“While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul went through the inland regions and came to Ephesus. He found some disciples there and said to them, ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?’ They replied, ‘No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.’ So Paul said, ‘Into what then were you baptized?’ ‘Into John’s baptism,’ they replied. Paul said, ‘John baptized with a baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.’ When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus, and when Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they began to speak in tongues and to prophesy. (Now there were about twelve men in all.)” (Acts 19:1-7 NET).
When Paul returned to Corinth, he found twelve men who were disciples. We don’t know whether they were meeting with the group of Christians in Ephesus, or perhaps with the Jews in their synagogue, or just meeting on their own. At the end of the previous chapter Priscilla and Aquila had found Apollos in a similar situation. I think we can safely presume that they had not found these men.
Notice that they were “disciples.” In some way, they were giving their allegiance to Jesus. But Paul could detect something wasn’t quite right. Again, we don’t know what it was that led him to ask them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you were believed?”
The word “believe”, as it is used in the book of Acts, means far more than we normally use it today. These men had more than an intellectual acknowledgment of Jesus but had placed their trust in what they had been taught. Today we might say that they had believed and obeyed. The word implies that they had acted on their belief.
Their reply, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit” confirmed that there was something missing. Paul then asked them, “Into what then were you baptized?” Baptism since the day of Pentecost provided forgiveness of sins and the Holy Spirit as a gift (see Acts 2:38). If they knew nothing about the Holy Spirit, then their baptism was not what had been taught since that day. It was not baptism in the name of Jesus.
The men told Paul that they had been baptized into John’s baptism. Paul then explained: “John baptized with a baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.”
Immediately the men saw that they had not been baptized “in the name of the Lord Jesus” and they were baptized properly. Paul then placed his hands on them and they received the ability to speak in other languages and to prophesy from the Holy Spirit. These miraculous gifts were given by the apostles (see Acts 8:18).
What can we learn from this incident? This well illustrates that sincerity is not enough. These men had been baptized and were sincerely trying to follow Jesus with what little information they had. Sadly, they had not yet received God’s Spirit. It is the Spirit of God that identifies us as belonging to God (see Romans 8:9). Even though they had been baptized, they had not been baptized into Jesus.
We can see from what happened here that it isn’t enough just to be baptized. A person needs to understand why they are being immersed in water and what will happen as a result of this action.
Baptism is for those who can understand what they are doing and the commitment that they are making.
Readings for next week:
14 May – Acts 19:1-20
15 May – Acts 19:21-41
16 May – Acts 20
17 May – Acts 21
18 May – Acts 22