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The Spirit and the Samaritans

Acts 8:4-24 records Philip’s preaching at Samaria. He proclaimed Christ to them (v. 5). He performed signs among them (v. 6), including healing those who were paralyzed (v. 7). These signs differentiated him from Simon, a magician who had formerly astonished the people of Samaria (v. 9). Those who believed Philip’s preaching were baptized (v. 12) in the name of the Lord Jesus (v. 16). Simon also believed and was baptized (v. 13). The text continues. . .

“Now when the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. For He had not yet fallen upon any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they began laying their hands on them, and they were receiving the Holy Spirit” (vv. 14-17).

“Receiving the Holy Spirit” in this text refers to receiving from Him the ability to work miracles. That is evident from two considerations. First, there was some sort of manifestation that Simon could see (v. 18). Second, in a parallel situation, when Paul laid hands on men who had been baptized in the name of Jesus and they then received the Spirit, Luke explicitly says the result was that they spoke with tongues and prophesied (Acts 19:5-6).

This section of history reminds us of two important truths.

First, baptism in the name of Jesus is not the same as Holy Spirit baptism. Holy Spirit baptism carried with it the promise of power (Luke 24:49; Acts 2:5, 8). The two cases of it that are recorded—the apostles in Acts 2 and Cornelius’s household in Acts 10—both resulted in speaking in tongues. Baptism in the name of Jesus produced no such effect at Samaria, nor did it later at Ephesus (Acts 19:5-6). If baptism in the name of Jesus is the same as Holy Spirit baptism, why does not everyone baptized in the name of Jesus receive the promised power? Why do we not all work miracles? The two baptisms are not the same. Do not confuse them.

Second, miraculous gifts were bestowed through the laying on of the apostles’ hands. That is why the apostles sent Peter and John to Samaria. Philip could work miracles, but he could not impart miraculous gifts to others. Elsewhere, Paul refers to his apostolic ability to impart such gifts (2 Timothy 1:6; Romans 1:11). Clearly, we do not have living apostles today: one of their qualifications was to have seen the risen Lord (Acts 1:21-26). It necessarily follows, then, that neither do we have miraculous gifts today. The apostles and these gifts both belonged to the foundational days of the gospel (Ephesians 2:20; 1 Corinthians 13:8-13). Of course, their testimony remains with us, and we continue to build on it.

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