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James G. Poitras


I’ve always detested math assignments and equations requiring one to
explain how he derived or reached the answer. Similarly, Pentecostals have
previously had problems revealing how they reach answers to doctrinal issues. They
know what they believe but have difficulties articulating why they believe it; or
proving, through the progression of biblical interpretation, how they arrived at their

The Debate

Pentecostals and Evangelicals are divided in their interpretation and
understanding of Luke-Acts. Even Pentecostals differ over views of the implications
of the activities of the Holy Spirit in these two books. On one side is the observation
that Luke-Acts has a theological significance and intent as well as a historical one.
Those of this persuasion (myself included) argue that this is a two volume set, and it
should not be divided as Luke (Gospel) and Acts (history); that both books are
historical narratives. Luke, they contend, supports a Pentecostal theology,
hermeneutic, and religion, and has his own slant on pneumatology different from—
yet complimentary to—that of the Apostle Paul. Luke is both a historian and a
theologian. They assert that historical precedence (repeatable, expected patterns)
is noteworthy for Christian practice and experience. Their thinking is based
predominantly on the five episodes recorded in Acts (2:1-13; 8:14-19; 9:17-18;
10:44-46; and 19:1-6). These passages become biblical precedents and are
normative. Of course, the opposite side takes the contrary point of view in all counts
mentioned. Hopefully, from healthy and hearty confrontation comes consequential

The Defense

Luke-Acts are doubtless two volumes written by the same author (See Luke
1:1-4; Acts 1:1). Acts is a continuance of what Jesus began to do and teach. “The
book of Acts…is a continuation of that narrative. Luke wrote more of the New

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Testament than any other individual” (Scofield, Editor, 2004, 1427). The Bantu title
for the Acts of the Apostles is, “Words Concerning Deeds.” A brief survey of this
book will give the unmistakable impression it is deeds the Lord continued to do,
through the Holy Spirit (primarily) and His disciples (secondarily). In ancient times
this book was called, “Acts of the Holy Spirit” or the “Gospel of the Holy Spirit” The
Spirit is referred to more than fifty times in this one book. Acts gives principles that
should govern the church in every generation. The Full Life Study Bible states, “Acts
records what the church must be and do in any generation as it continues Jesus’
ministry in the Pentecostal power of the Holy Spirit” (Stamps 1992, 1649). The Book
of Acts covers the first thirty years of church history and draws us into the world of
the first century church. Some think it would be exciting to go back. However, the
Holy Spirit continues to move in the twenty-first century. Acts is more than history.
It is God’s training manual for today’s church. We are continuing to see the miracles
of Acts being performed today; even to a greater dimension. Countries are reporting
thousands receiving the Holy Ghost in a single service; blinded eyes opened; and
people being brought back from the dead.

Luke strategically unravels the role of the Holy Spirit in both Luke and Acts.

“There has been a welcomed emphasis on the theology of Luke in recent
times…many commentaries of an earlier era focused so much on the history
that they paid little attention to the theology of Acts. It is clear that Luke had
a theological aim along with a historical one in his choice of material….We
can be thankful that many recent studies have focused on the theological
message of Acts without denying its historical value….This approach to Acts
can be called ‘theological history’—a narrative of interrelated events from a
given place and time, chosen to communicate theological truths….It views
God as acting in the arena of history and through that revealing his ways and
his will to his people.” (Fernando 1998, 23-24)

Lampe rightly said, “The connecting thread which runs through both parts of
St. Luke’s work is the theme of the operation of the Spirit of God” (1955, 1).
Fernando adds; a close look reveals that “…Luke had both a theological aim and a
historical one in writing Acts, and that the events he chose to stress were chosen
because of the value they had in presenting truths he wanted to communicate. Our
task is to find those truths…” (31).

“Originally Acts was the second volume of a two-volume history of the
beginnings of Christianity, which was circulated together in the early churches”
(Girard 2001, Introduction, xiii). Some assert that the two books were designed to
be one. However, the typical, permissible length of a papyrus scroll was thirty-five
feet so this would prohibit the two books being a continuous text. Regardless, Luke
did write approximately twenty-seven percent of the New Testament. The writers
and editors of the Africa Bible Commentary believe firmly that Acts was written to:

“…Provide information about what Luke considered to be the most
significant events in the early days of the church. His interpretation of what
was significant was influenced by his theology, and thus in reading Acts we
need to focus on both historical and theological questions….In terms of its
theology, Acts gives guidance to the church on how to live….It explicitly

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describes the plan of salvation, the proof of prophecy and the fulfillment of
God’s promises…” (Adeyemo 2006, 1297)

Luke’s conclusion (Luke 24:47-49) forms the introduction to the Book of Acts
(Acts 1:4). Peter’s message on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:38-39) is repetitive of
Jesus’ closing message in the Gospel of Luke. Roger Stronstad in The Charismatic
Theology of St. Luke contends there is a Lucan doctrine of the Spirit, and that Luke
possessed a historical and theological interest in writing the third Gospel. There are
many references in Luke, especially in the infancy and inauguration narratives, not
contained in other books. He reveals “Jesus is not only anointed by the Spirit, but He
is also Spirit-led, Spirit-filled, and Spirit-empowered.” (Stronstad 1984, 45) These
characteristics can be emulated in the lives of believers today. It is just as valid in
the twenty-first century as it was in the first.

Stronstad believes—and I concur—that the Day of Pentecost is a normative,
repeatable, pattern for all centuries; that Luke-Acts contain normative theological
intent, and there is validity in Pentecostal theology and establishing Pentecostal
hermeneutics. Each event of the Spirit’s outpouring builds a distinctive theology and
further demonstrates the writer’s intent and theme.

One writer, Gordon Fee (on the other hand) has issues with assuming the
Pentecostal experience is normative or obligatory for all Christians. He differentiates
between ‘normal’ (expected, recurring experience); ‘normative’ (obligatory) and
‘repeatable.’ ‘Normative’ refers to “what must be adhered to by all Christians at all
times and in all places, if they are truly to be obedient to God’s word” (Fee 1991,
102). He feels, however, that Pentecostals can argue that the baptism of the Holy
Spirit, speaking in other tongues, can be viewed as ‘normal’ as it can be expected,
and ‘repeatable.’ Although, Fee has difficulties with attaching the word ‘normative’
to this event he does concede, “If the Pentecostal may not say one must speak in
tongues, the Pentecostal may surely say, why not speak in tongues?” (Fee 1991,

Hartwick explains the biblical, doctrinal, historical, and experiential aspects of
the baptism of the Holy Spirit. He concludes a pattern was established in Acts. This
is adapted in the table that follows:


Observable …by saints and sinners alike.

Uniform …they all spoke in tongues as the Spirit
was given.

Verbal …declaring the wonderful works of God.

Supernatural …nothing induced by the recipient. It
was as the Spirit gave utterance.
(Hartwick, 2007, 7)

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Historical precedence can be considered normative if it agrees with Christ’s
teachings, commands, and is in harmony with the rest of the Scriptures and
apostolic teaching. Pentecostals, to their credit, are insistent and unwavering on the
authority and infallibility of God’s Word. Unless a doctrine can support its case with
Scripture it has no reason to exist. This permeates every aspect of Pentecostal faith,
life, and practice (Arrington 1988).

Tongues is: (a) normative—always occurs with the Spirit baptism; (b) initial—
first sign that the baptism of the Holy Spirit has been received but should not be the
last; (c) physical—you know it happened, a transformed life follows; and (d)
evidence—proving the baptism has occurred (House 2006, 99-100).

Old Testament historical narratives had didactic lessons (intended to teach or
convey instruction or information) for New Testament Christians. They were
frequently quoted by leaders in the Early Church. Luke modeled his writings after
this. Luke mentions the Holy Spirit more than the other Gospels and his theology of
the Spirit is in keeping with the Jewish viewpoint. He wastes no time getting the
Holy Spirit on stage with honorable mention seven times in the first four chapters.

The following sampling of Scriptures will briefly show that it is appropriate to
incorporate historical narratives into theology.


2 Timothy 3:16 “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for
teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in

1 Corinthians 10:11 “These things happened to them as examples and
were written down as warnings for us, on whom
the fulfillment of the ages has come.”

Romans 15:4 “For everything that was written in the past was
written to teach us, so that through endurance and
the encouragement of the Scriptures we might
have hope.”

The Experience

The Day of Pentecost is the pattern for all believers, in all ages,
encompassing all cultures. Peter’s enlightenment was resolute, “In the last days,
God says, I will pour out my Spirit upon all people…” (Acts 2:17). He further added,
“…And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your
children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call” (Acts
2:37). Peter certainly connected revelation with experience when he said, “This is
that…” (Acts 2:16, KJV). “Our view on any doctrine must be based not on
experience, but on Scripture. The experience must be judged by and conform to

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Scripture. The truth of tongues as the initial, physical evidence of Holy Spirit
baptism is based on Scripture” (Hartwick, A, 2007, 3).

Pentecostals can legitimately look to Acts for their theology. Acts is the
foundation of Pentecostal doctrine. “Doctrine is not enough without experience,
neither is experience without sound doctrine” (Hwata 2005, 3). It was inductive
Bible study that led to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at the turn of the twentieth
century. And that is where all interpretation should begin. Our experience cannot
commandeer biblical authority. The Bible always has the last word; the final say.
However, there certainly is a place for experience. Peter called on his own
experience to validate the outpouring of God’s Spirit on the Gentiles in Acts 10:47.

“As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at
the beginning. Then I remembered what the Lord had said: 'John baptized
with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.' So if God gave them
the same gift as he gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I
to think that I could oppose God?” (Acts 11:15-17).

The Early Christians indisputably and readily used experience and history to
substantiate doctrine and teachings. Quotations from the Old Testament (and
reference to historical events) frequently appear in the Gospels, messages in Acts,
and are sprinkled throughout the Epistles.

According to Stronstad, and backed by William W. Menzies “though
experience does not establish theology, it does verify or demonstrate theological
truth” (Stronstad 1995, 29). Biblical truth ought to be demonstrated in life.
Experience can be used to confirm or attest to the accuracy of theology. Thus,
experience is a complimentary ingredient to interpretation. “…Every interpreter,
Pentecostal or non-Pentecostal alike, brings both cognitive and experiential
presuppositions to his interpretation of the text” (Stronstad 1995, 65).

It is often said, “The man with an experience is never at the mercy of the
man with a doctrine.” Pentecostals rely on a pneumatic method of interpretation.
Illumination by the Holy Spirit brings the best understanding of the text. Scripture
agrees: “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with
anything beyond the following requirements” (Acts 15:28). “But God has revealed it
to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God” (1
Corinthians 2:10).

Not only does the Holy Spirit lead us into all truth, directing us to the Word of
God, He also interprets or explains truth. Since He is dealing with God’s Word of
truth, His interpretation will never be in conflict with what the Bible says. The Spirit
and the Word always agree. The Spirit is not an independent worker. “But when he,
the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his
own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come”
(John 16:13). Those that have received the baptism of the Holy Spirit are in a better
position to understand biblical content about the Spirit, since they have already
experienced it.


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Our Pentecostal movement is endeavoring to find its theological voice after a
prolonged history of disdaining formal, academic theology. William Menzies in the
Foreword of Spirit, Scripture, and Theology rightly states, “The simple testimony of
earnest Pentecostals such as ‘This is the pattern we see in the Book of Acts,’ was
simply not very convincing. But that is changing.” Our theology is based on a
theological position, the Pentecostal experience, and a desire for restoration
recovering the theme and experiences of Acts. Pentecostals contend it is not
enough to study the Book of Acts. We must live it; experience it for ourselves
(Wagner 1994, 10). As we develop a strong biblically-sound Pentecostal
hermeneutic we will be in an enhanced position to fulfill one of the major intents of
the baptism of the Holy Spirit. “…You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes
on you; and you will be my witnesses…to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).


Arrington, F. L. 1988. Hermeneutics, Historical Perspectives on Pentecostal and
Charasmatic Movements; Taken from Dictionary of Pentecostal and
Charismatic Movements. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 380-381. Quoted in
Global University Staff. Exposition of Pneumatology in Lucan Literature.
Springfield: ICI University/Global University, 2005.

Fee, Gordon D. 1991. Gospel and Spirit: Issues in New Testament Hermeneutics.
Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers.

———. 1991. Gospel and Spirit: Issues in New Testament Hermeneutics. Peabody,
Mass: Hendrickson Publishers.

Fernando, Ajith. 1998. The NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids, Michigan:

———. The NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids 1998: Zondervan.

Girard, Robert C. 2001. Acts God's Word for the Biblically-Inept Series. Ed. Larry
Richards. Lancaster, PA: Starbust Publishers.

Hartwick, Reuben, A. 2007. Speaking in Tongues: The Initial Physical Evidence of the
Baptism in the Holy Spirit. Enrichment Journal June (June): 3.

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House, Sean David. 2006. Pentecostal Contributions to Contemporary Christological
Thought: A Synthesis with Ecumenical Views. Thesis. University of South
Africa, Pretoria, RSA.

Hwata, Benny. 2005. An Investigation of Different Phases of Pentecostal Experience
in the Apostolic Faith Mission. University of South Africa, Pretoria, South

Lampe, W. H. 1955. The Holy Spirit in the Old Testament, Luke and Acts.
Birmingham, England: University of Birmingham. (accessed October 15, 2007).

Scholars, Written by 70 African. 2006. Africa Bible Commentary. Ed. Tokunboh
Adeyemo. Nairobi, Kenya: Word Alive Publishers and Zondervan.

Scofield, C. I., Editor, ed. 2004. Holy Bible Scofield Study System. New York: Oxford
University Press.

Stamps, Donald C., ed. 1992. . Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Stronstad, Roger. 1984. The Charismatic Theology of St. Luke. Peabody,
Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers.

———. 1995. Spirit, Scripture, and Theology: A Pentecostal Perspective. Singapore:
Asia Pacific Theological Seminary Press.

———. 1995. Spirit, Scripture, and Theology: A Pentecostal Perspective. Singapore:
Asia Pacific Theological Seminary Press.

Wagner, C. Peter. 1994. Acts of the Holy Spirit. Ventura, California: Regal Books.

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