The Holy Spirit in the Book of Acts
Acts is especially the book of the Spirit. The earliest title for the book seems to have been simply “The Acts.” Even that title, of course, was not original because Acts was the second part of the Gospel of Luke. Some have suggested, however, that not the acts of the apostles (who have no major importance in the book) but the acts of the Holy Spirit were meant. Such a conclusion seems unwarranted, but a recognition of the unusual importance of the Holy Spirit in Acts is completely justified. “The full title of the book of Acts is The Acts of the Apostles. That title could equally well read The Acts of the Holy Spirit.”William Barclay, The Promise of the Spirit (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960), p. 46.
In the American Standard Version of Acts there are fifty-six references to the Holy Spirit. By comparison to other portions of the New Testament the special significance of the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts can be demonstrated. The combined sixty-eight chapters of the Synoptic Gospels contain only thirty-four references to the Holy Spirit. The combined chapters of Romans and 1 Corinthians (thirty-two), which are Paul’s longest letters, contain only forty-five references to the Spirit. In the Johannine literature, the Gospel and the Epistles, a combined total of twenty-eight chapters contain only twenty-one references to the Holy Spirit. With fifty-six references to the Holy Spirit in twenty-eight chapters, Acts can with justification be said to be especially the book of the Spirit.
The structure of the book of Acts may also witness to the importance of the Holy Spirit to Luke as an author. Even a casual reader of the book would note the build-up in chapter one for the coming of the Holy Spirit which is described in chapter two. That same reader when exposed to the Gospel of Luke would note that chapter one in that book is a build-up for the coming of the Messiah which is described in chapter two. The chapter divisions, which of course were added relatively recently, are an unnecessary part of the evidence. The fact is that Acts and the Gospel of Luke from a literary point of view share a structural similarity in the way each begins.
Having acknowledged the similarity of structure in the beginning of both Acts and the Gospel of Luke, some critics have been unwilling to go any farther in that direction. The fact that the vast majority of the references to the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts are found in the first half of the book has raised a question mark after the contention that the concept of the Holy Spirit determines the structure of Acts. There are eleven chapters in Acts that contain no reference to the Spirit. After 21:11 the Spirit is mentioned only once again (28:25), and that when a quotation from Isaiah is said to have had the Holy Spirit as its author.
Referring to the parallel importance of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke, some scholars have insisted that Luke could never have dismissed Jesus from his Gospel in the way he seems to have dismissed the Holy Spirit from Acts. What are the facts? Is the Holy Spirit actually dismissed from the book? The Spirit is clearly in charge of the church in the opening chapters (4:31; 5:32). Much of chapter six and all of chapter seven stem from the declaration that Stephen is a spirit-filled man. The Spirit seals Peter’s ministry to Cornelius and his companions (10:44); and when that apostle gives an answer for his actions at Cornelius’ house, the Jerusalem church is informed of that which the Holy Spirit did (11:15). The Holy Spirit sets apart Barnabas and Saul for the work to which he has called them (13:2), and the subsequent missionary activity of those men flows from that call. The Holy Spirit is at work in the Jerusalem Council and inspires the decision that is made (15:28). The Holy Spirit is also obviously directing Paul’s further missionary activities (16:6f.). Paul’s return to Jerusalem is inspired by the Holy Spirit (19:21) who also makes known to Paul that which awaits him in Jerusalem (20:22f.; 21:4, 11). The remaining chapters of Acts flow from the Holy Spirit’s revelation of Paul’s future. Even the shipwreck of chapter twenty-seven is a demonstration of the Spirit’s continuing preservation and leadership.The thematic importance of the Holy Spirit for Acts is discussed by Richard F. Zehnle, Peter’s Pentecost Discourse (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1971), pp. 125-26. Not the frequency of the references to the Holy Spirit but the foundational importance of the Spirit to the narrative, his presence and continuing leadership underlying the entire account, is the final measure of the significance of the Holy Spirit for the structure of the book. The Holy Spirit can scarcely be said to have been dismissed from the book of Acts at any point. “The Holy Spirit appears prominently in Acts, so much so that the book has been called ‘the Gospel of the Holy Spirit.'”R. P. C. Hanson, The Acts (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1967), p. 42. Bruce has correctly evaluated the situation, saying “. . . in all the book there is nothing which is unrelated to the Holy Spirit.”F. F. Bruce, The Acts of the Apostles (Chicago: Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship, 1952), p. 30.
The Holy Spirit in Luke-Acts
Much insight is to be gained from the fact that Acts is the second part of the Gospel of Luke, especially at the point of evaluating the Holy Spirit. Luke’s Gospel has a pronounced interest in the Holy Spirit also. The first two chapters of Luke are filled with references to the Holy Spirit’s action. The Spirit is prominent at the baptism of Jesus (3:22). The Lord is led out into the desert by the Holy Spirit to be tested and tried (4:1). The Holy Spirit was the motivating power in the initiation of the Galilean ministry (4:14). Only Luke ascribes to Jesus a “rejoicing” in the Spirit (10:21). Luke also records Jesus’ identification of the Holy Spirit as the good gift of God for his children.See William Barclay, The First Three Gospels (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1966) and C. K. Barrett, The Holy Spirit and the Gospel Tradition (London: S.P.C.K., 1958) for the Lucan emphasis on the Holy Spirit. Because of the common authorship of Luke-Acts and because of the prominence of the Holy Spirit in both books, the following conclusions may be drawn with some certainty.
For one matter, Pentecost was not the beginning of the Holy Spirit’s relationship with people. Some expositors have strained to distinguish the Pentecostal significance on the basis of the difference between the prepositions “on” and “in.” Prim to Pentecost the Holy Spirit is supposed to have acted from without upon men as an external force, represented by the preposition “on.” After Pentecost the Holy Spirit is said to have indwelled God’s people, as a vitalizing force from within, represented by the preposition “in.” Such a distinction seems entirely unwarranted when Luke and Acts are compared. For instance, the Gospel speaks of Elizabeth’s being “filled with the Holy Spirit” (1:41) and Zechariah prophesied when he was also “filled with the Holy Spirit” (1:67). Thus the demonstration is given that Luke uses the same terminology for the experience of God’s people with the Holy Spirit before Pentecost that he uses after Pentecost. Likewise, Luke does not hesitate to state at a time later than Pentecost that “the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word” (10:44). To make a distinction between the pre-Pentecostal experience and the post-Pentecostal experience on the basis of the distinction between the prepositions “on” and “in,” and what they represent, is without justification.
For a second matter, Acts begins by stating that the Gospel dealt “with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commandment through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen” (1:1, 2). Other gospels had been written prior to Luke’s, but Luke came to see that the basic Christian story could not be adequately or truly given by writing such a book alone. “It took both the Gospel and the story of the emergence of the church to tell the basic Christian story.”Floyd V. Filson, Three Crucial Decades (Richmond: John Knox Press, 1963), p. 16. The Holy Spirit is in the Gospel promised by Jesus to the apostles as their power (24:49). He can give the Spirit because he has received the Spirit from the Father (3:16). In the book of Acts Christ himself continues his work through the lives of his disciples. “The Holy Spirit is the presence of the living Lord Jesus in spiritual power in the lives of men.”Walter Thomas Conner, The Work of the Holy Spirit (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1949), p. 64. The Holy Spirit is the means by which Jesus continues to do his work in the world. Thus when the apostles are recorded in Acts as performing miracles, which are an outworking of their spiritual power, the acts of power are attributed to the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 3:6; 4:10; 9:34). In fact Jesus continues to act directly as in the case of Stephen, and the Holy Spirit makes this known (7:55). “Thus the Spirit enables us to see on the one hand the individuality of Jesus, his position in the centre of redemptive history, and on the other the continuity between him and the church, or in other words the positive link with the present.”Hans Conzelmann, The Theology of Luke (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1960), p. 184.
Terminology Associated with the Spirit
Luke employs in Acts several vivid and significant terms with which to describe the Holy Spirit’s activity. They are varied in form and expression and are related chiefly to the service which the Lord’s people render to him. Luke speaks of men who are “filled with the Spirit,” Luke’s favorite terminology, especially when “full of the Spirit” is equated with it. Luke also records the Savior’s promise that men will be “baptized with the Holy Spirit.” Six times in Acts the Spirit’s ministry is described as “the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Six times also in Acts the Holy Spirit is spoken of as being “received.” These terms employed by Luke are significant in their own right, but they are also significant because of that which is not included. For instance, the term “second blessing,” popular in some circles, is not in Acts. Also noteworthy is the fact that such a figure of speech as “born again” in John’s Gospel is missing from the spiritual glossary of Luke, due no doubt to the emphasis on the Holy Spirit’s relation to service rather than regeneration which characterizes the book.See H. E. Dana, The Holy Spirit in Acts (Kansas City: Central Seminary Press, 1943), pp. 35-48.
“Filled with the Holy Spirit” and “full of the Holy Spirit” are Luke’s favorite way in Acts of describing the believers’ involvement with the Spirit. Such a filling is especially related to a drawing near to Jesus. Prior to Pentecost the disciples gave themselves to prayer (1:14). They became keenly aware of the presence of the Lord and of his guidance (1:24-26). It was in connection with another prayer meeting following the re lease of Peter and John from their first imprisonment that “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit” (4:31). On an occasion of severe trial such as that which the disciples experienced at Antioch of Pisidia, faithfulness to Christ was rewarded in that “the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit” (13:50-52). Likewise, the faithful witness, Stephen, was given a vision of Jesus and filled with the Spirit (7:55). Consistently in Acts, the consciousness of the presence of Jesus is attended by the realization of the presence of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the one making real to the disciples the personal presence of the Lord.
“To be filled with the Spirit” recognizes a yieldedness on the part of the disciples to the purposes of their Lord. This term especially acknowledges the availability of the disciples to the Holy Spirit, to be his instruments for the carrying out of the Lord’s mission on earth, the evangelization of all man kind. The promise of the Spirit (1:8) is directly related to this truth. The disciples, the Lord tells them, are to wait in Jerusalem. They are not to rush out to the task that is before them they are to wait. Jesus’ command that the disciples wait underscores that the Holy Spirit’s power is essential for the work they are to do. Nothing is to be attempted, indeed nothing can be done, until the Holy Spirit fills them.
Interestingly, an examination of the terms “filled with the Spirit” and “full of the Spirit” will reveal that they are not associated with ecstatic speech, but clearly with the proclamation of an intelligible message. Filled with the Spirit, Peter preaches the Pentecostal sermon. Again in the fourth chapter Peter, filled with the Spirit, preaches (4:8), saying “Rulers of the people and elders.” Acts 4:31 declares that following the prayer meeting when the meeting place was shaken “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness.” When Peter and the apostles bear their witness to Jesus before the Sanhedrin, the Holy Spirit is cited as co witness (5:32). Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, testifies that he sees Jesus (7:56). Here are clear indications that not ecstatic speech but proclamation of God’s word and revelation is the companion of “being filled with the Spirit.” Interestingly enough, the use which Luke makes of this term in his Gospel is in the same direction. Elizabeth was “filled with the Holy Spirit” (1:41, 42) and she witnesses to Mary, “Blessed are you among women.” Likewise, Zechariah, being “filled with the Holy Spirit,” prophesies saying, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel.” Consistently, the characteristic of spirit-filled men in Luke’s writings is that they are spokesmen for God. Their message is spirit originated and spirit powered.
“Baptism in the Holy Spirit” is also an important description of the Holy Spirit’s activity in Acts. This importance comes not from the frequency of the term, but from the context in which it is found. In the Gospels the term is a part of the identification of the Messiah by the Baptist: “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Luke 3:16; see also Matt. 3:11, Mark 1:8). Only twice is the term found in Acts (1:5, 11:16), once when Jesus quotes the declaration of the Baptist and on a second occasion when Peter recalls that same statement of the Baptist while defending his actions at Cornelius’ house before the Jerusalem church. Thus all uses of this term are related to the one source, i.e., the Baptist’s declaration concerning that which the Messiah would do.
Another matter of note in connection with the term “baptism” as related to the Spirit is that the common designation “baptism of the Spirit” is not the representation of New Testament thought. Christ, as can be seen from the source of the references, is the agent who performs this baptism. The Holy Spirit is the medium or context in which the baptism takes place. The Greek text points clearly to this truth. The Lord baptizes his people “in” or “with” the Holy Spirit.
Two differing conclusions are drawn from the fact that all uses of this term are related to one context, the “baptism” by the word of the disciples at Pentecost as prophesied by the Baptist. Some, such as B. H. Carroll, find much significance in the Pentecostal group and the group at Cornelius’ house. This is not the experience for an individual, and thus is not used in connection with individuals. Confirmation of this view is thought to be found in 1 Corinthians 12: 13: “For by one Spirit were we all baptized into one body. . . .”Homer A. Kent, Jr., Jerusalem to Rome (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1972), p. 22. Others, such as H. E. Dana, feel that Luke’s preference for the term “filled with the Spirit” is the most likely explanation for the infrequency of the term “baptism” in association with the Spirit in the book of Acts. Thus “filled with the Spirit” and “baptized with the Spirit” would be synonymous concepts. The thought of both would be a recognition of the overwhelming and pervading presence of the Holy Spirit in a believer’s experience. “So far as exegesis can yield results, to be baptized with the Spirit and filled with the Spirit are figurative representations of the same essential experience, contemplated from different points of view.”Dana, The Holy Spirit in Acts, p. 44.
As previously noted the ministry of the Holy Spirit to believers is described in six places in Acts as a “gift.” Such terminology emphasizes God as the source of the experience. Also the idea of pouring out of this gift reflects the prophetic idea of anointing, a remembrance of a divine choice of an individual to accomplish a specific task for God (Isa. 32:15, 44:3; Ezek. 39:29; Joel 2:28, 29). Thus in Acts 10:45 and 15:8 the implication would be that the Gentiles were chosen by God also just as were the disciples in the upper room. Peter, defending his actions at Cornelius’ house, states plainly that the Spirit was poured out on the Gentiles just as at Pentecost upon the disciples. The Gentiles, then, are also related to the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy. “It is evident, therefore, that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit was not limited to Pentecost in Jerusalem, but was afterward repeated . . . .”Abraham Kuyper, The Work of the Holy Spirit (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1946), p. 125.
Six times Luke speaks of the Holy Spirit as being “received.” Obviously, the representation of the Holy Spirit as a gif t is related to the idea of his being “received.” All that was said concerning the prophetic association of the term “gift” would also apply to “received.” The latter term, however, emphasizes the effects of the experience. At Ephesus Paul’s question for the twelve disciples there was “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” (Acts 19:2a). They replied, according to the Revised Standard Version, “No, we have never even heard that there is a Holy Spirit” (Acts 19:2b). The American Standard Version gives the reply as “Nay, we did not so much as hear whether the Holy Spirit was given.” This author finds himself in agreement with Stagg that the American Standard Version, in spite of the inconclusive nature of the Greek, is the preferred translation.Frank Stagg, The Book of Acts (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1955), pp. 196-197. According to the Revised Standard Version the men meant that they had never heard of the existence of the Holy Spirit. Rather, as the American Standard Version indicates, the presence of the Holy Spirit was unknown to them in terms of the effects of his having been received.
There is no fixed order in Acts as to the relation between baptism, the laying on of hands and the coming of the Spirit. Peter was still speaking in Cornelius’ house when the Spirit came; baptism followed. There is no record of the laying on of hands at that event. The conclusion seems to be that it was the recognition of the Spirit’s having come that followed the laying on of hands (9:17; 19:6) rather than his actual coming. The rebaptism of the twelve at Ephesus may be explained by their failure to have properly understood the baptism of John who had said so much about the Spirit, but a certain question mark will probably always remain over the explanation for that event.
The Pentecostal Experience
Several large questions immediately arise with any consideration of the experience of the disciples at Pentecost relative to the Holy Spirit. One such question concerns those upon whom the Spirit comes at Pentecost. Does the Spirit come upon the apostles only or upon the entire gathering, perhaps the one hundred and twenty (1:15)? Opinions are sharply divided. The answer to this question depends on the interpretation of the word “all” in 2:4. The “all” of “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit” in turn depends on the meaning given to “all” in the declaration that they were “all together in one place” (2:1). Williams feels that the “all” refers “probably to the Twelve, not to all Christians.”C. S. C. Williams, A Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1957), p. 62. Munck weighs the evidence in the opposite direction concluding that all “may be the apostles, who from 2:14 appear before the people, but it is more likely to be the whole congregation.”Johannes Munck, The Acts of the Apostles (New York: Doubleday & Company, 1967), p. 14. Some have wondered whether a large crowd could be accommodated in a private house, but such matters are beyond knowing. If the Spirit did come upon all who were present, it would be unlikely in the judgment of some for the apostles to be the only ones to confer this gift by the laying on of hands. Conversely, it would not seem necessary to conclude that because a believer had been present at Pentecost he would necessarily have been qualified to lay on hands as the apostles did. A larger theological problem would seem to attend a discrimination between the apostles and the other believers, especially in light of Peter’s subsequent explanation of the experience in terms of the prophecy of Joel which declares that a great variety of humanity will have personal involvement with God’s Spirit.
The nature of the phenomena attending the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost is also a question of large proportions. The wind is frequently in scripture a metaphorical representation of the Holy Spirit. Ezekiel by God’s command prophesies to the wind and calls upon the wind to blow and give new life to the dead (Ezek. 37:9-14). The play which Jesus makes on the Greek word that can carry the triple meaning of “wind,” “spirit,” or “breath” in his discourse with Nicodemus may well be an allusion to the passage in Ezekiel. The rushing sound of the wind at Pentecost probably at one and the same time suggests the mighty power and the sovereign liberty of the Spirit who blows where he wishes.
“Fire,” such as that described in the appearance of “tongues as of fire, distributed and resting upon each one of them,” is also in scripture associated with the Holy Spirit. Most notably, Matthew and Luke record the Baptist as foretelling the coming of him who would baptize “in the Holy Spirit and in fire” (Matt. 3:11; Luke 3:16). Bruce believes that the fire even as the rushing sound is an emblem of the Spirit’s power. Williams inclines toward the view that the fire symbolizes the purifying and consuming aspect of the Spirit’s ministry. The Baptist had identified the coming one as also burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire. Yet others would see in the fire a testimony to the divine presence, even as Moses saw the bush that burned and was not consumed.
More attention has been given to the ability of the disciples to speak in an unusual way than to any other of the phenomena. In fact, some have wanted to make such a phenomenon the invariable associate of being filled with the Spirit. The miraculous speech (and some would identify also a miracle of hearing which accompanied it) is understood by many interpreters to be ecstatic speech (glossolalia), people speaking in an unintelligible language. Still other interpreters note the use of two words in Greek which describe the Pentecostal experience. One is the word from which the concept of glossolalia is derived, but the other is the word that ordinarily refers simply to languages ordinarily spoken by the nations of mankind.
Weighing the evidence, commentators note that the Greek word “other” in 2:4 means “other, of a different kind.” The word for “tongues” in this verse is also the word that Paul uses in 1 Corinthians to describe that which many judge to be unquestionably ecstatic speech as practiced in Corinth. Yet in verse eight the statement is made that each one heard “in his own native language,” and the word is different, not “tongues” but “languages.” C. S. Mann in an appendix to Munck’s commentary notes two other explanations of this statement “in his own native language.”Ibid., pp. 271-75. Mann finds no difficulty in accepting the possibility that the surprise expressed by those who watched was occasioned by the fact that the Galileans were addressing them in Hebrew. Paul, for instance, created quite a stir when he addressed the crowd in Hebrew after his arrest in the Temple (Acts 22:2) . Some have thought that the text means Aramaic when it declares “the Hebrew language” was that which Paul spoke. More recently, evidence has come to light that Hebrew was still (even though limitedly) in public use in the time of the New Testament. A third possibility suggests that the word usually translated “tongues” may not mean “languages,” but rather “interpretations.” This view holds that 2:11 which states that the people heard the believers telling in their “own tongues the mighty works of God” means an ordered recitation of appointed passages of scripture. The Jews of the diaspora are shocked not by the number of languages being spoken, but by the interpretation of the liturgical lessons for Pentecost in a fashion to point to a dying and rising Messiah.
The meaning of Pentecost is, of course, much more important than any of the phenomena associated with it. Some find as the primary significance of Pentecost the birthday of the church. Such point to this time as the time when the church came into existence. An auspicious beginning for that most important institution, the church, is of fundamental importance in any evaluation of Pentecost some would declare.J. Campbell Jeffries, This Same Jesus: The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit (New York: Exposition Press, 1950), p. 45.
Others find a greater interest in the first Christian sermon, the sermon which Peter preached at Pentecost. This sermon has a whole Christian theology in it. “The Holy Spirit enabled the disciples to see in Scripture meanings, significances, pointers, that they had never seen before. Only the Holy Spirit can interpret the Scripture which the Spirit has inspired.”Barclay, The Promise of the Spirit, p. 53. Peter’s sermon is a short gospel in itself. This early apostolic “kerygma” falls into four parts: (1) proclaiming that the last days, the days of fulfillment, have come; (2) a recounting of the ministry, death, and triumph of Jesus; (3) an interpretation of the Old Testament scriptures which demonstrate the validity of Jesus’ messianic claim; (4) a call to repentance and acceptance.
Still others are captivated by the interpretation which Peter gives to the Pentecostal experience by reference to Joel’s prophecy. Peter said, referring to Joel 2:28ff., “this is that.” Jesus had gone up; the Spirit had come down, and that upon ordinary people. Joel’s prophecy was to the effect that God would use ordinary people in this greatest hour. The Spirit is poured out upon all flesh. The believers are now energized, and that divinely, for the task before them. The remaining chapters in Acts are but the continuation of that divine energy operating the church in the service of God.
Some have been impressed with Pentecost at the point of the universalism of the gospel. The number of the nations represented by the Jews of the diaspora is felt to point to this emphasis. The Jews counted the languages of the world at seventy, corresponding to the nations enumerated in Genesis 10. Jesus, during the days of his earthly ministry, had commissioned seventy disciples to go out as his witnesses, probably pointing to the world as the field for his disciples to cultivate. This list of nationalities given in Acts 2 who witnessed the results of the coming of the Spirit is almost exactly the same as an astrological list (only Judea is out of place), known from Paulus Alexandrinus of the fourth century A.D. (but probably much older). Could Luke have intended this to suggest that the gospel was intended for every land under heaven? Whatever the significance of the list of nations, beyond question is the fact that the book of Acts is an unfolding of the story of how the gospel was gotten out to the ends of the earth. Pentecost is the enabling of the disciples to do that which Jesus had commanded them to do.
Pentecost is the explanation of the way in which a small group of Jewish peasants, untrained and out of favor with the authorities, advanced their faith in a Savior who had been executed as a criminal until in a short time the civilized earth was dominated by that faith. The secret of the dynamic that brought all of this to pass is in the simple declaration that “they were all filled with the Spirit.” Pentecost demonstrates that Jesus was not just a charismatic leader of the masses in the days of his earthly life but is the one raised from the dead, ascending to the Father, and pouring out the Spirit with the result that his authority is extended beyond time into eternity and beyond earth into heaven. Peter interprets Psalm 110:1 to the effect that the Messiah (David’s Lord) has the position of power, dignity, and authority at the right hand of God. The disciples had watched as their Lord had ascended into heaven, and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost just as the Lord had promised proved that he was all that they had hoped and believed and was able to perform all that he had designed to do. The promise to David that one of his descendants would rule in the most expansive way has been fulfilled (Acts 2:30). The Lord reigns by virtue of his resurrection (Acts 2:31). A consummation of that reign is ahead in the future, but his rule has begun. The presence and power of the Holy Spirit is the proof.
Lessons About the Holy Spirit
Several conclusions emerge from an examination of the book of Acts with reference to the Holy Spirit. For one thing, all service to God is ultimately dependent upon the gift of the Spirit. Those seven men chosen by the Jerusalem church to serve the congregation (perhaps the beginning of the office of deacon) are described as men “full of the Holy Spirit” (6:3). God blesses significantly the witness of the church because of the ministry of these men (6:7). When Stephen defends the gospel and proclaims his special insights into its meaning an application, he is described as one full of the Holy Spirit, which fact enabled him to serve and to see the beatific vision (7:5). The Holy Spirit sends Philip to meet the Ethiopian in the desert, and subsequently the Spirit sends him off to other places of service (9:29, 39). Saul of Tarsus, chief persecutor of the church converted to Christ, becomes proclaimer of the faith he formerly wasted; his qualification for service is that he has received the Spirit (9:17). Barnabas is sent by the Jerusalem believers to Antioch to determine the validity of the work there and to do whatever is necessary in that delicate and important situation because he is a man “full of the Holy Spirit and faith” (11:24). The Holy Spirit separates Barnabas and Saul to the work to which he calls them, and the mission to the Gentiles is launched (13:2-4). The Holy Spirit guides his missionaries, opening doors and closing doors (16:7). The newly born churches are especially under the guidance of the Spirit for he selects their overseers (20:28). The message is plain: acceptable service to God is Spirit produced and powered.
A second lesson that emerges plainly from the prominence of the Holy Spirit in Acts is that the living fellowship in the gospel of Christ is the result of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in the lives of Christ’s people. The disciples of the Jerusalem church are together in a wonderful oneness, testified to in many ways in the opening chapters of Acts, but most notably in connection with their unity in prayer. The place of meeting vibrated under the pulsating power of their holy fellowship (4:31). The first concern for the believers in Samaria converted under Philip’s ministry was that they might share the fellowship of the Holy Spirit (8:14, 15). The churches of Judea and Galilee and Samaria are described as “walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit” (9:31). Their walk together was a walk in the Holy Spirit. The twelve disciples at Ephesus who had heard of only the baptism of John must be made acquainted with the meaning of the Holy Spirit in the community of faith (19:6).
Clearly evident also is the significance of the Holy Spirit for the emphasis on and recognition of the universality of the gospel. The believers are everywhere guided by the Spirit to acknowledge the inclusiveness of the gospel and to reject the exclusiveness which had cursed Judaism. The Holy Spirit inspires Stephen to sweep away all barriers, to accuse Israel of a long history of rebellion against God, and especially to reveal that God loves people other than Jews and is worshipped in places other than the Temple in Jerusalem. The Holy Spirit sends his man Philip off to the forbidding city of Samaria and mightily blesses his work. Indeed Philip leads in that unlikely place, for those rejected people, the first “city-wide” revival. Likewise, Philip is the Spirit’s man to intercept the Ethiopian eunuch who represents not only foreigners but others who would have been rejected by Judaism because of physical mutilation. The Holy Spirit’s actions lead to the gospel’s being taken to the Gentile Cornelius through a reluctant messenger. Perhaps for that reason the Holy Spirit does not wait too long on that messenger but seals his harvest while the preacher is yet preaching (10:44-47). When called upon to defend his visit to Cornelius’ house, Peter appeals to the presence and decisive action of the Holy Spirit (11:15-17; 15:8). The Holy Spirit justifies the preaching of the men of Cyprus and Cyrene when they give the gospel to the Gentiles at Antioch (11:21). Saul and Barnabas are sent off to the Gentiles by the church at Antioch because of the Holy Spirit’s direction (13:1). The Holy Spirit also leads the Jerusalem church to agree to the position of those same missionaries who insist that the gospel cannot be encumbered with the ritual obligations of Judaism (15:28). Christianity is truly for all men, without respect of person.
The Spirit is the guardian of the quality of life evidenced by the community of faith. The sins of false brethren are rebuked by the Spirit, and any and every violation of God’s will for the life of the community is the concern of the Holy Spirit. The sin of Ananias and Sapphira is a falsification of the Spirit (5:9) with which he deals decisively. Simon the magician in Samaria is uncovered by the Holy Spirit’s revelation to Simon Peter (8:18-20). The impression is everywhere in Acts that the normal and expected condition of Christians is that of being men and women under the Spirit’s control. To be other than under the Spirit’s control is to be rebuked by him.
The Holy Spirit functions as the revealer of God’s truth and will. Two terms are especially associated with this activity. Six times the Holy Spirit is said to be the one who “speaks” the truth of God. Some of the references are to the authorship of the passages cited in Acts from the Old Testament, the statements being “the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand” (1:16) and “the Holy Spirit was right in saying” (28:25). At other times the Holy Spirit speaks through men or to men to guide them in their service to God (10:19; 13:2; 21:4, 11). Another term used for the Holy Spirit’s function as the revealer of God’s will is “testifying.” Paul is being warned of that which awaits him and states that “the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and affliction await me” (20:23).
|↑1||William Barclay, The Promise of the Spirit (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960), p. 46.|
|↑2||The thematic importance of the Holy Spirit for Acts is discussed by Richard F. Zehnle, Peter’s Pentecost Discourse (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1971), pp. 125-26.|
|↑3||R. P. C. Hanson, The Acts (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1967), p. 42.|
|↑4||F. F. Bruce, The Acts of the Apostles (Chicago: Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship, 1952), p. 30.|
|↑5||See William Barclay, The First Three Gospels (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1966) and C. K. Barrett, The Holy Spirit and the Gospel Tradition (London: S.P.C.K., 1958) for the Lucan emphasis on the Holy Spirit.|
|↑6||Floyd V. Filson, Three Crucial Decades (Richmond: John Knox Press, 1963), p. 16.|
|↑7||Walter Thomas Conner, The Work of the Holy Spirit (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1949), p. 64.|
|↑8||Hans Conzelmann, The Theology of Luke (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1960), p. 184.|
|↑9||See H. E. Dana, The Holy Spirit in Acts (Kansas City: Central Seminary Press, 1943), pp. 35-48.|
|↑10||Homer A. Kent, Jr., Jerusalem to Rome (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1972), p. 22.|
|↑11||Dana, The Holy Spirit in Acts, p. 44.|
|↑12||Abraham Kuyper, The Work of the Holy Spirit (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1946), p. 125.|
|↑13||Frank Stagg, The Book of Acts (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1955), pp. 196-197.|
|↑14||C. S. C. Williams, A Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1957), p. 62.|
|↑15||Johannes Munck, The Acts of the Apostles (New York: Doubleday & Company, 1967), p. 14.|
|↑16||Ibid., pp. 271-75.|
|↑17||J. Campbell Jeffries, This Same Jesus: The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit (New York: Exposition Press, 1950), p. 45.|
|↑18||Barclay, The Promise of the Spirit, p. 53.|
Southwestern Journal of Theology
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