In Acts 8:12 the Bible states that the Samaritans “believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.” Here we have an example of people obeying the Great Commission of Mark 16:16. Not only did the Samaritans believe and get baptized, but so did Simon the sorcerer (Acts 8:13). These examples of the conversion mimic all other examples of conversion in the Book of Acts: a preacher preaches the Word, men and women hear the word, they believe, and are baptized for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38). I point all of this out in order to underline that these were saved individuals under consideration – a significant point in light of what follows.
In Acts 8:14 the church at Jerusalem hears about the conversion of the Samaritans and sends Peter and John unto them. Why were the apostles sent? Because though the Samaritans had been saved (Acts 8:12,13), they had not yet received the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:14-17). This teaches two things: First, salvation and reception of the Holy Spirit are two separate events. Second, reception of the Holy Spirit occurs after salvation, not before it as Calvinists teach (Total Depravity, Irresistible Grace, Unconditional Election). Both Acts 2:38-39 and Acts 8:12-17 place the Holy Spirit after baptism – not before.
Note also that it was only through the laying on of the apostle’s hands that the Holy Spirit was given (Acts 8:17-18). We thus deduce from this scene that the apostles alone (not Philip the preacher) were able to give the Holy Spirit and it could only be given by the laying on of hands. Simon and his request witness to two facts: First, there must have been a visual demonstration of the giving of the Holy Spirit in order for Simon to see. Second, Simon saw that it was through the apostles that the Spirit was given. Simon did not ask for the Spirit, but rather for the ability to do what the apostles were doing – the ability to impart the Spirit. The rebuke uttered by Peter (Acts 8:20-23) demonstrates it is possible for a saved person to so sin as to be lost (Simon was saved according to Acts 8:13), Calvinism’s Perseverance of the Saints notwithstanding.
Baptism of the Holy Spirit
In Matthew 3:11-12 John the Baptist promised that Jesus would “baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” Contextually the fire is a reference to judgment and destruction (vs. 12) and is not something we want as the Pentecostals falsely claim. John highlights two aspects of the kingly rule of the Messiah: the ability to pour out the Spirit and Judgment. In Acts 2:14-21, Peter reminds the Jews of both promises (Spirit and Judgment) through the prophesy of Joel. Joel had prophesied that the Holy Spirit would be poured out upon all flesh (Jew and Gentile), sons and daughters (no distinction based on sex), young and old (no distinction based on age), and on men servants and maidservants (no distinction based on social status or sex). The latter part of the prophecy speaks to Judgment through apocalyptic language (compare with similar scenes of judgment in Isaiah 13:10; 34:4-5; Ezekiel 32:7-8).
An important part of Joel’s prophecy is the promise that the Spirit would be poured out on “all flesh”. The pouring out of the Spirit on Jews signified the beginning of the King’s reign, but the pouring out upon the Gentiles and the subsequent arrival of the Kingdom among Gentiles had not yet occurred.
We turn now to Acts 10 and 11 where we read of the second outpouring.
Here we find Peter preaching the first gospel sermon to the Gentiles. The structure of the sermon (Acts 10:34-43) is quite similar to the sermon preached to the Jews on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2. Before Peter is able to get to the punch-line of Acts 2:38 (repent and be baptized for the remission of sins) a strange thing occurs:
“While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God” (Acts 10:44-45).
Two points of note: First, the Holy Spirit fell on them (no laying on of hands), and second, those upon whom the Spirit fell began speaking in tongues (just as the apostles had in Acts 2:4). Why did the Holy Spirit fall on them? Was it for the sake of salvation? No, the text plainly states,
- “And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” (Acts 10:45-47).
The purpose of the Holy Spirit falling on them was for the sake of authorizing their baptism. Why is this important? Because it is through baptism that sins are washed away and people are added to the church (Acts 2:38, 41, 47). We know this to be a proper understanding of the passage because in the very next chapter Peter had to go to Jerusalem (11:2) to explain why he had baptized Gentiles and allowed them entrance into the Kingdom (Acts 11:17-18). The convincing point of proof to the Jerusalem brethren was this:
- “As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit. ’ If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God's way” (Acts 11:15-17)
What occurred to the household of Cornelius was called being “baptized with the Holy Spirit” (vs. 16). It was also described as “the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning” (vs. 15) – a clear reference to Acts 2. Scripture interprets itself and labels both the events of Acts 2 and 10 as Holy Spirit baptism.
Having witnessed the baptism of the Holy Spirit, Paul declares that to refuse to baptize Cornelius’ household would have been considered standing in the way of God (vs. 17). God through His demonstration demanded that Gentiles be admitted into the kingdom through baptism.
People who contend that salvation occurs through Holy Spirit baptism must deal with three problems: First, they must explain why they are not able to speak miraculously in tongues (foreign languages) as the men in both Acts 2 and 10 were able to do when they were baptized by the Holy Spirit. Second, they must explain how salvation through Holy Spirit baptism is to be understood in light of the message that the angel gave to Cornelius:
- “And he told us how he had seen the angel stand in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon who is called Peter; he will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household” (Acts 11:13-14).
How can Holy Spirit baptism be described as being saved through a message delivered by Peter? The fact is, they were saved when they obeyed the message of Peter just as those on the Day of Pentecost were saved when they obeyed Peter’s message.
Third, why did Cornelius need to send for a preacher with a saving message if God was going to save him directly? The fact is (and all the accounts of salvation in the Bible attest to it), that the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation – Romans 1:16- not a direct operation of the Holy Spirit.
Holy Spirit baptism occurred on two occasions and two occasions only. The first occurrence was with the beginning of the Kingdom among the Jews in Acts 2, and the second was with the beginning of the Kingdom among the Gentiles in Acts 10. These two occasions are explicitly called “Holy Spirit baptism” (Acts 11:15-16). On both occasions Holy Spirit baptism occurred directly from God and was accompanied with the gift of miraculous tongues.
One more point: When the apostles were baptized by the Holy Spirit in Acts 2 they were already saved, yet when Cornelius and his household were baptized by the Holy Spirit they were not yet saved. Thus we must conclude that Holy Spirit baptism had nothing to do with salvation and everything to do with signaling the beginning of the Kingdom – the church.
The Bottom Line:
The giving of the Holy Spirit through the laying on of the apostles hands in Acts 8 was not Holy Spirit baptism. The laying on of the apostles’ hands was for the sake of giving miraculous abilities and such occurred only to members of the church who had been saved through faith and baptism (see also Acts 19:5-6).
Food For Thought:
Calvinists are responsible for twisting the teaching of Scripture regarding the work of the Holy Spirit into a convoluted mess because of their doctrines of Election, Irresistible Grace, and Total Depravity. By insisting that men are totally depraved, they are unable to do anything good (including obeying the Gospel unto salvation) and thus salvation rests totally upon God. This makes God an unjust God in that He arbitrarily elects some for salvation and others for damnation. The Calvinist man no longer has free will since election rests completely on God and he is therefore freed of any responsibility of obedience. The Holy Spirit (according to Calvinists) must therefore do for man what man cannot do for himself, i.e. save him through a direct operation. Why do we never see people being saved through a direct operation of the Spirit in the New Testament, but rather through the preaching of the Gospel? Because Calvinism is the figment of man’s imagination - not God’s or Scripture’s.