OceanSide church of Christ

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Victor M. Eskew

            In Acts 2:38, we find Peter’s answer to the Jews who asked what they needed to do to be saved.  “Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.”  The first part of this verse has been greatly debated with those outside the body of Christ.  We have affirmed that this verse teaches that one must be baptized in order to obtain the remission of sins.  The last portion of Acts 2:38 has been widely discussed within the church.  There are several different opinions as to the meaning of “the gift of the Holy Ghost.”

            In this article, we will attempt to show what the gift of the Holy Spirit is.  We will examine three lines of evidence to make our case.  Our conclusion will be that the gift of the Holy Ghost involves miraculous gifts received by the laying on of the apostles’ hands.  NOTE:  If this is the case, then it was limited to the miraculous age that concluded near the end of the first century.

            The first line of reasoning involves the context of the statement.  It is absolutely essential for the reader of any portion of the Bible to place himself with the first century context.  When this is done in Acts 2:38, it will be seen that everything associated with the Holy Spirit that day involved the miraculous.  The twelve apostles “were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:4).  This was miraculous.  When some in the crowd accused the apostles of being drunk with wine, Peter confronted the matter by pointing his listeners to the prophecy of Joel.  This prophecy makes mention of prophesy, visions, dreams, wonders, and signs.  Again, all of these things are miraculous in nature.  “But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; and it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh:  and you sons and daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams:  and on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy:  and I will shew wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath; blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke:  the sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come” (Acts 2:16-20).  In the midst of these miraculous events, Peter promised his listeners the gift of the Holy Spirit.  Based upon what they had seen and heard, what would these listeners have concluded the gift to be?  It is really logical to assume they believed it would be a non-miraculous indwelling of the Holy Spirit?  Or, would they have assumed it to be a representative indwelling by the Word of God?  Neither seems likely.  Surely, they would have connected it to things involving the miraculous.  They would have believed that the same Holy Spirit who empowered the apostles to speak in tongues would also provide them with miraculous abilities.

            Another line of evidence is found in a study of the word “gift” as used in the book of Acts.  In Acts 8, the word “gift” is found.  Philip, the evangelist, had entered intoSamaria.  He preached Jesus unto them (Acts 8:5).  “But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women” (Acts 8:12).  At this point, the Bible says they were baptized, but they had not received the Holy Ghost (Acts 8:15-16).  Peter and John, two apostles, came from Jerusalem to give the Samaritans the Holy Spirit.  “Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost” (Acts 8:17).  Simon, a recent convert, wanted to have this ability.  He even offered the apostles money for it.  Peter rebuked him with these words:  “Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought the gift of God may be purchased with money” (Acts 8:20).  Here is the use of the word “gift.”  It is associated with the miraculous.  The word is also associated with the miraculous again in Acts 10:44-47.  If the word “gift” is associated with the miraculous and the Holy Spirit in Acts 8 and Acts 10, why is it not associated with the miraculous in Acts 2?

            The third line of evidence involves the word “receive.”  Peter said:  “…and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.”  In Acts 8:17, this same word is used.  “Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost.”  What did they receive?  They received the miraculous manifestations of the Spirit.  In Acts 10:47, we learn that the household of Cornelius had received the Holy Ghost.  “Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?”  When Cornelius and his household received the Holy Spirit, they received the miraculous ability of the Spirit to speak in tongues.  The word “received” is also used in Acts 19.  Paul asked the men of Ephesus:  “Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed?” (Acts 19:2).  When they had not, they were properly instructed and baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus (Acts 19:3-5).  It was at this time, that Paul laid his hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost.  “And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Ghost came upon them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied.”  Again, this reception of the Holy Ghost involved miraculous abilities.  In every account the word “received” is connected with the Holy Spirit and the miraculous.  Why wouldn’t the same connection be found in Acts 2?

            We have seen three lines of evidence that point to the gift of the Holy Spirit’s involving miraculous gifts.  The context of Acts 2 is miraculous.  The word “gift” is associated with the Holy Spirit and the miraculous.  The word “receive” is also associated with the Holy Ghost and miracles.  This evidence indicates to this writer that the gift of the Holy Ghost in Acts 2 involves miraculous gifts.  According to Acts 8:14-18, this ability could only be possessed when one had the apostles’ hands laid upon him.  These gifts were absolutely essential to the early church.  They were given “for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:12).  However, when the perfect, complete will of God was revealed, the miraculous gifts of the Spirit were done away (I Cor. 13:8-13).  Now the Word of God enables the man of God to be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works (II Tim. 3:16-17).