Solving the Samaritan Riddle

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This book attempts to solve the Samaritan riddle that is the focal point of the Dunn Debate. Dr. James D. G. Dunn’s first book, Baptism in the Holy Spirit(1970), claims the New Testament says baptism in the Holy Spirit always occurs simultaneously at conversion-initiation. In contrast, classical Pentecostals contend that Spirit baptism always occurs subsequent to conversion and is evidenced by tongues-speaking. They mostly cite Acts 8:4-25 for “subsequence.” It says Philip preached to the Samaritans and they “believed,” but they did not receive the Spirit until Peter and John came days later and laid hands on them. Dunn says these Samaritans and Jesus’ 120 Jewish disciples in Acts 2 were not “Christians” until they were baptized with the Holy Spirit.

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Title: Solving the Samaritan Riddle
Subtitle: Peter’s Kingdom Keys Explains Early Spirit Baptism
Publisher: Wipf and Stock Publishers
Date of Publication: September 23, 2015
Author: Kermit Zarley
Language: English

Format: paperback
Page Count: 250
Weight: 1.11 pounds
Dimensions: 6 x 0.63 x 9
Category: 1. Spirit Baptism 2. Christian conversion 3. Pentecostalism
ISBN: 978-1-4982-2528-1


Zarley agrees with Pentecostals about subsequence in both cases. But he claims these Samaritans and the Gentiles in Acts 10 were Spirit baptized due to Peter’s presence, using his metaphorical “keys of the kingdom” Jesus had promised to give him in Matt 16:19. After Peter opened kingdom doors for all three of these biblical classifications of people, all people afterwards are Spirit baptized simultaneously upon conversion, as Paul teaches and Dunn says, except for the Ephesians anomaly in Acts 19:1-7.

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“A bold and adventurous book by a non-specialist Bible reader of uncommon determination . . . It is a wonder that someone has not suggested this theory before because, as anyone who reads Acts 10 knows, Peter was there and opened the doors for the Gentiles. I commend serious engagement with Kermit Zarley’s proposal.”
~Scot McKnight, Julius R. Mantey Professor of New Testament, Northern Seminary

“The debate over ‘Baptism with the Spirit’ and its connection with conversion is long-standing and divisive. It is in need of fresh eyes, and Zarley has provided that. I strongly recommend this book as an important new approach to this issue.”
~Grant R. Osborne, Professor of New Testament, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

“I strongly recommend this book as an important new approach to this issue.”
~Dr. Grant R. Osborne

“Is the Spirit received at conversion, as James Dunn and others have argued, or subsequently, as the Pentecostals claim? Beginning with testimony and moving personal stories, and written with delightful clarity, Zarley argues for another view, reaching some wise and helpful conclusions that both sides need to hear.”
~Graham H. Twelftree, Charles L. Holman Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity, Regent University

“I find Zarley’s suggestion–that Matt. 16:19 explains the untoward delay in the giving/receiving of the Spirit in Acts 8–somewhat intriguing. My problem with it is the apparent assumption that Matthew and Luke were operating/writing on the same playing field–something which, in my view, fails to appreciate the distinctive character and objectives of both.”
~James D. G. Dunn, Emeritus Lightfoot Professor of Divinity, University of Durham

“Zarley offers an approach to the apostle Peter’s ‘kingdom keys’ in which Peter used his three keys to open doors for both the gospel and the Spirit among Jewish, Samaritan, and Gentile peoples. Thereby, Zarley senses he has solved the ‘Dunn debate.’ Neither side may be convinced of this, but his tapestry of thoughts presents interesting ideas concerning Peter’s role in the church’s earliest days.”
~William P. Atkinson, Senior Lecturer in Pentecostal and Charismatic Studies, London School of Theology

Additional information

Weight 1.5 lbs

1 review for Solving the Samaritan Riddle

  1. David Seaborn-Jones

    This book is very interesting, which in itself of course, is very positive, but not necessarily that unusual. What is unusual, is that Kermit Zarley has presented an original thesis on a major subject of the New Testament, which might well be true. And since people have been writing about the New Testament for almost two thousand years, that is quite an achievement.

    The springboard for much of Kermit Zarley’s work that results in this book, is the book written by one of the best living New-Testament scholars: Baptism in the Holy Spirit, by James Dunn. Throughout his book, Mr Zarley shows his great respect and admiration for his friend “Jimmy” Dunn, and he sides with James Dunn, on the so-called “Dunn Debate,” which arose after the appearance of the Scottish scholar’s doctoral thesis become book. The Dunn Debate is another term for the difference of opinion between Evangelicals and Pentecostals over whether the baptism in the holy spirit, occurs simultaneously to conversion, or whether it is as the Pentecostals (and Catholics with their sacraments) believe, a separate and subsequent event.

    But Mr Zarley begs to differ with Professor Dunn on the question of “the Samaritan Riddle,” to use the phrase coined by the latter in his first book, and reprised by the former, for the title of his latest one. The riddle arises from the fact that whereas the apostle Paul seems clearly to present receiving, or being baptised in, the holy spirit, as something that occurs simultaneously to conversion or being born again; the Samaritans received the spirit after their conversion. The members of the mixed race were converted by the deacon Philip; but they had to await the arrival of the apostles Peter and John, before receiving the holy spirit with its gifts and manifestations of which Simon Magus was so covetous. Dunn explains this by means of the inadequacy of Philip’s evangelisation (though there seemed to be nothing inadequate about his witnessing to the Ethiopian eunuch.)

    Zarley has a more original, and rather more ingenious explanation. The former professional golfer turned Christian author uses the famous keys to the kingdom, which Jesus gave to the leading apostle, at Caesarea Philippi (and which the popes have commandeered to assert their authority), to unlock the Samaritan riddle. I will let you discover the solution yourself, in the book, but I shall just say, that it takes the reader through a fascinating journey in the company of Peter, through Jerusalem and Judaea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth (at least as far as these are represented by the Gentile Cornelius), with a little detour by Ephesus, in the years following the resurrection and ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ. (The only clue that I will give you, is that the author of The Samaritan Riddle, believes that Jesus gave the keys just to Peter; and not to his successors – real or imagined – as well.) Of course, truth trumps originality and ingenuity; but I think that Zarley’s thesis may well be true.

    In addition to this central thesis, there is a lot of very useful information in this book about the book of Acts, the Pentecostal movement and the phenomenon of baptism in the holy spirit, whether or not this is manifested by the phenomenon of speaking in “tongues.” There are also two entertaining autobiographical chapters at the beginning of the book, about Kermit Zarley senior and junior, and their relationship with the holy spirit.

    And Kermit Zarley’s fundamental theology as a Unitarian Christian, of believing that God is one, occasionally creeps through the text. And that, as far as I am concerned, indubitably, is true.

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