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Baptism in the Spirit: Is it Normal to Receive At or After Conversion?


No historian, not even an inspired one, recounts every detail. Luke recorded that Paul was filled with the Spirit (Acts 9:17). He did not record that Paul spoke in tongues, but Paul affirmed that he spoke in tongues (1 Corinthians 14:18). Luke recorded the beginning of the church at Corinth (Acts 18:8-11). He did not record any charismatic gifts, yet Paul affirmed the Corinthian church possessed those gifts (See 1 Corinthians 1 & 12-14). Luke recorded the beginning of the church at Thessalonica (Acts 17:1-4). He did not record any prophesying, yet Paul exhorted them to not despise prophesying (1 Thessalonians 5:20). One should not conclude because something was not recorded that it was absent.

This criteria for determining what was “common to all” requires that Luke record everything in every account. Luke did not do that. This approach or definition of what is “common to all” cannot be used to claim that a post conversion Spirit baptism was not normative any more than it can be used to assert that a post conversion water baptism was not normative.

Support for the belief that it is normative to receive the Spirit at conversion is not found with either of MacArthur’s two principles for determining what is normative. The first, that what is normative in Acts must be taught in the epistles, led to the conclusion that the Spirit’s work in Acts contradicted the interpretation of 1 Corinthians 12:13 that teaches Spirit baptism always occurs at conversion. The second, that only those things that are specifically stated are common to all, requires the rejection of a post conversion water baptism just as well as post conversion Spirit baptism.


Samaritans as Unique

All exceptions to what is normative, whether it be Spirit baptism or any other subject, must have Scriptural explanations as to why they are unique. The unique are experiences that are not normative for all. For example, every believer must be born again. That is normative. However, every believer need not encounter a blinding light like Paul did at his conversion. The blinding light was unique. What is unique should not be sought as a common experience.

The belief that Spirit baptism always occurs at conversion requires that the accounts in Acts where it occurred after conversion must be explained as unique. For MacArthur and others that believe this, the conversion of the Samaritans and their reception of the Spirit afterwards requires an explanation (Acts 8:14-17). To explain this so-called uniqueness, MacArthur states, “The reason for the interval between the Samaritans’ salvation and their receiving the Holy Spirit is that they were living in a period of transition between the covenants.”10 The transition was a transition from an exclusively Jewish or Messianic Christianity to a Christianity that included Gentiles, in particular, Samaritans whom the Jews despised. It is speculated that to overcome the ancient animosity between Samaritans and Jews, God waited before giving the Samaritans the Spirit, so that the Jewish Apostles might witness the Samaritans’ reception of the Spirit. This would confirm to the Apostles that God accepted the Samaritans, and would help them to accept the Samaritans as part of the church.


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Category: Spirit, Summer 1999

About the Author: Michael D. Peters has ministered among charismatic and noncharismatic Christians for over twenty-five years. For the past 14 years (as of Fall 1998) he has pastored Christ the King Covenant Church in Webster Groves, Missouri. He hold a Masters in Theology from Covenant Theological Seminary and is presently pursuing a doctorate in historical theology at Saint Louis University.

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