By Dr. Don Bierle, FaithSearch President
The King James translation of Romans 10:13 states, “For whosoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved.” More recent translations simply say “everyone.” It is a reference to Joel 2:32, and Peter included it in his Pentecost sermon (Acts 2:21). Did Peter really believe what he was quoting?
I’m sure he thought it to be true for all the Jews, but the early chapters of Acts demonstrates that God had to convince Peter and other Jews that it truly meant “anyone” and not just them. It is a fascinating study to observe in the book of Acts all that God did so the words of His Son would be fulfilled, “For God so loved the world…whoever…” (John 3:16).
John the Baptist had prophesied that the ministry of Jesus would include “baptism in the Holy Spirit” (John 1:33). Jesus affirmed this before He ascended, “…you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now” (Acts 1:5). Of course, He was referring to Pentecost, which would occur about a week later. According to Acts 2:4,6,8, it was accompanied by the sign of speaking in tongues, both “glossa” (unknown language) and “dialects” (known language).
Pentecost resulted in a Jewish church. The Jews, including the apostles, thought the Church was only for the Jews. To include the Samaritans and the Gentiles was unthinkable. To be included they must first convert to Judaism. This is confirmed by the reaction of the Jews to Peter’s visit with the Gentile Cornelius (Acts 11:2-3) and the practice of speaking the word to only Jews by those scattered after Stephen’s martyrdom (11:19).
God would not allow this narrow view to shut out the rest of the world from Jesus’ redemption. He used the sign of speaking in tongues (as the Jews experienced at Pentecost) as the evidence to prove to them that He was putting his Spirit within all who believe in Jesus without regard to race or ethnicity.
When the news reached Jerusalem that the despised Samaritans were responding in faith to the preaching of Jesus by Philip, they immediately sent Peter and John to check it out (Acts 8:14). When they prayed for them, the sign of tongues occurred just as it had in Jerusalem with the Jews (vv. 15-17). How could they deny the Samaritans inclusion in the Church? It would have been opposing God!
The even-more-difficult test was the Gentiles. Jews would not have included them without God’s intervention. God supernaturally placed Peter in the home of Cornelius, a Gentile centurion. Upon proclaiming Jesus, “the Holy Spirit fell upon them…for they were hearing them speaking with tongues…” (Acts 10:44-46). Peter was chastised by the Jewish church for even going into a Gentile home (11:1-3). In his defense, Peter said, “If God gave to them the same gift as He gave to us also after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” (11:17). Once again, the “sign of tongues” was used by God to validate that the Gentiles had received the Holy Spirit and were an authentic part of His Church.
Peter’s statement in Acts 10:35 was the intended result of God’s persuasion to build a unified Church: “I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the one who fears Him and does what is right is acceptable to Him.” God used the sign of tongues as the external evidence to prove that every person who professed faith in Jesus received the baptism (permanent indwelling) of the Holy Spirit. This prevented a splintered following and assured the creation of His Church as one body in Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13).
Subsequently, in all the evangelism and instruction of the New Testament, we do not see any mention of “baptism with the Holy Spirit” or the validating sign of speaking in tongues for new believers. Precedent had been established: “baptism with the Holy Spirit” was an initial experience and assumed to occur with the confession of faith in Jesus. Speaking in tongues as a sign was no longer needed to validate that fact. [Note: Speaking in tongues as one of the “gifts” of the Holy Spirit is taught later (1 Corinthians 12), but this gift was not given to everyone (1 Corinthians 12:30) and is not indicated as a sign of baptism with the Holy Spirit.]
A Final Test
Believers from the sect of the Pharisees were not so sure about “whosoever” (Acts 15:1,5). They still demanded the Gentiles’ conversion to Judaism. It took an historic council at Jerusalem to finally settle the matter (Acts 15:1-29). Paul, Barnabas, Peter, James, the other apostles, and the elders came together and united around Peter’s statement, “God… made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith. …we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are” (v. 11).
A letter was composed (vv. 23-29) accepting Gentile believers into the fellowship of the one Church (Romans 10:12) and sent with Paul and Barnabas to authenticate their message in future missionary journeys. God had created His Church just as Jesus prayed in the Upper Room the night before His crucifixion:
My prayer is not for them [apostles] alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.(John 17:20-21, NIV)
Amen and Amen!