I am engaged in a debate with a non-Catholic on another website. In Acts 10 the Holy Spirit falls on Cornelius and his whole family and then Peter gives them water baptism. In another place in Acts Peter and John go to lay hands on some people who had been baptized but had not received the Spirit. Can someone give me some insight on God’s actions here?
When Jesus preached and taught throughout Galilee and Judea he frequently performed signs to confirm the authority and power of his message. The greatest sign that Jesus would perform was his resurrection followed closely by John’s prediction that he would baptize with the Holy Spirit, which he did at Pentecost.
When the Church initially started on Pentecost, it was primarily made up of local Jews from Jerusalem and Palestine with some Hellenized Jews that were in Jerusalem for the Feast of Weeks. The giving of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost did two things. It provided a visible symbol to confirm the gospel proclaimed by Peter, and it provided gifts that would be used to spread the gospel to all nations as described in the great commissions listed in Matthew 28 and Acts 1.
However, the apostles didn’t quite get the message that the gospel was to be proclaimed to all nations. They initially primarily looked at it as a message to Jews. But, as always, the working of the Holy Spirit pushes them to heed the great commission. As persecution breaks out in the church, the church is dispersed from Jerusalem into Judea and Samaria. We see deacons such as Philip begin to spread the gospel to the Samaritans, which were to put it nicely quasi-Jewish but not normally accepted socially by Jews. Peter and John are then sent to these groups and the Holy Spirit rushes upon them in their sight, demonstrating that they too have been given the gospel. This was a sign to the new believers and to Peter and John. Later we see the same thing with Peter urged by the spirit to now preach the gospel even to Gentiles. This is confirmed by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit on Cornelius and his family. Later we see Paul and Barnabas specifically christened as apostles to the Hellenized Jews, and to the Gentiles. As a result, the gospel spreads in greater and greater circles of influence until it even reaches the city of Rome, then thought to be the capital of the known world. These events are essentially showing how the spirit prompted and equipped the apostles to accomplish the great commission and proclaim the gospel to all nations.
It’s al about the Jews vs. Gentiles.
The Jews, then as now, believe that they are the chosen people of God; this means (in their view) that only they are the People of God. Hence, Gentiles cannot share in on the Promise.
St. Paul clarifies this issue in Romans 9 through 11:32.
When we read through Acts (and some of the Epistles) we find that this is one of the pertinent issues of the day; St. Paul hat to actually argue against this prevailing belief:
7 Know ye therefore, that they who are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham. 8 And the scripture, foreseeing, that God justifieth the Gentiles by faith, told unto Abraham before: In thee shall all nations be blessed… 14 That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Christ Jesus: that we may receive the promise of the Spirit by faith… 16 To Abraham were the promises made and to his seed. He saith not, And to his seeds, as of many: but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ… 21 Was the law then against the promises of God? God forbid. For if there had been a law given which could give life, verily justice should have been by the law. 22 But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise, by the faith of Jesus Christ, might be given to them that believe. 23 But before the faith came, we were kept under the law shut up, unto that faith which was to be revealed. 24 Wherefore the law was our pedagogue in Christ, that we might be justified by faith. 25 But after the faith is come, we are no longer under a pedagogue. 26 For you are all the children of God by faith, in Christ Jesus. 27 For as many of you as have been baptized in Christ, have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek: there is neither bond nor free: there is neither male nor female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you be Christ’s, then are you the seed of Abraham, heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3)
So these mini Pentecosts demonstrated to the Jews that the Gentiles were also Called to be God’s People–coincidentally, where the works of the Spirit preceded Baptism, the Apostle did not dismiss the need for Baptism but actually reinforce it!
The Holy Spirit is making it evident that the Gospel and Grace are not independent of the Apostles.
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