Paul Arrives in Ephesus

While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”

They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”

So Paul asked, “Then what baptism did you receive?”

“John’s baptism,” they replied.

Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. There were about twelve men in all.

Acts 19:1-7


Paul arrived in Ephesus on a route from the north, and upon arriving he met a small group of “disciples” who had been taught by Apollos, apparently before he had been instructed by Aquila and Priscilla. It would seem that Apollos’ initial misconceptions had been passed to these men, who had not been properly instructed. Paul seems to have noticed that something was missing, and asked them if they received the Holy Spirit only to discover that they had not even heard of the Holy Spirit, even though they had believed.

What follows is quite interesting theologically, for Paul sets for us a clear linkage between baptism and receiving the Spirit (19:3-5), followed by events that parallel those we saw take place in Samaria in chapter 8. Notice that Paul explained to them that John’s baptism, which they had received, was a baptism of repentance, and that John had taught those who received to believe in the One who would come after him, Jesus, and that upon hearing this, the men were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus (cf. Acts 2:38). Then, as Peter had done in Samaria, Paul lays his hands on the men and they received the Holy Spirit and spiritual gifts that made the Spirit’s presence obvious. Notice they had to first be baptized into Jesus Christ, and then they would receive the Holy Spirit.

At this point, it might be useful for us to consider that we are looking at an event that took place roughly 20 years after Pentecost, and for that length of time, the Gospel had spread orally from Jerusalem throughout the known world. As we might expect, as the great story was retold over those years, there was some confusion about some of the details that was beginning to be problematic, as in this passage. Of course this shouldn’t be any great surprise, for even now after having the New Testament Scriptures for so many centuries, there is a great deal of confusion about these same matters. For example, what baptism should a Christian receive? As you know, asking a question such as that one will spark endless debates today, and having been in my share of those debates myself, I can assure you that not many of those debaters will mention this particular text, even though it is one of the clearest teachings on the subject.

At any rate, the men obviously received the Spirit, and the stage was set for the next part of the story, an amazing series of events that demonstrate the spiritual power of what was going on in that region…


About Don Merritt

A long time teacher and writer, Don hopes to share his varied life's experiences in a different way with a Christian perspective.
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12 Responses to Paul Arrives in Ephesus

  1. This lends to some great meditation.

    • Do you think these men had received Christ and were born again? Or were they simply giving logical assent to what had been taught and were merely disciples or learners interested in the faith?

      • Don Merritt says:

        It’s hard to say for sure, since Luke wasn’t explicit about that. It’s possible that their understanding was on a logical basis only, and it’s also possible that they simply hadn’t been given all of the facts yet. Of course, there is also the possibility, especially in light of the next section and the parallels between chapter 19, 8 and 2 that God was making an unusual demonstration of His power in that region.

  2. Don, this is still quite confusing to me. Looking at the relevant verses (5-6) in the Greek translation, it says, “Upon hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul laid his hands on them the Holy Spirit came on them and they spoke in tongues and prophesied.”

    This reading tells me the baptism occurred “when Paul laid his hands on them” because there is an “and” before these words, and that the moment the name of Jesus was invoked the Holy Spirit came upon them. It appears there was no water involved, only the name of Jesus. (Well, “only” – you know what I mean.)

    Same thing with Peter’s baptizing. but he laid on hands and baptized “in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.”

    Am I reading this correctly or incorrectly?

    • Don Merritt says:

      First off, God can do whatever He wants.

      With that said, the problem your analysis may have is that it doesn’t account for “baptiso” which means “to immerse”. So, what were they immersed in?

      • I’m not trying to argue, simply understand. Immerse can mean “plunged into liquid.” It can also mean “to involve deeply; absorb.”

        John the Baptist said, “I will baptize you with water, but Jesus will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

        I’m simply getting from Paul’s account, since they were already baptized with water by John, that by invoking the name of Jesus two simultaneous things occurred: 1) they became deeply absorbed (abiding) in Jesus, and 2) the Holy Spirit immediately came to absorb (abide in) them.

        I don’t see anywhere else in the Bible where people were re-baptised; just that they declared their faith in Jesus either before or after water baptism. And during this process, they received (were baptized in) the Holy Spirit.

        • Don Merritt says:

          ‘Immerse can mean “plunged into liquid.” It can also mean “to involve deeply; absorb.”’

          While that is true in English, “baptiso” is Greek, and it isn’t true in Greek.

          Those men were not “re-baptized” for they had not been baptized into Christ, which is not the baptism of repentance done by John (John’s baptism), rather Christian baptism is the baptism of Salvation in Christ, and those men had never received it before.

  3. Bette Cox says:

    The Lord obviously has a good sense of humor… he does things however he likes, in whatever order he likes. People try to put him in a box (for their own convenience), but he doesn’t stay there! I was born again in 1972, received the baptism of the Holy Spirit in 1974, and water baptism many months after that. Confusing? Not to me any more, and certainly not to the Lord at any time. 🙂

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