Renewal Theology
featuring the works of theologian J. Rodman Williams

Renewal Theology


Published Online Books

A Theological Pilgrimage

The Gift of the Holy Spirit Today

Ten Teachings

The Pentecostal Reality

Published Online Writings

Prophecy by the Book

Scripture: God's Written Word

The Holy Spirit in the Early Church

Other Writings

The Gift of the Holy Spirit Today
Chapter One - Background

Author's Preface

One of the most extraordinary Christian facts of our time is the claim of many people to be freshly experiencing "the gift of the Holy Spirit." They speak of "receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit" or simply "receiving the Holy Spirit,"1  and declare variously that this has been a unique experience of the presence and power of God in their lives.

Because I believe this claim is valid, and also that it represents a rediscovery of a basic dimension of Christian faith, I have written this book. A number of years ago I ran across a statement in The Beginnings of Christianity by Jackson and Lake, to the effect that in "the study of the beginnings of Christian thought…the starting-point for investigation is the experience called 'the gift of the Holy Spirit'; for this is the most important constant factor throughout the first Christian generation."2  If this statement is true—and I believe it essentially is—there could scarcely be a better or more important time in the history of the Church to make such an investigation. Also if the contemporary claim to the experience of "the gift of the Sprit" is valid—and I believe it largely is—then what is happening among many people in this late Christian generation is extremely significant: it is verily the renewal of a most important aspect of first-generation Christianity.

What this book accordingly intends to do is to investigate the significance of the gift of the Holy Spirit in its earliest Christian form and to pursue this investigation in the context of contemporary Christian experience.3  Thus what is written in the pages to follow will by no means be simply a dispassionate academic exercise in "Christian origins," but a deeply concerned exploration of a vital aspect of original Christianity reappearing in our time.

It is just possible that fresh study and experience in the area of the gift of the Holy Spirit can make for profound renewal of Christian faith in our day.


An exploration of "the gift of the Holy Spirit" in first-generation Christianity means turning basically to the New Testament record. Non-canonical writings, such as those of the Apostolic Fathers, are of some help, but we are on sure ground only when we listen to the New Testament witness. For it is here that primitive experience of this gift is set forth with authority and challenge.

If it is true that the experience of the gift of the Holy Spirit belonged to the first Christian generation, then whatever the exact nature of that gift, it will directly or indirectly inform the New Testament throughout. However, our focus will be largely on the portion of the New Testament, namely the book of Acts, that specifically records the giving and receiving of the Holy Spirit. Other New Testament materials of course have relevance—the Gospels pointing forward to the gift and the Epistles representing persons and communities who have already received the gift—but it is only the book of Acts that records the actual experience.

In turning most often to Acts we shall find ourselves considering several accounts of the giving and receiving of the Holy Spirit. These will include accounts of the disciples in Jerusalem (Acts 2:1-21), the people in Samaria (8:5-24), Saul in Damascus (9:1-19), the Gentiles in Caesarea (10:1-48) and the disciples in Ephesus (19:1-6).1  There will be reference also to other incidents that may less directly refer to the gift of the Holy Spirit.

As was suggested in the preface, we shall be dealing with first generation Christianity and the gift of the Holy Spirit from a perspective of vital existential concern. It will be our purpose to learn all we can about the New Testament witness as it relates to contemporary experience.

Chapter One: Background

It is important at the outset to reflect upon the background for the gift of the Holy Spirit. For what took place in first-generation Christianity, as recorded in the book of Acts, happened against the background of certain objective factors preparing the way for the giving of the Holy Spirit

A. The Divine Promise

Most immediately apparent is the fact that the gift of the Holy Spirit is a direct fulfillment of the promise of God. It is grounded in God's intention and purpose and therefore has behind it the divine integrity. As a promise of God, like all divine promises, it is dependable and sure.

We may begin by noting on the Day of Pentecost that Peter, speaking for the disciples in Jerusalem who have just received the gift of the Holy Spirit, says: "This is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: 'And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh …'" (Acts 2:16-17). In other words, the gift of the Spirit that has been received is in fulfillment of God's promise through the Old Testament prophet. Similar Old Testament promises are found elsewhere: "Thus says the Lord …I will pour my Spirit upon your descendants and my blessing on your offspring" (Isaiah 44:2-3): "I will not hide my face any more from them, when I pour out my Spirit upon the house of Israel, says the Lord God" (Ezekial 39:29). Though Isaiah and Ezekial speak specifically of Israel, and Joel universally ("all flesh"), the divine promise contained in all three books may be viewed as being initially fulfilled in Acts, since the Spirit was first poured out upon Israel (Acts 2, and thereafter upon the Gentiles (Acts 10 and elsewhere), thus "all flesh."

Next, moving closer to the actual giving of the Spirit as recorded in Acts, we find more immediate references to the divine promise as "the promise of the Father." First, there are the final words of Jesus: "And behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you" (Luke 24:49). Next we read: "And while staying with them he charged them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, 'you heard from me'" (Acts 1:4). Then we have the words of Peter: "And having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he [Jesus] has poured out this which you see and hear" (Acts 2:33). Thus it is the promise of God the Father which stands as immediate background for the gift of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost.

Thereafter, on the same day the promise is likewise extended to Peter's audience and to their children, and to those of other times and places. So says Peter: "You shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children and to all that are far off, every one whom the Lord our God calls to him" (Acts 2:38-39).

Finally, turning to the Epistles we find two references to the promise of the Holy Spirit. First, Paul writes in Galatians about receiving the Spirit (Galatians 3:2) and then adds, a few verses later, words about receiving "the promise of the Spirit through faith" (Galatians 3:14). Second, Paul writes to the Ephesians that they were "sealed with the promised Holy Spirit" (literally, "the Holy Spirit of promise"—Ephesians 1:13). So in these two letters, written to communities of Christians who have received the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit is described as the "Spirit of promise." Hence, once again it is the divine promise, the promise of God, that stands behind the gift of the Holy Spirit.

What is exciting about this promise is that it was by no means limited to the New Testament period. As we have noted, Peter declares it is "unto you and to your children and to all that are far off," hence people of all places and generations. The promise of the gift of the Holy Spirit therefore belongs to us also in our time.

This last statement brings us to the opening words in this book, namely, that many people in our day are claiming a like experience of the gift of the Holy Spirit. If this is the case, there surely stands behind them the divine promise. Their experience of the Holy Spirit therefore is grounded firmly in the never failing promise of God.1

B. The Exaltation of Jesus

Next, the gift of the Holy Spirit comes from the exalted Jesus. This is the Jesus who has been exalted to the right hand of the Father; it is He who sends (or pours) forth the Holy Spirit. The centrality of the exalted Lord Jesus is accordingly critical to a proper understanding of the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Here we must take our direction from the New Testament, for the Old Testament prophecies do not include reference to a Messianic figure who will be communicator of the Spirit of God. The most direct New Testament statement concerning the role of the exalted Jesus is that found in Acts 2:33 (quoted in part above): "Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this … Jesus, the risen Lord, had said just before His ascension: "Behold, I send [or "send forth"]2  the promise of my Father upon you …" (Luke 24:49). Thereafter Jesus, risen from the dead and exalted at the Father's right hand, sends forth the Holy Spirit.

We turn next to the Fourth Gospel and note the statement that it is the glorification of Jesus that is essential background for the gift of the Holy Spirit. For we read that "as yet the Spirit had not been given,3  because Jesus was not yet glorified" (John 7:39). Since the word "glorified" in the Fourth Gospel signifies "exalted,"4  it follows again that the exaltation of Jesus must precede the giving of the Holy Spirit.

Later in the Gospel of John there are several references by Jesus to the future sending, or giving, of the Holy Spirit. Particularly relevant to our concern are the words of Jesus: "I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Counselor [the Paraclete]5  will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you" (John 16:7). The "going away" of Jesus is, of course, a reference to His return to the Father; from there He will send the Holy Spirit. Similar to this is the statement of Jesus: "But when the Counselor comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness to me" (John 15:26). It is to be noted here that Jesus says He will send the Holy Spirit, and since the Spirit comes "from the Father," the implication is that this will happen when Jesus has returned to the presence of the Father. Thus both of these Johannine passages specify—as do the ones quoted from Luke and Acts—that the sending forth of the Holy Spirit is from the exalted Lord Jesus.

In two other Paraclete passages of the Fourth Gospel the Holy Spirit is said to be sent or given by the Father: "The Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things …" (John 14:26); and "I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth …" (John 14:16-17). One cannot stop with the exalted Jesus but must again go back to the Father.

Who then sends the Holy Spirit? If one reads these four passages in the actual order of their being set down, beginning with John 14:16-17 and concluding with John 16:7, the picture is this: (1) The Father will give the Spirit at the request of Jesus; (2) The Father will send the Spirit in Jesus' name; (3) The Son will send the Spirit from the Father; and (4) The Son will send the Spirit.

Thus, as Jesus unfolds the mystery of the sending of the Holy Spirit there is a progression from the Father to the Son. The Father is primary in all activity, and therefore ultimately He gives or sends the Holy Spirit,6 as the first two Johannine passages disclose; however, even in these two the Son is intimately involved, for it is at His request that the Father sends the Spirit, and He does so in the Son's name. But once it has been clarified that the Father is the primary actor, Jesus moves on to state that it is through Himself that the Spirit comes. Then follows the beautiful transition in the third passage where Jesus says that He (not the Father this time) will send the Spirit but that the Spirit is "from the Father." Here the extraordinary balance is shown: for while it is Jesus finally who sends the Spirit, nonetheless the Spirit is from God, the Father. Having stated in the three passages these relationships between the Spirit and the Father, and only against that background, does Jesus finally say—with no reference to the Father—that the Son will send the Holy Spirit.

One additional point before reflecting further on the sending, or giving, of the Holy Spirit, is that Jesus, in one of the Fourth Gospel passages, speaks of the Spirit as proceeding from the Father: "the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father" (John 15:26). Thus not only is the Father the primary agent in the sending of the Spirit, but He is also the source of the Holy Spirit: the Holy Spirit "proceeds" from Him. This procession of the Spirit from the Father is important to recognize; for it emphasizes that when the Holy Spirit is given, it is a continuation of the eternal procession7 of the Spirit from the Father. Thus the Holy Spirit goes back to the eternal source of all things. The Holy Spirit is from God, the Father, and is therefore Himself also God. Therefore, when the Holy Spirit is sent to the world, nothing less than the eternal God Himself comes.

To return now to the sending of the Holy Spirit: we may say that both the Father and Son send the Holy Spirit8  in the sense that the Father sends the Spirit through the Son. There is no sending of the Holy Spirit by the Father except through the Son, and therefore the Holy Spirit who is sent by the Father is received only through the mediation of Jesus Christ. Thus, in the ultimate sense, the Holy Spirit is sent from the Father, but in a proximate sense He comes from the Son.

This brings us back in our reflection to the exalted Jesus. For the Son through whom the Holy Spirit comes is the One at the Father's right hand. He who has been exalted by the Father to the place of honor and majesty sends forth the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit thus comes from heaven to earth: even from the Lord Jesus.

The coming of the Holy Spirit accordingly is not a divine event to which Jesus may be only peripherally related, but a coming in which He is the essential channel. The Holy Spirit, though distinct from Jesus, is the Spirit issuing from Jesus. He is sent by Jesus. Thus it is not as if the exalted Jesus were one force among many from whom the Spirit might come. "All authority in heaven and on earth" (Matthew 28:18) has been given the exalted Lord, and from Him alone does the Holy Spirit go forth.

Now to return to the contemporary scene: the central focus is the exalted Jesus. Wherever people today speak of the gift of the Holy Spirit it is invariably against the background of Jesus as the channel or medium. The focus is not on the Holy Spirit, but on Him through whom the Holy Spirit comes.9  There is, to be sure, the recognition that ultimately the Spirit comes from God, the Father, but in no way so that the exalted Jesus is secondary or unessential. The contemporary spiritual renewal is Jesus-centered (or Christocentric) through and through.10

C. The Work of Redemption
Finally, the background for the gift of the Holy Spirit is the work of redemption. What God has wrought in Jesus Christ for the salvation of the world is essential preparation. The gift of the Holy Spirit follows upon the completion of God's gracious, redeeming work in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, the Son of God.

We have been observing that the Holy Spirit is sent forth from the exalted Jesus at the Father's right hand. Now we move on to the recognition that this exaltation is of the risen Lord. The statement, earlier quoted, "Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God …he has poured out this … (Acts 2:33) is preceded by "This Jesus God raised up …" (Acts 2:32). Hence, it is to be emphasized that the Holy Spirit does not come from the eternally glorious Son of God11  but from the One who has been raised from the dead and exalted to the Father's presence. It is this exalted Jesus who sends forth the Holy Spirit.

Now we need to look back past the Resurrection to the whole cycle of Jesus' birth, life and death. For the exaltation of Jesus is of One who was willing to forgo His heavenly glory, be born in human flesh, suffer at the hands of ruthless men, die on the accursed cross, and experience the agonies of hell itself. Such was His incomparable act of self-humbling from the heights of heaven to the depths of hell. It is this Jesus, who knew humiliation vaster than the mind can begin to comprehend, who was raised from the dead and exalted to the right hand of the Father. This exalted Jesus pours forth the Holy Spirit.

The event of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus is clearly proclaimed in Acts 2:22-32 as background for the sending forth of the Holy Spirit. Peter speaks first, briefly, of the life of Jesus: "a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs …"; next of the Crucifixion and death of Jesus: "you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men"; and then, at much greater length, of the Resurrection: "But God raised him up, having loosed the pangs of death …" etc. It is only after all this that Peter comes to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

Years later, Peter is again preaching, this time to the Gentiles at Caesarea, and, as at Pentecost, he rehearses the events of Jesus' life, death and resurrection (Acts 10:34-43). Shortly thereafter "the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word" (Acts 10:44). It is again apparent that the whole cycle of Jesus' life, death and resurrection is background for the giving of the Holy Spirit.

But what is more deeply involved in this recounting of the story of Jesus is the declaration of God's work of redemption. This is far more than the narrative of an extraordinary life, of a person willingly dying a horrible death and of God miraculously raising someone from the grave. That in itself would be a vivid and memorable story, and might afford an example of heroic living and God's blessing on it. However, it is much more: it is God's plan of salvation—"Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God" (Acts 2:23)—being worked out in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. It is victory over sin and death; the Resurrection is raising up of life; and the exaltation is the triumph of Jesus over all dominions and powers.

It is the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, wherein God's plan of redemption is fulfilled, that precedes the giving of the Holy Spirit. Without such redemption being wrought, the way would not be prepared. But with the victory won through Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit may now be sent.

We have mentioned earlier the error of those who would view the gift of the Holy Spirit as only peripherally related to the person of Jesus Christ. Now, we must emphasize, it is also a very serious mistake to think at all of the gift of the Holy Spirit except against the background of the work of Christ. It is because of what God has done in and through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus that the Holy Spirit is sent forth. The gift of the Holy Spirit follows only upon the work of redemption.

In the contemporary renewal there is strong emphasis on the work of redemption in connection with the gift of the Holy Spirit. People everywhere who claim to have received the gift testify that because of what God has done in Christ in their lives they have come to experience the gift of the Holy Spirit. It was only as they came to know Jesus as the mediator of redemption that they experienced Him as the mediator of the Spirit.12  As those who have become participants in the wonder of salvation through Jesus Christ they have likewise become recipients of the blessed Holy Spirit. Jesus has become both Savior and Lord.13


Author's Preface
1. Some use terminology such as experiencing the "release of the Spirit," "renewal of the Spirit" or the "renewal of the gift of the Spirit."

2. Op. Cit., Part 1, The Acts of the Apostles, ed. by F.J. Foakes-Jackson and Kirsopp Lake (London: Macmillan and Co., Ltd., 1920), 322.

3. The contemporary Christian experience referred to is that represented in the present day "charismatic renewal." This renewal, an outgrowth of "classical Pentecostalism" (a term frequently used to refer to the Pentecostal movement beginning in the early twentieth century), began to occur in mainline churches in the 1960s and is now found among Protestants of many denominations, Roman Catholics and Greek Orthodox. Earlier, it was known as Neo-Pentecostalism, but within recent years has come increasingly to be called the "charismatic renewal," or even "the renewal." The main point for those participating is that it is a renewal in the Holy Spirit.

1. In two of these accounts the language employed does not include "the gift of the Holy Spirit," "receiving the Holy Spirit," etc. However, it is obvious that the whole story of Acts 2:1-21 is that of the gift of the Spirit being received. This is presupposed later in Acts 2 when Peter speaks of the gift of the Spirit also being promised to his audience (vv. 38-39), and is specifically referred to in Acts 10 when Peter speaks of the Gentiles at Caesarea as "people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have" (v. 47). In the case of Saul of Tarsus, though gift language is not employed, he is said to experience being "filled with the Holy Spirit" (9:17). We shall later note how this is one of the general expressions that relate to the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Chapter One: Background
1. As a vivid illustration, see "The Promise of the Father" in Set My Spirit Free (Plainfield, NJ: Logos, 1973) by Robert C. Frost. Frost testifies: "He knew my need and desire and had faithfully promised He would endue my life with the power of His Spirit. And it happened—just like He promised. For me it was a mighty Baptism of love that flooded my life inside and out …My Heavenly Father had kept His word and performed His promise—and He will do the same for you" (p. 12). Frost is a biologist and popular lecturer in the contemporary spiritual renewal.

2. The Greek word is exapostello—to "send out" or "send forth." It is a parallel to the term in Acts 2:33, execheen, meaning "poured out" or "poured forth."

3. The preponderance of Greek manuscripts omit the word "given," so that the text could be read simply, "the Spirit was not yet." However, English translations usually provide the word "given." This appears to be the intended meaning.

4. See also John 12:23, 26, 28; John 17:5. Cf. Acts 3:13 "The God of Abraham and of Isaac and of Jacob …glorified his servant Jesus."

5. Paracletos—the Paraclete: word used in the Fourth Gospel for the coming of the Holy Spirit. It conveys the idea of one who appears in another's behalf: advocate, helper, intercessor, advisor, counselor.

6. Even as he gives or sends the Son. "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son. For God sent the Son into the world …(John 3:16-17).

7. Since the Holy Spirit did not come into existence (He always has been), the procession is an eternal one. He eternally proceeds from the Father within the mystery of the triune godhead. It would seem improper, therefore, to speak of the Holy Spirit as "proceeding from the Father and Son" (as, for example, in the Western filioque [and the Son] addition to the Constantinopolitan Creed).

8. Though the procession of the Holy Spirit is from the Father alone (as we have observed).

9. " …our testimony was not about tongues; not even primarily about the Spirit. But wherever we went, our talk was about Jesus Christ …" Kevin and Dorothy Ranaghan, Catholic Pentecostals (New York: Paulist Press, 1969), p. 42. The words quoted refer to the first small group of Roman Catholics in the contemporary spiritual renewal.

10. It is obviously Trinitarian. From what has been said in the above paragraphs, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are equally involved. This needs emphasis especially in light of the importance of Christian experience attesting to the fullness of the divine reality. On the matter of the focus being on Jesus Christ—which is universally true in the renewal of our time—there is some misunderstanding by critics who view the renewal as a shifting away from Christ to the Holy Spirit. (For example, see F.D. Bruner, A Theology of the Holy Spirit [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970], who speaks of how in Pentecostalism faith is "directed primarily to the Holy Spirit," p. 115. Though Bruner is dealing in his book mainly with classical Pentecostalism, his viewpoint also includes Neo-Pentecostalism, or the charismatic movement). Actually, the focus remains throughout on Christ within the context of a Trinitarian frame of reference.

11. That is, the pre-incarnate Son who is eternally with the Father. Jesus speaks in John 17:5 of the "glory" He had with the Father "before the world was made." Surely the Son was, is and will be forever glorious; but His exaltation follows upon His resurrection from the dead.

12. Accordingly, this movement of renewal is not simply a form of "Christ mysticism" in which there is personal identification with Jesus Christ—a being caught up in His mystical presence. To be sure, there is the sense of Christ-relatedness, even Christ-identification, but this is consequent to the experience of redemption through Him.

13. On the matter of the work of redemption in connection with the gift of the Holy Spirit, the reader is invited to see my book, The Era of the Spirit (Plainfield, NJ: Logos, 1971), especially pp. 51-53. Herein I emphasize that whereas the Holy Spirit is active in the work of redemption "applying the work of God in Christ and making new life an actuality," there is also "a movement of the Spirit beyond redemption, …" The Era of the Spirit was my first attempt to express in writing what had been recently happening to many people, and to follow this up with some theological reflection.

Rodman Williams, Ph.D., was a Professor of Renewal Theology Emeritus at Regent University School of Divinity. Author of numerous books, he is perhaps best known for his three volume Renewal Theology (Zondervan, 1996).

Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptural quotations are from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible.

The Gift of the Holy Spirit Today by J. Rodman Williams, was published in 1980 by Logos International.

Content Copyright ©1996 by J. Rodman Williams, Ph.D.

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