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A Map of Acts

A Map of Acts

8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. – Acts 1:8

Before diving into a detailed approach to Acts 10 and Acts 19, it is worth covering the general layout of Acts. Jesus Himself sets the stage for the book of Acts in His final vocalized promise to His disciples. This promise points back to their baptisms under John and points forward to the baptism of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5). This meeting is a once in history baptism of the new church. Pentecost is not a repeated event and yet it has ripples of re-enactment throughout the book of Acts.

One important aspect of the book of Acts is this emphasis on the apostles. Luke's account starts by returning the number of apostles back to twelve (Acts 1:20-26). Though some might question Peter’s methods here, this is an important symbolic establishment of twelve pillars for the new Israel. Contextually, the Holy Spirit immediately falls upon the disciples as the Jews of the world descend upon Jerusalem (Acts 2:5). This is a Jewish only baptism. The Holy Spirit descending on Jerusalem is completed in its falling upon the apostles and their speaking in tongues. It is important to note that no such description is given of the repentant audience. This is not a normative (or consistently descriptive) behavior for all believers.

In Acts 8 the expansion of the Holy Spirit into Samaria is demonstrated (Acts 8:4-25). The Christians have departed from Jerusalem and preaching has begun in Samaria. Baptisms in the name of Jesus Christ are occurring in Samaria and yet the Holy Spirit is not yet come. With the arrival of the apostles (the only ones to receive the gift of tongues at Pentecost) and the laying on of hands, the Jews of Samaria experience the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Unlike Pentecost there is no “rushing wind” (Acts 2:2). Unlike Pentecost the "crowd" is the one baptized in the Spirit. The conquest of the Holy Spirit expands under the mere means of the apostle’s hands. The Holy Spirit has descended and baptized Samaria.

In Acts 10 the expansion of the Holy Spirit to the Gentiles begins. Though with respect to location the apostle Peter stays in Caesarea, Israel (Acts 10:1) this is a large expansion by the Holy Spirit. It is so large that it requires its own mini-Pentecost which becomes the basis of Peter's defense for water baptism (Acts 11). Unlike Samaria, the Holy Spirit falls first to validate the Gentile inclusion (Acts 10:44). This mirrors how at Pentecost the Holy Spirit fell solely on the disciples to validate their ministry. The giving of the gift of tongues convinces Peter that this is the same Spirit that baptized him on Pentecost (Acts 10:46). The two events are tied together in that they validate the Holy Spirit's expansion of the church.

In Acts 19 the final expansion of the Holy Spirit over “the end of the earth” occurs. Via Paul’s missionary journeys the apostles final expand beyond the land of Israel (Acts 19:1). Ephesus is the chosen location for God to validate the expansion of the Holy Spirit in fulfillment of Christ’s promise. It is here that the laying on of hands occurs, as in Samaria, and tongues are spoken, as in Caesarea, (Acts 19:6). This final mini-Pentecost combines all the symbolic imagery found at the start of Acts. Similarly, this mini-Pentecost is meant to validate the ministry of Paul and the expansion of the promise outside of Israel. The road map of Acts 1 in completed and the church is firmly established in Ephesus with “about twelve men in all” (Acts 19:7).

With this road map these unique baptismal texts in Acts can be evaluated for their special place in salvation history and the expansion of the church. In particular, the repeating form of laying on hands and the gift of tongues should provide some hermeneutical signposts for the special nature of these baptisms. The affirmation of the apostles, the Gentiles, and the ministry of Paul saddles up with the prophetic fulfillment of Christ’s promise to explain the non-normative nature of these texts.

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