Acts 19: A Closer Look

by Lois E. Gibson

Have you ever stopped to carefully examine the "proof texts" that are used to support the UPC/Apostolic teaching on speaking in tongues? Did you know that speaking in tongues is only mentioned in three places in Acts and happened with just a small number of believers, all who never prayed to, or expected to, speak in tongues?

In Acts 2, there were about 120 people. In Acts 19, there were about twelve men. In Acts 10, there is an unknown number, but all the people fit into the house. In all the instances of speaking in tongues in the book of Acts, we are probably speaking of under 240 believers. This is certainly not how it is portrayed by Apostolics or even mainstream Pentecostal churches. It is told that thousands spoke in tongues on the day of Pentecost alone. But did they? The Bible does not say this.

Let's examine Acts 19, as it involves the smallest number of people recorded to have spoken in tongues- about twelve men. Let's take the time to go through these few verses slowly.

Paul is in Ephesus and finds some disciples. He must have questioned in himself what they believed as he asked if they had received the Holy Spirit when they believed. You don't ever find it recorded that he asked this of anyone else. It doesn't appear to be a question normally asked.

The KJV writes it as 'since,' but the better rendering of it is 'when you believed.' (You will see why as we progress.) Keep in mind that neither Paul, nor anyone else, is seen as asking this of another believer.

This is often used to teach that people don't always receive the Spirit when they believe and that sometimes they have to wait. That is a faulty interpretation of this passage.

These disciples answered Paul in a way that is quite surprising. They shared that they haven't even heard about the Holy Spirit.

Here is where people from Pentecostal and Apostolic churches need to stop and think about this. Often this part of the account is glossed over. How could they have believed in Jesus and never heard about the Spirit?

John spoke of the Spirit, Jesus spoke of the Spirit, the apostles and early church believers spoke of the Spirit. How could they not know? (Can you start to see why Paul must have sensed something about them that was somehow off and led him to ask questions? Just picture someone in your church, unless they were brand new to Christianity, not knowing about the Holy Spirit.)

Paul asked a follow-up question, this time about their water baptism, "Into what then were you baptized?" He wanted to see why they would never have heard about the Spirit if they were believers. They replied it was into John's (The Baptist) baptism.

This part about water baptism is often misused to teach that if you are not properly water baptized, that one must be baptized again. It is taught that people who were baptized by John's baptism, later had to all be re-baptized while saying the name of Jesus. Yet nowhere do we see the apostles, for instance, who were baptized by John's baptism, being re-baptized in scripture. It is yet another teaching that simply is not found in the Bible.

Re-baptism has to be assumed by Apostolics and read into the scriptures because the teaching calls for it, since water baptism is taught as a matter of salvation. The problem is that the Bible never states that any of the apostles or all the others baptized by John were re-baptized in the name of Jesus after Pentecost.

These verses in Acts 19 blew me away a number of years ago, when I finally read them without looking through UPC teachings. I had loved this chapter during my UPC days, because I thought it proved the necessity to be water baptized just right, the need for re-baptism if not done right, and the need for speaking in tongues as evidence of receiving the Holy Spirit. However, I found it doesn't prove any of these things.

As we read further to discover just why these men didn't know of the Holy Spirit, we will better understand why they were water baptized after speaking to Paul and why they then received the Holy Spirit.

Paul asked the men in Ephesus into what were they baptized and they responded into John's baptism. This does not mean that John himself baptized them. There were others who continued with John's baptism and even the apostles water baptized while John was alive.

Pay careful attention to what happens next.

Paul speaks of John and shares that his baptism was for repentance. If you will recall, John was sent to prepare the way for Jesus. He was sent by God as a witness, to testify of Jesus. You may want to read the first chapter of John to refresh your memory about John's ministry. The facts below all come from this chapter.

John was continually pointing to Jesus and declaring Him to be the Son of God. He did not place himself on a pedestal or get a big head. He humbly declared that the One coming after him (Jesus) was before him and much greater than himself. People were not to look to John, but rather were to look to and believe in Jesus. John's purpose was to prepare the way for the ministry of Jesus, by making Him known to the people through the water baptism of repentance.

At least two times John actually points Jesus out to the people around him and declared that Jesus was the One who would baptize the people with the Holy Spirit and that He was the Lamb of God.

In was not commonplace for Paul to come across a group of disciples who had never even heard of the Holy Spirit. But even before he knew they didn't know, he sensed something about them- probably by the things that they were saying- that caused him to question them. Who were they following? What did they actually believe? Paul was all too familiar with this as he used to persecute believers, all the while believing he was following God. He was a disciple of God, but he didn't then know Jesus was the Messiah.

Paul also explains that John told the people who came to him, to believe in the One coming after him, that is, Jesus. This is another place where we need to pause and consider what was going on.

Why did Paul have to share that John told people to believe in Jesus? Why? Think about this and what it means.

I know it can be difficult to start to look at a passage differently from what you were taught and what you believe. But there are some important things happening in these seven verses of Acts 19.

These men of Ephesus were indeed disciples. Paul didn't question if they believed in God and he didn't see them as either unbelievers or enemies.

The problem with these men is that they had never heard of the Holy Spirit and they had never placed their faith in Jesus. They obviously believed in the Messiah, but did not know that Jesus was the promised Messiah. If they had known this, there would have been no need for Paul to preach Jesus to them.

Verse five goes on to state that when they heard they were to believe in Jesus, the men were baptized. Believing, in the New Testament, was always accompanied by water baptism. (It is not my intention to get into all the details of water baptism in this article.)

Belief and water baptism went hand in hand in the New Testament. This is why the twelve men were baptized again. It was the first time they were placing their faith in Jesus. Prior to this, they had not believed on Jesus and had not heard about the Holy Spirit.

Can you see this? It wasn't because their prior water baptism was wrong or that everyone baptized by John's baptism supposedly had to be re-baptized in the name of Jesus after the day of Pentecost. As mentioned earlier, we don't see where any of the apostles were re-baptized after their initial baptism by John the Baptist. These men simply were baptized by Paul because after he taught them about Jesus, they believed in Him. They were then baptized as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Verse six goes on to share that Paul then laid his hands upon them and they received the Holy Spirit. They didn't have to wait to receive the Spirit after they believed, as some claim and teach as tarrying when people don't immediately speak in tongues. Prior to their encounter with Paul, they had not yet believed on Jesus. Once they did, the Holy Spirit came. There was no waiting, no tarrying, no returning to an altar week after week.

When they received the Spirit, the men spoke in tongues and prophesied. In the United Pentecostal Church, I would mainly hear how they spoke in tongues. Little to nothing was ever said about them prophesying.

Consider that speaking in tongues and prophecy are two of numerous gifts of the Spirit that Paul teaches about in 1 Corinthians 12. (Please note that the gifts of the Spirit are not limited to the nine mentioned here. That's another study entirely. You might want to read my articles on 1 Corinthians 12 here.)

The verse in Acts does not specify if each of them spoke in tongues and each of them prophesied, or if some spoke in tongues and some prophesied. We have no way of determining this. All we know for certain is that both gifts occurred. However, Apostolic teaching would say for certain that all the men spoke in tongues. It must be read into the verse in order for the teaching to appear to be supported by it.

SUMMARY

Let us summarize some of the points from looking deeper into Acts 19.

Paul encounters about twelve male disciples in Ephesus. Something about them caused him to ask if they had received the Holy Spirit when they believed.

The men reply that they never heard of the Holy Spirit (though John the Baptist, Jesus, the apostles and early believers all spoke of the Spirit).

Paul follows up by asking into what then were they baptized. The men respond into John's baptism. (Again, this does not mean John himself baptized them. Since John continually pointed to Jesus and shared he would baptize people with the Spirit, it is extremely doubtful these men were water baptized by John himself.)

Their answer causes Paul to explain John's ministry and preach Jesus to the men. He has to tell them that John told people to believe in Jesus.

After hearing this, the men believe and are water baptized. Why? Because they had just believed on Jesus. Prior to this they had not done so. Belief and water baptism go hand in hand. It had nothing to do with being baptized incorrectly or needing to be re-baptized. We see nowhere in scripture where any of the apostles, or others who were baptized by John, had to be re-baptized after the day of Pentecost. This is assumed and read into the scriptures by those who believe it happened.

Then the men received the Holy Spirit (because they now believed and placed their faith in Jesus). It wasn't because somehow they previously had to wait for the Spirit. They weren't praying day after day, week after week, month after month or longer to receive the Holy Spirit. They had never received the Spirit, simply because they had not placed their faith in Jesus. Nothing more is involved in this. Paul preached Jesus to them, they believed and the Spirit came.

In addition, the men spoke in tongues and prophesied. The Bible is silent as to whether all prophesied and all spoke in tongues or if some prophesied and some spoke in tongues. We need to take care to not read things into scripture that are not stated.

Both prophecy and speaking in tongues are gifts of the Spirit that Paul teaches about in 1 Corinthians 12-14.

The men did not pray or ask to speak in tongues or prophesy.

Paul did not tell them they would. As such, they were not expecting either to happen.

Closing Thoughts

Reading into scripture and assuming things happened, often occurs in Apostolic churches (and some others). This is wrong and causes people to believe that a teaching is supported by scripture, when in fact the Bible does not teach it.

When we go to the Bible to study, we need to do so without preconceived ideas. We should not approach it with the intention of proving some doctrine taught in a church is there. That is how so much gets assumed and read into the Bible. Reading things into a passage, putting together a verse or two from here and there and pulling verses out of their context, will almost always lead to erroneous beliefs.

Instead, we should approach the Bible with wanting to know what it teaches on any given subject. To do so, we need to consider what the "whole" (or all) of the Bible says and shows about the matter.

For instance, if you want to see what is taught about repentance, use a complete concordance and look up everywhere that repentance (and any other form of the word) is used.

Don't just read the verse that uses the word, but read before and after it so that you understand the context and what is truly happening and being taught.

How much have you possibly read into scripture or assumed? Sometimes we hear a matter preached so often, that we believe it is found in the Bible. But is it truly there?

For instance, I have heard many say that speaking in tongues was mentioned in Acts 2:38. This was because they heard it preached so much. When they turned to the verse, even though they had read it a number of times previously, they were floored that it was nowhere to be found.

Be sure what you are building upon is truly in the Bible. Don't build upon shifting sands of assumptions and man-made teachings. Build upon the solid rock that is sure and never moves.

You may also want to read my article on Acts 10, found here.

You may write Lois at the email address displayed in the image. No correspondence that seeks to debate will be answered as I have no desire to debate. Understand that due to the volume of mail, not every email may be acknowledged.
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Posted December 28, 2011

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