Countdown to Pentecost Sunday Readings: Robert Menzies, “Luke’s Understanding of Baptism in the Holy Spirit”

Posted: May 26, 2009 by Rick Hogaboam in Uncategorized

As we march towards Pentecost Sunday on May 31, 2009, I will offer some daily resources that will be academic, pastoral, and devotional in nature. This work here is academic in nature, but will be very helpful for all Evangelicals to better understand Reformed and Pentecostal approaches to the Holy Spirit, as well as to better understand Luke and Paul’s distinct, yet complimentary theologies of the Holy Spirit. I generally agree with Dr. Menzies assessment below. One thing of particular interest is the quotation from Zwingli, who notes two distinct Spirit baptisms.

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Luke’s Understanding of Baptism in the Holy Spirit
A Pentecostal Perspective
Robert P. Menzies
Assemblies of God Theological Seminary
The article endeavours to offer a fresh Pentecostal perspective at Luke’s two-volume work,
specifically with regard to Luke’s understanding of Spirit baptism and its significance for
Pentecostal theology. By looking at the how the Reformed tradition has understood the New
Testament metaphor of baptism in the Spirit, and tracing the manner in which Luke uses this
term, it is argued, that there is a distinct Lukan perspective on spirit baptism, which must be
placed alongside the soteriological dimension so prominent in the writings of Paul. In
consequence, both dimensions of spirit baptism must be upheld by Pentecostal theology, the
reception of the life-giving and indwelling Spirit by every Christian and the baptism in the
Spirit as distinct from conversion, which serves as an anointing for service and mission.
Not long ago a Chinese house church leader commented, “When Chinese believers read
the book of Acts, we see in it our own experience; when foreign Christians read the book of
Acts, they see in it inspiring stories.” My Chinese friend’s point was clear: their experience of
opposition and persecution impacts how they read Luke’s narrative. Chinese believers tend to
read Luke-Acts with a sense of urgency and desperation, a sense of hunger generated by their
need. So, they easily identify with the struggles of Peter and John, of Stephen and Paul. And
so also they readily accept the promise of the Spirit’s enabling to persevere and bear bold
witness to Jesus in the face of opposition. Implicit in my friend’s comment was also the belief
that Christians in a stable and affluent West, living in contexts where the Christian church has
a long and storied history, may have a difficult time reading the book of Acts in this way. He
was suggesting that we in the West may find it hard to identify with the struggles and needs of
the early disciples, and thus we do not read with the same sense of solidarity or with the same
sense of urgency.
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I believe that this conversation touches on perhaps the greatest contribution the
Pentecostal movement is making to the larger church world: The Pentecostal movement is
calling the church universal to take a fresh look at Luke’s two-volume work. And in the
process, it is encouraging the church to consider once again its own understanding and its own
need of the Holy Spirit’s power. It is precisely here, in Luke-Acts, where we find the central
and distinctive message of the Pentecostal movement. From the earliest days of the modern
Pentecostal revival, Pentecostals have proclaimed that all Christians may, and indeed should,
experience a baptism in the Holy Spirit “distinct from and subsequent to the experience of
new birth” (General Council of the Assemblies of God 1991:129) This understanding of Spirit
baptism flows naturally from the conviction that the Spirit came upon the disciples at
Pentecost (Acts 2), not as the source of new covenant existence, but rather as the source of
power for effective witness. This understanding of Spirit baptism has given the modern
Pentecostal movement its identity, its unifying experience, and its missiological focus.
The rapid growth of Pentecostal churches around the world, particularly in the Two-
Thirds World, makes it difficult for churches in the West to ignore this movement and its
theology. Indeed, Pentecostal churches around the world are growing with such rapidity that
one scholar recently suggested the Pentecostal movement should be identified as “the most
successful social movement of the past century” (Jenkins 2002:8). So, today, let us heed the
call and turn once again to the pages of Luke-Acts. More specifically, let us examine Luke’s
understanding of Spirit baptism and its significance for Pentecostal theology. We will begin
by looking at the manner in which the Reformed tradition has understood this New Testament
metaphor, baptism in the Spirit. We shall then trace the distinctive manner in which Luke uses
this term. Finally, we shall draw out the implications of our study for the contemporary
church.
RETHINKING PAST ASSUMPTIONS
The Pentecostal understanding of Spirit baptism as an empowering for service distinct
from conversion has not been accepted by many from various traditions within the Christian
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church, including the majority of Reformed scholars. John Calvin does not treat Spirit
baptism in an intentional or focused way. However, when he does refer to baptism in the
Spirit, he associates it with the regenerating work of the Spirit. Calvin declares, “‘he baptises
us in the Holy Spirit and fire (Luke 3:16)’” so that we are brought into “the light of faith in his
gospel…so regenerating us that we become new creatures” (Institutes 3.1.4).1 Elsewhere
Calvin speaks of the Holy Spirit as the “secret energy of the Spirit, by which we come to
enjoy Christ and all his benefits” (Institutes 3.1.1). He also describes the Spirit as “the bond
by which Christ effectually unites us to himself” (Institutes 3.1.1). In the context of Calvin’s
writing and thought, it would appear that this redemptive work of the Spirit is inaugurated
with Spirit baptism.
Calvin does not give much attention to the empowering dimension of the Spirit’s work.
Although Calvin speaks frequently of the Holy Spirit as the “inward teacher,” (Institutes
4.14.9) the power that illuminates the mind and opens the heart of the one who hears the
gospel, he does not highlight the Spirit’s role in empowering the one who proclaims the
message. Perhaps this is partly due to his emphasis on the Spirit as making the sacraments
effectual on the one hand and to his polemic against confirmation as a sacrament on the other.
Calvin strongly objected to the notion that confirmation, a rite subsequent to water baptism,
was a true sacrament. Some asserted that while the Spirit was conferred in water baptism for
regeneration, in confirmation the Spirit was granted in order to equip the believer “for battle.”
Calvin, arguing that this practice lacked biblical support, concludes: “We see the oil – the
gross and greasy liquid – nothing else” (Institutes 4.19.5).
It is interesting to note that in the context of his rebuttal of confirmation, Calvin discusses
the bestowal of the Spirit on previously baptised believers recorded in Acts 8:16. He states
that Luke here does not deny that “they who believe in Christ with their hearts and confess
him with their mouth are endowed with any gift of the Spirit (Romans 10:10),” rather Luke
has “in mind the receiving of the Spirit, by which manifest powers and visible graces were
received” (Institutes 4.19.8). Calvin maintains, however, “those miraculous powers and
manifest workings, which were dispensed by the laying on of hands, have ceased; and they
have rightly lasted only for a time.” (Institutes 4.19.6)
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Other scholars in the Reformed tradition may place the accent in slightly different places.
Karl Barth, for example, separates more clearly Spirit baptism from water baptism (see
Macchia 2004:164-76).2 Nevertheless most of the scholars in the Reformed tradition define
Spirit baptism in essentially the same manner: God’s miraculous transformation of the
believer. Of the prominent Reformed scholars, Hendrikus Berkhof comes the closest to
acknowledging a positive contribution on the part of Pentecostals. He views Spirit baptism in
terms of regeneration, but he sees this consisting of three elements: justification,
sanctification, and calling or vocation (Berkhof 1976:46-56). Berkhof credits Pentecostals
with highlighting the vocational dimension of Spirit baptism and faults Calvin for largely
ignoring it. But Berkhof also chides Pentecostals for defining Spirit baptism solely in
vocational terms.
The common thread that ties together the perspectives of these Reformed theologians is
the assumption that the New Testament presents a relatively unified picture concerning the
work of the Spirit in general and baptism in the Spirit in particular. In 1 Corinthians 12:13
Paul clearly speaks of Spirit baptism as the means by which one is initiated into the body of
Christ: “For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body – whether Jews or Greeks, slave
or free – and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.”3 And Paul, writing from an early stage
in the life of the church, offers a rich and full account of the Spirit’s work. Paul speaks of the
Spirit as the source of cleansing (1 Cor. 6:11; Rom. 15:16), righteousness (Gal. 5:5; Rom. 8:1-
17; Gal. 5:16-26), intimate fellowship with (Gal. 4:6; Rom. 8:14-17) and knowledge of God
(1 Cor. 2:6-16; 2 Cor. 3:3-18). He even describes that ultimate transformation, the
resurrection, as a work of the Spirit (Rom. 8:11; 1 Cor. 15:42-49; Gal. 6:8). All of this
suggests that from the very earliest days, the early church had a unified and highly developed
pneumatology. Paul, Luke, and John speak with one voice: the Spirit is the very source of
Christian existence. How, then, could Spirit baptism be anything less than the miraculous
transformation of the believer?
Yet, there are good reasons to question this reading of the New Testament data and the
theological conclusions based upon it. I have argued elsewhere that a thorough study of
Luke-Acts and the Pauline literature reveals that there was a process of development in the
early church’s understanding of the Spirit’s work (Menzies 1991).4 This, of course, is not a
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novel thesis and many scholars from Hermann Gunkel to Gonzalo Haya-Prats have reached
similar conclusions (Gunkel 1979; Haya-Prats 1975).5 My own study of the evidence,
particularly in Luke-Acts,6 led me to conclude that Paul was the first Christian to attribute
soteriological functions to the Spirit and that his distinctive insights did not impact the non-
Pauline sectors of the early church until after the writing of Luke-Acts (approximately 70
A.D.). The key point for our study is the affirmation that Luke’s theology of the Spirit is
different from that of Paul. Unlike Paul, who frequently speaks of the soteriological
dimension of the Spirit’s work, Luke consistently portrays the Spirit as a charismatic or, more
precisely, a prophetic gift, the source of power for service.
The important implications of this conclusion cannot be missed. If this is indeed the
case, then the charismatic dimension of the Spirit to which Luke bears witness must be placed
alongside the soteriological dimension so prominent in the writings of Paul. Certainly a
theology of the Spirit that is truly biblical must do justice to the pneumatology of each
biblical author.
Additionally, by placing the Pentecost account within the framework of Luke’s
distinctive theology of the Spirit, we can argue with considerable force that the Spirit came
upon the disciples at Pentecost, not as the source of new covenant existence, but rather as the
source of power for effective witness – which, incidentally, is exactly what Luke states in
Acts 1:8. Since this Pentecostal gift, this baptism in the Spirit, is charismatic rather than
soteriological in character, it must be distinguished from the gift of the Spirit – and even the
baptism in the Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12:13 – that Paul so clearly associates with conversion
and regeneration. Here, then, is a strong argument for the Pentecostal understanding of
baptism in the Spirit – that is, that Spirit baptism in the Lukan sense is logically distinct from
conversion. This distinction and uniquely missiological purpose is a reflection of Luke’s
distinctive theology of the Spirit.
This recognition that Luke’s theology of the Spirit is different from that of Paul is then
crucial for a Pentecostal understanding of Spirit baptism. As we have seen, some Reformed
theologians would agree that Luke emphasizes the Spirit’s role in equipping the church for its
mission. Berkhof speaks of the “vocational” dimension of the Spirit’s work. Calvin refers to
the bestowal of “manifest powers” and “visible graces.” But at the same time, they still
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maintain that Luke, in a manner similar to Paul, relates Spirit baptism to salvation. This
vocational or charismatic dimension of baptism in the Spirit is merely a reflection of Luke’s
emphasis. In this way Reformed theologians can speak of the gift of the Spirit received at
Pentecost as the essential element of conversion, the means whereby the disciples experience
the blessings of the new covenant (i.e., cleansing, justification, moral transformation), even
though they might also acknowledge that divine enabling is prominent in Luke’s narrative.
But, if our summary of Luke’s pneumatology above is correct, this will not do. As we have
stated, Luke views the gift of the Spirit exclusively in charismatic terms. His narrative reflects
more than a special emphasis; it bears witness to a distinctive theology of the Spirit.
Consequently, the charismatic character of Luke’s baptism in the Spirit cannot be questioned,
and Luke’s unique and Pentecostal contribution to biblical pneumatology must be given its
due.
As I have stated, the evidence suggests that Luke’s theology of the Spirit is indeed
different from that of Paul – ultimately complementary, but different. Luke not only fails to
refer to soteriological aspects of the Spirit’s work, his narrative presupposes a pneumatology
that does not include this dimension (e.g., Luke 11:13; Acts 8:4-25; 18:24-19:7).7 Of course a
detailed examination of Luke’s two-volume work is required to defend this assertion. I have
provided this elsewhere (Menzies 1991; Menzies 1994). Today, however, I believe I can
make my point by focusing on three key passages associated with the term, baptism in the
Holy Spirit: John the Baptist’s prophecy (Luke 3:16-17); Jesus’ sermon at Nazareth (Luke
4:17-19); and references to the promise of the Spirit (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4; 2:33; 2:39).
LUKE’S DISTINCTIVE PERSPECTIVE
Throughout his two-volume work, Luke consistently portrays the gift of the Spirit as a
prophetic enabling. Whether it is John in his mother’s womb, Jesus at the Jordan, or the
disciples at Pentecost, the Spirit comes upon them all as the source of prophetic inspiration,
granting special insight and inspiring speech. This should not surprise us since the literature
of intertestamental Judaism also identifies the Spirit with prophetic inspiration.8 This
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pneumatological perspective shapes the key Lukan texts that speak of baptism in the Holy
Spirit. To these texts we now turn.
John the Baptist’s Prophecy
John the Baptist’s prophecy concerning the one who will baptise in Spirit and fire,
recorded in Luke 3:16-17, is particularly important for our study:
John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I
will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize
you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his
threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff
with unquenchable fire”(Luke 3:16-17).
The interpretation of this prophecy – specifically, the functions it attributes to the Spirit –
is crucial, for Luke clearly sees this prophecy at least partially fulfilled at Pentecost in the
disciples’ baptism in the Spirit (Acts 1.4-5). James Dunn speaks for many when he states that
the prophecy presents that Spirit as “purgative and refining for those who had repented,
destructive…for those who remained impenitent” (Dunn 1970:13). However, I believe this
interpretation must be rejected in light of the Jewish background, the immediate context with
its winnowing metaphor, and the larger context of Luke-Acts.
The Jewish background is particularly instructive. There are no pre-Christian references
to a messianic bestowal of the Spirit that purifies and transforms the individual. However,
there are a wealth of passages that describe the Messiah as charismatically endowed with the
Spirit of God so that he may rule and judge (e.g. 1 En. 49:3; 62:2). Isaiah 4:4 refers to the
Spirit of God as the means by which the nation of Israel (not individuals!) shall be sifted with
the righteous being separated from the wicked and the nation thus cleansed. Several texts tie
these two concepts together. Perhaps most striking is Psalms of Solomon 17:26-37, a passage
which describes how the Messiah, “powerful in the Holy Spirit” (17:37), shall purify Israel by
ejecting all aliens and sinners from the nation. Isaiah 11:2-4 declares that the Spiritempowered
Messiah will slay the wicked “with the breath [ruach] of his lips.”9 Against this
background it is not difficult to envision the Spirit of God as an instrument employed by the
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Messiah to sift and cleanse the nation. Indeed, these texts suggest that when John referred in
metaphorical language to the messianic deluge of the Spirit, he had in mind Spirit-inspired
oracles of judgement uttered by the Messiah (cf. Isa. 11:4), blasts of the Spirit that would
separate the wheat from the chaff.
Luke, writing in light of Pentecost, sees the fuller picture and applies the prophecy to the
Spirit-inspired witness of the early church (Acts 1:4-5). Through their witness, the wheat is
separated from the chaff (Luke 3:17). This interpretation is reinforced by the winnowing
metaphor, which portrays the wind as the source of sifting. Since the term translated “wind”
in Greek (pneuma) and Hebrew (ruach) is also used to refer to “the Spirit,” the symbolism is
particularly striking. This Spirit-inspired witness and its impact is foreshadowed by Simeon’s
prophecy in Luke 2:34. Simeon, with reference to Jesus, declares: “This child is destined to
cause the falling and rising of many in Israel.”
In short, John described the Spirit’s work, not as cleansing repentant individuals, but
rather as a blast of the “breath” of God that would sift the nation. Luke sees this prophecy, at
least with reference to the sifting work of the Spirit, fulfilled in the Spirit-inspired mission of
the church. The essential point for our purpose is that Luke presents the Spirit here, not as the
source of cleansing for the individual, but rather as the animating force behind the church’s
witness.
Jesus and the Spirit
Luke declares that the coming Spirit-baptiser was himself anointed with the Spirit (Luke
3:22; 4:18; Acts 10:38). This leads us to another question of central importance: what
significance does Luke attach to Jesus’ pneumatic anointing? How does Luke understand and
present this important event?
The description of Jesus’ pneumatic anointing accounts for only two sentences in Luke’s
Gospel (Luke 3:21-22). Fortunately, Luke has provided an extended commentary on the
significance of this event. This commentary is found in Luke’s account of Jesus’ sermon at
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Nazareth. This account is recorded in Luke 4:16-30, but I shall only quote the portion critical
for our task, vss. 17-19:
The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place
where it is written:
The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (Luke 4:17-19)
The significance of this passage is underscored by a comparison with Mark’s Gospel.
Luke normally follows Mark’s chronology of Jesus’ ministry very closely. But here, Luke
takes an event – Jesus’ ministry in Nazareth – which occurs in the middle of Mark’s Gospel
(Mk 6:1-6) and places it at the forefront of his description of Jesus’ ministry. Of course
Luke’s account of the Nazareth event is much fuller than Mark’s and includes details
important for Luke’s purposes. That these purposes include helping the reader understand the
significance of Jesus’ reception of the Spirit is confirmed, not only by the content of the
quotation from Isaiah 61:1-2 which we have just read (Luke 4:17-19), but also by the
references to the Spirit in Luke’s narrative which link the accounts of Jesus anointing (Luke
3:21-22) with his sermon at Nazareth (Luke 4:16-30). Luke reminds us in Luke 4:1 that Jesus
was “full of the Holy Spirit” as he entered into the desert of temptation. And he also affirms
that Jesus departed this desert experience “in the power of the Spirit” (Luke 4:14). With this
“redactional bridge,” Luke highlights the connection between Jesus’ pneumatic anointing and
his sermon at Nazareth. So, the sermon at Nazareth is important because it calls us to look
back – to look back and understand more fully the significance of Jesus’ reception of the
Spirit.
However, this passage also calls us to look forward. Luke crafts his narrative so that the
parallels between Jesus’ experience of the Spirit (Luke 3-4) and that of the disciples on the
day of Pentecost (Acts 1-2) cannot be missed. Both accounts:
1. Are placed at the outset of Luke’s gospel on the one hand, and the book of Acts on
the other.
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2. Associate the reception of the Spirit with prayer.
3. Record visible and audible manifestations.
4. Offer explanations of the event in the form of a sermon that alludes to the fulfilment
of OT prophecy.
In this way, Luke presents Jesus’ reception of the Spirit as a model for that of the
disciples in Acts and future generations of believers, including his own (see Luke 11:13 and
Acts 2:17).
It is evident, then, that this passage is crucial for understanding the significance of Jesus’
reception of the Spirit and that of the disciples in Acts. It thus also provides important
definition for Luke’s understanding of Spirit baptism. With this mind, let us address the
question at hand: What significance does Luke attach to Jesus’ pneumatic anointing? Luke’s
answer is unequivocal. The quotation from Isaiah, which plays such a prominent role in the
narrative, answers our question with precision: Jesus’ reception of the Spirit at the Jordan was
the means by which he was equipped to carry out his messianic mission. Furthermore, the
verbs in the text – “he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor….He has sent me to
proclaim freedom for the prisoners…to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” – highlight
proclamation, inspired speech, as the primary product of Jesus’ anointing. In short, Luke
presents Jesus’ reception of the Spirit at the Jordan as a prophetic anointing, the means by
which he was equipped to carry out his divinely appointed task.
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The Promise of the Father
Luke refers to “the promise” of the Spirit four times in close proximity (Luke 24:49; Acts
1:4; 2:33; 2:39). “The promise” is identified with the Pentecostal gift of the Spirit (2:33) and
explicitly defined: reception of “the promise” will result in the disciples being “clothed with
power from on high” and enable them to be effective “witnesses” (Luke 24:48-49; Acts 1:8).
Furthermore, for Luke “the promise” with reference to the Spirit refers to the gift of the Spirit
of prophecy promised in Joel 2:28-32. This is made clear through Luke’s citation of Joel 2:28-
32 in Acts 2:17-21, and further emphasized in his redactional introduction of the citation.
This introduction includes the phrase “God says” (Acts 2:17) and thus identifies the
prophecy of Joel as “the promise of the Father” – the full description of “the promise” in three
of the four Lukan references (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4; 2:33). In Joel’s prophecy the Spirit comes
as the source of prophetic inspiration, a point that Luke highlights by inserting the phrase
“and they will prophesy” (Acts 2:18) into the Greek text of Joel. Another alteration, Luke’s
transformation of Joel’s “slaves” into “servants of God” – accomplished by his double
insertion of “my” into Acts 2:18 – highlights what is implicit in the Joel text: the gift of the
Spirit is given only to those who are members of the community of salvation. Thus Luke’s
explicit definitions (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4-8) and his use of the Joel citation indicate that the
“promise” of the Spirit, initially fulfilled at Pentecost (Acts 2:4), enables the disciples to take
up their prophetic vocation to the world.
Although the Lukan “promise” of the Spirit must be interpreted in light of Joel’s promise
concerning the restoration of the Spirit of prophecy, Acts 2:39 does include an additional
element. The passage reads:
Peter replied, “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.
The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom
the Lord our God will call. (Acts 2:38-39)
In Acts 2:39 Luke extends the range of the promise envisioned to include the promise of
salvation offered in Joel 2:32 (as well as the promise of the Spirit of prophecy in Joel 2:28).
Acts 2:39 echoes the language of Joel 2:32/Acts 2:21: “everyone who calls on the name of the
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Lord will be saved.” In Acts 2:39 Luke extends the range of “the promise” to include this
salvific dimension because the audience addressed now includes non-believers.
Yet we must not miss the fact that “the promise” of Acts 2:39 embraces more than the
experience of conversion. Consistent with the other references to “the promise” (Luke 24:49,
Acts 1:4, and 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. The promise of
Acts 2:39, like the promise of Jesus in Acts 1:8, points beyond the restoration of the faithful
of Israel: salvation is offered (Joel 2:32), but the promise includes the renewal of Israel’s
prophetic vocation to be a light to the nations (Joel 2:28; cf. Isaiah 49:6 and Acts 1:8).
Some have criticized this approach, suggesting that we should read Luke’s earlier
references to the promise of the Spirit in light of the promise of salvation offered in Acts 2:39
(Dunn 1993:12, 21). Yet, as we have seen, Acts 2:39 does not indicate that the Spirit comes as
the source of new covenant existence. Rather it simply reminds us that the prophecy of Joel
2:28-32 includes two elements: the gift of the Spirit of prophecy (v. 28) and the offer of
salvation to those who call upon the name of the Lord (v. 32). Acts 2:39 refers to both, but
does not suggest the two are identical. Indeed, this sort of equation runs counter to Luke’s
explicit statements in Luke 24:49 and Acts 1:4-8, his use and redaction of the Joel citation in
Acts 2:17-18, and the broader context of his two-volume work. In particular, Luke’s
description of baptised believers (Acts 8:16) and disciples (Acts 19:2), all without the Spirit,
raises insurmountable problems for this position.
Of course it is possible to argue that Luke’s understanding of the promise of the Spirit –
clearly shaped by Joel 2:28-32 – was also informed by a number of other OT prophecies
regarding the Spirit’s eschatological role, especially Isaiah 44:3-5 and Ezekiel 36:26-27. Yet
this approach fails to examine how these Old Testament texts were interpreted in the Judaism
that gave rise to the Christianity Luke knew. We see, for example, that the transformation of
the heart referred to in Ezekiel 36:26-27 was viewed as a prerequisite for the eschatological
bestowal of the Spirit and that the rabbis interpreted Isaiah 44:3 as a reference to the
outpouring of the Spirit of prophecy on Israel. Rather than simply reading our own agenda
and exegesis into the first century setting, surely it is better to ask how those Jews closest in
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time to the early Christians understood the relevant texts and what significance they attached
to them.
This is particularly important at this point, for the eschatological outpouring of the Spirit
was generally interpreted in light of Joel 2:28-29 as a restoration of the Spirit of prophecy. By
way of contrast, Ezekiel 36:26-27 was usually interpreted as a prophecy concerning the endtime
removal of the evil “impulse,” and most frequently without reference to the activity of
the Spirit. Indeed, the eradication of the evil “impulse” was presented as a prerequisite for the
end-time bestowal of the Spirit of prophecy.10 This means that calls for us to interpret the
promise of the Spirit in light of a plethora of Old Testament texts conflict with the evidence
from early Jewish sources and Luke’s own hand. Luke, unlike Paul and John, cites none of
these other Old Testament texts. There simply is no evidence to support the notion that by
referring to Joel 2:28-32, Luke intended his readers to think of some commonly expected, allembracing
soteriological bestowal of the Spirit.
Should the collocation of repentance, baptism, and reception of the Spirit in Acts 2:38
cause us to reconsider these conclusions? I think not, for it tells us little about the nature of
the gift of the Spirit. While the collocation may indicate that for Luke the rite of water
baptism is normally accompanied by the bestowal of the Spirit, Luke’s usage elsewhere
suggests that even this conclusion may be overstating the case. There is certainly nothing in
the text which would suggest that the Spirit is presented here as the source of new covenant
existence. If it could be established that the text presupposes an inextricable bond between
water baptism and forgiveness of sins on the one hand and reception of the Spirit on the other,
then we would need to reconsider our position. However, this conclusion is clearly
unwarranted. Since Luke fails to develop a strong link between water baptism and the
bestowal of the Spirit elsewhere, and regularly separates the rite from the gift (Luke 3:21-22;
Acts 8:12-17; 9:17-18; 10:44; 18:24-25), the phrase “and you will receive the gift of the Holy
Spirit” in Acts 2:38 should be interpreted as a promise that the Spirit shall be “imparted to
those who are already converted and baptized” (Schweitzer 1968:412). In any case, the most
that can be gleaned from the text is that repentance and water baptism are the normal
prerequisites for reception of the Spirit, which is promised to every believer.
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In short, I believe it is prudent to interpret Acts 2:38-39 in the light of Luke’s explicit
testimony concerning the promise of the Spirit recorded in 24:49; Acts 1:4; and 2:17-18 – all
of which describe the pneumatic gift as a prophetic enabling for the missionary task. This
reading also fits nicely with Luke’s usage elsewhere, especially his otherwise problematic
description of baptised believers who have not received the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:4-17; cf.
18:24-19:7). Additionally, calls for us to interpret the promise of the Spirit against the
backdrop of a plethora of Old Testament texts, none of which are mentioned by Luke or
linked in the suggested manner with the Joel text by contemporary Jewish thinkers, must be
rejected. Again, wisdom dictates that we understand the promise of the Spirit against the
backdrop of the text which Luke does cite, Joel 2:28-32, and contemporary Jewish
expectations.
Summary
I have argued that Luke interprets the sifting and separating activity of the Spirit of which
John prophesied (Luke 3:16-17) to be accomplished in the Spirit-empowered mission of the
church. Thus, for Luke, John’s prophecy is initially fulfilled in the Pentecostal bestowal of the
Spirit. At Pentecost, the disciples are baptised in the Holy Spirit and thereby enabled to bear
bold witness for Jesus (Acts 1:8). In a broader sense, through the disciples’ Spirit-inspired
preaching, the entire nation is baptised in the Holy Spirit; for, through the preaching of Jesus
the people are sifted like the wind sifts the chaff from the grain (cf. Luke 2:34).
I have also asserted that the Spirit came upon Jesus at the Jordan in order to equip him for
his messianic task (Luke 3:22; 4:18-19). This is the unambiguous message of Jesus’ dramatic
sermon at Nazareth. The striking parallels between Jesus’ pneumatic anointing at the Jordan
and that of the disciples at Pentecost suggest that Luke interpreted the latter event in light of
the former: Pentecost was for the disciples what the Jordan was for Jesus. The logical
corollary is that at Pentecost the Spirit came upon the disciples in order to enable them to
fulfil their divinely appointed task.
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Finally, I have affirmed that for Luke the “promise” with reference to the Spirit (Luke
24:49; Acts 1:4, 2:33, 38-39) refers to the gift of the Spirit of prophecy promised by Joel. This
“promise,” initially fulfilled at Pentecost, enables the disciples to take up their prophetic
vocation to the world (Acts 1:8). The message is repeated for emphasis – it comes at the end
of his gospel (Luke 24:49) and at the beginning of his record of the mission of the early
church (Acts 1:4) – to insure that we will not miss it.
Indeed, the message that emerges from each of these texts is unified and clear. According
to Luke, the Spirit, understood to be the source of prophetic activity, came upon the disciples
at Pentecost in order to equip them for their prophetic vocation (i.e. for their role as
“witnesses”). This “baptism in the Holy Spirit” does not cleanse the disciples nor grant them a
new ability to keep the law; rather, this “baptism in the Holy Spirit” drives them forward in
the face of opposition and enables them to bear bold witness for Christ.
IMPLICATIONS FOR THE CHURCH TODAY
We are now able to draw out some of the implications for the contemporary church that
arise from Luke’s distinctive understanding of Spirit baptism. Let us begin by affirming what
Pentecostals and the Reformed tradition hold in common.
We can all agree that Calvin and the other great Reformed theologians have read Paul
well. Calvin correctly highlights the role of the Spirit in regeneration, in making the
sacraments effectual, in justification. The Holy Spirit is the great “inner teacher” who bears
witness in our hearts to the truth of the gospel. So, together, we affirm that every Christian
receives the life-giving and indwelling Spirit. There is no Christian without the Spirit; there is
no Christian existence apart from the Spirit’s work in our lives. Furthermore, we can also
agree that, in 1 Corinthians 12:13, Paul clearly refers to this salvific work of the Spirit as a
baptism in the Holy Spirit.
However, Pentecostals raise another important question: What is Luke’s contribution to
this discussion? Or, to put it another way, what is Luke’s understanding of baptism in the
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Holy Spirit? Pentecostals believe that there is more to be said on this matter than that which is
contained in the Pauline epistles. We affirm that Luke has a unique and special contribution to
make to a holistic biblical theology of the Spirit. We also believe that the clarity and vigour of
Luke’s contribution is lost when his narrative is read through Pauline lenses. Luke has a
distinctive voice and it is a voice the church needs to hear.
Luke’s understanding of baptism in the Holy Spirit, I have argued, is different from that
of Paul. It is missiological rather soteriological in nature. The Spirit of Pentecost is, in reality,
the Spirit for others – the Spirit that compels and empowers the church to bring the “good
news” of Jesus to a lost and dying world. It is this Lukan, missiological perspective that
shapes a Pentecostal understanding of baptism in the Holy Spirit. Of course Pentecostals
recognize that we must do justice to Paul’s soteriological contribution by emphasizing the
Spirit’s role in conversion, regeneration, and sanctification. Yet Pentecostals feel justified in
speaking of a baptism in the Spirit that is distinct from conversion, an anointing for service,
for we see this as accurately reflecting Luke’s terminology and theology.
Pentecostals, then, recognize that the New Testament speaks of two baptisms in the Spirit
– one that is soteriological and initiates the believer into the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13) and
one that is missiological and empowers the believer for service (Acts 1:8). However,
Pentecostals feel that it is particularly appropriate to adopt Luke’s language and speak of the
Pentecostal gift as a “baptism in the Holy Spirit.” After all, this baptism in the Holy Spirit is
promised to every believer, to all of the servants of God (Acts 2:18). And Luke uses the
phrase on three occasions, Paul only once. Pentecostals also fear that if Paul’s language is
employed and the gift of the Spirit received at conversion is designated “the baptism in the
Holy Spirit,” then a proper understanding of the Pentecostal gift will be lost.
The tendency in Protestant churches has been to read Luke in the light of Paul. Paul
addresses pastoral concerns in the church; Luke writes a missionary manifesto. Perhaps this
explains why Protestant discussions of the Spirit have centred more on his work in the Word
and sacraments, the “inner witness” of the Spirit, and less on his mission to the world. As we
have noted, Reformed theologians tend to associate the Pentecostal gift with conversion and
regeneration, which effectively blunts the sharpness of Luke’s message. When the Pentecostal
gift of the Spirit is understood in soteriological terms, Luke’s missiological focus and our
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expectation of it is lost. For it is always possible to argue, as many do, that while all
experience the soteriological dimension of the Pentecostal gift at conversion, only a select few
receive gifts of missiological power. Yet Luke calls us to remember that the church (every
member, not just the clergy!), by virtue of its reception of the Pentecostal gift, is a prophetic
community empowered for a missionary task.
CONCLUSION
I would like to conclude by noting one important link to the Pentecostal understanding of
Spirit baptism within the Reformed tradition. It is found in the writings of the first great
Reformed theologian, Ulrich Zwingli. In his Commentary on True and False Religion,
Zwingli refers to two baptisms of the Holy Spirit. Zwingli writes:
The baptism of the Holy Spirit, then, is twofold. First, there is the baptism by which
all are flooded within who trust in Christ….Second, there is the external baptism of
the Holy Spirit, just as there is the baptism of water. Drenched with this, pious men
once began at once to speak in foreign tongues [Acts 2:4-11]….this latter baptism of
the Holy Spirit is not necessary, but the former is so very necessary that no one can
be saved without it….Now we are not all imbued with the sign of tongues, but all of
us who are pious have been made faithful by the enlightenment and drawing of the
Holy Spirit (Zwingli 1981:187-188).
Zwingli did not elaborate further on his understanding of two baptisms of the Spirit, but
his perspective on Pentecost appears to be quite similar to what I have already outlined.
The Reformed tradition has made great contributions to the modern Pentecostal
movement. Chief among them is its call to recognize the progressive nature of the sanctifying
work of the Spirit in the life of the believer. Reformed theologians have correctly encouraged
Pentecostals to acknowledge that power and purity are not necessarily linked. Reception of
Pentecostal power is no guarantee of spiritual maturity. Regrettably, we Pentecostals often
have been slow to acknowledge this truth. But this important legacy of the Reformed
tradition is there, nonetheless. Perhaps by stimulating Reformed scholars to take a fresh look
at Zwingli and Luke’s writings, the Pentecostal movement can pay back a bit of the enormous
debt it owes.
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ENDNOTES
1 All references to Calvin’s Institutes are from Calvin 1960. See also Institutes, 4.16.25.
2 I am indebted to Frank Macchia for his helpful comments on Barth and H. Berkhof.
3 All quotations from the Bible are taken from the NIV unless otherwise stated.
4 I also argue that John’s Gospel supports my development thesis. See Menzies 2004:41-52.
5 See also the sources cited in Menzies 1991:18-28.
6 See Menzies 1991 and the slightly revised version Menzies 1994. See also Menzies/Menzies 2000.
7 I have also observed that the traditions of the primitive church utilized by Paul fail to attribute soteriological
functions to the Spirit. See Menzies 1991:282-315.
8 This is the dominant perspective. The only exceptions are found in sapiential writings and exceedingly rare.
9 This passage is echoed in 1 Enoch 62:2 and 1QSb 5:24-25.
10 For further discussion of these points and the relevant Jewish texts see Menzies 1991:52-112, esp. 104-11.
Calvin, J. (1960) Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2 vols. Trans. by F. L. Battles and ed. by
J. T. McNeill. Library of Christian Classics 20; Philadelphia: Westminster Press.
Council of the Assemblies of God (1991) Minutes of the 44th Session of the General Council
of the Assemblies of God (August 6-11). Portland.
Dunn, J. (1970) Baptism in the Holy Spirit. London: SCM Press.
(1993) Baptism in the Spirit: A Response to Pentecostal Scholarship. Journal
of Pentecostal Theology 3.
Gunkel, H. (1979) The Influence of the Holy Spirit: The Popular View of the Apostolic Age
and the Teaching of the Apostle Paul. Trans. R.A. Harrisville and P.A. Quanbeck II.
Philadelphia: Fortress Press.
Haya-Prats, G. (1975) L’Esprit force de l’église: Sa nature et son activité d’ après les Actes
des Apôtres. Trans. J. Romero. Paris: Cerf.
Jenkins, P. (2002) The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity. Oxford:
Oxford University Press.
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Macchia, F. D. (2004) ‘Astonished by Faithfulness to God: A Reflection on Karl Barth’s
Understanding of Spirit Baptism.’ In: W. Ma and R. Menzies (eds.), The Spirit and
Spirituality: Essays in Honour of Russell P. Spittler. London: T& T Clark International.
Menzies, R. P (1994) Empowered for Witness: The Spirit in Luke-Acts. JPTSS 6; Sheffield:
Sheffield Academic Press.
(2004) ‘John’s Place in the Development of Early Christian Pneumatology.’ In:
W. Ma and R. Menzies (eds.), The Spirit and Spirituality: Essays in Honour of Russell P.
Spittler. London: T& T Clark International.
(1991) The Development of Early Christian Pneumatology with Special
Reference to Luke-Acts. JSNTS 54; Sheffield: JSPT Press.
Menzies, W. W.; Menzies, R. P. (2000) Spirit and Power: Foundations of Pentecostal
Experience. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
Schweitzer, E. (1968) Art. Pneuma. In: TDNT, 6. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
Zwingli, U (1981) Commentary on True and False Religion. Ed. by S.M. Jackson and C.N.
Heller. Durham, N.C.: The Labyrinth Press.
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