The Twelve Men Part 1 of 4

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

June 14, 2015

Acts of the Apostles

Lesson: IV.D.3.a: The Twelve Men (1-7)

Acts 19:1-7 (KJV)

1 And it came to pass, that, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper coasts came to Ephesus: and finding certain disciples,
2 He said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost.
3 And he said unto them, Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John's baptism.
4 Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.
5 When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
6 And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied.
7 And all the men were about twelve.


This nineteenth chapter, and the first seven verses, are one of the most familiar passages in the whole book, but unfortunately, it is also one of the most constantly misinterpreted passages. It needs careful consideration.

Paul, having paid his visit to Palestine, returned overland to Ephesus (thus fulfilling his promise; see 18:21) and settled down there for some two and a half years, speaking daily in the school of Tyrannus, from the autumn of 52 to the spring of 55. There a great work was accomplished, radiating out from Ephesus to other cities of the province of Asia. The effect of the preaching is vividly portrayed by Luke in a few scenes.

Ephesus was commonly called “the Light of Asia.” It was the seat of the Roman proconsul and also of the Confederation of cities known as the “Asiarchte,” and it was a hotbed of Roman “emperor worship.”

In the first scene, which Luke describes in verses 1-7, we meet the 12 “disciples” who knew only John’s baptism and had never heard of the Holy Spirit.


1 And it came to pass, that, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper coasts came to Ephesus: and finding certain disciples,

You will remember that Paul had come through Ephesus on his return trip from his second missionary journey and had told them that he would come back to them if God so willed. He had not stayed in Ephesus previously and had had no ministry there. Now he returns to Ephesus, but he has been preceded there by that great preacher, Apollos. You recall that Apollos did not know anything about the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ until Aquila and Priscilla had talked to him. All he had been preaching was the baptism of John, which was as far as his knowledge went. As a result of this, the people who had heard his preaching had been instructed only as far as the baptism of John and had not even heard of the Holy Spirit. Paul, somehow became aware of that.

“And it came to pass, that, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper coasts came to Ephesus.” From Luke’s description, it appears that Paul made the journey to Ephesus by way of the shorter, though less frequented, the route through Caster valley. At least this seems to be the meaning of the phrase “the upper coasts” (the interior, NIV) since this road did lead over higher ground than the main road through Colossae and Laodicea; the more frequently traveled trade route. He was now in proconsular Asia. By the second century B.C. this region was under the rule of the Seleucids, but with the defeat by the Romans of the Seleucid king, Antiochus III (133 B.C.), it was bequeathed back to the Romans. This new Provence was called Asia because the Attalids were known to the Romans as the kings of Asia. It took in Mycia; Lydia; and Caria; the coastal areas of Aeolia, Iconia and the Troad; and many of the islands of the Aegean. The province was enlarged in 116 B.C. by the addition of greater Phrygia. Its first capital was Pergamon, the former capital of the Attalids, but by the time of Augustus, Ephesus had assumed that position. The city governed its own affairs through the citizen assembly and elected magistrates.

The peace that Augustus had brought to the Roman world was especially welcomed by the people of Asia, whose own history had been turbulent. They developed a strong

sense of loyalty to the emperor, which was expressed in the establishment of the cult of “Rome and the Emperor” in 29 B.C. The cult was administered on behalf of the participating cities (the Asian League) by their representatives, the Asiarchs, appointed each year for that purpose. As a member city of the League, Ephesus had been a center of this worship from the outset, and coins and inscriptions show how much the city prided itself on being “Temple Warden,” both of the imperial cult and of Artemis, its own patron goddess. Most of the evidence in this regard relates to the imperial cult, but the title “guardian of the temple of the great Artemis” (v. 35) is attested (though later than the New Testament), and there is no question that Ephesus was famous for the worship of the goddess. Her latest temple—that seen by Paul—was regarded as one of the wonders of the world.

Soon after his arrival in Ephesus, or so it seems, Paul came across a number of men (“about 12,” v. 7) whom Luke appears to have regarded as (in some sense) Christians, for he wrote that the apostle found “certain disciples4” and they are said to have believed (v. 2), yet they only knew “the baptism of John” (v. 3). In the early days of the church, there was probably any number of cases like this, where a clear distinction could not be drawn between the disciples of John and the disciples of Jesus.

2 He said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost.

Something must have prompted Paul to investigate the faith of these men. He asked, therefore, “Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed?” His criterion for what distinguished the Christian is significant. So, too, is the way in which his question is framed. It implies that the Holy Spirit is received at a definite point in time and that that time is the moment of initial belief. The same thought is expressed, for example, in Ephesians 1:13 (KJV)—“In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise.” No space of time is envisioned between the two events. Nor is the possibility entertained of believing without also receiving the “seal of the Spirit,” of which Christian baptism is the outward and visible sign. The question was important because the witness of the Spirit is the one indispensable prove that a person is truly born again (Romans 8:9, 16; 1 John 5:9-13). The Apostle Peter told a Jerusalem crowd, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost”. (Acts 2:38, KJV).

So why did Paul ask about their baptism? Because in the Book of Acts, a person’s baptismal experience is an indication of his or her spiritual experience. Acts 1-10 records a transition period in the history of the church, from the apostles’ ministry to the Jews to their ministry to the Gentiles. During this transition period, Peter used “the keys of the kingdom” (Matthew 16:19) and opened the door of faith to the Jews (Acts 2), the Samaritans (Acts 8:14), and finally to the Gentiles (Acts 10).

It is important to note that God’s pattern for today is given in Acts 10:43-48; sinners hear the Word, they believe on Jesus Christ, they immediately receive the Spirit, and then they are baptized. The Gentiles in Acts 10 did not receive the Spirit by means of water baptism or by the laying on of the Apostles’ hands (Acts 8:14-175).

I said in the introduction that this is one of the most constantly misinterpreted passages in the book of Acts, and the reason it is misunderstood is found in the question Paul asked, “Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed (KJV).” The problem is created by the word “since,” which seems to separate the salvation experience from the receiving of the gift of the Spirit.This is definitely an instance where the NIV is the better translation: “Did ye received the Holy Ghost when ye believed” (NIV). The misunderstanding disappears. Some use this verse to support the theory that the Holy Spirit comes some time after salvation, which in the terminology of our own day is described as a “second blessing.”

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