Acts Part 17

Notes on Acts

Part Seventeen




Read 18:18-28.


Verse 17 says that Paul went to the synagogue and “reasoned with the Jews.” Paul is our example. We ought to be ready to reason with anyone so that we can demonstrate the truth of Christ. It is not enough that we only have a private faith. Our private faith is enough to gain eternal life. But it is not enough to be faithful to the Lord.


In order to reason well we should receive some training in reasoning, for there is such a things as poor reasoning. Studying logic is beneficial to this end. It is not just a scholarly exercise. If one examines the teachings of Jesus, especially when he was arguing with his opponents, one sees that Jesus understood logic and used it. Similarly, the apostle Paul did too.


However, reason alone is insufficient. Our reason must be grounded in revelation, the Scriptures. We saw in chapter 17 that Paul reasoned using the Scriptures:


And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.” [1]


Eventually, Paul went to Antioch, the place where he started. Antioch was his “home base,” so to speak. It is good to have a home base. Your home base will be a local church, as was Antioch.


From there he went from town to town in Asia Minor, “strengthening the disciples” (vs. 23). The pattern reappears. Paul was not focused on his own personal desires. Rather, his heart was for proclaiming the faith and strengthening those who possessed it. Paul’s life is a pattern for us. We, too, should strengthen those in the faith. They will not be strengthened by talking about politics or the news. They will be strengthened when we share with them truths from the Scriptures. When we read or study something in the Bible, we will be encouraged ourselves. We can then share what we learned with a brother or sister. If we neglect our own reading or studying of sacred writ, then we will not be equipped to strengthen others.


Apollos, too, was “competent in the Scriptures.” He was also “fervent in spirit.” What a combination! These things are not just for Paul and Apollos. They are for every disciple. Why? Because we also have the Scriptures. And, we also have the Spirit in our spirit. We may not be as intelligent as either Paul or Apollos, but we do not need to be. Apollos was “instructed in the way of the Lord” (vs. 25). We can also be instructed. We may need more instruction than Apollos did. That is OK.


When I [CR] was at a Christian college a very long time ago, there were many ministerial students there. I was taking my first class in Greek (because that is the language with which the apostles wrote the NT) and I found it challenging. However, I did receive the highest marks because I studied very much. There was another student there who failed the class. He took it again. He failed it a second time. He took it again. If my memory serves me correctly, he took the class four times until he finally passed. He didn’t give up. Some of us may need to have more instruction and may need to apply ourselves more, but we can all become “competent in the Scriptures.” Not only can we, but we should. The main reason some are not is not lack of intelligence. Rather, it is a lack of practice. Truly, there is no excuse for not abiding in the word of God.  Even those who cannot read at all can listen to the Bible on audio.


And when he [Apollos] wished to cross to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. When he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed,[2]


It is through grace that the believers in Achaia had come to believe. The literal rendering is “the grace,” including the definite article. “This grace is just God Himself in Christ as the portion to the believers in Christ…this grace is the resurrected Christ becoming the life-giving Spirit (I Cor. 15:45) to bring the processed[3] God in resurrection into us to be our life and life supply so that we may live in resurrection. Therefore, grace is the Triune God becoming life and everything to us.”[4]


Read 19:1-7.


Paul asked the disciples at Ephesus if they had received the Holy Spirit when they believed (vs. 2).  His inquiry is not about the essential reception of the Holy Spirit, which all genuine believers receive. They were disciples already (vs. 1) and so had the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Rather, the apostle is asking about the economic reception of the Holy Spirit, that is, the baptism of the Holy Spirit. They answered:


And they said, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”[5]


These disciples had never heard about the Holy Spirit! This lack was a result of Apollos’s ministry. Because he himself was unaware of God’s full revelation, being limited to John’s ministry and the Old Testament Scriptures. And so, we will meet believers who lack knowledge because their teachers may have lacked knowledge. We have an opportunity to encourage them and teach them.


Then these Ephesian disciples were baptized in the name of Jesus. They were rebaptized. However, we should not use this example as a warrant for rebaptism. Generally, being baptized more than once should be discouraged. This is because this instance was unique. They were not baptized the first time “in the name of Jesus.”[6] They had only been familiar with the baptism of John. Now, all Christian sects baptize using the Trinitarian formula or use the words, “in the name of Jesus.”


There is disagreement among evangelicals as to if or when a person should be rebaptized. From a Reformed Baptist perspective these reasons should warrant a subsequent baptism:


  • A person was initially baptized as an infant. This is because all New Testament examples of baptism were subsequent to faith and repentance. Baptism prior to faith and repentance reverses the Scriptural order.
  • A person was initially baptized in a cult, such as Jehovah Witnesses or Mormons, for example.
  • A person was baptized with an unscriptural mode of baptism. The three modes of baptism are sprinkling, effusion (pouring over the head), and immersion. However, the first two are not found in Scripture and are traditions. According to the London Baptist Confession of 1689: “Immersion, or dipping, of the person in water, is necessary to the due administration of this ordinance.”[7] The very meaning of the Greek word for baptism is “immersion.”


A common request for rebaptism is when the recipient is convinced that they were not regenerated when they were first baptized. This may even be the case. Many professions of faith are made that do not reflect a supernaturally changed heart. A person could be baptized when they are 15 years of age, for example, and then, because they were not born again, they will fall into sin. Later, maybe in their twenties or thirties, they are brought to despair because of their many poor choices and sins. They genuinely repent. They request baptism. The consensus among many conservative scholars is that, in such cases, the person should not be rebaptized. Primarily, this is because there is no scriptural example of such. (We have already noted that the situation here with the Ephesians is unique and does not qualify.) Rather, the person should simply verbally reaffirm their original baptism (e.g., “I failed to live in accordance with my baptism. I now commit to do so willingly and joyfully.”).


Returning to our text:


And when Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied. 7 Now the men were about twelve in all.[8]


“The word ‘upon’ here is economically different from the essential ‘in’ John 14:17. ‘In’ is related to the intrinsic essence for life; ‘upon’ is related to the outward element for power. Here the Ephesian believers received the Holy Spirit outwardly.’[9]


Note that Paul laid hands on them before they received the Holy Spirit. Those who have themselves been baptized in the Holy Spirit, as was Paul (I Cor. 14:18), and who are consecrated, may lay hands on those who request the baptism of the Holy Spirit. But, as we have seen earlier in the book of Acts, the outpouring of the Spirit may come without the laying on of hands, too.


We also saw previously that speaking in tongues is an evidence of the Holy Spirit coming upon a person, but it is not the only evidence. Other manifestations may be present besides tongues, such as speaking in boldness (4:31), flames of fire (2:3), signs and wonders (14:3).


And he entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God. 9 But when some became stubborn and continued in unbelief, speaking evil of the Way before the congregation, he withdrew from them and took the disciples with him, reasoning daily in the hall of Tyrannus. 10 This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks. [10]


“The first step in unleashing the power of the word is to proclaim it, and Paul did just that. He had established cordial relationships with the Ephesian Jews on his previous, brief visit (18:19-21). Returning to Ephesus, he found the door still open, so he entered the synagogue and continued speaking out boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God. The imperfect tense of parresiazomai (speaking out boldly) emphasizes the continual nature of Paul’s proclamation. Boldness was a hallmark of apostolic preaching (4:29) and of Paul’s desire for ministry (Eph. 6:19). The content of his preaching was uncompromisingly confrontational; he held back nothing out of fear of rejection or hostility. Paul spent three months boldly proclaiming the gospel in the synagogue…reasoning with the Jews and persuading them about the kingdom of God. Reasoning is from dialegomai, from which the English word dialogue derives. Paul did not merely lecture, but again was responding to their questions and challenges. ‘Persuading’ is the present participle of peitho, and means ‘to convince by argument’ (Acts 28;23). He was obviously in the midst of a whole congregation of unbelieving Jews. Yet he unflinchingly and directly challenged their whole religious system, calling them to repent and believe in Jesus as their as their Messiah and God.”[11]


Again, Paul ought to be our example. Indeed, Paul holds himself out as an example for us (Phil. 3:17; 2 Thes. 3:9)! Therefore, we should speak boldly and confrontationally, even if this is not part of our natural disposition. We can do so because we have the Spirit! (And if we have not received the baptism of the Spirit we can ask for it!) We can challenge a person’s belief system and we ought to do so. We argue with them – not in the sense of bickering, but argue in the sense of providing reasons for the truths that we proclaim. In order to provide reasons we must know the reasons. In order to know the reasons for our hope, we must study. This is part of being prepared (I Peter 3:15). Therefore, apologetics (the study of how to defend the faith) should be the domain of every believer, not just church leaders or specialists.


“…about the kingdom of God.” (vs. 8) “Preaching the kingdom of God encompasses more than eschatological thousand-year reign of Christ on the earth. To teach the kingdom of God is to teach the things concerning Christ and salvation (28:31) and righteousness (Rom. 14:17). It is to teach how to enter the sphere of salvation and live there in communion with God.”[12]


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ac 17:2–3). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ac 18:27). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[3] This adjective is used by brother Lee to denote the process that God went through when he came to the earth in the Person of Christ. That is: incarnation (taking on the human nature), human living (perfect obedience), death on the cross, resurrection, and ascension.

[4] Witness Lee, Life-Study of Acts Message Fifty.

[5] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ac 19:2). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[6] To be baptized “in the name of Jesus” and “in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit” are equivalent.

[7] Chapter 29, point number four.

[8] The New King James Version. (1982). (Ac 19:6–7). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[9] Witness Lee, Message 50.

[10] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ac 19:8–10). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[11] John MacArthur, TNMTC on Acts Volume 2, 172-173.

[12] Ibid.