The Christian world has long believed in the supremacy of the New Covenant over any other covenant God enacted with Israel. The problem is that many gentile Christians have wrongly concluded that all previous covenants in the Jewish civilization were consequently abolished.
Surprisingly, that very approach to Scripture has helped to cloud what the New Covenant Scriptures say about baptism with water and Baptism with the Spirit.
This section restores the Jewish setting to the blinding revelation of New Covenant glory made to the original, defilement conscious Jewish Sh'lihim (Apostles) in the house of Cornelius, the Roman Centurion.
Spirit Baptism is seen supreme, beyond the latest Messianic Revelation from R. John.
The next two stories of salvation proclaim the historic change in the direction of the proclamation of the Good News. Together they reveal a vital turning point. Since the leadership of Israel continued to oppose Yeshua and His Messianic Kingdom, the door of salvation was opened to the nations. Only the remnant of Israel would find grace, like faithful Joshua and Caleb centuries earlier.
At the same time, Israel's New Covenant of Jeremiah 31 was ratified by the sufferings of the Lamb of God, and the entry way is still wide open, God has not shut it. The day soon approaches when this Covenant will be filled up more fully in the nation Israel, to the glory of God! The Lord will rule over all Israel and all the nations. Until then He is calling out followers from both, two remnants forming the "Body of Messiah."
Yeshua sovereignly chose Shaul (Paul) as His special apostle to the nations, Acts 9:1-30.
Then He immediately confirmed His decision by saving the gentile house of Cornelius in the presence of the Judean apostle Peter, Acts 10:1-11:18.
Both stories are mentioned three times each in Acts. Both have a major impact on how we view baptism in Acts, and the entire New Covenant. First we consider the story of Shaul.
As the number of Jewish believers in the resurrected Messiah grew, so did opposition in Israel.
By his own confession Shaul was among the most zealous opponents of the Lord's disciples. A star pupil of the highly respected Pharisee Torah sage Gamliel, he received recommendations of the high priests to persecute Jewish believers in Yeshua, including those outside Israel. On one such journey to Damascus Messiah appeared to him and changed the direction of his life forever.
Shaul's salvation is quite unlike previous stories. Until this time we read of apostles and evangelists who proclaimed the Good News to crowds in Israel. All who believed humbled themselves and were added to the remnant.
In stark contrast Shaul had heard the message and rejected it, forcefully. He sought to eradicate any trace of the Good News among the Jewish people who were "calling on the name of the Lord," Acts 9:14.
It was not an apostle, but the Lord Yeshua Himself who confronted this violent rabbinical student face to face. Not because he had humbly believed, but because Messiah selected him to be a special vessel. Shaul was a "tzadik," i.e. righteous according to the Torah, and Messiah made him an object of overwhelming grace.
What follows is part of the story of his salvation put together from two of the three accounts found in Acts.
9:17 "And Ananiah went away and entered the house; and having laid his hands on him he said, 'Brother Shaul, the Lord, Yeshua, who appeared to you in the road in which you came has sent me that you might receive sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.
22:13 Brother Shaul, look up,...'
9:18 And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes and he received sight...
22:13 ...And in the same hour (Shaul) looked at him.
22:14 And (Ananiah) said, 'The God of our fathers appointed you to know His will, and to see the Just One, and to hear a voice from His mouth.
22:15 For you shall be a witness for Him to all men of what you have seen and heard.
22:16 And now, why do you delay? Rise, be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on His name.'
9:18 ...And having risen, he was baptized.
9:19 And having taken food was strengthened.
Traditional Christian exposition says Ananiah baptized Shaul with water. But looking closely, the text does not say he did. Shaul was urged to "be baptized" and he "was baptized" but we simply do not read that "Ananiah baptized Shaul."
Perhaps Messiah baptized Shaul with His Spirit instead!
No direct statement says that Ananiah baptized with water, or that Messiah baptized with His Spirit, but there is strong evidence to believe the latter. Ananiah, who had received a miraculous vision of Messiah, said in Acts 9:17 that he had been sent for two reasons:
To heal Shaul's eyes and,
To fill him with the Spirit.
The next verse, 9:18, records the fulfillment of both tasks; Shaul's eyes were healed, and being filled with the Spirit is directly indicated by the word baptize. If not, why were details about healing, taking food and being strengthened given, but the supreme goal of being filled with the Spirit bypassed? That makes little sense. Shaul was in some way "baptized" and that "filled him with the Spirit."
Ananiah was familiar with supernatural vision, knew of miraculous healing and of being filled with the Spirit. He could not have accomplished his task if not. And Acts does equate being filled with the Spirit, 2:4, with being baptized with the Spirit, 1:5. Shaul could just as easily have been filled - baptized with the Spirit as well.
This concept is fortified when we remember that Ananiah laid his hands on Shaul before explaining the two tasks, then healed his eyes, after which Shaul was baptized - filled with the Spirit. Here hands were laid at the start, before anything else, and in the previous chapter of Acts hands were laid on the Samaritans specifically that they might receive the Spirit, not to accomplish water baptism.
Ananiah urged Shaul to arise, be baptized and wash away his sins. How? By telling Shaul to "call on" Messiah's name, i.e. by appealing to Him.
Certainly there is liquid terminology, but Messiah's work on Shavu'ot was described similarly with baptize and pour out, but not of water, rather of the Spirit.
We should also emphasize that on Shavu'ot the Spirit was poured out on the hundred and twenty purely on the basis of faith, not because they had just previously been water baptized. Compare these points with Shaul's personal recollection of the day of his salvation.
"For we also once were foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another.
But when the kindness of God our Saviour, and his love toward man, appeared, not by works done in righteousness, which we did ourselves, but according to his mercy he saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, which he poured out upon us richly, through Yeshua the Messiah our Saviour;"
Titus 3:3-6 (American Standard Version)
Here too we find liquid terminology, but with no sign of water. The Spirit is exclusively mentioned, poured out abundantly, through Messiah.
According to Shaul's testimony to Titus his salvation did not involve any works of righteousness, which for the Jewish mind would include observance of rituals like baptism. Remember, Messiah persuaded R. John to baptize Him that they might "fulfill all righteousness," which in the sinless Messiah's case was a perfectly reasonable demand. Shaul realized, however, he was not sinless and could not perform any real righteous act before God. Salvation was God's grace gift, not a reward for works.
God now saves by abundantly pouring out His Spirit through Yeshua the Messiah to regenerate and renew, washing away the old sinful life. This transformation through the Spirit fits well with Ananiah's urging of Shaul to be baptized and wash away his sins by appealing to Messiah Himself.
Shaul's salvation did not originate from the apostles in Judea, but from the glorified Messiah Himself whose parting word was, "John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit." Since a command from Messiah for water baptism is absent in Acts it is just as easy to believe Shaul was baptized with the Spirit. Compare with the next story.
Messiah unveiled His perfect plan of salvation when he sent Peter to the house of the Roman centurion in Acts 10. This story is recounted twice in a row, once in the author's narrative, then immediately retold by Peter in Jerusalem. Later Peter made it the cardinal testimony of the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15. Cornelius' salvation was one of the preeminent New Covenant revelations.
An angelic appearance and a perplexing vision nudged the Jewish believers in this new direction.
The disciples in Judea, being zealous for the Torah, were always conscious of ritual defilement. In the new age of the New Covenant it was not wrong to observe Jewish laws and customs. Jews in the dispersion were later urged not to forsake their Jewish calling, 1 Corinthians 7:18-20.
But it was quite another story for second Temple Jews to realize ritual worship did not give them true holiness in the eyes of God.
Dread of defilement was the reason the early Jewish disciples would not associate with gentiles, Acts 10:28.1 But they were to find out that now the situation had changed. After Messiah's sacrificial death a Purification was permanently established that transcended all defilements of Torah.
A striking vision of a sheet from Heaven, full of all kinds of animals forbidden as food for Jews, showed Peter that God did not abhor what had been ritually unfit. The point of the vision: to show him all men were of equal redemptive value.
Before then the Jewish disciples believed the God of the Universe, who was God of Israel, could only be approached through the covenants of Israel, and this would naturally include the New Covenant to Israel, Jeremiah 31:30 (31). They still looked for the Messianic Kingdom, Acts 1:6, which, it would seem, in their mind ought to arrive before the outflow of the Torah to the nations.2
Now, at this point, Peter understood that gentiles could be saved. Nevertheless, as an observant Jew, Peter believed it was important to keep from being ritually defiled, and he did not instantly jettison that idea after seeing the vision.
Instead it is more likely that Peter would conclude that gentile salvation also must include some kind of purification from ritual defilement, just as required of the Jewish people.
Following his arrival at Cornelius' house, Peter did not take the new knowledge of the vision as an automatic cue to announce the Good News to the nations. Instead he asked why Cornelius had sent for him.
When Cornelius explained the angel's visitation Peter realized God receives men from any nation that fear Him and work righteousness. Peter summarized the Good News and specifically mentioned John and his baptism. Then he explained that Messiah had been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead. Following that he proclaimed;
"To Him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name." Acts 10:43 (English Standard Version)
Instantly the Holy Spirit fell. The gentiles too experienced the holy ecstasy of being filled with the Spirit of God.
Peter's Jewish companions were astonished that the Spirit would be poured out on the nations. But why should they be shook-up - unless they previously had believed that gentiles could not share directly in the Good News?
They are shocked as a result of their deeply ingrained Jewish mind-set which says that gentiles as well as Jews are susceptible to defilement. Prior to Peter's vision, gentiles were considered defiled to the point of Jewish avoidance of them.
Now, though, after Peter's vision, though acceptable to God, they certainly could not be more pure than the Jewish people who have to observe no end of purification from defilement. In other words, in Peter's mind, even for Jews, God could not pour out the Holy Spirit without some ritual of purification. In their mind, that would mean that God could never pour out his HOLY Spirit on defiled gentiles without some kind of ritual cleansing. That is what they'd thought.
Their reaction tells us Jewish disciples believed that to share in the Good News at this time all men had to observe the ritual purity requirements founded in the Torah and Prophets, even after Messiah Yeshua ratified the New Covenant with His blood.
Jewish believers were still observant of many purification rites. In the eyes of Jewish believers it surely could not be that gentiles were less obligated to the laws of purity.
Nevertheless, in all actuality the gentiles had been made full partakers of all the wonders the New Covenant the moment Messiah poured out his Spirit on them. Recall again Paul's description of salvation in Titus 3:3-5.
Now we must note that Peter did not instantly command water baptism. Neither did he ask the gentiles if they would like to be baptized as some kind of sign, or for a public profession. Instead he asked his Jewish companions if they could forbid the water for the gentiles to be baptized.
But if Peter knew Messiah had commanded water baptism then presumably he had no reason to ask, he would simply say, "Now we baptize you." We see a lack of confidence, but at the same time a desire on Peter's part to do something.3
It would also appear Peter used "forbid" as a technical term which prohibits a practice among Jews. They would forbid an injunction or permit it; they would bind or loose in their rulings, Matthew 5:17; 16:19.
It appears the agreement to baptize with water was not the result of a command from Messiah but, for the moment, was reached as a Jewish ruling.
The Jewish disciples, concerned as they were with ritual defilement, did not realize the transcendent purification through the Holy Spirit, so they ritually purified the new believers from the nations, something they will soon understand was not necessary.
Peter and companions were struggling from their Jewish mind-set to understand what was going on and decided the gentiles ought to at least be purified with the end-time Messianic baptism -- i.e. having their bodies washed with pure water, as in Hebrews 10:22.
This appears to be indicated by Peter's question, "can anyone forbid the water?" In the Greek a definite article for water indicates a specific kind of water, not just any water, and that appears to be a reflection of Jewish purification practices that require certain water that is considered pure.
So the house of Cornelius is water baptized after having been Spirit baptized by faith alone in Messiah.
It should also be noted that this is the one and only passage in the entire New Covenant that describes gentiles undergoing the end-time Messianic water baptism. All other New Covenant passages about baptism either apply to Jewish believers, or else speak of a baptism other than water.
This episode can hardly be considered a norm on which to base baptismal practices of the Christian Church. Compared to typical modern Christian practice it is highly irregular. Nevertheless, the Christian Church believes this episode reflects Messiah's command for water baptism for all believers. From the Church's perspective, water baptism, rather than the greater Spirit baptism by faith in Messiah, is emphasized in this passage.
Despite typical Christian belief, this is not the end of the story, as if this somewhat reluctant water baptism has now joined the gentiles to the Christian Church. Unfortunately a chapter break was added long after Luke composed Acts that makes it seem as though we enter a new episode rather than continue on with the same story. Actually the arbitrary breaks in Acts between chapters 10 and 11, and between chapters 18 and 19, have served to confuse a lot of readers over the centuries.
By the time Peter went to Jerusalem in Acts 11 it had become much more clear to him what had really happened with the gentiles.
When he arrived some Jewish disciples contended with him for ritually defiling himself by associating with gentiles, and by eating with them.
So again, there is no indication that Matthew 28:19 was remembered as a command to go to the nations here, as late as Acts 11, some ten years after Messiah's resurrection.
Peter explained the vision of the sheet, and of going to Cornelius' house; how he began to speak and how the Spirit fell on the gentiles.
Then he told his Jerusalem friends that he remembered Messiah's parting words:
"John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit." Acts 11:16; 1:5.
The astonishing spectacle with the gentiles had awakened Peter's memory and the full meaning of this saying finally dawned on him.
R. John had ritually purified Israel with water, but all of Messiah's disciples, Jewish or from any nation, were to be truly purified with the Holy Spirit.
This word was Peter's defense for eating with gentiles. If the Lord had purified them with the Spirit and was pleased with them what could keep him from eating with them?
Take note here! It is this phrase of contrast that settles the argument for Jews who dread the defilement of the gentiles. How so? Because for Jews of the first century, the Greek word baptizo carried the idea of being transformed, especially of being purified when used in a religious sense. It is this sense that is often found in the New Covenant.
Thus in Acts, to paraphrase, the Jewish believers in Jerusalem understood Peter as saying,
"John purified with water, but you will be purified with the Holy Spirit."
For this reason the Jewish argument against associating with gentiles ceased.
Let me drive home this point by asking what possible enlightenment the Jewish disciples could have gained if this phrase meant solely, "John immersed in water, but you will be immersed in the Holy Spirit." How would such an understanding resolve the controversy over gentile defilement? The fact is it would not. Only an understanding of purification here bears any comprehensible meaning.
Here in Jerusalem Peter did not mention that he had ordered the gentiles baptized, but he was not silent about the subject. He explicitly told his Jewish friends about Israel's greatest water baptism, John's. Now he understood that being baptized with the Spirit was incomparably more wonderful.
This realization would have occurred some time after the gentiles had been ritually baptized with water. As Peter contemplated the stunning out-pouring of the Spirit from his Jewish point of view he eventually remembered Messiah's word. Then he would have understood there had been no need and no point in baptizing the gentiles with water.
At this point it is appropriate to mention that 1 Peter 3:21, written some two decades after Peter's experience in the house of Cornelius, would necessarily reflect his mature understanding of salvation following the events in Acts 10-11, and not what he believed in Acts 2 on Shavu’ot, the day of Pentecost.
In other words, when Peter's epistle says baptism saves, not by the putting off of the defilements of the flesh, but of a good conscience, he is speaking of Spirit baptism, the very baptism revealed to provide salvation for the house of Cornelius.
In fact, Peter explicitly makes a contrast between the baptism that saves and the baptism that puts away the defilements of the flesh (Jewish water baptism) so that there would be no mistake.
In spite of that precaution, what has much of the Christian world done? It has postulated a completely different "Christian baptism" that is neither a Jewish purification, nor the promised baptism with the Holy Spirit.
Unfortunately there simply is no evidence for this "Christian baptism." Peter's first epistle speaks of Spirit baptism in contrast to typical Jewish water baptisms, including John's, that put away the defilements of the flesh.
The subtle, yet momentous realization of Acts 11:16 is the ancient stumbling-block for understanding baptism by the Christian world, which has focused on Peter's command for the gentiles to be baptized with water.
In other words, it is thought that must be the essential issue of the passage. However, the critical circumstances surrounding that event are thus ignored. For example:
Just moments prior to the outpouring of the Spirit, Peter said that since he was a Jew it was not lawful for him to associate with foreigners. In other words, up until that point he was deeply concerned with Jewish ritual purity.
Peter specifically told the house of Cornelius of John's baptism and gave no hint of another Messianic water baptism.
The Spirit fell on the gentiles without water baptism.
Jewish disciples were stunned that non-Jews could receive the Holy Spirit.
Jewish believers in Jerusalem who complained of ritual defilement by contact with gentiles were told of a contrast in baptism in which Spirit supersedes water.
The contrast in baptisms between water and Spirit decided the issue of Jews associating with gentiles (it was not an issue of "membership in the Christian Church").
Not to mention that the water baptism was John's baptism, the Messianic ritual to Israel, again, with no hint that there was another different Messianic water baptism.
The usual Christian explanation of baptismal passages in the New Covenant is based on the belief that Messiah ordered a new water baptism.
But here such a notion renders the passage unintelligible. Why would Peter remember John's baptism with water, now supposed to be some ten years obsolete, and contrast it against being baptized with the Spirit? (Commentaries simply do not explain the significance of Peter remembering the contrast, nor the apparent contradiction in view of modern doctrine on baptism.)
Yet a further grave question arises from this passage in Acts, namely, just where is the supposed new water baptism commanded by Messiah?
Christianity has long taken Matthew 28:19 as Messiah's command for Jewish apostles to go into all nations and baptize them with water. Yet here in Acts, Peter, the chief apostle, does not give a hint that he is aware of such a command.
The truth is Messiah never commanded a new water baptism,4 there is certainly no sign in Luke or Acts! Peter remembered the only Messianic baptism there ever was, John's, the one he mentioned to the gentiles, and performed on them. He found out it could not truly please God, and Messiah never gave a new command for water baptism so there were no requirements for it.
This revelation of true purification through the Spirit corresponds to the command of Messiah in Luke 24:47,
"And repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in [Messiah's] name to all nations beginning at Jerusalem."
Messiah did command repentance and remission of sins, but not water baptism.
We saw how the gentiles did receive the remission of sins, by faith in Messiah and Spirit baptism, which immediately followed Peter's words, "whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins." The prophetic idea of remission of sins is foundational to Luke, going back to the Zechariah's prophecy over his son John,
"And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest; for you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways; to give knowledge of salvation to His people by the remission of their sins," Luke 1:76-77.
R. John's baptism provided Israel with the knowledge of salvation which is truly found in Messiah. Though performed for the remission of sins, now we see in brilliant light that it foreshadowed the true remission in Messiah through His out-poured Spirit. Instead of ritual purification of the flesh, now Messiah permanently transforms the spirit of a disciple, purifying him with the eternal power of the New Covenant.
In Acts 10-11 Peter remembered and finally understood this transcendent glory, and after hearing these things the Jewish disciples themselves understood, saying,
"Then God has also granted to the nations repentance to life," Acts 11:18.5
The great salvation of Cornelius' house solely through faith showed Jewish disciples that not just Jews, but even the nations could come to life, the new life of the New Covenant. Now everyone in the world is exhorted to come to the risen Messiah to be truly changed.
From the above evidence it is certain that for Luke, the author of Acts, there is only one end-time Messianic water baptism, John's. It provides purification for Israel, and is a wonderful type of an even greater baptism, Spirit baptism that provides true purification for Israel and all nations.
And now, from this point on in Acts, should we anticipate that after this great revelation of God's overwhelming redeeming power through the outpoured Holy Spirit that the author of Acts makes every subsequent use of baptism refer to the water baptism that was just revealed superseded by Spirit baptism?
Generally the Christian Church says baptism in the New Covenant means water baptism unless explicitly stated otherwise. Nevertheless, the phrase of contrast between water and Spirit is found twice in Acts. If this phrase were not crucially important to the propagation of the Good News it would likely not have been recorded twice. But here it is found again, the very key to unlock the Jewish believers' minds to grasp gentile salvation.
But the Christian Church of yesterday, and today, simply does not understand it. Most modern expositors exhibit some lack of comprehension of Acts 11 as to why the phrase of contrast between water and Spirit is important. Their Christian predispositions of what they think ought to appear here simply do not match the data.
In spite of the typical Christian lack of understanding, it seems clear enough that from this point Luke builds on the foundation laid by Messiah, and that was discovered through the first eleven chapters of Acts, that John's baptism with water was and is important for Israel, but it is Spirit Baptism that is the central issue in this new age of the New Covenant.
From this point on in Acts we read of spiritual transformation, i.e. when Luke wrote of being baptized, his intent was that of being baptized with the Spirit.
Peter's comments to the Jewish Jerusalem Council years after Cornelius's salvation bear this out.
"Men and Brethren, you know that a good while ago God chose among us, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them, by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us, and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith." Acts 15:7-9.
The assembled leaders in Jerusalem were told God purified the hearts of the gentiles apart from any ritual requirements of Israel.
It is also significant to find the Greek word katharizo here where the gentiles' hearts were purified. It is found only two other times in Acts, both times in Peter's vision of the sheet, of which the heavenly voice said, "What God has purified, you are not to consider unclean." So God purified the hearts of the gentiles and it is explicitly related to the Jewish idea of purity.
Peter said even zealous Jews were not able to correctly bear the yoke of commandments in the Torah. Therefore, because of the overwhelming transcendence of Messiah's New Covenant, the apostles ruled that believers from the nations were not bound to be circumcised or to begin keeping the Torah.
Though this tremendous ruling is not strictly comparable, it certainly parallels attitudes that were developing in the Synagogue of Rabbinical Judaism. In a word, two decades before the destruction of the Temple, the apostles decreed for the nations what the Rabbis devised for Israel after it was destroyed, namely, that a relationship with God did not depend on the Temple's ritual service of animal sacrifice --something at the very core of Judaism-- or the associated requirements of purity in the Torah.
Nevertheless, disciples from the nations must refrain from idolatry, sexual immorality, from eating strangled animals and from blood, Acts 15:20, 29. These four negative rulings have been noted before as part of the Noahic code for all nations of Genesis 9:1-17. But there are no positive commands concerning gentile salvation for the observance of any ritual directed to Israel, including the Messianic baptism.
Just following this ruling Paul found a disciple, Timothy, whose mother was Jewish, whom he wanted to accompany him in his journeys. Paul circumcised Timothy that he could serve without being a stumbling block to Jews, proving that after the Jerusalem Council's watershed ruling for gentiles Paul did not ignore or abolish the importance of a faithful Jewish testimony to Jews, Acts 16:1-3.
Usually it is believed Lydia and her household, and the Jailer and his household were water baptized, Acts 16:15, 33. The texts, however, do not say Paul baptized. Rather, they "were baptized."
Moreover, Luke used the Greek word parakhreema in connection with the Jailer and his house, saying they were all baptized "at once." When we review the six other times Luke used parakhreema in Acts we find it specifically connected to a sudden miraculous event.
In fact, it was used to describe the scene when the earthquake struck the jail and the doors were opened "at once." In no way does it suggest that people scurried around opening them, but that miraculously they sprang open.
So just a few verses later when the Jailer and family were baptized "at once" we do not see a race to the river in the middle of the night, but the Spirit falling on them when Messiah, in His miraculous way, poured out His Spirit to baptize them, just as in the house of Cornelius.
It would also be hard to find a "public profession of faith" (as certain denominations teach of their water rituals) in a mid-night water baptism. In the context of Acts, being aware that in the last days God would pour out His Spirit on all flesh it is just as easy to believe Luke wrote they were eternally purified.
So too with the Corinthians of Acts 18:8-11, we read,
"Then Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with all his household. And many of the Corinthians, hearing, believed and were baptized. Now the Lord spoke to Paul in the night by a vision, 'Do not be afraid, but speak, and do not keep silent; for I am with you, and no one will attack you to hurt you; for I have many people in this city.' And he continued there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them."
The text does not say Paul baptized anyone but that they "were baptized." In view of what we have already seen in Acts we could easily expect the greater purification, being baptized with the Spirit.
We must compare Paul's Corinthian letter to Acts 18:8-11, being careful not to jump to conclusions simply because the word baptize is found in both.
First of all, Luke and Paul wrote their works according to their own criteria. While they may have been companions, that does not mean their are no differences in what they meant about baptism.
Luke recorded the progress of the proclamation of the Good News in Acts. Paul dealt with current issues in the Corinthian congregation in 1 Corinthians.
Moreover, both Luke and Paul used the word-concept "baptize" with great flexibility. They did not have centuries of sacramental "over-determination" affecting their thoughts.
For example, Paul wrote that all disciples in Corinth, whether Jewish or Greek, had with one Spirit been baptized into one body, 1 Corinthians 12:13. This corresponds very well with our proposed view about Acts 18:8, that it speaks of Spirit baptism.
Paul wrote that Israel had been "baptized into Moses," and he also wrote of "baptizing for the dead." So it is forbidden to conclude that all appearances of baptize in Acts and 1 Corinthians necessarily refer to the same thing.
Paul wrote that he certainly did baptize some of the Corinthians with water and that is usually the focus of attention. Yet we must not overlook the fact that he also thanked God he had not baptized more than he did, 1 Corinthians 1:14-15.
Typical exposition tries to minimize the force of his statement thanking God he had baptized so few, but it simply cannot be avoided. Paul could have baptized more of them, but he gave thanks to God that he had not. Paul wanted no one thinking the Messianic water rite was performed in his name.
Though there is no explicit description of how Paul performed the water rite, yet in 1 Corinthians 1:13 Paul puts Christ and himself in apposition, leading one to the idea that the Messianic water baptism was performed in the name of Messiah. This again opposes the belief that Matthew 28:19 describes the form of a water rite.
Beyond that, Paul's plea in 1 Corinthians 1 seems much more to do with authority than with spoken ritual formulas.
So Paul would not be saying in verse 13 that a water ritual was performed while vocally pronouncing "I baptize you in the name of Paul." Rather he was denying that a rite was performed "by his authority."
In that case, there is no reason for Paul to thank God he had baptized so few. Paul's abiding and overriding concern was that all things be done in the name of Christ. For Paul personally, water baptism would be no different.
But Paul publicly gave thanks that he did not baptize more people in a written epistle that has remained for two millenia. We are forced to conclude that water baptism was not in any way crucial to the Good News.
In fact, though Paul stayed in Corinth a long time he did not baptize but very few. Obviously it was not because the Lord had forbidden him. He baptized so few because Messiah had not even sent him to baptize.
By all appearances then water baptism was not crucial to Messiah either.
Some Christians, striving to retain what they believe to be the grave importance of water baptism, say that Paul meant that he personally was not sent to baptize, but rather that other assistants performed the rite.
But this idea makes no sense. The Greek word for "send" in 1 Corinthians 1:17 is the verbal form for "Apostle." So Paul's apostleship from Messiah did not include performing a water rite. That again contradicts the typical interpretation of the Apostolic mission of Matthew 28:19.
Also, according to 1 Corinthians Paul did not even "know" if he baptized anyone else.
But if a water rite had been commanded by Messiah, then Paul would certainly pay attention to what he was doing. He might write that he didn't remember those he baptized, but it is impossible to believe that water baptism was important when he wrote he didn't know if he baptized others. In short, Paul was unconcerned.
This clearly tells us the reason he did baptize was something other than a command from the Messiah.6
Paul continued his life as a Jew to help Jews believe.
He told the Corinthians that to those under the Torah he himself lived as one under the Torah, 1 Corinthians 9:20.
In the same epistle he told Jewish disciples in Corinth to abide in their calling as Jews, 1 Corinthians 7:18.
Paul had taken Timothy and had him circumcised for the sake of a Jewish testimony.
Certainly then he would also continue to practice the many different kinds of Jewish baptisms, including the latest Messianic baptism for Israel, John's Baptism, cf. Acts 13:24.
The few disciples Paul baptized in 1 Corinthians 1 may easily have been Jewish.
One of those mentioned is Crispus, who was ruler of the synagogue and obviously Jewish, as well as his house. Gaius could have been a part of Crispus' house, 1 Corinthians 1:14, but even if not he could still be a Jewish disciple.
So too with Stephanas and household. Paul wrote that they were firstfruits of the region, 1 Corinthians 16:15, and Paul's procedure was to go to Jews first then to the gentiles, just as we read in this passage, Acts 18:4-6. If Stephanas and house were the first believers in the region then it seems most likely they were Jewish.
Moreover, Peter and Apollos, mentioned in relation to the strife, certainly directed much of their attention to Jewish believers.
Paul, as well as Peter and Apollos, baptized Jewish disciples with John's Messianic baptism directed to Israel, but which was not crucial (in view of being baptized with the Holy Spirit).
Nor had Messiah even sent Paul to administer it.
If Acts 18 were really speaking of water baptism then it would seem extremely surprising that Paul baptized so few people as listed in 1 Corinthians. In Acts "many" were baptized, and Paul was there for a year and six months.
But Luke's words in Acts may easily speak of being baptized with the Spirit and then Paul's Corinthian epistle would add weight since he said "all" had been baptized with one Spirit into one body, 1 Corinthians 12:13.
The passage of the Ephesian disciples of Acts 18:19-19:9 is not a simple story. Yet considered in light of what we have seen thus far, that there was only one Messianic water baptism, John's, and a greater event of being baptized with the Spirit, the passage seems to unfold quite well.
Paul passed through Ephesus, entered the synagogue and reasoned with Jews. They asked him to stay longer, obviously to find out more about his message. However Paul wanted to keep a feast in Jerusalem and could not agree to stay, but did say he would return, God willing. So in the synagogue in Ephesus seed was sown and some of the Jews were interested in the faith.
We now read of Apollos in Acts 18:24-28. He boldly spoke to the Jews in Ephesus about Yeshua the Messiah but was only aware of John's baptism.
Since Apollo was Jewish and was preaching in the synagogue to Jews it is no surprise that he would administer the end-time Messianic baptism for Israel, and do so very likely in the name of Messiah whom he was announcing. Yet we are told of a deficiency in Apollo's understanding of baptism, namely that he only knew John's baptism.
Some commentators tell us that he did not know of the later "Christian" water baptism commanded by Messiah even though he was teaching about Him.
So Apollo was ignorant of either:
1) Spirit baptism by faith in Messiah, or
2) A different universal water baptism posited by the Christian Church
Up to this point in Acts there is no evidence that Messiah commanded a new water baptism to supersede John's Messianic baptism to Israel. In addition, we've seen that Acts 10-11 revealed the superiority of Spirit baptism to John's water baptism.
Taken together here, that would leave us with the first alternative, that Apollo was ignorant of Spirit baptism. Aquila and Pricilla rectified Apollo's lack of understanding.
Paul eventually returned and found certain disciples. Are they followers of Yeshua? Many modern exegetes believe so. A definite article is not found before "disciples," but Ananiah was described similarly in Acts 9:10 and he was a follower of Messiah.
Some say they are not disciples because they have not received the Spirit, and according to their notion every Christian "has" the Spirit.7 But in Acts every other usage of disciple means disciples of Messiah, and in Acts the reception of the Spirit was not an ambiguous guess.
The Twelve Apostles and the hundred and twenty were certainly Messiah's disciples, but had not received the Spirit until Shavu'ot.
That same day three thousand worshipers heard the Good News and were cut in their heart, but though believing in Yeshua the Messiah, neither had they yet received the Spirit. They did receive soon after.
The Samaritans believed and were baptized but did not immediately receive the Spirit, though they also later received through the laying on of hands.
Paul himself saw an overwhelming vision of Messiah and believed in Him for three days before hands were laid on him that he be filled with the Holy Spirit.
Moreover, it was obvious to all that the Spirit was poured out on the house of Cornelius since they all broke into great praises of God in known and unlearned languages.
These disciples of Messiah did not receive the Spirit the moment they believed, or else had an overwhelming experience to prove they had received the Spirit. So the Ephesians could as well be disciples Messiah, but lacking the full New Covenant promise of the Spirit.8
Paul, in Acts 19:2, discovered they had not received the long awaited Gift, obviously his crucial concern,
"Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?"
He must have thought they had believed in Messiah or he would not have asked such a question, for no one receives the Spirit apart from faith in Messiah, John 14:26.
Beyond that, since they were asked this specific question we realize, for Paul, receiving the Spirit was wonderfully discernible. There is no guessing about receiving, all are to know by a blessed experience. The remainder of this passage, Acts 19:6, clearly tells us so.
Spirit Yet GIVEN
Their answer to Paul's question, in Acts 19:2, is comparable with John 7:39. They did not know the Spirit was yet given,9but were not ignorant of the Holy Spirit's existence. Jews surely knew of the Holy Spirit and these disciples may easily have been members of the synagogue. We later read that Paul did not separate "the disciples" until after three months of speaking out boldly in the synagogue, Acts 19:8-9, which could easily include these. Comparing John 7:39 to Acts 19:2 we understand that they did not know the Spirit was sent to believers, not a question as to His existence.
It seems apparent that these disciples were not ignorant of the Holy Spirit. Otherwise Paul again would have taken sufficient time to explain the reality of the Holy Spirit.
Paul does not proclaim Messiah, nor teach of the reality of the Holy Spirit, but turns directly to the question of baptism. He asked about being baptized, directly linking that idea to receiving the Spirit.
This would mean that Paul believed either that:
These disciples have not yet participated in the end-time Spirit baptism
They need to undergo another water baptism to be able to receive the Holy Spirit
Following this episode, Paul will write an epistle to the Ephesians to remind them that they began their walk with God when they were sealed with the Spirit of promise, Ephesians 1:13-14. He will tell them there is one Lord, one faith, and one baptism, Ephesians 4:5. If the Spirit is linked to baptism in Acts 19 this would have to be the "one baptism" of his concern in Ephesians 4:5.
When the Ephesians answered Paul that they had undergone John's baptism10 he explained it as a baptism of repentance (compare with Peter's command on Shavu'ot in Acts 2:38). Paul said the people of Israel were told to believe in the One following John, who was Yeshua.
In two other passages in Acts we read that John baptized with water, but the One coming after him would baptize with the Spirit. It seems natural to believe that this is precisely what the Ephesians were told, that they now should be baptized with the Spirit, trusting Messiah to accomplish this.
"Upon hearing they were baptized in (into) the name of the Lord Yeshua," Acts 19:5.
We must realize that this verse is Luke's remark on what happened, it is not the record of Paul pronouncing a "formula."
Though it is widely believed the Ephesians were rebaptized with water, this time in the name of the Lord, is this really the case? Are we to believe these disciples of Messiah needed water baptism again, in His name, so they could afterward receive the Spirit, Paul's crucial concern?
This would be the sequence because in the following verse the Spirit came upon them when Paul laid his hands on them, not during a ritual with water.
If this were water baptism it could not be a public profession of an inward work of the Spirit as some contend, for they had not yet received the Spirit!
Moreover, there is no evidence that the hundred and twenty on Shavu'ot were baptized with any baptism other than John's, just like the Ephesians, yet Messiah wonderfully baptized them with His Spirit. Also on Shavu'ot the three thousand were baptized with a baptism "of repentance" to be able to receive the Spirit and the Ephesians had already undergone the "baptism of repentance."
If the contrast between water and Spirit is the foundation for baptism in Acts, then since they had already undergone John's baptism there was only one other. They were baptized with the Spirit and were truly baptized into the name of the Lord Yeshua, entering the realm where His name rules.11
Luke narrates that upon "hearing" they were baptized into the name of the Lord. This indicates a correction of their ignorance of not "having heard"12 if the Spirit is given.
In other words the Ephesians have now heard the Spirit is given, and having heard, they are about to receive the Spirit by faith in the ascended Messiah, being baptized into His name, His realm of authority. John told Israel to "believe" in the One following him -- Yeshua -- which we may compare with Paul's earlier question of having received the Spirit "when they believed."13
When someone turns to Messiah they are to believe in Him, and having believed, receive the Spirit from Him.
The Ephesians therefore were not rebaptized with water. Instead, like the gentiles where "everyone who believes into Him receives remission of sins through His name," and that, "the Holy Spirit fell on all those hearing the word," and that Peter later remembered, "John baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit" (Acts 10:43-44, 11:16) they too were baptized with the Spirit.
Luke used three verses, 19:5-7, to explain a single event.
By saying they were baptized into the name of the Lord Yeshua he described what occurred.
The next sentence tells us how it occurred. When Paul laid his hands on them the Holy Spirit came upon them, granting them entrance into the spiritual Kingdom.
Then we are told to whom this occurred, about twelve men, 19:7.
Now they could answer Paul's question with confidence. They had a living experience with the risen Messiah with no doubts of having received His Spirit. They knew they had been baptized with the Spirit.14
The greatest water baptism to Israel, R. John's, has been transcended by Messiah Himself who baptizes His followers with His Spirit. Messianic water baptism was, and still is, important for Jewish disciples as a testimony to their nation, but it must never obscure the greater transformation of life by the out-poured Holy Spirit.
The invitation to all is clear, come to Messiah and drink of the Water of Life. Today is the day to receive the promised "last days" Gift of being baptized with the Spirit.
Now, please consider. All modern Christians who revere Holy Scripture --in particular the book of Acts-- believe the original Jewish disciples, including Peter, lacked a full understanding of vital details of the Good News for years. Yet, by reason of humility, the early believers learned the truth in the house of Cornelius.
Such being the case, should any modern Christian find it difficult, surprising or embarrassing to admit his own doctrines on salvation, and water and Spirit baptism, may have been faulty as well? Why?
1Contrary to F.F. Bruce's comment on Peter in the house of Simon the tanner, 'Acts,' The New Bible Commentary: Revised, Inter-Varsity Press, London, 1970, reprinted 1984, Eerdmans, p 985, "But that (Simon Peter) lodged with a man who followed the 'unclean' occupation of a tanner may suggest that he already enjoyed some sense of emancipation from ceremonial convention." This is possible but not necessarily true. Simon Peter did not take up permanent residence and he also protested during the vision of never having eaten any unclean food. And at that same time priests in the Temple received the skins of burnt offerings, Leviticus 7:8. Surely they had them tanned to make use of them. Simon the tanner would be no more "unclean" than tanners for Temple offerings. Plus it is possible he owned a business in which others performed the work a distance from his house. Finally, the authoritative R. Jose, one of R. Akivah's great disciples, was also a tanner, yet kept the demanding rabbinic requirements of purity.
2cf. Acts 3:19-26; Micah 4:1-5. see also Beasley-Murray, Baptism, p 86.
3cf. Matthew 17:4.
4Messiah sent His apostles to baptize the defiled, pagan nations "in the name (the real presence) of God," that they might have fellowship with the living God. This has nothing to do with a new water ritual.
5It should also be remembered that Peter said the gentiles received "the same Gift" of the Spirit which God had given Jewish believers, Acts 10:47, 11:17. This flatly disproves the notion that only the twelve apostles received the Spirit on Shavu'ot. All hundred and twenty shared that experience, and everyone else. Otherwise why would gentiles also receive a special Gift which had only been given to apostles. In these last days all are to receive God's wonderful Gift of the Spirit by faith in Messiah.
6He baptized so few and then did not know if he had baptized others. His words crush the notion that water baptism was crucial, and not "knowing" if he baptized anyone else could never be Apostolic language to describe a "sacrament," a sacred ritual which was the supposed doorway of eternal life. Paul wasted no energy explaining a contradictory and confusing notion that Messiah did supposedly enjoin a new water baptism, but he, the apostle to the nations, specifically chosen and "sent" (apesteilen v. 17) by Messiah, was exempt from performing it.
7In a similar way others contend they are disciples of R. John because they have only been baptized with his baptism. But we must not overlook the fact that Apollos had been zealously proclaiming Yeshua the Messiah and was only was aware of John's baptism, in fact his connection to this entire passage seems quite obvious.
8A number of modern commentaries admit they are disciples of Yeshua no matter what they were lacking, e.g. Bruce, 'Acts,' The New Bible Commentary:Revised, p 998.
9R.P.C. Hanson, The Acts, New Clarendon Bible, Oxford, 1982, p 190, Richard Rackham, The Acts of the Apostles, Westminster Commentaries, Methuen and Co. LTD, London, 1957, cf. Bruce, Acts of the Apostles p 354, see also the American Standard Version.
10Earlier in Acts Paul taught others that John's baptism was for the people of Israel, Acts 13:24, which further suggests the Ephesian disciples would be Jews who in v. 2 would have known of the Holy Spirit.
11F.F. Bruce says, "Into" the name, "has a rather different emphasis" than "in" the name. "The expression eis to onoma is common in a commercial context, as when a sum of money or the like is paid or transferred 'into the name' of someone, i.e., into his account. So the person baptized 'into the name of the Lord Jesus' passes into the sphere in which Jesus is acknowledged as Lord, becoming (so to speak) Jesus' property." F.F. Bruce, The Acts of the Apostles, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Mich. 3rd ed. 1990, p 221. On the day of Shavu'ot we read that Peter told the worshipers to be baptized en the name of Messiah. Concerning this Bruce says on p 129; "There is probably a slight difference in force between this phrase and eis to onoma tou kurio Iesou (8:16; 19:5)." See discussion in the chapter on 'The Samaritans' for more.
12akousantes - ekousamen
13pisteusosin - pisteusantes
14The alternative notion for this passage makes less sense, that, though these disciples (almost certainly disciples of Messiah) had been baptized with John's baptism (the same as the hundred and twenty disciples on Shavu'ot) they were rebaptized with water (this even though there is no command from Messiah for a new baptism in Acts) so that afterward, by the laying on of hands, they could receive the Spirit (which itself had also been described in terms of baptism by Messiah in the same book of Acts).