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

Redefining the Baptism in the Holy Spirit

In order to refute the view that there is a spiritual experience beyond conversion known as the baptism in/filling with/reception of the Holy Spirit and solidify a non-Pentecostal view of conversion-initiation, it is absolutely necessary that Luke’s characters in these pneumatological narratives be defined as non-Christians, thus rendering the pneumatological activity soteriological. Of the scholars who take this Lukan cessationist view, James D. G. Dunn has written the most enduring presentation in his 1970 Baptism in the Holy Spirit (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press).11 Gordon Fee, once a classical Pentecostal, in the 1980s fell into the camp of Pauline charismatics and Lukan cessationists. As mentioned earlier, Walston does not use Dunn or other reputable scholars to support his arguments, with the lone exception of Fee. Fee’s work that Walston relies upon most is Gospel and Spirit: Issues in New Testament Hermeneutics. The actual chapters that Walston depends upon were first published in 1980 and 1985.12

“When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.”

— Acts 2:1-4 NKJV

Summarizing from Fee’s twenty-five-year-old work, Walston writes, “Fee says that to be saved is to be filled with the Spirit. … Christians are filled with the Holy Spirit by virtue of being Christians” (129). “[I]f people are saved, they are as a matter of course, baptized in the Holy Spirit” (114). For Fee to arrive at these conclusions, he must explain away the clear language of Luke. Fee must reach these conclusions in order to force them to match his view of Pauline pneumatology, and to rebut the Pentecostal doctrine of separability/subsequence. Walston accepts Fee’s assertions uncritically. (He should at least press Fee to demonstrate why the extemporaneous and independently valuable discursive writings of Paul should be used to interpret the carefully and elegantly designed rhetoric of Luke.)

Luke narrates at length four episodes where believers are, for the first time, specifically baptized in or filled with the Holy Spirit:

  1. the 120 Jewish disciples (Acts 2);
  2. the Samaritans (Acts 8);
  3. the Gentiles (Acts 10); and
  4. the Ephesians (Acts 19).

(1) Acts 2: Since Walston agrees, albeit inconsistently, that the 120 were saved before they received the gift of the Holy Spirit (141), it is not necessary to discuss this episode.


 (2) Acts 8: Walston presents no evidence to counter the obvious separability/subsequence illustrated in this passage. Briefly, in Samaria the evangelist (and deacon) Philip preached Jesus, the people believed, the people were baptized in Jesus’ name (v. 12, 16), but they did not receive the Holy Spirit. The apostles in Jerusalem hear that the Samaritans have “received the word of God” (v. 14), so they send Peter and John who pray for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit (v. 17). After laying hands on them, they receive the Holy Spirit. Obviously, any attempt to explain away the separability/subsequence exhibited in this passage becomes fantastical. Menzies calls this passage “an insoluble problem for those who maintain that Luke establishes a necessary link between baptism/Christian initiation and the gift of the Spirit” (Empowered 211).13


(3) Acts 10: Luke’s narrative of the Gentiles being baptized in the Holy Spirit is the single precedent that non-Pentecostal scholars have where the subjects of the narrative evidently were saved and baptized in the Holy Spirit simultaneously (note that it is still quite impossible to prove that the latter was the cause of the former). According to Walston, this passage “needs little argument” and provides “evidence beyond a reasonable doubt” (122). He admits, “The first outward evidence that they had been baptized in the Holy Spirit was that they spoke in tongues (10:46)” (122). But remember, he believes that baptism in the Holy Spirit effects salvation. So, he explains, “[T]he first physical evidence that they had been saved was that they spoke in tongues (10:46)” (122, emphasis his). “[S]peaking in tongues was not just the initial, physical evidence of the baptism in the Holy Spirit; it was in fact the initial physical evidence of salvation …” (95). In Walston’s view, Peter associates tongues with a salvation experience (87). But why would Peter do this? Luke doesn’t portray Peter as having any experiences with unbelievers who, upon repenting, calling on the name of the Lord, and being baptized in the name of Jesus, receive salvation and tongues. On the other hand, Luke does portray Peter as having experienced, at Jerusalem then Samaria, believers receiving a baptism in the Holy Spirit, evidenced by glossolalia.

Although Luke does not, as in the other scenes, make clear the timing of the Gentiles’ moment of salvation in relation to the moment when they were baptized in the Holy Spirit, he does hint that the Gentiles were saved before they received the Spirit when he has Peter say, “They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have” (10:47). Walston agrees that the 120 at Jerusalem were saved before Pentecost (141). If then, the Gentiles received the Holy Spirit just as they did, perhaps they were saved before they received this enduement of power, if not but by mere moments. Furthermore, using the interpretive principle of analogy of scripture, it is quite clear that the Jewish, Samaritan, and Ephesian episodes steer the reader to this conclusion.

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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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