Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money.
Two weeks ago I wrote a column which studied the spiritual gifts talked about in the New Testament. The study showed that not all of the early Christians had these miraculous spiritual gifts, but only those on whom the apostles laid their hands. This is interesting, considering that “the gift of the Holy Spirit” was promised to all who would become Christians through obedience to the gospel commands of repentance and baptism for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38-39; 5:32). Is this a contradiction, or is there a difference between the miraculous “spiritual gifts” mentioned by Paul (1 Corinthians 12-14) and “the gift of the Holy Spirit” promised by Peter to “everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself” (Acts 2:39) through the gospel (2 Thessalonians 2:14)? Let’s continue our study of this topic now.
Stephen and Philip, along with the others on whom the apostles laid their hands in Acts 6, were already “filled with the Spirit” (6:3). Yet they did not perform miracles until after the apostles had laid their hands on them (6:6, 8; 8:6-7). They had to have received “the gift of the Holy Spirit” at their conversion (Acts 2:38-39), only to later receive miraculous spiritual gifts when the apostles laid their hands on them. This shows a difference between the two. The “gift of the Holy Spirit” was promised by Peter to all converts (Acts 2:38-39). However, “spiritual gifts” were miraculous in nature (1 Corinthians 12:1-11), were not given to all Christians (1 Corinthians 12:29-30; 14:16, 23), and were only imparted to certain Christians through the laying on of an apostle’s hands (Acts 19:5-6; Romans 1:11; 2 Timothy 1:6).
Scripture then records an episode in the life of Philip which is noteworthy for several reasons (Acts 8:5-18). It shows not only how miraculous spiritual gifts were given to Christians, but also how they were temporary in nature. Philip traveled to Samaria, where he preached Christ and performed miracles (8:5-7). Many believed his preaching and were baptized, including a magician named Simon (8:9-13). After his baptism, Simon continued with Philip and “observed” miracles taking place (8:13); note that he did not perform miracles himself, nor did he request that Philip give him the ability to do so.
We then read that two apostles, Peter and John, traveled to Samaria specifically so that the Samaritans “might receive the gift of 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” (8:14-16). Upon Peter and John’s arrival, they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit (8:17). Scripture then says that “Simon saw that the Spirit was bestowed through the laying on of the apostles’ hands” and offered them money for the ability to do the same (8:18).
According to Acts 2:38-39, the Samaritans would have received “the gift of the Holy Spirit” automatically upon their baptism, just as Stephen and Philip had been “filled with the Spirit” before the apostles laid their hands on them. However, just as Stephen and Philip did not receive any miraculous spiritual gifts until after the apostles laid their hands on them, so also the Samaritans would not receive any miraculous spiritual gifts until an apostle laid their hands on them. This is why Peter and John made the trip. Philip had been given miraculous ability from them, but he couldn’t give it to others; if he could, Simon would have approached him and he could have saved them the trip.
This is significant when determining how the Holy Spirit works today. The New Testament teaches that miraculous spiritual gifts would cease (1 Corinthians 13:8-10). When would that happen, and does what we’ve studied in Acts today have anything to do with it? Lord willing, next week’s column will continue our study into this deep topic of the Holy Spirit and spiritual gifts. If you would like to have a personal Bible study, or if you have a topic of a religious nature you would like to see discussed in the column, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.