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Acts 19:1-2 (NASB)

Now it happened that while Apollos was in Corinth, Paul passed through the upper country and came to Ephesus, and found some disciples. 2 He said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said to him, “On the contrary, we have not even heard if there is a Holy Spirit.”

By asking "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?", is Paul implying that the reception of the Holy Spirit for the first time is a self-evident experience for a new believer? In other words, is Paul implying that they should have known this, had this already happened to them? Is Paul saying that it is not possible for a person to receive the Holy Spirit and not be aware of the experience?

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    Again, as in other questions, this is a transitional period between the baptism of John and the more full baptism when the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit is invoked.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Jul 11, 2022 at 17:37
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    @NigelJ - Interesting claim. Do you know compelling arguments to back it up?
    – user38524
    Commented Jul 11, 2022 at 19:05
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    I would have thought that the narrative in Acts made it very clear, myself.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Jul 11, 2022 at 20:46
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    @NigelJ - Then it shouldn't be too difficult to put together an answer to make it very clear.
    – user38524
    Commented Jul 11, 2022 at 20:50
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    @NigelJ do you consider many/most of the teachings in the Gospels/Acts to be relevant only to a transition period? How would we know which were temporary and which were not? Commented Jul 11, 2022 at 22:39

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I don't believe Paul implies this, no.

While the reception of the Holy Ghost may sometimes indeed be self-evident, I do not see anything in the text requiring that it must be.

Passages such as Luke 24:32 & John 11:51 suggest that people can be influenced or empowered by the Holy Ghost without immediately realizing the source.

Paul identifies at least 3 things that are lacking among these disciples:

  1. They've never even heard of the Holy Ghost
  2. They at least partially lack an understanding of the purpose & promises of baptism
  3. They have not received the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands (they could have answered Paul's question in the affirmative if they had received this ordinance even if it had not been accompanied by immediate, outward signs)

Paul corrects all 3 of these deficits, and his question can readily be understood as a means of gauging what his audience already knew so Paul knew where to start in his teaching.

However, these disciples did believe in true principals, they had exercised faith to be baptized unto repentance, and they were willing to act upon further instruction when an authorized representative of the Lord provided it to them.

Since it is the Holy Ghost that provides convincing proof of the truth and enlightens human understanding of spiritual things (see 1 Cor. 2:4,14), it appears that these disciples had indeed responded to the influence of the Holy Spirit prior to this time--otherwise they wouldn't have gotten to where they were nor have been ready to go further when taught more--however, they did not know that what they were experiencing was the Holy Ghost.

They had at least begun the process of conversion, which is catalyzed by the Holy Ghost. However, their intellectual Gospel understanding had some gaps. They were like the child who drops a toy and knows it will fall; they can use the principal of gravity without understanding how it works. The disciples being taught by Paul had evidently been influenced by the Holy Ghost without knowing what it was or that there was a greater power (baptism of the Holy Spirit) waiting for them.

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  • Regarding Luke 24:32 and John 11:51, the persons referenced may well have been influenced by the HS, but not necessarily was the HS actually dwelling within them.
    – moron
    Commented Jul 16, 2022 at 19:44
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"John's Baptism" is specifically described this way several times in the NT, always in a way that distinguishes it from the fuller revelation given by Jesus. See Matt 21:25, Mark 11:30, Luke 7:29, 30, 20:4, Acts 18:25, Acts 19:3, 4, etc.

The last two of these draws the distinction between the two ideas well:

Acts 18:25, 26 - He [Apollos] had been instructed in the way of the Lord and was fervent in spirit. He spoke and taught accurately about Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. And he began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him in and explained to him the way of God more accurately.

More information is given in the next chapter of acts 19:

1 While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the interior and came to Ephesus. There he found some disciples 2 and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?”

“No,” they answered, “we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”

3 “Into what, then, were you baptized?” Paul asked.

“The baptism of John,” they replied.

4 Paul explained: “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the One coming after him, that is, in Jesus.”

5 On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 And when Paul laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. 7 There were about twelve men in all.

That is, John's baptism was given as a symbol of repentance and conversion = dedication of the life to God and marks the beginning of this life dedicated to God's service.

Jesus and the apostles took this same idea and extended it to include, in addition to all the above, the point at which the new Christian should receive the Holy Spirit, Matt 3:11, Mark 1:8, Luke 3:16, Acts 1:5, 2:38, 8:12-16, 10:47, 48, 11:16, 19:4, 5.

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