Why was it necessary for some people to receive the Gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands and others just received it after believing?
There are two conceptual frameworks that can bring clarity to the concept of receiving the Holy Spirit. The first is to clarify the role of Israel and the role of the church. Jesus preached the Kingdom to Israel he made no mention of the church as a separate entity. This was because Israel had the potential to receive the kingdom at any time from the announcement of the birth of Jesus until the destruction of the temple 70 years later.
Peter mentions that the pouring out of the Holy Spirit was what Joel had prophesied.
Acts 2:14-17 But Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his
voice, and said unto them, Ye men of Judaea, and all ye that dwell at
Jerusalem, be this known unto you, and hearken to my words: For
these are not drunken, as ye suppose, seeing it is but the third hour
of the day. 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 your sons and your daughters shall
prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall
Jesus told his disciples what to expect in advancing the Kingdom;
Mark 16:15-18 And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and
preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is
baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.
And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they
cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take
up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt
them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.
The kingdom was to be verified by supernatural “signs”.
Paul said that the extension of these gifts was to provoke the Jews to jealous action and receive the offered kingdom;
Romans 11:11 I say then, Have they stumbled that they should fall?
God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the
Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy.
Paul had every earnest hope that Israel would even at the eleventh hour receive the kingdom. However, he reached a point where he had given up hope;
Acts 28:25-28 And when they agreed not among themselves, they
departed, after that Paul had spoken one word, Well spake the Holy
Ghost by Esaias the prophet unto our fathers, Saying, Go unto this
people, and say, Hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and
seeing ye shall see, and not perceive: For the heart of this people
is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes
have they closed; lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with
their ears, and understand with their heart, and should be converted,
and I should heal them. Be it known therefore unto you, that the
salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles, and that they will hear
The second conceptual framework is that there were two different ways to “receive” the Holy Spirit. The main way was illustrated by Jesus with his disciples after his resurrection;
John 20:21-22 Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my
Father hath sent me, even so send I you. And when he had said this,
he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost:
This would be the baptism (immersion) in the Holy Spirit that causes each Christian to share in the life of Jesus.
John 14:16 And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another
Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever;
There is also a reception of the Holy Spirit distinct from the new life received at salvation.
1 Timothy 4:14 Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given
thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery.
Acts 8:14-17 Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that
Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and
John: Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they
might receive the Holy Ghost: (For as yet he was fallen upon none of
them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.) Then
laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost.
There are three main view of the supernatural gifts described in the early Church.
- All the gifts continue today as they were then.
- Some of the gifts continue today (this is often described by differentiating “sign” gifts from administrative gifts)
- None of the gifts operate today as they did in the early church. (this is not to say that God does not do miracles or answer prayer just that the “sign” aspect is reserved for the kingdom)
If one sees the New Testament receiving the Holy Spirit as two events, one that joins us with Christ which imparts eternal life and the other a supernatural “gifting" that provides for a special ability to serve in the body of Christ, a greater clarity can be achieved.