech was present in at least some segments of the early church. In Acts 2, however, the miracle of speaking in tongues (languages) is associated with the gifting of the church for its world-wide mission. The reference to speaking in tonuges in Acts 19 is a reprise of this earlier theme (as when an orchestra repeats a musical theme from an earlier section of a symphony). It simply functions to remind the readers that the work of the Spirit and the mission of the church which began in Acts 2 continued on. These Ephesian believers had now been incorporated into the world-wide mission of the church.

“We have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” Even now, two thousand years later, there are still many who have an inadequate grasp of the Christian faith. Acts 19 is a reminder that our faith (and our baptism) are intended to bestow on us the gifts that we need to do God’s work in the church and in the world, for our Lord himself is with us.