The Ephesian Disciples
This is the seventh and final article in a series of lessons on New Testament examples of conversion. This final example, given in Acts 19:1-7, is quite interesting in that it deals with some people who were quite religious and zealous for Jesus but who were mistaken in their beliefs. To better understand the story, we should know who Apollos was (19:1). He is introduced to us in Acts 18:24 as a powerful and eloquent man who was "mighty in the scriptures." However, he was "acquainted only with the baptism of John" (the baptist). Two faithful and knowledgeable Christians, Pricilla and Aquila, took him aside and "explained to him the way of God more accurately." What a beautiful example. It seems clear that the disciples who Paul found in Ephesus in Acts 19:1 held beliefs similar to those of Apollos, and thus they had never been baptized "in the name of the Lord Jesus."
This case of conversion illustrates what those who are seeking God should do when presented with a more accurate knowledge of the truth. Each example so far has illustrated some new aspect of the gospel: its first preaching in Jerusalem (Acts 2), its rapid spread throughout Samaria (Acts 8:4), its inclusion of men and women from all nationalities and races (Acts 8:26f), its power to change a persecutor of the Lord into the great apostle Paul (Acts 9), its reaching out to the Gentiles (Acts 10 and 11), its applicability to women in general and an independent businesswoman in particular (Acts 16:13f), and its ability to save even a Roman soldier and his household.
We appreciate your patience in this study of the cases of conversions. If you would like the complete set of them, please let us know.
And when they heard this, they were baptized . . .
The story is contained in seven simple verses (Acts 19:1-7). Paul encountered some disciples who had apparently been influenced by Apollos, who was "acquainted only with the baptism of John" (18:25). Paul first detected the deficiency in their beliefs when he questioned them about the reception of the Holy Spirit (vs. 2). Not all Christians received the Holy Spirit in the sense of having spiritual gifts (such as those listed in 1 Cor. 12). This type of reception of the Holy Spirit was "bestowed through the laying on of the apostles hands" (Acts 8:12-18). So it would be normal for Paul to ask these good men if they had received the Holy Spirit so that, if not, he (as an apostle) could impart it to them.
When Paul found out (vs. 2) that they had "not even heard whether there is a Holy Spirit,"he went back even further to investigate the very first principles regarding their conversion. He asked them: "Into what then were you baptized?" When they responded that they had been baptized by the authority of John the Baptist, Paul explained to them that this was not sufficient. As soon as they heard the words of Paul, "they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus."
This demonstrates that just being baptized (in any form or manner) is not sufficient. Legitimate baptism comes only by the authority of Jesus Christ. Thus, even though we were at one time immersed, if we did not do it in response to Jesus command, and for the reason that Jesus specified (i.e., "for the forgiveness of your sins Acts 2:38), then that baptism is not legitimate. Notice that it is not the baptizer, nor some holy water, nor the church that makes a given occurrence of baptism legitimate. It is the obedience of the convert to Jesus Christ. Those who have been baptized as infants, or as a social occurrence, or in obedience to doctrines of a church should take this example to heart. If you were baptized for any reason other than in direct obedience to your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, you need to do as these Ephesians did and make your calling and election sure.
Once baptized, Paul laid his hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit consistent with what we read in Acts 8.
Ye often hear it said ...
"Baptism is just an outward sign of something that has already taken place internally."
but in Acts 19:3, Paul asked:
"Into what then were you baptized?"
Does this sound like Paul thought that their baptism was just an outward symbol, and thus relatively unimportant? Why were these men baptized again? Would not their first baptism have satisfied the need for an "outward sign?" The problem with the first quote above is that it is totally foreign to the Bible.
We have studied all of the detailed cases of conversion over the past couple months, and we have seen that every, EVERY, EVERY case ended in the convert being baptized for the remission of his/her sins. Over and over again the New Testament proclaims that it is the submission to baptism that puts one into the saved body of Christ, the church (Rom. 6:3; 1 Cor. 12:13; Gal. 3:27; Col. 2:12-13; 1 Pet. 3:21). It is the examples that we have been through in the book of Acts that show just exactly what this baptism is and how it was practiced. Those who would make it Holy Spirit baptism do not read this in the book of Acts. Those who argue that baptism is a meritorious work can prove faith to be a meritorious work by the same argumentation.