Based on the previous examinations, without identifying another detail, we should have drawn some conclusions.
With what we know of this situation, the scriptures teach us: 1) These men had never heard of either Christ’s coming or the Holy Spirit, as they had said. Then they stated that they had been baptized “into Johns’ baptism.” Due to this response to Paul’s question: 2) We know they had not been taught by John, nor by any true disciple. As is apparent – John’s baptism alone, without the teaching to follow Christ, was good for nothing except getting wet. This last fact along with these following truths narrows our choices. 3) We do not know if these men were Jews, or if they were of other nations. 4) And as these men had never heard of Christ’s position and power; and their answer to Paul’s question: “Into what then were you baptized?” was that they had been baptized into John’s baptism. We already noted that he replied, “John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.” That makes it clear they had not been taught Christ at all. 5) And finally, as they had not heard of the Holy Spirit, they knew nothing of any gifts or any baptism of the Holy Spirit.
With these things established, we should add: To “believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus” was the foundation of John’s mission in preparing the way of the Lord. Yet these men had no idea of what John taught of Christ. Further, there is no indication anywhere that John baptized anyone by his own authority and without the teaching about Christ. That would be contrary to everything we read of John. These men had been left without the heart of the Gospel.
Those items are the facts — now for some inescapable conclusions.
All of this necessarily implies: they could not have been taught by John or any other true disciple. They had been taught by someone who did not know or who had no interest in knowing. Furthermore, that means someone sold them incomplete information and a bad bill of goods – it amounts to their having believed teaching that was altogether wrong.
It does not mean that they were insincere in their belief, or that those who taught them lacked sincerity. It just means that it was wrong. False doctrine can be received and believed just as quickly as the truth – and it all sounds good, if you do not know it is wrong. That is how we have ended up with all the denominations we have today. There are good people in every one of them. Yet if they lack the truth and act on false information; or they believe a lie, then they are in a tight spot. If it isn’t in the Word of God there is no salvation in it. Clearly, it is the duty of Christians to teach the truth and for learners to seek the truth. But, again sincerity has nothing to do with it.
It also means that despite the fact these men were known as disciples, that they had been following bad instructions. Many do the same now when they do not examine what is said and what they end up acting upon. Apparently, no one stopped them to set things straight until this day’s events. And they did not stop themselves on their journey long enough to determine the validity of the teaching. So, it is necessarily implied that they had been led astray by bad information or false teachers and did not know it. And that is why events led the Apostle Paul to them.
John the Baptist had been dead for at least 20 years when these men were questioned. In Acts 18:12 the Proconsul Gallio is mentioned as having assumed his new duties in the province of Achaia. The records of Rome give a date in mid-51 AD for his appointment. That can only mean that the mentioned events in Ephesus happened about two decades beyond the cross and more beyond John’s death. John’s mission had been to go to the “household of Israel” – the Jews in the days prior to the ministry of Jesus. And as John was long dead by this time, and Christ had been resurrected and returned to Heaven: Then what they knew as John’s baptism left unto itself, was utterly useless. Yet these men were not looking for and had apparently not been told of Christ. They had been missing the central and overriding premise of the Good News, and their religion was in vain – built on a faulty foundation. Whomever it was that had done the teaching had left out the premium points for success: that John “was not He.” And, they had failed to note that John was long gone, and that you must believe that “Jesus is the Son of the Living God.” That believers must believe in Christ and new converts by this time had to be baptized in His name – not John’s. And that all must seek and serve Christ – to have their sins remitted and to be saved.
This is precisely how we can know that John never taught these men (nor had any other knowledgeable disciple). And that is why they had to be taught Christ and then needed to be baptized to correct things. Paul through the Holy Spirit sensed something was wrong, and so he sought information from them on their conversions. They did not have a proper foundation in the truth and had not been baptized in the manner that had already a long time prior been prescribed by God – whether through the work of John or by the disciples of Christ. As they had not been baptized into Christ or knew of him, they had been immersed into an unknown religion. It was “in the name of…” but the name was John’s – and not the Christ. It was therefore useless, and based on bad teaching empty of the authority of heaven. And it did not matter who started it or how long it lasted. It was incorrect and did not follow what had been taught from the beginning.