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How could the “Disciples” of Acts 19:1 not have Received the Holy Spirit?

Coming to Ephesus, Paul found “some disciples.” They were of John the Baptist (v. 3), hence Old Testament seekers. That they did not yet fully understand the Christian faith is evident from their reply to Paul’s question (v. 2). The word “disciple” means “learner,” or “follower,” and does not always refer to Christians (Matt. 9:14; 11:2;Mark 2:18; Luke 5:33; 7:18, 19; 11:1; John 1:35; 6:66). Followers of John the Baptist, like this group, existed into the second century.

“Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” (v. 2). The question reflects Paul’s uncertainty about their spiritual status. Since all Christians receive the Holy Spirit at the moment of salvation, their answer revealed they were not yet fully Christians. They had not yet received Christian baptism (having been baptized only “into John’s baptism”), which further evidenced that they were not Christians. These disciples did not realize Jesus of Nazareth was the One to whom John’s baptism pointed. Paul gave them instruction not on how to receive the Spirit, but about Jesus Christ. “They were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus” (v. 5). They believed Paul’s presentation of the gospel and came to saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (2:41). Although required of all Christians, baptism does not save.

Then “Paul…laid hands on them” (v. 6). This signified their inclusion into the church. Apostles were also present when the church was born (chap. 2), and when the Samaritans (chap. 8) and Gentiles (chap. 10) were included. In each case, God’s purpose was to emphasize the unity of the church. And they “spoke with tongues and prophesied.” This served as proof that they were part of the church. They also needed tangible evidence that the Holy Spirit now indwelt them, since they had not heard that He had come (v. 2).

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