Acts 19:2-7 – Disciples of John the Baptist

Luke intended this paragraph to be read along with the previous unit, the introduction of Apollos as a disciple of John.  Just as Luke contrasted Barnabas with Ananias in 4:36-28 and 5:1-2, Apollos and the other disciples of John stand in contrast  One disciple heard John and accept Jesus as the Messiah (although not fully understanding the implications of the resurrection, most likely with respect for Gentile salvation), the other disciples heard John but were ignorant of Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

John the Baptist The dozen disciples of John indicate that even 20 years after John’s death there was a movement amount the Jews that held John to be a prophet and in some way kept his teachings alive. Perhaps the gospel of John gives us a similar hint, especially if it can be show that John wrote from Ephesus near the end of the first century.

These disciples cannot be considered Christians at this point since they had not yet received the Holy Spirit.  While Luke only uses “disciple” for believers in every other case in Acts, his use of μαθητής here is without a definite article, the such example in Acts.  At the very least these are unusual Christians, perhaps “fringe” Christians, similar to the “unusual, fringes of Judaism described in the first half of the book.  Paul’s question – did you receive the Holy Spirit – is equivalent to asked, “are you believers?”  Not only have these disciples not received the Holy Spirit, they do not even know that there is a Holy Spirit!

Paul asked them “into whom” or “into what” they were baptized.  The NIV obscures this a bit, interpreting the question as “who baptized you,” rather than “what was the medium in which you were baptized.” Witherington comments that the image of being immersed into the Holy Spirit was common in the early church, see Rom 6:3, 1 Cor 1:13, 15, 10:2, 12:13, Gal 3:27).  His point is that the “whom” of this verse cannot refer to water; he sees the baptism of the Holy Spirit as entry into saving faith, while baptism in water is entry into the Christian community (Acts, 571).

Since they had been baptized “in John’s baptism,” Paul explains that John’s baptism was not enough, it was a “baptism of repentance,” which looked forward to the ministry of Jesus.  One could not be saved at this point in history only by accepting the message of John, it is only through faith in Jesus that one can be saved (as Acts has made abundantly clear prior to this point in the book!)

As has happened at several points in the book of Acts already, there is a manifestation of the Holy Spirit (tongues and prophesy) after Paul lays hands on these disciples. There is no consistent “order of events” in Acts, sometimes the Spirit comes prior to baptism (10:44-48, Cornelius) and other times baptism is prior (19:1-7), and in the case of Apollos, there is no mention of a re-baptism or of the coming of the Spirit.   Perhaps this is because he properly understood the message of John as pointing forward to Jesus, but that is not clear.

In fact, this is the only case of re-baptism in the New Testament, even the twelve were not re-baptized into the name of Jesus, they only had experienced the baptism of John (although one wonders about Matthew, since he was called to be an Apostle after John’s ministry.)  The point of this brief narrative is to show that it is possible to have a limited knowledge of Jesus which is not enough to be saved – theologically there was nothing wrong with these disciples except that they did not quite believe enough.  They did not believe something that was wrong, but they did not take their belief to the full extent needed for salvation.

Here is another problem for Applying Acts – what do we make of these disciples?  Are these  disciples “partial believers” who have participated in a ritual (John’s Baptism) but did not believe enough to be actually Christians?  What is it that “saved” these disciples?   In any case, it is the reception of the Holy Spirit which demonstrates they are in fact now Christians.

53 thoughts on “Acts 19:2-7 – Disciples of John the Baptist

  1. So interesting questions, and I don’t think anybody in todays time can relate or have the same experience. They have heard the Gospel and believed, or they have heard a false Gospel, as referenced to in In 1 Timothy 6. These guys have head prophecy about a coming Messiah and then they must have disappeared from society to hear about Jesus. Maybe these guys did what the Israelites did they took a faith and added lots of rules, ordinances, commands, demands and made it religious. They were so busy keeping up that they forgot the reason why they believed John’s prophecy of Jesus. We have seen this before in the old testament with the Israelites forgetting the fact that God led them out of Egypt. Maybe the thing that saved them, was that they stopped focusing on John and started focusing on Jesus. So they would have repented from worshiping John, which I think John would have appreciated. This is an interesting example of worshiping anything besides the true source (God) will not help you grow.

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  2. I think it would be such a weird thing to be faced with two different baptisms back in the day, where if I had been baptized by water previously, then told it was not enough I might have gotten angry. Although the only way I know to fully believe and surrender to God and accepting the Gospel of Jesus that John taught, was to truly believe with my whole heart. I for one am not a Christian who thinks it is necessary to be baptized by water, it is a great show for others to know, but one does not need to have it done in order to be saved. Which is why I find this passage interesting coming from my view, because it says here in Acts that baptism by water is not enough.
    I think the followers are believers, I think unless their hearts were in the correct place when they were baptized, then they were not fully believers in the Gospel that Jesus taught. But I think because of their messages that they shared that they are believers not partial ones.

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  3. What do we make of these disciples? I would suggest that it is reasonable to accept these Jews as a group of people who have heard John’s voice calling for repentance for the kingdom is near, yet not understanding what that meant. They were probably like many Jews, under a misguided notion of what a Messiah was. They could have been looking for a King, or revolutionary. Whatever they were expecting or looking for the stories of Jesus did not seem to do it for them. Most likely when Jesus died they dismissed him as just an ordinary man. However, Paul, confronted them the gospel and taught them through what they already believed as disciples of John.

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  4. It is really interesting that Luke makes it clear that these people, although believing in John the Baptist’s message, did not fully understand the full work of Jesus. These disciples followed John, who at Jesus’ own baptism, announced Jesus as the Messiah. In fact, they would have most definitely heard about Jesus’ death and resurrection, if not from the local buzz then from the many witnesses to or surrounding the time it happened.

    U would say that the thing that saves is not a belief of Jesus but a surrendering to him. The question posed is into whom have you been baptized. Until you have been baptized by the Holy Spirit, that is an acceptance of Jesus as LORD and savior (Messiah), your faith is incomplete. It is such a simple thing. We are not required to do anything but to submit to Christ and believe. We can teach the scriptures all we want but if we have not been baptized by the Holy Spirit through an acceptance of and surrendering to Christ, we are still not saved.

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  5. Why did that one disciple accept Christ after hearing John? I think that a more important question is that why did accept Christ without understanding the implications of the resurrection? I don’t know what is better, the disciple accepting Christ without understanding the implications or the other disciples being completely ignorant of the Gospel. I guess that both of them are bad. That makes perfect sense not to call the disciples Christians that had not accepted the Holy Spirit. Being baptized does not make them saved. It is just showing something public. Getting baptized is a public confession of faith.

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  6. I agree 100% that these disciples are not “saved” they are not at a personal level with Jesus. They think that the action of basptism is enough. But, Jesus said that he is te only way to the Father and that there is no other way. So, call me crazy but I like to go by what Jesus said…. So those followers of John are not saved unless they know more about Jesus…

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  7. I too would agree that these disciples are not Christians in the sense that they have a skewed understanding of Christ. John the Baptist taught that one would be coming after him that was going to be greater than him. This obviously was referencing Jesus. It’s always easy to point out flaws and misunderstandings from this side of the Bible and two thousand years of history, but I think it’s safe to say that these people weren’t Christians. They had an understanding of everything that John the Baptist taught, but they weren’t catching the biggest part of his ministry, the coming Messiah. Like many of the people above me have said, our faith is incomplete unless we’ve been baptized by the Holy Spirit. That is what separates the Christian from the follower of John the Baptist.

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  8. “Paul explains that John’s baptism was not enough, it was a ‘baptism of repentance,’ which looked forward to the ministry of Jesus.” According to Paul’s letter to the Roman church, one must confess the Lordship of Jesus and His resurrection by God in order to gain salvation through Jesus.
    But also as you concluded, it is not that the disciples of John the Baptist believed anything that was wrong, it was only incomplete. And we are well aware that getting the first half of the answers on an exam is great, but if a student fails to also complete the second half of the exam, he will fail. And so we can understand John’s gospel as well – great, but only partial. But I would agree with the consensus that, until Paul shared the full Gospel with them, these people were still outside of the community of the Redeemed, separate from partnership with the Spirit.

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  9. (From Joe Johnson)

    This story is very interesting in that the disciples changed their minds so quickly. It could be that there was much more dialogue than the passage suggests, but maybe they were on the right track with John’s baptism. It is logical that Jesus would be the next step. Maybe they were looking for the one who followed him. Just as it is logical to us to see Jesus following John’s baptism.

    It could also just be a nod to Luke’s first book. A reference to the book of Luke and how John would lead into Jesus’ ministry.

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  10. “A baptism of repentence” which looks forward to the ministry of Jesus.
    What exactly does this mean?? and why did’nt John tell his disciples that Jesus is God incarnate, or did he not know this himself?

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  11. Hi Tom…a “baptism of repentance” which anticipates the activity of the Messiah probably should be taken as identifying the individual with the messianic movement, and since John preached repentance, there must have been some repentance of sin in anticipation of the coming of the Messiah. So if someone was joining the Qumran community, for example, they prepared themselves spiritually, including ritual washing and confession of sin,

    My guess is that John the Baptist did not know Jesus was God Incarnate, any Jew living in the first century would have been quite confused by the claim!

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  12. I’ve built my understanding up on believing that Paul is refering to water baptism.

    Also, on the note of Paul’s questioning if they had been baptized, how can it mean “are you believers?” when he follows that up with “since you believed”? I don’t see how that makes sense, basically asking “Have you become believers since you believed?”. He’s asking what the text says he’s asking. “Have you recieved the Holy Ghost since you believed?”.

    When I look at verses two and three I wonder why does Paul ask them if they have recieved the Holy Ghost since they believed? That very question tells me that it’s possible not to have the Holy Ghost dwelling in you when you just believe. Paul didn’t yet know that they didn’t know who Christ was when he asked that. Then when they said they’d never heard of the Holy Ghost he asks them how they were baptized! Why would he ask that unless baptism had something to do with recieving the Holy Ghost?

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      • I did not think so. How can anyone who calls themselves “jedi chuckes” be considered rude?

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    • One of the funny things about Acts is that the Holy Spirit comes on people at different times, always after belief, but sometimes before baptism (Cornelius) or only after an apostle lays on hands (the Samaritans in Chapter 8). Acts is tricky for creating a theology since Luke is being representative, showing the HS moving out from Jerusalem, and not creating a systematic theology that pleases my 21st century mind.

      I think another factor here is Luke’s penchant for telling a Peter and Paul story that are parallel. In Acts 8, fringe believers (Samaritans) do not get the HS until Peter questions them and lays hands on them. In Acts 18, the followers of John the Baptist are also “fringe” in that they do not even know there is a HS yet, then Paul lays hands on them and they get the Spirit.

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  13. What I find mysterious here is that Jesus’ disciples were casting out demons, healing the sick even before they were Christians
    They were preaching the Kingdom of God. Wonder what exactly they were preaching

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    • This is a good observation, but there were strong Jewish expectations of physical restoration as part of the eschatological age (Isaiah 35 and Isaiah 61, for example). In addition, there were many Jewish exorcists in the Second Temple period, remember the Sons of Sceva in Acts 19?

      The fact the messiah and his representatives were doing miracles fits perfectly well with Jewish Messianic expectations. It would be far more surprising if Jesus and the Twelve did NOT do miracles as part of a messianic Kingdom of God mission.

      As for the content – the Kingdom of God is at hand (Mark 1:14-15), and every Jewish listener would know what that meant from Isaiah and the other prophets.

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      • I’m not sure the disciples were given these powers because of Jewish expectations, after all, the people had no clue that the Messiah would be anything like Jesus. He didn’t fit the Jewish messianic expectations then or now.
        The thing that puzzles me though is – what exactly were they preaching. Did it simply consist of a one liner “The kingdom of God is at hand”?

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      • “The kingdom is at hand” is probably a summary statement, like the few lines we have of John the Baptist’s sermons are a summary of much longer speeches. Or Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, it takes maybe 12-15 minutes to read, yet he speaks to crowds for hour.

        As for miracles, there were other men who claimed to be messiah before and after Jesus, doing signs as well. One claimed to be able to stop the Jordan river.

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  14. Hi Phillip, you said,
    “The kingdom is at hand” is probably a summary statement, like the few lines we have of John the Baptist’s sermons are a summary of much longer speeches.”

    But what more could they be preaching? They didn’t understand anything about Jesus or His mission.

    “As for miracles, there were other men who claimed to be messiah before and after Jesus, doing signs as well. One claimed to be able to stop the Jordan river.”

    Whether these men claimed to be a ‘messiah’ or ‘The Messiah’ I am not sure but at any rate the people believed that Messiah was to set up an earthly Kingdom in Israel and free the people from Roman occupation. No doubt there were some who were expecting Jesus to do the same, including His disciples.
    Lastly, the issue of whether John the Baptist and his disciples were believers, I tend to think they were saved under the old system (repentance and good works) which would only have changed at Christ’s death. So I am inclined to believe they were saved but Paul added to them the ‘extras’ of the new gospel.

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  15. Sorry I meant to ask how those other men claiming to be messiahs were doing signs? If by Satan’s power then and they were killed by Romans, then isn’t it a case of Satan casting out Satan?

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    • I think faked miracles, I really do not think the guy really stopped the Jordan as Joshua did. I will say there were Jewish exorcists and healers, both could be psychosomatic, or (as you say) the power of Satan.

      This is why the way the healing an exorcism ministry is described in the Gospels is important, they are far more complex and surprising than any other ancient healer.

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  16. “I think both John and Jesus would prove the kingdom is coming soon from the Prophets,…”
    Yes you’re right, but the disciples seem to have in mind the same Jewish expectations of a physical kingdom here on earth and appear to be totally unspiritual arguing over position in the kingdom. Did Jesus want them to be preach the wrong kind of kingdom when he sent them out?

    This is a topic that confounds me as Jesus appears to confirm their expectations about the physical kingdom with His answers, but in John’s gospel he makes it perfectly clear to pilate that His kingdom is ‘not of this realm’

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    • One way to get at that problem is the date of John, written AD 85-90, probably 60 years after the resurrection. John is looking back at the events with the realization Jesus is NOT returning quite as soon as everyone thought, so he highlights more of Jesus’s teaching on the present-ness of the Kingdom.

      Another angle is to observe that Acts 2-3 presents the kingdom as in some ways already begun (the outpouring the the HS) but not fully present yet *the times of refreshing will come). Both are true in this age, the present and future Kingdom.

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  17. I wasn’t commenting on the present-ness or otherwise of the kingdom but rather why didn’t Jesus explain to His disciples that it (the kingdom) was a spiritual one, and yet He explained it to Pilate?

    If anything He appears to be confirming disciples thinking by telling them they will sit on 12 glorious thrones judging the 12 tribes of Israel.

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    • Perhaps he did not describe it as a “spiritual kingdom” because that is not entirely what the kingdom is. You allude several times to the twelve ruling on thrones over a restored Israel, that is not really a “spiritual kingdom.”

      What you have hit on is the classic problem of the Synoptic Gospels vs. John’s Gospel. John is often described as a “spiritual Gospel” and far more theological than the Synoptic Gospels (and occasionally less-Jewish or anti-Jewish, although I vehemently disagree with this!) The short answer is that John is writing after a long delay of the return of Jesus and is highlighting the present aspects of the Kingdom. At Pentecost, some aspects of the kingdom “happened” (the outpouring of the Holy Spirit) and others are delayed (the twelve ruling over restored Israel).

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  18. The first Gospel Written was that of Mark about twenty years after the death of Jesus by Crucifixion at the age of 33 which occurred 6 months after the death of his master the Great Prophet John the Baptist, Decapitated in the prison of Macharus for being the so-called Jewish Messiah by the Roman Establishment at the age of 42! Jesus was a disciple of John for over three years plus in the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 11, verse 14 Jesus himself refers to John as ELIJAH and the greatest prophet ever be born of women! What we believe today is mostly that of the Super Apostle Paul, who never saw the real Jesus but the Christ on the road to Damascus! which is the real start to our form of Christianity and not the true Father of Christianity which is the Great Prophet John the Baptist, without him no Christianity! JR AUDET

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  19. 4/3
    Upon reading this post it made me think about how the Holy Spirit has worked in my own life in directing me throughout all the hard decisions I have had to make. Thinking about John the Baptist paving the way for Jesus to come and truly show the people salvation is so cool. Yet at the same time we must realize that those who were baptized by John the Baptist were not yet saved because they did not have the Holy Spirt. It is crazy to read how when Paul asked some of the disciples if they “had received the Holy Spirit” they had no clue what he was talking about. These individuals were very confused about what true salvation was all about. They were baptized by water but not by the Holy Spirt. Water baptism I believe many times confuses people. It has no saving power in it, it is simply an outward display of an inward change. Only through Jesus are we truly saved, and no water can do that. It is so important that we understand that only through believing in Jesus as our personal Savior will we ever be saved, it is not through any ritual, water baptism or simply hearing someone speak. We must surrender our lives to the Lord.

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    • Was John the Baptist saved?
      John preached that someone greater than him would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. It’s hard to believe these guys hadn’t heard of the Holy Spirit. Probably just another example of the inconsistencies in the New Testament.

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  20. I agree to an extent on what you say Dr. Long, however, I am going to try and to play “devil’s advocate” here.

    I see that in different translations for the word disciples here in verse 1, “where he found some disciples”—is also translated as “believers”. Additionally, in verse two Paul asks these disciples did they receive the Holy Spirit when they “first believed”. I think this is quite relevant in how we see or understand our faith. These disciples certainly believed, but the question is if they had actually received the Spirit when they believed. Jesus’ disciples did not receive the Holy Spirit until John 20:22. Were they not fully believing disciples until that point in time? Peter confesses that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God in Matthew 16, so how can Peter not be a believer even with this revelation?

    Polhill states, “For him (Paul) a true disciple of John, a completed disciple of John, was a Christian. That is the whole point of the present narrative (Acts. p. 399). I certainly agree with this. But how could these people be unaware of the Holy Spirit? It would add clarity if they were at Jesus’ baptism, but we do not know that. As a disciple of John though, they should be aware that John taught, “”I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (Matt. 3:11). These disciples had to be in some form aware there was a Holy Spirit, they had heard but did not understand at all what was being said.

    In bringing to remembrance that John’s purpose was to prepare the way of the Lord in people’s hearts, I would agree that these disciples were prepared for Jesus’ calling and ministry for them, but they had not received the Holy Spirit. In the Disciples case, the closest thing to resembling they had received the Spirits power was when Jesus gave the 12 authority to cast out demons and any diseases (Matt. 10:1-8). Yet, this is Jesus authority, not necessarily His Spirit for the Spirit could not come unless Jesus had ascended first (John 16:7).

    In the context of John 20:22 when the disciples receive the Holy Spirit, Jesus is resurrected and close to ascending, it is hard to tell given John’s Gospel does not mention the ascension. However, Luke gives support when Jesus says, “And now I will send the Holy Spirit, just as my Father promised. But stay here in the city until the Holy Spirit comes and fills you with power from heaven” (Luke 24:49). This is right before Jesus ascends.
    So, for the opposing view that the disciples did not receive the Holy Spirit until Pentecost, it is does not quite matter. Both views are very late and do not happen until Jesus ascends.

    I agree with Polhill when he says, “They had not heard that the Spirit had been poured out. They were unaware of Pentecost.” (Acts. p. 399).
    All in all, this is very hard theology, both viewpoints have holes in them and need connection. I think it is helpful to note that Jesus’ disciples technically did not enter into anything further outside of John’s baptism either. It was as if, being with Jesus was still preparing them to “believe fully”. Jesus taught them many things concerning the kingdom and the Spirit, but how much of this did they comprehend? We do not see them actually understanding or operating in the Spirit until after Pentecost. I would then be inclined to think once the Spirit came (whether John 20:22 or Acts 2) then the disciples learned the truths that they were told about while they were with Jesus (John 16:13). Perhaps it was a similar occurrence for the disciples mentioned in Acts 191-7. What they had heard prior was not fully understood or absorbed until they had received the Spirit.

    Therefore, I think it is a blurry line to say these disciples were not saved. Because Jesus’ disciples were in this state until Jesus fulfilled all that he said he was going to do. Peter’s revelation of Jesus being the Son of God and Christ should add help examining the meaning of all this. It was not until right before Jesus died that he told the thief on the cross that he would seem him in paradise, so there is perhaps “deposit” of salvation. Perhaps, these disciples of John were in that state and just needed the second part of receiving and walking in the Spirit.

    I do not claim to be fully correct in all this, but I say all this to show there is more to what we can see upfront about this occurrence and we should ask the Spirit of God to help establish this in our hearts. So I am genuinely interested in your thoughts or insights on the topic.

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    • “Peter confesses that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God in Matthew 16, so how can Peter not be a believer even with this revelation?”

      Even the demons confess Jesus to be to be the Son of God. If Peter had died before receiving the Holy Spirit, would he have been partly saved and therefore gone to heaven?

      Peter’s confession in Matthew 16:16 is also another case of the Synoptic gospels vs John’s gospel in that Andrew and Peter knew Jesus was the Christ on their very first meeting with Him in John 1:41, even Philip knew it. John 1:45

      Yes you can call John’s gospel the spiritual gospel. Apart from doctrine all the disciples (except Judas) were spiritual not to mention John the Baptist.

      The disciples believed in Him after the very first miracle (John 2:11)

      Contrast this with Mark’s gospel.
      Mark 6:52 “For they had not gained any insight from the incident of the loaves, but their heart was hardened”
      Mark 8:17-18 “hardened hearts”
      Mark 16:14 hardness of heart again.

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      • Much could be said Thomas John, I said a lot in that post but in response to your comment I think it can be likened to the OT saints, are they all in Hell? From the time of Moses and just prior to Jesus’ death and resurrection no one could be saved in the technical sense we are speaking on, that being Jesus is the only way, truth and life to enter into the Kingdom of God (John 14:6).

        Apollos was preaching the Lord to others and these disciples of John would have done the same if they ever saw John in action, that the Messiah is coming and arrived. For whatever reason they were unaware of the Holy Spirit. Given the context it seems to allude more towards the “Baptism of the Holy Spirit” to be empowered to do God’s work in a powerful way as did the disciples did and is perhaps why that is the first question Paul asks them in Acts 19.

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  21. I like the point that you made about Johns disciples not knowing enough, and how they may have known a lot but they did not know that they needed salvation which in turn would bring the Holy Spirit. I find that this is true today. I find that there is a lot of people, even people that say that they would consider themselves to be Christian know a lot about God, and Jesus, they just don’t go that next extra mile and say I need salvation.

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  22. I would say that calling the disciples of John “partial believers” is too generous a name. They were not preaching the Gospel of Jesus and had not been His followers, so they were not believers by any means. I agree with you when you say that they were not believing anything particularly wrong. But what they were missing was the final progression, and most important part, of the purpose behind why John the Baptist was even doing his ministry. There cannot be any person who is a Christian or partial Christian who has not heard of Jesus Christ. I know that the text does not outrightly say that they had never heard the name of Jesus, but based off verse four I think it is natural to assume that Paul had to teach them about Him. So to answer your question about those disciples of John. I would say that it is not that they did not “believe enough” it was that they were never actually shown the one thing that would give them salvation. I think those guys were probably doing well with what they knew, but it was not until Paul shared the Gospel of Jesus that they were saved.

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  23. I think that a lot of the contributions here use the term “partial believer” as if that is a theological stance. It really is not a stance at all. You can’t be partially saved from your sin – you either believe in Jesus Christ or you don’t. From that point of view, I think that the disciples of John were not saved. They had followed John the Baptist, and probably were looking forward to the coming Messiah, but if they did not know about the Holy Spirit then they likely did not have enough connection with Jesus or His teaching to know the outcome of Jesus’ ministry.

    I like Erik’s questions, but I think that some of the debate about the disciple’s salvation is not relevant to the mission that we have now to reach those who are lost. Regardless of when the disciples received the Holy Spirit and were marked as saved, we are still to proclaim the gospel and those that confess their sins and believe will be saved (Romans 10:9).

    I think this also settles the matter of the salvation and theological status of the disciples of John. No they weren’t saved because they had not believe in Jesus from His ministry (otherwise they would have been baptized “into the baptism of Jesus”). I agree with Andrew, they were likely doing their best with what they knew, but they did not have the full story.

    In the end, the Disciples of John were probably the “best Jews” out their that were still practicing Judaism, because they had correctly understood John’s ministry and were looking for the coming Messiah. They just didn’t know they had missed Him!

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    • Yes a good point as Erik stated is that the Old Testament saints were saved a different way or else they would all be in hell. So John the Baptist’s followers as well as John the Baptist were saved a different way.

      BTW, remember John the Baptist received the Holy Spirit when in his mother’s womb. Luke 1:15 (was the embryo John saved in the womb?)
      He obviously could not have repented in the womb, but then he was sinless anyway as an embryo.

      So perhaps John’s disciples were also saved a different way.

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  24. I think that this story is a good example of a lot of people who call themselves Christians today. There’s many out there who believe that if they go to church and live “good lives” they are likely to go to Heaven. These people believe that God is real, but they might not be saved. They aren’t believing wrong, but they aren’t believing enough. One could argue that partial truth is a lie, so to speak, so only believing partially in God isn’t actually believing by this logic. But I don’t think that’s quite the right way to think about John’s disciples. Here we have the simple fact that the full message of the Gospel just hadn’t reached the disciples of John, like many “Christians” today. They didn’t know that there was more to salvation. This is why it’s so important for the church to have sound doctrine and reinforce it, because otherwise people may completely miss the point. There’s many people out there who believe in God but just don’t know what they actually need to be saved, and they end up with a lukewarm belief in God. It’s up to us believers to spread the Gospel message to those who may have simply missed it but will be receptive to it!

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    • I guess the most interesting thing here is to find out: How people were saved in the old Testament?
      That would shed a lot of light on whether John’s disciples were saved or not.

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  25. Re: Christian Storms
    So what were the disciples of John missing? Was it a knowledge of the Holy Spirit or an experience of Baptism of fire? Or was it the knowledge and trust that Jesus died for their sins?
    If it was the latter then one has to wonder why that was never explained or mentioned in any of the preaching in Acts, be it that of Stephen, Peter or Paul?

    What about Apollos? Here we have a man who had excellent knowledge of the scriptures and was teaching accurately about Jesus.
    It states, Priscilla and Aquila gave him more accurate knowledge. What could they have possibly added to his knowledge? perhaps some Calvinist doctrines? (just kidding)

    And why does the author of Acts feel like he does not need to explain any of this?

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  26. The insight of this passage within Acts 19 is so interesting to me! I think it is interesting how a different translation can show us a different perspective of what it is saying. A baptism into whom is very different that a baptism into what. It would be simple to see it as a baptism of water, but the translation completely changes what context is it in (Long). Polhill describes that these people must have not heard about the Pentecost because they did not know who the Holy Spirit was (p. 2125). At this point, Paul is probably surprised because he has been doing ministry up until this moment, with knowledge of the Holy Spirit and the manifestations at Pentecost, but yet there are still believers who had yet to hear about the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
    It does pose the question of if they are believers, if they do not know of the Holy Spirit. I think of how in the Old Testament, only certain people had the Spirit of God fall upon them for certain periods of time. Because this passage took place after Jesus had died and resurrected, the Holy Spirit was sent to dwell within these believers. We can wonder if they are “saved” or not, depending on their reception of the Holy Spirit, and their partial beliefs on what John was teaching, but ultimately none of us know 100% who is saved and unsaved. This will be answered when we are judged by God, and we may be surprised at who knew and loved Jesus, and who did not, despite what their works or words showed.

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  27. In Acts 19, while Paul was in Ephesus, he encounters some disciples of John the baptist and asked them if they had received the holy spirit when they believed. As Long notes, Luke parallels the contrast of Barnabus and Ananias in Acts 4 with Apollos and the other disciples of John. This is used to display that while Apollos had heard John and accepted Jesus Christ as the Jewish Messiah, the other followers of John were unaware of Jesus and His activities. The acknowledgment of John still maintaining followers, even around 20 years after his death, indicates that a movement of Jews still held validity to his status as a prophet. Yet these followers of John the Baptist could not be considered Christians, since they had not yet received the holy spirit. The necessity of the Holy Spirit is heavily emphasized throughout the book of Acts and the New Testament as a whole. Regardless of whether the Holy spirit appears before or after baptism, the necessity of receiving was vitally important for Paul, indicating the status of their salvation.
    Within the passage, Paul asks the disciples of John “into whom” or “into what” they were baptized into. This, seemingly abstruse, phrase should be interpreted as “who baptized you” rather than with what or where was one baptized. As Witherspoon elaborates, the imagery of the immersion into the Holy Spirit was commonly used among the early church. Baptism with water was seen as an entry gateway into the Christian community, while baptism of the Holy Spirit was seen as an entry unto saving grace. The importance of John’s “baptism of repentance” is that it was looking forward towards the coming Messiah. This indicates that simply John’s baptism was not enough, since Jesus was the Messiah and had come, it meant that one was not saved through this act. Rather, only through the saving grace of Jesus was one able to be saved and receive the Holy Spirit.

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  28. “It is the reception of the Holy Spirit which demonstrates that they are now Christians” (Phillip Long). We know from reading Scripture that it is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit which makes the followers of Jesus “Christians” as shown by the pouring out of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost in Acts 2 and at the dwelling of Cornelius in Acts 10 (ESV). I believe that these passages alone indicate that without the sealing of the Holy Spirit that you are not considered or truly saved. I don’t believe that there’s anything as “half-saved”, either you are saved, or you are not. However, in the case of these “partial believers” I think that these disciples of John were partial believers in the sense that they understood and were living out the teachings of John which were true, but the fact that they had not “even heard that there [was] a Holy Spirit” or truly of Jesus Himself (Acts 19:2, ESV). However, once Paul explains to them that “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus” the disciples of John were “baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus” which is when the Holy Spirit finally comes upon them after Paul “laid his hands on them” (Acts 19:4-6, ESV). Polhill comments that “[a]s followers of John [the disciples] would have known his message that the Messiah would bring the Spirit” which is likely why they were so quick to believe Paul’s message about Jesus (2125). So, I don’t think that these followers of John were saved until the Holy Spirit came upon them as it did with the other believers, but once it did come onto them, they were and could be considered Christians because of the Holy Spirit that now dwelt in them.

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  29. The disciples at Ephesus, who followed the teaching of John, were not saved until they believed in the name of Jesus, and his alone saving grace. Paul makes this clear. I think it is interesting however that he began the relationship by asking the question, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” (Acts 19:2). This clearly indicates that there was something, either in their behavior or in their speech that was concerning or distressing to Paul. Always making sure to keep the reputation of the gospels and of the teaching of Jesus undefiled, something must have been off about these disciples, to bring Paul attention to them. It is interesting that in the chapter before, Paul, Pricilla, and Aquila encounter something similar with Apollos. Although it seems clearer that Apollos was a believer and taught the way of Jesus, he still only knew the baptism of John, something that Pricilla and Aquila corrected by introducing theological teaching. This is the similar situation with the disciples in Ephesus. Although not seeming to lack passion or gumption, they are theologically incorrect and living by a false gospel. Paul is able to correct this issues aligning them with the full picture of John message, the saving power of Jesus, and the baptism of the most holy and perfect Helper, the Holy Spirit. In Acts 19:6, the twelve disciples of John are baptized though the Holy Spirit, and because of that, are able to speak in tongues and prophecy, clear indications of a true salvation.

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  30. While looking at the story in Acts 19:2-7 it reminds me strongly of the belief that baptism can save a person. While baptism is important, as presented in Matthew 16:16 where Jesus says, “He that believes and is baptized will be saved,” it is important to note the most, and the only thing that saves a person and allows them to be in Heaven with Jesus is the acceptance and belief that Jesus died and rose again and that he is the Savior. When it comes to the disciples of John, they had the knowledge of God, and not the knowledge or acceptance of Christ. Polhill says, “They had not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit…” indicating that they were baptized, but were missing the step of belief, and therefore, Salvation. While these disciples were probably doing good things as followers of John the Baptist, however, they were not spreading the gospel or the life of Jesus, because they had no knowledge of these things. To call them partial believers is kind of a redundant statement because no one can be a “partial believer” when it comes to Salvation. Really, it is an all-or-nothing thing when it comes to belief in Christ. Sadly, the “partial believers” that the disciples of John the Baptist once were, are around today, knowing that God exists and being ignorant of the gospel, whether purposefully or unknowingly. Again, there really cannot be “partial” believers in Christ, it is a lifetime commitment that requires full belief and a life that lives it out. Thankfully, once told about Jesus, the disciples of John the Baptist accepted the Holy Spirit, and it is important that Christians share the gospel as well to help others know about Christ!

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  31. This is a very interesting story in the book of Acts that points to knowledge of God’s word, but having nothing more. They knew Christ was going to come, but did not know that he already came and brought salvation. I think these disciples had head knowledge of Christ, but not a heart change and a belief in Jesus. They knew some of the Old Testament and what John had prophesied about the coming Messiah, but they did not know about the Holy Spirit and that salvation is believing on the Lord Jesus (vs 16:31).

    In regards to the question posed above, I don’t think these disciples were partially saved, because I do not think there is a partial salvation. I think they were blind, until Paul came and shared the gospel with them. It is just like someone seeing creation, which declares the glory of the Creator, but is blind to the gospel until someone shares it with them. That is why we as Christians are called to be witnesses to what Christ has done and share that with people we meet. I know most of us are not big preachers like paul, but our lives as Christians should reflect and promote the gospel. If we ask the Holy Spirit to give us the words, then I believe that God will work through us to share salvation with those we meet. I totally agree that the reception of the Holy Spirit demonstrates that they are Christians and the fruit of the Spirit should be evident in the lives of anyone who is a Christian.

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  32. Acts 19:2-7 talks about disciples of John the Baptist. They claimed to be baptized even though they did not know who the Holy Spirit was let alone receive Him. The first thing that came to my mind was that these disciples were baptized in water and not in the Holy Spirit. However, it has been pointed out that when Paul asks these disciples “whom” they had been baptized into, the “whom” does not refer to water (Long). These disciples were not saved and not because they were wrong but because they did not know enough to be saved. Salvation occurs when someone makes a personal decision to repent to God, to ask for forgiveness, and believe in Jesus and that He died on the cross for our sins and rose again on the third day. When someone is truly saved and believes in Christ then they are filled or baptized in the Holy Spirit.

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  33. It is very interesting to me to decipher whether these disciples of John are partial believers or not. What is perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this entire situation is I don’t believe anyone in today’s age or needless to say anyone in this two thousand year time period can relate to this situation that the disciples were in. Like, putting myself in the shoes of these men, it would truly be bizarre for me to be the recipient of two baptisms. I was baptized four years and it was a very special moment for me- it would be incredibly odd for me to go and get baptized again. At least it would feel that way. Looking at what actually happened, what I make of these disciples is that they were ultimately baptized in the name of Jesus- and that is significant to me. I believe this is included in scripture to make a point of importance about this action, it shows the significance of being baptized in the name of Jesus- it’s important enough for you to get baptized twice! I truly don’t believe these men were partial believers- they were only believing the limited knowledge they had at the time. Upon hearing the ultimate whole truth of the gospel of Christ, they wholeheartedly believed in this truth. Thus, they were saved.

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  34. Luke discusses in this section, Acts 19:2-7, the baptism of water and the baptism of the Holy Spirit. These two baptisms are two different concepts meaning two different things. For example, the baptism of water was a symbol to the community of one’s commitment to Christianity. On the other hand, the baptism of the Holy Spirit is the instance in an individual’s life where they experience the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in their life, allowing the Holy Spirit to guide and teach them. This baptism of water was referred to as “John’s baptism” (Acts 19:3). When Paul had confronted the “disciples” asking if they had received the Holy Spirit and they replied with “no”, because they did not know of this presence of the Holy Spirit. Polhill explains this lack of understanding as he confirms the people not knowing of the ministry of Christ (p. 2125). This water baptism that the people were following was based on the fact that they wanted to follow and trust John the Baptist. It is a surprise to me that these disciples went this long and did not hear of Jesus’ ministry. However, once Paul communicated to them, the disciples wanted to repent and receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ name (Polhill, p. 2125). The question about applying this section in Acts to our lives based on the placement of these disciples’ faiths, comes with a simple answer (in my opinion anyways). The disciples were referred to as disciples because they followed John the Baptist, based on the fact that they were unaware of the ministry of Jesus, admitting that they had not received the Holy Spirit. However, when Paul communicated Jesus’ ministry, they wanted to repent and receive the Holy Spirit. Because I do not know the entire context, I cannot confirm or deny that these disciples inquired about Jesus’ ministry or even heard about Him in passing. However, I do believe that these disciples received salvation after Paul’s communication. I do think that there is evidence of similar situations to this in the modern world – people are simply unaware of the ministry of Jesus. The difference is that nowadays, many more people are ignorant, resentful, or afraid of the gospel.

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  35. The disciples here are a unique case in the Bible. My first thought when approaching this situation is asking the question of what do they truly believe. It appears that they have come to an understanding that God is the one true God. Although when dissecting the disciples’ beliefs they do not have an understanding of what Christ did on the cross. It is evident that they do not know who the Holy Spirit is but the real problem lies in what their first baptism means to them. The article above pointed out that it was a baptism of repentance and that is key to understanding Paul’s interaction and re baptism with the disciples here. The disciples here had repented and understood that God was the one true God but did not come to a full understanding of what Jesus did for them on the Cross. These disciples were followers of God but were not truly Christians at this point. To me you become a Christian when you are filled with the Holy Spirit and they were not when they were baptized in repentance. Although I do believe that someone can be filled with the Holy Spirit and not know they are because they do not have an understanding of what it is. What saved these Christians is the acknowledgment of not being saved by the baptism of John but being saved through the Spirit.

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  36. This thought of re-baptism is something that I have never really thought about until now. If you look at things today, you will see a lot of people getting baptized again. Parents will get their child baptized when they are young, but since that is not the child’s choice, does that count as them being saved? A lot of people will choose to get baptized again when they are older and can make the choice for themselves. Looking at that perspective, I do not think I would label the disciples of John believers until they received the Holy Spirit. They thought they were doing the right thing, but they were believers the moment they received the Holy Spirit. On a side note, I do not think someone needs to get baptized again to be a believer. As soon as they receive the Holy Spirit and believe in the mission and truth of Jesus, that is when they are truly saved.

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  37. While reading through this blog post and Acts 19:2-7 about the disciples of John, it makes me think about the belief that some people think that they have to be baptized to be saved. I believe that baptism is an outward expression and public confession of our faith, but it is not the act of being baptized that saves us. The Bible makes it clear that the only way to have salvation is through having faith in Jesus Christ (ex. John 14:6). When we accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, the Holy Spirit enters our bodies (1 Corinthians 6:19) and provides us with a guide and conscience throughout our time on earth. Because the disciples of John the Baptist did not receive or even know about the Holy Spirit, I don’t believe that they were partial believers or partially saved. Either you have a relationship with Jesus and you have the Holy Spirit within you, or you are not saved; there is no in between. This was not the disciples’ fault that they were not saved because they never knew that the Holy Spirit existed. So, Paul had to explain to the disciples why John’s baptism was not enough for them to be saved. The disciples had to put their faith in Jesus Christ and have a personal relationship with him as their Savior, which is what caused the Holy Spirit to be within them and ultimately save these disciples.

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