In Acts 19, we read:

19:1 While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul went through the inland regions and came to Ephesus. He found some disciples there 19:2 and said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” They replied, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” 19:3 So Paul said, “Into what then were you baptized?” “Into John’s baptism,” they replied. 19:4 Paul said, “John baptized with a baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.” 19:5 When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus, 19:6 and when Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they began to speak in tongues and to prophesy. 19:7 (Now there were about twelve men in all.) [NET Bible]

This is the only time in the New Testament that any kind of rebaptism for disciples is explicitly mentioned. There are times, such as Acts 2, where we might assume at least some of the new believers had already undergone a Jewish ablution as it was a Jewish practice but their belief is new and the baptism as disciples of Christ is new. Consistently throughout Acts, Luke only calls followers of Jesus "disciples" so these men are believers in Jesus.

Why does Paul rebaptize the twelve disciples of Ephesus?

  • And I expanded my answer to show that Luke repeatedly draws a distinction between the two. – Frank Luke Jun 14 '17 at 17:14
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    @user33515 - I'm going to have to disagree with you here. I think this is a decent question that someone might ask regardless of denominational affiliation. – Bʀɪᴀɴ Jun 14 '17 at 21:56
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    @user33515 I can't even see how you're getting where you're getting. This question has absolutely nothing to do with spirit baptism but only the two baptisms in water they received, first that of John then that in Jesus' name. Their receiving of the Spirit by laying on of hands is not part of my question. – Frank Luke Jun 14 '17 at 23:11
  • Forget it. I deleted all my comments to this question and to your answer to the related question - which is really what prompted my comments to this one. – user33515 Jun 14 '17 at 23:24

The re-baptism of the eleven disciples from Ephesus was significant, as it points out the difference between the baptism of John and the baptism required after Christ's sacrifice on the cross. John's baptism was the one which was transitional, calling the people to repentance before the old covenant had been nailed to the cross (Matt. 3:2).

When Peter and the apostles were preaching on the day of Pentecost, a new covenant baptism for the remission of sins in the name of Christ was instituted, and there was no distinction called out for any that had already been baptized by John. They all had to be re-baptized in the name of Christ, and that would have also applied to the apostles. It is a matter of deduction that this must have been a universal requirement. Otherwise, Paul would not have made this distinction with the eleven disciples in Acts 19.

If the baptism of John was sufficient, Paul would have just proceeded with the laying on of hands to give them the gift of the Holy Spirit promised to that generation. That Paul even asked the question meant that he was in the habit of asking that question of the disciples as he came to them. The gift of the Holy Spirit was only made available after Christ's crucifixion (Acts 2:38-39), and was only available after the laying on of the hands of the apostles or one of their appointed presbyters (Timothy).

The gift of the Holy Spirit was promised to that generation for the miracles that confirmed the authority of the word from God, ie: prophesy, healing, speaking in foreign languages (tongues), etc. It was not a result of the baptism! If it was an automatic result of baptism, then Paul would not have had to lay hands on any of them after they were baptized in the name of Christ.

Notice what Paul tells Timothy in 1 Tim. 5:22,

"Lay hands suddenly on no man, neither be partaker of other men's sins: keep thyself pure."

The caution to Timothy was to be certain that the disciple was a true believer who had repented of his/her sins and had been baptized before he/she be given a gift of the Holy Spirit.

Many people confuse the promise of the gift of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2:38 to be an automatic result of baptism. But, they forget to read on to verse 39 which is connected by the conjunction "for."

" For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call."

The promise was to them - those of the first century AD, to their children, and to those far off gentiles who had yet to be grafted in (Cornelius, Acts 10:25-48). The gift of the Holy Spirit aided in the authentication of the word of God because the gospels and epistles had not yet been written and were not yet in circulation.

Acts 2:22,

"Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know:"

The miracles of the Holy Spirit confirmed the word. Peter told them that what they were seeing and hearing on that Pentecost day in that first century AD was what the prophet Joel had told them would happen (Acts 2:16). Those gifts were for a special generation, and a special time to establish the gospel of Christ with authority in the hearts of the people.

So, when Paul came to the eleven disciples from Ephesus and learned that they did not know of any gift of the Holy Spirit, he knew they had not been baptized in the name of Christ.

The three exceptions to the sequence were those who had received the Holy Spirit before their baptism... the apostles on the day of Pentecost (Jewish believers, Acts 2); Paul at the house of Judas in Damascus(apostate and converted Jew, Acts 9:3-18); and the house of Cornelius (gentile).

As we know that both Paul and the house of Cornelius were baptized with water after the Holy Spirit fell upon them, then the baptism in the name of Christ was still required of them.

God is not a respecter of persons (Acts 10:34), therefore all are required to meet the same conditions:

"Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins..." (Acts 2:38)

And some may say that baptism was of the Holy Ghost, and of fire, citing John's statement to the Pharisees and Sadducees in Matt. 3:11 -

"I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance. but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire: 12 Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire."

John was not speaking of their conversion. He was telling the unbelieving Pharisees and Sadducees of the fire of God's judgment that would fall on them for denying and crucifying the Messiah. The fire of God's wrath is judgment language from all OT prophesy, and John used it in Matt. 3 against that "generation of vipers". (See Ezek. 22:31; Jer. 21:12; Nah. 1:6)

Luke 12:49,

" I am come to send fire on the earth; and what will I, if it be already kindled?"

Jesus used the same language that was used in all OT prophesy warning them of the judgment to come on that generation. (Matt. 3:10, Luke 3:9).

So, those disciples in Ephesus had to be re-baptized in the name of Christ before they could receive the promised gift of the Holy Spirit. The gifts of the Holy Spirit were for that special generation of the first century AD, and faded after the second appearance of Christ in AD 70 after the destruction of Jerusalem. As those of that generation died off, so did the miraculous gifts.

But the first part of the requirement of Acts 2:38 is still required of everyone.

  • "The gift of the Holy Spirit was promised to that generation for the miracles that confirmed the authority of the word from God, ie: prophesy, healing, speaking in foreign languages (tongues), etc. It was not a result of the baptism! If it was an automatic result of baptism, then Paul would not have had to lay hands on any of them after they were baptized in the name of Christ." Excellent point. One might also consider Acts 8:14ff - And when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles' hands the Holy Spirit was given ... – user33515 Jun 16 '17 at 13:46
  • Yes. We just have to read more carefully. His word is very complete, and surface reading is not enough. – Gina Jun 16 '17 at 22:29

I would just leave a comment, but I don't have enough reputation for that yet...

In my understanding, there are some differences between John baptism and Jesus (in water). John was baptizing people who repent, Jesus, however, added some "specifications" to how people should be baptized (John obviously didn't follow, since he was already dead when Jesus has thought his disciples about that). Here you can check:

Go then, and make disciples of all the nations, giving them baptism in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit: Teaching them to keep all the rules which I have given you: and see, I am ever with you, even to the end of the world. Mt 28:19,20

Compare to John's:

John came, and gave baptism in the waste land, preaching baptism as a sign of forgiveness of sin for those whose hearts were changed. Mark 1:4

So, in my understanding, to receive Jesus baptism, one should not only change its heart (and wait for the one that was to come after him), but also believe and follow Jesus. Also, Jesus baptism was "in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit". Two differences that might have been the reason for the re-baptism.

I'm not completely sure I'm correct - as I said, I would just leave a comment there. But I hope this might help you find the correct answer.


The Old Covenant 'Baptism of John' (Baptism of Repentance/Water) vs. the New Covenant Sacrament of Baptism (Water and the Spirit)

The Baptism of John was a separate thing from New Covenant baptism—which is a sacrament. John's was not a sacrament, since it did not actually confer grace, namely, New Testament Redemption through the blood and merits of Jesus Christ, applied through the act of baptism.

The Baptism of John did not constitute a sacrament (any real giving of grace through the use of outward signs or matter), since:

  • it was not ordained directly by God
  • no specific or explicit offer of grace, by God, was offered for performing it. It only functioned as other acts of penance could have, “repentence unto the forgiveness of sins:”

Mark 1:4

John was in the desert baptizing, and preaching the baptism of repentance, unto forgiveness of sins.

cf. Matthew 3:6

Not “the forgiveness of sins:”

Acts 2:38

And Peter said to them: Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of your sins: and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.

Acts 22:16

And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on his name.

This slight distinction is important.

The utlimate end of the Baptism of John and the New Covenant sacrament is the same: forgiveness of sins. But the Baptism of John serves only to faciliate an attitude of repentance (Matthew 3:11)—a penitential attitude, hence Jerome's rendering the “do penance”. It doesn't so much merit forgiveness as produce that which leads us to a place where God is willing to forgive. The Baptism of John is simply to foster a sense of regret and repentance from sin (Matthew 3:11). Which will merit forgiveness not in the sense of earning it, as if God owed it, but in the sense that God is willing to forgive “if we confess our sins:”

Matthew 3:6 (Old Covenant)

And were baptized by [John] in the Jordan, confessing their sins.

1 John 1:9 (New Covenant)

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all iniquity.

The matter or physical element of the baptism was also the same (water):

Mark 1:8

I [John] have baptized you with water; but he [Jesus] shall baptize you with the Holy Spirit.

(The Spirit descending while Jesus is baptized with water foreshadowed this sacrament, and what occurs in it—Matthew 3:16; John 1:32)

John 3:5

Jesus answered: Amen, amen [a solemn truth] I say to thee, unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.

We notice that they are not mututally exclusive: the Baptism instituted by Jesus is outwardly symbolized with matter (water) while inwardly conferring the grace given us through the Holy Ghost merited by Christ's Passion and death. This was further symbolized by the "living waters" (a Hebraism which means running, moving, gushing waters; one of the most common ways Scripture refers to the Holy Spirit) which flowed from the side of Christ as He hung on the Cross.. mingled with His blood (John 19:34): both are applied to the soul at baptism.

The blood of Christ applied and the Spirit given.

The Sacrament of Baptism

St. Peter describes the sacrament of Baptism as that which is “unto the forgiveness of your sins.” That is, in putting on Christ we recieve of the benefits of His Redemption.

Contrast this with the so-called Baptism of John which was a mere act of faith, leading to an outward repentence unto the forgiveness of sins and thus forgiveness by God on account of "an appeal to God" for a clean slate, as it were, and initial recieving of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38-29; 22:16) but since it confers New Covenant grace, this sacrament of baptism “now saves you” (1 Peter 3:18-21; cf. Ezekiel 36:25; 1 Corinthians 6:11), since it actually confers grace: New Covenant Redemption.

St. Paul described New Covenant/Testament baptism as that moment and act when one “[puts] on Christ” (Galatians 3:27) being 'put to death,' spiritually, with Christ: he teaches us that “through baptism” we are “buried with Christ”, and, on account of this walk in newness of life, being new creations (Romans 6:3-4; 2 Corinthians 5:17).

Acts 19

“Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”

St. Paul asks this because he is ascertaining whether they have been baptized with the Baptism of John, a “baptism of repentance,” (Matthew 3:11; Acts 19:4) and in which the Holy Spirit is not given to the believer, or the sacrament of baptism wherein “you shall recieve the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38; John 3:5; Mark 1:8).


Acts 18:25

This man was instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, spoke, and taught diligently the things that are of Jesus, knowing only the baptism of John. [i.e which is insufficient]

The baptism of John, as we can see, is inadequate for effecting change such as given in the sacrament of Baptism, wherein we recieve the Holy Spirit and are renewed and 'created' anew:

Titus 3:5

Not by works done in righteousness, which we did ourselves, but according to his mercy he saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit

cf. Ezekiel 36:25

Thus, St. Paul is simply ascertaining who needs baptized—given the New Testament sacramenf of Baptism—and who doesn't.


Acts 2:38, Peter told those "cut to the heart" to repent and be baptized so that their sins would be forgiven and they would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. John the Baptist never promised the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Matt 3:11) John baptized with water for repentance. The men of Acts 19 did not receive the gift of the Holy Spirit since they had never participated in baptism other than John's baptism of repentance. The result of the 12 men being rebaptized was them speaking in tongues (Acts 19:6). One can conclude that their second baptism was for the purpose of receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit (tongue speaking).

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