I have written several times on this blog about the “group conversion” narratives in the Book of Acts (2.1-13; 8.5-17; 10.34-48; 19.1-7). As any reoccurring reader knows I disagree with the Pentecostal interpretation of these passages as universal models for Christian conversion. Rather, I see the first three being connected to the outline in 1.8 where the New Covenant will be announced “in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth”. This is followed by group conversion narrative of Jews, Samaritans, and Gentiles. That final statement finds literary fulfillment in (a) the conversion of the household of Cornelius and (b) the book ending with the Apostle Paul preaching the Kingdom of God in Rome. I am not going to recall my arguments here because that is not my focus.

Rather, I want to make an excursion regarding my series on John the Baptist. To understand what I am going to say here you should (1) become familiar with what I have said in the previous five post and(2) know that one criticism of my interpretation (to understand what I mean here see this series of post) of the “group conversion” narratives is that the conversion of the disciples of John the Baptist in 19.1-7 have signs and wonders, even speaking in tongues, and there is no relation to the outline of 1.8.

So does this mean that the narrative is included to provide a model for Christian conversion? Does this mean that the relation between 1.8 with 2.1-13; 8.5-17; and 10:34-48 has less value than what I suggested? I don’t think so.

Why do I think the narrative of 19.1-7 was included by the author? I am sure that there were still disciples of John the Baptist around the time of the composition of this work. We see the story of John the Baptist being told in the Synoptics in such a way to acknowledge John’s importance while displaying Jesus’ superiority! The Fourth Gospel (written after the Synoptics and Acts) is still addressing this question when it opens by contrasting John, the messenger, with Jesus, the Word of God and the Light of the World (see 1.1-36). So let me say at first I think 19.1-7 is a polemic against those who refuse to move from following John to following Jesus.

Why? Well, one tradition about John we see across the Synoptics and right into Acts (see 1.3-5) is that John knew he was the forerunner and he knew that his water baptism was a baptism of repentance only. He could call Israel back to YHWH in preparation for the Messiah, the one who according to John would baptize his followers with the Spirit. What John had his followers anticipate was that the true Messiah would be the one who would usher in the New Covenant Spirit (there seems to be some evidence that such a correlation was made at Qumran as well, but that is another post for another day). This is why Luke mentions John at the opening of Acts before recording Jesus’ promise of the Spirit and the phenomenon that left little doubt that Jesus was the Messiah because he had baptized his followers with the Spirit (albeit after his ascension).

In 19.1-7 we have Luke moving from the story of the zealous Apollos, a disciple of John who knew about Jesus who was preaching Jesus but needed more guidance from Priscilla and Aquila, to Paul’s encounter with more disciples of John way out in Ephesus. This dialog between Paul and these disciples begins with him asking if they received the Spirit (v. 2). We have no other data on the conversation but we do find that this leads to their expressing ignorance of any Holy Spirit.

What this cannot mean they have not heard of the Holy Spirit, for the Spirit was prominent in Second Temple literature and if we could reconstruct a history of John the Baptist one thing that we see in all accounts is his preaching regarding the Messiah-Spirit connection. So what this likely means if they did not know about the Spirit of the New Covenant having been given. They believed John, they submitted to John’s baptism, they may have at some point affirmed John’s declaration that Jesus was the Messiah, but there was no following Jesus and obviously they seem ignorant of what happened at Jerusalem as concerns Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection as well as the arrival of the Spirit via verifiable phenomenon.

Once it becomes clear that these disciples have only gone as far as John’s baptism Paul invited them to be baptized unto Jesus (in water). This leads to baptism in the Spirit which is sufficient evidence that Jesus is the one to whom John pointed. By following Jesus these disciples encountered the New Covenant Spirit and there were visible signs to affirm it.

The signs, including tongues, are not recalled in order to provide a model for conversion. No, these signs are recalled (a) because at the event there was likely “proof” needed by the disciples of John that John’s prophecies regarding Jesus as the Messiah who bring the Spirit had been fulfilled and (b) literarily so that readers/hearers of this work who continued to follow John’s message would hear that there was more and that some of John’s disciples had experienced this in Ephesus who could witness to it.