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Alex R. G. Deasley


Source: Wesleyan Theological Journal

Wesley Center Online




This subject must be considered in the context of the ongoing discussion of it among Wesleyan historians: a discussion which has occupied considerably the attention of the Wesleyan Theological Society in recent years.[1] The net result of that discussion has been to demonstrate not merely that Wesley did not equate entire sanctification with the baptism with the Holy Spirit, but that he expressly refused to do so.[2] Dr. George Allen Turner’s statement fairly indicates the position.

John and Charles said or wrote little about the baptism in the Holy Spirit. This emphasis is relatively recent. It is not easy to find Wesleyan writers devoting much space to it or associating it with entire sanctification and evangelical perfection.[3]

With this judgment Dr. Leo G. Cox expresses agreement.


Wesley believed that any change wrought within the heart of a person was by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and that until this holy love was “shed abroad in the heart” no one could enter heaven. This teaching of Wesley may appear strange to some who insist that the Holy Spirit is given subsequent to regeneration at the time of a “second blessing,” but in this concept Wesley is at one with most Reformed teaching.[4]


It is not my purpose, nor is it within my competence, to trace the subsequent history of this significant and in many respects embarrassing divergence between Wesley and many of his spiritual heirs. There are however, two observations I wish to make which bear upon the aspect of the problem with which I am dealing.

The first is that the bifurcation of thought which emerged in Wesley’s lifetime, chiefly as between himself and Fletcher,[5] has continued from that day to this.  In what may be called the classical Wesleyan tradition the equation of entire sanctification with the baptism with the Holy Spirit is conspicuous by its absence. Nowhere does it appear in the Collected Works of Richard Watson;[6] nowhere does it appear in the systematic theologies of Miley and Pope.[7] Indeed Pope does not merely omit it; he expressly repudiates it. Writing against the background of the Higher Life Movement in England , he says:


There has been a tendency among some teachers of religion in modern times so to speak of Christian Perfection as to seem to make it the entrance into a new order of life, one namely of higher consecration under the influence of the Holy Ghost. That this higher life is the secret of entire consecration there can be no doubt. But there is no warrant in Scripture for making it a new dispensation of the Spirit, or a Pentecostal visitation superadded to conversion. “Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed?” means “Did ye receive the Holy Ghost when ye believed?” In other words entire consecration is the stronger energy of a spirit already in the regenerate, not a Spirit to be sent down from on high. This kingdom of God is already within if we would let it come in its perfection. Neither “since” in this passage, nor the “after” in “after that ye believed” (Ephesians 1:13) has anything corresponding in the original Greek.[8]


Possibly even more surprising than Pope is H. Orton Wiley as an illustration of this bifurcation of thought. It is true that Wiley followed the other fork of the bifurcation, equating entire sanctification with the baptism with the Holy Spirit. The remarkable thing is that, in the entire three volumes of his Christian Theology, Wiley devotes only a single page to the baptism with the Holy Spirit[9] and the structure of his argument for entire sanctification is not affected by it in the least degree. This seems to suggest that, in his most formal statement, Wiley was considerably influenced as far as his evaluation of the biblical data was concerned, by the classical Wesleyan tradition. More recent examples of this tradition are not difficult to find.[10]

The second observation I would make arising from the history of the divergence referred to bears even more directly upon my immediate concern. This is that, even within that fork of Wesleyan thought which has equated entire sanctification with the baptism with the Holy Spirit, there have been both uneasiness and disagreement in the handling of the evidence of Acts. Daniel Steele is a notable example of the former.  While clear about the equation, he nonetheless finds himself under repeated pressure to qualify it. For example, in commenting on the experience of unbelievers who responded to Peter’s summons in Acts 2:38 , he says:


Unbelievers during the sermon of Peter were rapidly transformed into penitent believers, ready to submit to any test of the genuineness of their faith; even to be publicly baptized in the hated name of that Jesus whom they had personally insulted and crucified. The finishing stroke of this rapid transformation was “the gift of the Holy Ghost” with its fruits—unselfishness, oneness of spirit, “gladness and singleness of heart.” But generally there was a brief interval between conversion and the baptism of the Spirit.[11]


The last sentence plainly implies that, at least on the day of Pentecost, all that is described in Acts 2:38 was both proclaimed and received as a single experience; and there is no doubt that that is the natural meaning of Peter’s words. Steele attributed to the greatness of the spiritual power manifested that day.[12] Three pages later he is dealing with “the ordinary sequence of blessings” which he gives as “(a) hearing; (b) faith, implying preventing and saving grace; (c) baptism; (d) communication of the Holy Spirit.”[13] After listing supporting evidence from Acts he adds:


Acts 10:44 and perhaps 9:17, are exceptional cases. The reason for the seeming blending of the baptism of the Holy Ghost with regeneration in exceptional instances in the Acts of the Apostles is to be attributed to the fact that the regenerate were urged to the immediate attainment of this great blessing, so that they did attain it with the interval of only a brief period.[14]


Most interesting of all from Steele’s works is his chapter on “Baptism with the Holy Ghost” in A Defense of Christian Perfection.[15] As is well known, this book was written in reply to Mudge’s Growth in Holiness Toward Perfection in which (among other things) Mudge trained his guns on Spirit-baptism language used in support of entire sanctification.[16] Steele’s reply is two-fold. First, he points out that the use of such evidence is no part of classical Wesleyanism. Referring to the title of his chapter he says: “The chapter with this caption may have relevancy to some modern advocates of Christian perfection, but is not relevant to the doctrine as taught by Wesley and Wesleyan standard theologians.”[17] He then proceeds to cite Wesley and Fletcher. His parting shot is: “Our author’s chapter on the baptism of the Spirit might have been included in his discussion of irrelevant texts,[18] on none of which do our standard theologians ground the doctrine of Christian perfection.”[19] Second, basing on Fletcher who, he says, “does not positively affirm the entire sanctification of ‘the multitude of them that believed’ in the happy ‘days of Pentecost,’” Steele concludes “that the phrase ‘baptism or fullness of the Spirit’ may mean something less than entire sanctification.”[20] It may refer to what he calls the “ecstatic fullness of the Spirit,” a flood of peace, joy and power which “may prostrate the body without cleansing the soul.”[21] Again, it may refer to “a charismatic fullness of the Spirit” in which “the person . . . may be filled with some extraordinary gift or charisma of the Spirit.”[22] On the other hand there is the “ethical fullness which must imply entire sanctification.”[23] These qualifications bespeak a recognition on Steele’s part that the evidence of Acts cannot be systematized in a completely tidy way, and that a certain elasticity is called for. To this, Steele makes considerable concessions.

A more recent instance, not of uneasiness with but rejection of the accepted interpretation of a central portion of the narrative of Acts, namely the Gentile Pentecost in Acts 10 , is found in the commentaries of Dr. Ralph Earle. The received view is that the devotion, almsgiving, and prayer of Cornelius (Acts 10:2, 22) are tantamount to regeneration: a conclusion held to be vindicated by the words of Peter in Acts 10:35 : “in every nation any one who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” On this basis, the descent of the Spirit (Acts 10:44) is then interpreted as entire sanctification.[24] This exegesis Dr. Earle discountenances. “To hold that Cornelius was a Christian before he met Peter is very precarious exegesis,” he writes.[25] How precarious that exegesis is shown in work such as that of Philipp Vielhauer who argued that Luke comes near, if he does not actually embrace, a doctrine of salvation by works. “According to Luke . . . justification by faith is so to speak only complementary for Jewish Christians. It is necessary for them because and to the extent that they fall short of the fulfillment of the law or because the law provides no complete justification.”[26] Dr. Earle insists that the force of Peter’s words in Acts 10:34 –35 is that “Cornelius was just as much accepted before God as any physical descendant of Abraham”:[27] a conclusion that is surely amply justified by the context.[28]

What then is the significance of the Gentile Pentecost if Cornelius was not regenerate before Peter’s arrival? Dr. Earle is aware of the problem and replies as follows.


Perhaps the explanation which best accords with Scripture is that while Peter was only getting well started with his sermon his hearers in their hearts believed on Jesus Christ and experienced evangelical conversion. . . . Then, because their hearts were fully open for all of God’s will, these listeners who had walked devoutly in the light of Judaism (10:2), and had now accepted Christ, were suddenly filled with the Holy Spirit.[29]


The only difficulty with this exegesis is that there is not a syllable in Acts 10:44 or 11:15 to suggest or support it.

These illustrations from Daniel Steele and Ralph Earle illustrate the complexity of the data of Acts as they also illustrate the failure to reach a consensus among committed Wesleyans regarding their interpretation. It is but five years since Dr. Delbert Rose read a paper on this problem to the Wesleyan Theological Society, concluding with the words: “Let us hear from you who will accept the challenge to develop an in-depth study on the distinctions herein discussed.”[30] It is not as one who knows the solution, but certainly as one who is prepared to accept the challenge, that I attempt to conduct this study.

It may be that one way of seeking a resolution of the problem will be to trace the use of the phrase “baptism with the Holy Spirit” in two of the leading phrases of New Testament history, in the ministry of Jesus, and in the earliest church, and then to conclude with a glance at the teaching of Paul. Comparison and contrast may serve to illuminate not only the New Testament usage, but also the origins of the divergent views within the Wesleyan tradition.


I. Baptism in the Spirit in the Ministry of Jesus


The infrequency of mention of the Spirit by Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels has often been noted.[31] This is even more the case with the expression “baptism in the Spirit,” a phrase found on the lips of Jesus only once (Acts 1:5) The pursuit of this phrase leads us behind the ministry of Jesus to the prophetic utterances made by the Baptist regarding Jesus’ ministry as well as to Jesus’ ministry itself. Each of these deserves separate attention.


A. John’s Prophecy of the Ministry of Jesus


The central question here is: what did the Baptist mean when he foretold that the Coming One would “baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Matthew 3:11)? The matter has been much debated, involving as it does a whole series of complex issues such as the presence of the words “and with fire” in Matthew’s and Luke’s versions of the story as against their absence in Mark; the origins of the Baptist’s imagery; and—resulting from both of these—the burden of his message. It is impossible to examine these at length; at the expense of appearing dogmatic, I can only set down what seem to me to be the conclusions most in harmony with the evidence.

1. Regarding the differing form of John’s prophecy as between Matthew and Luke on the one hand and Mark on the other: there is nothing to suggest that this requires a difference in meaning. The evidence was surveyed in a paper presented to the Wesleyan Theological Society by my colleague Dr. Willard Taylor in 1976 in which he concluded that:


We need not assume a breakdown in the transmission of the tradition nor postulate a form-critical reading back of a later view of the Church. The ingredients for this understanding of the ministry of the Holy Spirit are available in the old scriptures and the current thought patterns of John’s day. Thus, it is proper to interpret the Baptism with the Holy Spirit as a fiery baptism in which we must be immersed as it were or one which results from the “pouring out” of the Spirit upon us.[32]


2. The reservoir of imagery and ideology on which the Baptist draws is significant for determining the meanings he attached to the phrase “baptism with the Holy Spirit.” That John drew the form of his baptism from earlier rites goes without saying, for ablutions of various kinds were commonplace in Judaism. For its import however, no precedent can be found. Essene ablutions (assuming them to be represented by those of the Qumran community) were repeated, and had ceremonial rather than ethical significance;[33] Jewish proselyte-baptism, though not repeated, was deficient in the same way.[34] Whence then did John derive his understanding? The Gospel accounts clearly present John as a Spirit-possessed prophet (Luke 1:15, 17, 80; Matthew 11:9 ), and it is a natural expectation that he derived his inspiration and thought-forms from the prophets of the Old Testament. These are replete with metaphorical language which expresses the eschatological hope of inward cleansing and the outpouring of the Spirit under the imagery of water and washing. Isaiah 1:16 –20, Jeremiah 4:14 , Ezekiel 36:25 –27, Zechariah 13:1 are only a few of the best known prophetic sayings, to say nothing of the evidence of the post-canonical literature.

When John’s proclamation of the baptism in the Spirit is read in the light of these antecedents, it is not difficult to see what John understood as the essence of that baptism. John’s own baptism summoned to repentance those who depended on their Abrahamic pedigree, but who did not bring forth the living evidence of a changed life which alone was the sign of true penitence (Matthew 3:8–10; Luke 3:8 –14). The Spirit-baptism to be administered by the Coming One is contrasted with John’s baptism to the disadvantage of the latter. The imagery of the threshing-floor has a double application, both collective and individual. On the one hand the grain and the chaff denote respectively penitent and impenitent Jews, sorted out by the fiery baptism. On the other hand the grain that has survived the fire has shown thereby that it is thoroughly pure.[35] The implication is that the Spirit-baptism would remove, not only those who persisted in their wickedness, but also the last remains of wickedness in those who had responded to John’s preaching in penitence. In short, John had fastened on to that aspect of Old Testament prophecy of the Spirit which saw its essential meaning in the purification of the heart. While there is no direct evidence of indebtedness, it is the thought and emphasis of Ezekiel which the Baptist seems to have absorbed, conjoining as it does sprinkling with clean water, the giving of a new heart and spirit in place of the heart of flesh, and the implanting of a spirit of obedience to the divine commands (Ezekiel 36:25–27). This was the essence of the Baptist’s understanding of baptism in the Spirit.[36]


B. The Ministry of Jesus and the Baptism with the Holy Spirit


There is nothing accidental in the fact that in all three Synoptic Gospels, John’s proclamation of the impending baptism in the Spirit is followed at once by the baptism of Jesus (Matthew 3:13–17; Mark 1:9 –11; Luke 3:21 –22). The significance of this is stated explicitly by the Fourth Evangelist (who, for reasons of his own, does not record the baptism of Jesus by John): “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit” (John 1:33). Two points important for the understanding of the baptism in the Holy Spirit emerge from the ministry of Jesus.

1. The first is that in His case, baptism was the occasion of His endowment with the Spirit. The language of the Synoptists varies in keeping with their individual styles and interests, but the association of the descent of the Spirit with baptism is unmistakably plain, especially by the use of the adverb euthus in Matthew and Mark. Matthew writes: “and when Jesus was baptized, immediately he came up from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, coming upon him” (3–16). The preservation of euthus by Matthew suggests that its use by Mark is more than simply an example of stylistic redundancy. Mark writes: “And immediately as he was coming up from the water he saw the heavens opened and the Spirit like a dove descending on him” (1:10). In short, for the one and only time in the ministry of John the Baptist his preparatory baptism with water and its spiritual fulfillment were united in the experience of the Coming One Himself. Professor Lampe writes:


Whereas the multitudes were baptized by John as a Remnant elected to await the dawning of the age to come, Jesus received the promised descent of the Spirit, and the association of water and Spirit which had been prefigured in the metaphorical language of the Prophets became translated into reality. Hence, when the death and resurrection of the Christ had established the New Covenant, and the Spirit could be bestowed on all those who responded in faith to His saving work, the union of water and Spirit as the outward sign and the inner reality of the sacramental rite became normative for the baptismal theology of the early Church.[37]


When therefore, one reads a statement like Acts 2:38 : “Repent and be baptized and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit,” one is witnessing the application to the individual Christian of the pattern of the experience of Christ; or, to express it differently, the Christianizing of the baptism of John by its being drawn into the age of the Spirit.

2. The second point of importance from the ministry of Jesus for the understanding of the baptism in the Holy Spirit is that His baptism had a proleptic aspect to it. In each of the Synoptics the descent of the Spirit is followed by the utterance in some form of the words by the bath qol “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17; Mark 1:11 ; Luke 3:22 ); while according to Matthew, Jesus submits to baptism with the words: “Thus it becomes us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15). On any showing, these sayings link the baptism of Jesus with His death. The meaning of the conventional view that the heavenly utterance is a conflation of Psalm 2:7 with Isaiah 42:1 is strengthened rather than weakened by the suggestion that agapetos may be an allusion to the binding of Isaac; for it combines to show that Jesus’ Sonship consists in the willing acceptance of being God’s Servant, even to the point of death. Hence, it is upon Jesus who has been baptized into death that the Spirit descends. Clearly, however, that death in its ultimate sense still lies in the future. And against interpretations to the contrary, it is this which makes it probable that in sayings in which Jesus refers to His impending death under the figure of baptism, Jesus is not using the image metaphorically. Thus in Mark 10:38 Jesus asks James and John if they are able to drink the cup which he drinks and be baptized with the baptism with which he is baptized. Any ambiguity regarding the meaning of this is removed in the sequel in which He holds before them the example of the Son of Man who came to “give His life a ransom for many” (v. 45). Likewise in Luke 12:50 Jesus speaks of the constraint He feels that the baptism with which He is to be baptized should be completed. Most interestingly the parallel saying in the preceding verse expresses the same thought in terms of fire: “I came to cast fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled.” In an important sense, His water and fire baptism was only initiated at the Jordan ; it awaited completion. What is so clearly implied in the Synoptic Gospels is stated explicitly in the Fourth Gospel in the teaching that the Spirit would not be given until the death and glorification of Jesus (John 7:39; 12:23; 16:7).

If we summarize the meaning of the baptism in the Holy Spirit in the ministry of Jesus we reach the following conclusion: (1) that the baptism in the Spirit was foretold by John the Baptist as the power of God, unleashed in the last age to extirpate sin either by destroying it in the penitent soul, or destroying the impenitent sinner along with his sin; (2) that in the case of Jesus the giving of the Spirit was associated directly with His baptism at John’s hands: and (3) that the experimental meaning of His baptism was not exhausted in the sacramental rite. While in symbol He accepted death in the moment of baptism it was not until Calvary that the death was fully realized; and while in measure the Spirit descended on Him at the Jordan, it was not until His exaltation that He “received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit” and, at Pentecost, “poured forth that which they both saw and heard” (Acts 2:33).


II. Baptism in the Spirit in the Earliest Church


From the ministry of Jesus we may turn next to baptism in the Spirit in the earliest church. This means that Acts is our primary source of information. However Acts cannot be interpreted safely apart from the Third Gospel. It may be suspected that much of the exegetical confusion alluded to earlier in this paper arose because of failure to ask the fundamental hermeneutical question: what is the author of Acts trying to do? And this question cannot be answered for Acts without asking the same question regarding Luke’s Gospel. It is impossible to deal with this question comprehensively; we must content ourselves with one aspect of it and inquire as to what is Luke’s perspective on the baptism with the Holy Spirit. We begin with his Gospel.


A. The Spirit in Luke’s Gospel


In determining the emphases and motifs of Luke’s Gospel it is easy to be fanciful and subjective. Beyond this, it must also be remembered that Luke’s intent was at least partly historical, and he was limited both by this and the materials available to him. Nevertheless, it is possible to identify, at least tentatively, several points that seemed to be of importance to him.

1. First, the coming baptism in the Spirit would have, as a significant effect, the interiorizing of religion. It must suffice to refer back to the earlier discussion of the significance of the baptism in the Spirit with the baptism of John. Indeed, it is in Luke’s account that the contrast is most sharply drawn. It is Luke alone who records John’s replies to his various interrogators (tax-collectors, soldiers, etc.) asking him for practical directions; but the most they can do is prepare for the arrival of the Coming One. Inward renovation awaited His advent. The same thrust is present in the Birth Narratives. On the one hand are the standard features of messianic expectation: the overthrow of the mighty and deliverance from powerful enemies (1:52, 71, 74). On the other hand there is the suggestion of a new mighty act of God potent enough to rout not merely the enemy without but the enemy within. “The Magnificat,” says E. E. Ellis, “describes a reversal of political and economic status in the coming age. The Benedictus speaks of the ethical transformation to be effected by the messianic redemption.”[38] The divine visitation for the redemption of Israel in which Zacharias exults is seen as the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham; but that promise—to quote Creed—“is interpreted in a broad and spiritualized sense: not the gift of the promised land, but the gift of deliverance from foes for the continual service of God.”[39]

2. A second emphasis in Luke’s Gospel appears to be on the giving of the Spirit as the mark of the new age. At each stage of the life of Jesus this seems to be underscored. The comparison with John the Baptist is illuminating. Thus, the births of John and Jesus were miraculous, the Spirit being operative in both (Luke 1:17, 35), but the miracles were of a different order, the one involving a miracle of procreation, the other a miracle of creation. In the words of C. K. Barrett: “The central, biblical idea with which we have to deal is that the entrance of Jesus into the world was the inauguration of God’s new creation. . . . The part played by the Holy Spirit in the birth narratives is thus seen to be that of Genesis 1 .”[40] A similar significance may be discerned in some of the features of Jesus’ baptism. The tendency of Matthew and Mark noted above to bind Jesus’ reception of the Spirit to His baptism is even more noticeable in Luke. The rite itself is passed over in a genitive absolute (Luke 3:21) and the accent falls on the descent of the dove and the heavenly voice, both of which bear the same message. The descent of the Spirit like a dove recalls Genesis 1:2 and 8:11 in which it was the harbinger of a new creation.[41] The bath qol, regarded in Judaism as the substitute for the voice of the Spirit during the years of prophetic silence, here points away from itself to Him upon whom the Spirit rests, thereby announcing that the new age of the Spirit has dawned. And the message uttered by the voice is that Jesus has been appointed as Son and Servant-Messiah in terms of Psalm 2:7 and Isaiah 42:1 . In short Jesus is baptized with the Spirit not merely in expectation but in inauguration of the age of the Spirit. That this is so is confirmed by the fact that while, according to Luke, He speaks little of the Spirit, yet His ministry abounds in the works of the Spirit: exorcism, healing, prophecy, forgiveness of sins, all of which are part of His Spirit-anointed commission in Luke 4:18 .

3. A third conspicuous feature of the account of the Spirit in Luke’s Gospel is the marked stress on the Spirit as the agent of prophecy. Luke mentions the Spirit seventeen times in his Gospel (as against Matthew’s twelve and Mark’s six); seven examples occur in his first two chapters and six of them refer to prophecy.[42] Elizabeth, Zacharias, Simeon are filled with the Spirit and prophesy (1:15, 41, 67; 2:25– 27). Of programmatic significance is the rejection of Jesus at Nazareth (4:16–30) in which Jesus presents Himself as the Anointed One of Isaiah 61:1 ; and the ministry to which He has been appointed is to preach (4:18). Prof. Geoffrey Lampe holds that the first discourse of each of Luke’s volumes contains the primary message of the book.[43] If that is so, then Luke’s intent in his Gospel is to present Jesus as a Spirit-anointed prophet.

4. Finally, it is almost certainly no accident that Luke, of all the evangelists, preserves direct references to the role of the Spirit at nodal points in the ministry of Jesus. In some cases the references are direct. Thus, the birth of Jesus takes place as a result of the activity of the Spirit (1:35); at His baptism the Spirit descends (3:22); when the Seventy return Jesus “rejoices in the Spirit” (10:21). Sometimes the references are indirect, being associated with prayer which—in Lampe’s words—is “complementary to the Spirit’s activity since it is the point at which the communication of divine influence becomes effective for its recipients . . . the means by which the dynamic energy of the Spirit is apprehended.”[44] Luke alone mentions that when the Spirit descended on Jesus following His baptism He was praying (3:21); likewise at other crucial points in His career: the choosing of the Twelve (6:12); before Peter’s confession at Caesarea Philippi (9:18); at the Transfiguration (9:28); while of the agony in Gethsemane Luke alone says that “he prayed more earnestly” (22:44).[45]

If the foregoing analysis is correct, then it provides us with a perspective on Luke’s understanding of baptism in the Spirit, even within the limited place which it occupied in the ministry of Jesus and so in Luke’s Gospel. The ethical note is present, in the prophecies of Jesus’ ministry in the Birth Narratives and by John the Baptist. However, it is not this note which Luke appears to stress in his Gospel. It is rather the coming of the Spirit as the sign of the New Age, present at each nodal point of the Heilsgeschichte and furthering the progress of salvation by ministering prophetic power to those who receive Him.


B. Baptism in the Spirit in the Acts of the Apostles


We may turn now from Luke’s Gospel to his second volume: the locus of the heart of the problem. The confessions of bewilderment from the lips of the eminent are at once consoling and unnerving: from C. K. Barrett and R. R. Williams who believe it is impossible to “reconstruct a harmonious account of what Luke believed about baptism”;[46] to B. S. Easton who believed he had never even thought about it.[47] We may approach the subject by concentrating on a single, central episode which not only is interpreted itself but in turn is used to interpret Pentecost: namely the Gentile Pentecost. So important is this episode in Luke’s mind that he uses his valuable space to deal with it three times over (10:1–48; 11:1–18; 15:1–11). I wish first, to discuss the meaning of these narratives, and then consider their implications.

1. The Narratives of the Gentile Pentecost. Four features stand out as being significant in the exegesis of these sequences.

(a) The central purpose of the narratives is to recount the incorporation of the Gentiles into the Church. The prelude in 10:1–16 revolves around the two leading personages with their anthithetical problems: the vision of the Gentile Cornelius that the acceptance he seeks is about to be vouchsafed to him; and the vision of the Jewish apostle Peter that he is not to refuse what God has cleansed. This is the point stressed by Peter on his arrival in Cornelius’ house: “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit any one of another nation; but God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean” (10:28); and again: “Truly I perceive that God shows no partiality, but in every nation any one who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him” (10:34–35 RSV ). Everything else is subordinate to this. The evidence the situation requires is evidence that will substantiate this conclusion.

(b) A second feature of exegetical significance is the message Peter preached. This is expressed uniformly in salvation terms. The report of the sermon in 10:34–43 has as its conclusion: “To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (43). Peter’s account of the angelic message to Cornelius is in the same vein: “Send to Joppa and bring Simon called Peter; he will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household” (11:13–14). And his opening words to the Jerusalem council are akin: “Brethren, you know that in the early days God made choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe” (15:7). The terminology used throughout in description of Peter’s message is that of hearing the Word, leading to repentance, faith and the forgiveness of sins.

(c) A third notable feature of these narratives is the description of the conclusion drawn by the apostles. At the end of the narrative of the event itself Peter indicates by a rhetorical question that the administration of baptism is the appropriate conclusion: “‘Can anyone forbid water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?’ And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ” (10:47–48). Evidently, baptism in the name of Jesus was regarded as the sacramental correlative of receiving the Holy Spirit. At the first Jerusalem inquiry prompted by Judaistic criticism opposition is quelled by Peter’s report and the conclusion of the inquiry is spelled out specifically: “When they heard this they were silenced. And they glorified God saying: ‘Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance unto life’” (11:18). And at the Jerusalem council itself Peter again is the spokesman. The sequence of phrases in Acts 15:7 – 9, 11 is significant. In 15:7 Peter affirms his appointment that by his mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. In 15:8–9 he evidently describes how this happened: “God who knows the heart bore witness to them, giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us; and he made no distinction between them and us, but cleansed their hearts by faith.” The inference which Peter draws from this is: “We believe that we shall be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will” (15:11). In short, the conclusion drawn by the apostles is in the same terms as the message Peter preached: hearing the Word, leading to repentance, faith, salvation and reception of the Spirit expressed in baptism.[48]

(d) A fourth feature important for the exegesis of this episode is the way in which it is repeatedly presented as a repetition of Pentecost. Cornelius and his fellow Gentiles “have received the Holy Spirit just as we have” (10:47). Again Peter reports: “The Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us after we believed in the Lord Jesus, who was I that I could withstand God?” (11:15, 17). In 15:8–9, 11 the point is thrice-repeated: God “gave them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us” (8); he “made no distinction between us and them” (9); “we shall be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will” (11). In other words, the Gentile Pentecost is not to be regarded as in any way unique or different from the Jewish Pentecost; it would stultify Peter’s argument if it were so. As said above not only is the Jewish Pentecost used to interpret the Gentile; the reverse is also true.

2. The Implications of the Gentile Pentecost. It is now time to consider the implications of the foregoing exegesis. It might well be inferred that the chief implication is that in Luke’s theology baptism in the Holy Spirit is explained without remainder by repentance, faith and new life verified by baptism: in a word by regeneration. However, that conclusion is foreclosed by the prophecies of the New Age in the first chapter of Luke’s Gospel and of the baptism in the Holy Spirit in the third, in both of which (as was shown earlier) an inward purification of a radical character seemed plainly to be implied. What then is Luke doing? I would draw attention to three features of Acts which in my judgment are clues to his intention.

(a) First, is Luke’s overall purpose in Acts. A comprehensive examination of this is out of bounds here;[49] but confining our inquiry to Luke’s message of the Spirit (as with the Gospel) it is interesting that similar results emerge. There is the same stress on the New Creation. Pere Dupont writes: “The Spirit came upon the apostles during the feast at which Judaism commemorated the promulgation of the Law and the conclusion of the Covenant between God and His people. The Christian Pentecost presents itself as the feast of the New Covenant constituting the Church a new people of God.”[50] Again, there is a marked stress on prophecy as the consequence of the giving of the Spirit. It is of moment that the prophecy which is quoted by Peter as being fulfilled at Pentecost is Joel 2:28 –32 whose primary emphasis, twice-repeated (Acts 2:17 and 18), is that when the Spirit comes, men and women will prophesy. Proclamation as the consequence of the giving of the Spirit is underlined in 9:20; 10:46; 19:6. Once more, it is notable that, it is at the nodal points of the Church’s advance (in keeping with the programmatic statement of Acts 1:8 ) that the giving of the Spirit is treated most fully: Jerusalem , Samaria , the Gentiles (including Saul, as their apostle), the Ephesians. These features combine to say that for Luke a controlling theme is not merely the recounting of the universal spread of the gospel, but underlining that this is accomplished only in the power of the Spirit. For Luke, the Spirit is the Spirit of mission.[51]

(b) A second factor suggestive of Luke’s intention is the wide field of meaning attaching to his language. Luke has frequently been charged with inconsistency at this point. Thus, Jesus’ promise that before many days the disciples would be “baptized with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:5) was evidently implemented when “they were all filled” (2:4). A further filling takes place during and following the trial before the Sanhedrin, resulting in boldness to speak the word (4:8, 31); while certain figures are described as being “full” (pleasures of the Spirit evidently as a permanent state (6:3), 5, 8, 10; 7:55; 11:24).[52] Yet in reference to similar events (especially in passages examined earlier) the language of the “falling” of the Spirit (10:44; 11:15), the “pouring out of the Spirit” (10:45), the giving of the Spirit” (10:45; 11:17; 15:8), the “receiving of the Spirit” (10:47) is used with the meaning indicated above.

(c) A third feature relevant to our inquiry, and in some degree anticipated in the previous point, is that Luke did not regard all as having received the Spirit in the same measure. Bultmann comments:


On the one hand all Christians have received the Spirit in baptism thereby being transformed into a new nature. Elsewhere however, the fact of the common possession of the Spirit is ignored. Some are regarded as pneumatikoi in a special sense (1 Corinthians 2:13–3:3). Again, the Spirit is possessed by some in greater measure than others (Acts 6:3, 5; 11:24).[53]


The examples referred to are those in which the adjective pleres is used evidently, in the sense of permanent endowment. Dr. Howard Marshall observed that “Luke does not go deeply into the ‘ethical’ effects of the Spirit (as in Galatians 5:22 f.) because for him the life of the church is to be understood in terms of mission, and it is for mission that the church has received the Spirit.”[54] It is therefore worth noting that it is precisely where pleres is used that the ethical aspects of the fullness of the Spirit are congregated. In Acts 6 the Twelve seek seven men “of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom” (3); Stephen is “full of faith and of the Holy Spirit” (5), “full of grace and power” (8, cf. 10); and at his murder when he is again described as “full of the Holy Spirit” (7:55), manifests a Christ-like spirit of forgiveness (7:60). Barnabas likewise is described as “a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith” (11:24).




It is now time to ask whether any pattern is perceptible in all this. Taking all the evidence together I would suggest with great diffidence that what Luke is doing is using the phrase “baptism in the Holy Spirit” with the same breadth that the root hagios-hagiazo is used in the New Testament epistles. It is an axiom that all Christians are sanctified in a lower sense (1 Corinthians 1:2; 6:11; 2 Corinthians 1:1 ); however, they are exhorted to be sanctified wholly (1 Thessalonians 5:23); to cleanse themselves from “all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7:1). Luke’s understanding of salvation, expressed in terms of the Holy Spirit, is in harmony with this. However, that is not his prime concern in Acts. His concern is rather with the Spirit as the agent of mission; hence the emphatic insistence at each of the nodal points in the advance of the gospel that the Spirit is poured out. His basic intent is to show that the Christian era is the era of the Spirit; that there is no Church without the Spirit; no Christian without the Spirit; and wherever the gospel goes in power, it goes in the power of the Spirit. In keeping with this his language is correspondingly wide, and terms such as “salvation” and “fullness” can bear whatever degree of meaning is appropriate to their context. Even a phrase such as “cleansing their hearts by faith” (15:9) is capable of a lower and higher sense, and parallel phrases are so used elsewhere in the New Testament.[55]

If this is so one may go one step further and say that Luke’s use of “baptism in the Spirit” is analogous to Paul’s use of baptism. For Paul, baptism includes potentially the whole of Christian experience, the fullness of salvation. But this is not received experimentally all at once; there must be a further moment of surrender and commitment. This is the whole argument of Romans 6.[56] If I understand Luke, he holds a similar view with two differences: instead of baptism he uses the fuller expression “baptism in the Spirit”; and his description of it is refracted by his missionary intent, so that he is more concerned with the fact of the Spirit’s coming to inaugurate the mission of the Church than with the total range of meaning of the Spirit’s coming for the spiritual life.

To answer the question proposed in the title of this paper then: entire sanctification is related to the baptism in the Holy Spirit in precisely the same way that it is related to baptism. Baptism is initiation into Christ, death with Him, burial with him. But it means more than this: in Daniel Steele’s phrase it means “not the bare symbol, but the thing signified thereby;[57] the realization experimentally of all that the symbol means by a further act of faith (Romans 6:11). Similarly, entire sanctification is the full realization in experience of that fullness of God’s salvation into which one is initiated by the baptism with the Holy Spirit. Reserving the right to qualify his emphasis on the process aspect of sanctification (though he also concedes a place to crisis)[58] I believe Professor Geoffrey Lampe expresses the matter adequately thus:


The convert to faith in Christ receives the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit by virtue of his participation (through faith responding to the grace of God in Christ) in the status of sonship to God. . . . This union with Christ . . . is symbolized and sacramentally effected by Baptism. . . . The resurrection life which is entered upon at Baptism is life in the Spirit; and the indwelling presence of the Spirit is simply one aspect of the sharing of the resurrection life of Christ which is begun in Baptism. . . . The benefits of the sacrament are, however, conferred to some extent proleptically, for in the single action there is summed up an experience of Christ which is gradually realized throughout the whole course of the Christian’s life. It expresses in a moment what can in fact be realized only step by step. The process of sanctification, as well as the decisive act of justification, is foreshadowed and proleptically summed up, so that the effects of the sacrament are partly actual and partly potential. . . . The indwelling presence of the Spirit, a Person and not a donum gratiae, is mediated to the believer through Baptism as the sacrament of conversion; but that personal presence comes to be apprehended more fully, and more deeply experienced, as the

[1] E.g., Herbert McGonigle, “Pneumatological Nomenclature in Early Methodism,” Wesleyan Theological Journal, 8, 1973, 61–72; Donald W. Dayton, “Asa Mahan and the Development of American Holiness Theology,” ibid., 9, 1974, 60–69; John A. Knight, “John Fletcher’s Influence on the Development of Wesleyan Theology in America,” ibid., 13. 1978, 13–33.


[2] Cf. the letter to Joseph Benson in 1770: “You allow the whole thing that I contend for; an entire deliverance from sin, a recovery of the whole image of God, the loving God with all our heart, soul and strength. And you believe God is able to give you this; yea, to give it to you in an instant. . . . If they like to call this ‘receiving the Holy Ghost’ they may: Only the phrase, in that sense is not scriptural, and not quite proper; for they all ‘received the Holy Ghost’ when they were justified. The Works of John Wesley (14 vols., Kansas City: reprint of 1872 edition), Vol. XII, 416.


[3] The Vision Which Transforms (Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City. 1970), 149.


[4] John Wesley’s Concept of Perfection (Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 1964), 122.


[5] In the letter quoted in note 2 “they” refers to Fletcher and his followers. See the editor’s note in John Telford (ed.), The Letters of the Rev. John Wesley, A. M. (London: 1931), Vol. 5, 228.


[6] Collected Works (London: 1836).


[7] John Miley, Systematic Theology (2 vols., New York : 1892); William Burt Pope, A Compendium of Christian Theology (3 vols., 2nd ed.; London: 1880).


[8] Op cit., Vol. III, 64, cf. 44.


[9] Christian Theology (Kansas City: 1952). II, 444. Other references are casual: e.g., 496, 504.


[10] E.g., J. Baines Atkinson, The Beauty of Holiness ( London: 1953). Cf. 151–54


[11] Love Enthroned Essays on Evangelical Perfection (2nd edit., London: 1887), 59.


[12] Loc. cit.


[13] Op. cit., 62.


[14] Loc. cit.


[15] Daniel Steele, A Defense of Christian Perfection (New York: 1896), Ch. 29


[16] James Mudge, Growth in Holiness Toward Perfection (New York: 1895).


[17] Steele, Defense, 108.


[18] A reference to Mudge, op. cit., Chapter VI.


[19] Op. Cit., 111.


[20] Ibid, 108–09.


[21] Ibid


[22] Ibid


[23] Ibid, 110.


[24] See for instance (among many possible examples) A. M. Hills Holiness and Power (Cincinnati: 1897), 147.


[25] Charles W. Carter and Ralph Earle, The Evangelical Commentary: he Acts of the Apostles (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1959), 154.


[26] Art. “On the ‘Paulinism’ of Acts” in J. L. Martyn and Leander Keck, Studies in Luke-Acts, (Nashville: 1966) 42.


[27] Ralph Earle, The Acts of the Apostles in the Beacon Bible Commentary, Vol. VII, (Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 1965) 3, 379.


[28] Cf. I. Howard Marshall: “What Luke is defending is not the value of works as a means of salvation. On the contrary he sees in piety and good works the indication of an attitude which prior to the coming of the gospel faith in Jesus Christ is seeking salvation by trusting and serving God.” Luke: Historian and Theologian (Grand Rapids: 1974) 190.


[29] Beacon Bible Commentary, VII, 383. Cf. Evangelical Commentary.


[30] Delbert R. Rose, “Distinguishing the Things that Differ,” Wesleyan Theological Journal, 9, 1974, 5–14. The quotation appears on page 12.


[31] Cf. E. Schweizer, art. “Pneuma” in Kittel-Friedrich (eds.): Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (E T, G. W. Bromiley; Grand Rapids : Eerdmans, 1964–1976), VI, 402; C. K. Barrett, The Holy Spirit in the Gospel Tradition (London: 1947), 120–21.


[32] Willard H. Taylor, “The Baptism with the Holy Spirit: Promise of Grace or Judgment?” in Wesleyan Theological Journal, 12, Spring 1977, 16–25, especially 21–23; the quotation occurs on 22–23. Cf. James D. G. Dunn, Baptism in the Holy Spirit (London: SCM Press, 1970), 9–10.


[33] Cf. IQS 4-9, cf. X:11. For a brief discussion see W. S. LaSor, The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Christian Faith (Chicago: 1962), 78–80.


[34] G. W. H. Lampe, “Though all Jewish baptisms were purificatory, John’s is unique in its ethical significance. Apart from the doubtful allusions to baptism in the Sybilline Oracles, there is little evidence that proselyte-baptism was connected with spiritual as opposed to merely ceremonial cleansing.” The Seal of the Spirit (London: 1951), 24. Cf. C. E. B. Cranfield, “Proselyte-baptism seems to have had some ethical significance, though it was no doubt primarily a means of ritual cleansing. In the case of John’s baptism the ethical significance is clear.” The Gospel According to St. Mark in The Cambridge Greek Testament Commentary (Cambridge: 1977), 44.


[35] Cf. A. H. McNeile, “Fire will purify that which can stand it, but will burn away all that is unworthy.” The Gospel According to St. Matthew (London: MacMillan, 1928), 29.


[36] Cf. Dunn, “The baptism in Spirit-and-fire was not to be something gentle and gracious, but something which burned and consumed, not something experienced by only Jew or only Gentile, only repentant or only unrepentant, but by all. It was the fiery pneuma in which all must be immersed, as it were, and which like a smelting furnace would burn up all impurity. For the unrepentant it would mean total destruction. For the repentant it would mean a refining and purging away of all evil and sin which would result in salvation and qualify to enjoy the blessings of the messianic kingdom” (op. cit., 13f.). Cf. E. Schweizer, “The Baptist is even prone to discourage baptism; he is not after cheap success with hosts of the baptized whose hearts are not renewed. The metaphor of fruit is typically Biblical: fruit is what ‘grows’ out of a fundamental disposition of the heart; it is not something that can simply be ‘done.’” The Good News According to Matthew (ET Atlanta: 1975), 49.


[37] Op cit., 34–35.


[38] E. E. Ellis, The Gospel of Luke in the New Century Bible (London: 1966), 77.


[39] J. M. Creed, The Gospel According to St. Luke (London: 1930), 26.


[40] C. K. Barrett, The Holy Spirit in the Gospel Tradition, 24.


[41] Cf. Barrett, op. cit., 38f.; Lampe, op. cit., 35f.; Dunn, op. cit., 27; Cranfield, op. cit., 54.


[42] See I. H. Marshall, op. cit., 91.


[43] G. W. H. Lampe, “The Holy Spirit in the Writings of St. Luke” in D. E. Nineham (ed.), Studies in the Gospels: Essays in Memory of R. H. Lightfoot (Oxford: 1956), 159.


[44] Ibid., 169.


[45] For fuller discussion see S. S. Smalley, “(spirit) kingdom and Prayer in Luke-Acts,” Novum Testamentum 15, 1973, 59–71.


[46] C. K. Barrett, Luke the Historian in Recent Study (Philadelphia: 1970), 75.


[47] B. S. Easton, The Purpose of Acts (1936), 40, quoted in Lampe, Seal of the Spirit, 78, note 1.


[48] It is worth noting that the immediate issue which gives rise to the Jerusalem council, the Gentile mission of Paul and Barnabas is likewise described in salvation terminology. The Judaists say that “unless you are circumcised you cannot be saved” (15:1). Paul and Barnabas report “the conversion of the Gentiles” (15:3). When the formal debate opens Peter quotes the case of Cornelius as a parallel to the ministry so described in 15:3. James’s understanding of Peter’s mission was “how God first visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for his name” (15:14).


[49] For a recent, persuasive attempt see S. G. Wilson The Gentiles and The Gentile-Mission in Luke-Acts (Cambridge : 1973); also Eric Franklin, Christ the Lord A Study in the Purpose and Theology of Luke-Acts (Philadelphia: 1975). A recent general survey is R. P. Martin, New Testament Foundations, Vol. 2, The Acts, The Epistles, the Apocalypse (Grand Rapids: 1978), 53–63.


[50] Jacques Dupont, Etudes sur Les Actes des Apotres (Bruges, 1967), 498 (my translation). See the entire chapter for a sensitive exegesis of Acts 2 .


[51] For fuller discussion of this, see Marshall , op. cit. 199–202.


[52] See G. Delling, art. “pleres,” T DNT , VI, 285. Regarding the special “fillings” as in Acts 4 , Delling says, “In harmony with other statements in Acts, the usage includes rather than excludes the fact that the author is acquainted with a normal Christian endowment with the Spirit which is to be differentiated from this intensive and concentrated work in e.g., preaching, tongues or the apostolate.” Art. “pimplemi,” op. cit., 130. R. B. Rackman comments on the use of pleres in Acts 7:55 . “The Greek tenses denote not a sudden outburst, but a continuous state. So in 55 ‘full of the Holy Ghost’ does not mean a sudden inspiration as in 4:8, but Stephen’s existing condition: cf. 6:3, 5, 8.” The Acts of the Apostles in the Westminster Commentaries (London: 1919), 107, note 2. Cf. Dunn: “When Luke wants to indicate a lasting state of ‘fullness’ resulting from a past ‘filling’ the word he uses is pleres (Luke 4:1; Acts 6:3, 5, 8; 7:55; 11:24 ).” (Op.cit., 71). To the game effect, J. H. E. Hull, who, of the phrase in question, says it “proves beyond all doubt that (Luke) realized the Spirit could be a permanent possession.” The Holy Spirit in the Acts of the Apostles (London: 1967), 123.


[53] R. Bultmann, Theology of the New Testament (2 vols; ET London: 1952), I, 158–59.


[54] Op. cit., 201.


[55] See 1 Peter 1 :22 –23 where “having purified your souls” (22) is explained in the following verse as “being born again” (both perfect participles). The entire context (1:22–2:3) is cast in the form of the indicative and the imperative, “having purified your souls” being the indicative, and “love one another from a (pure) heart” (22b) the imperative. As to the use of “cleanse” (katharizo) in Acts, all three instances occur in the accounts of the Gentile Pentecost (10:15; 11:9; 15:9). (In Luke’s Gospel it is used either of the cleansing of lepers, as in 4:27; 5:12–13; 7:22; 17:14, 17; or of ritual cleansing, as in 11:19.) In Acts 10:15; 11:9, which are verbally identical, the meaning is plainly cultic: Peter is told not to refuse contact with Gentiles, because God has “cleansed” them, i.e., declared that the ritual barrier between Jews and Gentiles is annulled. This idea is carried forward into 15:9 in the words, “He put no distinction between us and them”: God has yet again signified His acceptance of the Gentiles by cleansing their hearts just as He did their bodies or persons. The meaning to be attached to cleansing in 15:9 must be determined by the context, just as in all other examples of the term in Luke-Acts. It has been shown above that the surrounding context is concerned with the proclamation of repentance, faith, salvation and new life (Acts 15:1, 3, 7, 11, etc.).


[56] Daniel Steele’s comments, Half Hours with St. Paul (Rochester, PA.: reprint, n.d.), 6–7.


[57] Loc. cit.


[58] “Confirmation may be said to imitate a deeper and enlarged experience of the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.” Seal of the Spirit, 321. The whole context is worth reading.