Luke’s Understanding of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit: A Pentecostal Perspective

By Robert Menzies – 

Not long ago a Chinese house church leader commented, “When Chinese believers read the book of Acts, we see in it our own experience; when foreign Christians read the book of Acts, they see in it inspiring stories.” My Chinese friend’s point was clear: their experience of opposition and persecution impacts how they read Luke’s narrative. Chinese believers tend to read Luke-Acts with a sense of urgency and desperation, a sense of hunger generated by their need. So, they easily identify with the struggles of Peter and John, of Stephen and Paul. And so also they readily accept the promise of the Spirit’s enabling to persevere and bear bold witness to Jesus in the face of opposition. Implicit in my friend’s comment was also the belief that Christians who live in stable and affluent countries, Christians who live in contexts where the Church has a long and storied history, may have a difficult time reading the book of Acts in this way. He was suggesting that many of these Christians may find it hard to identify with the struggles and needs of the early disciples, and thus they do not read with the same sense of solidarity or with the same sense of urgency.

I believe that this conversation touches on perhaps the greatest contribution the Pentecostal movement is making to the larger church world: The Pentecostal movement is calling the church universal to take a fresh look at Luke’s two-volume work. And in the process, it is encouraging the church to consider once again its own understanding and its own need of the Holy Spirit’s power. It is precisely here, in Luke-Acts, where we find the central and distinctive message of the Pentecostal movement. From the earliest days of the modern Pentecostal revival, Pentecostals have proclaimed that all Christians may, and indeed should, experience a baptism in the Holy Spirit “distinct from and subsequent to the experience of new birth.”[1] This understanding of Spirit baptism flows naturally from the conviction that the Spirit came upon the disciples at Pentecost (Acts 2), not as the source of new covenant existence, but rather as the source of power for effective witness. This understanding of Spirit baptism has given the modern Pentecostal movement its identity, its unifying experience, and its missiological focus.

The rapid growth of Pentecostal churches around the world, particularly in the Two-Thirds World, makes it difficult for the global Church to ignore this movement and its theology. Indeed, Pentecostal churches around the world have been growing with such rapidity that “some historians refer to the 20th century as the ‘Pentecostal Century’.”[2] So, today, let us heed the call and turn once again to the pages of Luke-Acts. More specifically, let us examine Luke’s understanding of Spirit baptism and its significance for Pentecostal theology. We will begin by looking at the manner in which non-Pentecostal Protestant scholars have understood this New Testament metaphor, baptism in the Spirit. We shall then highlight two important, but often over-looked, texts from Luke’s gospel that challenge the non-Pentecostal approach. Finally, we shall draw out the implications of our study for the contemporary church.


1. Rethinking Past Assumptions

The Pentecostal understanding of Spirit baptism as an empowering for service distinct from conversion has not been accepted by many from various traditions within the Christian church, including the majority of Reformed scholars. John Calvin does not treat Spirit baptism in an intentional or focused way. However, when he does refer to baptism in the Spirit, he associates it with the regenerating work of the Spirit. Calvin declares, “‘he baptizes us in the Holy Spirit and fire (Luke 3:16)’” so that we are brought into “the light of faith in his gospel…so regenerating us that we become new creatures.”[3] Elsewhere Calvin speaks of the Holy Spirit as the “secret energy of the Spirit, by which we come to enjoy Christ and all his benefits.”[4] He also describes the Spirit as “the bond by which Christ effectually unites us to himself.”[5] In the context of Calvin’s writing and thought, it would appear that this redemptive work of the Spirit is inaugurated with Spirit baptism.

Calvin does not give much attention to the empowering dimension of the Spirit’s work. Although Calvin speaks frequently of the Holy Spirit as the “inward teacher,”[6] the power that illuminates the mind and opens the heart of the one who hears the gospel, he does not highlight the Spirit’s role in empowering the one who proclaims the message.

More recently Calvin’s perspective has found support from New Testament scholar, James Dunn. In his influential book, Baptism in the Holy Spirit, Dunn argued that the authors of the NT uniformly present the gift of the Spirit as “the most fundamental aspect of the event or process of becoming a Christian, the climax of conversion-initiation.”[7] The pneumatological perspective of Luke, according to Dunn, is thus quite similar to that of Paul and John: the Spirit initiates believers into the new age and mediates to them the life of the new covenant.

In order to make this claim, Dunn interpreted the Pentecostal gift of the Spirit (i.e., baptism in the Spirit) against the backdrop of Ezekiel 36:26-27 and 37:4-14 and thus presented it as the source of new covenant existence. However, since Luke clearly interprets the Pentecostal gift as the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy of an outpouring of the Spirit of prophecy (Joel 2:28-31; cf. Acts 2:17-21) and nowhere mentions Ezekiel 36 or 37, this approach gradually lost its appeal. Just as many began to question Dunn’s reading of Luke-Acts, Max Turner arrived on the scene.

Turner acknowledged that Dunn had, indeed, foisted an agenda on Luke-Acts that was alien to Luke’s purposes. In two stimulating books, Turner argued that the Pentecostal gift can only be described as an outpouring of the Spirit of prophecy.[8] Yet Turner defines the Spirit of prophecy, as understood by Luke, in very broad terms as the essential means by which Jesus communicates with, nurtures, and empowers his disciples. For Turner, the Spirit of prophecy not only conveys charismatic wisdom, but also life-giving wisdom – that wisdom necessary for one to live in right relationship to God. Additionally, this life-giving wisdom is not simply imparted by the Spirit through the prophet to others, it also cleanses and transforms the heart of each, individual prophet, each recipient of the Spirit![9] So, although Turner provides an updated reading of Luke-Acts, one that is more sensitive to Luke’s distinctive language and perspective, he ends up sounding very much like Dunn. According to Turner, the Spirit as the Spirit of prophecy provides wisdom “essential for fully authentic human existence before God.”[10] Thus, for Turner as for Dunn, the gift of the Spirit is a key element of conversion-initiation and essential to authentic Christian existence.

The common thread that ties together the perspectives of these Protestant theologians is the assumption that the New Testament presents a relatively unified picture concerning the work of the Spirit in general and baptism in the Spirit in particular. In 1 Corinthians 12:13 Paul clearly speaks of Spirit baptism as the means by which one is initiated into the body of Christ: “For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body – whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free – and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.”[11] And Paul, writing from an early stage in the life of the church, offers a rich and full account of the Spirit’s work. Paul speaks of the Spirit as the source of cleansing (1 Cor. 6:11; Rom. 15:16), righteousness (Gal. 5:5 Rom. 8:1-17; Gal. 5:16-26), intimate fellowship with (Gal. 4:6; Rom. 8:14-17) and knowledge of God (1 Cor. 2:6-16; 2 Cor. 3:3-18). He even describes that ultimate transformation, the resurrection, as a work of the Spirit (Rom. 8:11; 1 Cor. 15:42-49; Gal. 6:8). All of this suggests that from the very earliest days, the early church had a unified and highly developed pneumatology. Paul, Luke, and John speak with one voice: the Spirit is the very source of Christian existence. How, then, could Spirit baptism be anything less than the miraculous transformation of the believer?

Yet, there are good reasons to question this reading of the New Testament data and the theological conclusions based upon it. I have argued elsewhere that a thorough study of Luke-Acts and the Pauline literature reveals that there was a process of development in the early church’s understanding of the Spirit’s work.[12] This, of course, is not a novel thesis and many scholars from Hermann Gunkel to Gonzalo Haya-Prats have reached similar conclusions.[13] My own study of the evidence, particularly in Luke-Acts,[14] led me to conclude that Paul was the first Christian to attribute regeneration or life-giving functions to the Spirit and that his distinctive insights did not impact the non-Pauline sectors of the early church until after the writing of Luke-Acts (approximately 70 A.D.). The key point for our study is the affirmation that Luke’s theology of the Spirit is different from that of Paul. Unlike Paul, who frequently speaks of the life-giving dimension of the Spirit’s work, Luke consistently portrays the Spirit as a charismatic or, more precisely, a prophetic gift, the source of power for service.

The important implications of this conclusion cannot be missed. If this is indeed the case, then the charismatic dimension of the Spirit to which Luke bears witness must be placed alongside the life-giving dimension so prominent in the writings of Paul. Certainly a theology of the Spirit that is truly biblical must do justice to the pneumatology of each biblical author.

Additionally, by placing the Pentecost account within the framework of Luke’s distinctive theology of the Spirit, we can argue with considerable force that the Spirit came upon the disciples at Pentecost, not as the source of new covenant existence, not as the power of regeneration, but rather as the source of power for effective witness – which, incidentally, is exactly what Luke states in Acts 1:8. Since this Pentecostal gift, this baptism in the Spirit, is charismatic rather than life-giving in character, it must be distinguished from the gift of the Spirit – and even the baptism in the Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12:13 – that Paul so clearly associates with conversion and regeneration. Here, then, is a strong argument for the Pentecostal understanding of baptism in the Spirit – that is, that Spirit baptism in the Lukan sense is logically distinct from conversion. This distinction and uniquely missiological purpose is a reflection of Luke’s unique theology of the Spirit.

This recognition that Luke’s theology of the Spirit is different from that of Paul is then crucial for a Pentecostal understanding of Spirit baptism. As I have stated, I believe the evidence suggests that Luke’s theology of the Spirit is indeed different from that of Paul – ultimately complementary, but different. Luke not only fails to refer to the Spirit as the source of regeneration or spiritual life, his narrative presupposes a pneumatology that does not include this dimension (e.g., Luke 11:13; Acts 8:4-25; 18:24-19:7).[15] Of course a detailed examination of Luke’s two-volume work is required to defend this assertion. I have provided this elsewhere.[16] In this brief essay, however, I believe I can make my point by focusing on two important issues raised by Max Turner in his detailed and able defense of the non-Pentecostal position. In Power from on High, Turner argues that, for Luke, even though he does not explicitly state it, baptism in the Spirit must include the life-giving work of the Spirit for two reasons:[17]

  • The gift of the Spirit is promised to every believer and, since Luke does not envision every believer as bearing verbal witness for Jesus (this sort of empowering is reserved for the apostles and a select few), we can assume that he also has broader, life-giving functions in view.
  • For Luke, Acts 2:38 is “the norm”: repentance, water baptism, and reception of the Spirit are all presented as closely connected temporally and essential elements in the conversion-initiation process.

In short, Turner asserts that for Luke (1) not all of the disciples are called and empowered to bear verbal witness for Jesus; and (2) repentance, water baptism, and reception of the Spirit represent the normal, tightly connected means of entering into the Kingdom of God. We shall challenge these claims by examining two key texts from Luke’s gospel which have been largely ignored by Turner and other non-Pentecostal scholars, Luke 10:1-16 and Luke 11:9-13.

2. The Sending of the Seventy (Luke 10:1-16)

Let us first turn to a text unique to Luke’s gospel, Luke’s account of the Sending of the Seventy (Luke 10:1-16). All three synoptic gospels record Jesus’ words of instruction to the Twelve as he sends them out on their mission. However, only Luke records a second, larger sending of disciples (Luke 10:1–16). In Luke 10:1 we read, “After this the Lord appointed seventy–two [some mss. read, ‘seventy’] others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go.” A series of detailed instructions follow. Finally, Jesus reminds them of their authority, “He who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects me; but he who rejects me rejects him who sent me.” (10:16).

A central question centers on the number of disciples that Jesus sent out and its significance. The manuscript evidence is, at this point, divided. Some manuscripts read “seventy,” while others list the number as “seventy–two.” Bruce Metzger, in his article on this question, noted that the external manuscript evidence is evenly divided and internal considerations are also inconclusive. Metzger thus concluded that the number “cannot be determined with confidence.”[18] More recent scholarship has largely agreed with Metzger, with a majority opting cautiously for the authenticity of “seventy–two” as the more difficult reading.[19] Although we cannot determine the number with confidence, it will be important to keep the divided nature of the manuscript evidence in mind as we wrestle with the significance of this text.

Most scholars agree that the number (for convenience, we will call it “seventy”) has symbolic significance. Certainly Jesus’ selection of twelve disciples was no accident. The number twelve clearly symbolizes the reconstitution of Israel (Gen. 35:23-26), the people of God. This suggests that the number seventy is rooted in the OT narrative and has symbolic significance as well. A number of proposals have been put forward,[20] but I would argue that the background for the reference to the “seventy” is to be found in Numbers 11:24–30. This passage describes how the Lord “took of the Spirit that was on [Moses] and put the Spirit on the seventy elders” (Num. 11:25). This resulted in the seventy elders, who had gathered around the Tent, prophesying for a short duration. However, two other elders, Eldad and Medad, did not go to the Tent; rather, they remained in the camp. But the Spirit also fell on them and they too began to prophesy and continued to do so. Joshua, hearing this news, rushed to Moses and urged him to stop them. Moses replied, “Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!” (Num. 11:29).

The Numbers 11 proposal has a number of significant advantages over other explanations: (1) it accounts for the two textual traditions underlying Luke 10:1 (How many actually prophesied in Numbers 11?); (2) it finds explicit fulfillment in the narrative of Acts; (3) it ties into one of the great themes of Luke–Acts, the work of the Holy Spirit; and (4) numerous allusions to Moses and his actions in Luke’s travel narrative support our suggestion that the symbolism for Luke’s reference to the Seventy should be found in Numbers 11. [21]

With this background in mind, the significance of the symbolism is found in the expansion of the number of disciples “sent out” into mission from the Twelve to the Seventy. The reference to the Seventy evokes memories of Moses’ wish that “all the Lord’s people were prophets,” and, in this way, points ahead to Pentecost (Acts 2), where this wish is initially and dramatically fulfilled. This wish continues to be fulfilled throughout Acts as Luke describes the coming of the empowering Spirit of prophecy to other new centers of missionary activity, such as those gathered together in Samaria (Acts 8:14–17), Cornelius’ house (Acts 10:44–48), and Ephesus (Acts 19:1–7). The reference to the Seventy, then, does not simply anticipate the mission of the church to the Gentiles; rather, it foreshadows the outpouring of the Spirit on all the servants of the Lord and their universal participation in the mission of God (Acts 2:17–18; cf. 4:31).[22]

In Luke’s view, every member of the church is called and empowered to take up Israel’s prophetic vocation and be “a light to the nations” by bearing bold witness for Jesus (Acts 1:4–8; cf. Isa. 49:6).[23] Far from being unique and unrepeatable or limited to a select few, Luke emphasizes that the prophetic enabling experienced by the disciples at Pentecost is available to all of God’s people. At Pentecost, Moses’ wish now begins to be realized. Luke 10:1 anticipates the fulfillment of this reality.

In short, Luke presents the Sending of the Seventy, with its call to “heal the sick” and proclaim “the Kingdom of God” (Luke 10:9; cf. Acts 8:12), as a model for the later “sending” of all of Jesus’ disciples that begins at Pentecost.[24] The missiological nature of this “sending” and the anointing that makes it possible cannot be minimized. This passage, then, calls into question a key plank in Turner’s argument.[25]


3. Luke 11:9-13

We have noted that Turner repeatedly refers to Acts 2:38 as presenting a “norm.” He asserts that conversion, water baptism, and reception of the Spirit “formed a single ‘conversion-initiation’ unity” and, as such, “it is assumed that the Spirit is immediately given to those who believe and are baptized.”[26] This leads Turner to conclude, “If [Acts] 2:38-39 represents a norm,” then the Pentecostal gift of the Spirit is “not merely an endowment for mission/witness, but a more wide-ranging gift with fundamental significance for Christian existence.”[27]

Yet the question must be asked, does Acts 2:38-39 really represent a norm for Luke? Does Luke present conversion, water baptism, and the gift of the Spirit as a tightly connected unit? The evidence suggests otherwise.

First, it should be noted that Luke gives clear definition to “the promise” of the Father. Luke refers to “the promise” of the Spirit four times in close proximity (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4; 2:33; 2:39). “The promise” is identified with the Pentecostal gift of the Spirit (2:33) and explicitly defined: reception of “the promise” will result in the disciples being “clothed with power from on high” and enable them to be effective “witnesses” (Luke 24:48-49; Acts 1:8). Furthermore, for Luke “the promise” with reference to the Spirit refers to the gift of the Spirit of prophecy promised in Joel 2:28-32.

In Acts 2:39 Luke extends the range of the promise envisioned to include the promise of salvation offered in Joel 2:32 (as well as the promise of the Spirit of prophecy in Joel 2:28). Acts 2:39 echoes the language of Joel 2:32/Acts 2:21: “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (cf. Joel 2:32b, “…among the survivors whom the Lord calls”).” In Acts 2:39 Luke extends the range of “the promise” to include this salvific dimension because the audience addressed now includes non-believers. Thus, it should be clear that the promise of Acts 2:39, like the promise of Jesus in Acts 1:8, points beyond the restoration of the faithful of Israel: salvation is offered (Joel 2:32), but the promise includes the renewal of Israel’s prophetic vocation to be a light to the nations (Joel 2:28; cf. Isaiah 49:6 and Acts 1:8).

Second, there is the obvious fact that Luke fails to develop a strong link between water baptism and the bestowal of the Spirit. He regularly separates the rite from the gift (Luke 3:21-22; Acts 8:12-17; 9:17-18; 10:44-48; 18:24-26) and offers no clear order of events. Luke presents Jesus’ reception of the Spirit as taking place after his baptism while he is praying (Luke 3:21-22). Luke also describes believers receiving the Spirit who have not yet been baptized (Acts 9:17-18 and 10:44-48) and he refers to baptized believers (Acts 8:16) and disciples (Acts 19:2) who have not received the Spirit.

These latter cases (Acts 8 & 19) are particularly telling, for the manner in which Luke describes these events reveals that he does not view the gift of the Spirit as synonymous with Christian existence or inseparably linked to conversion like Paul.[28] It matters little whether Luke viewed these episodes as unusual or not. The key point remains: in Luke’s view the gift of the Spirit cannot be equated with conversion.

Luke actually seems to be concerned to make one point: the Spirit of prophecy is only given to the “servants” of God (Acts 2:18) – that is, the true people of God, the heirs of the promises God made to Israel (Numbers 11:29; Joel 2:28-32) – and, since the disciples of Jesus are those who are now receiving this gift, it follows that Jesus is Lord (Acts 2:33) and that his disciples constitute the true people of God. Luke is not concerned about formalizing initiation rites or establishing patterns; rather, he wants his readers to know that only those who place their faith in Jesus may receive the promised gift of the Spirit, complete with prophetic signs (glossolalia, bold witness, and “signs and wonders”). These prophetic “signs” validate their claim that Jesus is Lord and confirm their status as members of Joel’s end-time prophetic band.[29]

One additional and important text supports this conclusion. It is a text that is often overlooked in this discussion, Luke 11:9-13. These verses, which form the climax to Jesus’ teaching on prayer, testify to the fact that Luke views the work of the Holy Spirit described in Acts as relevant for the life of his church. Luke is not writing wistfully about an era of charismatic activity in the distant past.[30] Luke 11:13 reads, “If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!”

The parallel passage in Matthew’s gospel contains slightly different phrasing: “how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him!” (Matthew 7:11).[31] It is virtually certain that Luke has interpreted the “good gifts” in his source material with a reference to the “Holy Spirit.”[32] Luke, then, provides us with a Spirit-inspired, authoritative commentary on this saying of Jesus. Three important implications follow:

First, Luke’s alteration of the Matthean (or Q) form of the saying anticipates the post-resurrection experience of the church.[33] This is evident from the fact that the promise that the Father will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask begins to be realized only at Pentecost. By contemporizing the text in this way, Luke stresses the relevance of the saying for the post-Pentecostal community to which he writes.

Second, the context indicates that the promise is made to disciples (Luke 11:1). Thus, Luke’s contemporized version of the saying is clearly directed to the members of the Christian community.[34] Since it is addressed to Christians, the promise cannot refer to an initiatory or life-giving gift.[35] This judgment finds confirmation in the repetitive character of the exhortations to pray in Luke 11:9:[36] prayer for the Spirit (and, in light of the promise, we may presume this includes the reception of the Spirit) is to be an ongoing practice. The gift of the Holy Spirit to which Luke refers neither initiates one into the new age, nor is it to be received only once;[37] rather, this pneumatic gift is given to disciples and it is to be experienced on an ongoing basis.

Third, Luke’s usage elsewhere indicates that he viewed the gift of the Holy Spirit in 11:13 as a prophetic enabling. On two occasions in Luke-Acts the Spirit is given to those praying;[38] in both the Spirit is portrayed as the source of prophetic activity. Luke’s account of Jesus’ baptism indicates that Jesus received the Spirit after his baptism while praying (Luke 3:21). This gift of the Spirit, portrayed principally as the source of prophetic power (Luke 4:18-19), equipped Jesus for his messianic task. Later, in Acts 4:31 the disciples, after having prayed, “were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.” Again the Spirit given in response to prayer is the impetus for prophetic activity.

Luke, then, through his skillful editing of this saying of Jesus (Luke 11:13), encourages his Christian readers to pray for the gift of the Spirit, which he envisions as a prophetic anointing that will produce power and praise in their lives, an experience similar to those modeled by Jesus (Luke 3:21-22; 10:21) and the early church (Acts 2:4; 4:31; 10:46; 19:6). Once again Luke describes the gift of the Spirit as an experience distinct from conversion and new life.

We have seen that at crucial points Luke’s narrative simply refuses to accommodate Turner’s thesis. Let’s review our findings. Turner suggests that we should interpret the explicit testimony of Luke concerning the significance of the “promise” of the Spirit in Luke 24:44-49; Acts 1:4-8; and 2:17-18 – all of which describe the gift of the Spirit as a prophetic enabling for the missionary task – in light of a questionable reading of Acts 2:38-39 – one that conflicts with Luke’s usage elsewhere (Luke 11:9-13; Acts 8.4-17; 19.1-7). Some may be persuaded by such arguments, but I do not find them compelling.



The Pentecostal movement is recognized around the world as a powerful and dynamic force impacting the lives of hundreds of millions of people. It is changing the face of the Christian church. And in many cases, such as Korea, it is hard to overestimate its impact on the larger society. Yet, in spite of all of this, many still do not see Pentecostals as having much to offer theologically. It is a movement of experience, we are told, not doctrine. In this essay I have sought to challenge this faulty assumption. Pentecostals have an important theological contribution to make to the larger church world, if the other churches will simply listen.

First and foremost, Pentecostals are calling the church to take a fresh look at Luke-Acts. Only by hearing Luke’s distinctive voice can we develop a truly holistic doctrine of the Holy Spirit. Only by reading Luke-Acts on its own terms can we understand the significance of the promised baptism in the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5). For far too long Protestant theology has highlighted Paul’s important insights into the work of the Spirit, but largely ignored Luke’s contribution. In this regard, Pentecostals are calling for a new reformation.

One of the great strengths of this fresh reading of Luke-Acts is that it highlights the missiological nature of discipleship and the church. Luke reminds us that the Holy Spirit is all about inspiring praise and witness for Jesus, and His vision knows no boundaries. Regardless of one’s race, gender, class, or region, all are called to participate in God’s great redemptive mission. And all have been promised power to fulfill this calling (Acts 1:8). Pentecostals are calling the church to recover its primitive power and its apostolic calling. The church is nothing less than a community of prophets who are called to bear bold witness for Jesus.


A Concise Critique of Max Turner’s Position: Seven Points to Ponder

In an earlier critique of Max Turner’s insightful and stimulating work, I noted my chief objection to his central thesis: his version of the Spirit of prophecy, which he depicts as much more than a “charismatic” gift, is exceedingly rare in the Judaism of Luke’s day and, I would argue, altogether absent in Luke-Acts.[39] Although I thoroughly enjoyed my reading of Power from on High and benefited greatly from it, I would like to offer a list of what I perceive to be seven specific weaknesses in the overall argument advanced in it. I trust these seven points will serve as a stimulus for further discussion.

  1. Turner’s view requires discontinuity between Jesus’ experience of the Spirit and that of the Disciples: Turner argues that while the Spirit came to empower Jesus’ mission; the Spirit comes upon the disciples for a larger and different reason: to be the essential bond between them and the risen Christ. Yet Luke clearly stresses the continuity: Jesus’ experience is a model for the disciples (see Luke’s structure and the clear parallels).
  1. Turner and other Evangelicals continually have to reinterpret the text, for a natural reading of the text often contradicts their position. Although Luke clearly defines the Pentecostal gift as a prophetic and missiological endowment (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:8; 2:17-21), they inevitably reinterpret this. So, we often hear responses like, “Luke surely cannot mean simply that, can he?” or “But we should also infer….” Additionally, “problem” passages like Luke 11:13, Acts 8:16 and 19:2, where Luke separates the gift of the Spirit from faith and repentance (i.e., conversion) are either ignored, denied, or reinterpreted. My position fits with a natural reading of Luke’s text, so there is no need for elaborate theological reinterpretation built on highly questionable inferences.
  1. Turner’s assertion that for Luke only a select group serve as verbal witnesses is flatly contradicted by Luke’s account of the Sending of the Seventy (Luke 10:1), which evokes Moses’ wish in Numbers 11:29. Turner, like most Evangelicals, suggests that the Spirit at Pentecost does not come primarily to empower the disciples. In fact, Turner argues that Luke does not envision every disciple serving as a verbal witness. This role is reserved for the apostles and a select group. However, Luke’s account of the Sending of the Seventy (Luke 10:1), which evokes Number 11, flatly contradicts this position and renders its untenable.
  1. Turner’s reading fails to take seriously Luke’s missiological purpose. Luke wrote to provide his church with theological and methodical guidance for its mission: see especially Luke’s Structure (esp. the content of and parallels between Luke 4:16-21 and Acts 2:17-21), Luke 10:1-16 (and connections with the narrative in Acts), and Acts 2:17-21 (and connections with the narrative in Acts). Note also the travel narrative in Luke’s gospel and the movement in Acts (see Acts 1:8) as well as the reduplication of Luke 24:45-49 and Acts 1:4-8, and the beginnings of Luke-Acts (esp. Acts 1:1) and the ending of both volumes.
  1. Turner’s view fails to take seriously the significant differences between Luke’s pneumatological perspective and that of Paul. Turner fails to compare Luke and Paul at key points: the Spirit as mediating the blessings of Christ, 1 Cor. 6:11; the Spirit as the source of sonship, Romans 8:15-16; the Spirit as the source of new covenant existence, 2 Cor. 3; the Spirit as the source of the resurrection of the believer (various texts in Paul) – all of which are lacking in Luke-Acts and not really compatible with Luke’s narrative (e.g., Luke 11:13; Acts 8:16, 19:2). I firmly believe that the insights of Luke and Paul are theologically compatible and, indeed, complementary, but only when we let Luke be Luke and read him on his own terms. In short, legitimate diversity within the New Testament canon must be acknowledged if we are to hear the full richness of the New Testament witness. Youngmo Cho’s fine work on the parallels between Jesus’ Kingdom of God language and the Spirit in Paul is especially helpful at this point and adds needed clarity to the discussion.
  1. My reading rather than Turner’s fits most naturally into the thought world of First-century Judaism: While Turner and I both agree that the dominant view in First-century Judaism was that the Spirit was the source of prophetic inspiration, Turner suggests that Luke understands prophetic inspiration in a very broad terms: whereas the Spirit in First-century Judaism was normally viewed as the source of charismatic wisdom and inspired speech, Turner suggests that the Spirit as the Spirit of prophecy serves as an essential bond linking the prophet/believer and God/Jesus, so that more than charismatic inspiration is in view. This interpretation of prophecy and prophetic inspiration does not fit well or naturally with the bulk of texts that refer to the inspiration of the Spirit in intertestamental Judaism. These texts present the Spirit as a charismatic endowment, not the essential source of one’s relationship with God. When Turner asserts that Luke’s understanding of the Spirit is broader and different (for example, Power from on High, p. 418), we should demand clear evidence from Luke’s hand. Turner fails to deliver at this point.
  1. Turner’s reading of Luke-Acts does not provide for a coherent explanation of the development of early Christian pneumatology as reflected in the New Testament texts. How can we explain the various voices of Luke, Paul, and John? John is especially important in this regard with his reference to a pre-ascension bestowal of the Spirit (John 20:22) and the Paraclete promise (John 16:7), which points toward a post-ascension gift of the Spirit (i.e., Pentecost). Turner is not able to provide any coherent reason for John’s two bestowals nor can he adequately account for the diversity in the cannon. My view, on the other hand, offers a very clear and coherent explanation of these developments.[40]


[1] Minutes of the 44th Session of the General Council of the Assemblies of God (Portland, Ore.; August 6-11, 1991), 129.

[2] Vinson Synan, The Century of the Holy Spirit: 100 Years of Pentecostal and Charismatic Renewal (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2001), p. 2.

[3] Calvin, Institutes, 3.1.4 (I, p. 542). See also Institutes, 4.16.25 (II, p. 1348). All references to Calvin’s Institutes are from John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2 vols., trans. By F.L. Battles and ed. by J.T. McNeill (Library of Christian Classics 20; Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960).

[4] Calvin, Institutes, 3.1.1 (I, p. 537).

[5] Calvin, Institutes, 3.1.1 (I, p. 538).

[6] Calvin, Institutes, 4.14.9 (II, p. 1284). See also Institutes, 3.1.4 (I, p. 541).

[7] James Dunn, ‘Baptism in the Spirit: A Response to Pentecostal Scholarship’, JPT (1993), p. 2, where he summarizes his thesis developed in Baptism in the Holy Spirit (London: SCM Press, 1970).

[8] Max Turner, Power from on High: The Spirit in Israel’s Restoration and Witness in Luke-Acts (JPTS 9; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1996) and The Holy Spirit and Spiritual Gifts: Then and Now (Carlisle: Paternoster, 1996).

[9] See my critique of Turner’s thesis in William and Robert Menzies, Spirit and Power: The Foundations of Pentecostal Experience (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), pp. 87-106.

[10] Max Turner, The Holy Spirit, p. 15.

[11] All quotations from the Bible are taken from the NIV unless otherwise stated.

[12] Robert P. Menzies, The Development of Early Christian Pneumatology with Special Reference to Luke-Acts (JSNTS 54, Sheffield: JSPT Press, 1991). I also argue that John’s Gospel supports my development thesis. See Robert P. Menzies, “John’s Place in the Development of Early Christian Pneumatology” in The Spirit and Spirituality, 41-52.

[13] Hermann Gunkel, The Influence of the Holy Spirit: the Popular View of the Apostolic Age and the Teaching of the Apostle Paul (trans. R.A. Harrisville and P.A. Quanbeck II; Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1979; German Original, 1888); Gonzalo Haya-Prats, L’Esprit force de l’église. Sa nature et son activité d’ après les Actes des Apôtres (trans. J. Romero; LD, 81; Paris, Cerf, 1975); see also the sources cited in Menzies, Development, 18-28.

[14] See Robert P. Menzies, Development and the slightly revised version, Empowered for Witness: The Spirit in Luke-Acts (JPTSS 6; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1994). See also William W. Menzies and Robert P. Menzies, Spirit and Power: Foundations of Pentecostal Experience (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000).

[15] I have also observed that the traditions of the primitive church utilized by Paul fail to attribute soteriological functions to the Spirit. See Menzies, Development, 282-315.

[16] Menzies, Development and Empowered for Witness.

[17] Of course Turner’s detailed study cannot be reduced to simply two arguments. I merely highlight these two as the most significant. See my notes on Turner’s argument in the section that follows my conclusion.


[18] Bruce Metzger, “Seventy or Seventy-Two Disciples?,” NTS 5 (1959), pp. 299-306 (quote, p. 306). See also the response of Sidney Jellicoe, “St Luke and the ‘Seventy (-Two),” NTS 6 (1960), pp. 319-21.

[19] A “more difficult reading” refers to a unique version of a text preserved in early manuscripts that is hard to explain as a scribal correction, omission, or addition. Thus, this “difficult” reading is often viewed as authentic. All of the following scholars favor the “seventy-two” reading as original: Darrell L. Bock, Luke 9.51-24.53 (Baker Exegetical Commentary of the New Testament; Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1996), p. 994; I. Howard Marshall, The Gospel of Luke: A Commentary on the Greek Text (NIGCT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978), p. 415; Joel Green, The Gospel of Luke (NICNT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), p. 409; Robert C. Tannehill, The Narrative Unity of Luke-Acts: A Literary Interpretation, Volume 1: The Gospel According to Luke (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1986), p. 233; Craig Evans, Luke (New International Biblical Commentary; Peabody: Hendrickson, 1990), p. 172. One exception to this general rule is John Nolland, who favors the “seventy” reading (Nolland, Luke 9.21-18.34 [Word Biblical Commentary 35B; Dallas, TX: Word, 1993], p. 546.).

[20] For the various options see Metzger, “Seventy or Seventy-Two Disciples,” pp. 303-4 and Bock, Luke 9.51-24.53, p. 1015.

[21] For more detailed support of this position, see Robert P. Menzies, The Language of the Spirit: Interpreting and Translating Charismatic Terms (Cleveland, TN: CPT Press, 2010), pp. 73-82.

[22] Keith F. Nickle, Preaching the Gospel of Luke: Proclaiming God’s Royal Rule (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2000), p. 117: “The ‘Seventy’ is the church in its entirety, including Luke’s own community, announcing the in-breaking of God’s royal rule throughout the length and breadth of God’s creation.”

[23] For a dissenting perspective, see Max Turner’s two articles, “Does Luke Believe Reception of the ‘Spirit of Prophecy’ makes all ‘Prophets’? Inviting Dialogue with Roger Stronstad,” Journal of the European Pentecostal Theological Association 20 (2000), pp. 3-24 and “Every Believer as a Witness in Acts? – in Dialogue with John Michael Penney,” Ashland Theological Journal 30 (1998), pp. 57-71. Turner argues that only a select group is empowered for prophetic witness. Yet I would suggest that his discussion fails to adequately account for this text.

[24] Luke intended for his readers to read Jesus’ instructions to the Seventy (Lk. 10.1–16), which includes eight directives, as a model for their own lives. The one exception is the command to travel lightly, without “a purse or bag or sandals” (Lk. 10.4), which Jesus specifically rescinds in Luke 22.36. All of the other commands shape the missionary practice of the early church as it is recorded in Acts. For a detailed discussion of this thesis, see “The Sending of the Seventy and Luke’s Purpose,” in Paul Alexander, Jordan D. May, and Robert Reid, eds., Trajectories in the Book of Acts: Essays in Honor of John Wesley Wykoff (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2010), pp. 87-113.

[25] According to Turner, “Luke does not in fact portray the whole church as actively involved in witness” (Turner, Power from on High, p. 432).

[26] Turner, Power from on High, p. 397.

[27] Turner, Power from on High, p. 398.

[28] See Youngmo Cho’s fine work, Spirit and Kingdom in the Writings of Luke and Paul: An Attempt to Reconcile these Concepts (Milton Keynes: Paternoster, 2005). Cho argues persuasively that while for Paul the Spirit is the life of the Kingdom of God; for Luke, the Spirit is essentially the power behind the proclamation of the Kingdom.

[29] So E. Schweizer concludes that the phrase “and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38) should be interpreted as a promise that the Spirit shall be “imparted to those who are already converted and baptized” (Schweizer, “pneu=ma,” TDNT, vol. 6, p. 412). Note also the judgment offered by S. Brown: “Surely it is preferable to interpret the passage in accordance with all the other texts which we have considered and to understand the words ‘you shall receive’ to point to an event subsequent to baptism” (“‘Water-Baptism’ and ‘Spirit-Baptism’ in Luke-Acts,” ATR 59 [1977], p. 144).

[30] Contra the judgment of Hans Conzelmann, Acts of the Apostles (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1987 [German original, 1963]), pp. 15, 159-60.

[31] Italics are mine.

[32] Reasons for this conclusion include: (1) the fact that the reference to the Holy Spirit breaks the parallelism of the “good gifts” given by earthly fathers and “the good gifts” given by our heavenly Father; (2) Luke often inserts references to the Holy Spirit into his source material; (3) Matthew never omits or adds references to the Holy Spirit in his sources.

[33] J. Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke, Vol. 2 (AB 28; New York: Doubleday, 1985), p. 916; E.E. Ellis, The Gospel of Luke (NCB; London: Oliphants, Marshall, Morgan, & Scott, 1974), p. 164; R. Stronstad, The Charismatic Theology of St. Luke (Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson, 1984), p. 46.

[34] The scholarly consensus affirms that Luke-Acts was addressed primarily to Christians.

[35] G.T. Montague, The Holy Spirit: Growth of a Biblical Tradition (New York: Paulist, 1976), pp. 259-60.

[36] Note the repetitive or continuous action implicit in the verbs in 11:9: ai0tei=te (ask), zhtei=te (seek), krou&ete (knock).

[37] F. Büchsel notes the repetitive character of the exhortation (Der Geist Gottes im Neuen Testament [Güttersloh: C. Bertlesmann, 1926], pp. 189-90). So also Montague, Spirit, pp. 259-260.

[38] Acts 8:15, 17 represents the only instance in Luke-Acts, apart from the two texts discussed above, where reception of the Spirit is explicitly associated with prayer. However here the Spirit is bestowed on the Samaritans in response to the prayer of Peter and John. While the situation in Acts 8:15, 17 is not a true parallel to Luke 11:13, in Acts 8:15, 17 the Spirit is also portrayed in prophetic terms. Prayer is implicitly associated with the reception of the Spirit at Pentecost (Acts

1:14; 2:4). Here also the gift of the Spirit is presented as a prophetic endowment. So also Acts 9:17, though here the actual reception of the Spirit is not described.

[39] William and Robert Menzies, Spirit and Power: The Foundations of Pentecostal Experience (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), pp. 87-106.

[40] Robert Menzies, “John’s Place in the Development of Early Christian Pneumatology” in Wonsuk Ma and Robert Menzies, eds., The Spirit and Spirituality: Essays in Honor of Russell P. Spittler (JPTSS 24; Continuum, 2004), pp. 41-52.


Post a comment

I accept the Privacy Policy

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.