Question:

When Paul asked the Ephesians, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" in Acts 19:2, was he referring to the gift of Acts 2:38? And is that the same as the Spirit given in Acts 5:32. Thanks.


Answer:

"And it happened, while Apollos was at Corinth, that Paul, having passed through the upper regions, came to Ephesus. And finding some disciples he said to them, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" So they said to him, "We have not so much as heard whether there is a Holy Spirit." And he said to them, "Into what then were you baptized?" So they said, "Into John's baptism." Then Paul said, "John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus." When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus" (Acts 19:1-5).

Everyone who believes, repents, and is baptized receives the gift of the Holy Spirit, which is the promise of salvation (Acts 2:38-39; Ephesians 1:13-14). That would be a given for all Christians, so if Paul was speaking of the Holy Spirit's promise, it would seem to be an odd question to ask people who thought they were believers.

However, the miraculous gifts of the Spirit were not a given. These had to be passed on by the laying on of the apostles' hands. "Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them, who, when they had come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. For as yet He had fallen upon none of them. They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit" (Acts 8:14-17). Thus the apostle Paul's question would be a natural one for him to ask a group of believers he had not been in contact with before.

The response Paul got demonstrated a problem. They did not know about the Holy Spirit; yet, since the Spirit is the guarantee of our salvation, it should not be possible to be baptized into Christ and not know of the Holy Spirit. Thus, the follow-on question and the discovery that they only knew of John's baptism and did not know of Christ's baptism. This problem was straighten out and then ... "And when Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied" (Acts 19:6). Therefore, Paul by his actions show that he was speaking of the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit.