2019.01.17. McCollough, Ritual Water, Ritual Spirit

David J. McCollough, Ritual Water, Ritual Spirit: An Analysis of the Timing, Mechanism, and Manifestation of Spirit-Reception in Luke-Acts
Reviewed by Mark A. Proctor


  1. Dear Dr. Proctor,

    I want to express my appreciation for your detailed analysis and critique.

    You are quite right that I could have stated a more focused thesis at the beginning of the work. Touché.

    Yes, Acts 1:8 could have been given a bit more attention, power for witness is certainly half of the reason for the Lukan gift of the Spirit, but it is not the whole reason. Purification is the second half. The people of God are sanctified by the fire of the Spirit as well as empowered to witness. But both of these Lukan dimensions, purity and power, belong to initiation.

    Thank you also for observing that the present participle in Luke 3:21 marks the prayer activity more heavily than the aorist participle marks the event of having been baptized.

    However, I do not see why an imperatival form of λαμβάνω would be required for Spirit reception to be considered part of Christian initiation. Peter commands repentance and baptism and then simply asserts that Spirit reception will follow.

    As to the variety in Luke-Acts Spirit reception scenes, the lengthy methodology section was meant to address that. Each scene is slightly different because Luke is highlighting a different theme in each. Jesus baptism gives the basic structure: immersion and prayer. Pentecost for the 120 again emphasises the Spirit coming in response to prayer and particularly focuses on the nature of Spirit reception as a dissociative xenolalic event.

    Pentecost for the 3000 new converts lays out the basic initiatory program: repentance, baptism, and Spirit reception. Luke does not have to say that the 3000 must pray at their baptisms for Luke’s reader to bring that idea forward from Jesus’ baptism and Jesus' Luke 11 teaching. That’s the whole point of utilising Catherine Emmott’s discourse concept of Entity Representations. The same goes for type scenes/ cognitive frames. By mentioning even one element of a frame, an author can activate the expectations associated with that entire frame.

    Acts 8 fills in exactly how the 3000 received the Spirit: Apostles prayed and layed hands upon them to impart the Spirit. Acts 9 clarifies that a gifted non-apostle can impart the Spirit. Acts 10-11 and 15 emphasize that new initiates to the Early Christian Sect must have the same Altered States of Consciousness / dissociative tongues experience as the apostles on Pentecost. That is, Luke shows Pentecost as the standard against which ritual elders are to compare the experience of new initiations. Acts 19 reiterates for Paul (as Acts 8 had noted for Peter) the principle of handlaying to impart the Spirit during a liminal initiation. That is, handlaying to impart the Spirit is not, as in Pentecostal theology of 'subsequence', to be separated from Christian Initiation.

    Christian initiation, and Spirit reception in particular, is liminal, not instantaneous. It is mediated, not automatic. It is manifested, not unmarked.

    Luke’s ritual structure is internally consistent and allows for minor variation, something that is consonant with the findings of modern ritual studies.

    Luke’s standard initiation ritual is as follows: Belief in the kerygma, repentance, water immersion, persistent prayer by initiate to receive the Spirit, prayer by a gifted ritual elder(s) to invoke the Spirit, handlaying by a gifted ritual elder(s) to impart the Spirit, and climactically, dissociative tongues-speaking theologised as the experience of Spirit reception. Minor perturbations of the ritual may occur due to temporary lack of gifted ritual elders or to the spontaneity of ritual performance.

    In terms of the anthropology of religion, the variety found in Luke’s ritual is due to the distinction between liturgical ritual, the fixed, formulaic behaviours a priest in a temple might carry out, and performative ritual, namely the exercise of a wide repertoire of behaviours such as a ‘shaman’ might be expected to perform. The power or mana resides not in the ritual act, but in the ritual performer.

    I thank you for your review of my monograph.

  2. David, I think your point concerning λαμβάνω is good; in additional support, the switch from imperative to future indicative for λαμβάνω actually increases the prominence of the description since the indicative mood is more concrete than an imperative.

    Some questions that I continue to have about your thesis are these: If Jesus's baptism is paradigmatic in Luke-Acts (which I agree), then why was there no glossalalia (as ecstatic speech) recorded here? Instead, we have seen previous impartations of the Holy Spirit in Luke 1-2 which involved especially inspired prophetic and praising-of-God speech. So, isn't such intelligible speech more likely what was entailed in "glossalalia" in Acts 2? So, I wonder how Luke 1-2 features in your analysis as (properly?) showcasing what Spirit-empowered speech looks like. Also, if Jesus promptly begins his ministry of preaching/teaching as Spirit-empowered subsequent to his paradigmatic baptism, then this would suggest something of the nature of the Spirit-empowered speech of believers who receive the Spirit--namely, that such speech is not "ecstatic speech" but intelligible speech that praises God. So, while such experiences may be liminal to some extent (perhaps a great extent), they need not necessarily be ecstatic (unintelligible). In this regard, it seems that Luke may have another agenda in describing this sort of "Spirit-enabled praise-language-speaking"; namely, not that this speech must attend baptism at that moment (ie., in a ritual event), but that these baptisms of representatives of the "Nations/Gentiles" are on complete equal Spirit-footing with the initial experiencers of the Spirit at Pentecost, and even Jesus before them. In this regard, Luke is more an apologist of Gentile outreach than a ritual expounder of Christian baptism.

  3. Fredrick,

    You are quite right that in Luke’s presentation, tongues speech is genuine language. There is no Lukan concept of non-linguistic utterances. Luke presents people speaking genuine language in a state that we would call dissociative. This is seen initially in the criticism of the disciples that they are drunk. This could simply mean that they were loud, as Elizabeth had been loud. However, a group of people loudly speaking languages they have never learned in a public place so that it draws a crowd could suggest dissociation. Cornelius’ house confirms an altered state of consciousness, for the Gentiles interrupted their honoured guest with outbursts of tongues. That’s not normal. That’s dissociative.

    The sudden, loud prophecy of Elizabeth does set a precedent in the narrative.

    That Acts 1:8 serves as a geographical outline for Luke’s content is not in dispute, nor is the integration of the nations into the growing church. But the fact of integration does not negate the pastoral need for guidance on precisely how to integrate new members. Luke spills a fair amount of ink describing how people go from outside the Jesus movement to inside. That’s all initiation is. I’ve used a number of narrative tools to identify precisely what behaviours accompany entrance into the Christian group. Primarily, I ask what is focalised in each scene and then what comments the narrator makes about the focalised object. I find things like hands being focalised and then commented upon (Acts 8:17-20). The same goes for prayer and tongues speech. So, I would affirm both Luke’s soteriological emphasis, as well as his ecclesiological emphasis.

    All the best,


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