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

For Walston, Acts 2:38 is the Lukan paradigm or pattern for conversion. Here are the components: (1) repent, (2) be baptized in water in the name of Jesus Christ, (3) receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Conditions 1 and 2 are not enough since the gift of the Holy Spirit is what saves: “If one is a Christian, he has been baptized in the Holy Spirit; in fact, it is this gift of the Holy Spirit that separates him from the world and makes him a Christian” (135). “The dual idea that there are Christians who are ‘spirit-filled’ and Christians who are not ‘spirit-filled’ is an idea that is foreign to the New Testament. … One does not receive Christ and not receive the gift of (or baptism in) the Holy Spirit” (135). “The New Testament never makes the distinction between (1) getting saved and (2) being filled with the Holy Spirit as though they are two entirely different experiences” (139). Literally speaking, does this mean that we are baptizing non-Christians? In Walston’s world, it must mean this, for they are not Christians until they receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, and they cannot be Christians until they have fulfilled the conditions of the “divinely established pattern,” which requires repentance and baptism before the promise of the gift can be realized.

“But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in al Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

— Acts 1:8 NKJV

If one repents, accepts Christ as his savior, is baptized in water, and then receives the gift of the Holy Spirit, what is the function of the gift? One need only follow Luke as he leads Theophilus (who stands in for all of us) through the narrative of Jesus’ promise in Acts 1:8 to its fulfillment in 2:1-41 to see that the gift is not for one’s personal salvation but is a prophetic empowerment for service and witness. In fact, as Roger Stronstad writes, “Peter restricts the eschatological gift of the Spirit to the penitent, the saved.”4 Eduard Schweizer agrees, “[T]he Spirit is imparted to those who are already converted and baptized.”5

William and Robert Menzies argue forcefully against the view that Acts 2:38-39 is primarily soteriological:

Yet we must not miss the fact that “the promise” of Acts 2:39 embraces more than the experience of conversion. Consistent with Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4; 2:33, the promised gift of the Spirit in Acts 2:39 refers to the promise of Joel 2:28, and thus it is a promise of prophetic enabling granted to the repentant. … There is simply no evidence to support the notion that by referring to Joel 2:28-29, Luke intended his readers to think of some commonly expected, all-embracing soteriological bestowal of the Spirit, the details of which were pieced together from a variety of Old Testament texts. … [T]he most that can be gleaned from the text [of Acts 2:38] is that repentance and water baptism are the normal prerequisites for reception of the Spirit, which is promised to every believer.6

If Luke, as Walston believes, is setting up Acts 2:38 as the soteriological paradigm, we should expect to find the paradigm illustrated somewhere in Acts. This is what Walston believes, for he writes in another context that “Had Luke made a point of clearly, repetitiously, and consistently depicting throughout the book of Acts that all who were saved and filled with the Holy Spirit spoke in tongues, then there would be a paradigm (norm) that we would have to follow” (153). In an effort to demonstrate the preeminence of Luke’s soteriological interest (evidently through repetition and consistency), Walston identifies twenty-six passages where Luke mentions people being saved. Here is how they compare to Walston’s declared paradigm gleaned from Acts 2:38: (1) repentance is not mentioned in any of the passages, (2) water baptism is mentioned in only seven of them, (3) the gift of the Holy Spirit is mentioned in only five. Thus, using Walston’s own methodology, the statistical evidence does not support the claim that Acts 2:38 is a soteriological paradigm encoded with the non-Lukan concept of a soteriological Spirit-baptism.7

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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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