Wednesday, July 03, 2013

"Conversion" in Acts? 2

.. continued from Monday
There are good reasons to believe that not all Christians will speak in tongues when they first believe. For one thing, the book of Acts does not actually show Christians speaking in tongues every time they receive the Spirit. Each of the three instances has a certain symbolic significance or has the character of breaking a barrier. If speaking in tongues were the evidence par excellence of receiving the Holy Spirit, wouldn't the New Testament be a whole lot clearer about it--like actually saying so explicitly?

When we have to read through the lines of the Bible to infer the key idea a group sees in the Bible, we should be somewhat suspicious about that idea. There are actually only a minority of Pentecostals who believe that you are not legitimately a Christian if you did not speak in tongues when you became a Christian. These are chiefly groups that arose in the decade from 1910-1920.  We might also be suspicious of a popular level interpretation that has only been around for about 100 years.

Are the Spirit-fillings in Acts conversions?  I suppose that before we answer that question, we should define what we mean by "conversion" in the first place. In the early chapters of Acts, we are talking about Jews, the people of Israel. According to the Old Testament, they were already in the people of God, heirs of God's promises. What do we mean when we say they are "converted," especially since "converted" isn't a word that Acts actually uses?

For certain, we don't mean that they changed religions.  They didn't switch from the religion of Judaism to the religion of Israel.  This is an anachronistic way of reading the New Testament that comes from the time later in the church when Judaism was a different religion from Christianity.  As we'll see in the sermons of Acts, the earliest Christians saw faith in Jesus as true Judaism, as what anyone in true continuity with Israel would believe.

A common myth you hear sometimes is that "Saul" was Paul's Jewish name and that he took on the name "Paul" when he switched religions. This is so obviously wrong it's fascinating.  Paul continues to go by the name "Saul" in Acts for some 10 years after he believes in Jesus. He only switches to the Roman name (or nickname) "Paul"--a name he may have had since he was a child--when his ministry really begins to focus on witnessing to non-Jews.

No, the only conversions from one religion to another in Acts are when Gentiles, non-Jews, accept Jesus as king. And they saw themselves as converting to Judaism, or at least a form of Judaism. In fact, as we will see, many of these Gentile converts were already worshiping God at synagogues. They just had not fully converted.

So when the Jews of Acts believe on Jesus, they were, in a sense, converting from one sect of Judaism to another, but they would not have seen themselves as changing religions. So perhaps we should use a slightly different word than "conversion" when we ask what the Spirit-fillings of Acts are about? Were the Spirit-fillings of Acts primarily an initial event when becoming a follower of Jesus?  Or was getting filled with the Spirit something that happened to a Christian after he or she had believed for some time? ...


Anonymous said...

Here are some Pentecostal links to help understand how tongues and other gifts by the Holy Spirit are appreciated in the charismatic tradition.
1. This first link is from, which is part of Global University (if I understand correctly), and the lesson that is linked here is part of the, " 21st Century Discipleship Series". This is lesson #9 of Book 1., and is titles "The Baptism of the Holy Spirit". .
2. Also from, from the same series, lesson #7 of book two, "Facing Issues". The lesson is titled, "The Gifts of the Spirit."
3. This following link is a teaching from 5.19.2013, 'Gift of Tongues', given by Pastor Jarvis from Akron First Assembly of God. One may find minutes 18-45 most relevant to this discussion:
4. And from 4.21.13 teaching from series, 'Miracles in the Mundane.' For those who have never heard someone speak in a tongue, starting at minute 49, one may hear in the background Pastor Jarvis praying in a tongue.
Friends, we need not and should not fear the supernatural work of God in our life, and in others' lives manifested through us. I have never spoken in a tongue, but I believe I would have on 2-3 occasions if I would have opened my mouth to speak. I chose not to because I was with Christians who feared the supernatural work of God because they did not understand it, because they have not been taught that it exists today. Looking back on those times, I believe I was in error. It is possible that the Spirit would have used my speech to open the eyes and lend understanding to those people. I pray, if offered to me, the next time I will speak.
But I have been miraculously and spontaneously healed after suffering for 38 years. I was aware at the time that something supernatural had occurred and was occurring in me. Right after I came out of my shock (two weeks), I began publicly praising the name of Jesus and telling people about Him. I since and now perceive myself as unstoppable in this regard. This conviction to tell everyone about Him has done nothing but steadily strengthened over time, hence my online testimony at, and a writing at the same site on 'The Current and Present Healing Power of Christ', and current blog site at I hold no college degree, and had no idea how to write and produce a webpage. I took continuing education classes to learn, fueled by my convicting Spirit. These words are meant to draw no attention to me, but rather to Him. Anyone who reads my online testimony will see that the only good in me comes from Him.
Instead of trying to figure out how the Spirit works and then deciding whether or not we want anything to do with Him acting through us to affect others, it may prove wise to, instead, pray for Him to express Himself through us for the benefit of His kingdom however He sees fit. Let's not put God in a box. Let's unshackle Him so that He may unshackle us. Freedom from our human affliction is a blessed thing.
Susan Moore

Glen Robinson said...

Can't help but think of the second half of Romans 8:9, "Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him." It seems to me that the Spirit immediately makes his residence in the hearts of those who trust in Christ for salvation by faith. There are certainly other moments when the Spirit fills or empowers that believer. The NT seems to use three different prepositions to describe the work of the Spirit (meta, en, epi). What we don't tend to think about is the Spirit's work prior to the actual conversion - drawing, wooing, convicting, etc.