by Jack Cottrell (Notes) on Tuesday, November 22, 2011 at 9:47am

QUESTION: Do we know when the apostles received the baptism in which the indwelling gift of the Holy Spirit is given? I assume they received John’s baptism. Do we assume that at some point they were rebaptized? Does their ability to speak in tongues (languages) in Acts 2:1ff. show that they had the indwelling of the Spirit at that point? How does John 20:22 fit in?

ANSWER: Since we are not specifically told when (or even if) the apostles were baptized with Christian baptism, we can only speculate about it. One thing is for sure: whether they had been baptized with John’s baptism is irrelevant, since John’s baptism was for a completely different purpose than Christian baptism. There was no Christian baptism until the Day of Pentecost; from that point on anyone who had been baptized with John’s baptism was required to receive Christian baptism, i.e., immersion in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins and the gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit. I believe that is why Peter says in Acts 2:38 “be baptized every one of you.” Many if not most in that audience would have already been baptized with John’s baptism, and may have assumed that Peter’s command did not apply to them. To negate such a possible misunderstanding, Peter makes it clear that every individual listening to him preach was required to receive Christian baptism.

Technically, such a baptism would not be called a “rebaptism,” since that would imply a continuity between John’s baptism and Christian baptism that simply does not exist. Those baptized on the Day of Pentecost were not being “rebaptized”; they were in fact being baptized (with Christian baptism) for the very first time.

One could also infer that these same words—“be baptized every one of you”— imply that the apostles (who were themselves present in the audience and were listening to Peter’s sermon) were likewise required to be baptized with Christian baptism, and that they were among the 3,000 that were baptized that day. That is my personal view. I picture the apostles leading the joyful trek to a nearby water reservoir (several were within walking distance of the temple area), first baptizing one another, then immediately beginning to baptize the other repentant believers who were eager to receive the salvation blessings Peter had offered.

There is a possibility, of course, that the apostles were considered to be in a category of their own, and that Jesus had somehow already given them these salvation blessings. Some think this is what was happening in John 20:22, when the risen Christ, while in conference with his apostles, “breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’” (ESV). Here he could be literally giving the Holy Spirit to the apostles, or it could possibly be a symbolic act representing something that was yet to come.

Whether actual or symbolic, we need to keep an important distinction in mind regarding the presence of the Spirit in someone’s life. Sometimes the Holy Spirit is given to someone solely for the purpose of enabling or equipping him or her to perform a specific kind of service for the benefit of the body of believers as a whole. This happened throughout the OT era, and the apostles themselves already had the Spirit’s power upon them to enable them to work miracles (Matt. 10:1).

However, on the night before his death, Jesus made a special group of promises concerning another soon-to-be-bestowed presence of the Spirit specifically upon the apostles; see John 14-16. These promises were specifically about the Spirit’s empowerment of the apostles to speak and teach God’s revealed and inspired Word. Jesus promised that the special presence and the special power of the Spirit would be with his apostles after Jesus returned to his Father in heaven. Though Jesus himself would be separated from them, he promised to be with them in the person of his representative, “another Helper,” the Holy Spirit (John 14:16-19, 25-27; 15:26; 16:5-15).

These promises about the Spirit should not be placed in the same category as promises concerning the new saving gift of the indwelling Spirit (e.g., John 4:14; 7:37-39), since they were given to the apostles only and not to God’s people in general. Also, they have to do with the equipping work of the Spirit, not his new saving work. They refer especially to the Spirit’s work of revelation and inspiration that would enable the apostles to speak with divine authority. Jesus’s promise that the Holy Spirit would come to the apostles in this sense began to be filled in the first part of Acts 2, in the apostolic speaking in tongues and in Peter’s inspired preaching of his Pentecost sermon. This activity of the Spirit was in no way dependent upon the indwelling presence of the Spirit for salvation purposes. The apostles obviously received the equipping presence of the Spirit, as promised in John 14-16, prior to the first announcement that the Spirit was now being given for salvation (Acts 2:38). This would in no way conflict with their being baptized later for the remission of their sins and for the gift of the indwelling Spirit, in response to Peter’s sermon.

How does John 20:22 relate to all this? Here I will quote a paragraph from my book, Power from on High: What the Bible Says About the Holy Spirit (College Press, 2007), p. 170:

“Some think that this act [John 20:22] had something to do with the apostles’ receiving the Holy Spirit’s indwelling, saving presence. One possibility is that Jesus was giving them this blessing in advance of Pentecost. If so, this would be unique and would be an exception to John 7:39. Another possibility is that it was just a symbolic foreshadowing of the Pentecostal gift of the indwelling Spirit. It is much more likely, though, that this has nothing to do with the outpouring as promised by the prophets, by John the Baptist, and by Jesus in John 4 and 7. Rather, what is happening here is that Jesus is bestowing upon his apostles (at least symbolically) what he has promised to them alone in John 14-16, i.e., that special comforting and empowering presence of the Spirit that will now enable them to speak with divine inspiration and authority, and will now equip them to fulfill their unique role as the founding leaders of the church. Just as the Spirit who was upon Moses was also given to the 70 elders to equip them for leadership, and the Spirit who was upon Elijah was also given to Elisha to equip him as a prophet to Israel, so here the Spirit who was present ‘without measure’ upon Jesus (John 3:34) is being given to the apostles in a new and special way.”

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