Our own evaluation of Calvin's view of Acts 19:1-7
We ourselves agree with Calvin's above views almost in toto. However, with Gravemeijer,109 we disagree with Calvin that Acts 19:5 is describing a non-watery 'Spirit-baptism' administered by Paul. And with Kuyper,110 we disagree with Calvin's view that Paul did not give precisely water-baptism to the penitent unitarians at Ephesus.
For we ourselves are inclined to think that Paul then indeed baptized those men with water — and not just with the Spirit. If we are right in this, that would then have been the first and the only Christian baptism those previously ignorant ex-unitarians had ever received.
Calvin's chief reason for disagreeing with this, is his impression that "it is not probable that the Jews…would have been destitute of all knowledge of the Spirit." Calvin thus assumes that these ignorant heretics were Jews. That, however, is not claimed in this passage (nor anywhere else in Holy Scripture). For Luke merely states they were "disciples" — alias 'taught ones.'
This word 'disciples' could probably apply to Gentile heretics just as much as it certainly could to Jewish heretics.111 Moreover, even some Jewish heretics may very well have been ignorant about the Holy Spirit.112 Here, Calvin does not seem to have weighed sufficiently the clear difference between the statement in John 7:39 that "the Holy Ghost was not yet given"113 — and the different statement in Acts 19:2 about the unitarians at Ephesus who said: "We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost."114
For, in the Greek of John 7:39, quite apart from the disputed word for "given" (dedomenon), there is also the undisputed word for "was" — namely een. This word is quite different from the equally undisputed Greek word for "is" — namely estin — which the Holy Spirit of God Himself infallibly inscripturated at Acts 19:2.
Again, Calvin has gratuitously assumed that Paul in Acts 19:5 administered only a 'non-watery' and a purely 'spiritual' baptism. We say Calvin gratuitously assumed this, in light of the argumentation referred to in our footnotes 97-99 (q.v.).
Indeed, even unlike Gravemeijer,115 Calvin here takes the words "they were baptized" to describe what Paul then did — rather than as referring to what Paul then said John had done. Thus, right after these words "they were baptized" — John Calvin here assumes the implicit existence of the explicitly non-existent words: 'with the Spirit.'
Again, there is the question of the 'plural forms.' We should observe that the plural form "when they heard this" (akousantes) in 19:5a, as well as the plural "they were baptized" (ebaptistheesan) in Acts 19:5b,116 both seem to refer not to John's (singular) people but to Paul's (plural) listeners. Indeed, that is certainly the case in the immediately preceding context of Acts 19:1-3.
There, the consecutive corresponding plurals obviously refer not to John's singular people but to Paul's plural listeners. Thus there we find "certain disciples" (tinas matheetas) and "them" (autous) and "we have not…heard" (oude…eekousamen) and "were ye baptized" (ebaptistheete) and "they said" (hoi de eipan).
This is also the case with the corresponding plurals in the immediately succeeding Acts 19:6-7. Thus, there we find: "upon them" (autois) and "on them" (autous) and "they spake" (elaloun) and "they prophesied" (epropheeteuon) and "all the men were about twelve" (eesan de hoi pantes andres hoosei doodeka).
Coupled with the above, it seems to us to be of some significance that in Acts 19:4a the inspired Luke differently refers in the singular to "the people" (tooi laooi) that John had addressed and also "verily baptized" or ebaptisen (once again at Acts 19:4a). This would then imply that in the next verse those (plural) who are there said to have been "baptized" (ebaptistheesan) — thus received that baptism not from John but from Paul.
Indeed, all the old versions — including even the Syriac and the Vulgate117 — seem to suggest that in Acts 19:5-6, Paul himself really did baptize his listeners with water. So to us (and also to the great Rev. Prof. Dr. Abraham Kuyper Sr.),118 it certainly seems that Paul here really did give water baptism to the approximately twelve confused men he encountered at Ephesus.
Yet for the rest, we heartily concur with Calvin that the passage Acts 19:1-7 certainly precludes any repetition of water baptism. Indeed, it so precludes all 'rebaptism' — whether in the Name of the Triune God (cf. Matthew 28:19), or whether 'in the Name of the Lord Jesus' (cf. Acts 8:16).