CLAIM: This passage states, “Now when the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent them Peter and John, 15 who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit 16 For He had not yet fallen upon any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then they began laying their hands on them, and they were receiving the Holy Spirit” (Acts 8:14-17). Why did Peter and John need to come up to Samaria to preach, and why was there a delay in the Samaritans receiving the Holy Spirit?
RESPONSE: Pentecostal theologians contend that this passage proves the baptism of the Holy Spirit. We deny such a view (see “Is the Baptism of the Holy Spirit Biblical?”). Pentecostals argue that there was a gap of time between the Samaritans coming to faith (v.14), and when they received the Holy Spirit (v.15). Moreover, when the Samaritans received the Spirit, they began to speak in tongues (v.17). Thus when the Samaritans receive the Holy Spirit, this is Spirit baptism.
Before offering our view on this difficult passage, we need to point out that this doesn’t fit with the Pentecostal view either. Again, Pentecostals believe that all Christians receive the Holy Spirit at justification. The AOG position paper writes, “At conversion, the Spirit baptizes into Christ/the body of Christ; in a subsequent and distinct experience, Christ will baptize in the Holy Spirit.” However, Luke clearly states that the Holy Spirit “had not yet fallen upon any of them” (v.16). This is the first blessing—not the second. This was a delay in receiving the Spirit—not a second blessing of the Spirit.
We believe that this passage in Acts relates to racism. That is, one of the major themes throughout the book of Acts is how to integrate Jews and Gentiles together—even though Jesus had taught this (Acts 1:8; Mt. 28:18-20). The early Christians were reluctant to believe that Gentiles (non-Jews) had access to the gospel (e.g. Cornelius, Acts 10-11). In Luke 9:52-54, James and John wanted to call down fire on the Samaritans. Here, John is sent to the same territory to see that God’s mercy (not wrath!) had reached these people.