“Peter’s Kingdom Keys Explain Subsequence”

“Peter’s Kingdom Keys Explain Subsequence” October 13, 2015

The following is my first journal article. It was published a few days ago in the Journal of Pentecostal Theology. (See my 11/1/13 post about this subject entitled “Peter’s Kingdom Keys Explain Spirit Baptism.”) The thesis of this article is laid out in more detail in my new book, Solving the Samaritan Riddle: Peter’s Kingdom Keys Explain Early Spirit Baptism. Published by Wipf and Stock Publishers on September 24, 2015, this book is now available at amazon.com, wipfandstockpublishers.com, and others. No portion of the following copyrighted article may be published without the permission of Brill, the publisher of JPT.

 Peter’s Kingdom Keys Explain Subsequence 

Kermit Zarley

Published in Journal of Pentecostal Theology 24 (2015) pp. 217-230


This article proposes a solution to the Dunn Debate. It is that Peter’s temporary role in using the metaphorical ‘keys of the kingdom of heaven’ that Jesus promised him in Mt. 16.19 involved both Peter’s preaching the gospel and Jesus’ initial baptizing with the Holy Spirit. Thus, no subsequence (post-conversion Spirit baptism) presumably occurred with the 3,000 Jewish converts at Pentecost in Acts 2 and certainly with the Gentiles in Acts 10 because Peter was the preacher of the gospel when they believed; but subsequence did occur with the Samaritans in Acts 8 because Philip preached and they believed, but Peter came to them days later, using his kingdom keys. After that, with the exception of the anomaly in Acts 19, Dunn is correct that conversion and Spirit baptism always occur simultaneously.


James G.D. Dunn – Spirit baptism – Peter’s kingdom keys – Pentecostal theology – Lukan theology – Pauline theology


The so-called Dunn Debate is now forty-five years old, and it has not dissipated at all. Thus, there is still no agreement between the two parties in this dispute about Spirit baptism/reception in the New Testament (NT).

As many readers of this volume probably know, this dispute began in 1970 when James D.G. Dunn’s doctoral dissertation was published as Baptism in the Holy Spirit: A Re-examination of the New Testament Teaching on the Gift of the Spirit in Relation to Pentecostalism Today (henceforth BHS). Until then, Pentecostals shunned higher education and biblical scholarship; but new Pentecostal scholars began to refute Dunn’s argument in BHS. Now, some of them credit Jimmy (as his friends call him) for drawing them into this cordial discussion.

The foremost Pentecostal scholars who have published monographs advocating subsequence have been Howard M. Ervin, James B. Shelton, Roger J. Stronstad, and Robert P. Menzies.1 Pentecostal scholar Gordon D. Fee and ex-Pentecostal Max Turner have sided with Dunn.2

Dunn wrote his book to counter the growing Pentecostal movement, which asserted that according to the NT book of Acts the baptism in the Holy Spirit occurs subsequent to conversion, that is, after a person believes in Jesus for salvation. Pentecostals called this teaching of theirs ‘the doctrine of separability and subsequence’. They added that recipients of Spirit baptism must then speak in tongues as initial evidence of Spirit baptism. Thus, they said without tongues there is no Spirit baptism. Offshoot Charismatics emerged, and many of them embraced subsequence without tongues.

Pentecostals have biblically supported their distinctive doctrine almost exclusively with Luke’s book of Acts. They have done so with some or all of Luke’s four narratives on Spirit baptism, in Acts 2, 8, 10, and 19, and some have added the story of Paul’s conversion in Acts 9. Non-Pentecostal scholars have alleged that Pentecostal teachers ignored Paul’s NT teaching on Spirit reception.

In my view, Pentecostal scholars who have tried to reconcile Paul and Luke on this subject have not been convincing, but neither has Dunn. His thesis in BHS is that the NT says uniformly that Spirit baptism occurs simultaneously at conversion. Evangelicals had always held this view and thus differed with Pentecostals on it. It is just that Dunn wrote the first, thorough, scholarly book about it. But in arguing for uniformity between Luke’s narratives in Acts and in Paul’s epistles, a large majority of scholars have rejected some of Dunn’s interpretations in Acts. So, most Pentecostals except Gordon Fee, and some Evangelicals such as Clark Pinnock, have accused Dunn of using Pauline spectacles in reading Luke’s book of Acts.

Forty years after this Dunn Debate began Jimmy admitted, ‘I am somewhat disappointed that the debate which my Baptism book seems to have occasioned has not revealed more inadequacies of my thesis than it has’.3 Well Jimmy, with all due respect, I hope this article will not disappoint you.

Dunn is right about Paul. The apostle makes simultaneity clear in his NT epistles. He writes to the saints at Rome, ‘But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him’ (Rom. 8.9).4 When Paul wrote this, it seems Christians were interchanging ‘Spirit of God’ and ‘Spirit of Christ’. Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, ‘For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and we were all made to drink of one Spirit’ (1 Cor. 12.13). Yet some Acts narratives say otherwise.

Thus, Evangelicals and Pentecostals have disagreed about Spirit baptism because it seems that Paul’s epistolary teaching about it conflicts with some of Luke’s narratives about it in Acts. However, none of the participants in this Dunn Debate have considered Peter’s role of using kingdom keys that Jesus promised him as the reconciling factor between what Luke and Paul say about Spirit baptism/reception.

Jesus’ Promise to Peter about Kingdom Keys 

All three synoptics report that Jesus led his apostles into the district of Caesarea Philippi and asked them who he was. Peter typically spoke up, saying, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God’ (Mt. 16.16). Matthew alone adds that Jesus said to Peter, ‘you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church’ (Mt. 16.18). Jesus continues, ‘I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven’ (v. 19). Laying aside the hotly disputed question of whether the rock is Peter or his confession he just made, these keys seem to have something to do with spreading the gospel and thereby building the church.

Only Matthew also relates that soon afterwards Jesus said the same words to all of the apostles about binding and loosing (Mt. 18.18). To say that Jesus’ meaning for these two sayings was the same makes his second remark redundant. Rather, he uttered the first saying only to Peter whereas he spoke the second one to all of the apostles, which included Peter. The single pronouns in the first saying and plural pronouns in the second affirm this. Thus, it should be concluded that Peter’s binding and loosing relates to his unique role in using kingdom keys, but the context of the second remark about binding and loosing authority indicates it was meant strictly for church discipline. And it appears that Jesus intended this authority to be passed down to succeeding generations, but not so with Peter’s metaphorical keys.

In perusing commentaries on The Gospel of Matthew and The Acts of the Apostles, it becomes evident that NT scholars generally have not considered Acts as a testament to Peter’s use of kingdom keys. Acts begins with a prologue that includes two sayings of the risen Jesus to his disciples before he ascended to heaven. Jesus said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now’ (Acts 1.5). And Jesus also said, ‘you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth’ (Acts 1.8). Luke attached the same to the end of his gospel (Lk. 24.47–49), in which Jesus said of the Spirit, ‘I am sending upon you what my Father promised’ (v. 49). But John had said more precisely concerning Jesus, ‘He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire’ (Mt. 3.11; Lk. 3.16; cf. Jn. 1.29–34). So, Jesus will be the Spirit baptizer, and he initially will use Peter as a conduit.

The Day of Pentecost in Acts 2 

Ten days after Jesus’ heavenly ascension, his words were fulfilled when about 120 disciples, including the apostles, were gathered together in a house in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost (Acts 1.15; 2.1–4). Luke relates, ‘All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages’ (v. 4). A large crowd gathered at the house and Peter proclaimed the gospel (vv. 14–36). He preached, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’ (Acts 2.38). Luke says that 3,000 Jews repented and believed Peter and thus were saved (v. 41). A few scholars have claimed that for the first time Peter here used his kingdom keys by being Jesus’ witness in preaching the gospel. But there was more to it.

Many Pentecostals cite the 120 disciples being Spirit baptized at Pentecost as support for their doctrine of subsequence, claiming their experience is a paradigm for all believers (Acts 1.15; 2.1–4). It is true that the eleven apostles believed in Jesus at the beginning of his public ministry, when they began following him. But the Spirit coming upon them years later at Pentecost was a one-time, initiation event that would never be repeated. Thus, it cannot properly serve as a model for all people afterwards.

Also, Peter had preached at Pentecost, ‘Repent, … and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’ (Acts 2.38). Although Luke does not say that the 3,000 new converts received the Spirit that day, that is precisely what Peter had promised in his sermon. Thus, rather than experience subsequence they experienced the simultaneity that Paul later taught in his NT epistles. And it must have been the same for the many thousands of Jews who repented/believed soon afterwards (Acts 4.4; 5.14).

Surprisingly, Dunn alleges (BHS, p. 53), ‘it was only at Pentecost that the 120 became Christians’. He adds (BHS, p. 139), ‘there were no Christians (properly speaking) prior to Pentecost’. This use of the word ‘Christian’ is anachronistic since Luke says it was years later ‘at Antioch that the disciples were first called Christians’ (Acts 11.26). And with all due respect for Jimmy Dunn, I think alleging that the 120 disciples had to remain unregenerate until Jesus died for their sins, and even until they were Spirit baptized, is a misunderstanding of the epochal transition from old covenant to new covenant which many Pentecostal scholars have rightly pointed out.

The issue is not what to call the 120 disciples, but what they believed prior to Pentecost about Jesus and thus whether they were saved. Many have pointed out that the Eleven were saved and thus belonged to Jesus because they believed he was Israel’s Messiah when they started following him (Jn. 1.41, 49). And Jesus spoke often to his disciples about God being their ‘Father’, teaching them to pray, ‘Our Father’ (Mt. 6.9), indicating a relationship with him. And at the Last Supper he pronounced the Eleven ‘clean’ (Jn. 13.10; cf. Acts 15.9). James Shelton asserts correctly that the 120 disciples were saved prior to Pentecost because they had done as Paul later writes, ‘if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved’ (Rom. 10.9).5

So, God’s Spirit was always active in old covenant times in bringing about spiritual regeneration. Jesus made this clear when he told Nicodemus he needed to be ‘born from above’ and said he should have understood this from Scripture (Jn. 3.3, 10; cf. Deut. 10.16; Jer. 4.4; Ezek. 18.31; 36.26–27). So, the universal gift of the Holy Spirit that began at Pentecost was in addition to the Spirit’s activity in a person being born again. Thus Robert Menzies observes, ‘Luke does not view the gift of the Spirit as a necessary element in conversion’.6 In contrast, Dunn errs in repeatedly stating (BHS, p. 93), ‘the one thing that makes a man a Christian is the gift of the Spirit.’

‘The Samaritan Riddle’ in Acts 8 

But the story in Acts 8 is different. Luke states, ‘Philip went to the city of Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah to them’ (Acts 8.5). Samaritans were half Jew and half Gentile. Thus, they accepted the Pentateuch and believed in the idea of the future coming of the Jewish Messiah. Luke adds, ‘when they believed Philip, who was proclaiming the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women’ (v. 12). Luke says, ‘when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. The two went down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit (for as yet the Spirit had not come upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus). Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit’ (vv. 14–17).

It seems that the apostles sent Peter and John mostly due to learning that these new, Samaritan converts had not received the Spirit. It would have been secondary if they wanted to prevent a future schism between them and Samaritan believers.

Why did the 3,000 Jews in Acts 2 believe in Jesus and presumably receive the Holy Spirit on that day of Pentecost, yet these Samaritans believed and did not receive the Spirit? (Due to this question, in Dunn’s book he has a chapter entitled ‘The Riddle of Samaria’.) The difference was Peter was present when those 3,000 Jews believed, but he was not present when the Samaritans believed. When Peter laid his hands on the Samaritans and prayed for them to receive the Spirit, they did. That portrays something about Peter’s kingdom keys that is in addition to his preaching the gospel. Peter opened the door of the kingdom for these Samaritan converts to be spiritually empowered by receiving the Holy Spirit. Thus, Peter’s use of kingdom keys involved preaching the gospel plus imparting Spirit baptism.

Pentecostal scholars’ favorite NT text to support their doctrine of subsequence is Acts 8.14–17; yet it is ironic that Luke does not say these Samaritans spoke in tongues upon receiving the Spirit. But he does say the magician ‘Simon saw that the Spirit was given’ in ‘power’ (vv. 18–19), suggesting physical evidence. If tongues were a necessary manifestation of the Spirit, surely Luke would not have omitted this important detail.

Pentecostals have been right in saying these Samaritans had a post-conversion Spirit baptism. But they have not been right in insisting it is a paradigm for all believers,7 so that people are baptized with the Spirit after they believe. Rather, when Peter opened a kingdom door for these Samaritans to receive the Spirit, it stayed open for other Samaritans to believe and simultaneously be Spirit baptized.

Dunn, similar to his assertion that the 120 disciples were not Christians until Pentecost, says these Samaritans did not believe in Jesus when Philip preached to them. He alleges (BHS, p. 63), ‘their response and commitment was defective’. Forty years after Jimmy’s BHS book was published he still was of the same mindset. He says of Acts 8.4–24, ‘there is no thought in Acts that the Samaritans were “regenerate” … [rather] the evangelism was incomplete … Something had gone wrong’.8

In contrast to Dunn, many Evangelical scholars agree with D.A. Carson who says of Acts 8.12–17, ‘it has been ably pointed out, in some detail, that the language of belief and baptism, applicable to the Samaritans before the Holy Spirit descends on them, is regular Lukan terminology for becoming a Christian … in my judgment the attempt to make Luke say the Samaritans were not believers until they received the Holy Spirit is not true to Luke’s purposes.’9

Jimmy takes his view of Acts 8.12–17 due to his repeated presupposition, ‘For Luke the … gift of the Spirit is the beginning of a man’s Christian experience and life’ (BHS, p. 58, emphasis his). And he writes later, ‘Luke shared the regular view among the major NT writers that it is the gift of the Spirit which constitutes a Christian’.10 But many scholars think this is an example of reading Luke’s book of Acts by overlaying Paul’s epistolary teaching on it like a grid. Yet many have pointed out that Dunn has been the champion of unity and diversity in the NT, which is the title of one of his books.11

Nine years after Dunn’s BHS book was published he wrote concerning his treatment of Acts 8.12 in it:

I readily admit that this was not the strongest part of my discussion of Acts, and that if my interpretation of Luke’s intention is correct, Luke could have made his meaning a good deal clearer. But I was driven to search for an alternative explanation by the unsatisfactory nature of the other interpretations offered for what all are agreed is a rather difficult passage which raises several puzzling questions.

‘The question which has posed the greatest puzzles for successive generations of commentators is the relation between faith, baptism, and the gift of the Spirit in Acts 8.12

Surely all can appreciate Dunn’s candid admission here. He adds, ‘The explanation is not as compelling as I would wish, but where Luke has left us only a few clues as to his meaning in this very compressed passage, we have to be content with those he did provide … Can any alternative explanation claim as much?’13 I think applying Peter’s role in using kingdom keys does and more.

So, whether the apostles knew it or not, under God’s guidance they sent Peter to use his kingdom keys and thereby become the conduit, the channel, through which Jesus would pour upon these Samaritans the Holy Spirit.

Some may allege that this viewpoint makes Peter look like the Spirit baptizer instead of Jesus. Cessationists have often lodged this allegation against faith healers such as Oral Roberts. But Oral always replied that Jesus healed through him. And that is surely how healings occurred that Luke records in the book of Acts. Sometimes, the apostles laid hands on people and they were healed (Acts 5.12 NASB, ESV; 9.12, 17–18; 14.3 NASB, ESV; 28.8; cf. 3.1–8; 5.15); other times, it happened without the laying on of hands (Acts 9.40; 19.11). It was the same with people being Spirit baptized in Peter’s presence. That is, Peter and John laid their hands on the Samaritans, and they received the Spirit; but that was not how it happened with the Gentiles in Acts 10. Thus, the crucial requirement for this initial Spirit baptism was Peter’s presence.

The Cornelius Household in Acts 10 

Just as Jesus had predicted, the good news about him was first proclaimed to the Jews, then to the Samaritans, and last of all to the Gentiles. Luke informs, ‘In Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of the Italian Cohort, as it was called. He was a devout man who feared God with all his household; he gave alms generously to the people and prayed constantly to God’ (Acts 10.1–2). So, this Gentile military man was a God-fearer, not a proselyte to Judaism. Both he and the Apostle Peter at nearby Joppa had visions in which they were instructed to meet, and Peter would deliver a message to Cornelius and his household. Peter arrived at the house and began to proclaim the gospel. Luke says, ‘While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word’ (v. 44). Peter then said to his accompanying friends that these Gentiles had ‘received the Holy Spirit just as we have’? (v. 47). Thus, Peter believed they were new converts and he had them water baptized (v. 48).

Some NT Pentecostal scholars cite this episode about Cornelius as support for their doctrine of subsequence. Roger Stronstad asserts about all four of Luke’s narratives on Spirit baptism in Acts, ‘in every example there is a clear interval between conversion and being filled and/or baptized with the Holy Spirit’.14 He says this because of Luke’s positive description of Cornelius as a God-fearer, thus presuming him to be a believer. Besides Luke’s opening remark about Cornelius, the angel in his vision said to him, ‘Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God’ (Acts 10.4). And Cornelius’ soldiers told Peter that Cornelius was ‘an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation’ (v. 22). Thus, it is thought that Cornelius was converted before he met Peter. What about the others in the house?

Peter soon revealed something about Cornelius that clearly establishes he was not saved prior to hearing Peter preach. Luke says, ‘the apostles and the believers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God’ (Acts 11.1). This suggests that Cornelius had not previously accepted the word (about Jesus), no doubt because he had not heard about it. Peter then had to go to Jerusalem to defend himself for having fellowshipped with Gentiles, which Judaism forbade. When Peter gave his defense before his apostolic brethren he told this story about Cornelius and his household. Peter related that the angel in Cornelius’ vision had told him about a man ‘called Peter, he will give you a message by which you and your entire household will be saved’ (v. 14). Thus, rather than this episode about Cornelius being evidence of the Pentecostals’ doctrine of subsequence, it proves just the opposite. Cornelius and his household experienced conversion and Spirit baptism simultaneously.

Gordon Fee alleges that Pentecostals have not adequately responded to this Acts 10 evidence that militates against their doctrine of separability and subsequence. It is well known that Fee – who has attained a preeminent status among all Pentecostal scholars in the academic community – ever since the beginning of his career has questioned this doctrine while remaining a Pentecostal.

An example of Fee’s allegation is Howard Ervin’s book Conversion-Initiation and the Baptism in the Holy Spirit. It is all about Ervin trying to refute Dunn’s BHS book. Ervin rightly argues, I think, that conversion and Spirit baptism are two separate acts in the experiences of the Gentiles in Acts 10. Yet Ervin does not address Dunn’s primary argument, that there was no time interval between conversion and Spirit baptism for these Gentiles.15

Robert Menzies does likewise in his book Empowered for Witness. In an extensive treatment of the Samaritan episode in Acts 8, he rightly shows that the Samaritans experienced subsequence. And he acknowledges that the Gentiles in Acts 10 underwent conversion and Spirit baptism simultaneously. Yet Menzies ignores trying to reconcile the Gentiles’ simultaneity with his doctrine of subsequence.16

So, Peter used his kingdom keys to open a door of the kingdom of God for the Gentiles. With Peter present, Jesus baptized Cornelius and his household with the Holy Spirit at the same time they believed. Peter has now finished opening the doors of the kingdom to all three biblical classifications of humanity: Jews, Samaritans, and Gentiles. From then on, all people receive the Holy Spirit when they believe in Jesus. And contrary to the dogma of the Roman Catholic Church concerning its papacy, Peter’s role in using the keys to open kingdom doors was temporary and therefore now finished.

In all of my research, I discovered that only Michael J. Wilkins, an authority on the Gospel of Matthew, advocates a viewpoint that comes close to my thesis here. In one of his commentaries on Matthew, Wilkins makes the following remark about Mt. 16.17–19 that Grant R. Osborne endorses in his commentary of Matthew: ‘Peter, the representative disciple who gives the first personal declaration of the Messiah’s identity, is the one in the book of Acts who opens the door of the kingdom to the Jews on Pentecost (Acts 2), to the Samaritans (Acts 8), and finally to the Gentiles (Acts 10) … Peter leads the fledgling church to accept all peoples as recipients of God’s kingdom blessings. His presence on three critical occasions (Acts 2, 8, 10) signified that God had bestowed his Spirit on all peoples – Jews, Samaritans, and Gentiles. As the utilizer of the keys of the kingdom of heaven, Peter signifies that God has opened the door of salvation-historical blessing for all peoples … all that is directed to Peter is temporarily limited to his lifetime. It is therefore right for us to give due regard to this blessed apostle as one used in a special way in opening the doors of the kingdom of God and in the establishment of the church. But nowhere does Jesus indicate that Peter will play a perpetual role through successors.’17

Notice that Wilkins says Peter’s ‘presence’ is what accomplished the Samaritans’ Spirit baptism. He does not offer this interpretation as the solution to the Dunn Debate. But that ought not be expected since it is about an apparent contradiction between Luke’s book of Acts and Paul’s letters regarding Spirit baptism whereas Wilkins makes this remark in one of his commentaries on Matthew.

The Ephesians in Acts 19 

Later in Acts, Luke arranges two pericopes together as if to signify that they are related. The first is about a Jew named Apollos. Luke describes him as a Christian (Acts 18.24–28), adding that ‘he knew only the baptism of John’ (v. 25). Luke also says, ‘when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained the Way of God to him more accurately’ (v. 24), which must have included Christian baptism. Apollos soon became one of the great preachers of the early Jesus Movement (1 Cor. 1.10–13).

Luke relates the next pericope, in Acts 19.1–7, as follows:

Paul passed through the interior regions [of Asia Minor] and came to Ephesus, where he found some disciples. He said to them, ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?’ They replied, ‘No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit’. Then he said, ‘Into what then were you baptized?’ They answered, ‘Into John’s baptism’. Paul said, ‘John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus’. On hearing this, they baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied – altogether there were about twelve of them.

So, the predicament of these twelve Ephesian men was the same as with Apollos. They all had been baptized according to John’s baptism and thus had not experienced Christian baptism – water immersion symbolizing death to the old life, and being raised from the water to newness of life in Christ.

Pentecostals claim these Ephesians were Christians before they met Paul, and they experienced a post-conversion Spirit baptism when Paul laid hands on them. This viewpoint has been the common understanding of Christians throughout church history.

But Dunn says these Ephesians were not Christians until they received the Spirit with Paul. He well argues (BHS, pp. 83–89) that the NT use of the word ‘disciples’ (Gr. mathetai) does not always mean true believers (e.g., Jn. 8.31). But Luke uses it in Acts twenty-five times, and in all the other instances it refers to genuine believers. Plus, I think Dunn makes too much of mathetai here being uniquely anarthrous.

What did Paul mean by asking, ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?’ Dunn replies, ‘Their ignorance of the Holy Spirit and about Jesus, and the fact that Paul did not count their baptism sufficient but had them undergo baptism in the name of the Lord Jesus, indicates a negative answer’ (BHS, p. 83).

First, Dunn is not clear here. He means these Ephesians were not believers when they met Paul, not that they did not receive the Spirit when they believed previously. In contrast, most people would say Paul’s question indicates he recognized them as believers. And Luke’s arrangement of these pericopes together, in which Apollos and these Ephesians had only been baptized with John’s baptism, suggests that these Ephesians were Christians just as Apollos was. Furthermore, they probably were Jews as Apollos was, attended synagogue at Ephesus as he did, and may have been taught by him.

Second, it is more likely that these Ephesians meant they had not heard about the Holy Spirit being poured out, not that they were ignorant of the Holy Spirit. They must have known the Jewish scriptures to some extent, writings that mention the Spirit many times. Although this encounter occurred at least twenty years after the initial Spirit baptism at Pentecost, they simply had not heard of it due to living 800 miles north and west of Jerusalem. This Ephesian response is similar to when Jesus attended the Feast of Tabernacles, made the declaration, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water’, and then the Fourth Evangelist explains, ‘Now he said this about the Spirit which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit because Jesus was not yet glorified’ (Jn. 7.38–39). He did not mean the Spirit did not exist, as Dunn says the Ephesians meant, but that the Spirit had not yet been poured out.

Third, the Ephesians answer, ‘Into John’s baptism’, surely means they had been baptized according to John’s model and not that they knew John or had been baptized by him. But they probably knew what John had said about Jesus, which Paul here states as a fact that is not new information to them. And if these Ephesians came to believe in Jesus in their encounter with Paul, Luke has failed as a historian to make such an important matter clear, which is quite unlikely.

Fourth, it is certain that Paul had these Ephesians re-baptized since he regarded John’s baptism as being inferior to Christian baptism, which does not necessarily require that he thought they were nonbelievers. John baptized prior to Jesus’ death and resurrection, so his baptism lacked the fuller, symbolic meaning of these elements that Christian baptism has.

Now, if my thesis is correct – that Peter had the unique role of using his metaphorical keys to open kingdom doors and thereby unleash Spirit baptism – does this exclusivity of Peter conflict with Paul imparting the Spirit to these Ephesians? I don’t think so. Peter had completed his task of opening the doors for all peoples so that, henceforth, Spirit baptism was to occur simultaneously with conversion. This incident with these Ephesians was merely an anomaly that needed to be corrected with Christian baptism and Spirit baptism even though Luke does not say the same about Apollos.

Actually, saying that these Ephesians were not Christians until they met and heard Paul better supports my thesis. But it seems to me from Luke’s account about it that Paul did not see it that way.


Some Pentecostals worry that they would lose ministry if they abandoned their distinctive doctrine of separability and subsequence. That may not prove true. Besides, they would gain much unity with non-Pentecostal Christians if they did so. And since Pentecostals are to be commended for their contribution to Christianity in emphasizing the Spirit-filled life, spiritual gifts, evangelism, and world missions, they might increase their influence regarding these matters. I think their personal claim of experiencing post-conversion Spirit baptism is merely a mislabel that in reality is one of many fillings of the Holy Spirit that Christians should have throughout their lives.

In sum, when the gospel was first received by Jews, Samaritans, and Gentiles, with the exception of the anomaly regarding the Ephesians in Acts 19, Spirit baptism occurred only in the presence of Peter as he exercised his temporary role in using ‘the keys of the kingdom of heaven’ to open its doors to these three classifications of all people. That is why the 3,000 Jews in Acts 2 (presumably) and the Cornelius household in Acts 10 received the Holy Spirit when they believed, but the Samaritans in Acts 8 received the Spirit days after they believed, when Peter was present using his kingdom keys. After that, despite Jimmy Dunn’s defective interpretations of some of these narratives on Spirit baptism in Acts, he is right about the remainder of the history of Christianity, that conversion and Spirit baptism have occurred simultaneously for all Christians, and glossolalia has been unnecessary as outward evidence of it.

1 Howard M. Ervin, Conversion-Initiation and the Baptism in the Holy Spirit: An Engaging Critique of James D.G. Dunn’s Baptism in the Holy Spirit (Peabody, ma: Hendrickson, 1984); idem, Spirit-Baptism: A Biblical Investigation (Peabody, ma: Hendrickson, 1987); Roger J. Stronstad, The Charismatic Theology of St. Luke (Peabody, ma: Hendrickson, 1984); James B. Shelton, Mighty in Word and Deed: The Role of the Holy Spirit in Luke-Acts (Peabody, ma: Hendrickson, 1991); Robert P. Menzies, The Development of Early Christian Pneumatology with Special Reference to Luke-Acts (Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic, 1991); idem, Empowered for Witness: The Spirit in Luke-Acts (Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic, 1994).

2 Gordon D. Fee, Gospel and Spirit: Issues in New Testament Hermeneutics (Peabody, ma: Hendrickson, 1991); idem, God’s Empowering Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul (Peabody, ma: Hendrickson, 1994); idem, ‘Baptism in the Holy Spirit: The Issue of Separability and Subsequence’, Pneuma 7 (Fall 1985), pp. 87–99; Max Turner, Power from on High: The Spirit in Israel’s Restoration and Witness in Luke-Acts (Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic, 2000).

3 James D.G. Dunn, ‘Baptism in the Holy Spirit: Yet Once More—Again’, Journal of Pentecostal Theology 19 (2010), pp. 32–43 (p. 43).

4 All quotations of Scripture are from the NRSV unless noted otherwise.

5 Shelton, Mighty in Word and Deed, p. 159.

6 Menzies, Empowered for Witness, p. 224.

7 Stronstad, The Charismatic Theology of St. Luke; Shelton, Mighty in Word and Deed; Menzies, Empowered for Witness.

8 Dunn, ‘Baptism in the Holy Spirit: Yet Once More—Again’, p. 34. Emphasis his.

9 Carson, Showing the Spirit, p. 144. Carson cites especially M.M.B. Turner, ‘Luke and the Spirit: Studies in the Significance of Receiving the Spirit in Luke-Acts’ (Ph.D. diss.: Cambridge: University, 1980), pp. 161ff.

10 James D.G. Dunn, The Christ and the Spirit: Collected Essays of James D.G. Dunn: Volume 2: Pneumatology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), p. 220, similarly p. 13. Dunn then cites Rom. 8.9 and 1 Cor. 12.13 for support.

11 James D.G. Dunn, Unity and Diversity in the New Testament: An Enquiry into the Character of Earliest Christianity (Harrisburg, pa: Trinity, 1977).

12 Dunn, The Christ and the Spirit: Collected Essays of James D.G. Dunn: Volume 2: Pneumatology, p. 216.

13 Dunn, The Christ and the Spirit: Collected Essays of James D.G. Dunn: Volume 2: Pneumatology, p. 221.

14 Roger J. Stronstad, ‘Forty years On: An Appreciation and Assessment of Baptism in the Holy Spirit by James D.G. Dunn’, Journal of Pentecostal Theology 19 (2010), pp. 3–11 (p. 10).

15 Ervin, Conversion-Initiation, pp. 51–54. Neither does Ervin address it in his Spirit-Baptism (pp. 68–69, 77–79) wherein he treats Acts 2 and 10.

16 Menzies, Empowered for Witness, pp. 204–18.

17 Michael J. Wilkins, ‘Matthew’, in The niv Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004), pp. 566, 579–80. But see Mt. 14.33. Grant R. Osborne, Matthew (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010), p. 62), also provides this quote of Wilkins.

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