Paul's doctrine of salvation
The apostle Paul was an aggressive persecutor of Christians before the Lord saved him (Acts 7-9, Acts 22, Acts 26, 1Cor 15:9, Gal 1:13 & 23). He repented of his sins, and the Lord sent a disciple named Ananias to him to lead him to salvation. Paul was baptized in the name of Jesus and he received the Holy Ghost (Acts 9:17-18, Acts 22:16, 1Cor 14:18). He immediately began to testify and to preach the gospel.
John the baptizer was sent before the Lord to prepare the people for His first coming (Mt 3, Mk 1, Lk 1-3). He preached repentance and baptized those that responded by immersion in water for the remission of sins. Even years after the apostles began to preach after they received the Holy Ghost (Acts 2), there were still disciples of John in some places. One such place was Ephesus. There was a disciple of John there named Apollos who was shown the gospel by a husband and wife named Aquila and Priscilla (Acts 18:24-28). He then began to preach about Jesus. Apollos left Ephesus and went to Corinth and Paul then went to Ephesus (Acts 19:1-7).
Upon his arrival, he found certain disciples. The conversation he had with them sheds a great deal of light on Paul’s doctrine of salvation. The first thing the Bible records of their conversation is Paul asking them if they had received the Holy Ghost since they believed. The phrase “since ye believed” is one word in the original Greek. It is the word pisteuō. The meaning of this word has been severely diluted in modern times. It means much more than a verbal acknowledgement or mental assent as Romans 10 and the whole book of Romans has been falsely interpreted to mean. It means faith with the intent to obey. It means commitment, trust, conviction, continued faith or fidelity. This is in perfect harmony with the context of the passages, the whole of the Bible, and for this discussion the teaching of Paul. Also, since this word is represented by the three words “since ye believed” in the KJV, the word since was not there in the original language. That does not mean the translators erred or misrepresented the original text. It means that these things happen when translating from one language to another.
This author is a strong proponent of the KJV particularly because of the manuscripts they translated from and the method of translation they used, but it is interesting to look at a few other translations of this phrase. The NKJV, NLT, NIV, ESV, CSB, the Spanish Reina Valera, NASB, NET, RSV, ASV, DBY, and HNV all say ““Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” This correlates with the teaching of Jesus and the other apostles that receiving the Holy Ghost is part of salvation, not something extra or later (Mk 16:16-17, Lk 24:44-47, Jn 3:3-5, Jn 7:37-38, Acts 2:38-39, Acts 8:12-17, Acts 10:43-48). What if people who call themselves Christians today greeted each other this way when they met. “Hi. I’m Bill. Hi. I’m Fred. Have you received the Holy Ghost yet?” This clearly reflects Paul’s belief and expectation that this would be the case, and so should we.
These disciples responded to Paul’s first question by saying, “We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost.” Paul’s next question is also very revealing. He asks them, “Unto what then were ye baptized?” Obviously in Paul’s mind, since they had not yet received the Holy Ghost, the next logical thing to check was how they were baptized. This was not only relevant for a reason we shall see by their reply, but it is relevant today. Water baptism was originally only administered by immersion in water in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins to those who believed and repented (Mk 16:16, Acts 2:36-38, Acts 8:12-17, Acts 10:43-48, Acts 22:16, Rom 6:1-4). This continued until the prophecies of Jesus and the apostles started to be fulfilled about false teachers changing what the apostles taught and did (Mt 24, Acts 20:29-31, Gal 1:6-9. 2Pet 2, Jude, etc.). As the doctrine of the absolute unity of the Godhead began to be perverted, so was the doctrine and practice of water baptism. People who repent and get baptized in the name of Jesus Christ can expect to receive the Holy Ghost. It is the promise of God. When Peter said “ye shall receive (Acts 2:38)”, those three words come from the Greek word lambanō. This word is in the indicative mood grammatically. That means it is a simple statement of fact. Those who follow a perverted gospel don’t usually receive this promise. So, Paul’s question to the Ephesians is relevant today. Have you received the Holy Ghost? If not, how were you baptized? Jesus only gave the apostles one form of baptism and they practiced it (Eph 4:5). God is only obligated to honor His word, not the religious traditions of man. That does not mean people sometimes receive the Holy Ghost before they are baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Cornelius and his household did (Acts 10:43-48). However, foundational doctrinal errors lead directly to missing the fulness of what the gospel offers (1Cor 15:33, Jude 3-4).
The Ephesians answered Paul that they were baptized by John the baptizer. Now Paul understood what the problem was. There was nothing wrong with John, his message, or the Ephesians obeying it. The problem was that John came to prepare the people for the coming of Him who came after him - Jesus Christ. People were not supposed to stay disciples of John after Jesus manifested Himself to the world (Jn 1). Some of the apostles were John’s disciples, but when he told them to follow Jesus when He came, they did. Let us look again at the Ephesians’ statement, ““We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost.” This does not mean they had never heard of the Holy Ghost. It means they had not heard that people were now receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost. There are several facts which substantiate this. First, John preached that when the Messiah came, He would baptize them with the Holy Ghost (Mt 3:11). These were disciples of John, so they should have known that. The term “Holy Ghost” is not new to the time after Acts 2 (Mt 1:18-20, Mt 12:31-32, Mk 12:36, Mk 13:11, Lk 1, Jn 14:26). The term holy Spirit goes back to the Old Testament (Ps 51:11, Is 63:10-11). This is just a term describing God. He is holy, and He is a Spirit (Jn 4:24, 1Pet 1:15). These people believed in God and that John was the fulfillment of several Old Testament prophecies (Is 40:3-4, Mal 3:1, Mal 4:5-6). What the Ephesians were telling Paul was not that they had never heard the term before. Rather, they had not come to the belief that the Messiah had come and fulfilled the prophecy of John and was giving people the Holy Ghost. We do not know if these people interacted with Apollos before or after his conversion from being a disciple of John to one of Jesus, but the gospel had come to Ephesus before Paul did, and to at least one other disciple of John; and Apollos was a publicly noted person both before and after his conversion. These are all factors to consider in understanding the meaning of “We have not so much as heard…”.
When they told Paul that they had been baptized by John, Paul explained to them that John’s ministry and baptism was for repentance in order to prepare them for Him who was to come after him - Jesus Christ. That was who John said they should believe in. They responded to that by being baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. This addresses the issue of being re-baptized in order to do it the right way. John was a man of God. Jesus said there was no greater prophet than John (Mt 11:11). John baptized by the direction of God (Jn 1:33). He baptized people that repented (Mt 3:2-11, Mk 1:4, Lk 3:3-8). He baptized for the remission of sins (Mk 1:4, Lk 1:77, Lk 3:3). He baptized by immersion (Mt 3:6 & 16, Mk 1:5 & 10, Jn 3:23). Indeed, the word baptize means immerse. The apostles also were men of God that baptized in obedience to the command of the Lord (Mt 28:19, Mk 16:16). The apostles baptized people that repented (Acts 2:38, Acts 8:5-17, Rom 6:1-4, Col 2:8-12). They baptized for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38, Acts 10:43-48, Acts 22:16). They baptized by immersion (Acts 8:35-39, Rom 6:1-4, Col 2:8-12). So, why did Paul re-baptize the Ephesians? What was the only difference between when they were baptized by John and when they were baptized by Paul? It was the specific invoking of the name of Jesus Christ. It was important enough to Paul to re-baptize these people. The name of Jesus is what makes water baptism effective. It is not the water itself. It is the only name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved (Acts 4:12). Water baptism is part of salvation (1Pet 3:20-21). It is for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38). Sins are remitted in His name (Lk 24:47, Acts 10:43). We are buried with Him in baptism (Rom 6:1-4, Col 2:8-12). Once we have been baptized the right way, there is no scriptural reason to have to be baptized again. However, if we have been baptized any other way which includes being sprinkled as an infant or being immersed in the words “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost”, we need to do it again. We do not quote Matthew 28:19 in baptism. We fulfill it by saying the name of Jesus Christ. The only people that were there when Jesus said Matthew 28:19 were the eleven apostles. They carried out this command in the book of Acts by baptizing in the name of Jesus Christ. When Paul became a preacher, he also baptized this way (Acts 19:6).
As stated above, one reason some people do not receive the Holy Ghost is because they were baptized the wrong way. This is in part because many who baptize that way do not have the Holy Ghost themselves, and do not believe that it can or should be sought for and received; or they de-emphasize it saying it is an “extra” and unnecessary gift. That is not what Jesus and the apostles including Paul taught.
After the Ephesians were baptized, Paul laid his hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost, spoke in tongues, and prophesied. Speaking in tongues is shown in the book of Acts to be the initial outward evidence of receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost (Acts 2:4, Acts 10:44-48, Acts19:1-7). What Paul later wrote about in 1Corinthians 12-14 was the gift of tongues as one of the spiritual gifts available to those who have been filled with the Spirit. For example, in Acts there were more than two or three and there was no interpretation. These were not gatherings of Christians but evangelistic gatherings where people were receiving salvation including the Holy Ghost. Thus we see the beginning of the church of Ephesus, and it was built on the apostles’ doctrine as given to them by Paul (Eph 1:13, Eph 2:13 & 18-22, Eph 3:5-7 & 15, Eph 4:4-6 & 11-14, Rev 2:1-3). Paul’s doctrine perfectly matched that of the other apostles, even though he was not taught it directly by them (Gal 1). What we read of Paul’s teaching in Acts, particularly Acts 19:1-7, also matches everything he wrote in his epistles. There was only one faith in the early church, and it was called “the faith” several times including by Paul (Acts 6:7, Acts 13:8, Acts 14:22, Acts16:5, Acts 24:24, Rom 1:5, Rom 14:1, 1Cor 16:13, 2Cor 13:5, Gal 1:23, Gal 2:16 & 20, Eph 4:13, Phil 1:27, Col 1:23, Col 2:7, 1Tim 1:2, 1Tim 3:9 & 13, 1Tim 4:1, 1Tim 5:8, 1Tim 6:10 & 21, 2Tim 3:8, 2Tim 4:7, Titus 1:13, Titus 3:15, Jam 2:1, 1Pet 5:9, Jude 3). That means the system and body of beliefs that make up the doctrine of the church. That body of beliefs has not changed for God. His word is still the same no matter how much man corrupts, perverts, and attacks it. The truth will prevail in the end, and we will too if we hold to it.