Protestant saying that you can recieve the Holy Spirit before Baptism

So I have a Protestant family member who thinks you can receive the Holy Spirit before Baptism using primarily Acts 10:44-49.

The Baptism of Cornelius. 44 While Peter was still speaking these things, the holy Spirit fell upon all who were listening to the word.[a] 45 The circumcised believers who had accompanied Peter were astounded that the gift of the holy Spirit should have been poured out on the Gentiles also, 46 for they could hear them speaking in tongues and glorifying God. Then Peter responded, 47 “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people, who have received the holy Spirit even as we have?” 48 He ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. 49 Then they invited him to stay for a few days.

This family member is a Pentecostal, so they believe speaking in tongues is the sign of receiving the holy Spirit also. They have to speak in tongues. So I was wondering the reason why Peter said that they received the holy Spirit, so why not baptized them?

Hello Tiffany,

I will make a few points in response to your question:

  1. many evangelical protestants believe that Baptism is an outward sign or ordnance, and that you already receive the Holy Spirit before you are Baptized. They often do not believe that the water actually does anything, it’s just symbolic from their point of view.

  2. Catholics, Orthodox, and other ancient Churches believe that during Baptism, the Holy Spirit washes away the stain of original sin and leaves a “mark” on your soul. And yes, the Holy Sprit does come to live inside of you during your baptism.

  3. Christ gave us the sacraments to help us find holiness, however, God is not bound by the sacraments like we are. If the Holy Spirit wants to come down on the unbaptized, then the Holy Spirit can do what He wants, after all, He is God.

  4. The Catholic Church believes in more than one kind of Baptism. There is Baptism by Water, Baptism by Fire, and Baptism by Desire. In Acts, those people were most likely first Baptized by Desire before being Baptized by Water. However, we know when someone is Baptized by Water. But we don’t know on this side of Heaven if they received Baptism by Fire or Desire. That’s why it’s so important to be Baptized by Water.

I hope this helps. Please feel free to ask follow up questions.

May The Lord bring us all wisdom and understanding. Amen.

With the question “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit even as we have?” Peter was pointing out that Cornelius was prepared to receive the Sacrament of Baptism.
The Holy Spirit does give grace to people so that they can choose to be Baptized.

In the Catholic Church, “speaking in tongues” is not considered the sign of receiving the Holy Spirit. The “outward sign” of receiving the Sacrament of Baptism is the pouring of water and the words which begin with I baptize you… Catholics do not have to speak in tongues.

Regarding Acts 10: 47, we need to remember that not every verse automatically becomes a Catholic doctrine.

Cornelius Acts 10 question:


Hopefully these links elsewhere here at CAF will be of help to you.

I would tell my relative: “You don’t use an exception to establish the norm”.

God bless.


St. Augustine (via Haydock) comments on Acts 10:47:

Such may be the grace of God occasionally towards men, and such their great charity and contrition, that they may have remission, justification, and sanctification, before the external sacraments of baptism, confirmation, and penance be received; as we see in this example: where, at Peter’s preaching, they all received the Holy Ghost before any sacrament. But here we also learn one necessary lesson, that such, notwithstanding, must needs receive the sacraments appointed by Christ, which whosoever contemneth, can never be justified. (Sup. Levit. q. 84. T. 4.)

St. Thomas says,

As stated above man receives the forgiveness of sins before Baptism in so far as he has Baptism of desire, explicitly or implicitly; and yet when he actually receives Baptism, he receives a fuller remission, as to the remission of the entire punishment. So also before Baptism Cornelius and others like him receive grace and virtues through their faith in Christ and their desire for Baptism, implicit or explicit: but afterwards when baptized, they receive a yet greater fulness of grace and virtues. Hence in Psalm 22:2, “He hath brought me up on the water of refreshment,” a gloss says: “He has brought us up by an increase of virtue and good deeds in Baptism.”

Cathoholic, That first link really helped me understand it! It really seemed to fit right into place!

Thanks you for your response! I understood this already, but my relative thinks you need this sign if you receive the Holy Spirit. Speaking in tongues is just one of the spiritual gifts that you can receive, though. As I understand, speaking in tongues is so prevalent in the book of Acts as kind of a reverse typology of the tower of Babel. Is there any other good reasons that I could explain for her?

Thank you everyone for all your responses! You are all such a Blessing! I appreciate it so much! My hubby and I are continually trying to learn and research. Please say a pray for the conversion of my relative. I was told to dedicate the rosary everyday for her conversion, and for the first time she seems like she is actually a little curious. Still a long way to go, but through God anything is possible! God Bless!

I can only speak from experience as I grew up Southern Baptist and I did ask Christ into my heart before baptism and I fully believe/know He answered my request. I can also testify that my baptism was very holy and I felt that the Father was pleased. The only things I can compare it to were the first time I fully believed in the miracle of the Eucharist and adored it and also the first time I took communion.

How anyone can experience the physical presence of Christ through the Eucharist and leave the church is beyond my understanding. When I go to the Father I want nothing more than to be in full standing with Church, have my rosary and receive the final sacraments.

First, prayer to God is essential in our relationship with Him. In the Catholic Church, there are many ways of praying to God. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is our primary prayer.

What is important about praying is that we recognize our limitations. When we pray in Tongues, not only do we humbly recognize our limitations, but we physically give our limitations to the Holy Spirit. This is known as yielding our speech mechanism to the Holy Spirit so that the Holy Spirit forms our prayer. We are asking the Holy Spirit to pray our prayers.

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