What is Happening in the Book of Acts When the Holy Spirit is Poured Out
Sunday, February 2, 2014 - 6:00 p.m. Sermon #: 1707
Pastor Don Horban
Are we left to guess the meaning of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the Book of Acts? That the Holy Spirit was poured out in rather dramatic fashion is admitted by virtually everyone with a Bible. But what was happening? What did these events in the Book of Acts mean?
There aren’t dozens of explanations. If we’re going to limit our search to God’s Word the meaning of Acts 2 is only spelled out in detail in one place in the whole Bible. The promise of the Spirit is recorded in many places. But the explanation of the event after its occurrence is found only in one place. It’s found in Peter’s explanation of Joel’s prophecy.
The cessationist examination of Joel’s prophecy as quoted by Peter in Acts 2 is given by R. C. Sproul, who was apparently invited by MacArthur to deal with this topic at the “Strange Fire” conference. Sproul gives a very detailed, logical examination of Joel’s prophecy and then explains how that prophecy applies, not only to the Pentecost experience in Acts 2, but all the other outpourings of the Spirit in the book as well.
I’m assuming Sproul is involved in the “Strange Fire” conference with MacArthur’s invitation and endorsement. So I want to give a quick overview of Sproul’s explanation of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the Book of Acts as an act of redemption completion. And those last words are the important ones to note. Let me explain. According to MacArthur and Sproul and virtually all cessationists, what is being completed in each of the outpourings of the Holy Spirit in the Book of Acts is the new covenant of redemption as a fulfillment of the old covenant promise.
In other words, whenever anyone is filled with the Holy Spirit in the Book of Acts it is the promised giving of the Spirit for the inward regeneration of the heart. It’s the prophet Ezekiel’s new covenant promised heart of flesh replacing the old covenant heart of stone. The outpouring of the Spirit is for people getting saved in the full new covenant sense of the word.
I’m arguing that such is not the case at all. I’m going to argue that the Apostle Peter specifically quotes the prophecy of Joel when he could have quoted the prophecy of Ezekiel for a very solid charismatic reason. But first, let’s look at the cessationist argument as it is very ably unpacked by R. C. Sproul and others at the “Strange Fire” conference:
Sproul begins his message looking at the imparting of the Spirit of God to those appointed to be Moses’ assistants in Numbers 11. The text says some of the Spirit that was on Moses was taken and given to the 70 assistants and they all began to prophecy. Two men, Eldad and Medad, who weren’t with the 70 but had the Holy Spirit come upon them, also prophesied. Joshua was upset about this and complained to Moses. Moses responded, “....Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the LORD’s people were prophets, that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!” (Numbers 11:29).
Sproul points out that Moses’ wish was, at that time, not possible because the Holy Spirit wasn’t poured out in a permanent, inward fashion under the old covenant. Moses wished it could happen. But it couldn’t - yet.
From there Sproul goes to the prophecy of Joel quoted by Peter on the Day of Pentecost. Joel, writing about 700 years before the birth of Christ, spoke of a day when God would pour out His Spirit on all people. About 700 years after Joel made that promise, the Holy Spirit was finally poured out on the believers in the upper room in Acts chapter 2.
Naturally, onlookers were “amazed” at what they saw happening - Acts 2:7 - “And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?” Just as an aside, that word “amazed” is important. It is time to put to rest the terminology used to describe those speaking in tongues in Acts 2. For as long as I can remember cessationists use the term “ecstatic” to define those who spoke in tongues. MacArthur uses the terminology in various forms throughout his book.
The Greek form of the word ecstatic is used in Acts 2 to describe, not those speaking in tongues, but to those observing those speaking in tongues - Acts 2:7 - “And they were amazed - “ex-is'-tay-mee”- and astonished, saying, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?’” Quite literally, the ones who were “beside themselves and bewitched” weren’t those speaking in tongues. It was the observers, according to Luke the historian, who were in an ecstatic state.
Now here’s the important point. Sproul argues - and I’m quite certain MacArthur agrees - that the pouring out of the Spirit throughout the Book of Acts is the fulfillment of the Old Testament salvation covenant. Sproul goes to great lengths to point out that in each of the four instances where the outpouring of the Spirit is mentioned accompanied by the manifestation of tongues and prophecy it is God’s way of proving visibly that the Holy Spirit - just as Moses longed for - was now being given to all of God’s people. That’s why, argues Sproul, in each of those four cases in the Book of Acts, everyone present speaks in tongues. God is proving His indwelling Spirit is for all believers. No one is left out.
Sproul analyses the Book of Acts like this. In Acts 2 the Holy Spirit is poured out on the Jews. In Acts 8 the Holy Spirit is poured out on the Samaritans. In Acts 10 the Holy Spirit is poured out on the “God-fearers” (this is Sproul’s term for the Greeks who had converted to Judaism but remained uncircumcised). And finally, in Acts 19 the Holy Spirit is poured out on the Gentiles.
This, Sproul argues, is the way Luke structures the Book of Acts to show the fulfillment of the church’s witness of the gospel in keeping with Jesus’ words in Acts 1:8 - “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem [Jews] and in all Judea [God-fearers] and Samaria [Samaritans], and to the end of the earth [Gentiles].”
Of course, Sproul never mentions the baptism of Saul/Paul in the Holy Spirit in Acts 9:17. He doesn’t fit into the people group theory. And it clearly wasn’t Saul’s conversion that was taking place. We know that because Ananias calls him “Brother Saul” before he is filled with the Spirit - Acts 9:17 - “So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”
But back to Sproul’s argument. Just to be clear on Sproul’s central point, he readily admits there are these four Pentecosts recorded in the Book of Acts. He readily admits that in each case all spoke in tongues and/or prophesied. But this has nothing whatsoever to do with what Pentecostals and charismatics define as the experience of the baptism in the Holy Spirit as a distinct experience from salvation. No. This is God visibly demonstrating temporarily that the new covenant fulfillment of the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit for all believers of all people groups had finally arrived.
That’s a lot to process on a Sunday teaching time. So let me try to boil it down into two main ideas. Here’s what Sproul and MacArthur are saying:
Sproul’s idea number one - Joel’s prophecy, quoted by Peter, is all about the new covenant inward regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. Sproul says Joel’s prophecy promises the very thing Moses wanted - God’s Spirit for all God’s people.
Sproul’s idea number two - the Apostle Paul confirms that the renewing work of the Holy Spirit in the new covenant crosses all the borders of gender and ethnicity. That’s the point Sproul tries to establish in quoting 1 Corinthians 12:13. Sproul and MacArthur take these two conversion texts from Paul and try to apply them to the baptism in the Holy Spirit as recorded by Luke in the Book of Acts.
So I have two goals - just two - in the rest of this teaching time. First, I want to argue Peter had a point to make in quoting Joel’s prophecy, and it wasn’t equating the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2 with new covenant regeneration. And second, I want to argue Sproul’s use of 1 Corinthians 12:13 doesn’t apply at all to the outpourings of the Holy Spirit in the Book of Acts or Joel’s prophecy as it’s applied by the Apostle Peter on the Day of Pentecost.
1) PETER’S POINT IN QUOTING THE PROPHET JOEL WAS CHARISMATIC IN EMPHASIS, NOT INWARD REGENERATION
We need to look carefully at Peter’s quotation from the Prophet Joel - Acts 2:16-21 - “But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel:  ‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams;  even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.  And I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke;  the sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day.  And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’”
There is simply no missing the dramatic, visible empowering element in Joel’s prophecy. It is all about prophecy, visions and dreams. Like it or not, it is a vivid description of empowerment.
Yet there is another very important Old Testament prophecy about the coming work of the Holy Spirit - Ezekiel 36:25-27 - “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.  And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.  And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.”
Here we have words precious beyond telling. Ezekiel’s prophecy isn’t about the “pouring out” of God’s Spirit (Joel), but rather says, “I will put my Spirit within you....”(26, 27). The clear emphasis of Ezekiel’s promise is the giving of a new heart. The old stone heart lacked spiritual receptiveness. Notice also how Ezekiel’s prophecy has a focus of inward cleansing - verse 25 - “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.”
In addition to the removal of what was dirty there is also moral direction for new life - verse 27 - “....And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.”
This is clearly a promise of newly regenerated inward spiritual life. There is no missing the linkage between Ezekiel’s promise that the Holy Spirit would inwardly “sprinkle clean water on you”(25) and Paul’s same terminology as he described the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit in Titus 3:4-5 - “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared,  he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit....”
Now to the point. Why didn’t Peter quote Ezekiel’s clear promise of the Holy Spirit’s inward transforming, regenerating, moral work? Paul did. And so did Peter on other occasions. But when explaining Acts 2 he doesn’t. Why does Peter quote Joel’s words about prophesies, manifestations, dreams and visions?
And there’s only one good answer to that question. Peter knows the outpouring of the Spirit in Acts 2 - and the rest of the outpourings as well - are not descriptions or manifestations of regeneration. Had Peter wanted to convey that idea - as Sproul and MacArthur believe - he had perfectly meaningful prophetic texts to use. He didn’t use them because those wonderful texts didn’t explain the events at hand.
It is, to my mind, highly significant that when Peter chooses Joel’s empowerment prophecy to explain the events of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit after the event he chooses a text that matches Jesus’ description of the Spirit’s outpouring before the event - Acts 1:8 - “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
Notice, our Lord does not say “You will receive Christ when the Holy Spirit has come upon you....” Or, “You will receive the forgiveness of sins.” These are surely the essence of Ezekiel’s wonderful prophecy of inward washing and cleansing and an obedient heart toward God. Rather, He tells them - exactly as Joel’s prophecy stated - they would receive “power.”
2) THE CONVERSION TEXT(S) USED BY SPROUL AND MACARTHUR CAN’T BE APPLIED TO THE OUTPOURING OF THE HOLY SPIRIT IN THE BOOK OF ACTS
As R. C. Sproul wraps up his teaching “Undervaluing Pentecost” he pulls his talk together referencing a New Testament text. He goes to 1 Corinthians 12:13 - “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.”
Now let me show you the way this verse is translated in every other major translation:
1 Corinthians 12:13 - “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit”(NASB).
1 Corinthians 12:13 - “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body--whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free--and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.”(NKJV).
1 Corinthians 12:13 - “For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink”(NIV).
And, very strangely, even the Revised Standard Version, on which the ESV is largely based, recognizes the thrust of Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 12:13 - “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body - Jews or Greeks, slaves or free - and all were made to drink of one Spirit”(RSV).
The ESV, while an excellent translation, has a very strong reformed/cessationist component in its translation committee. Every major translation but the ESV translates the Hebrew preposition “en” as “by” rather than “in.” It is translated both ways in the Scriptures and usually context determines which way it goes. And every other translation recognizes that that same Hebrew preposition is translated “by” in every other place in which it is used in 1 Corinthians 12. Hence, almost every version selects the translation “we were baptized by one Spirit....” in verse 13.
This does not work in Sproul’s favor. In this salvation text Paul clearly wants to picture the Holy Spirit as the baptizer. And the Body of Christ is the entity into which we are all baptized. Sproul, however, wants to take 1 Corinthians 12:13 and apply it to the outpouring of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. In fact, he needs to make this text apply because he wants to argue that the “baptisms in the Holy Spirit” in the Book of Acts are not anything different from conversion.
But there’s a problem. Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 12:13 that we are baptized by the Holy Spirit into the Body of Christ. This is a salvation text. This is, in the words of John’s gospel, “being born of the Spirit.”
The problem arises when we look at the Apostle Peter’s very different explanation of what happened in the baptism in or with the Holy Spirit in Acts 2:32-33 - “This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses.  Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he [Jesus] has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.”
Notice the difference. It’s important. In Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 12:13 the Holy Spirit is the Baptizer and the Body of Christ is what we are all baptized into. In Peter’s explanation in Acts 2 Jesus is the Baptizer and the Holy Spirit is what we are baptized with or in. This baptism with the Holy Spirit clearly lines up with the prophetic words of John the Baptist in Luke 3:16 - “John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He [Jesus] will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
In other words, I’m arguing Paul’s wonderful point in 1 Corinthians 12:13 is proving the experience of conversion is a distinct experience, prior to Luke’s Acts 2 explanation of the baptism in the Holy Spirit.
One more quick point. Sproul wraps up his teaching going to Paul’s words in Ephesians 2:14-18 - “For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility  by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace,  and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.  And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near.  For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.”
The point Sproul wants to make with these unity words from Paul in Ephesians is, of course, that the major outpourings of the Holy Spirit on the Jews, then Samaritans, then God-fearers, and finally Gentiles in the Book of Acts are God’s way of manifesting the inclusion of all these ethnic groups and the removing of the walls that once divided them. Therefore, Sproul and MacArthur would argue, there is proof in the writings of Paul’s letters that the meaning Pentecostals attach to the baptism in the Holy Spirit in the Book of Acts is incorrect.
But like 1 Corinthians 12:13, this wonderful text in Ephesians 2 is a salvation text. This is a text about salvation being for all people. Whatever barriers may exist in this world, they don’t carry over into the Body of Christ. To take these words and apply them to the baptism in the Holy Spirit in the Book of Acts is simply a confusion of categories.
Where we’ve arrived is this. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the Book of Acts is an experiences of charismatic manifestation and empowerment. It is an experience given always to those already God’s people. Jesus is the One doing the baptizing and the Holy Spirit is what people are baptized with or in, just as John the Baptist predicted - Matthew 3:11 - “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
This is the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy as quoted by Peter in Acts two.
1 Corinthians 12:13 and Ephesians 2:14-18 are salvation texts. The Holy Spirit is the one doing the baptizing and the Body of Christ is what we are baptized into. This is the fulfillment of Ezekiel’s prophecy in Ezekiel 36:25-27/
The call I’m making is a simple plea for keeping theological bias out of Biblical interpretation. Let the text speak with its own voice. Whatever denominational background, we must all, as we studied in our very first teaching, “not go beyond what is written.” Don’t go beyond. Don’t leave anything out. My experience or lack of experience must always bow before the best evidence of the written Word. This, I think we all agree, is what brings joy to the Spirit of God.