A critical moment in the narrative that Luke shapes in the second volume of his orderly account (the Acts of the Apostles) comes when the spirit falls on the Gentile believers in Caesarea (10:44–45; 11:15–16). This event is specifically portrayed as a complementary event alongside the falling of the Spirit on Jews in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost (2:1–4). In his initial report of this event in Caesarea, Luke states that “the circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God” (10:45–46).
The activity of the Spirit is noted at various places in this sequence of events. The Spirit guides Peter to meet the men sent by Cornelius and travel with them to Caesarea (10:19; 11:12). In reporting the arrival of messengers from Cornelius (11:11-12), Peter notes simply that “the spirit said to me to go with them without criticism” (11:12; cf. 10:19-20). His omission of many details (character traits, travel details, conversation and personnel; even, surprisingly, the name of Cornelius) places the focus on the role of the spirit.
Peter’s version of the outpouring of the holy spirit is short on factual reporting, as it were; he simply states that the spirit fell on them (11:15). His report abounds in interpretation of the significance of the event, however. The earlier narrative of this event has already noted that the spirit was given as a gift (10:45); Peter now reinforces the divine source of this gift as that which God gave them (11:17; see 10:45).
This gift fulfils the prophetic word of Jesus, that “John baptised with water, but you will be baptised with holy spirit” (11:16, quoting 1:5; cf. the similar, but longer, saying of John at Luke 3:16). Twice Peter parallels this act of the spirit on “them” (Gentiles) with the events that happened to “us” (Jews) at Pentecost, when he notes that the spirit “fell on them just as on us at the beginning” (11:15), and when he states that “God gave them the same gift that he gave us who believe” (11:17). This leads to the clear conclusion, “God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life” (11:18).
After Peter’s sermon in Caesarea and the gifting of the Spirit to the Gentiles (Acts 10-11), the Spirit guides Barnabas and Paul to Seleucia and onwards (13:2) and then later guides Paul away from Asia Minor, towards Macedonia (16:6–7).
At this key moment of decision, three injunctions are given; each one is from a divine source. The first of these, an instruction not to speak in the southern region of Asia, comes from the Holy Spirit (16:6). The second direction, a prohibition against any attempt to head north and enter Bithynia, comes from the same spirit, here described as “the spirit of Jesus” (16:7).
The third divine interjection takes place at Troas, where a vision is seen in the night with a petition to “come across into Macedonia” (16:9). Being guided by the Spirit and seeing visions are common occurrences in Acts. The nature of such phenomena has already been established as divine in origin (2:14-21); the move into Macedonia is thus in accord with the divine will. What takes place, as Paul travels relentlessly with various companions (13:4–21:17) is all driven by the Spirit (13:2, 4).
Much later, Paul’s final visit to Jerusalem and his subsequent arrest takes place under the guidance of the Spirit (20:22–23; 21:11). The story of this movement, then, is of multiple events inspired and propelled by the Spirit over these years.
It is curious, then, that the Spirit is explicitly absent from the narrative after Paul is arrested in Jerusalem (21:22–28:31). It is only in the closing scene, in , that the Spirit is again mentioned—and here in terms of the Spirit being the source of the prophetic oracle (28:25) which Paul quotes from Isaiah (28:26–27, citing Isa 6:9–10). This is quite unlike the earlier concentrations of references to the Spirit, both in the Gospel and in earlier sections of Acts.
What is the explanation for this mysterious disappearance of the Spirit in this final section of Acts?
Read on in the next blog …
See earlier posts at