While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues[a] and praising God.
Then Peter said, “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.
– Acts 10:44-48, New International Version
Scene Six: Gentiles Receive the Holy Spirit (10:44-48)
The story of the breakthrough among the Gentiles builds (Acts 10:1-43) through five scenes from the prayers of Cornelius to the historic moment described here (vv. 44-48). The gospel breaks through the Gentile barrier with the conclusive evidence of the descent of the Holy Spirit upon them. The outpouring of the Spirit results in speaking in tongues and exalting God.
The Faith of the Gentiles: Verse 44
As Peter was speaking, he was interrupted by the descent of the Holy Spirit. Verse 44 says “while Peter was still speaking (lalountes) these words,” the Holy Spirit fell upon those who “were listening” (akouontas). The translators view the two participles (lalountes and akouontas) used by Luke as expressions of the historical present. Therefore, they write that Peter “was speaking” and the people “were listening.”
Later, Peter said (Acts 11:15), “As I began to speak,” the Holy Spirit fell upon them. This suggests that Peter had scarcely begun to speak when the Holy Spirit descended. Obviously, Peter had much more to say. Whether or not he would have ended his message with an invitation to believe in Christ we do not know. In any case the Spirit did not wait for Peter to finish. While the speaking and listening were going on, the Holy Spirit acted and fell upon them.
While Peter was speaking, the audience was listening and believing. Because an angel had told Cornelius to send for Peter, the people were predisposed to believing his message. Although faith is not mentioned in this passage, it is evident from Acts 11:17-18 that they believed in the Lord Jesus. This forward step in their spiritual walk came as they were listening to Peter. Because of their faith in Christ, the Spirit fell upon them.
The Spirit Poured Out: Verse 45
The six circumcised believers who came with Peter (Acts 11:12) were amazed when the Spirit was outpoured upon the Gentiles. They knew (Acts 1:8) that they were to be witnesses to the whole world, that (Acts 2:17-18) the Spirit would be poured out upon all flesh, and that (Acts 2:39) the promise of the Spirit was for all. Up to this point the main focus of the church was on reaching all the Jews.
Now, the Jewish believers would come to the realization that the promises were for the Gentiles as well as Jews. Moreover, the Gentiles did not need to be circumcised and become Jews in order to be saved. They knew this because the “gift” of the Holy Spirit was poured out upon them. The outpouring of the Spirit upon them provided the evidence they needed.
The verb “poured out” (ekkechutai) is a vivid metaphor that Luke uses in connection with the Spirit. The results of the outpouring of the Spirit in Acts 2:17-18 include visions, dreams, and prophesy. In Acts 2:33 Luke says that the Spirit poured out “this which you both see and hear.” What they saw and heard on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:4) was the disciples speaking in tongues. The disciples spoke (Acts 2:11) of the “mighty deeds of God” in languages unknown to them but known to the audience.
Here, the result (Acts 10:46) is that the people were speaking in tongues and exalting God. As far as we know, the tongues in this case were unknown to both the speakers and the audience. No doubt, they exalted God with these unknown languages, but they also exalted God in their own known language. Great praise was evoked by the outpouring of the Spirit.
The scripture says the Spirit “had been poured out.” Luke uses the perfect tense (ekkechutai) for poured out, a tense which describes (Wallace, p. 573) past action that has results existing in the present time. According to Wallace (p. 579) the perfect tense can be used with the force of a present tense. Here, Robertson (p. 148) regards ekkechutai as a “present perfect.” Concerning this verb, Lenski (p. 431) writes:
The Greek retains the present tense ‘is being poured out” of the direct discourse of these Jewish believers; but it includes more than this one instance of outpouring and states that as a general thing, as this striking case shows, the Gentiles were receiving ‘the gift of the Holy Spirit,’ i.e., were by God himself being placed on a par with all believers from Judaism.
The Convincing Evidence: Verse 46
How did the Jewish believers know that the Spirit had been poured out upon the Gentiles? Luke’s unambiguous statement is (verse 46): “For they were hearing them speaking with tongues and exalting God.” The meaning is made clear by Luke’s use of the conjunction “for”(gar). According to Arndt and Gingrich (p. 151) gar is a conjunction that is “used to express cause, inference, continuation, or to explain.” Here, the conjunction introduces the reason why the Jewish believers knew the Spirit was outpoured on the Gentiles.
The Jewish believers heard the Gentiles speaking in tongues and exalting God. This evidence that God selected to demonstrate the presence of the Spirit might be surprising to some. They might have chosen something other than “speaking with tongues and exalting God.” However, God’s wisdom always surpasses ours. Bruce (p. 230) states:
The descent of the Spirit on these Gentiles was outwardly manifested in much the same way as it had been when the original disciples received the Spirit at Pentecost: they spoke with tongues and proclaimed the mighty works of God. Apart from such external manifestations, none of the Jewish Christians present, perhaps not even Peter himself, would have been so ready to accept the fact that the Spirit had really come upon them.”
The evidence of speaking was especially convincing. According to Lampe (p. 75), “there would be nothing less than a direct descent of the Spirit, producing the unmistakable external sign of ‘speaking with tongues’.” Similarly, Horton (p. 157) writes, “Obviously, speaking in tongues was the convincing evidence here. And in a day when some think, hope, believe, and then wonder whether they have the baptism in the Spirit, perhaps a convincing evidence is still needed.”
Baptism in Water: Verse 47-48
Given the evidence they just witnessed, Peter says (verse 47), “Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?” The uncircumcised Gentiles were eligible now for water baptism. The outpouring of the Spirit made this evident. Moreover, the gift of the Spirit demonstrated that the Gentiles had been granted (Acts 11:18) “repentance that leads to life.” They must now confess their faith in Christ through baptism.
Peter says that the Gentiles “have received” (elabon) the Holy Spirit “just as we did.” The verb elabon is an aorist. It takes a “snapshot” of the outpouring of the Spirit. The term receive is used by Luke in Acts 2:38; 8:15; 8:17; 8:19; 10:47; 19:2. Therefore, it describes the experience of the disciples at Pentecost, Samaria, Caesarea, and Ephesus. In all these cases the Holy Spirit is a gift to the believer, not the gift that makes one a believer.
The words “just as we did” seal the argument that the Gentiles were accepted. Peter regarded the experience of the Gentiles as equivalent to the disciples at Pentecost. At Pentecost the Spirit was poured out upon the Jewish believers. Now, in like fashion, He was poured out upon the Gentiles. As Dunn (p. 82) points out, the parallel between Caesarea and Pentecost is stated four times (Acts 10:47; 11:15, 17; and 15:8). Very succinctly, Robertson declares (p. 150), “The argument was conclusive. God had spoken.”
The outpouring of the Spirit and baptism in water normally should happen early in the experience of the believer. In Acts 2:38 Peter says “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” This suggests that water baptism is a normal step toward receiving the gift of the Spirit.
The Samaritans (Acts 8:15-16) were baptized in water and soon afterwards they received the Spirit. Ananias prayed for Saul to regain his sight and be filled with the Spirit. Then, Saul (Acts 9:18) was baptized in water. Later, at Ephesus (Acts 19:5-6), the disciples were baptized in water and then received the Spirit. Here, in Acts 10:47-48, the Spirit fell upon the Gentiles and then they were baptized in water.
Obviously, Luke does not tie the reception of the Spirit to the specific moment of water baptism. Baptism in water may occur either before or after the reception of the Spirit. As the above data suggests, baptism in the Spirit should not be delayed. We should expect the Spirit to fall upon us early in our experience as a believer.
Peter ordered the Gentiles (verse 48) to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. The statement implies that the Gentiles obeyed and were baptized. It must have been a powerful baptismal service. Very often baptismal services are rather mundane. Actually, they should be moments of great joy and deep spiritual awareness. The person being baptized is confessing Christ as Savior. This is a moment when the Spirit should be powerfully present. Such an approach would transform baptismal services.
Arndt, William F. and Gingrich, F. Wilbur. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. Cambridge: The University of Chicago Press, 1957.
Bruce, F. F. The Book of Acts. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1975.
Beasley-Murray, G. R. Baptism in the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1962.
Dunn, James D. G. Baptism in the Holy Spirit. London: SCM Press Ltd. 1970.
Dunn, James. D. G. Jesus and the Spirit. London: SCM Press Ltd., 1975. Haenchen, Ernst. The Acts of the Apostles. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1971.
Lampe, G. W. H. The Seal of the Spirit. London: SPCK, 1967. Lenski, R.C.H. The Acts of the Apostles. Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1961.
Robertson, A. T. Word Pictures in the New Testament, Vols. 1-6. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1930.
Wallace, Daniel B. Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996.
© Copyright 2003. GMF.