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The Baptism with the Spirit—Distinct from Salvation? by Michael D. Peters


Whose disciples they were when Paul asked, “Have received the Spirit when you believed” appears to be monumental importance in applying these passages. J. MacArthur summarized:

Here again is another basic Charismatic proof text that shows people being baptized by the Spirit and speaking in tongues.   Again there is no subsequence, no interval between salvation and Spirit baptism. Some Charismatics and Pentecostals would like to claim that these people had been believers in Christ prior to the encounter recorded here, but a study of the text shows clearly that they were not. … Note that after Paul realized who these disciples were [emphasis mine], he spoke about Jesus Christ, not the Holy Spirit. Paul knew that all they had was the baptism of John. If they had confessed faith in Christ and been baptized, they would have had the Holy Spirit. Paul implied that when he asked, “Well, if you haven’t received the Spirit, what kind of baptism have you had?” Paul knew that receiving the Spirit at the moment of belief in Christ was the normal pattern for the church after Pentecost.9

There are four points to MacArthur’s teaching. One, the Ephesians were initially disciples of John, and they did not have the Spirit. Two, once Paul realized they were disciples of John he spoke to them about Christ, not the Spirit. Three, Paul knew receiving the Spirit at the moment of belief was the normal pattern. And four, there was no interval between their salvation and Spirit baptism. These points appear compelling in proving that Spirit baptism is part of every Christian’s salvation experience until they are examined in light of the context.

First, it is true that these individuals were disciples of John and did not have the Spirit. However, whether they were disciples of John or Jesus is not the context of the question. The context is whose disciples did Paul think they were when he asked, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” The question was addressed to disciples Paul assumed were Christians. MacArthur confirms this by stating it wasn’t until “after Paul realized who these disciples were” that he spoke to them about Christ. Before Paul realized who these disciples were he assumed they were believers in the Messiah.

Second, it is true that once Paul realized these were disciples of John that he spoke to them about Jesus, not the Spirit. However, when he assumed they were disciples of Jesus, he spoke to them about the Spirit. For Paul, it was an appropriate question to ask those whom he assumed were Christians if they received the Spirit when they believed.

Third, the assertion that “Paul knew that receiving the Spirit at the moment of belief in Christ was the normal pattern” is inconsistent with the context of Acts. The apostle Paul asked these disciples if they had received the Spirit when they believed. If Paul knew receiving at the moment of belief was normal, why did he ask disciples whom he assumed were already believers if they received what he supposedly knew they already had? When he discovered his assumption was wrong he backtracked and instructed them to believe on Jesus Christ. Then began their Christian experience.


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Category: Fall 1998, Pneuma Review, Spirit

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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