The Holy Spirit in Luke-Acts

An article on the Holy Spirit in Luke-Acts called ’The Pneumatology of Luke-Acts: The Spirit of Prophecy Unleashed’, in S. A. Adams and M. Pahl (ed.), Issues in Luke-Acts: Selected Essays (Piscataway: Gorgias, 2012, pp. 195-216) is an update and development of material previously written in a series of lectures on Luke’s Gospel and in the Introduction to my commentary on Acts. Here is a summary of my conclusions.

Conclusions on Luke’s Gospel

‘Luke’s portrait is dominated by his broader intention to portray the ministry of Jesus, and the Church which results, as the fulfillment of God’s promises savingly to restore his people Israel and make her a light to the nations.’[1] Within this context, Jesus is first presented as the Spirit-conceived Son of God and Spirit-empowered Servant Messiah, who brings the promised transformation through his ministry, death, resurrection and ascension. John the Baptist and other prophetic figures in Luke’s opening chapters point to Jesus as the one in whom all the promises of God are to be fulfilled.

Conclusions on Acts

Acts presents the exalted Lord Jesus as the giver of the eschatological gift of the Holy Spirit to his people (Acts 2:33), in fulfilment of biblical prophecy and the prediction of John the Baptist (Lk. 3:16; Acts 1:4-5). Luke’s narrative does not imply that there should be a ‘Pentecost experience’ for every believer, since Pentecost was a unique event in salvation history. Even subsequent outpourings of the Spirit on different people-groups in Acts are not the same as that foundational event. Such collective experiences of the Spirit include outward manifestations that are reminiscent of Pentecost for the purpose of showing the full incorporation of that people-group in the Messianic community. Nevertheless, Acts implies that the benefits of Pentecost must be appropriated by every single believer. This happens when people turn to Jesus as Saviour and Lord and become members of the body that the Spirit brought into being at Pentecost. In so doing, they take to themselves the birthright of Christ’s body, which is the Spirit himself.[1]

The Spirit fundamentally communicates the blessings of a relationship with God through faith in Christ. The Spirit then works through those who have turned to the Lord Jesus, enabling them to communicate salvation to unbelievers and to make disciples. Believing communities are established by the Spirit, in which gifted individuals minister to one another to edify and grow the church (2:41-47; 9:31).

Together with angels, heavenly voices and visions, the Spirit initiates new phases of mission, and oversees the direction of mission (8:29, 39; 10:19, 44; 13:2-4; 16:6-10). The Spirit establishes and preserves unity between different racial and cultural groups in the church (8:14-17; 11:12, 15-18),[2] providing guidance in important ecclesial and personal decisions (6:1-7; 15:12, 28-9, 32; 20:22-4, 28). As the Spirit imparts wisdom and knowledge of the risen Lord, he effects changes in the life of believers on a communal, as well as on an individual level.

[1] Williams, D. J., Acts, GNC (San Francisco: Harper, 1985), 26, rightly observes that, ‘when we become Christians, we participate in the baptism with the Spirit that uniquely took place on that day so long ago.’

[2] Hur, J. ( A Dynamic Reading of the Holy Spirit in Luke-Acts, JSNTSS 211 [Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 2001, 283]) observes that ‘the Spirit’s direct speeches and actions are noticeably highlighted in relation to the witness-mission to non-Jews.’ Cf. 8:29, 39; 10:19; 11:12; 13:2-4; 15:28; 16:6-7

[1] Turner, M. M. B., Power from on High. The Spirit in Israel’s Restoration and Witness in Luke-Acts, JPTSS 9 (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 1996),  428.


2 thoughts on “The Holy Spirit in Luke-Acts

  1. David J. McCollough

    Dear Dr Peterson,

    I am a Ph.D. student at London School of Theology working on the Spirit in Luke-Acts (Ritual Water, Ritual Spirit: A Sequential Reading of the Spirit Reception Scenes in Luke-Acts). I believe I provide a cogent, narrative critical challenge to the position that Pentecost was a unique event. Would you be interested in reviewing my dissertation?


    David J. McCollough


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