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Rodman Williams: The Gift of the Holy Spirit Today: Reception

10 Here we do not follow the RSV which has “when we believed.” The RSV reading would suggest that only when the disciples believed did they receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. However, the Greek word is pisteusasin, an aorist participle, which usually expresses action antecedent to the main verb, or, less frequently, simultaneous with it. If antecedent, the translation would be “having believed” or “after believing” (NASB) or “who believed” (KJV); if simultaneous or coincident, the translation “when we believed” (RSV) would be more satisfactory. However, the participle could contain both ideas, and therefore the most adequate translation would be neither the RSV “when we believed” nor the KJV “who believed” but simply “believing.” This would suggest that belief had been there for some time (antecedent aorist), but rather than its being simply a past fact, it was also a continuing reality (simultaneous aorist). In other words, on the way of faith the Holy Spirit was poured out. F.D. Bruner, in his A Theology of the Holy Spirit, quotes the RSV and adds, “the apostles considered Pentecost to be … the date of their conversion” (p. 196). Unfortunately, Bruner does not go into the Greek text which makes for other possible, and more likely, interpretations.

11 It is sometimes said that it is improper to draw any parallel between the first disciples’ experience of the Holy Spirit and Christian experience thereafter. For unlike later believers they could not have received the Holy Spirit until a later time because the Spirit was not given until Jesus left them. To answer: while it is true that their experience was necessarily spread over a period of time—a rather extended way of faith—this should not rule out the possibility that many after them will follow a like pattern. Unlike the original disciples, we may receive the Holy Spirit at the initiation of faith; like the first disciples there may be—and often is—an extended period of time.

12 E.g., see the story of Russell Bixier, a renewal leader, in It Can Happen to Anybody (Monroeville, PA: Whitaker Books, n.d.), especially Chapter IV, “The New Creation” and Chapter IX, “The Power Flows.” Several years of walking the way of faith as a Church of the Brethren pastor separate the two experiences. Incidentally, Dwight L Moody’s experience of being “filled with the Holy Spirit” (supra, Chapter 4, fn. 16; see Pneuma Review Winter 2003, page 18) occurred fifteen years after his conversion.

13 Samaria was approximately a journey of two days from Jerusalem. So by the time the word about the Samaritans’ faith had reached Jerusalem, the apostles had met and decided to send Peter and John, and Peter and John had arrived on the scene, the minimum would have been four or five days. Quite possibly it was a few days longer, perhaps a week. The exact number of days of course is not important; clearly there was an intervening time.

14 An illustration of this is the case of Dr. Charles Meisgeier, university professor, whose testimony includes hearing the evangelist Billy Graham, at a Madison Square Garden meeting, whereupon “Christ became my Lord and Saviour in a real and existential way.” Years later through the ministry of Rev. Dennis Bennett, Episcopal priest, Meisgeier received the fullness of the Holy Spirit. The result—”It has been a new life for us all. There is a tremendous fulfillment in being baptized in the Holy Spirit; the Christian life goes on from there and gets better and better.” See The Acts of the Holy Spirit Among the Presbyterians Today (Los Angeles: Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship International Publication, 1972), pp. 56-61.

15 In a later parallel account (Acts 22:1-16) where Paul is rehearsing this event, he states that after Jesus had designated himself “I am Jesus,” Saul asks, “What shall I do, Lord?” This would suggest Saul has entered upon the way of faith, acknowledging Jesus as Lord. I realize it can be argued that Saul is simply saying “lord” (kurie) in the sense of “Sir” or “Master,” hence expressing little or no faith. However, the context, including the words from heaven, “I am Jesus,” would seem to suggest more. If Christian faith begins in a personal encounter with the living Christ, Saul’s experience was hardly less than that!

16 Ananias’ greeting of Saul as “brother” is another recognition that Saul is already on the way of faith before the filling with the Holy Spirit.

17 Such as the fact that the Samaritans were baptized in water at the inception of faith and only received the Holy Spirit several days later, whereas Saul’s water baptism did not occur until after his being filled with the Holy Spirit (see 9:17-18).

18 For a variety of testimonies in the early stages of the Roman Catholic renewal (the late sixties, see Catholic Pentecostals, “Bearing Witness,” pp. 58-106; also Catholics and the Baptism in the Holy Spirit (Los Angeles: FGBMFI, 1968). For Protestant testimonies see other publications of the Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship International on Episcopalians, Baptists, Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, etc.

19 Again an instance of the aorist participle. The term here is pisteusantes, translated in KJV as “since you believed” (antecedent aorist), in RSV “when you believed ” (coincident aorist). My preference again is simply “believing,” which catches up both antecedence and coincidence as a continuing reality. What is important, however, is that, regardless of the way the aorist participle is translated, there is the obvious implication that one believing may not yet have received the Holy Spirit. Initial faith is not necessarily accompanied by the gift of the Spirit. Even if it be argued that these “disciples” were not yet believers in a fully Christian sense, since it turns out they are disciples of John, the question still points up the possibility of believing without yet receiving. However, the fact that Luke describes these Ephesians, when first encountered, as “disciples”—the term regularly used in Acts for Christian believers—could imply that the way of Christian faith had already been entered upon. (See article on [“pneuma“] by E. Schweizer in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament where he says, “In 19:1-7, Luke is telling about Christians who have not yet experienced the outpouring of the Holy Spirit” [Vol. VI, p. 413].)

20 Whether one identifies the initial faith with the first or second moment, the reception of the Spirit occurred thereafter (whether years later or in immediate succession). Schweizer—in looking back over the record in Acts—writes that “Days, and in exceptional cases even weeks and years may pass before endowment with the Spirit follows faith …” (op. cit., p. 412). Though I should prefer to say “follows initial faith,” I believe Schweizer is undoubtedly correct in his basic statement.

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Category: Spirit, Summer 2003

About the Author: J. Rodman Williams (1918-2008), Ph.D., is considered to be the father of renewal theology. He served as a chaplain in the Second World War, he was a church pastor, college professor, and key figure in the charismatic movement of the 1960s. Beginning in 1982, he taught theology at Regent University School of Divinity in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and became Professor of Renewal Theology Emeritus there in 2002. Author of numerous books, he is perhaps best known for his three volume Renewal Theology (Zondervan, 1996).

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