Let us begin by noting that in the Greek language the phrase ("the gift of the Holy Spirit") can mean one of two things: (1) A gift given by the Holy Spirit, or (2) The Holy Spirit Himself as a gift. The context, either immediate or remote, must be studied to determine which of these two possibilities God intended in this verse. And we will do that, but first I would like to list and analyze several of the conclusions that brethren have drawn concerning "the gift of the Holy Spirit." I believe all of these popular views have flaws, as I will endeavor to show.
THREE COMMON VIEWS REGARDING "THE GIFT OF THE HOLY SPIRIT" AS A GIFT FROM THE HOLY SPIRIT
Although I certainly respect brethren who have drawn these conclusions, I do not believe these views are correct based upon the Biblical evidence available. Let me explain what I mean, one view at a time.
First, is the gift of the Holy Spirit spiritual blessings, including salvation and eternal life? I do not believe that it is. As we have seen in our study of Acts 2:38, Peter gave those sorrowful believers a conditional command in response to their question. He said that if they would repent and be baptized, then they would receive forgiveness of their sins. The word "and" between the words "repent" and "be baptized" tells us that there are two separate and different conditions, and a person must do both. After showing that forgiveness of sins was the result of obeying that conditional command, Peter added another "and" before he gave the promise of "the gift of the Holy Spirit." In other words, Peter was saying that those who repent and are baptized will receive something in addition to forgiveness of sins. He promised them that they would receive "the gift of the Holy Spirit" in addition to forgiveness. Why use the word "and" if the gift here is the same as forgiveness? Surely no one would argue that repentance and baptism are the same (and they are linked with an "and"), so why contend that forgiveness and the gift of the Holy Spirit are identical (since they are also linked with an "and")? Thus, I conclude that "the gift of the Holy Spirit" is different from the forgiveness of sins or the gift of eternal life.
Second, was "the gift of the Holy Spirit" miraculous powers received through the laying on of the apostles' hands in the first century? I do not believe that "the gift of the Holy Spirit" in this verse, which was promised to all of the obedient, involved miraculous powers--either then or now--for the following reasons:
- If "the gift of the Holy Spirit" involved miraculous powers through the laying on of the apostles' hands, then there were 3,000 people on the day of Pentecost who received the power to work miracles (cf. Acts 2:41). So, according to this view, by the time of 4:4, there were 5,000 men who had miraculous powers. In 5:14, we learn that multitudes were added to this number. And in 6:7, we see that the number of disciples multiplied exceedingly! Thus, according to this theory, there were many thousands of penitent believers who had been immersed for the forgiveness of sins who could work miracles because the apostles had laid hands on them to give them "the gift of the Holy Spirit." If this were true, we would expect to find a record of the miracles worked by at least some of those Christians--isn't that a reasonable expectation? However, when we carefully study Acts 1-5, there is not even one mention of such miracles being worked by anyone other than the apostles of Christ (cf. Acts 2:43; 3:1-11; 4:13-16,33). Acts 5:12,13 is also quite revealing on this point - "And through the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were done among the people. And they were all with one accord in Solomon's Porch. Yet none of the rest dared join them, but the people esteemed them highly." It was through the hands of the apostles that many signs and wonders were being done among the people. The people esteemed the apostles highly. Why? What was special about them? Answer: The apostles alone were the ones working the miracles! It doesn't appear that any newly converted Christians were performing any miracles (until the apostles laid their hands on a few of them; e.g., Acts 8:18). The view that "the gift of the Holy Spirit" (which was promised to all of the obedient on Pentecost) was miraculous ability given to all early Christians seems to be in direct conflict with the record of Acts. Additionally, it can be shown that in the first century when miraculous gifts existed (cf. I Cor. 13:8ff), not all Christians could work miracles (cf. I Cor. 12:29,30).
- As additional proof this view is incorrect, consider that before the apostles laid hands on Stephen, Philip, and others in Acts 6, these men were described as being "full of faith and the Holy Spirit" (6:3,5). "Full of the Holy Spirit" obviously did not mean that they could work miracles because only the apostles had done so up to this time (as far as the record indicates and seems to imply). So, how was the Holy Spirit dwelling in men like Stephen and Philip if they didn't have miraculous gifts? The only answer is that the Holy Spirit must have been dwelling in them in a non-miraculous way. Apparently, they had received the "gift of the Holy Spirit" promised by Peter as a result of their faith, repentance, and baptism for the remission of sins, but they still didn't have the ability to work miracles, even though the Holy Spirit was dwelling in them.
It seems clear to me that the gift of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2:38 was not the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit described in I Corinthians 12-14 and other passages. Yes, those gifts certainly existed, but they were never promised to all Christians. Acts 2:38,39 seems to be a promise for all Christians for all time! Our understanding of "the gift of the Holy Spirit" must take this into consideration. Also, it does not seem reasonable to suggest (as some have done) that the promise was unlimited with respect to forgiveness but limited in regards to the gift of the Spirit.
Third, is "the gift of the Holy Spirit" (as mentioned in Acts 2:38) the word of God revealed in the first century through the Holy Spirit? This also is incorrect in my estimation. The brethren who hold this view believe that "the gift of the Holy Spirit" is the word of God and that the Holy Spirit dwells in the Christian through the word and only through the word. There is no doubt the Holy Spirit revealed and confirmed the word of God through the apostles and other inspired men in the first century (cf. John 16:13; Heb. 2:3,4). Additionally, there is no doubt that the Holy Spirit uses the word of God as His sword to influence our minds today (cf. Eph. 6:17) rather than any direct, mysterious influence. Also, there is no doubt that God's word is a wonderful gift of tremendous value (cf. Psa. 119:127). But, all that being said, I personally have serious doubts that "the gift of the Holy Spirit" in Acts 2:38 is the word of God. It seems to me that there are some logical problems with holding such a view. In this context, please notice that these people received the word of God before they were immersed in water for the forgiveness of sins. The people, by the word of God, were pricked in their hearts. They were told, by the word of God, what to do to receive forgiveness. According to Acts 2:41, those who gladly received the word of God were baptized. Thus, in this context, it is abundantly clear that these people received the word of God before they were baptized into Christ for the remission of sins. The problem is, however, that Peter promised these people that they would receive "the gift of the Holy Spirit" after they repented and were baptized for the forgiveness of sins. Did Peter promise them something they already had prior to baptism? That doesn't make any sense at all. Therefore, we can safely conclude that "the gift of the Holy Spirit" is not the word of God because "the gift of the Holy Spirit" is received after one is baptized for the forgiveness of sins, but the word of God must initially be received before one can be baptized for the forgiveness of sins.
"THE GIFT OF THE HOLY SPIRIT" IS THE HOLY SPIRIT HIMSELF AS A GIFT
It is my personal belief that "the gift of the Holy Spirit" promised in Acts 2:38 is the Holy Spirit Himself as a gift. More specifically, "the gift of the Holy Spirit" is the Holy Spirit dwelling in the Christian, although this indwelling does not enable the Christian to work miracles or receive direct leading or guidance from the Holy Spirit. This belief is based upon study of the grammar, this verse itself, the context surrounding this verse, and the remote context of the New Testament. I will explain this view in detail in our next feature lesson.
Thank you for listening, and may the Lord bless you as you strive to do His will.