The Gift of the Holy Spirit
The gift of the Holy Spirit mentioned in Acts 2: 38 has been the source of much controversy. Notwithstanding the controversy, it is important that we determine the meaning of the gift of the Holy Spirit since this promise is made to all baptized believers (vs. 39). The verse reads thus:
"Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of your sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2: 38).
The prominent views relative to the meaning of the gift of the Holy Spirit may be simply mentioned as follows: (1). The Holy Spirit as a person is meant, hence, they were promised the direct, personal, and bodily indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Those who hold this view may be divided into two groups, those who contend that by virtue of the personal indwelling, miracle working ability is resident, and those who do not contend in miracle working capability. (2). Others believe the gift of the Holy Spirit refers to something the Spirit gives, the Abrahamic promise of old that involved all the nations of the earth being blessed through Abraham (Gen. 12: 3, Gal. 3: 29).
Anterior to focusing on the gift of the Holy Spirit, let us mention the spiritual gifts of the Spirit. When Jesus, "Ascended upon high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men" (Eph. 4: 8). These supernatural gifts were for the purpose of stabilizing the early church, especially in the absence of the complete written word and they were limited in duration (Eph. 4: 11-15, I Cor. 13: 8-10 cp. Jas. 1: 25). The Spirit was the source of these gifts (1 Cor. 12: 4-11). Hence, we read of "the gifts of the Holy Spirit" (Heb. 2: 4). The miraculous gifts of the Spirit were nine in number (I Cor. 12: 8-10). In the New Testament time frame, these gifts of the Spirit were experienced in two ways. The apostles were baptized (immersed) in the Spirit and were thus supernaturally empowered (Acts 1: 5, 8, 2 Cor. 12: 12). The baptism in the Spirit was the promise that Jesus had earlier made to the apostles (Jn. 14-16). The apostles had the ability to not only perform miracles, but they could also confer this miracle working ability to those on whom they laid their hands (Acts 8: 14-19).
These gifts of the Spirit were to be used for edification and, therefore, they always involved an intelligible application and exercise (I Cor. 14: 5, 12, 19, 26). Disorder and rank emotionalism were condemned during the time that these gifts were extant (I Cor. 14: 33, 40, cp. vs. 23, 27-33).
The meaning of the gift of the Holy Spirit (ten dorean tou hagiou phneumatos). As a result of comparing the two parallel verses, Acts 2: 38 and Acts 3: 19, we see that the " times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord" is tantamount to "the gift of the Holy Spirit." However, at this stage in our study, such is not of much help.
If the gift of the Holy Spirit entails the miraculous, as some insist, then those who were scripturally baptized should have demonstrated miracle working ability by virtue of the gift of the Holy Spirit. However, this was not the case. About three thousand were baptized and did receive the remission of their sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit, but we only read of the apostles performing miracles (Acts 2: 43). In fact, subsequent to the people receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit, we only read of the apostles performing miracles (Acts 4: 16, 33, 5: 12). It is not until Acts 6: 8 that we read of one other than an apostle performing miracles. It will be appreciated that just prior to the statement of Stephen performing miracles, it was said, " they (apostles, dm) laid their hands of them" (Acts 6: 6). Please remember the historian's words: "Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. And when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles' hands the Holy Spirit was given " (Acts 8: 17, 18). The Christians at Rome had received the gift of the Holy Spirit upon baptism (Acts 2: 38, 39). Yet, they did not possess miracle working ability. I say this because one reason Paul wanted to journey to Rome was, "For I long to see you, that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift, to the end ye may be established" (Rom. 1: 11, see chapter 6). We must also keep in mind that the miraculous gifts of the Spirit were limited in time and when the complete word was made available and with the death of the apostles, these gifts ceased (I Cor. 13: 8-10). Notwithstanding, the promise involving the remission of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit was universal and without time restriction (Acts 2: 38, 39). Hence, the gift of the Holy Spirit does not entail the supernatural.
Let us now direct our attention to the personal, bodily, non-miraculous explanation of the gift of the Holy Spirit. The scriptures teach that the Father dwells in the Christian (I Jn. 4: 12, 13). The Son and the Holy Spirit are also said to dwell in the Christian (Eph. 3: 17; I Cor. 6: 19). It is important that we notice that the scriptures also teach that the Christian dwells in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (I Jn. 4: 16; Gal. 3: 27; Rom. 8: 9). Those who contend for the personal and bodily indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the body of the believer must consistently contend for the personal and bodily indwelling of the Father and the Son in the body of the Christian. Moreover, to be consistent, they must argue for the Christian personally and bodily indwelling the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The truth of the matter is the scriptures do not teach the bodily and direct indwelling of the Spirit. To abide or dwell in often simply denotes a relationship and acceptance. The Father and the Son dwell in the Christian through the word (2 Jn. 9). Paul taught, "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly " (Col. 3: 16). In the parallel verse, the same writer said, " but be filled with the Spirit" (Eph. 5: 18). Hence, the Spirit also dwells in the Christian through the agency of the word. Besides, the view of the personal and bodily indwelling of deity in the body of the Christian is a pantheistic concept of God. God is "bodily" in heaven, but his presence is everywhere and he influences men on earth (cp. 2 Chroni. 6: 21, 23; Ps. 139: 7ff.). Having said the foregoing, the scriptures do teach a special connection between the indwelling of the Spirit and the believer (I Jn. 3: 24, Eph. 1: 14). I believe, though, that this special connection is due to the role of the Spirit in having delivered the word through the apostles and presently working through the word (cp. Rom. 1: 16, 15: 13).
The gift of the Holy Spirit, the real meaning and significance. Please allow me to suggest to you that the expression "the promise" in Acts 2: 39 is of great importance in determining precisely the meaning of the gift of the Holy Spirit in verse 38. First, the statement in verse 39 is explanatory. After telling the people what to do to be saved in verse 38, Peter then explains:
"For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call" (Acts 2: 39).
This promise was (is) to be universal and without time limit in the context of Peter's application. As many "as the Lord our God shall call" would enjoy this promise. Hence, all Christians would be the recipient of the promise (2 Thes. 2: 14). It is apparent to the serious Bible student that God arranged, prepared, and planned something for his people that would be the very ultimate expression of his love and blessings, this promise is seen beginning with Abraham (Gen. 12: 3). This blessing was so well known that it was called "the promise" (see Gal. 3: 29). In this vein, please consider Paul's teaching to the Galatians (I shall accent "the promise"):
"8: And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed. 9: So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham. 10: For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them. 11: But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith. 12: And the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live in them. 13: Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree: 14: That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. 15: Brethren, I speak after the manner of men; Though it be but a man's covenant, yet if it be confirmed, no man disannulleth, or addeth thereto. 16: Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ. 17: And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect. 18: For if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise: but God gave it to Abraham by promise. 19: Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator. 20: Now a mediator is not a mediator of one, but God is one. 21: Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law. 22: But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe. 23: But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. 24: Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. 25: But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. 26: For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. 27: For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28: There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. 29: And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise." (Gal. 3.)
Please notice that "the promise" spoken of by Paul went back to the promise God made to Abraham, " in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed" (Gen. 12: 3). In connection with "the promise" of which he wrote, Paul points out that this promise was for all nations (Gal. 3: 8, 28). I suggest, therefore, that "the promise" of Acts 2: 39 entails the great promise that runs throughout the Bible, beginning in Genesis 11 (cp. 12, 17, 22) and culminates in the state of blessedness in Christ. Notice also how one gains entrance into Christ where all blessings are experienced, baptism (Gal. 3: 27, 2 Tim. 2: 10, Eph. 1: 3). This is consistent with what Peter taught, "Repent and be baptized ." (Acts 2: 38).
Let us now revisit the parallel verses, Acts 2: 38 and 3: 19. By comparing these verses, we see that baptism is "converted" or "turning again" (ASV). Remission of sins in Acts 2: 38 is sins "blotted out" in Acts 3: 19 (totally erased). Also, the gift of the Holy Spirit is " times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord." The "gift of the Holy Spirit" and "times of refreshing" are, I submit, a comprehensive way of describing and denoting the basking in the promise that God made to Abraham (remission of sins in Acts 2: 38 would be a specific). The promise of Acts 2: 39, then, is the promise regarding which all faithful Jews anticipated and the promise that constitutes the very essence of our service to God today.
The gift of the Holy Spirit is not the Holy Spirit as a gift, involving some personal, direct, and bodily indwelling not taught in the scriptures (see addendum 1). The gift of the Holy Spirit is also not miracle working ability (we have the word to confirm the word today, cp. Heb. 2: 5, see addendum 2). The gift of the Holy Spirit is the realization of the promise that God made to Abraham 4, 000 years ago, "in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed," and this promise is enjoyed by all whom God calls by his gospel (Acts 2: 38, 19, Gal. 3: 8ff.).
Compared to all possible gifts, the gift of the Holy Spirit knows no equal. It is a gift that necessitated the giving of the Son of God in order that the atoning blood might be available. This is why Peter could say regarding scriptural baptism that it was, "for the remission of sins" (Acts 2: 38, cp. Matt. 26: 28, Heb. 9: 28). I deem an appropriate closing verse to be James 1: 17: "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom can be no variation, neither shadow that is cast by turning" (ASV). (For related reading, click on "The Holy Spirit," and "The Gifts of the Holy Spirit.")
Addendum 1: Some contend that "the gift of the Holy Spirit" cannot possibly be the Holy Spirit himself because of the grammar and syntax. They correctly point out that the noun "gift" in Acts 2: 38 is in the accusative case and is, therefore, the object of the verb "receive." They further explain that "of the Holy Spirit" is in the genitive case or as we would call it in English, the possessive case. Hence, they insist the verse be translated, " and ye shall receive the gift belonging to the Holy Spirit" (see The Mission and Medium of the Holy Spirit, pg. 38ff., by Foy E. Wallace, Jr.). The "promise of the Father" (epaggelian tou patros) is not the Father himself and the "promise of the Spirit" (epaggelian tou pneumatos) is not the Spirit himself (Acts 1: 4, see verse 5; 2: 33, see Jn. 14: 26).
One thing that must be remembered, though, is that New Testament Greek, just as most languages, is rich with idiom and figures of speech. Sometimes the Holy Spirit is stated when in reality the effects or miraculous imparted abilities are meant (Acts 8: 15-18). Paul asked some at Ephesus, " Have ye received the Holy Spirit since ye believed? .." (Acts 19: 1). It is apparent that Paul does not have reference to the gift of the Holy Spirit, which they would have received had they been scripturally baptized. I say this because Paul continues, " laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied" (vs. 6, cp. Acts 8: 18). Nonetheless, I believe it is clear from the immediate and remote context that the gift of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2: 38 refers to a gift provided by the Holy Spirit, the great Abrahamic promise fulfillment.
Addendum 2: Always, in word, phrase, clause, or concept definition, the context rules. The "...gift of the Holy Spirit" in Acts 2: 38 and 3: 19 is obviously used regarding salvation (Acts 2: 36-38). The contemplated gift is for all who meet certain stipulated qualification. There is no reference or example of these recipients of the "gift of the Holy Spirit" performing miraculous acts. In fact, it is not until Acts 6 that we read of one other than an apostle performing miracles and this ability was conferred by "the laying on of the apostle's hands" (Acts 6: 6-8, cp. 2: 43, etc., cp. 8: 18). The context and setting of Acts 10: 44-48 in which the expression, "gift of the Holy Spirit" also occurs is markedly different from Acts 2 and Acts 3. We are told that, "While Peter yet spoke these words, the Holy Spirit fell on all them which heard the word" (Acts 10: 44). This was identified, in the case of Acts 10, as the "gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 10: 45). This "gift of the Holy Spirit" is clearly miraculous and resulted in the recipients having miracle working ability (Acts 10: 46). These people at this precise point in time, though, were not saved (cp. Acts 11: 14). They had yet to be baptized in water, a matter preceding salvation (Mark 16: 16, Acts 2: 38, 3: 19). The context of Acts 10 has both limited or special and universal aspects. It was limited in that the "gift of the Spirit" in their case was to demonstrate and prove that the Gentiles were to be allowed entrance into the Kingdom (Acts 11: 14-18). They (these Gentiles) had received exactly the same gift as the apostles (Acts 11: 11-17). The example of Acts 10 has universal features in that the gospel had to be preached and obeyed (cp. Acts 10: 33ff.). In brief, then, the "gift of the Holy Spirit" in Acts 2: 38 and 3: 19 as applied to all believers is universal and involves salvation, while the "gift of the Holy Spirit" in Acts 10: 45 is limited to miracle working ability. Miracle working ability had a specific design and in the absence of the revealed and complete word of God was necessary in the First Century (Mark 16: 20, Heb. 2: 4). Such ability ceased with the completion of the word, the "perfect law of liberty" (cp. I Cor. 13: 8-10, Jas. 1: 25).