Devotional & Reflection

Week 2, Apr 2002

Acts 8:14-17: When The Holy Spirit Comes?
By Pang Hee Hung, Director & Trainer, Katartizo Resources & Ezra Resources

Acts 8:14 When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them.
v15 When they arrived, they prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit,
v16 because the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them; they had simply been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus.
v17 Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.

I was in a small group meeting discussing this passage when this interesting question popped up: "Does it mean that we don't have the Holy Spirit at baptism and we need further prayer to receive the Holy Spirit?"

There are three main possibilities as to why the Samaritans did not receive the Holy Spirit at the same time as when they were baptized:
1. Philip's preaching and baptism was defective and needed the "more anointed" Peter and John to complete the process culminating in receiving the Holy Spirit.
2. There is a two-stage process in becoming a Christian - baptism then receiving the Spirit.
3. It is normally a one-stage initiation (John Stott, Acts, BST) but there are reasons why God delayed the receiving of the Holy Spirit for the Samaritan converts. Thus, a two-stage process is unique to the Samaritan situation.

Luke recounts in the book of Acts, the acts of the apostles. Perhaps it could be more appropriately termed the acts of the Holy Spirit since this book focuses primarily on the ministry of just two apostles, Peter and Paul, and Philip briefly in this chapter. Acts 1:8 mentions that they will be "my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." Peter ministered primarily to the Jews, Philip seems to have ministered to the Samaritans and Paul to the Gentiles. Philip's ministry cannot be defective since the Spirit is evident in his ministry (Acts 8:6-8, 12). Also the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away after he baptized the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:39).

As to the second possibility, Catholic sacramentalists believe that the passage supports the two stages in baptism then confirmation. Charismatics take the two stage initiation process as supporting the idea that after water baptism, there is a baptism of the Spirit. Although there may be other passages supporting their respective positions, the passage does not seem to support a position that a two-stage process is the norm for Christians. When Jesus was baptized, the Holy Spirit came upon him (Mt 3:16, Luke 3:22). After Pentecost, our "body is a temple of the Holy Spirit" (1 Cor 6:19). The New Testament seems to teach a single stage initiation as the norm. Peter proclaimed, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38). Paul further points out "if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ" (Rom 8:9).

Hence, the third possibility seems most plausible. We will not know why God delayed the Samaritans receiving of the Spirit. However, commentators on Acts (Longenecker, Expositor's Bible Commentary; Stott, BST; Gaukroger, Baker Bible Guides) suggest that God temporarily withheld the Holy Spirit to unite the Samaritans Christians with the Jerusalem Christians - so that in Christ there will no longer be a schism between the Jews and the Samaritans who held a long dislike for each other. For how can they image Christ and preach the gospel unless they are in unity. For in Christ, "there is neither Jew nor Greek (nor even someone they disdain like the Samaritan), slave nor free, male nor female" (Gal 3:28). Thus, Christians are to rise in unity beyond ethnicity, status, gender, social class, intellectual abilities and even religious or doctrinal differences.

It is ironic that whilst God may have intended to unite the Jerusalem Christians and the Samaritan Christians in the passage, we Christians in the 21st century may be divided by this passage.

1. What are possible good reasons that God seems to have withheld some blessings from you?
2. What can you do about groups you dislike or are estranged from?

Copyright By Author