from judaism to jesus – a diffucult transition for jews; doctrinal questions in the book of acts


This is not a verse by verse exposition on Acts 18 and 19 but an overview of the difficult transition from Judaism to Jesus and to comment on some theological questions that have been divisive.

We have seen earlier in our study of Acts the beatings and persecution Paul (like Jesus) and others (the apostles, Stephen, Barnabas, Silas, etc.) bore for preaching the gospel of righteousness through faith in Christ alone apart from the law.  The Law was given by God to Moses and to the Jewish nation and as we learn later, it was to serve as a tutor to lead man to salvation through Christ. (Gal. 3:24-25) God's holiness as revealed by the Law shows us that we all fall short of living life as God commands in our relationship with Him (the first 4 of the 10 commandments) and with each other (the remaining 6 of the 10 commandments). Judaism developed from living under the Law (moral, ceremonial and societal) for years and thus it became more than a religion (man's relationship with God) it became a way of life. It also developed into nationalism and a self-righteous feeling of superiority over all Gentiles. Thus when Paul preached that the Jews needed a Savior as much as the Gentiles and that their law-keeping (circumcision, etc.) did not make them right with God, it brought their wrath upon him. (See Rom. 2-3) We see this throughout the book of Acts and again in the epistles as Paul and others teach salvation by faith in Christ alone. (Eph. 2:8-10). ["So the writer of Hebrews gives us the theology of "From Judaism to Jesus," but the Book of Acts gives us the history of "From Judaism to Jesus." It shows us the flow and the transition of the period of years as the church emerges as an identity all its own. It was not an easy transition." John MacArthur]

Thus the book of Acts is a major transitional time from the OT Law (and Judaism that grew from it) to the gospel – what is referred to as the New Covenant (made with the Jewish nation to replace the Old Covenant- the Law) and for believing Gentiles. The "church" is a brand new entity that was never heard of by the Jews and some tried to make it a sect (an add-on) to Judaism saying, you have to become a Jew (circumcision, etc.) before you can become a Christian and keep the Law to be in right standing with God.

"In Cenchrea he (Paul) had his hair cut (to present with the sacrifice at the temple) for he was keeping a vow."  The Nazirite vow (see Numbers 6:1-21) could be made by Jewish people who wanted to set aside a period of time for deeper devotion to God and refrain from wine, not cut their hair, and other self-imposed disciplines. (Sampson, Samuel and John the Baptist were dedicated to God by their parents as Nazirites for all their lives. As we know, Sampson did not live out his parent's vows.) Paul seemed to make this vow as a thank offering to the Lord for God blessing his ministry in Corinth (showing he is still influenced by Judaism himself) and to fulfill the vow he needed to return to Jerusalem (a 1,500 mile journey) to present his cut hair to the priests at the temple.  Though Acts 18:20-22 does not make this clear this is what seemed to happen. "When they asked him (Paul) to stay for a longer time (in Ephesus), he did not consent, 21 but asking leave of them and saying, "I will return to you again if God wills," he set sail from Ephesus.  22 When he had landed at Caesarea, he went up and greeted the church (in Jerusalem- and to the temple to fulfill his vow) and (then) went down to Antioch."

Also Paul and others practiced "common ground" evangelism which makes this transition period even more complicated. "Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law." (1 Cor. 9:19-20) In Acts 21:17-26 Paul agreed to participate with four men who were taking the Nazirite vow to demonstrate he was not against the Law of Moses (except as a requirement for salvation) as some of the Jewish legalists accused him to be. And in Acts 15:20 Jewish believers in Jesus agreed to keep certain aspects of the Law so as not to not cause weaker brothers to stumble. All this shows the sensitive and difficult transition from Judaism to Jesus.

So we see two applications for us as NT believers today: 1) the Nazirite vow models devotion to our Lord as seen in Romans 12:1-2: "Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God-this is your spiritual[a act of worship. 2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is-his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Rom. 12:1-2)  And like the OT Jewish believers in Jesus, we need to learn a new way of living:  "Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. 5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature…. (See Col 3:1-25)

2) We are free in Christ from the Law but are called to limit our freedom if it hurts others. If believers stumble over our freedom in Christ to drink alcohol or practice other "gray issues" Scripture calls us to give up our "rights" out of love (not law) for the spiritual good/growth of a weaker brother. Paul teaches on both these points in several of his epistles. "If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love.  19 Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. 20 Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. 21 It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall. (Rom. 14:15, 19-21)

The Book of Acts is also a book upon which we must not base a systematic theology because it occurs during a time of transition from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant and is especially problematic regarding the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. OT believers were not indwelt by the Holy Spirit as are NT believers after Pentecost. The Holy Spirit would come upon OT believers and empower them to serve God but they did not experience the blessing of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. So in Acts 19:1-7 some OT believers, who were disciples of John the Baptist, had not experienced the baptism of the Holy Spirit (that which occurred at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came to indwell believers and baptized them into the body of Christ (i.e., the newly born church). When they were baptized in the name of Jesus they received the Holy Spirit within and manifested this outwardly by speaking in tongues and prophesying.

["The Charismatics' supposed pattern in the book of Acts is not found in the book of Acts! Their "pattern" is only a part of the pattern of the book of Acts. Indeed, it is difficult (but not impossible) to find any overall pattern in the book. To follow the pattern of the book of Acts is a worthy goal, but which pattern should be followed? The pattern in the book of Acts is (seemingly) inconsistent with itself: sometimes there are tongues; other times there are none. With some the Spirit is received through the laying on of hands; with others no such laying on of hands is needed. Some receive the Spirit before water baptism, some after. If all Scripture is inspired, the interpreter must find a position and pattern which allows for and includes all the Biblical data, not just a part of it. One more principle emerges from the midst of this confusion: doctrine must be based on the apostle's teaching, not experience. To put it another way, in formulating theology, the apostles' teaching is normative, not the experience of some in the history recorded in the book of Acts. To approach doctrine in any other way brings total confusion (as that just surveyed) and does disservice to the inspired teaching of the apostles."; copyright 1987, Fred G. Zaspel]

I taught on this when we studied Acts 2 and have included this below. The following bracketed material is taken from Conformed to His Image by Dr. Kenneth Boa: ["There has been a wide range of interpretations of the meaning of Spirit baptism.  In the late nineteenth century, the Wesleyan-Holiness movement associated it with a "second blessing" after conversion that produces the holiness of "entire sanctification."  Evangelical leaders like Dwight L. Moody and Reuben A. Torrey also viewed Spirit baptism as a post-conversion experience, but related it to a divine bestowal of power for ministry.  It was not until the Pentecostal movement that Spirit baptism was associated with an experience of tongues.  Many in the charismatic movement adopted a neo-Pentecostal view of tongues as the initial sign of Spirit baptism, but an increasing number of charismatic Christians have concluded that tongues is one of many possible charisms (gifts of the Spirit) that could accompany Spirit baptism.  Others in charismatic renewal have turned to a sacramental model of Spirit baptism as a "release" of the Spirit, since the grace of the Spirit was already received in Christian initiation.  "Third Wave" Christians speak more in terms of filling with the Spirit or of openness to the power and gifts of the Spirit, and this may involve "breakthrough" experiences of personal and corporate spiritual renewal. There are seven New Testament references to Spirit baptism (Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; John 1:33; Acts 1:5; 11:16; 1 Corinthians 12:13), and the first six were fulfilled on the day of Pentecost.  Some distinguish the 1 Corinthians passage from the others by translating it as baptism "by" the Spirit (into the body of Christ) as opposed to baptism "in" the Spirit (into the power of the Spirit).  But all of these verses use the same Greek preposition (en) which can be translated "with," "in," or "by."  There is no biblical basis for distinguishing two kinds of Spirit baptism.  The experiences of the disciples at Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4), the Samaritans (Acts 8:14-17), the Gentile household of Cornelius (Acts 10:44-47), and the Ephesian disciples of John the Baptist (Acts 19:1-7) all relate to the initial arrival of the Holy Spirit into a person's life that Paul later associates with becoming a member of the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13).  It is therefore better not to equate post-conversion experiences of the Spirit's filling, empowering, or manifestations with the word baptism, but with God's wonderful works of renewal through the power of the indwelling Spirit.  Since the time of Pentecost, the Spirit's New Covenant ministry of baptizing, indwelling, and sealing is given to every believer at the time of regeneration.  But subsequent experiences of the Spirit's filling, outpouring, and clothing with power are given to many believers in accordance with the sovereign purposes of God.  There is no single prescription or pattern to post-conversion experiences of renewal, and it would be a mistake to make one person's experience normative for others. 

While the manifestations of the Spirit are manifold, the New Testament distinguishes two primary ways in which believers can be filled with the Spirit.  (1) The inward work of the Spirit produces Christlike character and spiritual maturity.  The Greek verb plêroô and its cognate plêrês refer to filling as a growing state of being.  These words are used of spiritually mature believers like Stephen and Barnabas who are controlled by the Spirit (see Luke 4:1-2; Acts 6:3, 5; 7:55; 11:24; 13:52; Ephesians 5:18-19).  (2) The outward work of the Spirit concerns divine empowerment for ministry and service.  The Greek verb pimplêmi refers to filling as a temporary experience of the sovereign power of God that is evident in action.  This word is used of specific manifestations of the Holy Spirit in the lives of people like Elizabeth, Peter, and Saul/Paul (see Luke 1:41-42, 67; Acts 2:4; 4:8, 31; 9:17-20; 13:9-10). 

The Inward Work

of the Spirit

The Outward Work

of the Spirit

Filling: Plêroô and Plêrês

Filling: Pimplêmi

A Growing State of Being

A Temporary Experience

Produces Character and Wisdom

Empowers for Ministry and Service

The Fruit of the Spirit

The Gifts of the Spirit

The Spirit Within

The Spirit Upon








A healthy Spirit-filled spirituality requires both kinds of filling, but there is an unfortunate tendency among WCBs (Word-centered believers) to stress the left column and neglect the right, and among SCBs (Spirit-centered believers) to focus on the right column and minimize the left.  When this happens, a WCB can be strong in knowledge and/or character and shallow in power and deed.  Churches and individuals who quench the outward work of the Spirit become ineffective in transformational ministry.  Their explanation exceeds their experience. On the other hand, an SCB can be strong in power and deed and shallow in knowledge and/or character.  When experience runs ahead of biblical explanation, a person is vulnerable to deception and emotional manipulation.  And when experience surpasses character, the Spirit is grieved and power is eventually lost.  Power without character becomes more of a curse than a blessing and leads to the error of confusing spiritual manifestations with spiritual maturity.  Character and gifting are both important; we need the fruit of the Spirit (the inward work) as well as the power of the Spirit (the outward work).  Purity and power work best together and reinforce each other.  It is also important that we relate Spirit-filled spirituality to the ordinary affairs and challenges of life, and not limit the work of the Spirit to extraordinary phenomena."]



1) From Judaism to Jesus – What are some lifestyle and cultural issues (or personal preferences) today that believers may divide over? How is "religion" different from relationship with Jesus? Where may you still be "religious?

 2) Where have you given up your "rights" to keep from causing a weaker believer to stumble or to remove a possible barrier to the gospel for an unbeliever?

3) How does John the Baptist (a Nazirite for life) and Paul's radical devotion to the Lord impact you in your devotion to the Lord? Read and discuss Romans 12:1-2 and Colossians 3:1-15.

4) Can you explain to someone the difference between the filling(s) of the Holy Spirit as seen in Ken Boa's teaching? Discuss the difference at your table.                                                                                                                                                                              5) Are you drawn more to the inward work of the Spirit (Christ-like character; maturity, etc.) or the outward work of the Spirit (His power to do ministry, exercising the gifts of the Spirit)? What are the dangers of focusing too much on one or the other?



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