Acts, Lesson 20: In Ephesus: Confirmation and Speaking in Tongues

Ruins at Ephesus (610x352)Paul in Ephesus

In the last Lesson, we saw Luke hurriedly describe many events in passing (Acts 18:22-23), wanting to bring us to Ephesus. Luke now does that, telling us what took place there with the Apostle Paul. 

Ephesus was located in what today is the western coast of Turkey. It was the fourth largest city in the Roman Empire, with a population of about 200,000. It also housed one of the seven wonders of the ancient world: The Temple of Artemis (Acts 19:24).

Read Acts 19:1-4Lesson 20, Location of Ephesus

  • Why would this foundling church that Paul came upon not know about the Holy Spirit and had only received “John’s baptism”?


  • Why did John’s baptism no longer serve its purpose?


Read Acts 19:5-6a

  • What was the solution for not having the Holy Spirit or only having received John’s baptism?


  • What did Paul do after they were baptized? Why do you think he did that?


Excursus: Why and How Confirmation Started in the Church

In Acts 19:5-6, the Apostle Paul baptized those Ephesian disciples and then laid his hands on them. Although Luke doesn’t tell us why Paul did that, his laying on of hands points to the early Church’s practice of confirming the Holy Spirit in the person who was just baptized. (We see a similar laying on of hands after baptism in Acts 8:17.) It was from these apostolic acts that the Church began confirming the Holy Spirit in those who were just baptized.

But why would Paul do that? That doesn’t make much sense until we realize that those brought into in the New Covenant are also to be brought into God’s Royal Priesthood (unlike the Old Covenant where only the sons from the Tribe of Levi became priests). The Apostle Peter wrote, “You [Christians in the New Covenant] are a chosen people, a royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9).


Old-Covenant Foreshadowings of What Would Become “Confirmation”

What the New Testament doesn’t tell us is how God brings someone into His Royal Priesthood. And yet we know that He does! What then should we do? We look to Scripture, in this case the Old Testament, to see if it contains any “foreshadowings” of New-Covenant ordination into God’s Royal Priesthood.

In the Old Covenant, God brought a man, from the Tribe of Levi, into His Priesthood through a four-part ritual. That consisted of 1) being washed with water (Exodus 29:4), 2) being dressed in new garments (Exodus 29:5-6), 3) being anointed with oil (Exodus 29:7), and 4) eating part of the animal sacrifice made during that ordination ritual (Exodus 29:32). God also commanded that His priestly ordination ritual was to go on “forever,” “throughout your generations” (Exodus 29:9, 42). Thus, what God mandated for Old-Covenant priestly ordination was supposed to live on, even in the New Covenant–of course in its fulfilled forms in Christ Jesus (see Matthew 5:17)!


“Confirmation” in the New Testament 

We learn from early Church practice that the Church saw baptism, confirmation (anointing with oil and the laying on of hands), and the Lord’s Supper as God’s New-Covenant rituals that He used to bring someone into the Royal Priesthood. We see the New Testament mention this a few times in passing.


From the Apostle Paul

2 Corinthians 1:19-22: For God’s Son, Jesus Christ who was preached among you by us–by me, Silvanus [Silas], and Timothy–was not “Yes” and “No.” But in him [Christ] it is always “Yes.” For all God’s promises are “Yes” in him. And so the “Amen” is also spoken through him by us to the glory of God. Now it is God who establishes us, and you as well, in Christ and has anointed us, sealed us, and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a down payment.

When we look at 2 Corinthians 1:21-22 in the Greek, we can clearly see a “chiasm.” A chiasm is a literary device where the author makes two or more points and then re-mentions those points in reverse order, using different words or expressions. In a simple chiasm, you will find an A B B A pattern. Also, in a chiasm, the central point is in the center of the chiasm. 2 Corinthians 1:21-22 has an A B C B A pattern.Lesson 20, The Chiastic Structure of 2 Corinthians 1.21-22

By putting God in the center of the chiasm, Paul makes the point that what takes place in those verses is God’s doing. What does God do? In part “A” of the chiasm, He establishes us in Christ and has given us the down payment, the Holy Spirit, in our hearts. This takes place in baptism (Acts 2:38). In part “B” of the chiasm, God has anointed and sealed us. God “confirms” the Holy Spirit that was received in baptism.

In the chiasm, Paul uses “anoint” and “seal” as synonyms. Knowing that, then what Paul says in Ephesians 4:30 becomes clear: “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit, in whom you were sealed [sphragizo] for the day of redemption.” In that verse, Paul was not referring to God giving the Holy Spirit in baptism but, instead, being sealed in the Spirit, being anointed, being “confirmed” in the Spirit.


From the Book of Hebrews

Hebrews 6:1-2: Therefore, leaving behind the elementary word about the Messiah, let us be carried along to completeness, not again laying a foundation, repenting from dead works, and faith in God, teaching about baptisms, laying on of hands, resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.

In these two verses, the writer of Hebrews was listing some (not all) of what he considered the basics of Christianity, which all Christians were to experience: All Christians are to have faith in God, repent from dead works, be baptized, have hands laid on them, rise from the dead [on the Last Day], and appear before God for the final judgment. Since all Christians were to experience the “laying on of hands,” that refers to what would we would later call “confirmation,” not the ordination of pastors.


From the Apostle John

1 John 2:20, 27 [Contrasting Christians from non-Christians]: You have an anointing from the Holy One and all of you know the truth…. The anointing you received from God remains on you, and you do not need anyone to teach you this. Instead, because God’s anointing teaches you about everything (and is true and not a lie), remain in him, as he taught you to do. 


Lesson 20, Being Brought into God's Priesthood


“Confirmation” in the Early Church

Theophilus (120-190 AD, from Antioch): “Are you unwilling to be anointed with the oil of God? It is on this account that we are called Christians [anointed ones]: because we are anointed with the oil of God” (To Autolycus 1:12).

Tertullian (160-225 AD, from Carthage) wrote:

Having come out of the baptismal pool, we are anointed with blessed oil according to the ancient discipline in which it was customary to be anointed with oil spread on the horn to receive the priesthood. It is with this oil that Aaron was anointed by Moses; from which comes his name of the Anointed (Christus) which comes from chrisma, meaning “anointing.” (“On Baptism,” ch.7; ANF 3:672)

Hippolytus (170-235 AD, from Rome):

After this [being baptized], pouring the sanctified oil from his hand and putting it on his head, he [the bishop] shall say: “I anoint you with holy oil in God the Father Almighty and Christ Jesus and the Holy Spirit.” And signing him on the forehead he shall give him the kiss of peace … (On the Apostolic Tradition, 21:22-23, Stewart-Sykes translation)

From On the Apostolic Tradition, we find that the priestly “ordination” rite for those being brought into the Church consisted of baptism, anointing with oil (chrismation/confirmation), and the Lord’s Supper. We find this sequence in chapter 21, “On the handing over of holy baptism.”

The early Church’s sequence of someone being baptized, being anointed with the laying on of hands, and then participating in the Lord Supper mirrored the ordination of priests in the Old Covenant. In Old-Covenant ordination, the final act was the priest eating part of the sacrifice. Thus, in the Old Covenant, we see a foreshadowing of New-Covenant “communion.” Through such a similar sequence, one was ordained into the New-Covenant’s Royal Priesthood.



Read Acts 19:6b-7

  • What then happened to those whom Paul baptized and “confirmed”?


Excursus: Speaking in Tongues Revisited

In the beginning of Acts, Jesus told his Apostles that they would be His witnesses in 1) Jerusalem and Judea, in 2) Samaria, and 3) to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). And then later in the book of Acts, we see the Holy Spirit verify the spread of the Church, just in the way that Jesus outlined to His Apostles.

  • In Jerusalem, in Acts 2, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit as He promised and those in the Church there spoke in tongues, speaking understandable languages. The Christian church among the Jews began. That was on Pentecost.
  • In Acts 10-11, Luke reports another milestone in salvation history. For the first time, Peter preached to a Gentile congregation, and the Holy Spirit came to them and they spoke in tongues. Now, both Jerusalem/Judea and Samaria had received the Gospel.
  • On his third missionary journey, Paul met 12 men who had never heard of the Holy Spirit, although they said they had received “John’s baptism.” So, the 12 Ephesian disciples received a Christian baptism (being baptized “in the name of the Lord Jesus” denoted a Christian baptism as opposed to other baptisms and washings), and Paul laid his hands on them, and they spoke in tongues (Acts 19:1-7). The Gospel was now going to “the ends of the earth.”

Speaking in tongues was a rare event. Through that, the Holy Spirit verified to the Apostles that they were doing what Jesus had given them to do, being His witnesses in Jerusalem and Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. That was also what the Apostle Peter concluded when Gentiles began to speak in tongues. He reported to the church in Jerusalem, “Now if God gave them the same gift that he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to hinder God?” (Acts 11:17).


Lesson 20, Speaking in Tongues in the Book of Acts



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