Question #219

Did Cornelius and his household receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit?

Hello, and thank you for your website and the valuable information. I've had someone trying to convince me that Cornelius and household did not receive baptism with the Holy Spirit. They keep arguing that Holy Spirit baptism was a one time event that occurred on Pentecost to "all flesh" and that the apostles speaking in tongues was just proof that the Spirit was poured out fulfilling Joel's prophecy. They then say that Cornelius and household speaking in tongues was just another sign that the Spirit was poured out on all flesh on Pentecost. I ask where they come up with a one time event and here is their response: In Acts 2.17 Peter uses the term "pour forth" which literally means to pour out all of whatever is being poured. In other words, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit was completed on Pentecost. In Acts 2.16 Peter clearly states, "This is that", which indicates those on Pentecost witnessed the complete outpouring of the Holy Spirit. In Acts 2.33 Peter used the phrase "He hath poured forth this" in the aorist tense, indicating the outpouring was definitely done at a fixed time. In Acts 10.45 Peter states the Holy Spirit "was poured out" in the perfect tense, indicating a complete action in the past that has an abiding effect. In other words, the Holy Spirit was poured out on the day of Pentecost, and still stands in the state of being poured out. Thus the Holy Spirit was available for the Gentiles, in they are willing to obey (Acts 5.32) Since I am not a "Greek scholar" I was wondering what information you could give me about their position.

The Answer:

There are many more important Biblical issues on which to spend one’s time; however, the experience of Cornelius’ household when Peter was sent to proclaim the gospel to them has been the subject of no little discussion. This answer will not bring those discussions to an end, I am certain, but come comments might shed a bit of light.

First, one should always be very careful about arguments made based on the Greek. That care stems not from the fact that such arguments are never correct, but from the fact that very few have access to tools that enable them to check the accuracy of those arguments, and fewer still are Greek scholars. Examples of that are seen here. For example, what is the basis for the assertion that “pour forth” literally means “to pour out all of whatever is being poured?” Thayer does not define it that way. W.E. Vine does not define it that way. Those words are not found in Ardnt and Gingrich. Neither are they found in the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. The closet concept is that it does speak of “pouring out abundantly,” but that is different from “absolutely all.” The argument that “all” of the Spirit was completely “poured forth” in Acts 2 creates difficulty when Titus 3:6 is reached. There the same word is used in Titus 3:6 (translated “shed” in the KJV) in relation to the bestowing of the Spirit on baptized penitent believers. Does it there mean that it is done once and not on “every one of you” as promised in Acts 2:38? Obviously not.

Second, perhaps the best approach is simply to let Peter speak for himself. As you correctly observe, Peter did in fact identify the event in Acts 2 as the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy in Joel 2. However, it is clear that no Gentiles were involved in Acts 2. As a result, those who contend that Cornelius did not receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit must make the Acts 2 event a representative event for the Gentiles and an actual event for the Jews (Apostles). Is this how Peter understood it, or did he understand it to be a “baptismal” event? First, he said that the Holy Spirit “fell on all them which heard the word” (v. 44). Second, he said that “on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost” (v. 45). Finally, he added that they had “received the Holy Ghost as well as we” (v. 47). If the Gentiles had already received the baptism of the Spirit representatively, why did they need to receive any additional “pouring out?” Why did they not receive whatever gift they received by the laying on of the apostles’ hands as did those is Samaria, instead of by a direct operation of God without the intervention of human hands, the same manner in which the Holy Spirit was “poured out” on the apostles on the day of Pentecost?

But with all of that said, did Peter really believe that it was a baptism in the Holy Spirit or just a manifestation that grew out of the Gentiles already having received Holy Spirit baptism representatively? The amazement of Peter and his companions arose from the “pouring out” of the Holy Spirit directly on them by God (This had never occurred save for the apostles on Pentecost.), and that the “pouring out” was “shed” on the Gentiles. As evidenced by the speaking in tongues, this was not the ordinary gift of the Holy Spirit bestowed on baptized penitent believers. As evidenced by the fact that no human agency was involved, it was not the bestowal of miraculous gifts on Christians during the infancy of the church. There is no event with which to classify it except that of the apostles on the day of Pentecost. This is exactly how Peter classified it: “And as I began to speak, the Holy Ghost fell on them, as [meaning just as, even as) on us at the beginning. Then he remembered the word of the Lord, how what he said, John indeed baptized with water, but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost.” Acts 11:15-16. Why did Peter think of this promise of baptism with the Spirit if this were not what it was? Luke records what Peter remembered by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. One would presume that the Holy Spirit would know what occurred. Acts 2 marked the admission of the Jews into the kingdom; Acts 10 marked the admission of the Gentiles into the kingdom. The Spirit marked both occasions in the same manner.


God's Plan of Salvation

You must hear the gospel and then understand and recognize that you are lost without Jesus Christ no matter who you are and no matter what your background is. The Bible tells us that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Before you can be saved, you must understand that you are lost and that the only way to be saved is by obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:8) Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6) “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

You must believe and have faith in God because “without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6) But neither belief alone nor faith alone is sufficient to save. (James 2:19; James 2:24; Matthew 7:21)

You must repent of your sins. (Acts 3:19) But repentance alone is not enough. The so-called “Sinner’s Prayer” that you hear so much about today from denominational preachers does not appear anywhere in the Bible. Indeed, nowhere in the Bible was anyone ever told to pray the “Sinner’s Prayer” to be saved. By contrast, there are numerous examples showing that prayer alone does not save. Saul, for example, prayed following his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:11), but Saul was still in his sins when Ananias met him three days later (Acts 22:16). Cornelius prayed to God always, and yet there was something else he needed to do to be saved (Acts 10:2, 6, 33, 48). If prayer alone did not save Saul or Cornelius, prayer alone will not save you. You must obey the gospel. (2 Thess. 1:8)

You must confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. (Romans 10:9-10) Note that you do NOT need to make Jesus “Lord of your life.” Why? Because Jesus is already Lord of your life whether or not you have obeyed his gospel. Indeed, we obey him, not to make him Lord, but because he already is Lord. (Acts 2:36) Also, no one in the Bible was ever told to just “accept Jesus as your personal savior.” We must confess that Jesus is the Son of God, but, as with faith and repentance, confession alone does not save. (Matthew 7:21)

Having believed, repented, and confessed that Jesus is the Son of God, you must be baptized for the remission of your sins. (Acts 2:38) It is at this point (and not before) that your sins are forgiven. (Acts 22:16) It is impossible to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ without teaching the absolute necessity of baptism for salvation. (Acts 8:35-36; Romans 6:3-4; 1 Peter 3:21) Anyone who responds to the question in Acts 2:37 with an answer that contradicts Acts 2:38 is NOT proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ!

Once you are saved, God adds you to his church and writes your name in the Book of Life. (Acts 2:47; Philippians 4:3) To continue in God’s grace, you must continue to serve God faithfully until death. Unless they remain faithful, those who are in God’s grace will fall from grace, and those whose names are in the Book of Life will have their names blotted out of that book. (Revelation 2:10; Revelation 3:5; Galatians 5:4)