Receptions of the Holy Spirit in Acts

Before discussing the subject before us, it is necessary to see the character of the Book of Acts. Never look for doctrine in Acts; if we are looking for New Testament doctrine we must look into the epistles. Also, Acts covers a period in Church history that was transitional in nature. There were events that took place in that period which were never intended to be characteristic of the Church Age. Space prevents us from looking at examples of this in Acts.

Next, we must establish what the New Testament teaches as to the subject of the receiving of the Holy Spirit. In John 14:16-17, the Lord Jesus said, “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter … he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.”[1] Here we learn that during the Church Age the Holy Spirit permanently indwells all Christians. In Romans 8:9 we read, “Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.” In other words, in this present dispensation every believer is permanently indwelt by the Holy Spirit from the moment of conversion.

Following the coming of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2, Peter preached the gospel to the Jews who were in the city for the Jewish feast, stressing the guilt of the Jews relative to the crucifixion of Christ (2:22,23) and the subsequent resurrection of Christ (vv24-36). As a result, the Jews cried out, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (v37). Peter’s reply was, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost” (v38). Peter insisted on baptism as well as repentance for them to receive forgiveness and the gift of the Holy Spirit. This does not conform with Paul’s teaching in Romans 3:21-26, where the only requirement is “faith in Jesus Christ.” Nowhere in the epistles is baptism a requirement for salvation and the subsequent receiving of the Holy Spirit. The clue to Peter’s insistence on baptism is found in Acts 2:39,40. Notice particularly the statement, “Save yourselves from this untoward [perverse] generation” (v40). By being baptized, these Jews were publicly repudiating the sin of Israel in the crucifixion of Christ. Nowhere else in the New Testament is baptism a requirement for salvation.

The second exception is in Acts 8:5-17. Although these Samaritans had believed the gospel and had been baptized, they did not receive the Holy Spirit until Peter and John prayed and laid their hands on them (vv15-17). The Samaritans were not Jews but claimed to believe in the God of Israel. They had set up their own system of worship, distinct from the Jews, including their own centre of worship (Joh 4:20). This claim was rejected by the Jews. The woman at Sychar’s well said, “The Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans” (Joh 4:9). The purpose for which Peter and John (Jewish believers) laid their hands on them in order that they might receive the Holy Spirit was to publicly unite believing Jews and Samaritans.

The third exception is in Acts 10. There we have the conversion of Cornelius the centurion, his relatives and near friends. They were all Gentiles; Peter was sent to preach the gospel to them. In verses 44-48 we read, “While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost. For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter, Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we? And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord.” Only on two occasions in Acts is the receiving of the Holy Spirit linked with speaking in tongues – here and in chapter 19. There was a long-standing prejudice on the part of Jews toward the Gentiles. This is why Peter was given the vision of 10:9-16. When these Gentiles believed the gospel as preached by Peter, they spoke in tongues, that is, known foreign languages. This was evidence that they had believed the gospel and, subsequently, had received the Holy Spirit. Hence we read, “He commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord” (v48).

The final exception is in chapter 19. Paul, having arrived at Ephesus, met a number of (“about twelve” v7) disciples. Paul obviously had doubts as to their genuineness, since he asked them, “Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed?” They replied, “We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost” (v2). While the majority of translations agree with the KJV on this verse, it doesn’t seem plausible that they had never heard of the Holy Spirit, as surely they would have been familiar with the Old Testament. Darby’s translation seems to capture the sense of the reply more accurately, “We did not even hear if the Holy Spirit was come” (JND). Paul’s next question was, “Unto what then were ye baptized?” (v3). Their reply made it clear that they were disciples of John the Baptist. Possibly, they had fled Jerusalem after the death of John and were not familiar with subsequent events. Upon being enlightened as to the coming of Christ, etc. (v4), we read that “they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus” (v5). Verse 6 informs us that “when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them.” The laying on of hands is most often expressive of fellowship (e.g., 13:1-3). In laying on his hands, Paul was linking these former disciples of John with all believing Jews and Gentiles.

Other than these four exceptions, all other examples in Acts follow the pattern of Ephesians 1:13: “In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise” (NKJV).

[1] All Scripture quotations in this article are from the KJV unless otherwise noted.