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Paul Elbert: The Lukan Gift of the Holy Spirit

Paul Elbert, The Lukan Gift of the Holy Spirit: Understanding Luke’s Expectations for Theophilus (Canton, GA: The Foundation for Pentecostal Scholarship, 2021), pages xv+147, ISBN 9798502689434.

Elbert approaches Luke-Acts with two questions: (1) How does Luke expect Theophilus, the reader, to read his two-volume work (Luke-Acts)? and (2) How does Luke expect him to respond to it? As Robert Menzies summarizes, in the forward, first, Luke gives Theophilus “a coherent pneumatological picture.” Second, Luke thinks that “if Theophilus prays to receive gift of the Holy Spirit as Jesus taught, then it will be given to him” (Lk 11.13) and third, that Jesus’s command to ask for the good gift of the Holy Spirit must be understood in light of Pentecost and subsequent pneumatological events in Acts (vii). Significantly, Elbert sees the inchoate state of Theophilus who has received some initial instruction in the faith (Lk 1.4) like Apollos, whose knowledge of Jesus was rudimentary but deficient and was given a fuller picture (5, Acts 18.24–28).

For Elbert, Theophilus was probably a sincere disciple who needed further instruction which included more information about the Holy Spirit that his second treatise more extensively provides (1, 6). Having given Theophilus further teaching and examples of historical precedent, Luke expects him to seek this gift of the Holy Spirit (11). Elbert cites Hellenistic rhetorical parallels that demonstrate a pedagogical and mentoring relationship with the reader (20:n35, n61).

Jesus’s command to ask for the good gift of the Holy Spirit must be understood in light of Pentecost and subsequent pneumatological events in Acts.

After an introduction, in three separate chapters he examines passages that deal with reception of the Holy Spirit: Luke 11.13; Acts 2.38 and 18.23–19.7 followed by observations and a conclusion. In chapter 2, Elbert puts Luke 11.13 in the overarching context of prayer which is the heart of Luke’s message and the method of operation for both Jesus and his followers (23, n.38). The context for the Father’s gift of the Holy Spirit in Luke 11.9–13 contains Jesus at prayer (11.1), Luke’s version of the Lord’s prayer (11.2–4), and the Parable of the Inconvenient Friend (11.5–8). He sees the gift of the Holy Spirit as anticipatory of the reception of the Spirit as at Pentecost.

Moreover, the Lukan version of “the Holy Spirit” in contrast to Matthew’s “good gifts” shows that Luke is stressing Spirit reception either by his redactional emendation or by preferring one version of the dominical saying over another retained in the earlier Gospel tradition (11.13 cp. Matt 7.11). Elbert links the good gift-Holy Spirit saying to Acts 1.5, 8; 2.2. Luke’s rhetoric is intended to be didactic for his reader, Theophilus, and later in Luke-Acts, Luke shows him what to pray for and the effects of the gift of the Holy Spirit (34–35). Luke then, views history and narrative as paradigmatic for Christian practice (43–44).

In the third chapter, Elbert focuses on Acts 2.38: “Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’” (NRSV). Repentance and baptism are mandated in the final instructions of Jesus (Lk 24.47–49) and found throughout the Third Gospel. The repeated promise of the Holy Spirit in Lk 24.49 and in Acts 1.4, 8, 14 puts Theophilus in “an expectant transition” and is followed with templates for his own petition to receive God’s gift of the Holy Spirit (45). But first, Elbert makes it clear that those who were about the receive the promise of the Holy Spirit “had already entered into genuine Christian discipleship and commitment to Jesus, i.e., that they have entered into that nexus of experiential concepts: repentance, forgiveness, belief, and salvation which Luke associates with experiencing Jesus” (46). He gives ample examples from the Gospel that folk already had experienced salvation before Pentecost. In the text and in the footnotes, he takes issue with those who say that believers only experience salvation after Pentecost, especially James Dunn (46–50). It appears that Dunn and company are interpreting Luke’s pneumatology through the lens of Paul’s understanding of the role of the Holy Spirit in conversion. Luke must be allowed to speak on his own terms, for the pneumatological agendas of both Luke and Paul are not quite the same.

Using a Graeco-Roman historiographical method, Luke presents in Peter’s Pentecost sermon “three narrative functions”: (1) to summarize events with a view of how the reader should respond, (2) to provide precedents that guide the disciples in mission, and (3) “to draw all the threads together into a timely tutorial re the Lukan gift of the Spirit, from both the preceding prophetic xenolalic event as well as from the previous narrative” (50–51). Peter’s initial speech/sermon is programmatic for all of Acts (54). “This emphasis on the individualistic extension of prophetic vocation to all repentant, forgiven, callers upon the Lord’s name who would prayerfully seek the gift of the Spirit, as I shall argue, for 2.38c, is distinctively Lukan” (55).

Elbert notes that the promise of the Spirit is not merely for prophecy: “Luke neither says nor implies that Joel has promised the ‘Spirit of prophecy’ (contra Turner). Rather, Luke’s insertion ‘and they will prophesy’ in 2.18 simply highlights the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy and extends the promise of it to everyone (cf. 1.4; 2.39), thus making Luke’s understanding of prophecy one component of the Lukan gift of the Spirit” (57–58). Luke understands that other aspects of the Spirit’s gift are included, such as dreams and visions and, later, other wonders. Nor is it evident that Spirit-reception happens immediately upon obeying the imperatives of “repent” and “be baptized”; the reception of the Spirit is in the future tense. Elbert demonstrates several passages where the future following the imperative is not immediate (64–73). To insist that the gift of the Spirit must appear immediately at baptism appears “to be non-Lukan importations no matter what their source” (72). Luke has set his narrative up to this programmatic point in the Pentecost sermon to instruct Theophilus, who already knows about repentance and forgiveness of sins, to ask the good Father for the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Elbert gives ample examples from the Gospel that folk already had experienced salvation before Pentecost. In the text and in the footnotes, he takes issue with those who say that believers only experience salvation after Pentecost.

In the fourth chapter, Elbert presents the additional instruction of Apollos and the Ephesian twelve disciples who did not know about the Holy Spirit baptism administered by Jesus. Here the context of Paul strengthening disciples in 18.23 is crucial. Often Luke presents apostolic ministry in terms of strengthening the believers (Acts 11.2 in codex Bezae; 14.22; 15.41; 18.23, ἐπιστηρίζω). Luke gives a rhetorical intervention or digression, typical for the narrative rhetorical conventions of the day, to provide an example of strengthening in the case of Apollos who, though a believer, needed more instruction (18.24–29, pp. 84–85). He had been instructed in “the way of the Lord” and taught accurately concerning Jesus but “knew only of the baptism of John.” Priscilla and Aquila gave him further instruction, presumably including the baptism of Jesus and the promise of the Holy Spirit (13.25). What follows is yet another example of “strengthening” by Paul when he further instructs the Ephesian twelve, disciples who knew only of the baptism of John (19.1–7). Consistently the unmodified use of disciples in Luke-Acts refers to Christian believers (85–86 and nn. 158–9). Thus, these believers at Ephesus were not merely disciples of John (as in Lk 11.1). Paul’s instruction resulted in the Holy Spirit coming upon them with accompanying tongues and prophecy.

Elbert makes the case for Apollos receiving fuller pneumatic instruction and experience, for he had the same instructional deficiency as the Ephesian twelve, who knew only the baptism of John. He suggests that Theophilus, though somewhat informed in the faith (Lk 1.4), knows only of a baptism of repentance for forgiveness of sins and needs further instruction on how to receive the Holy Spirit as Jesus promised. Luke does this by his frequent emphasis on prayer, especially regarding reception of the Holy Spirit. These promises and examples provide a paradigm for Theophilus to pray to receive the Holy Spirit (94–95).

Luke does not invent Theophilus to be a mere foil for him to present a theological treatise wrapped in a narrative; rather he gives instruction to Theophilus on what to pray for, the gift of the Holy Spirit, and what to expect in the breath of prayer for his future ministry. The primal mode of biblical revelation subsists in the telling of a story and expecting the readers to respond to the salvation-history event. The story cannot be divorced from the didache.

Elbert’s lengthy essay, presented in 2000 as a Society for Pentecostal Studies conference paper, should have been published much earlier; his argument is persuasive, and he maintains a detailed and frank interaction with other scholars in his footnotes. We have Robert Graves of the Foundation for Pentecostal Scholarship to thank for making this seminal essay available to the Church and the academy.

Reviewed by James B. Shelton


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Category: In Depth, Spring 2023

About the Author: James B. Shelton, Ph.D. (University of Stirling, Scotland), M.A. (Oral Roberts University), is Professor of New Testament at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He is the author of Mighty in Word and Deed: The Role of the Holy Spirit in Luke-Acts (Wipf & Stock, 1999 reprint) as well as numerous essays in scholarly journals, books, and biblical commentaries. Faculty page

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