Question #14

What is the gift of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2:38?

Please tell me what you think the gift of the Holy Spirit is as mentioned in Acts 2:38 after a person has repented and been baptized for the remission of sins. I would like to have a scriptural basis for your answer.

The Answer:

Your question is one that has been discussed extensively among churches of Christ. One of the best discussions of both sides of the issue is one written several years ago by Roy Lanier, Sr. His conclusion that the passage refers to “the gift which is the Holy Spirit” rather than to “the gift that the Holy Spirit gives” is well reasoned and well supported. It is reproduced here for your further study.

WHAT IS THE GIFT OF THE HOLY SPIRIT OF ACTS 2:38?

THE PERSONAL INDWELLING

By ROY H. LANIER, SR.

INTRODUCTION

When Peter, on Pentecost, told believers to repent and be baptized in the name of Christ and they would receive the gift o£ the Holy Spirit, I believe he intended for them to get the idea that they would receive the Holy Spirit as a gift, and that Holy Spirit would dwell in their bodies as his temple. I am not alone in this belief.

(1) Statements by pioneer scholars.

Many of the pioneers of the restoration believed and taught the same thing. Moses E. Lard said, "To represent Alexander Campbell and Walter Scott as not believing in the immediate indwelling in the Christian of the Holy Spirit is to falsify the clearest teaching of their lives. It is to do injustice to the memory of the dead and to the faith in which they died .... I should be pained to think that even one man in a hun dred" believes other than "that the Holy Spirit dwells in the Chris tian; and by this we mean that the Holy Spirit itself dwells in him, and not merely that the truth or something else dwells in him in lieu of the Spirit, and as representing it.''l J. W. McGarvey said, "The expression means the Holy Spirit as a gift; and the reference is to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit by which we bring forth the fruits of the Spirit."2 T. W. Brents taught the same thing.3 Others could be cited if we had the space.

(2) Many of the great Greek scholars of our time believed Peter promised the Holy Spirit as a gift.

A. T. Robertson said, "The gift consists (Acts 8:17) in the Holy Spirit (genitive of identification)."4 F. F. Bruce says, "The gift of the Spirit is the Spirit Himself, bestowed by the Father through the Messiah."5 Lenski says, "The genitive is appositional; as in v. 33 the promise is the Holy Spirit, so here the gift is the Holy Spirit."6 The Expositor's Greek Tes tament, Meyers, and others agree.

I. THE GIFT OF THE HOLY SPIRIT

(1) Definition.

(a) Usage. This expression occurs only twice in the Bible Acts 2:38 and 10:45.

(b) Similar uses of the grammatical expression. There is little in 2:38 to tell us if it means something the Spirit gives us, or if it is the Spirit as a gift. But, in 10:45 there is no doubt that this expression means the Spirit himself. First, while Peter spoke the Holy Spirit fell on them (v. 44). Next, Peter said they have "received the Holy Spirit" (v. 47). Now, the "gift of the Holy Spirit" was poured out That which was poured out on them is exactly what fell on them; that which was poured out on them is what they received. Therefore, the gift of the Holy Spirit is the Holy Spirit which was poured out on them and the Holy Spirit which they received. The fact that this was the baptism of the Holy Spirit which Cornelius received does not change the meaning of the expression. So if the expression, "the gift of the Holy Spirit," here means the Holy Spirit is the gift, and if the expression occurs in only one other verse, if we allow the Bible to explain itself, we must conclude that this is the meaning of the expression in the only other place it occurs.

Some contend that the expression must mean a gift from the Spirit like the expression "gift of God" means something God gives. But, in Acts 2:33 we have Jesus "received of the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit." This does not mean something the Holy Spirit promised, but the Holy Spirit which was promised (Acts 1:4,5). Again, we read that Jesus died, "that Upon the Gentiles might come the blessing of Abraham in Christ Jesus; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith" (Gal. 3:14). Here the "bless ing of Abraham" must mean salvation (Acts 3:25, 26). Along with this salvation we receive "the promise of the Spirit." This is parallel with Acts 2:38 where those who repent and are baptized receive remission, salvation; and, along with salvation, they are promised the Holy Spirit. Here we have "the promise of the Spirit," but in Acts 2:38 we have "the gift of the Holy Spirit." They are both genitives of identification. We will have more of this later.

(2) Proof of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

(a) First, Jesus promised the Holy Spirit to all believers (John 7:37-39). Here Jesus said, "If any man thirst, let him come to me and drink." Notice, any man! Then he said from within the believer would flow rivers of living water, and explained, "this he said of the Spirit, which they that believed on him were to receive" after he was glorified. And, this would be on Pentecost and afterwards. This cannot refer only to the apostles any more than Mark 16: 15, 16 can refer to them. Notice the parallel:

Preach the gospel to every creature general = he that believeth specific.

If any man thirst let him come general = he that believeth specific.

If everyone who believes and is baptized will be saved, surely every one that believes will receive the Spirit, according to the promise of Jesus.

(b) Next, according to Acts 2:38 as many as repented and were baptized received the gift of the Holy Spirit, or the Holy Spirit as a gift. "Repent ye" is plural; "ye shall receive" is plural. If these words do not include the same persons, the same number of people, words no longer have any definite meaning.

(e) Next, Acts 5:32says God gives the Holy Spirit to them that obey him. The obedience is detailed in Acts 2:38, where Peter said to believers that they should repent and be baptized in the name of Christ for the remission of their sins. And, from these passages it is certainly fair to conclude that the promise of the Spirit was to all who met the conditions.

(d) Next, all who belong to Christ have the Spirit. "If any man hath not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his" ( Rom. 8:9). From 1 Pet. 1:11 we learn that "the Spirit of Christ" is the Holy Spirit. Compare 2 Pet. 1:21. Regardless of how religious a man may be, if he does not have the Holy Spirit, he does not belong to Christ. But, according to Acts 2:38 and 5:32, if he has not obeyed Christ in repenting and being baptized, he does not have the Spirit, and, therefore, does not belong to Christ.

(e) Next, every Christian's body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19). The Greek word for temple is "naos" and means the dwelling place of deity. The Greek has another word for the temple area, but "naos" was used only of the sanctuary where God dwelt. The physical body, used when the sin of fornication was committed, is what Paul had in mind, and this body is the temple of the Holy Spirit.

(f) Next, Paul says the Holy Spirit "is in you." And, in Rom. 8:9-11 Paul says three times that the "Spirit dwells in you." Now, shall we take this expression figuratively or literally ? A rule of interpretation accepted by all scholars says, "Words should be under stood in their literal sense unless such literal interpretation involves a manifest contradiction or absurdity."7 Lard says, "A word, when ever met with, is to be taken in its common current sense, unless the subject-matter, the context, or a qualifying epithet forbids it."9 The man does not live who can prove that we cause an absurdity or a contradiction when we take this expression literally. Nor, can he show that the context or subject-matter forbids us to take it literally. So, Paul says the Holy Spirit dwells in our body as his temple, and we are justified in taking the statement literally.

II. OPPOSING THEORIES

(1) Some brethren argue, "just as 'the gift of God' means God's gift, and 'the gift of Christ' means Christ's gift, so 'the gift of the holy Spirit' means the Holy Spirit's gift."9 So far as grammar is concerned it could mean that, but we have seen that in the case of Cornelius "the gift of the Holy Spirit" means the Holy Spirit was given him and he received the Holy Spirit. But, does this gram matical construction necessarily mean "the Holy Spirit's gift"? Abraham "received the sign of circumcision" (Rom. 4:11). Did circumcision give him a sign? He received a sign consisting of circumcision. So, to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit is to receive a gift consisting of the Holy Spirit. Again, those called "receive the promise of eternal inheritance" (Heb. 9:15). Does eternal in­heritance give us a promise? This is the genitive of identification. So "of the Holy Spirit" is the genitive of identification, identifying the gift we receive when we repent and are baptized. Again, when we are approved we "shall receive the crown of life" (Jas. 1:12). Will we receive a crown which life will give us? Gift of God is God's gift; gift of Christ is Christ's gift; can we say crown of life is life's gift? No! According to James the crown is the Lord's gift as a reward. There are other examples of this construction, but these are sufficient to prove that the gift of the Spirit may mean a gift consisting of the Spirit as well as the Spirit's gift. And, we have shown from a comparison of Acts 2:38 and 10:44-47 that the expression "the gift of the Holy Spirit" does mean a gift consisting of the Holy Spirit.

(2) Another interpretation of this phrase is given as follows:

I believe the Scriptures teach that the gift of the Holy Spirit refers to miraculous endowments that belonged to the period when these miraculous gifts were for the purpose of confirming the apostles of Christ as his apostles and providing the church with inspiration through these gifts that came through the lay ing on of the hands of an apostle. l0

Take a look at the verbs of Acts 2:38. "Repent ye" is second person plural. "Be baptized" every one of you is third person singular but includes all persons commanded to repent. "Ye shall receive" is second person plural and includes all who are commanded to re pent and be baptized. Therefore, all who repented and were bap­tized, according to this theory, had hands of an apostle laid on them and they received miraculous gifts, or power to perform miracles. This, according to our author quoted above, continues until the destruction of Jerusalem. Does anyone believe, can anyone believe, that every child of God from Pentecost until the destruction of Jerusalem had a spiritual gift and could perform miracles? How much traveling would apostles have to do to lay hands on every convert? Christians went everywhere preaching the word (Acts 8:4). Converts on Pentecost from all parts of the world went back home and made converts. If each apostle had had an airplane they could not have gone to lay hands on every convert within a reason able time.

Paul says in Rom. 8:9 if any man has not the Spirit of Christ (the Holy Spirit) he does not belong to Christ. According to the theory under consideration, a baptized believer did not belong to Christ until an apostle got to him to lay hands on him. The people of Samaria believed and were baptized. Some time later Peter and John went down and laid hands on them. According to this theory, these people did not belong to Christ until Peter and John laid hands on them. This passage, Acts 8:14ff, is used to prove that the gift of the Holy Spirit means miraculous power, but the term "Holy Spirit" is used here in a figure of speech called metonymy. Example: we say the kettle boils when we mean the water in the kettle. So, when Luke said the Holy Spirit had fallen on none of them, and apostles laid hands on them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, he simply meant they had not received spiritual gifts given through apostles. But, they had received the Spirit of Christ (Holy Spirit) which proved they belonged to Christ.

Then there was the eunuch from Ethiopia whom Philip baptized. Philip was not an apostle; he could not lay hands on him to give him the Holy Spirit. He went back home without the Holy Spirit, according to the theory, never did get the Spirit and so never did belong to Christ, according to Rom. 8:9! Who can believe it?

But, look at the verse again. The promise is to you, to your children, all afar off, and to as many as the Lord shall call. What is the promise? Not remission of sins. They were to repent and be baptized for remission. That is a conditional commandment, not a promise. Next, the promise of the Holy Spirit was to you; that is one generation; to your children; that is another generation; then to as many as the Lord shall call, and that includes us today. Paul teaches that we are called through the gospel; Peter says the promise of the Holy Spirit is to all whom the Lord calls; therefore, if the Lord calls us today through the gospel, we may claim the gift of the Holy Spirit in fulfillment of this promise. And, if the "gift of the Holy Spirit" means miraculous gifts, we may claim miraculous gifts in fulfillment of this promise.

Several passages speak of the Holy Spirit dwelling in us. Do they no longer apply to Christians? Paul says ye are not in the flesh (dominated by the flesh) if the Spirit of God dwells in you ( Rom. 8:9). What about the Christians of the first century who did not have miraculous powers? What about the eunuch? He did not have miraculous powers. Was he in the flesh dominated by the flesh simply because Philip could not give him miraculous powers? Again, if the Spirit of God dwells in you, God will give life to your mortal body by that Spirit which dwells in you ( Rom. 8:4-11). If the indwelling of the Spirit means miraculous power, it follows that life will be given to the mortal bodies of those only who had mirac ulous powers. Who can believe that? Again, Paul said the physical body of the Christian is the temple of the Holy Spirit, which is in you (1 Cor. 6:19). Did he mean only the bodies of those who had miraculous powers served as the temple of the Holy Spirit? Does this passage apply to us today the same as it did to people of the first century? Was it only those who had miraculous gifts who were to refrain from fornication because that sin defiled the temple of the Holy Spirit? If so, it follows that only the bodies of those who had such powers were members of Christ (v. 15). And, those who did not have such powers, such as the eunuch, were not mem bers of Christ. And, the Samaritans were not members of Christ until Peter and John got there and gave them miraculous powers.

III. OBJECTIONS TO INDWELLING ANSWERED

(1) It has been said that Acts 2:38 cannot have reference to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit because that would mean the incar nation of deity in every Christian. If the second person of the Godhead dwelling in Jesus was incarnation of deity, the third per son of the Godhead dwelling in a person would be another incar nation. And, it is also claimed that this would make each Christian an object of worship. If there is anything to this argument it fol lows that Jesus was a case of double incarnation when the Holy Spirit came to him at his baptism. The incarnation of Jesus was a union of a divine person with human nature (not a human person) so as to form the God-man. When the Holy Spirit dwells in a person there is no such union. Again, the union of deity and hu manity in Jesus is permanent; he is still the God-man; but the indwelling of the Spirit is not permanent. And, the union of deity and human nature in Jesus formed only one Person; but the in dwelling of the Spirit in us does not make us and the Spirit one person.

(2) Next, it is said that if the Holy Spirit dwells in every Chris tian he would have to be divided into as many pieces as there are Christians on earth at any one time. The Spirit was in John the Baptist and Jesus at one time; was he divided? The Spirit was in the twelve apostles at one time; was he divided into twelve pieces? Or, will we deny that the Spirit was actually in John and Jesus? and the twelve apostles? Will we say that he dwelt in them only as he influenced them by his teaching? What did he teach little John from the day of his birth?

(3) It is said that many verses speak of the "fact" of the indwelling, but only two tell us "how" the Spirit dwells in us, Eph. 5:18,19 and Col. 3:16. Compare the two verses:

Be filled; with Spirit; speaking in psalms, etc., singing, etc. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; singing, etc.

It is claimed that these verses are parallel, teaching us how the Spirit dwells in us. He dwells in us through the word. Why not say they teach us that the word dwells in us through the Spirit? I can prove that from a dozen passages; but, where is the proof that the Spirit dwells in us through the word. Again, if these verses arc parallel, to be filled with the Spirit must mean the same thing as the word dwelling in us. They do not tell us how the Spirit dwells in us; they tell us that the word of Christ is the Spirit that dwells in us.

Brethren for many years have used Eph. 5:18,19 to prove that the Holy Spirit dwells in us through the word, but I affirm that the command "be filled with the Spirit" in that verse has no reference whatever to the indwelling of the Spirit in Christians. The words "be filled" are from a Greek word (pleeroo) and, according to Thayer, mean, "to make full, to fill, fill up followed by en with a dative of the instrument: en pneumati, Eph. 5:18." And, Thayer says this is instrumental, meaning that the Spirit is the instrument that fills us; not the content with which we are filled. The Expositor's Greek Testament and Lenski say the same thing. And when people are said to be filled with, or full of, the Holy Spirit, the Greek phrase en pneumati is never used. I have checked every occurrence in the New Testament of the words pleeroo, pleerees, pleetho used with the Holy Spirit and not one time is the Greek preposition en used with either of these words to denote the content with which a thing is filled. This is true not only with reference to the Holy Spirit, but it is true with such words as filled with anger, strife, righteousness, etc. The Greek phrase en pneumati is used in Rom. 15:16 to say we are sanctified by the Holy Spirit, but this does not tell us anything about the Spirit dwelling in us. It is used in 1 Cor. 6:11; 12:9 to say that spiritual gifts were given by the Spirit, but these say nothing about the Spirit dwelling in anybody. We con clude, therefore, that since the phrase en pneumati is never used to teach the indwelling of the Holy Spirit; and, since other Greek phrases are always used to teach about the indwelling of the Spirit in the Christian, we are completely justified in saying that Paul was not commanding the Ephesians to be filled with the Spirit in the sense of the indwelling of the Spirit. This being true, Eph. 5:18,19; Col. 3:16 are not parallel, and they do not teach us how the Holy Spirit dwells in the child of God.

CONCLUSION

We have seen that the "gift of the Holy Spirit" in Acts 2:38 is a gift consisting of the Holy Spirit. We have learned that the same number of persons who were commanded to repent and be baptized for the remission of sins was given the promise of the Holy Spirit as a gift. We have heard Paul say the physical body of the Chris­tian is the temple, the dwelling place of deity, in the person of the Holy Spirit, and for that reason we must not commit fornication. We have also learned that though all Christians are temples of the Holy Spirit, not all Christians, even in the first century, had mi raculous powers. Therefore, the gift of the Holy Spirit and the in­dwelling of the Holy Spirit have no reference to the miraculous gifts of the Spirit given through the laying on of apostles' hands. And, we have learned that when Paul commanded people to be filled with the Spirit he made no reference to miraculous powers, nor did he teach that the Holy Spirit dwells in people through the word.

FOOTNOTES

  1. Moses E. Lard, Lard's Quarterly (Georgetown: Osborne & Co., 1864), Vol. III, p. 246.

  2. J W. McGarvey, New Commentary on Acts of Apostles (Delight, Ark., Gospel Light Pub. Co., n.d.), p. 39.

  3. T. W. Brents, The Gospel Plan of Salvation (Nashville: McQuiddy Printing Co., 1920), p. 639f.

  4. A, T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville: Broad man Press, 1930), Vol. III, p. 36.

  5. F, F, Bruce, The New International Commentary, Acts ( Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1966), p. 77.

  6. R. C. H. Lenski, The Acts of the Apostles, (Minneapolis: Augsburg Pub, Co., 1962), p. 109,

  7. Milton S. Terry, Biblical Hermeneutics, (New York: Osborne & Co., 1864), p. 159.


God's Plan of Salvation

You must hear the gospel and then understand and recognize that you are lost without Jesus Christ no matter who you are and no matter what your background is. The Bible tells us that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Before you can be saved, you must understand that you are lost and that the only way to be saved is by obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:8) Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6) “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

You must believe and have faith in God because “without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6) But neither belief alone nor faith alone is sufficient to save. (James 2:19; James 2:24; Matthew 7:21)

You must repent of your sins. (Acts 3:19) But repentance alone is not enough. The so-called “Sinner’s Prayer” that you hear so much about today from denominational preachers does not appear anywhere in the Bible. Indeed, nowhere in the Bible was anyone ever told to pray the “Sinner’s Prayer” to be saved. By contrast, there are numerous examples showing that prayer alone does not save. Saul, for example, prayed following his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:11), but Saul was still in his sins when Ananias met him three days later (Acts 22:16). Cornelius prayed to God always, and yet there was something else he needed to do to be saved (Acts 10:2, 6, 33, 48). If prayer alone did not save Saul or Cornelius, prayer alone will not save you. You must obey the gospel. (2 Thess. 1:8)

You must confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. (Romans 10:9-10) Note that you do NOT need to make Jesus “Lord of your life.” Why? Because Jesus is already Lord of your life whether or not you have obeyed his gospel. Indeed, we obey him, not to make him Lord, but because he already is Lord. (Acts 2:36) Also, no one in the Bible was ever told to just “accept Jesus as your personal savior.” We must confess that Jesus is the Son of God, but, as with faith and repentance, confession alone does not save. (Matthew 7:21)

Having believed, repented, and confessed that Jesus is the Son of God, you must be baptized for the remission of your sins. (Acts 2:38) It is at this point (and not before) that your sins are forgiven. (Acts 22:16) It is impossible to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ without teaching the absolute necessity of baptism for salvation. (Acts 8:35-36; Romans 6:3-4; 1 Peter 3:21) Anyone who responds to the question in Acts 2:37 with an answer that contradicts Acts 2:38 is NOT proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ!

Once you are saved, God adds you to his church and writes your name in the Book of Life. (Acts 2:47; Philippians 4:3) To continue in God’s grace, you must continue to serve God faithfully until death. Unless they remain faithful, those who are in God’s grace will fall from grace, and those whose names are in the Book of Life will have their names blotted out of that book. (Revelation 2:10; Revelation 3:5; Galatians 5:4)