Acts of the Holy Spirit in the Acts of the Apostles
1. INTRODUCTION “Holy spirit”, the word much familiar for Pentecostal Churches and Protestant Churches and for some of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal group; but much forgotten in the Catholic Church. I feel, this may be the reason why the Catholic Church is so much stagnant without much growth, because where there is Holy Spirit there will be a movement, vibrant with life, speedy growth as that of the early Christian Community. The Bible starts with the Holy Spirit - the Spirit of God

hovered over the waters (Gen. 1:2) – and ends with the Holy Spirit - The Spirit and the Bride say, "Come!" (Rev. 22:17). There is no Holy Spirit no life. In the beginning after creating man out of clay breathed into his nostrils the ‘breath of life’, then man came in to being (Gen. 2:7), and this ‘breath of life’ is the Holy Spirit. That is why St. Paul would say that “All those who walk in the Spirit of God are sons and daughters of God” (Rom. 8:14) and “your existence is not in the flesh, but in the spirit, because the Spirit of God is within you. If you did not have the Spirit of Christ, you would not belong to him.” (Rom. 8:9) which means with the Holy Spirit we are child of God who also belong to Christ and without the Holy Spirit we are nothing, no more.

But who is this Holy Spirit, where does he come from, what he has to do with us? I am not going to deal with all these but among all the books of the Bible there are two books which speak more about the Holy Spirit, i.e., Gospel of Luke and Acts of the


Apostles. In this paper let us examine the Book of Acts of the Apostles for the Acts of the Holy Spirit. What does the Holy Spirit do in the First Christian Communities?


As we all know Pneumatology means the ‘Theology of the Holy Spirit’. The ancient Greek word π ν ε υ µ α / pneuma has a variety of meanings and translations:

wind, breath, ghost, spirit. We see all the usages in the Bible as Fr. Felix Just, S.J. lists it:
NT Greek English Matt Mark Luke John Acts Paul Heb Cath 123Jn Rev Total

π ν ε υ µ α
π ν ε υ µ α α γ ι ο ν π ν ε υ µ α Κ υ ρ ι ο υ π ν ε υ µ α [τ ο υ ] θ ε ο υ

breath, wind Holy Spirit Spirit of the Lord Spirit of God Spirit of












5 0 2 0 0 0

4 0 0 0 0 0

13 1 0 0 0 0

3 0 0 0 0 0

41 2 0 0 0 0

15 1 13 2 24 1

5 0 0 0 0 0

3 0 0 1 2 0

0 0 1 0 0 0

0 0 [3] 0 0 1

89 4 16 3 26 2

π ν ε υ µ α Χ ρ ι στ ο υ Christ π ν ε υ µ ατ ι spiritual κ ο ς π ν ε υ µ ατ ι spiritually κ ως to blow + π ν ε ω + blow υ π ο π ν ε ω gently to ε κ π ν ε ω breathe out























Various Meanings of pneuma in the New Testament:

Something divine:


○ Spirit of (our) God, Spirit of the Living God, Spirit of the Lord, Spirit of your Father, Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead; ○ Spirit of His Son, Spirit of Jesus, Spirit of Christ, Spirit of Jesus Christ; ○ Holy Spirit, Holy Spirit of God, Spirit that is from God, Spirit of Truth, eternal Spirit;
○ •

seven spirits of God (only in Rev 3:).

Something demonic: ○ evil spirit, unclean spirit, demonic spirit, foul spirit, spirit of an unclean demon, spirit of cowardice, spirit of divination, spirit of error, spirit of slavery, spirit of the antichrist, spirit of the world, sluggish spirit.

Something human, but coming from God: ○ spirit of adoption, spirit of faith, spirit of gentleness, spirit of glory, spirit of grace, spirit of holiness, spirit of life, spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline, spirit of prophecy, spirit of wisdom and revelation, spirit of your minds, spirits of the prophets, spirits of the righteous, spirit of Elijah.

Something in nature:

air, wind, breath.1




St. Luke was born to pagan Greek parents, a native of Antioch, the metropolis of Syria and possibly a slave. He is one of the earliest converts to Christianity. He is

also a Physician which we know through the statement of St. Paul mentioning him as "Luke, the beloved physician"(Colossians 4:14), studying in Antioch and Tarsus, probably travelled as a ship’s doctor. Legend has that he was also a painter who may have done portraits of Jesus and Mary, but none have ever been correctly or definitively attributed to him. Luke appears in Acts during Paul’s second journey, remains at Philippi for several years until Paul returns from his third journey, accompanies Paul to Jerusalem and remains near him when he is imprisoned in Caesarea. During these two years, Luke had time to seek information and interview persons who had known Jesus. He wrote the Gospel according to Luke, much of which was based on the teachings and writings of Paul, interviews with early Christians, and his own experiences. He also wrote a history of the early Church in the Acts of the Apostles2.

Luke wrote as a Gentile for Gentile Christians. This Gospel reveals Luke's expertise in classic Greek style as well as his knowledge of Jewish sources. The character of Luke may best be seen by the emphases of his Gospel, which has been given a number of subtitles: (1) The Gospel of Mercy: Luke emphasizes Jesus' compassion and patience with the sinners and the suffering. He has a broadminded openness to all, showing concern for Samaritans, lepers, publicans, soldiers, public sinners, unlettered shepherds, and the poor. Luke alone records the stories of the sinful woman, the lost sheep and coin, the prodigal son, the good thief. (2) The Gospel of Universal Salvation: Jesus died for all. He is the son of Adam, not just of David, and



Gentiles are his friends too. (3) The Gospel of the Poor: "Little people" are prominent —Zechariah and Elizabeth, Mary and Joseph, shepherds, Simeon and the elderly widow, Anna. He is also concerned with what we now call "evangelical poverty." (4) The Gospel of Absolute Renunciation: He stresses the need for total dedication to Christ. (5) The Gospel of Prayer and the Holy Spirit: He shows Jesus at prayer before every important step of his ministry. The Spirit is bringing the Church to its final perfection. (6) The Gospel of Joy: Luke succeeds in portraying the joy of salvation that permeated the primitive3.

His life after the death of St. Paul is uncertain; there were different opinions about it4. We not sure of his death too, some say that he is martyred and others he died a natural death at the age of according to some 84 and others 86; but it is believed even by many Church Fathers that he suffered martyrdom. According to the

traditions the bones of St. Luke were translated from Patras in Achaia in 357 by order of the Emperor Constantius, and deposited in the Church of the Apostles at Constantinople, together with those of St. Andrew and St. Timothy5. But the latest

reports say that the remains of St. Luke were brought to Padua, Italy, sometime before 1177. In 1992, the then Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Ieronymos of Thebes and Levathia (currently the Archbishop of Greece) requested from Bishop Antonio Mattiazzo of Padua the return of a significant fragment of the relics of St. Luke to be placed on the site where the holy tomb of the Evangelist is located and venerated today. This prompted a scientific investigation of the relics in Padua, and by

numerous lines of empirical evidence (archeological analyses of the Tomb in Thebes
3 4
5 Ibid.,


and the Reliquary of Padua, anatomical analyses of the remains, Carbon-14 dating, comparison with the purported skull of the Evangelist located in Prague) confirmed that these were the remains of an individual of Syrian descent who died between 130 and 400 A.D. The Bishop of Padua then delivered to Metropolitan Ieronymos the rib of St. Luke that was closest to his heart to be kept at his tomb in Thebes, Greece 6. St. Luke is identified as the patron saint of Artists, Doctors, Notaries, Painters, Physicians, and Surgeons. His feast is celebrated on October 18.


The Acts of the Apostles must not be believed to be an isolated writing, but rather an integral part in a well-ordered series. Acts presupposes its readers to know the Gospels; it continues the Gospel narrative. The Four Evangelists close with the account of the Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus Christ. St. Mark is the only one who essays to give any of the subsequent history, and he condenses his account into one brief sentence: “and they went forth and preached everywhere: the Lord working with them, and confirming the word by the signs that followed” (Mark 16:20). Now the Acts of the Apostles takes up the narrative here and records succinctly the mighty events which were wrought by the Holy Spirit through chosen human agents7.

What would be if there is no Acts of the Apostles? It is very difficult to assess about this. The absence of the Book of Acts would diminish the contribution of the There would be a significant historical gap

remaining New Testament epistles.

between the events of the Gospels and the writing of the New Testament epistles.

7 6

The Gospels leave a negative note on St. Peter telling that he denied Christ but we see the conversion of St. Peter after the Pentecost and how courageous he is even in front of Sanhedrin witnessing for Christ. He proves to be the Head of the Church as appointed by Jesus Christ. If there was no Acts of the Apostles we would have not know about St. Paul at all. It is St. Paul, in the beginning, who started small churches and nurtured them. We would have been left without any knowledge of Apostolic Teachings, the initial development of Theology and about the Council of Jerusalem and much more than these we would have missed the sound knowledge about the Holy Spirit the Heart of the Church.

Acts of the Apostles is a condensed record of the fulfillment of the promises of Jesus Christ. The Evangelists record Christ’s promises which He made to the disciples, regarding the establishment of the Church and its mission (Matthew 16:15-20); the gift of the Holy Spirit (Luke 24:49; John 14:16); the calling of the gentiles (Matthew 28:18-20; Luke 24:46, 47). Acts records the fulfillment. The history begins at

Jerusalem and ends at Rome. With divine simplicity Acts shows us the growth of the religion of Christ among the nations. Nowhere in Holy Writings is the action of the Holy Spirit in the Church so forcibly set forth as in the Acts.

Though this is named as Acts of the Apostles it does not record all the Acts of the Apostles. Mainly it speaks about the activities of St. Peter and St. Paul. Basing on this we can divide the Acts of the Apostles into two major parts.
 The beginning and propagation of the Christian religion among

the Jews (1-9);


 The beginning and propagation of the Christian religion among the Gentiles (10-28). St. Peter plays the chief role in the first part; St. Paul, in the second part.

The main themes of the Acts of the Apostles we can consider as follows: 1) The Holy Spirit. Christ’s promise that His followers would receive the Holy Spirit following His Ascension is fulfilled when the Holy Spirit is poured out on the gathered Christians at Pentecost. St. Luke further shows the importance of the presence of the Holy Spirit by depicting His being received by Samaritans, Gentiles in Caesarea, and Jews in Ephesus.

2) Evangelism. St. Luke’s emphasis on the missionary work of the Apostles — especially Ss. Peter and Paul — underscores the central theme of the importance of evangelism.

3) Apostolic Authority. The work of the Apostles in organizing the Church and teaching the Gospel — and particularly the importance of the Apostolic gathering at the first council in Jerusalem — reinforces the importance of bishops in the Church.

4) Opposition to Christianity. Another important theme in the Acts of the Apostles is that Christians will encounter opposition. The opposition endured by the early Christians, and their faithfulness to Christ and His Church in the face of that opposition, is very instructive to modern Christians.

5) Defense of the Gospel. Related to the theme of opposition is the theme of defending the Gospel. From St. Peter’s defense of the Gospel before the

religious and governmental leaders in Jerusalem to St. Paul’s defense before philosophers in Athens and governmental authorities throughout the Empire, early Christians were willing and able to answer any objection to their faith.


To understand this we need to go back to Paul. As Luke was the disciple of. Paul, he travelled together with Paul we need to understand the Holy Spirit in Paul. Without any fail once can accept that it was Paul who spoke more about the Holy Spirit. Oral Tradition says that Paul’s epistles were the earliest documents of the New Testament8. It is, however, Paul who gives us our earliest view of Christian

teaching on the Spirit. Practically-minded as he is, Paul views the Spirit primarily through its effects. Firstly, the Spirit, dwelling in the Christian, enables the Christian to call God intimately ‘Abba, Father’ and to pray in a spirit of confident sonship, knowing that the Spirit is at prayer within, praying the prayer which cannot be put into words: ‘You received the Spirit of adoption, enabling us to cry out, “Abba, Father”. The Spirit himself joins our spirit to bear witness that we are children of God’ (Rom. 8.15-16). Secondly, the Spirit empowers Christians to action9. From his accent in the gospel on the Spirit it is clear that Luke is familiar with the Pauline communities where the Spirit is so active. It is as though in Acts Luke works back from there, seeing the story of the earliest Church in the light of the activity of the Spirit which he knows from his own experience; and then in the gospel, further back still, the Spirit was at work also in the history of Jesus. So from the Acts it will be clear that the Spirit was active in the communities of believers from the very beginning; they were
9 Ibid


communities of the Spirit. In the gospel, similarly, Luke wishes to show that from the very beginning of the Good News, the preparation for the birth of John the Baptist and of Jesus in the Infancy Narratives, the Spirit has been at work.

Jesus’ last words before his parting from his disciples are the promise of the Spirit to give them power for their apostolic work, and the instructions to return to Jerusalem to wait for the advent of the Spirit. The action begins only when the Spirit bursts upon them at Pentecost. Peter is filled with the Holy Spirit to begin his speech to the Sanhedrin (4.8). The community is filled with the Holy Spirit – as sort of mini-Pentecost as the house rocks – to continue their witness under persecution (4.31). The summaries of life in this first, ideal community of Jerusalem do not mention the Spirit (2.42-47; 4.32-35; 5.12-16), but they come immediately after the Pentecost and the repetition of the phenomena, and so the prayer, the harmony, the witness, the generosity and the awe in which they were held may be seen as the working out of the effects of the Spirit. And so it continues, with Stephen (6.5; 7.55), the Samaritans (8.17), Barnabas (11.24), Paul (11.29) all ‘filled with the Spirit’. The Spirit directs the action: of Philip to and away from the Ethiopian (8.29, 39), to alert Peter to Cornelius’ messengers (10.19), to forestall and direct Peter’s action in baptising Cornelius (10.44), to confirm the crucial decision about fellowship with the gentiles (15.28), to check Paul from preaching in Asia and Bithynia, and then leading him into Europe (16.6-9), ‘binding’ Paul to lead him to Jerusalem and captivity (20.22). Every significant move in the progress of the gospel is explicitly occasioned by the guidance of the Spirit.



Who is the Holy Spirit? The first answer that one can give for this question is he the third Person of the Holy Trinity. But from the Gospels and Acts of the Apostles we can say that he is a Promise of the Father. In Luke 24:49 Jesus says that he will send what his Father promised; and in Acts of the Apostles 1:4 Jesus asks the disciples not to leave the city but wait for the promise to be fulfilled. What is this Promise of the Father? Quoting the Old Testament passage, St. Peter answers that the Promise of the Father is the Holy Spirit and that promise is for all of them even for their Children. But generally we say that the Holy Spirit is the Third Person of the Holy Trinity. When we say that he is a person, then he has the characteristics of a Personality: The Holy Spirit has a Mind (Rom. 8:27), he has a Will (1 Cor. 12:11). The Holy Spirit has Emotions: he grieves (Eph. 4:30, Isaiah 63:10), he gives joy (Lk. 10: 21, 1 Thess. 1:6). The Holy Spirit Teaches (Jn. 14:26), Testifies of Christ (Jn. 15:26), Convicts (Jn. 16:8), he Leads (Rom. 8:14), he Reveals Truth (Jn. 16:13), He Strengthens and Encourages (Acts 9:31), He Comforts (Jn. 14:16) He Helps Us in our Weakness (Rom. 8:26), He Intercedes (Rom

8:26),He Searches the Deep Things of God (1 Cor. 2:11), He Sanctifies (Rom 15:16), He Bears Witness or Testifies (Rom. 8:16), He Forbids (Acts 16:6-7), He Can be Lied to (Acts 5:3), He Can be Resisted (Acts 7:51), He Can be Blasphemed (Mt. 12:31-32) and He Can be Quenched (1Thess. 5:19).10 Still we can say many things about the personality of the Holy Spirit.


5.1. Make Witnesses Of The Weaklings



In the book of Acts of the Apostles, almost in every chapter, we see the account of the Acts of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Apostles and of the Church. As we have seen above we have the occurrence of the word Holy Spirit more than 40 times. What does the Holy Spirit do in the life of the Apostles and in the life of the Early Christian Community is awesome. We read as the first account of the Holy Spirit in Acts that Jesus is commissioning his disciples in the Holy Spirit, “first he had instructed through the Holy Spirit the apostles he had chosen.” (Acts 1:2) Then he informs them that they would be baptized by the Holy Spirit and asks them to wait for that day. The most important and the central theme of the Acts of the Apostles is found in 1:8 Jesus telling them, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, even to the ends of the earth." (Acts 1:8) When the Holy Spirit comes the first thing he does is making the Apostles as Witnesses, a bold and courageous witnesses for Jesus. “With great power the apostles bore witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus…”

Consider the initial weakness of the disciples i. Fighting for position arguing who is the great among them. ii. Peter lied and denied He knew Jesus. iii. Thomas doubted Jesus' own words about His resurrection. iv. The Disciples deserted Jesus in His hour of difficulty. Yet, this tiny group turned the world upside down. This tiny group of cowards, liars, and deserters turned the world upside down. Not because of their words, not

because of their wisdom, and not because of the might. It was because of the Holy


Spirit who filled them and empowered them to speak the Word with boldness. This is what the Holy Spirit brings to the glory of God.

5.2. Making Fellowship From Faction

The Spirit accompanies and encourages the Church to evangelize in unity and to build unity. Pentecost occurred when the disciples "were all together in one place" (Acts 2:1) and "all with one accord devoted themselves to prayer" (Acts 1:14). There were only one Baptism of Fire but the Apostles were filled by the Holy Spirit often whenever they prayed. We see two important events where the Apostles were filled with the Holy Spirit; one account is on the day of Pentecost which we read in 2:1-6 of the Acts of the Apostles and the second account we read in 4:23-31. If we closely observe these two events we could see that there is account of the fellowship and community living of the faithful is being narrated both in 2:42-46 and 4:32-36. After receiving the Holy Spirit the Apostles together with the faithful were lived in communion which we call as First Christian Community that which is an exemplary community for all the religious even today. So the next important Act of the Holy Spirit in the Acts of the Apostles is to gather the faithful into one flock. We read, “Now all the believers lived together and shared all their belongings.” (Acts 2:44) “The whole communities of believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but rather they shared all things in common.” (Acts 4:32) The Holy Spirit united not only the Apostles or Jews alone but He united all those who believed in Christ by filling them with His gifts even the Gentiles like the Ethiopian and Cornelius. (Acts 8, 10) So, the Work of the Holy Spirit is to fulfill the Divine Plan of God the Father which is manifested through Jesus Christ to be one flock and one Shepherd. (Jn 10:16)

5.3. Growth In The Church

Whenever there was infilling of the Holy Spirit we also see there was preaching of the Word of God and whenever there was preaching of the Word of God we also see that there was a conversion. There were conversions not one or two but in

thousands. When St. Peter the Apostle spoke for the first time with the people there were 3000 conversions (Acts 2:41); in spite of the persecutions the number increased about 5000 (Acts 4:4); there were increasing number of men and women whomever saw the signs and wonders done by the Apostles (Acts 5:14); and summarizing the growth of the faithful Luke says in 6:7 as, “The Word of God continued to spread, and the number of the disciples in Jerusalem increased greatly and even many priests accepted the faith.” So, wherever there is Holy Spirit there will be growth both individually and collectively, in both qualitatively and quantitatively. We should not miss to observe one thing all through the Acts of the Apostles, many a time Luke says two things repeatedly – the Word was spreading and the Number of believers were on the increase.

5.4. Active Animator Of The Church

No one can deny that from the Beginning of the Church – the Birth of the Church is the Pentecost – till today the guiding hand of the Holy Spirit in every event of the Church. The initial work of the Holy Spirit was very much needed in everything. As Jesus promised the Apostles that when the Holy Spirit comes He will teach them about everything. Yes, about everything. First such guidance or animation of the Holy Spirit is on the day of Pentecost itself, enabling the Apostles to speak in

different tongues so that all the people present there could understand. When they were on trial before the Jewish Authorities they were not afraid as Jesus said, “For the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you have to say” (Lk. 12:12) so it happened. When Jewish Leaders questioned them, “Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, spoke up …” (Acts 4:8). When Stephen was brought before the Jewish

Authorities the same Holy Spirit inspires him to summarize the Bible to them and gives him courage and gives him the heavenly vision. The Holy Spirit was with the Apostles in teaching, preaching and performing the wonders. When they stretched their hands even the Samaritans received the Holy Spirit. (Acts 8:17)

Not only had these, but even the Spirit directly spoken with the disciples what to do? How to do? In the case of Philip we read that, “the Holy Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go and catch up that Chariot’”. The instruction is very clear and distinct and when the

mission was accomplished he was taken away by the Spirit himself and he finds himself in another place preaching the good news. During the mission work the Holy Spirit totally takes control of them and guides them. In the case of St. Peter going to the house of Cornelius, “the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are looking for you.” (Acts 10:19) In the case of Saul and Barnabas’ mission “the Holy Spirit said, “Now then set aside for me Barnabas and Saul”. (Acts 13:2) It is very distinct. He sets them aside and sends them where to go. And in certain cases he prevents them going to certain places. (Acts 16:7) In totality the Spirit was always with

them, “the disciples were continually filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 13:52) And when there was confusion and misunderstanding among the believers it is the Holy Spirit inspired them to gather together to sort out the problem – the Jerusalem Counsel – indeed the work of the Holy Spirit.



The Acts of the Holy Spirit does not end up with the Acts of the Apostles even today the Holy Spirit is guiding the Activities of the Church in various ways. Pope John Paul II was right when he said, “The Book of the Acts presents several symbolic situations which let us understand how the Spirit helps the Church to live communion in practice, enabling her to overcome the problems she will encounter from time to time11,” which indicates that even today the Holy Spirit guides the Church to go forward in her mission. Pope Leo XIII said, "If Christ is the Head of the Church, the Holy Spirit is her soul12". And it is true. St. Paul says that Christ is the head of the church and we are all parts of that mystical body, the Church. There cannot be life in the body without soul – the Spirit, the Breath. It is the Holy Spirit who helps the body, the church to live and move.

Before concluding just I would like to present some excerpts from the General Audience of Pope John Paul II on July 8, 1998. He said, “The Holy Spirit dwells in the Church not as a guest who still remains an outsider, but as the soul that transforms the community into "God's holy temple" (1 Cor 3:17; cf. 6:19; Eph 2:21) and makes it more and more like himself through his specific gift, which is love (cf. Rom 5:5; Gal 5:22). Love--the Second Vatican Council teaches in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church--"governs, gives meaning to and perfects all the means of sanctification" (Lumen gentium, n. 42). Love is the "heart" of Christ's Mystical Body, as we read in a beautiful autobiographical passage of St. Therese of the Child Jesus: "I understood that if the Church had a body composed of different members,
Pope John Paul II. The Spirit Is Source of Communion, General Audience, July 29, 1998

12 Pope John Paul II. The Holy Spirit Enlivens and Animates the Church, General Audience, July 8, 1998.


the most necessary and noble of all could not be lacking to it, and so I understood that the Church had a heart and that this heart was burning with Love. I understood that it was Love alone that made the Church's members act, that if Love were ever extinguished, apostles would not proclaim the Gospel and martyrs would refuse to shed their blood.... I understood that Love was everything that it embraced all times and places ... in a word that it was eternal!" (Autobiographical Manuscript B, 3vo)13.” Yes the Acts of the Holy Spirit in the life of every faithful is filled with the Love of God, for St. Paul says that it is through the Holy Spirit that the Love of God is poured into our hearts, and this is eternal.



Pope John Paul II. The Holy Spirit Enlivens and Animates the Church, General Audience, July 8, 1998.