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Dr. J. Rodman Williams
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A Theological Pilgrimage: Chapter 16

By Dr. J. Rodman Williams

Chapters: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | Conclusion
Preface | Abbreviations | Bibliography

Chapter Sixteen


The question of "The Role of the Holy Spirit in the Interpretation of Scriptures"-the overall conference theme-has been particularized for this session as to what sort of activity of the Holy Spirit should we expect in regard to interpreting Scripture? I was invited to speak as a charismatic theologian, hence presumably my answer would reflect a charismatic stance and therefore be subject to debate.1

Let me describe first what I take to be an essential point of agreement in answer to the general theme of the role of the Holy Spirit in interpreting Scripture, namely illumination. When all has been said and done about proper exegesis, there still remains the need for the illumination of the Holy Spirit. What is meant by illumination? One very helpful statement, I find, is that by Millard J. Erickson: "The role of the Spirit in to convey insight into the meaning of the text. Illumination does not involve the communication of new information, but a deeper understanding of the meaning that is there."2 "Deeper understanding" not "new information" is the result of the Spirit's illumination.

Now I would like to pursue the matter of illumination further by speaking of engagement. Here I believe we all stand on the same ground, namely that without personal engagement in many areas there can be little or no illumination.

Let me take as a prime example a deeper understanding of the kingdom of God. In the Synoptics there are many teachings and parables about the kingdom of God that rightly call for careful study- -comparison, correlation, critical analysis, and the like. However, something vital is lacking unless we also appropriate the words of Jesus in the Gospel of John: "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God"3 (3:3). No matter how much one may study about the kingdom of God, there can be no seeing, hence no understanding in a deeper sense, without a new birth. Jesus spoke elsewhere of the inability to see- -"while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand" (Matt. 13:13). In the Gospel of John Jesus makes it clear that the only way to see truly is through being a born again person. Further, this can happen only by entrance into that kingdom through the agency of the Holy Spirit. So His continuing words, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God" (John 3:5). By being born again, or regenerated, one is then in the kingdom and can for the first time truly ("truly, truly") see and understand.

Thus there needs to be a radical engagement by the Holy Spirit resulting in new birth for there to be true perception of the kingdom of God. No matter how much we may read about the kingdom, even ponder Jesus' own parables in the Synoptics- -as important as all this is- -there can be no deep understanding without a rebirth by the Holy Spirit. The best exegesis possible of the kingdom can gain no depth perception unless we have been radically engaged by the Holy Spirit. A deeper illumination of texts relating to the kingdom of God calls for participation in that kingdom. Who of us would trust the final word in such exegesis to an unregenerated person?

This does not mean that as a result of regeneration one may simply lay aside careful study of Scripture about the kingdom of God. Indeed, this has far too often happened with shoddy exegesis and personal biases becoming dominant. Thus it is urgent that there be the constant and normative guidelines of Scripture through which spiritual understanding is channeled. There should be no imparting of a new and different meaning to the biblical text. Rather through spiritual engagement- -rebirth by the Holy Spirit- -there should be deeper understanding of what already is there.

Basically, what is called for is an ongoing interaction between the biblical text and spiritual experience. Scripture must be the external norm with which spiritual experience must be in harmony. In turn, a valid spiritual experience will surely throw further light on the biblical record. But the core of depth understanding is engagement by the Holy Spirit.

Incidentally, the same thing could be said for the work of the Holy Spirit not only in regeneration but also in sanctification. There needs to be as careful and accurate reading as possible of the biblical texts that relate to sanctification but also an ongoing personal engagement by the Holy Spirit. For example, Paul's injunction of "Do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit" (Rom. 8:4) must be lived out not only for growth in holiness but also for deeper understanding of the meaning of sanctification. There must be engagement by the Holy Spirit.

Now let us move to charismatic theology and note its particular emphases. They are basically two: Pentecost is viewed as a continuing event and spiritual gifts are said to be valid for today. For the purpose of this dialogue I will consider only the claim to contemporary Pentecostal experience.4

The biblical record of Pentecost in Acts actually contains two main events: first, the Spirit's coming with the result that the disciples of Jesus were filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke in other tongues (2:1-21); second, the preaching of the gospel with thousands coming to salvation (2:22-41). Charismatics,5 along with other evangelicals, lay strong emphasis on the ongoing proclamation of the saving message. In that sense what happened at Pentecost surely continues. But charismatics further affirm that the Pentecostal filling also continues to take place. Moreover they claim that this event has been confirmed in their own life and experience. There has been a personal engagement of the Spirit's coming and filling accompanied by speaking in tongues.6 Further, because of this engagement, charismatics hold, there is a deeper understanding of the primary Pentecostal event.7

This claim sometimes encounters the criticism that charismatics exegete their own experience rather than the Scripture. The objectivity of the biblical norm presumably is biased by the subjectivity of personal experience. In reply, subjectivity is surely always a danger and must be guarded against; however, there is also the danger of exegesis without experience of the biblical reality thereby resulting in serious lack of understanding or even misunderstanding. Recall our previous discussion of the kingdom of God.

Still the critic has every right to challenge charismatics at the point of Scriptural integrity. What do the Scriptures say?

Let us turn to the biblical record. Long before Pentecost the Scriptures record the Spirit 's coming upon individuals to enable them to fulfill certain tasks: for example, an artisan for the building of the tabernacle (Ex. 31:3), a judge or a king for the ruling of Israel (e.g., Judg. 3:10; 1 Sam. 16:13), a prophet for the speaking of God's word (e.g., Mic. 3:8). At times the Spirit came "mightily" upon a man for the performing of prodigious feats (e.g., Judg. 14:6), sometimes upon one so that he prophesied day and night (1 Sam. 19:24), sometimes even carrying a person bodily from one place to another (1 Kings 18:12).

Nowhere in the Old Testament is the Spirit said to be given to the people as a whole; however, the hope is held out that this will someday occur. Moses expressed a deep yearning that all God's people might be prophets ("Would that all the LORD's people were prophets, that the LORD would put His Spirit upon them!" Num. 11:29), and Joel prophesied that the time will come when God will pour out His Spirit on all mankind (Joel 2:28).

In the New Testament there is a kind of step-by-step unfolding of fulfillment. First, certain persons, prior to Jesus' ministry, continued the Old Testament line of individuals occasionally anointed by the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:41-42, 67-68; 2:25-32); upon them the divine Spirit came for prophetic utterance. Second, John the Baptist is said to "be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth" (Luke 1:15 NIV), for the lifelong purpose of preparing the way for Christ. John moved "in the spirit and power of Elijah" (Luke 1:17), and the divine fervor was such as to set fires of repentance burning in the hearts and lives of those who heard him. Third, Jesus upon His baptism at Jordan received the anointing of God's Spirit (Luke 3:22, 4:1), and the Spirit is said to "come down and remain" (John 1:33 NIV), thus a continuing endowment. According to one account, just following Jesus' baptism, the Holy Spirit "immediately drove him out into the wilderness" (Mark 1:12 RSV), thus the picture of a divine energy that mightily propels and directs. Thereafter He began His prophetic ministry with the words, "The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, because he anointed Me to preach the gospel" (Luke 4:18). At one point Jesus declared that the "heavenly Father [would] give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him" (Luke 11:13).8 Toward the end of Jesus' ministry He spoke of the coming power of the Spirit with which the disciples will later be endowed (Luke 24:49).

Pentecost was therefore the climax to which preceding events pointed. It was an outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the community of faith long ago prophesied by Joel: "This is what was spoken of through the prophet Joel...I will pour forth of My Spirit upon all mankind" (Acts 2:16-17). Pentecost was also a baptism with the Holy Spirit. Jesus had said, "You shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now" (1:5). Further, the Pentecostal event, as had nothing before, related to the exalted and glorified Christ: In Peter's words, "He [Christ] has poured forth this which you both see and hear" (2:33). This event occurred to the disciples of Jesus, to those who believed in Him, with a Spirit filling of such intensity that the disciples began speaking in other tongues. Thereby they were declaring "the wonderful works of God" (2:11 KJV). This was evidently done with such exuberance that some mockingly said that the disciples were drunk: "full of new wine" (v. 13 KJV).9 The purpose of this outpouring was power for ministry: "You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth" (1:8). Pentecost was both a climactic and a future oriented event.

Now we come back to the charismatic testimony, namely that they too have shared in the Pentecostal event. Of course, the original Pentecost historically has happened. The claim rather is that Pentecost has basically recurred in their lives in that they too have been filled with the Spirit, spoken in other tongues, and been given fresh power for witness in word and deed.

This brings us back to the objectivity/subjectivity question. Charismatics believe that their experience not only confirms the Scripture but also through the engagement of the Holy Spirit sheds further light upon it. Only a participant in the Pentecostal event can fully understand its meaning and significance. On the other hand, the criticism may again be raised in regard to charismatic testimony that it is a subjective reading of Scripture. For was not Pentecost unique in that it was the event of the long promised outpouring of the Holy Spirit? This event, along with speaking in other tongues, should not be expected to happen again.

Let us return again to the record in Acts. Does the biblical text suggest continuation of the primary Pentecostal event? First, we observe some words of Peter spoken on the Day of Pentecost about the promise of the Spirit. Peter had finished his message which consisted of two parts, the first an explanation that what had just happened to him and the other gathered disciples was the fulfillment of Joel's promise (Acts 2:14-21), and the second the proclamation of the death and resurrection of Christ (vv. 22-36). Then Peter declared, "Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children, and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God shall call to Himself" (vv. 38-39). The word "promise" refers to "the promise of the Holy Spirit," for Peter shortly before had spoken about Christ thus: "Having been exalted to the right hand of the Father, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth this which you both see and hear" (v. 33). Thus the promise of the gift of the Spirit is not the promise of salvation (which relates to repentance and baptism) but the promise of the same Spirit of power that the disciples had received.10 Further, according to Peter, the promise will reach out to those "far off" in both time and space,11 to all whom God "calls to Himself," that is to salvation. Thus while the event of the Spirit at Pentecost in Jerusalem was an historical first, it was only the beginning of the fulfillment of God's promise: the gift of the Spirit would continue through the generations.12

The second reason for viewing the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost as a continuing event is the further record in the Book of Acts. Particularly outstanding is the narrative in Acts 10 and 11 about the centurion Cornelius, relatives and friends in Caesarea, who while Peter was preaching the gospel also experienced an outpouring of the Holy Spirit accompanied likewise by speaking in tongues: "The gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out upon the Gentiles also. For they [Peter and those with him] were hearing them speaking with tongues and exalting God" (10:45-46). Peter later emphasized that this event of the Spirit was identical with what had happened to himself and others at Pentecost. Seeking to justify his action of preaching to the Gentiles, Peter declared: "As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them, just as He did upon us at the beginning....If God therefore gave to them the same gift as He gave to us after believing13 in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to stand in God's way?" (11:15, 17). The Pentecostal event of the Spirit had occurred again.

Under the impact of the Holy Spirit the Gentiles likewise spoke in tongues. Since the gift of the Spirit was the same as "at the beginning," the tongues must likewise have been the same in essence. Since at the original Pentecost the disciples were speaking "the wonderful works of God" in tongues and in Caesarea were "speaking with tongues and exalting God," they both were undoubtedly a speaking of praise to God.14

Other Acts accounts likewise depict Pentecost as a continuing event. In Samaria Philip had preached the gospel with the result that many "believed Philip" and were baptized (8:12). Peter and John some days later "came down [from Jerusalem] and prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Spirit" (vv. 15-16). Thereafter the apostles' hands were laid and the Spirit "was bestowed" (v. 18). The words following about Simon the magician seem to imply that the Samaritans then spoke with tongues.15 In Ephesus Paul led some twelve men to faith in Christ- -"to believe in Him" (19:4)- -and baptized them. Thereafter "when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking with tongues and prophesying" (v. 6).

Thus we see that Pentecost was a continuing event. The promise of the Spirit was proclaimed by Peter as given to all generations, and in demonstration there was an ever widening circle of fulfillment in the Book of Acts. Since no limits have been set, the promise surely continues in our time.

Now let me summarize some of the biblical data.

1. The Spirit was given for enablement. In the Old Testament the Spirit brought additional wisdom and power for fulfilling certain tasks. The Spirit came upon Jesus to enable the fulfillment of His ministry. The disciples at Pentecost upon whom the Spirit was poured out were enabled thereby to carry forward the mission of the gospel. The texts in Acts further imply that the Samaritans, Caesareans, and Ephesians by the gift of the Spirit were included in the ever enlarging circle of those called likewise to be witnesses of Christ.

2. The Spirit was not given for either salvation or sanctification. This is obviously the case in the line of anointings through John the Baptist, and surely true for Jesus who needed neither salvation nor sanctification. The disciples at Pentecost were already believers when the Spirit was poured out. The Samaritans had come to faith and baptism before the Spirit was bestowed,16 and like the Ephesians received the Holy Spirit thereafter with the laying on of hands. Although the Holy Spirit was outpoured while Peter was preaching the gospel to the Caesareans, the context suggests that it was for the further outreach of the gospel.17 Acts has little to say about the activity of the Holy Spirit in the occurrence of salvation because the focus of the book is on the role of the Holy Spirit in the outreach of the gospel and the empowering of its messengers.18 This is a marked difference, for example, from the letters of Paul in which much attention is given to the Holy Spirit's activity in the Christian life.

3. There is an ongoing concern in Acts that believers receive (the gift of) the Holy Spirit. Although God sovereignly poured out His Spirit in Jerusalem and Caesarea without a human medium, Peter and John in Samaria and Paul in Ephesus laid hands for the reception of the Holy Spirit. Paul's concern is particularly shown in that he earlier asked the Ephesians, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?"19 (Acts 19:2). Paul's question implies the possibility that believers may not yet have received the Holy Spirit (recall, for example, the Samaritans). Since it turns out that the Ephesians' knowledge of the Holy Spirit was lacking and they have only known the baptism of John, Paul led them to faith in Christ and afterwards laid hands on them to receive the Holy Spirit. Believing was primary, but receiving was also important.

4. In the Book of Acts it is apparent that the gift of the Holy Spirit occurred both subsequent to and coincident with initial faith. In regard to subsequence, the Holy Spirit "filled" some 120 waiting believers, fell upon the Samaritans some time after they had believed and been baptized, and came upon the Ephesians following their faith, baptism, and laying on of hands. In regard to coincidence, the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the Caesareans while Peter was proclaiming salvation in Christ. In light particularly of the incidents of sequence, the important matter is both the non-identity of salvation and the coming of the Spirit, and that there was often a separation in time between the two events.

5. Speaking in tongues is specifically said to have occurred in Jerusalem, Caesarea, and Ephesus. It is also implied (as noted) in Samaria. Thus speaking in tongues, according to Acts, may be called the normal or usual accompaniment of receiving the Pentecostal gift of the Spirit. Moreover, it also is apparent that tongues was both the primary activity and the initial evidence of the reception of the Spirit.20 In each case the first thing that happened was speaking in tongues- - tongues and preaching (Jerusalem), tongues and exalting God (Caesarea), tongues and prophesying (Ephesus). In regard to initial evidence the clearest statement regards the Caesareans. Just after the words "the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also," the text adds, "For they were hearing them speaking with tongues and exalting God" (Acts 10:45-46).21

6. Prayer and sometimes laying on of hands often provided the context for the Holy Spirit to be received. Jesus Himself was praying immediately prior to the Spirit coming upon Him: "While He was praying, heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him" (Luke 3:21-22). The disciples in Jerusalem prior to Pentecost were "continually devoting themselves to prayer" (Acts 1:14); the centurion in Caesarea before the outpouring of the Holy Spirit was one who "prayed to God continually" (10:2); Peter and John "came down and prayed for them [the Samaritans]," and afterward "began laying their hands on them, and they were receiving the Holy Spirit" (8:15, 17); "Paul laid his hands upon them [the Ephesians]" (19:6). In regard to prayer this may point to asking for the gift of the Holy Spirit in accordance with Jesus' words: "If you...know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?" (Luke 11:13).

What I have done in the preceding paragraphs is to seek to present the biblical data as objectively as possible. If and where there is error, it should be pointed out. Charismatic experience, to repeat my earlier words, must stand wholly under the biblical norm. If that is the case, I am convinced there will be vindication. With the engagement of the Holy Spirit there then occurs a deeper understanding of the inscripturated word.

In some evangelical circles objection is raised not so much from an exegetical base as from the use of Acts as a guideline for contemporary experience. For example, one writer's view is that Acts is a transitional book "from law to grace" and thus "the transitions [i.e., Jerusalem, Caesarea, etc.] it records are never to be repeated."22 Another somewhat similar viewpoint is that since Acts is historical narrative and the Epistles didactic material "the revelation of the purposes of God should be sought primarily in its didactic rather than its descriptive parts....what is described as having happened to others is not necessarily intended for us."23 Such viewpoints as "transitional" and "descriptive" only avoid the necessity of coming to terms with Acts and its own particular importance for us in our time.

Persons of charismatic experience find such attitudes about Acts very strange. Unlike those who stand at a distance from the Acts narratives, charismatics feel much at home. They claim that the promise of the gift of the Holy Spirit has been actualized in their own lives. Often it has occurred, they say, against the background of much prayer, and sometimes the laying on of hands: thus was the gift received. The usual testimony adds that they too have spoken in tongues and thereby glorified God. In most cases they were already believers, and they claim that the gift of the Holy Spirit further equipped them for ministering the gospel. For charismatics, the Holy Spirit has engaged them personally in such a way as to give vital understanding of and resonance with the biblical record.

Incidentally, I sometimes wonder about non-charismatic critics. What can they really say to the millions of Christians who claim to a continuing Pentecost in their lives? Are they all misguided? Are they guilty of scriptural distortion? What about the testimony to a speaking in tongues that again and again accompanies their experience? Are they all deluded? Is it possible that charismatics are on a genuine biblical track which has been confirmed in their lives? Could it be that many critics are not able to really cope with basic charismatic issues because of lack of engagement in their own lives?

Perhaps a word of personal testimony is in order. Prior to my own charismatic experience I was quite negative about the whole matter. I did sense among many charismatics a certain vitality and enthusiasm, but was it- -whatever they had- -biblical? Soon two passages of Scripture began to stand out for me: Acts 2:39 and Luke 11:13. In the former (as earlier noted) Peter declared that the gift of the Holy Spirit would be available to all generations thereafter. What was that gift? For a time I identified it with salvation,24 but exegetically came more and more to question this interpretation. For it seemed to refer to what Peter and the other disciples had been promised and received- -and that was hardly salvation. Still even if it was a distinct promise to those who believed, did not the gift come automatically along with salvation? Had I not therefore already received this gift? Reading then with more determination than ever, and noting that the gift often occurred to believers and that prayer was frequently the context, I wondered all the more. Incidentally, the matter of speaking in tongues was totally beyond my comprehension.

What turned the tide for me was my going back prior to Acts to Luke 11:13, Jesus' words about the gift of the Holy Spirit (as earlier quoted): "If you...know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?" Ah, there was the same promise of the gift of the Spirit to God's children, but with all emphasis on asking for the gift- -indeed asking, seeking, knocking (previous words of Jesus). Continuing prayer! This made me reflect on Jesus' own praying prior to the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Him, the disciples constantly devoting themselves to prayer before they received the promised gift, the Roman centurion who prayed continually to God prior to the Spirit's being poured out- -on and on. God, the heavenly Father, sovereignly gives, but not without the sincere praying of His children.25 So not quite knowing what to expect, I entered into earnest prayer for the gift of the Holy Spirit. Then suddenly it happened- -the coming of a personal presence and power that led me immediately to praise and glorify God. Ordinary language no longer sufficing, I was soon speaking in another language as the exaltation of God went on and on. It seemed like Pentecost all over again- -and as if I were with the early disciples declaring the "wonderful works of God." As a result I found myself more fully endowed to bear witness to God's truth.

But this is enough personal testimony. Against the background of the Scriptural record I am convinced that the charismatic experience of many has confirmed and illuminated the biblical text. There has been the engagement of the Spirit of such a kind as to make the Acts narratives vividly contemporaneous. It has- -and this is critical- -happened with untold numbers of people.


It may be objected that my paper scripturally has been almost exclusively devoted in the New Testament to the Lukan material: the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts. This has been done in part because I am convinced that theological reflection, exegetical study, and personal experience have not sufficiently come to terms with Luke's distinctive charismatic emphases.26 Especially is this true of the Book of Acts.

This paper by no means intends to suggest a canon within the canon: Lukan theology and experience over against the rest of the New Testament. Indeed, we need all the biblical record for a fully rounded picture of truth. However, it is a fact that in Luke-Acts- -especially Acts- -is to be found the scriptural data relating to the empowering of the witness in various stages. Paul, for example, writes to churches already founded by that witness (especially by Paul himself27), and so focuses on the way of Christian living. None of the New Testament letters are missionary oriented as is Acts. Nor is Luke concerned about such pneumatological matters as life in the Spirit, sanctification, the inner assurance of the Spirit, and so forth. It is apparent that we need Luke and Paul for both the missiological and ecclesiological New Testament emphases.

It is important to recognize two basic operations of the Holy Spirit: the Spirit upon (or on) persons for outward witness and the Spirit within (or in) people for inner character. As earlier noted, there is an Old Testament line- -we may call it "charismatic"- -that extends all the way to the ministry of Jesus Himself ("the Spirit of the Lord is upon me") and reaches a zenith at Pentecost (where Jesus' words were fulfilled- -"the Holy Spirit will come upon you) in such measure as to be an outpouring, and continuing beyond Pentecost to other communities of Christians (recall, e.g., Ephesus- -the Spirit came on the twelve disciples). In Acts, however, there is no reference to any interior work of the Spirit. The New Testament letters deal largely with the Spirit within- -for example, "the Holy Spirit who dwells in us" (2 Tim. 1:14). By the Spirit within we are no longer "in the flesh" ("you are not in the flesh...if indeed the Spirit of the Lord dwells in you"- -Rom. 8:9), the same "Spirit who indwells" will some day give life to our mortal bodies (v. 11), by the Spirit we may "put to death the deeds of the body" (v. 13)- -on and on. Also to be noted is the fruit of the indwelling Spirit, namely, "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control" (Gal. 5:22). Truly, "the Spirit upon" and "the Spirit within" are both vital operations of the Holy Spirit.

What charismatics attest is that "the Spirit upon" is a distinctive operation of the Holy Spirit, hence not to be identified with "the Spirit within." It is the coming of the Holy Spirit upon people of faith with such explosive force as to cause a breaking forth in pneumatic speech and in powerful expression of the gospel. This operation of the Spirit is not to be assumed because the Spirit is already at work within a community or person; it is rather a unique operation that presupposes saving faith.

Charismatics, it should be added, do not claim that by virtue of their Pentecostal experience that they alone are able to bear witness to the gospel. All true believers by virtue of the Spirit's indwelling reality can surely and effectively attest to the gospel. Pentecost rather represents an additional infusion of power that makes still more effective the witness in word and deed.28 It is a filling with the same Spirit who dwells within.

Nor does the event of Pentecost create a superior class of Christians. All believers by grace stand on the same level. Thus Pentecost is not a "second work of grace," for all have received "grace upon grace" (John 1:16). Rather Pentecost is a release of "power from on high" (Luke 24:49) that enables believers to be more effective witnesses to the gospel. Unlike the grace of salvation which is self oriented, the Pentecostal experience is wholly other-directed. Pentecost is not for salvation but for service. It is not a graduation to a super-spirituality but a release of power for the missionary challenge.


1Since this address was given at a meeting of the largely non-charismatic Evangelical Theological Society, debate was to be expected.

2In Evangelical Interpretation: Perspectives on Hermeneutical Issues (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993), 54.

3NASB here and throughout unless otherwise noted.

4This paper, accordingly, is not a study of the relationship of the Holy Spirit to various and sundry biblical texts. My focus is one thing only, namely, Scripture that relates to the basic Pentecostal experience. Another paper might well deal with charismatic understanding of such texts as Romans 15:18-19; 1 Corinthians 2:1-4; Ephesians 5:18-20; Colossians 3:10-17; 1 Thessalonians 5:19-20; Hebrews 6:1-2; 1 John 2:20-21, 26-27. 1 Corinthians 12-14 of course would call for special attention. (For an extended study of the spiritual gifts, see my Renewal Theology, vol. 2 [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990] , 323-409.)

5By "charismatics" I refer to those in the mainline churches who claim contemporary Pentecostal experience. "Pentecostals," sometimes called "classical Pentecostals," while sharing the same experience, ordinarily refers to denominational Pentecostals. I write as one standing within the Reformed tradition.

6Some charismatics would say, "often accompanied by speaking in tongues."

7References to Pentecost hereafter will relate to this primary event.

8The parallel passage in Matthew 7:11, instead of "the Holy Spirit," reads as "good things" (KJV), agatha.

9F. F. Bruce refers to this as "words spoken by the disciples in their divine ecstasy," The Book of the Acts, NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988), 52.

10William Neil describes the gift of the Spirit as the "gift of the new power which Peter's audience has seen at work in the Pentecostal experience of the Apostles and Peter's associates," The Acts of the Apostles, NCBC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1981), 79. Eduard Schweizer writes that in Acts " never ascribed to the Spirit. According to Ac. 2:38 the Spirit is imparted to those who are already converted and baptized," TDNT, article on pneuma, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1968), 6:412. Kirsopp Lake states that in the various Acts passages that deal with the gift of the Spirit "there is no suggestion of regeneration by the Spirit, or of the view that salvation depends on it," Beginnings of Christianity, The Acts of the Apostles, eds. Frederick J. Foakes-Jackson and Kirsopp Lake (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1979), 5:109.

11"Far off" is a translation of eis makran. Makran is used of "both place and time," TDNT 4:372.

12"Ac 2:39 probably refers to future generations," BAGD, makran (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1979), 487.

13"After believing," the NASB translation of the Greek aorist participle pisteusasin, expresses antecedent action. NIV and KJV read "who believed." J. D. G. Dunn states that "the aorist participle does in fact usually express antecedent action," Baptism in the Holy Spirit (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1970), 159. According to Ernest DeWitt Burton, "the aorist participle is most frequently used of an action antecedent in time to the action of the principal verb," (Syntax of the Moods and Tenses in New Testament Greek (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1898), 63. The aorist participle may also express coincident action. If so, the translation above would read (as in the RSV) "when we believed." In Dunn's continuing words, "it is the context, not the grammatical form, which determines this." I would urge that the context here clearly points to antecedent action (as in NASB, NIV, and KJV).

14I. Howard Marshall writes: "Just as the Jewish believers had received the Spirit and praised God in other tongues on the day of Pentecost, so now these Gentiles received the identical gift of God," The Acts of the Apostles, TNTC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980), 194.

15Both the word structure and context suggest tongues. Simon the magician seeing [idon] that "the Spirit was bestowed through the laying on of the apostles' hands" (v. 18). Regarding word structure, A. T. Robertson states that the participle [idon] shows plainly that those who received the gift of the Holy Spirit spoke with tongues," Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville: Broadman, 1930-33), 3:107. Concerning context F. F. Bruce states that "the context leaves us in no doubt that their [the Samaritans'] reception of the Spirit was attended by external manifestations such as had marked His descent on the earliest disciples at Pentecost," The Book of the Acts, 181. See my Renewal Theology, 2: 210, n. 5, for other quotations.

16Thus says Calvin, "Luke is not speaking here [in regard to the Spirit's bestowal-Acts 8:18] about the general grace of the Spirit, by which God regenerates us to be His own 'sons,'" New Testament Commentaries, The Acts of the Apostles 1-13, trs. J. W. Fraser and W. J. G. McDonald (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965), 236. F. F. Bruce writes, "The prior operation of the Spirit in regeneration is not in view here," The Book of the Acts, 188, n. 34.

17According to R. R. Williams, "Throughout Acts, the Holy Spirit is thought of as the means whereby Christians receive power to witness to Christ and His resurrection," The Acts of the Apostles (London: SCM, 1953), 36. This would surely include the Caesareans. In connection with the Caesareans, R. C. H. Lenski writes: "This falling of the Holy Spirit upon entirely separate from the Spirit's reception by faith for salvation," The Acts of the Apostles (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1961), 431.

18In I. H. Marshall's words, "Acts is a book about mission. It is not unfair to take 1.8 as a summary of its contents: 'You shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.' The purpose of the Christian church was to bear witness," The Acts of the Apostles, 25. Basic to this mission and witness is the need for empowerment. Thus I would add that the "contents" of Acts also includes the first part of 1:8-"You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you." Since, as Marshall says, "the purpose of the Christian church was to bear witness," the primary matter is enabling power. Acts again and again portrays how the power was received. This emphasis is vital to an understanding of the Book of Acts. It is both a book about mission and the empowerment of the gospel messengers at certain critical points.

19KJV reads, "Have ye received the Holy Spirit since ye believed?" NIV, while translating as NASB does above, has a footnote to "when" as "after." Again, this is an instance of an aorist participle, namely pisteusantes (recall pisteusasin in Acts 11:17). Even if the aorist participle in this case expresses coincident action, the sense is still the same, implying the possibility of a believing prior to reception of the Holy Spirit.

20J. D. G. Dunn writes: "It is a fair assumption that for Luke 'the Samaritan' Pentecost, like the Christian Pentecost [i.e., in Jerusalem], was marked by ecstatic glossolalia. If so, then the fact is that in every case [italics Dunn's] where Luke describes the giving of the Spirit it is accompanied and 'evidenced' by glossolalia," Jesus and the Spirit (London: SCM, 1975), 189.

21Dunn adds: "The corollary is then not without force that Luke intended to portray 'speaking in tongues' as 'the initial evidence' of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit" (ibid, 189-190). Ernst Haenchen states: "The Spirit makes itself known in Acts by the gift of speaking in tongues," The Acts of the Apostles (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1971), 304.

22John F. MacArthur, Jr., Charismatic Chaos (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992), 172.

23John R. W. Stott in Baptism and Fullness (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1976), 15.

24As do some exegetes, e.g., Dunn and Bruce. Dunn writes: "The gift of the the gift of saving grace by which one enters into Christian experience and life," Baptism in the Holy Spirit, 226. Bruce states: "The gift of the Spirit may comprehend a variety of gifts of the Spirit, but first and foremost 'the saving benefits of Christ's word as applied to the believer by the Spirit,'" The Book of the Acts, 71. (Recall, however, earlier quotations from William Neil, Eduard Schweizer, and Kirsopp Lake with which I agree.)

25In the Heidelberg Catechism one of the questions (116) is: "Why is prayer necessary for Christians?" Then follows the striking answer: "Because it is the chief part of the gratitude which God requires of us, and because God will give his grace and Holy Spirit only to those who sincerely beseech him in prayer without ceasing, and who thank him for these gifts" (italics added).

26See, however, The Charismatic Theology of St. Luke by Roger Stronstad (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1984). Clark Pinnock in the foreword writes: "The meaning of this book is that the walls must come down between Pentecostals and evangelicals. If canonical Luke has a charismatic theology as Stronstad proves, we cannot consider Pentecostalism to be a kind of aberration born of experiential excesses but a 20th century revival of New Testament theology and religion" (pp. vii-viii).

27Paul refers to "the power of the Spirit"-the empowered witness-by which he proclaimed the gospel-"in the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit; so that from Jerusalem and round about as far as Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ" (Rom. 15:19).

28A final note: Dwight L. Moody, a century ago, testified to this additional infusion of power. After many years of preaching, Moody relates how two women would say to him regularly, "You need the power of the Holy Spirit." Moody reflected thereafter: "I need the power! Why, I thought I had power [because] I had the largest congregation in Chicago and there were many conversions." Soon though, the two godly women were praying with Moody, and "they poured out their hearts in prayer that I might receive the filling of the Holy Spirit. There came a great hunger into my soul....I began to cry out as I never did before. I really felt that I did not want to live if I could not have this power for service." Then, "one day, in the city of New York-oh, what a day!-I cannot describe it, I seldom refer to it; it is almost too sacred an experience to name." After this, says Moody, "I went to preaching again. The sermons were not different; I did not present any new truths, and yet hundreds were converted. I would not now be placed back before that blessed experience if you should give me all the world" (W. R. Moody, The Life of D. L. Moody (Westwood, NJ: Barbour, repr. 1985), 146-47, 149). Moody, while of course not being a participant in the present charismatic renewal, is surely a precursor of those who likewise in our time are being filled with the Holy Spirit and finding a fresh power for witness.

Chapters: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | Conclusion
Preface | Abbreviations | Bibliography

Content Copyright 2003 by J. Rodman Williams, Ph.D.

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