Today’s passage has been the source of much controversy in the church. Peter and John are sent by the apostles to Samaria, they lay hands on the disciples who have previously been baptised in Jesus’ name (v. 16), and they receive the Holy Spirit (v. 17). Whose name should they have been baptised with in order to receive this Holy Spirit? It is clear they were true believers. So why had they not received the Holy Spirit at the time of their repentance, as did the 3,000 in Acts 2 and others elsewhere?.
Some find here, in this two-stage experience, the basis for the practice of confirmation. That is, through the hand of the confirming bishop, those confirmed receive the Holy Spirit. Others argue that the normal Christian experience is two-stage: conversion is followed by Spirit baptism as a subsequent, second experience. Though other passages in Acts are cited to prove this point, the Acts 8 incident seems the clearest.
Why was there a two-stage experience for the Samaritans when for the rest, God forgives our sin and gives us the Holy Spirit at one time (Acts 2:38–39)? Should Christians seek further fullness of the Holy Spirit beyond their conversion, thinking that without this second blessing they have not received all God intended for them? There is no evidence of any of the New Testament letters commanding believers to seek for such a second blessing. Without such a command from the letters of the New Testament, how then can we explain this two-stage blessing at Samaria?.
There was mutual hostility between Jews and Samaritans, and such tension was not to be tolerated in the church. Therefore, Samaritan believers needed to realise that they were not a separate sect within Christianity and so they received the Holy Spirit through the hands of the Jerusalem apostles. They are part of the one body of Christ. It was also important for Jerusalem believers to know that Samaritan believers were not inferior; the same Holy Spirit filled each. So Peter and John were eyewitnesses of the integrity of the Samaritan believers’ experience.
There are so many characters, stories, and experiences of salvation in Acts. But Luke is merely describing a unique experience of the Samaritans here. He is not prescribing a normative spiritual experience for today.
Do people still desire the Spirit? How do we receive the Spirit according to Acts 2:38–39 and 19:1–6?
Read Ephesians 1:13–14. What elements make up the normal Christian experience?