Why were the apostles filled with the Holy Spirit again right after Pentecost?

Q. Why are the apostles “filled with the Holy Spirit” when they pray for boldness after Peter and John are arrested, when they had just recently received the Spirit on Pentecost? Isn’t the receiving of the Holy Spirit a one-time thing, as opposed to how it was in Old Testament times? If there are deeper levels or experiences, what do they consist of?

A Coptic icon of the day of Pentecost. Wasn’t the filling with the Holy Spirit that the disciples received that day all they ever needed?

As I understand it, Pentecost is the occasion on which the community is  filled with the Holy Spirit. The New Testament speaks of the community of Jesus’ followers as “God’s temple” or a “temple in the Lord.” The physical temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in A.D. 70, and the New Testament envisions a new kind of temple, built of “living stones” (as Peter puts it, that is, of people), taking its place.  And so the scene on the day of Pentecost is just like the ones in the Old Testament when God’s Spirit fills the tabernacle built by Moses and the temple that Solomon built. (Along these lines, I once preached a Pentecost sermon entitled “The Filling of the New Temple.”)

This is indeed a one-time occasion.  The Spirit came to live in the “new temple” only once, just as in the cases of the tabernacle and physical temple. And presumably anyone who was constituting the “new temple” at the time, that is, each the 120 followers of Jesus who were meeting together on Pentecost, was filled with the Holy Spirit as the community was filled. But this is something different from the kind of filling that’s described later in Acts, both in the passage you mention and in others.

In those cases, it’s almost as if the Holy Spirit takes up a person and uses them as an instrument for something on a particular occasion.  We see this from what happens next: they speak the word of God boldly, or they announce God’s judgment on opponents, or (in Saul’s case) his lost sight is restored and he receives his divine calling.

This is directly analogous to the situations in the Old Testament where, in effect, the Spirit picks someone up and uses them for God’s purposes.  The Hebrew idiom is quite striking: It says that the Spirit of Yahweh “clothed herself* in” the person chosen as an instrument.  This is how Gideon, for example, was propelled into his mission of leading Israel’s tribes against an invading coalition of their enemies.

If you think about it, if the Spirit is wearing you like a garment, that’s the same thing as being filled with the Spirit: you’re the outside, and the Spirit is the inside!

This is a matter of special empowerment by the Spirit on a particular occasion for a particular purpose.  I’d say that, for its part, it’s different from yet another kind of “filling with the Spirit.”  I think that all believers receive the Spirit when they choose to follow Christ.  But they are not necessarily filled with the Spirit if they haven’t yet opened up every area of their being to the Spirit’s presence and control.  When we do “surrender all,” then the Spirit can flood our being throughout and we are filled.

This might be a gradual process for some people, but for others, it may be a powerful and moving experience that happens at a specific, memorable time.  In the mid-to-late 1800s, the phrase “baptism of the Holy Spirit” was used to describe this experience, synonymously with “complete surrender” and “entire sanctification.”  The idea was that people weren’t getting more of the Spirit, the Spirit was getting more of them, and so was able to fill them.  (The Greek verb “baptize” actually means “to fill by immersing,” and so it’s a suitable term to use for such an experience.)

Later, specifically within the Pentecostal movement starting in 1906, the phrase “baptism of the Holy Spirit” became associated with receiving the “gift of tongues,” that is, the ability to speak a language not naturally acquired, as the followers of Jesus did on the day of Pentecost.  But even within that movement, the primary emphasis remained on the complete surrender of one’s life and will to God.  I believe that God does still give the gift of tongues today, in a variety of forms and for a number of purposes, but that it is not the identifying sign of having been filled with the Holy Spirit.  Rather, a greater empowerment for service with whatever gifts God has given, and a greater consecration to God, are the evidence of that filling.

I hope this is helpful!


*I use the feminine pronoun because the word for “Spirit” is feminine in Hebrew. The language has no neuter pronoun, and even if it did, I don’t think either using the impersonal pronoun from English (“it”), or using a masculine pronoun (“him”) to represent a feminine word, would be appropriate for the Spirit as depicted in the Hebrew Bible.

Author: Christopher R Smith

The Rev. Dr. Christopher R. Smith is a writer and biblical scholar who is also an ordained minister. He was active in parish and student ministry for twenty-five years. He was a consulting editor to the International Bible Society (now Biblica) for The Books of the Bible, an edition of the Scriptures that presents the biblical books according to their natural literary outlines, without chapters and verses. His Understanding the Books of the Bible study guide series is keyed to this format. He has an A.B. from Harvard in English and American Literature and Language, a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and a Ph.D. in the History of Christian Life and Thought, with a minor concentration in Bible, from Boston College, in the joint program with Andover Newton Theological School.

3 thoughts on “Why were the apostles filled with the Holy Spirit again right after Pentecost?”

  1. This is one of those questions where the answer can depend on one’s personal experiences in light of Scripture. For example, I am charismatic and have been given sign gifts, but people that are not charismatic can think differently about this area, including some who think they are demonic. That is, a lot depends on whether one thinks all spiritual gifts continue until now or if some ceased after the time of the NT. And then if you think they continue whether you have experienced it for yourself or are just discussing it in a theoretical sense.

  2. In order to prove your point, you actually changed the meaning of a word. You say, “The Greek verb “baptize” actually means “to (fill) by immersing, …” That is not the meaning. this word, baptize, baptized, or baptism means: to make whelmed (i.e. fully wet), wash – see Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, look up these words, they’re given a number -907, look it up in the Greek Dictionary of the New Testament section, and you’ll see the accurate meaning. These words come from bapto – 911 – to whelm, cover wholly with a fluid. There is no filling of something by immersing! People – please study to make sure what he is saying is truthful. Some will be, but often very biased to what he wants you to believe. Do not be a minion!

    1. Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance was published in 1890 and gives only the most rudimentary definitions for words found in the Bible. Even so, for baptō (#911), it gives the meaning “to stain (as with dye).” The cloth is immersed in the dye in order to fill it with color. More recent and comprehensive resources provide further examples of baptō and baptizō being used in this sense. Liddell and Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon (1968 edition) cites a use of baptizō for to “draw wine by dipping the cup in the bowl.” That is, to fill the cup by immersing it in the wine. The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (1964) gives the example of “to sink the ship.” Obviously the ship sinks because it fills with water when it is immersed in the ocean. The ship is not just being “washed.” And so forth. We should also consider New Testament usage, not just definitions found in external reference works. In the book of Acts, when Peter is reporting to the church in Jerusalem about his visit to Cornelius’s house, he says, “As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.'” According to Acts, what happened when the Holy Spirit fell on the apostles and their companions “at the beginning”? “They were all filled with the Holy Spirit.” So the Gentiles’ similar experience of being filled made Peter think of how Jesus said they would all be baptized with the Holy Spirit. To baptize is to fill, also according to New Testament usage. But in this case as in all others, I invite and encourage my readers to “search the Scriptures” for themselves “to see if these things are so.”

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