An Examination of Acts 19:1 – 7 and the Twelve Certain Disciples of John

Introduction to the Issues of Acts 19:

Acts 19:1 – 7 is a rather controversial passage among various Christian circles. Besides being the only passage in all of Scripture to speak of people being rebaptized, it also brings up issues of defining Christian baptism. So this passage brings up important doctrinal questions when it comes to John’s baptism and Christ’s baptism. But these are not the only issues that this text brings up, this passage is also very important when it comes to understanding the way the Holy Spirit works in the lives of regenerated Christians. Hence, the debate around surrounding this text between Reformed and Pentecostal circles. Every commentary seems to differ in regard to some point or issue with this text. So while this particular paper and interpretation of Acts 19 may not resolve any of the controversy regarding this passage it does humbly present the author’s interpretation of this passage.

This paper deals with the subject of Acts 19 under these points: Basic Contextual Background Information, the Baptism of John, the Baptism of Christ, the Question of the Disciples’ Rebaptism Examined, the Laying on of Hands and the Receiving of the Holy Spirit, the Gift of the Holy Spirit: Speaking in Tongues, Around Twelve Disciples, and A Brief Application of Acts 19 for the Christian.

Basic Contextual Background Information:

The physical location of Luke 19 is the city of Ephesus. Ephesus is quite a large port city on the Mediterranean Sea.[1] In the narrative of Acts, the apostle Paul has been working his way to Ephesus, going over the regions of Galatia and Phrygia[2] (Acts 19:1) after partaking of a feast in Jerusalem (Acts 18:21). While Paul had previously been in Ephesus, he had by no means finished his work there. Indeed, while Paul was in Jerusalem, Aquila and Priscila laboured in Ephesus bringing Apollos to a more perfect understanding of the gospel (Acts 18:26). Paul, upon arriving in Ephesus the second time, found around twelve certain disciples and it is these certain disciples around which Acts 19:1 – 7 revolves.

To arrive at a correct understanding of what is happening in Acts 19:1 – 7, it is absolutely crucial to understand what is happening in Acts 18:24 – 28. This passage narrates the history of a faithful and ardent Alexandrian Jewish disciple of John: Apollos. It would seem that Luke is setting up a contrast between these twelve disciples (in Acts 19) and Apollos, as both are found in the city of Ephesus. While Luke describes Apollos quite extensively and portrays him in a very positive and godly light, he hardly says anything about these certain disciples. They really are cloaked in quite a bit of ambiguity.

But before getting too carried away making these assertions, it is fitting to show just how much Apollos is portrayed in a godly light. One example of this is the fact that Luke describes Apollos as being an Alexandrian. This is a very positive thing as Conybeare and Howson point out:

There is much significance in the first fact that is stated, that he was ‘born in Alexandria.’ . . . In the establishment of a religion [i.e. Christianity] which was intended to be the complete fulfillment of Judaism, and to be universally supreme in the Gentile world, we should expect Alexandria to bear her part, as well as Jerusalem. . . . As regards Apollos, he was not only an Alexandrian Jew by birth, but he had a high reputation for an eloquent and forcible power of speaking, and had probably been well trained in rhetorical schools on the banks of the Nile.[3]

Not only that, but they also point out that it is in Alexandria “where the Septuagint translation of the Scripture had been made, and where a Jewish temple and ceremonial worship had been established in rivalry to that in Jerusalem.”[4] So from this, it would appear that Alexandria was a center of Jewish learning and religious observance. One could imagine that Apollos would have received a very similar education here to that of the Apostle Paul in Taurus. Furthermore, Luke describes Apollos as being an “eloquent man”, “mighty in the Scriptures”, “instructed in the way of the Lord”, “fervent in spirit”, “speaking and teaching accurately the things concerning Jesus”, and “speak(ing) out boldly in the synagogue” (Acts 18:24 – 25). Yet for all these encouraging characteristics, Apollos was still “acquainted only with the baptism of John” (Acts 18:25).

This is notably different from the certain disciples of Acts 19. It is stated that they said they were baptized “into John’s baptism” (Acts 19:3). From outward confession, they were disciples of John and thus similar to Apollos. Yet, Luke does not recount that they knew the baptism of John, it is only stated that they confessed that they were baptized into his baptism. This is significant and especially when one sees that Luke never records that Apollos was rebaptized like these disciples were.

The Baptism of John:

Now it is here that some words must be said regarding the baptism of John. The author of this paper argues that the baptism of John is the same thing (with a few notable, but minor differences) as the baptism of Christ. This statement is supported by the following arguments.

John’s baptism is recounted in Luke 3:3 and it is here that it is stated that John was, “preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” From this, and the rest of Luke 3, it can be concluded that John’s baptism was three crucial things. First, it was a baptism of repentance. The people who were baptized had to show true repentance for their sins. It was a humbling before God, it was an acknowledgment of sin, and a confession of sin. This is illustrated by the fact that John’s preaching is a preaching of judgment upon sin (Luke 3:7 – 9). The preaching of judgment upon sin is always accompanied by two responses: either true repentance or no repentance that ultimately results in the hardening of one’s heart against the gospel.

Second, John’s baptism was a baptism for the remission of sins. It was in the repentance of the people that they were preparing their hearts to receive the coming Messiah. It was in their repentance and their contrite hearts that they were ready to look to the one who would pay the penalty for their sins. It was Jesus Christ who would grant remission of sins. Thus, they were pointed to the “salvation of God” (Luke 3:6) and baptized with water (Luke 3:16). The baptism with water symbolised the washing away of the filth of their sins and this washing was accomplished by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross.

Finally, as has been implicitly stated in the preceding paragraphs, but is now explicitly stated here, this was a baptism that was looking forward to Jesus Christ. Christ had not yet come and John is preparing for His coming. He is making the paths straight and smooth for the coming of the Messiah. This baptism of repentance was to prepare the people and make them look forward to the coming of the Messiah: The Lord Jesus Christ (this is the Lord mentioned in Luke 3:4). Hence, John the Baptist quotes Isaiah 40:3 – 4 which tells of the preparing of the Messiah. In some sense then this is a baptism in the name of Jesus Christ. It is a baptism that points them to Christ, for those who were baptized by John understood that it was only Jesus Christ who could blot out their transgressions.

This fits beautifully with the following verses (Luke 3:4 – 6) and the context of Isaiah 40. Isaiah 40:1 – 2 states, “Comfort, O comfort My people,’ says your God. ‘Speak kindly to Jerusalem; And call out to her, that her warfare has ended, That her iniquity has been removed, That she has received of the LORD’S hand Double for all her sins.” The reason the prophet could speak comfort to the people was because of the Saviour, the Messiah, was coming and would pay for their salvation so that their sins could be pardoned.

The Baptism of Christ:

That then is the baptism of John. What then is the baptism of Jesus Christ?

According to Acts 2:38 the baptism of Jesus Christ consists of repentance of sin, remission of sins, and looking to Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of that sin: “Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” If the similarity between these two baptisms is not seen in the English, it is certainly seen in the Greek. The exact phrase Εἰς ἀφεσιν των ἁμαπτιων ὑμων is used in both Luke 3:3 and Acts 2:38. Furthermore, the similarity between John’s baptism and Christ’s baptism is seen in Acts 19:4 where Paul describes the baptism of John: “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is, in Jesus.”

But there are two differences between John’s baptism and Christ’s baptism. First, the baptism of Christ is no longer a looking forward, but a looking back on the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. Some would make a big deal about this difference, arguing that because of it they cannot be both the same baptism. However, that simply is not the case, otherwise one would have to discount all those who were baptized in the name of Christ during His ministry on this earth (such as those in John 4:1 – 2) . These were not looking back, but rather they were looking in the present at the Saviour and His future sacrifice.

The other difference is that Christ’s baptism, when what it symbolizes is received with a true and living faith, is accompanied by the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Christ’s baptism, as brought out in Luke 3:16 is also a baptism with the Holy Spirit and fire.  Those who are baptized (and this is speaking of those who receive that baptism with a true and living faith) as believers receive the gift of the Holy Spirit in a very real sense: they are brought into the covenant of God. But again this is chiefly a difference that occurs after Pentecost. If this was really a massive difference between John’s baptism and Christ’s baptism, then all those who received Christ’s baptism prior to Pentecost would have to be rebaptized in order to receive the Holy Spirit. This is simply a gift of receiving Christ’s baptism in a true faith. Those gathered in the room at Pentecost understood Christ’s baptism with a true and living faith and thus the Holy Spirit was poured out upon them.

Then, when discussing the baptism of Christ in the context of Luke-Acts, it is necessary to understand what the baptism of Christ is in Luke-Acts. The baptism of Christ is, very importantly, the baptism of the “Holy Spirt and of fire” (Luke 3:16; Acts 2:38). That then is one reason why Apollos is different from these certain disciples. Apollos knew the baptism of John, but he did not know the baptism of Christ in the sense that he did not know the baptism of the Holy Spirit and of fire. So therefore he did not know about the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

The Question of the Disciples’ Rebaptism[5] Examined:

So if these arguments are true then if the certain disciples in Luke 19 had truly received John’s baptism they would have also received a valid Christian baptism. Since baptism is a sign of the one washing away of sins, a truly valid Christian baptism is only necessary once. Continual washings were an Old Testament sign that pointed to the coming of Christ (hence, why they and the animal sacrifices needed to be continually repeated). Since Christ is officially come now and has paid the price for sin, it is only necessary to receive that sign of washing once.[6] Therefore, it is quite significant that these certain disciples were baptized again by Paul (Acts 19:5) and the question must be asked: why?

An explanation for this conundrum is found in Paul’s questioning of their faith and his explanation of John’s baptism. After Paul comes to Ephesus he found these certain disciples. It could be possible that Paul noted something different about these disciples and thus he begins to question them. (As has already been noted the contrast between Apollos and these disciples is striking. Luke tells his reader hardly anything about them and this is in massive contrast to all that Luke states about Apollos. It leads one to suspect something different about them.)

A clue to how they are different is found when Paul asks them if they have received the Holy Spirit since they believed. The disciples’ response is quite surprising. They state, “No, we have not even heard whether there is a Holy Spirit” (Acts 19:2). This could mean that they had no knowledge whatsoever regarding the Holy Spirit, but that is almost too fantastical to believe. The Old Testament has numerous references to the Holy Spirit and further John the Baptist’s ministry makes explicit reference to the Holy Spirit (Luke 3:16). Therefore, most scholars, when studying this passage, think that this means something else. One very possible reason is that which is presented by Alexander. He argues that at the time of these disciples’ baptism they had not heard of the Holy Ghost. Alexander explains it this way:

That they had literally never heard of his existence is incredible, even if they had believed in Christ, which is the constant meaning of the verb believe when absolutely used . . . . Heard is in Greek an aorist relating, not to a long interval, but to a single point of time, to wit, the date of their conversion or profession. They did not then hear the Holy Spirit mentioned, any more than if there had been no such being. Far from receiving his extraordinary gifts, they were not even baptized in his name, or instructed in relation to his work and office.”[7]

So then the fact that they had not “heard whether there is a Holy Spirit” seems to mean that they had not heard of the Holy Spirit at the time of their baptism. This directly calls into question their baptism and begs the question whether or not it is a valid baptism. If they had not heard of the Holy Spirit and His work in relation to salvation at the time of their baptism, then they could not have had a distinctively Christian baptism. This is emphasised all the more if one steps outside of the context of Luke-Acts. Christ in Matthew 28:19 commands the apostles to baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, as the three persons of the Trinity are absolutely crucial to a correct understanding of Christianity.

With this understanding, it makes sense that Paul would proceed to ask them “Into what then were you baptized?” (Acts 19:3). (This is not necessarily Paul being surprised that they had not received the gift of the Holy Spirit, but rather surprised that they had not heard of the Holy Spirit. Baptism and belief in Jesus Christ did not guarantee the gift of the Holy Spirit through special signs and wonders as evidenced in Acts 8:16). Their response was simply, “Into John’s baptism.” The problem with their baptism is not that it was John’s baptism, but that it was not John’s baptism. As has been shown, to not have John’s baptism is also not to have had a Christian baptism. Therefore, one can conclude that these disciples had not received a Christian baptism at all.

To be sure, this does not mean that they had not heard of Jesus Christ. They probably most certainly had (and according to Alexander this is one reason they can be called disciples[8] in Acts 19:1[9]). Their error “consisted in their stopping short at the Messiahship of Jesus, without any knowledge of his doctrine, miracles, atoning death, resurrection, ascension, and effusion of the Spirt, in a word, of any thing distinctively or characteristically Christian.” They, like many of the Jews in Christ’s time, could have had a simply physical understanding of Jesus Christ. They could have had an understanding that was in no way related to the spiritual nature of Christ’s work. They could have looked at His ministry as simply being one wherein He would restore the Jewish nation from the rule of the Romans.

This interpretation fits very well with the proceeding verses. If these disciples truly understood what the ministry of John was all about and understood why Jesus came it would seem superfluous for Paul to give them an explanation of John’s baptism. Paul states that John “baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” (Acts 19:4). Now it can be assumed that Paul probably told them a lot more than that regarding the coming of Jesus[10], but the point is that these disciples did not truly understand what the coming of Jesus was for. Hence, Paul mentions the importance of repentance and points them to Jesus Christ. Therefore (and again it is stated here) these disciples had never received a true and proper baptism in the first place. They had not properly understood what the baptism of John was all about. They were not then rebaptized, but received a trie baptism for the first time in Acts 19:4.

The one puzzling issue with this interpretation is: how did these disciples get baptized without having had a correct understanding of John’s baptism? This is something the text does not tell the reader and the context gives no indication. It could have been that these were baptized by some disciple of John who had not properly understood John’s ministry. But for all the theories that could be presented, the interpreter has to come to the conclusion that there is really no way to know. But as Lenski states, a similar thing occurs when people are

baptized in non-Trinitarian churches. Theirs is not baptism and for the following valid reason. Baptism was given to the church, and non-Trinitarians are not in any sense the church or a part of it. Denial of the Trinity is denial of the true God, substituting a figment for him, destroying the very substance of baptism, which is to bring a sinner into saving connection, not with an imaginary ‘God’ but with the one true God.[11]

Apollos, in contrast to them, did have a correct understanding of the baptism of John. However, he only knew of the baptism of John. This most certainly means that he knew why Christ had come and that he knew that Christ was His personal Saviour who would deliver him from all his sins. However, it seems that Apollos had no knowledge of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. He was not acquainted with Christ’s baptism in the sense of it also being a baptism in the Holy Ghost and fire. This is why Priscilla and Aquila had to explain to him the “way of God more accurately” (Acts 18:26). This does not mean that he did not know of the Holy Spirit, but rather that he did not know of the pouring out of the Holy Spirit (again recall that John’s ministry included teaching on the Holy Spirit).

The Laying on of Hands and the Receiving of the Holy Spirit:

The confirmation that these disciples had now received a true and proper baptism (and very importantly, they had received it in a true and personal faith) is seen in that these disciples, after their baptism, received the gift of the Holy Spirit. Not only was it a true baptism this time, but it was also a baptism accompanied by confirmation of the same: the gift of the Holy Spirit evidenced by prophesy and speaking in tongues. This shows that these disciples were now true Christians; they not only had their sins forgiven by the washing of the blood of Jesus Christ but they now had the Holy Spirit dwelling in them in a true and living manner.

It is important to note that the outward sign and washing of baptism did not make them Christians. It was their belief that the sacrifice of Jesus Christ had taken away all their sins that made them Christians. The fact that they had already been baptized (albeit not a true baptism) shows this. As Peter says in Acts 2:38, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” The demonstration that they had truly repented and had truly been forgiven is seen in that they received the gift of the Holy Spirit, just as Peter had prophesied.

It is also important to realize that this external sacrament of baptism is a separate thing from the baptism of the Holy Ghost. It was after these disciples had been baptized in the name of Jesus Christ that they then received the Holy Ghost and that by the means of laying on of hands (Acts 19:6). This is an act that is distinct and separate from the baptism. It was in the receiving of the Holy Spirit that the disciples received Christ’s baptism in a full and real sense: they were baptized with the Holy Spirit and with fire (Luke 3:16). This goes to show that water baptism is not efficacious to forgive sins; water baptism does not make a Christian. Yes, it is a sign, but it is the baptism of the Jesus Christ that cleanses from sin. Then the Holy Spirit confirms faith in Jesus Christ and provides assurance to the believer. To truly receive Christ’s baptism by faith is to receive the Holy Spirit in one’s heart. This is evidenced by the context of Acts 10:46 where even before being baptized with water, the gentiles of Caesarea had received the baptism of the Holy Ghost.

Furthermore, this baptism of the Holy Spirit is not performed through some magical laying on of hands, whereby the Holy Spirit is transferred from one individual to another (as some Pentecostals seem to believe). The Greek words used in Acts 19:6 makes this abundantly clear. But first it is necessary to show that the laying on of hands and the receiving of the Holy Spirit both happen at the same time. The Greek word used here for laid is ἐπιθέντος and in the context of Acts 19:6 it is an aorist, active, particle. Being a particle this indicates that it is not the main verb of the sentence and being aorist (and the main verb being aorist as well: ἦλθε) indicates that the participle and the main verb are occurring at the same time.[12] So while Paul is laying his hands on these disciples the Holy Spirit is coming upon them. While these two events are happening at the same time, the significant thing is that the main verb is active and that the Holy Spirit is the subject of the sentence. Paul is not controlling the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit had not been put in these men by Paul laying his hands on them. Rather, the Holy Spirit came upon these men (as a separate and independent agent), as Paul was laying his hands on them.

The use of the preposition ἐπʼ also supports this interpretation. This preposition has the meaning of “on, upon, to, up to.”[13] So the Holy Spirit does not come in, or into (this would be the case if the preposition was either εἰς or ἐν), these disciples as one might expect if Paul, through the laying on of hands, was dispensing it. Rather, the Holy Spirit comes upon or on them, indicating a very much independent coming on and a coming on that is not dispensed through the laying on of hands, but rather through the independent activity of the Holy Spirit.

This is further enforced by the context of Acts 8. Here Simon the Magus tries to buy the power to dispense the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:19). Peter rebukes Simon quite strongly, because as Kienzler points out, the real sin here is that Simon, “attempts to usurp Jesus’ role in bestowing the Spirit, desiring to take the Messiah’s separating work upon himself for his own personal gain.”[14] Simon has the misunderstanding that the Holy Spirit is dispensed by the apostles and Peter’s sharp response to that indicates that this is not the case. The ascended Lord Jesus Christ controls the free giving of the Holy Spirit[15] and he uses the means of the apostles laying on of hands to freely grant the Holy Spirit.

What then does the symbolism of the laying on of hands have to do with the reception of the Holy Spirit? Well, for one, the laying on of hands indicates an oneness that the apostle has with these disciples. It indicates that they are unified in doctrine and belief regarding Jesus Christ. Paul could not have laid his hands on them and expected them to receive the gift of the Holy Ghost prior to their baptism. They would not have the common ground of faith for that. Second, the laying on of hands, demonstrates “an invocatory prayer of healing and/or blessing.”[16] This meaning regarding the laying on of hands would seem to be indicated by Acts 28:8, “And it happened that the father of Publius was lying in bed afflicted with recurrent fever and dysentery; and Paul went in to see him and after he had prayed, he laid his hands on him and healed him.” This fits with the Old Testament symbolism of laying on of hands. As Lenski writes,

The hands were laid on them in this Old Testament symbolical act, which transferred the office with its duties and privileges and pictures the bestowal of the divine blessings that were necessary for this important work . . . . This rite was freely adopted by the early church.[17]

Therefore, the laying on of hands, was a symbolism both of unity and of invocatory prayer of blessing in Acts 19:6.

The Gift of the Holy Spirit: Speaking in Tongues:

This brings up the next important subject of Acts 19:6: what was the gift of speaking in tongues?

This is a question that is difficult and complicated to answer, but must be answered to come to a correct idea regarding the text. In order to come to this correct understanding of speaking in tongues, it is necessary to go to the first recorded instance of this: Acts 2:4.

Here Luke describes these tongues as “other or different” (ἑτέραις) tongues. Some interpret this as meaning completely different or new tongues; tongues that have never been spoken before by the human race.[18] Yet, the human nature and distinctiveness of these tongues is explained in Acts 2:6 which states, “And when this sound occurred, the crowd came together, and were bewildered because each one of them was hearing them speak in his own language.” It was not some brand new unhuman language that was being spoken here, but rather a real human language. Luke goes on to demonstrate this by giving quite an extensive list of languages and regions; a list that takes up three verses (Acts 2: 9 – 11).

Lenski points out that “the confusion of tongues at Babel was counterbalanced here at Pentecost, and that is the chief import of this part of the miracle.”[19] This is an important point, as the purpose of Babel was to make the people spread across the face of the earth: to be divided. Pentecost destroys that diversity and is thus a beautiful illustration that the gospel is no longer just going to the Jews, but to all nations. It demonstrates that the diversity of tongues and peoples does not stop the gospel. Further, this was a diversity caused by sin and depravity, but now that the sacrifice for sin has been made, the diversity can be restored by the wonderful unifying power of faith.  As Alexander writes,

As the moral unity of mankind had been lost, it was now to be restored, by the preaching of the Gospel to all nations. To this historical connection between diversities of language and the spiritual condition of the world, there seems to be allusion in the frequent use of the word tongues in prophecy to designate nations. . . . Isaiah 66, 18. Dan. 3, 4. 7. Rev. 5, 9. 7, 9. 10, 11. 11, 9. 13, 7. 14, 6. 17, 15.[20]

The promise of the gospel will go out to all nations and all nations will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Acts 2:4 – 11, Acts 10:46, and Acts 19:6 then is in partial fulfillment of Acts 1:8, where Christ commands his disciples to “be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”[21] So the fact that this is, in some senses, a reversal of Babel for the express purpose of being a sign that the gospel will be brought to all nations must mean that these are actual human languages spoken at Pentecost. They are not some mysterious speaking in an unhuman tongue, they are real languages.

Nor is this a miracle working on the ears of the hearer as some would contend. This is evidenced by Luke’s clear description of the facts. Luke writes in Acts 2:8, “And how is it that we each hear them in our own language to which we were born?” They were speaking languages that they had heard in their own native countries: their mother tongue.[22] Furthermore, Alexander argues that the use “of other tongues appears to have preceded the arrival of the foreign witnesses, whose hearing is supposed to have been thus affected.”[23]

From this definition of speaking in tongues, it is possible to conclude that these disciples in Acts 19 spoke human languages unknown to them upon receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost. Some would argue that this is a different speaking in tongues from that of Acts 2. They argue this on the basis that Luke does not use the term other when describing these tongues, but rather simply calls them tongues. However, the reason for Luke doing this is quite simply that he expects his reader to understand that these are the tongues spoken of in Acts 2. It would be redundant to state that they are other tongues as he has already stated that. Furthermore, if Luke was intending this to be a different miracles or a different speaking in tongues than that of Acts 2, it would seem odd that he would not introduce the reader to this different speaking in tongues and offer an explanation regarding it. Therefore, these disciples received the same gift of speaking in tongues spoken of in Acts 2. 

Around Twelve Disciples:

It is now that some discussion of Luke’s curious phrasing for Acts 19:7 can take place. Luke states, speaking about the certain disciples, that “There were in all about twelve men.” Luke’s use of the number twelve is not insignificant, especially because he rounds the number to twelve, from whatever number it originally was. Luke’s reason for focusing the reader in on the number twelve is because he wants to demonstrate that Ephesus was becoming another major center of Christianity. Throughout both the Old and New Testaments the number twelve is one of leadership and specifically the leadership of the church. In the Old Testament there are the twelve sons of Jacob, which became the twelve tribes of Israel: the visible representation of the church during the Old Testament. In the New Testament, Jesus Christ selects twelve disciples to be leaders of the church. Judas, not being a true disciple, killed himself after betraying Jesus Christ to the Jewish authorities. However, the disciples deem that the number twelve is very important, and in Acts 1:21 – 26 they elect a new disciple to take Judas’ place. They select this new disciple precisely for the purpose of leadership and spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is seen in Acts 1:24 – 25, “And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all men, show which one of these two You have chosen to occupy this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.”

The significance of twelve disciples is then that they are taking up a special role of leadership and the spreading of the gospel. After all it must be remembered that this was all taking place in Ephesus. As the reader progresses through Acts he sees a gradual progression of the gospel and the Holy Spirit throughout the world. It all starts in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost; that is the first mentioning of the gift of the Holy Spirit. Then it goes to the Samaritans in Acts 8. Then it comes to the gentiles of Caesarea in Israel. The next major outpouring of the Holy Spirit is seen in Ephesus in Acts 19:6. As Ephesus is a major gentile city, removed quite far from Israel, Jerusalem, and Caesarea, one can see the gospel going out to the corners of the earth.

Therefore, the significance of Luke mentioning that there are about twelve disciples and these disciples reside in Ephesus seems to be that he wants his readers to see not only a new leadership for the church, but also that the gospel is going out to the nations.

A Brief Application of Acts 19 for the Christian:

Much application can be made regarding this text, but due to the length of this paper, not much can be given here. Perhaps the most significant is that to receive the gospel with a true and living faith, is also to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Confession with the mouth does not mean that a person is a Christian. These disciples confessed that they were baptized with the baptism of John, but they did not display the qualities of a Christian, namely, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. They were even unsure of the existence of the Holy Spirit. So there must be a confession that has adequate knowledge regarding Christian doctrine and a sincere personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as the Saviour. This sincere faith must always be in connection with the work of the Holy Spirit in one’s heart. Not to have the Holy Spirit is not to be a Christian, for it is only by the work of the Holy Spirit in one’s heart that one is able to come to a believing faith in Jesus Christ. As that faith grows more and more, the Spirit becomes more and more manifest in the life of the Christian.[24] So an earnest rebuke must go to those who read this passage. That rebuke is that they have to be sure of their salvation, they have to be sure they have been reborn again by the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit, and their lives must be evidence of this power. A Christian is only a Christian in word if he has not been changed from what he was before he confessed Christ.


Therefore, in conclusion, Acts 19:1 – 7 is a very crucial passage not only for Christian doctrine, but also for Christian living. Acts 19 demonstrates the unity that there is between the baptism of John and the baptism of Christ and that thus, these disciples were not rebaptized. Acts 19 also demonstrates the need that faith in Jesus Christ must be accompanied by repentance of sin and the work of the Holy Spirit in a person’s heart. Not to have any of these is not to be a Christian. It is simply to confess with the mouth, but not with the heart. That ultimately was the problem with these disciples of John. They did not have a complete understanding of the work of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. In the modern world today, filled with so much misunderstanding and lies regarding Christianity, the true doctrine regarding Jesus Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Christian must be understood. It is only in this being understood that one can be a true Christian and rest in the confidence of the complete work of Jesus Christ on the cross.


Alexander, Joseph Addison. Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Klock & Klock Christian Publishers, 1980

Bavinck, Herman. Reformed Dogmatics: Holy Spirit, Church, and New Creation. Trans. By John Vriend. Edited by John Bolt. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academy, 2008

Calvin, John. Commentary upon the Acts of the Apostles, Volume 2. Trans. By Henry Beveridge. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010

Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion. Trans. By Henry Beveridge. Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2008

Conybeare, W.J., and Howson, J.S. The Life and Epistles of St. Paul. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1974

Dale, James. Johannic Baptism Βαπτιζω: An Inquiry into the Meaning of the Word as Determined by the Usage of Holy Scripture. Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 1993

de Bres, Guido. “Belgic Confession” in The Confession and the Church Order of the Protestant Reformed Churches. Grandville, Michigan: Protestant Reformed Churches, 2005: 22 – 80

Hoeksema, Herman. Reformed Dogmatics. Grandville, Michigan: Reformed Free Publishing Association, 2005

Jamieson, Robert, Fausset, A. R., and Brown, David. Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, vol. 2. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997

Keener, Craig S. Acts: An Exegetical Commentary Volume 3, 15:1 – 23:35. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academy, 2014

Keener, Craig S. “Why Does Luke Use Tongues as a Sign of the Spirit’s Empowerment?” in Journal of Pentecostal Theology Vol. 15 (2): 117 – 184

Kienzler, Jonathan. The Fiery Holy Spirit: The Spirit’s Relationship with Judgment in Luke-Acts. Dorchester, United Kingdom: Henry Ling Ltd, 2015

Lenski, R.C.H. The Interpretation of St. Luke’s Gospel. Columbus, Ohio: The Wartburg Press, 1960

Lenski, R.C.H. The Interpretation of The Acts of the Apostles. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Augsburg Publishing House, 1962

New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update. LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995

Wallace, Daniel. Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1996


[1] W.J. Conybeare, and J.S. Howson, The Life and Epistles of St. Paul. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1974), 330

[2] Ibid, 368

[3] Ibid, 365

[4] Ibid, 31

[5] This is the only passage in all of Scripture that mentions rebaptism. Therefore, one’s interpretation of this passage has to be very careful. It is hard to underestimate the significance of the event that is occurring here in Acts 19, precisely because it is the only passage in the Bible to speak of rebaptism.

[6] As the Belgic Confession, Article 34 states, “Therefore we believe that every man who is earnestly studious of obtaining life eternal ought to be but once baptized with this only baptism, without ever repeating the same, since we cannot be born twice. Neither doth this baptism avail us only at the time when the water is poured upon us and received by us, but also through the whole course of our life.” Guido de Bres, “Belgic Confession” in The Confession and the Church Order of the Protestant Reformed Churches. (Grandville, Michigan: Protestant Reformed Churches, 2005), 69

[7] Joseph Addison Alexander, Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles. (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Klock & Klock Christian Publishers, 1980), 649

[8] The use of the word “disciple” (μαθητής) in Lukan literature is almost always positive. It is seemingly never used negatively, i.e. in relation to the disciples who do not believe. It is almost exclusively used to relate to the disciples of Jesus or of John. Some flexibility can be given to the term however. Luke states in Luke 9:1 that there were twelve disciples (and as is known today, one of those was not a true disciple at all: Judas). Further in Luke 19:37, Luke recounts how the “whole crowd of the disciples began to praise God.” Again, it can be assumed that Judas was with this group (especially since this was the day that Christ entered in triumph into Jerusalem). Further, the term disciple is implied, but never out-rightly stated in Luke 5:33 when speaking of the “disciples of the Pharisees.”

[9] Ibid, 652

[10] R.C.H. Lenski, The Interpretation of The Acts of the Apostles. (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Augsburg Publishing House, 196), 783

[11] Ibid, 783 – 784

[12] Daniel Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1996), 624

[13] Ibid, 376

[14] Jonathan Kienzler, The Fiery Holy Spirit: The Spirit’s Relationship with Judgment in Luke-Acts. (Dorchester, United Kingdom: Henry Ling Ltd, 2015), 163 – 164

[15] Ibid, 163

[16] Ibid, 155

[17] Lenski, Acts, 247

[18] Ibid, 61 – 62

[19] Ibid, 62

[20] Alexander, Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles, 45

[21] Lenski, Acts, 62

[22] Alexander, Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles, 50

[23] Ibid, 45

[24] Yet, this does not mean that the modern day believer will receive the same confirmation gifts of the Holy Spirit that these disciples received: speaking in tongues and prophecy. These gifts have ceased with the Apostolic Age as I Corinthians 13:8 illustrates.

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