Gospel Gazette Online
Vol. 15 No. 2 February 2013
Page 2

Editorial

The Case of Cornelius
and His Household

Louis RushmoreWhether it might be correctly said Cornelius and those with him received the baptism of the Holy Spirit or a gift of the Holy Spirit revolves around one’s definition of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. It is not crucial to fellowship that all brethren concur on this matter, as long as they admit that the Spirit’s miraculous ministry ceased long ago. However, an examination of this biblical event is not without its value, too. The context of Acts Chapters Ten and Eleven contains useful information about the Holy Spirit and His work.

Brethren differ regarding whether Cornelius and his household received the baptism of the Holy Spirit or a gift of the Holy Spirit. Agreed upon by all are these points: (1) Miraculous power was received from heaven without human intervention. (2) The purpose of this singular event was to assure Peter and all potential critics that the Gentiles too were subject to the call and blessings of the Gospel. (3) The miraculous power received that day was speaking in tongues, the same miracle exhibited by the apostles when they were baptized with the Holy Spirit.

The question is not, did Cornelius and others then present receive miraculous power from heaven without human intervention. The question is not was that miraculous manifestation similar to the miracles in Acts Two. The question does not concern the differences in purpose from the Acts Two event to the Acts Ten and Eleven happening. The real question is, “What should we call it?” Whatever the event at Cornelius’ house is called reflects on the definition of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Further, whatever the Cornelius episode of the Spirit’s work is dubbed also affects both the promise and earlier known fulfillment of the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

In the strictest sense, the baptism of the Holy Spirit must be restricted to the apostles alone. First, the promise of the baptism of the Holy Spirit makes provision for the apostles only to receive it (John 14-16; Acts 1:2-8). On Pentecost, the apostles only received the baptism of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:26; 2:1-14).

Second, the degree of miraculous power received by the apostles, resulting from the baptism of the Holy Spirit, markedly differed from the degree of miraculous power received by all other recipients of miraculous power in the first century (2 Corinthians 12:12). This includes the occasion at Cornelius’ house, unless someone can prove Cornelius and as many family and friends who were with him were also apostles.

The application of the baptism of the Holy Spirit to the household of Cornelius not only interferes with the sole known promise of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, but it requires a revised definition of the baptism of the Holy Spirit between Acts Two and Ten. After that is done, the baptism of the Holy Spirit is less by definition than it was in Acts Two.

However, what appears obvious to this writer respecting the case of Cornelius and his household regarding the Holy Spirit is not obvious to other students of God’s Word. For instance, brethren Guy N. Woods (Woods 259-260) and J.W. McGarvey (McGarvey 138-139) each penned in their respective writings their belief that Cornelius and those with him received the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Another writer wrote: “With reservation we call Cornelius’ a baptism of the Holy Spirit” (L’Roy 37).

Those of this persuasion conclude the manner in which miraculous power was received in Acts Two and Ten (without human intervention) constitutes baptism in the Spirit. Yet, they characteristically are quick to differentiate between the degree or measure of baptismal miraculous power received by the apostles versus those in Acts Ten and Eleven. Functionally, what Cornelius and those with him received was equal to a gift of the Holy Spirit ordinarily obtained by the imposition of apostles’ hands. L’Roy denies the proposition that the degree of miraculous power obtained by the apostles and the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit received by others are all baptism in the Spirit (except for the Cornelius episode). “We reject the idea that every ‘gift’ of the Spirit is ‘baptism’ as being unsound and confusing” (36). A disclaimer of this sort is necessary only because the position that Acts Two and Ten both record instances of the baptism of the Holy Spirit implies that all reception of miraculous power resulted from the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

The purpose for which the Spirit visited the household of Cornelius is also thought by some to support the proposition of the baptism of the Holy Spirit at Cornelius’ home. Not that the purpose of the baptism of the Holy Spirit (John 14-16; Acts 2) was the same purpose in Acts Ten and Eleven, but the appearance of the Spirit at Cornelius’ was for a singularly important reason. It was to show all critics that Gentiles too were amenable to and recipients of the blessings of the Gospel. “The sudden falling of the Spirit on Cornelius was not—we repeat, was not—to make him or anyone an apostle nor to empower him to reveal or confirm the word of truth” (L’Roy 37). So, though an important reason, yet a different purpose from the purpose of the baptism of the Holy Spirit itself, is thought sufficient to warrant the repetition of the baptism of the Spirit on some others than the apostles. An argument for the baptism of the Holy Spirit on Cornelius, his family and friends would better be supported by conformity of purpose between Acts Two and Acts Ten, rather than different purposes. An argument for the baptism of the Spirit at Cornelius’ would better be supported by conformity of purpose between the promise of the baptism of the Holy Spirit (John 14-16) and the purpose of the Spirit’s presence at the home of Cornelius.

All recipients of the same thing, in this case the baptism of the Holy Spirit is under consideration, received the same thing. The foregoing statement seems redundant and obvious, but good brethren would have Cornelius and all those gathered with him both receive the same thing the apostles formerly received and at the same time not receive the same thing the apostles received.

There can be no degrees in Holy Spirit baptism. Any two men baptized in the Holy Spirit would have equal measure of it. …Paul declared in 2 Corinthians 11:5 that he was “not a whit behind the very chiefest apostle.” There was no such thing as measures of Holy Spirit baptism, or of a limited Spirit baptism. If Cornelius had been baptized in the Holy Spirit he would have possessed all powers imparted by it and belonging to it. He would not have been inferior to the apostles of Christ in any respect; he would have known all that the apostles knew, and could have done all that the apostles did, and it would not have been necessary for Peter to have told him anything. …The Old Testament records that Balaam’s ass employed the tongue of a man, but I dare say that no one would claim that the ass was baptized in the Holy Spirit! (Wallace 101-103)

Remember, what the donkey received was obtained without human intervention and was to the dumb beast a language in which he had not been schooled. He, though, spoke the Word of God. Also, if it is necessarily confessed (to preserve the proposition) Cornelius was a Gentile apostle since he received what the apostles received, other Gentiles about whom we know nothing were apostles too. Imagine, the number of apostles may have been more than doubled that eventful day recorded in Acts Ten. Imagine also that there were women in that number too who purportedly received the baptism of the Holy Spirit and became apostles.

What Does the Text Say?

The specific contexts that pertain to the question of this chapter are: (1) Acts 10:44-47, the event, recorded by Luke and (2) Acts 11:15-17, Peter’s rehearsal of the event, recorded by Luke.

“While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost. For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter, Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?” (Acts 10:44-47 emphasis added)

“And as I began to speak, the Holy Ghost fell on them, as on us at the beginning. Then remembered I the word of the Lord, how that he said, John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost. For as much then as God gave them the like gift as he did unto us, who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ; what was I, that I could withstand God?” (Acts 11:15-17 emphasis added)

The above event was complemented by (1) a vision and a heavenly prompting (Acts 10:9-17; 11:5-10), (2) the bidding and instruction of the Spirit (Acts 10:19-20; 11:12), (3) attendance by an inspired apostle—Peter (Acts 10:23ff), (4) witnessed by Jewish Christians (Acts 10:23, 45; 11:12) and (5) recorded by an inspired penman (Luke). Other than the resurrection of Jesus Christ, possibly no other single Bible event is more clearly ratified by sundry testimony than the visit of the Spirit to the household of Cornelius. At least, the facts of the visit of the Spirit to Cornelius’ are plainly evident and sufficiently proved to be incontestable by brethren nearly 2,000 years ago, or even now. Of course, the aim of the array of these facts then was to prove that the Gentiles had a right to obey the Gospel and become its beneficiaries, whereas, presently, we have another reason for addressing them. However, we should be able to ascertain from the same information what occurred beyond any reasonable doubt. If we can derive from the context what brethren then apparently understood regarding the episode in Caesarea, that will suffice.

“…the Holy Ghost fell on all them…” (Acts 10:44). Acts 11:15 repeats the same information with the addition of “…as on us at the beginning.” These phrases only indicate that what occurred at the home of Cornelius was without human intervention, similarly as what occurred in Acts Two was also without human administration. “The statement of Peter in Acts 11:15, ‘as upon us at the beginning’ indicates manner and not the measure of the reception…’” (Wallace 101). Naturally, Peter remembered Pentecost on which he received miraculous power. This led him to also remember the promise preceding Pentecost made by John the Baptist of that which he received in Acts Two. However, neither Peter, the vision, the heavenly voice, the Spirit, the Jewish witnesses nor Luke anywhere stated that what Cornelius received was the baptism of the Holy Spirit. To the contrary, “Two places, chapter 10:45 and 11:17, refer to this outpouring as a ‘gift’ and not as the baptism, and it is nowhere directly called the baptism” (Wallace 101).

“…on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 10:45). Acts 11:17 adds, “…God gave them the like gift as he did unto us, who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ…” In both chapters, the effect of the Spirit was said to be a miraculous gift of the Holy Spirit, not a baptism of the Holy Spirit. Also, note that the comparison made is not between what the apostles received versus what Cornelius received, but between what the Jews received versus what the Gentiles received. The phrase “…who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ…” includes more than merely the apostles, others upon whom the apostles had conferred miraculous gifts. The six Jewish brethren (Acts 10:23; 11:12), “…they of the circumcision which believed…” (Acts 10:45), observed “…on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost.” Their astonishment was that the Gentiles received the gift of the Holy Spirit as the Jews had also. Their amazement was not that the Gentiles received the baptism of the Holy Spirit which the six Jewish brethren had not received.

Further, the “like gift” refers to the similarity in manifestation of miraculous power, perhaps inclusive of the direct manner in which it was received without human participation, but certainly respecting the miraculous demonstration – namely, speaking in languages in which one had not been schooled. Therefore, Acts 11:17 is compared with Acts 10:46. Speaking in tongues in which one was not schooled or otherwise familiar was the Spirit’s demonstration on Pentecost through the apostles after their baptism in the Holy Spirit. The same miraculous manifestation accompanied the Spirit’s visit to the home of Cornelius. Too, speaking in tongues (unfamiliar languages) was one of the manifestations of the Spirit through those upon whom the apostles had laid their hands. Under no valid definition of “like” does it support the notion Cornelius received the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

“…which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?” (Acts 10:47). This phrase cannot refer to the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Beyond any doubt, Peter was the only apostle present when he uttered this statement. Therefore, he was the only one among the Jews to whom he was speaking who had been baptized with the Holy Spirit. Peter merely cited that the Gentiles had received miraculous power from the Holy Spirit as had the Jews. He did not address the manner of reception or the gift of the Holy Spirit or the baptism of the Holy Spirit. He only cited Gentile reception of miraculous power (compared to miraculous power that he and other Jews had before received) to prove God had accepted both. Therefore, the Gentiles were also acceptable to God and should be baptized. The “we” who had received miraculous power were (1) Jewish, (2) six non-apostles and (3) one apostle. The common denominator, then, was the reception of miraculous power from the Holy Spirit without consideration of (1) manner of reception, (2) purpose of reception or (3) measure of reception.

Neither Cornelius, his kinsmen, nor his near friends, nor anyone besides the apostles ever received the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The baptism of the Holy Spirit was not promised to anyone other than the apostles. The purpose of the baptism of the Holy Spirit is not consistent with its reception by anyone other than the apostles. The application of the baptism of the Holy Spirit to anyone beyond the apostles dilutes and confuses the definition and the biblical doctrine of the Spirit’s baptism. The application of the baptism of the Holy Spirit to anyone other than the apostles is wholly unnecessary to the legitimate exposition of Scripture.

Finally, one of the correct answers to modern proponents of the direct operation of the Holy Spirit is: (1) The baptism of the Holy Spirit was promised to and received exclusively by the apostles. (2) The only other New Testament bestowal of miraculous power without human administration was singly applied at the house of Cornelius to signal admission of the Gentiles to Gospel amenability and blessings. (3) So, since no one today qualifies for apostleship (Acts 1:21-22), the baptism of the Holy Spirit upon men now is disallowed. (4) Since the Jews and the Gentiles, encompassing all humanity, are already amenable to and may enjoy the blessings of the Gospel (Romans 1:16), there remains no occasion for a repetition of the reception of miraculous power in the manner in which it was received by Cornelius.

The New Testament also teaches about the temporary, inferior nature (1 Corinthians 13:8-13; Ephesians 4:11-13) and purpose (Mark 16:20; John 20:30-31; Hebrews 2:3-4) of miracles. The apostles further transmitted miraculous power by the imposition of their hands (Acts 8:14-18; 19:1-6, which hands are now stilled by death).

Works Cited

L’Roy, Elmer. The Holy Spirit. Shreveport: Lambert, 1966.

McGarvey, J.W. A Commentary on Acts of Apostles. seventh edition. Nashville: Gospel Advocate, n.d.

Wallace, Foy E., Jr. The Mission And Medium Of The Holy Spirit. Nashville: Foy E. Wallace, Jr., 1967.

Woods, Guy N. Questions And Answers. Open Forum, Freed-Hardeman College Lectures. Henderson: Freed-Hardeman College, 1976.


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