(Acts 2:1-4) Does this passage support the Pentecostal doctrine of the second blessing?

CLAIM: Acts 2:1-4 states, “When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance.” Pentecostal theologians claim that this passage supports the doctrine of a Spirit baptism. Is this the case?

RESPONSE: Pentecostals interpret this passage through the lens of John the Baptist’s words: “As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Mt. 3:11-12). Hence they see Acts 2 as a fulfillment of John’s prophecy articulated here. Just as the believers in Acts 2 were told to “wait for what the Father has promised” (Acts 1:4-5), so Pentecostals claim that believers should wait for the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

And yet, we contend that Pentecost was a special event that was punctuated by certain signs—not to be expected in our day. There are a number of problems with the Pentecostal interpretation of Acts 2:

First, this passage really doesn’t fit with the Pentecostal scenario. The AOG position paper states, “The disciples’ experience at Pentecost serves as a paradigm for later believers.” However, we believe that Pentecost was a unique, one-time event, which we shouldn’t expect to be repeated today. In fact, there are a number of differences between Pentecost and Pentecostal practice today:

(A) The tongues mentioned in Acts 2 are not HEAVENLY LANGUAGES (as in 1 Cor. 14:9-13); instead, they are HUMAN LANGUAGES (v.4). The crowd even asked, “And how is it that we each hear them in our own language to which we were born?” (v.8). But this isn’t what we regularly see in Pentecostal services today, where believers are speaking in Russian, German, French, or Spanish! Instead, believers “baptized by the Holy Spirit” supposedly speak in unknown languages.

(B) Pentecost was not the SECOND blessing, but the FIRST blessing. Pentecostals hold that believers do gain saving faith when they come to Christ. But they gain the “Spirit baptism” in order to be used powerfully in ministry. However, this doesn’t fit with this passage, because these still hadn’t received the Spirit at all. Jesus says, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you” (Acts 1:8), implying that they hadn’t received the Holy Spirit. In Acts 2:4, “They were all filled with the Holy Spirit.” Nothing in this passage implies that they had the Holy Spirit, and then received an additional Spirit baptism.[1] Later in his first teaching, Peter says, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). This seems to place the gift of the Holy Spirit right alongside justification. We feel that seeing two comings of the Holy Spirit is gratuitous.

(C) There was FIRE and NOISE when the Spirit descended. Of course, this does not regularly (or ever!) occur in modern Pentecostal services, when believers are “Spirit baptized.”

We find it inconsistent to expect some parts of Pentecost for today, but not others.

Second, tongues do not always accompany salvation in the book of Acts. While tongues do accompany salvation in three instances in the book of Acts (2:4; 10:46; 19:6), they do not always follow it. For instance, later in this same chapter, 3,000 people come to Christ, but they never speak in tongues as these first believers did.

Third, while both Matthew 3 and Acts 2 refer to the Holy Spirit and fire, this is simply word association. Our first rule of hermeneutics is context—not word association. When we consider the very next verse in John’s speech, we read, “His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (Mt. 3:12). This refers to judgment—not speaking in tongues. This interpretation also parallels the earlier context which states that some were baptized and saved (v.6), while others were unrepentant and were judged (v.7). Thus we see nothing in Matthew 3 that would predict Spirit baptism—only salvation and judgment.

[1] Pentecostals usually argue that the disciples had already been justified. When Jesus told them to “receive the Holy Spirit,” they had become believers (Jn. 20:22). However, do not equate this expression (“Receive the Holy Spirit”) to elsewhere refer to justification. For instance, regarding Acts 8, the AOG position paper states, “Laying on of hands by Peter and John was for them to ‘receive the Holy Spirit’ (verse 17), a practice the New Testament never associates with receiving salvation.” But these interpreters cannot have it both ways: If the apostles were already believers in Acts 2 because they had “received the Holy Spirit” from Jesus (Jn. 20:22), then this would mean that the Samaritans were not believers until Peter and John laid hands on them in Acts 8.