Cornelius and Holy Spirit Baptism

Number 570

SOURCE: Defender, Volume XXIV, #4, 4/1995


by Graham Cain

Most preachers that I have heard on this subject have affirmed unequivocally that Cornelius and all those that were with him were baptized with the Holy Spirit (read Acts 10:44-46 and 11:15-17). I do not believe such was the case and will put forth some questions and observations that may stimulate further study. This is not a subject where we must, of necessity, hold the same view, so a difference in understanding should cause no one to be upset.

The Nature of God’s Promises

First of all, before there can be a “promise,” there must be a promisor (one who makes a promise). There must also be a promisee which is one to whom the promise is made. Obviously then, a promise could not be made to Mr. A and then given in fulfillment to Mr. B. There are four points that stand out relative to God’s promises.

  • 1. There are some that have not yet been fulfilled.
  • 2. The ones that have been fulfilled have been only to those to whom they were made.
  • 3. The ones yet to be fulfilled shall be only to those to whom they were made.
  • 4. The promise of Holy Spirit baptism was made to the apostles only (Acts 1:4-5)!

Therefore, Holy Spirit baptism was not, is not and cannot be given to “Pentecostal” groups nor to any others of this age or past ages. It was promised to the apostles. We have used this obvious truth to show the fallacy of the claims to Holy Spirit baptism for many years. Would not the same truth with the same argumentation be applicable to the matter of Cornelius and his friends? If not, why not?

A Look at the Facts

In listing what actually happened as recorded in Acts chapters ten and eleven, please note the following facts:

  • 1. Peter spoke to them (10:34-43).
  • 2. While he was yet speaking, “the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word,” (vs. 44).
  • 3. Astonishment resulted, “because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost” (vs. 45).
  • 4. The Jews knew that the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles because, “they heard them speak with tongues” (vs. 46).
  • 5. Peter stated that this amazing development caused him to remember “the word of the Lord, how that he said, John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost” (11:16).
  • 6. Peter went on to explain and defend his actions in this matter by saying, “Forasmuch then as God gave them the like gift as He did unto us” (11:17).

We are usually advised at this point that the expression “like gift” means “exactly the same gift in extent and fullness.” Question: What exactly was the gift? It was, of course the ability to speak in tongues. What else? Nothing! Then to what did verse 16 refer? Evidently it reminded Peter of Pentecost when this same, exact gift of tongues was that which was poured out upon the apostles, causing great excitement and attention among the people who witnessed that great demonstration. These, then, received exactly the same gift (speaking with tongues) that the apostles received in Acts 2:4.

Further Questions

Was there anything, other than tongues in the case of Cornelius and his friends that was like the events of Pentecost as recorded in Acts chapter two?

  • a. Was there “a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind” (vs. 2)?
  • b. Did “cloven tongues like as of fire” appear and set “upon each of them” (vs. 3)?
  • c. Were those of the household of Cornelius from henceforth guided “into all truth” (John 16:13)?
  • d. Did the Comforter “teach [them] all things” (John 14:26)?
  • e. Did all of them (or any part of them) have the power to perform miracles? To impart the Holy Spirit to others in any way by the laying on of hands?

In both cases the Spirit was “poured out” directly from God but that, apparently, was what it took to convince the Jewish mind that Gentiles were included in the gospel of God’s grace. This was the way that God “bare them witness” as Peter explained in Acts 15:8 at the council in Jerusalem.

Look at the Duck

We have long known that when we see a feathered creature which looks, walks and quacks like a duck we have just about a 100% chance of being correct when we conclude that it, in fact, is a duck.

Using this nomenclature, coupled with common sense, let’s examine the things that transpired on the two occasions. We see clearly that they did not:

  • 1. Look the same
  • 2. Sound the same
  • 3. Produce the same

How then—can we insist that they were the same?

Speaking in tongues is not Holy Spirit baptism just as a quack is not a duck. Each is an element, or a constituent part of the whole.

In Conclusion

Note further that the Bible does not say they were baptized with the Holy Spirit. The evidence does not show that they were baptized with the Holy Spirit. Their subsequent actions do not (by silence of the Bible) indicate that they were, and it is not necessary to assume that they needed to be, in order to fulfill Joel 2:28.

These are not things that have to do with our salvation. They are questions of interest, however, and might possibly assist us in stimulating and sharpening our skills in interpretation of the text. Anything that will prompt us to a deeper study of the Holy Scriptures is always beneficial.

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DRL NOTE: Brethren, this explanation of brother Cain may be different from what you have been taught and have held for many years. It is offered, as stated above, “to stimulate further study.” I have difficulty seeing any problems with it, myself.