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Acts 19:2 Literal Standard Version

he said to them, “Having believed, did you receive the Holy Spirit?” And they said to him, “But we did not even hear whether there is any Holy Spirit”

What are the reasons why some of the disciples have not even heard that there is a holy spirit?

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  • Because no one had told them yet? They only know of the baptism of John, it's not clear they know much about Jesus at all.
    – curiousdannii
    Oct 3, 2023 at 11:03

4 Answers 4

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Surely the answer is in v3; They were baptised "into John's baptism". Apollos in ch18 v25 was in the same case. That is, presumably, they were "disciples" in the sense of having been introduced to the teaching of John the Baptist, and baptised in the form John used at the Jordan. John himself admitted that he did not baptise "with the Holy Spirit" (Mark ch1 v8), and the Holy Spirit was introduced with the Christian version of baptism (Acts ch2 v38).

So some scholars think it likely that the followers of John continued his mission of "baptism unto repentance" for some time after his death, and perhaps they did not always pass on the teaching of "another will come". Presumably they thought of Jesus as another teacher in the same style, from the school of John. If Apollos was presenting Jesus in that way, that would explain why Priscilla and Aquila had to teach him "the way of God more accurately" (ch18 v26), after which he was "showing by the scriptures that the Christ was Jesus".

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    + 1 ... I'd add that it's interesting they had never heard of the Holy Spirit since John reportedly declared that the one to come would "baptize you with the spirit and with fire." Also, by the way, there are still believers in John, the Mandaeans, who do not accept Jesus. Oct 3, 2023 at 14:56
  • +1. Excellent answer.
    – Dottard
    Oct 3, 2023 at 21:32
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I greatly appreciated Stephen Disraeli's answer (and upvoted it). So this answer should be seen as an appendix to that answer.

It is true that some of John's disciples appear to have suffered from selective hearing because:

  • John clearly taught about a Holy Spirit as per Matt 3:11, Mark 1:8, Luke 3:16, John 1:32, 33
  • John also clearly taught that his ministry would be preparatory to that of the Messiah who would follow and that Jesus' ministry would involve the Holy Spirit, Luke 3:22, Mark 1:10, Matt 3:16.
  • John's teaching about the Holy Spirit was not novel - we see the same idea in the OT Scriptures in many places such as Ps 51:11, Isa 63:10, 11. See also Judges 3:10, 6:34, 11:29, 14:19, 1 Sam 10:6, 16:13, 14, 1 Kings 18:12, 2 Chron 20:14, Isa 11:2, 61:1, 63:14, Eze 11:5, 37:1, Micah 2:7, 3:8, etc.

Thus, the people who professed ignorance about the Holy Spirit could not have been Jews well-versed in the Hebrew Scriptures. I agree with @DanFefferman that they were likely taught by the early adherents of the Mandaeans sect.

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The answer is easy, and explains why the same thing happens to this day as happened at the city of Ephesus. You just have to read the entire context.

Keep in mind that chapter divisions & headings, verse divisions, even verse numbers are things that have been added to the Scriptures, God's word, by translators, printers, and publishers. The same for paragraph markings, punctuation, center references, inline comments, red-lettering and other things.

In the King James Version (and just a few others), it is nice that the printer also pointed out what words the translator added by setting them off in italic script. They added some words that they thought were necessary to convey the correct meaning in English. Strictly speaking, any of those words can be dropped while reading. Sometimes it is necessary to do so because the opinion expressed can be misleading.

At no time should you consider any of the added things authoritative. God's word is the authoritative source, always. It's His word, after all, isn't it?

Well, drop the chapter heading. Read backwards to find the context. Eventually you land at Acts 18:24 which explains exactly why they had not heard about the gift of holy spirit. It is because a man named Apollos is the one who had taught them as much as they knew. They were ignorant because Apollos was ignorant.

Acts 8:24

And a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man, and mighty in the scriptures, came to Ephesus.

Verse 25

This man was instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in the spirit, he spake and taught diligently the things of the Lord, knowing only the baptism of John.

It is a fact that the baptism in water (by John) had been superseded by a greater baptism in holy spirit (by Jesus Christ), and that it began on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2:1 (A.D. 28). It was prophesied by John himself that Jesus Christ would bring about the revolution (Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:8, Luke 3:16). His prophesy was confirmed particularly by the resurrected Jesus Christ in Acts 1:4 & 5 (as well as other places).

People can't go beyond what they are taught. Apollos enthusiastically taught them only what he knew - the water baptism of John.

As a matter of clarity, the word "baptize" means "to dip". You can dip yourself in water, mayonnaise, or ranch dressing. Far better would be to get yourself dipped in holy spirit by following the explicit instructions in Romans 10: 9 & 10*.

Acts 18, Verse 26

And he began to speak boldly in the synagogue: whom when Aquila and Priscilla had heard, they took him unto them, and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly.

Wow, isn't that nice. Two believers, Aquilla and Priscilla, who has been with Paul, were able to get Apollos straightened out. Notice they did it privately. They did not embarrass this wonderful man before the church.

Verse 27 & 28

And when he [Apollos] was disposed to pass into Achaia, the brethren wrote, exhorting the disciples to receive him: who, when he was come, helped them much which had believed through grace: For he mightily convinced the Jews, and that publickly, shewing by the scriptures that Jesus was Christ.

Well, it would have taken some time for the new information to settle and become clear to Apollos. He likely would not have been immediately able to articulate the details of the new, better baptism, or what to do with it. There are many and various benefits that take time to study and learn. So: what more could he do for the believers at Ephesus? Not much at that time. So he moved on. You can read what he did where he went.

Thankfully, Paul came along and brought the believers in Ephesus up to speed.

Acts 19: 1 & 2

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, 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.

Verse 3

And he said unto them, Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John’s baptism.

Which they had learned from the enthusiastic Apollos.

There you go, Paul came to Ephesus, where Apollos had just been, and had not adequately instructed the believers about the new and better baptism in holy spirit, which happens only in the name of Jesus Christ. As it turns out, God and Paul did this for "about twelve" men.

Acts 19: 4-7

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.

As a result, some great things happened at Ephesus. Paul spent two years and 3 months teaching people there. Everyone living in Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Judeans and Greeks. Totally awesome, the grace of God in abundance.

By the way, Apollos is mentioned again in Paul's first letter to the Corinthians (6 times) as well as in his epistle to Titus (1 time). He continued to be beloved by Paul and other believers. No doubt he got to spend some time with Paul, and get himself thoroughly educated. We'll get to see him at Christ's return.

* Romans 10:9 & 10

That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.

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  • @ posit--Excellent Answer! Context is everything in exposition--well, almost everything. Apollos is an excellent example of having the humility to learn more from others, no matter how skilled in oratory or grounded in tradition. Peace.
    – ray grant
    Oct 20, 2023 at 20:32
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ἀλλὰ γὰρ οὐδ᾽ εἰ μυρίοις στόμασι καὶ γλώτταις ἕκαστον τῶν παθῶν τῷ κατὰ τοὺς ποιητὰς λεγομένῳ χρήσαιτο ὁμάδῳ, τὰς τοῦ τελείου δύναιτ᾽ ἂν ἀκοὰς συγχέαι μετεληλυθότος ἤδη καὶ τὴν αὐτὴν ἐκείνοις πόλιν μηκέτ᾽ οἰκεῖν ἐγνωκότος. De ebrietate 1:103 Philo

But even, if each one of the passions were to exert the ten thousand mouths and voices, and all the power of making an uproar spoken of by poets, it would not be able to perplex the ears of the perfect man, after he has already passed from them, and determined no longer to dwell in the same city with them. De ebrietate 1:103 Philo

These verses discuss the idea that even if we were able to express all possible emotions through thousands of mouths and languages, we wouldn't be able to capture the totality of emotional experiences, especially those artistically portrayed by poets. The emphasis is on the complexity of human emotions and the limitation of verbal expression to fully represent them. Aristotle suggests that even a large number of voices and languages would not be sufficient to convey the emotions depicted by poets completely.

εἶπέν τε πρὸς αὐτούς· εἰ πνεῦμα ἅγιον ἐλάβετε πιστεύσαντες; οἱ δὲ πρὸς αὐτόν· ἀλλ᾽ οὐδ᾽ εἰ πνεῦμα ἅγιον ἔστιν ἠκούσαμεν. Acts 19:2 NA28

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. Acts 19:2 NA28

The construction "ἀλλ᾽ οὐδ᾽ εἰ" is a complex expression in ancient Greek and requires careful analysis to understand its meaning and the omission of γὰρ (gár) in certain contexts. Let's analyze each part separately and then consider the meaning of the expression as a whole.

  1. "ἀλλὰ γὰρ οὐδ᾽ εἰ"

    • ἀλλὰ (allà): "but" or "however."
    • γὰρ (gár): "for" or "indeed."
    • οὐδ᾽ (oudè): "nor" or "neither."
    • εἰ (ei): "if" or "even if."

    Translation: "but neither if" or "but even if not."

The expression "ἀλλὰ γὰρ οὐδ᾽ εἰ" is a construction that introduces a concession or contrary condition. It is used to express a counterargument or emphatic negation. It can be translated as "but even if not" or "but neither if." This construction emphasizes that even under certain conditions or scenarios, the statement or situation being discussed still remains true or relevant.

In the specific context of the passage, Aristotle argues that even if we were able to use a wide variety of poetic expressions to represent emotions, we would still not be able to fully capture the complexity.

In the context of Acts 19:2, we have:

  1. "ἀλλ᾽ οὐδ᾽ εἰ"

    • ἀλλ᾽ (allà): "but" or "however."
    • οὐδ᾽ (oudè): "nor" or "neither."
    • εἰ (ei): "if" or "even if."

    Translation: "but neither if" or "but even if not."

  2. Omission of "γὰρ" in "ἀλλ᾽ οὐδ᾽ εἰ"

    • The omission of γὰρ (gár) can occur to emphasize or enhance the fluency of the sentence, especially in a more literary or poetic context. In this case, the omission of γὰρ does not significantly affect the meaning of the expression but can make it more concise and fluid.

In this context, the expression "ἀλλ᾽ οὐδ᾽ εἰ" is used to introduce an emphatic negation or a strong concession. Paul is questioning the disciples in Ephesus if they received the Holy Spirit when they believed. Their response, using "ἀλλ᾽ οὐδ᾽ εἰ," implies an emphatic negation: "But neither if we have heard of the Holy Spirit."

The expression emphasizes that they lack knowledge or awareness of the existence of the Holy Spirit, indicating a lack of understanding of this fundamental aspect of the Christian faith. It's a strong way to convey their ignorance or lack of knowledge on the subject at hand.

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