What does Acts 19:6 mean?
ESV: And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying.
NIV: When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied.
NASB: And when Paul had laid hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them and they began speaking with tongues and prophesying.
CSB: And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began to speak in tongues and to prophesy.
NLT: Then when Paul laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in other tongues and prophesied.
KJV: And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied.
NKJV: And when Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied.
Verse Commentary:
Paul is in Ephesus in the province of Asia in western modern-day Turkey. He comes across twelve men who had received the baptism of John the Baptist but know little about Jesus. Paul explains that John prophesied that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah and would baptize His followers in the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:11). The men accept Paul's explanation and are baptized (Acts 19:1–5). Now, Paul lays his hands on them and the men receive the Holy Spirit.

There are two issues that make the account puzzling to modern readers: that the men are baptized before they receive the Holy Spirit and that they speak in tongues and prophesy.

First, the men seem to be baptized prior to receiving the Holy Spirit. This is not the first time this has happened. When Paul started persecuting the church, the deacon Philip went to Samaria to share Jesus' message. Those who accepted his message were baptized, but they did not receive the Holy Spirit until Peter and John came from Jerusalem and laid hands on them (Acts 8:12–17).

The sequence of events in Samaria clearly showed the apostles that the Samaritans had received the Holy Spirit, and it showed the Samaritans that they had the same faith as the Jewish apostles: they are part of the same church. Here, it's possible that Paul had assistants baptize the men; he seems to avoid baptizing when he can to prevent division and keep the focus on Christ (1 Corinthians 1:14–17). The men make a choice to follow Jesus, and they are baptized as a public affirmation of that choice. That is a very cultural standard no one would have thought twice about. Having completed that act, Paul affirms their choice and their new-found unity with his message about Christ by laying hands on them. The Holy Spirit comes at that time to validate Paul's message and the salvation of the men.

The second puzzling piece is that when the men receive the Holy Spirit, they start to speak in tongues and prophesy. The Holy Spirit manifests His validation of Paul and the new converts and gives physical evidence of His presence. It's not clear why the Holy Spirit did this in the book of Acts or why it seems to have largely stopped. It is interesting to note that there was no church in Ephesus, yet. Priscilla, Aquila, and Apollos had shared Jesus' message (Acts 18:24–28), but the church didn't start until Paul had preached at the synagogue for three months (Acts 19:8–9).

We no longer live in the era where we need visible displays to validate the Spirit's work. Today, the Holy Spirit manifests in explicit ways when He will, but comes to all at the moment of salvation. Baptism is the rite by which the church affirms the person's salvation. The new believer is to clearly explain their understanding of the Trinity and their faith in Jesus for the forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with God. The congregation hears their testimony and validates their understanding is correct. In response, they are baptized in water as the church agrees that Jesus has taken their sins. Their testimony takes the place of tongues, and the Scriptures that informed their testimony take the place of prophesying.
Verse Context:
Acts 19:1–7 continues the story of Paul's third missionary trip that began with his tour of the churches in central modern-day Turkey (Acts 18:23). Now, he is in Ephesus in the province of Asia in western Turkey. He had been in Ephesus for a short time before and will now stay for about three years (Acts 18:19–21; 20:31). His first encounter is with twelve men who know about John the Baptist and his baptism for repentance but not about Jesus, whom John promised would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire (Matthew 3:11).
Chapter Summary:
Acts 19 recounts Paul's three-year visit in Ephesus. He starts by revealing how Jesus of Nazareth has brought to life the kingdom of God. The Holy Spirit validates Paul's message by healing those struck with physical ailments and demon possession. Amazed by Paul's authority over evil spirits, so many magicians turn to Christ that the craftsmen who make idols fear for their livelihoods. They nearly incite a riot before the town clerk settles them down. Paul realizes his time in Ephesus has ended, and he travels to Macedonia (Acts 20:1).
Chapter Context:
Acts 19 is the meat of Paul's third missionary voyage. He has already revisited the churches in central modern-day Turkey (Acts 18:23). Now he returns to Ephesus for a three-year stay. After firmly establishing the church there, rescuing many from pagan magic and the worship of Artemis, he returns to Macedonia and Greece. A threat on his life sends him back up to Macedonia and across to Troas. He meets briefly with the Ephesian elders to tell them they will not meet again (Acts 20). When he returns to Jerusalem, he is arrested and, eventually, taken to Rome.
Book Summary:
The summary of the book of Acts is provided in Jesus' words in Acts 1:8: ''But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.'' In Acts 2:1–13, the Christ-followers receive the Holy Spirit. Acts 2:14—7:60 describes the rapid growth of the church in Jerusalem. Chapters 8—12 find Jewish persecution inadvertently spreading the gospel throughout Judea and Samaria. And in chapters 13—28, Paul and his companions spread the good news throughout the Roman Empire.
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