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The Speaking in Tongues Controversy: A Narrative-Critical Response, Part 1

 

Acts 2:38-41 as Paradigm of Salvation Alone?

According to Walston, “[S]ince Peter proclaimed [in Acts 2:38] … that all who believed would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, and since all of the three thousand on Pentecost received the Holy Spirit in the same fullness as the 120 had and just as Peter said would happen, then it cannot be denied that a paradigm was established. However, it is not the paradigm of baptism in the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in tongues. Rather, the paradigm was (and continues to be) ‘repent and accept Jesus and automatically receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit’” (138). The paradigm, having been “clearly explained” (79) by Peter became “the divinely established pattern” (77). “Perhaps the strongest argument for this is Acts 2:41: ‘Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day’” (125). Thus, for Walston, not only is Acts 2:38 paradigmatic, but it is illustrative of Luke’s emphasis throughout Acts, which is “predominantly soteriological” (72-73).

In Walston’s opinion, because the three thousand “accepted his [Peter’s] message,” “were baptized,” and “were added to their number that day,” clearly they received the gift of the Holy Spirit. “Logic demands (and Luke implies) that they did receive the ‘gift of the Holy Spirit’” (125). Walston rushes on to the subject of the absence of tongues in the passage, leaving the reader wondering what logic? and what implications? Only an uncritical reading of this passage, driven by an inordinately strong dependency upon a particular interpretation of Pauline literature, could lead to these conclusions.

In pursuing Luke’s intent in Acts 2:38, first, consideration needs to be given to the grammatical construction of the verse. After all, if the Greek future (“will receive”) demands an immediate consummation rather than allowing a dilatory (later) fulfillment, the argument is half over. It would be “half” because Walston still has to prove that tongues did not occur and that the baptism in the Holy Spirit was the cause of and not in addition to salvation.

In a personal interview of New Testament scholar Paul Elbert, I asked his opinion about the following passage from Catholic scholar George T. Montague’s The Spirit and His Gifts (New York: Paulist Press, 1974): “The future lēmpsesthe of Acts 2:38 is not a dilatory future but the future of unqualified promise, to be fulfilled immediately upon the conditions preceding,” (53). Elbert responded: “He [Montague] has no basis to say that other than his opinion.”1 Fourteen years later, Elbert would write that the use of this word, “predicts the expected reception of the gift to take place at a time and in a form designed by the Lord, anticipating its evangelistic use within a future occasion as the Lord directs.”2

As I mentioned earlier, Walston places incredible weight upon the work of Gordon Fee. Pre-dating the interview with Elbert, I corresponded with Fee and asked him the same question that I put before Elbert concerning the future tense of the Greek lēmpsesthe. He replied: “You will note that no good commentary (Cadbury-Lake, Haenchen, Bruce) even take[s] up Montague’s questions. The question, by the way, is not what the Greek will allow (it will ‘allow’ either), but rather what did Luke intend his readers to understand by so reporting Peter’s words” (October 19, 1981). So, even Fee agrees that, on a strictly grammatical basis, the future tense of “will receive” does not have to be interpreted as an immediate fulfillment.3

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Category: Fall 2005, Spirit

About the Author: Robert W. Graves, M. A. (Literary Studies, Georgia State University), is the co-founder and president of The Foundation for Pentecostal Scholarship, Inc., a non-profit organization supporting Pentecostal scholarship through research grants. He is a Christian educator and a former faculty member of Southwestern Assemblies of God College in Waxahachie, Texas, and Kennesaw State University (adjunct). He edited and contributed to Strangers to Fire: When Tradition Trumps Scripture and is the author of Increasing Your Theological Vocabulary, Praying in the Spirit (1987 and Second Edition, 2017) and The Gospel According to Angels (Chosen Books, 1998).

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