logo

Many scholars insist that the doctrine of the Holy

Spirit cannot be constructed from the book of Acts.


Many scholars comment on the book of Acts.  

It is one of the cannons of recent New Testament scholarship that there is a basic difference between the pneumatological orientations of Luke and Paul.(Veli–Matti Karkkainen, Pneumatology, Grand Rapid: Baker Academic, 2002, p.32)

To say that the book of Acts presents the normal pattern for receiving the Holy Spirit presents a problem: no consistent pattern is evident in Acts. (John F. MacArthur, Charismatic Chaos, Grand Rapid: Zondervan, 1992, p.211)

It should never be forgotten that the book of Acts does not constitute a statement of doctrine and that constant reference is made to people whose circumstances differed from ours, as, for example the disciples before Pentecost and the Samaritans. (Rene Pache, The Person and Work of the Holy Spirit, Chicago: Moody Press, 1979, p.81).

Doctrine must be primarily based on the Epistles, in which apostolic teaching is spelled out in detail. Many events recorded in Acts were never intended to become a pattern for every generation of Christians to follow. (Robert Gromacki, The Holy Spirit, in Understanding Christian Theology, Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2004, p.485)

    Christians need a clearly stated doctrine of the Holy Spirit, especially on the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Can such a doctrinal statement be constructed using the accepted translations? A faulty construction of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit proceeds from the mistranslations of the Greek verb lambano.
    All English versions translate the Greek verb lambano in John 7:39; 20:22; Acts  8:14-20; 10:47; 19:2; Gal. 3:2 as only “receive (accept)” but this is absolutely erroneous. The arguments mentioned above are incorrect because they have accepted this common mistranslation (John 7:39; 20:22; Acts 8:14-20; 10:47; 19:2; Gal. 3:2) as authentic. These mistranslations lead the church into great error. The truth is this! There is no basic difference between the pneumatological orientations of Luke and Paul. There is a consistent pattern evident in the book of Acts, and the book of Acts constitutes a clear statement of doctrine.

John R. W. Stott comments on the book of Acts.

Meanwhile, I must first repeat that a doctrine of the Holy Spirit must not be constructed from purely descriptive passages in the Acts. It would be impossible to build a consistent doctrine from them because there is no consistency about them. You cannot even derive a doctrine of the Holy Spirit from the description of the Day of Pentecost; what I have attempted above is some deductions from the interpretations of the event which Peter gave his sermon. (John R. W. Stott, Baptism & Fullness, Downers Grove: Inter Varsity Press, Second edition, 1978. First edition 1964 entitled The Baptism and Fullness of the Holy Spirit, p.30-31)
 
    To argue that a doctrine of the Holy Spirit cannot be constructed from the book of Acts, as Stott and others do, brings an immediate and obvious problem. The book of Acts and all Scripture is God’s word, flawless and consistent. 2 Tim. 3:16 declares, “All Scripture is for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” If the book of Acts lacks a consistent doctrine of the Holy Spirit, it must follow that the book of Acts is not given by divine inspiration and is not the word of God. But we know with certainty the book of Acts, written by Luke, who also wrote the Gospel of Luke, is inspired of God just as are the Epistles written by Paul. Stott’s statement, “a doctrine of the Holy Spirit must not be constructed from purely descriptive passages in the book of Acts,” is quite unbiblical. His notes, as well those of Veli-Matti Karkkainen and John F. MacArthur mentioned above, are based upon the mistranslations. Stott continues:

All Christians receive the Spirit at the very beginning of their Christian life. This truth is confirmed by the New Testament use of the expression ‘baptism of the Spirit’ as an equivalent to ‘gift of the Spirit,’ or rather of the verb (for the expression is always verbal) to baptize or be baptized with the Holy Spirit. The very concept of baptism is initiatory. Moreover, there can be no doubt that Cornelius’ baptism with the Spirit was initiation into Christ, his conversion. (John R. W. Stott, Ibid., p.36-37)

    Is to say, “All Christians receive the Holy Spirit,” the same as “All Christians receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit”? Though many have accepted these statements as synonymous, their conclusion is without any scriptural validation. The words ‘receive the Holy Spirit’ are from the mistranslation of the Greek verb lambano (John 7:39; 20:22; Acts 8:15-19; 10:47; 19:2; Gal. 3:2).
Unfortunately, most of the church has accepted the mistranslation of the Greek lambano as authentic. In these passages the Greek verb lambano should not be translated as “receive” but “to be filled with.” The Greek verb lambano in John 14:17, Rom. 8:15 and 1 Cor. 2:12 can be translated as “receive.” The NT confirms “all Christians receive the Holy Spirit at the moment of regeneration,” but this is not the same as “all Christians receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit after regeneration.” (See the detailed discussion on the mistranslation of the Greek verb lambano.)

John R. W. Stott insists, “All Christians receive the Spirit at the very beginning of their Christian life. This truth is confirmed by the NT use of the expression ‘baptism of the Holy Spirit’ as an equivalent to ‘gift of the Holy Spirit.” His conclusion is a mixture of biblical and unbiblical elements. The ‘baptism of the Holy Spirit’ is the same as the ‘gift of the Holy Spirit,’ but to receive the Holy Spirit is not to receive either the baptism of Holy Spirit or the gift of the Holy Spirit. The argument ‘to receive the Holy Spirit is to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’ is from the misinterpretation of Acts 2:38.(See the detailed discussion on the misinterpretation of Acts 2:38.)

John R. W. Stott insists also, “The very concept of baptism is initiatory.” This is from the misunderstanding and misinterpretation of the meaning of the word ‘baptism’ in Luke 3:16, Mark 10:38-39, Acts 1:5, and 1 Cor. 12:13.( See the detailed discussion on the word ‘baptism.’)
He explains correctly, “The concept of water baptism is a symbol for initiation into Jesus Christ and the church. Water baptism is only initiatory.” However, the idea that “baptism is only initiatory” relative to the Holy Spirit is untrue. Rather, believers receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit after entering into Christ, that is, after regeneration.
Stott insists also there can be no doubt that Cornelius’ baptism with the Spirit was his initiation into Christ or his conversion. This conclusion is also based upon the mistranslation of the Greek lambano in Acts 10:47 and the misinterpretation of Acts 10. (See the detailed discussion of Acts 10.)
Stott insists, “I must first repeat that a doctrine of the Holy Spirit must not be constructed from purely descriptive passages in the book of Acts. It would be impossible to build a consistent doctrine from them because there is no consistency about them. You cannot even derive a doctrine of the Holy Spirit from the description of the day of Pentecost.” (John R. W. Stott, Baptism & Fullness, p.30-31)

    This is another conclusion based on mistranslations and misinterpretations in the NT. We argue that a doctrine of the Holy Spirit must be constructed from descriptive passages in the book of Acts as well as from the Epistles. It is surely possible to construct a consistent doctrine of the Holy Spirit from the book of Acts because there is a divine consistency throughout God’s book.

Merrill F. Unger comments on the relation between the book of Acts and the Epistles.

Pentecostals build their doctrine of Spirit-baptism only upon part of the relevant Biblical evidence rather than upon the full testimony of Scripture. Moreover, their interpretation of this partial evidence, almost exclusively the book of Acts, is faulty because it erects its teaching on these historical and experiential portions, at the same time construing them in a time vacuum and failing to reconcile their conclusions with the great doctrinal epistles of the New Testament. (Merrill F. Unger, The Baptism & Gifts of the Holy Spirit, Chicago: Moody Press, 1974, p.14)
The baptism of the Spirit was predicted in the gospels and historically realized in the Acts. It was doctrinally defined in the epistles. (Ibid., p.95)

Merrill F. Unger appears to declare that the historical and experiential portions of Acts differ from the great doctrinal Epistles of the NT. It can be assumed from his statement that Luke’s book of Acts is not a great doctrinal book, and  on the other hand, Paul’s Epistles are great doctrinal books. Can this make sense? Every word of God, including the book of the Acts and the Epistles, contains significant doctrine. The doctrine of the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts is just the same doctrine as that in the Epistles. The book of Acts must be consistent with the Epistles because both are God’s flawless word. Unger’s argument is based upon the mistranslations of the Greek verb lambano and the Greek preposition en and eis of 1 Cor. 12:13. (See the detailed discussion on the translation of the Greek en and eis in 1 Cor. 12:13.)
The teaching that the baptism of the Spirit was historically realized in the Acts but doctrinally defined in the Epistles is thoroughly unbiblical. The baptism of the Spirit is doctrinally and clearly defined in Acts 1:4-5,8, 2:1-4, 8:14-19, 10:1-47 and 19:1-7.

John F. MacArthur comments on the book of Acts.

The book of Acts was never intended to be a primary basis for church doctrine. It records only the earliest days of the church age and shows the church in transition from the Old Covenant to the New. (John F. MacArthur, Charismatic Chaos, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992, p.208)

    This argument too is based on the mistranslation of the Greek lambano. MacArthur insists the book of Acts was intended to be neither a primary basis for church doctrine nor for a doctrine of the Holy Spirit. However, this argument too is confirmed by the Bible as unbiblical. The book of Acts was intended to be a primary basis for church doctrine as well as a doctrine of the Holy Spirit. The book of Acts records the earliest days of the church age. It shows the church in transition from the Old Covenant to the New. It records the normative doctrines for the entire church age. John F. MacArthur continues:

The truth is, even the book of Acts fails to support the charismatic view. Only four passages mention tongues or receiving the Holy Spirit: chapters 2, 8, 10, and 19. Only in Acts 2 and 8 do believers receive the Spirit after salvation. In Acts 10 and 19, believers were baptized in the Spirit at the moment of belief. So the doctrine of subsequence cannot be convincingly defended even from the book of Acts. (Ibid., p.211)

    MacArthur’s argument requires one to believe that to receive the Holy Spirit is the same as “to be baptized in the Spirit.” Again, this is from the mistranslation of the Greek lambano. To receive the Holy Spirit is by no means the same meaning as “to be baptized in the Holy Spirit.” John F. MacArthur continues:

If the Bible is God’s Word, it must be consistent with itself. No part of the Bible can contradict any other part. One divine Author - the Holy Spirit - inspired the whole Bible, so it has one marvelous, supernatural unity. (Ibid., p.113)
What about tongues? Believers spoke in tongues in Acts 2,10, and 19, but there is no record of tongues in chapter 8. What about the requirement of earnestly seeking the baptism? The believers in Acts 2 simply waited prayerfully for the fulfillment of the Lord’s promise (cf. 1:4,14). In chapters 8,10, or 19, no seeking is mentioned. The point is clear. To say that the book of Acts presents the normal pattern for receiving the Holy Spirit presents a problem: no consistent pattern is evident in Acts! (Ibid., p.211)

    MacArthur’s comment is an exercise in great contradiction. According to the literal records of the book of Acts in all English versions, his argument seems to be right. However, if the book of Acts is not consistent on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, the accounts in the book of Acts present a great problem. The book of Acts, including all Scripture, must be flawless and consistent. MacArthur’s contradictory argument has come from the misunderstandings and mistranslations of the Greek text.
When the Greek text is correctly translated there are no inconsistencies. The correct translation of the Greek word lambano in Acts (and Gal. 3:2; John 7:39; John 20:22) reveals the supernatural unity of the four Gospels, the Epistles and the entire OT! Unfortunately, present English mistranslations make the book of Acts appear to be inconsistent and contradictory.

MacArthur states: “Only in Acts 2 and 8 do believers receive the Spirit after salvation. In Acts 10 and 19, believers were baptized in the Spirit at the moment of belief. So the doctrine of subsequence cannot be convincingly defended even from the book of Acts.”
    When the “lambano” (Acts 1,2,8,10,19) is correctly translated, it affirms that all believers in these chapters, without a single exception, were baptized with/in the Spirit (and with/in fire) after salvation. So the “doctrine of subsequence” can be convincingly constructed from the book of Acts and the Epistles. There is no scriptural reference to indicate that believers are baptized with/in the Spirit at the moment of belief. The previously mentioned scholars declare: “It is impossible to build a consistent doctrine from the book of Acts because there is no consistency about them.”  But this also is from the mistranslations of the Greek text in the book of Acts. The corrected translations of the Greek text will show truly a doctrinal  consistency between the book of Acts and the Epistles.