I’ve been slow to join in the comments. Elders meeting Wednesday went late. Had a firm function Thursday night. Other stuff Friday. So today I’ve been playing catch up.
Many readers don’t subscribe to the comments, so I’m going to repost some of my comments as maybe they’ll help explain my point of view.
On the baptism of the Ephesians and the non-baptism of Apollos
If God will accept an “imperfect baptism,” why weren’t the disciples in Ephesus Paul encountered in Acts 19 fine as they were?
(Act 19:1-7 ESV) And it happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the inland country and came to Ephesus. There he found some disciples. 2 And he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” 3 And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, “Into John’s baptism.” 4 And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.” 5 On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying. 7 There were about twelve men in all.
Paul’s first question is: “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” This is the test of a valid conversion. And Paul assumes that they’ll know that they’ve received the Spirit — either through teaching or experience — but they’ll know. When we question the validity of a baptism, we don’t ask what Paul asked, and therefore we must not have the same theology as Paul. That’s a problem.
When Paul learned that they’d not even heard about the Spirit, then Paul knew they’d not received orthodox Christian instruction — such as Peter preached at Pentecost. The receipt of the Spirit is a critical component of the Kingdom. Thus, Paul suspected they’d not been baptized into the name of Jesus — and so he asked.
They said they were baptized with John’s baptism — for repentance (for the remission of sins! Mark 1:4; Luke 1:77). This is insufficient — even though for the remission of sins — because, as Paul explains –
“John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.”
Evidently, Paul believed they didn’t have faith in Jesus — as he uses the teaching of John to explain the necessity for this faith. Paul didn’t respond to the baptism problem by preaching a better baptism. He pointed out that John pointed his disciples toward faith in Jesus.
Now, while this seems clear enough from the dialog Luke reports, Luke refers to the Ephesians as “disciples.” The term is used as a near synonym for “Christian” up to this point in Acts, but as they hadn’t received the Spirit and even evidently lacked faith in Jesus, it’s problemmatic. Rom 8:9-11 is explicit that you are lost if you don’t have the Spirit. John the Baptist taught the same. Baptism with “fire and Spirit” refers to the two possibilities.
Luke uses “disciples” to refer to followers of John the Baptist (Luke 5:33) as well as to Jesus’ followers. It seems likely that these 12 were followers of John the Baptist, expecting the Messiah, but not knowing Jesus of Nazareth to be the Messiah prophesied by John. You see, the teaching Luke records is Paul’s insistence on the right faith — not the right baptism. They were re-baptized, but that was in response to their coming to faith.
Why did Paul re-baptize them? Because they’d not received the Spirit and because they had lacked faith in Jesus (believing rather in a Messiah not yet revealed). And when they came to a saving faith, they responded by being baptized and so received the Spirit — which is the normal course.
Now, a fascinating contrast is found in the immediately preceding verses –
(Act 18:24-28 ESV) 24 Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures. 25 He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. 26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him and explained to him the way of God more accurately. 27 And when he wished to cross to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. When he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed, 28 for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus.
Notice that Apollos had faith in Jesus but only knew John’s baptism. The result is that Priscilla and Aquila “took him and explained to him the way of God more accurately.” But there’s no re-baptism — unlike Eph 19. It’s possible that he was baptized and Luke didn’t bother to record the fact, but Acts is filled with conversion stories that end with baptism and the receipt of the Spirit. Why not this time?
Well, because Apollos had faith and gave clear evidence that he had the Spirit. He just needed to be better taught regarding baptism so that his converts would be properly instructed.
Now, some would question my conclusion that Apollos already had the Spirit, but Luke says so. You see “fervent in spirit” (18:25) is really “fervent in the spirit” which is really “fervent in the Spirit.” What the translataors translate as “spirit” is ?? ???????? — “the Spirit.” “To” or ?? is the definite article (“the”).
The same construction is found in –
(Act 6:10 ESV) Acts 6:10 But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking.
(Act 7:51 ESV) ESV Acts 7:51 “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you.
(Act 15:28 ESV) For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements:
(Act 16:18 ESV) Acts 16:18 And this she kept doing for many days. Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour.
(Act 19:21 ESV) Acts 19:21 Now after these events Paul resolved in the Spirit to pass through Macedonia and Achaia and go to Jerusalem, saying, “After I have been there, I must also see Rome.”
(Act 20:22 ESV) Acts 20:22 And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there,
Everywhere those two words appear together in Acts, they refer either to “the Spirit” or else to an evil spirit — not to the person’s heart or attitude. Therefore, the natural reading is that Apollos had the Spirit — despite an imperfect baptism. And, of course, the text is clear that he had faith.
If that’s not right, then why wasn’t he re-baptized? If he was re-baptized, why did Luke omit it — given that Luke just told us that he’d only received John’s baptism and that Luke routinely records the baptisms of converts?
Therefore, here we have an imperfect baptism and a man who was nonetheless saved because he had faith. In chapter 19, we have an imperfect baptism and an inadequate faith. Where the faith was adequate and the baptism inadequate, there was no rebaptism. Where both were inadequate, rebaptism was necessary.