Paul’s journey to Corinth – Acts 18 & 19

Continuing my reading through the book of Acts, I find Paul’s journey to be full of the similar stories. Paul would escape riots and persecution in one town, then move on to the next. When Paul gets to Corinth, however, Paul is instructed to stay a while (from chapter 18):

9 One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. 10 For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.” 11 So Paul stayed for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God.

In chapter 19, I find an interesting passage that is full of wonderful controversy. It is passages like this that make me dig and study – because upon first read, my mind is filled with questions. First, the passage:

1 While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples 2 and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”

3 So Paul asked, “Then what baptism did you receive?” “John’s baptism,” they replied.

4 Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” 5 On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. 7 There were about twelve men in all.

There is a huge volume of discussion on what exactly happened here in Acts 19. I read Calvin, Wesley, Gill and Matthew Henry. In a nutshell, here’s the situation: The writer says Paul found some “disciples”. This indicates these Ephesians were already Christians. Yet, Paul noticed something in them that made him start asking questions as to their baptism.

Are there two types of baptism, one from John and the other of Jesus Christ? Does the baptism of Jesus make null and void the baptism of John? Where these Ephesians actually disciples of John, not Jesus, so they weren’t really Christians? Are there two times when we receive the Holy Spirit – once at our profession of faith and our repentance from sin (gift of grace from repentance from sins); and another when we receive what some call “the baptism of the Holy Spirit” (extraordinary gifts of the Holy Spirit)?

I was drawn to what Matthew Henry says in his commentary:

Paul, at Ephesus, found some religious persons, who looked to Jesus as the Messiah. They had not been led to expect the miraculous powers of the Holy Ghost, nor were they informed that the gospel was especially the ministration of the Spirit. But they spake as ready to welcome the notice of it. Paul shows them that John never designed that those he baptized should rest there, but told them that they should believe on Him who should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus. They thankfully accepted the discovery, and were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. The Holy Ghost came upon them in a surprising, overpowering manner; they spake with tongues, and prophesied, as the apostles and the first Gentile coverts did. Though we do not now expect miraculous powers, yet all who profess to be disciples of Christ, should be called on to examine whether they have received the seal of the Holy Ghost, in his sanctifying influences, to the sincerity of their faith. Many seem not to have heard that there is a Holy Ghost, and many deem all that is spoken concerning his graces and comforts, to be delusion. Of such it may properly be inquired, “Unto what, then, were ye baptized?” for they evidently know not the meaning of that outward sign on which they place great dependence.

What have we come to expect of the Holy Spirit? Is there more? Are we content to rest on the grace of God through His gift of salvation, or are we called to pursue the gifts of the Holy Spirit?

grace & peace,
e

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