Some people never received the gift of the Holy Ghost until Paul gave it to them through the laying on of hands. Others it appears received it just by believing or at least it is not mentioned that they had hands laid upon them first. Is there a difference between the two types of receiving the Holy Ghost?

Acts 19:5 When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.

6 And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied.

Acts 8:15 Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost:

16 (For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.)

17 Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost.

18 And when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money,

The author states that "through laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Ghost was given". This gives us an answer as to how some people received the Holy Ghost. Why did others receive it in some other way? Is there a difference between the Holy Ghost as it was given by Paul (through the laying on of hands), and the spirit felt by the people in the other circumstances? Both came from God, but were received differently.

  • or by asking, Luke 11:13 Commented Feb 28, 2014 at 19:59
  • Not meaning to be a wise acre here, but does it matter how the Holy Spirit comes to you? It seems to me that if the Holy Spirit fills you, that by itself is wonderful. How doesn't seem important to me. I ask because "it was necessary" seems to be an assumption in your question's title. Commented Oct 5, 2016 at 21:21

4 Answers 4


The first verses you cite (Acts 19:5-6) do not teach what we today call being "baptized into Christ Jesus" (Romans 6:3; Galatians 3:27) or being "baptized by one Spirit into one body" (1 Corinthians 12:13). We can safely conclude the Ephesian believers were already baptized into Christ Jesus, or were baptized by one Spirit into one body (i.e., the body of Christ, the church universal).

In other words, they were already indwelt by the Holy Spirit, as Jesus Himself promised in John 15, where He said the Holy Spirit would in Jesus' absence abide with His disciples and be in them (v.17). These new Ephesian believers, however, evidently needed confirmation of that reality through the gifts of speaking in tongues and prophesying.

Remember, during the events recorded in the book of Acts, God had not yet given the various truths and teachings about the Holy Spirit in all their fullness to the writers of the New Testament canon of Scripture. We might think of the book of Acts as a transitional book, linking Jesus' promise of the coming Holy Spirit (again, John 14) prior to His ascension into heaven, to the authoritative doctrinal teaching on both the Holy Spirit's indwelling of all new believers and His gifting of all believers with one or more spiritual gifts (see 1 Corinthians 12; Romans 12; Ephesians 4; and 1 Peter 4).

The second verses you cite (Acts 8:15-17) are more germane to your questions, because these verses seem to indicate the Samaritan believers actually received the Holy Spirit's indwelling when the apostles Peter and John prayed for and laid their hands on them. Verse 17 says,

"and they [the Samaritan believers] were receiving the Holy Spirit."

In what sense, then, were they "receiving the Holy Spirit"? To answer that question, I again suggest what happens in Acts 8 is an outward demonstration of a truth which was not yet fully understood by the apostles, let alone the Samaritans! That truth is that the Holy Spirit indwells a Christian when he or she first believes, or is passed from death to life, or is born again, or is born from above. Remember, the book of Acts is a transitional book which bridges Christ's teaching on the Holy Spirit and the yet-future teaching of the apostles and writers of the New Testament epistles.

Did the Holy Spirit, then, indwell the Samaritan believers twice? No, but they perhaps needed this praying and laying on of hands by the apostles to grasp what had happened to them after they believed in Jesus Christ and were baptized, in water, in His name. Remember, water baptism marks a believer, but only the baptism of the Holy Spirit makes a believer. Another term for the baptism of the Holy Spirit is, for example, being "sealed [by the Holy Spirit for the day of redemption" (Ephesians 4:30). Second Corinthians 1:22 KJV says,

"[God] hath also sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts."

And 2 Corinthians 5:5 KJV adds a similar thought:

"Now he that hath wrought us for the selfsame thing [i.e., what is mortal being swallowed up by life] is God, who also hath given unto us the earnest of the Spirit."

The "earnest" is like a down payment. Just as interested home buyers will give the home sellers a deposit, which is sometimes called "earnest money," as a token of their seriousness (or *earnest*ness) about buying the house, so also does God give us the Holy Spirit as a sort of down payment guaranteeing that He indeed wants us to be with Him in heaven one day. Only then will our salvation be complete in our glorification (see Romans 8:17 and 30; and 2 Thessalonians 1:10).

  • What evidence do you have to say that the Ephesians of Acts 19:1-7 were already Christians and did have the holy spirit? Instead I think the text says that they were disciples of John the Baptist, who probably would have heard of Jesus but clearly didn't understand the full significance of who he was because they didn't know that Jesus was the one John had told them to believe in (v4). When they heard that they understood and asked to be baptised in Jesus' name. The holy spirit comes, and we infer that Paul tells them the full gospel.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Mar 9, 2014 at 23:40
  • @curiousdannii: As they say, the devil's in the details. That's an unfortunate saying I suppose, but in determining how to explain what happened to the dozen disciples in Acts 19:1-7, there are several details worth highlighting which "prove" these men were believers in Jesus and were indwelt by the Holy Spirit: 1) in v.1 they are called disciples; 2) the baptism "in the name of the Lord Jesus" in v.5 is BELIEVERS' BAPTISM, a baptism in water, which marks, not makes, a Christian; and 3) in v. 6 we are told "the Holy Spirit came ON them," which indicates He was already IN them. For a minute, Commented Mar 10, 2014 at 5:13
  • 1. John's disciples were also called disciples. 2. Correct. So doesn't it suggest that because they had not been baptised before that they did not understand the Christian gospel before this time? Otherwise someone would have baptised them earlier. 3. "On" is also used in Acts 8 and Acts 10. Nothing in Acts 19 suggests the spirit was in them!
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Mar 10, 2014 at 5:17
  • put yourself in their shoes. You are one of these 12 disciples and not long ago you believed in the one of whom John the Baptist said, "He is coming after me" (v.4). Their water baptism "into John" (v.3) is what made them believers; their water baptism "into the Lord Jesus" sealed the deal for them (v.5). The sign gifts of tongues and prophecy were an outward manifestation of what had already happened internally, and it probably encouraged A& strengthened them in their faith until they could be taught further about the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Commented Mar 10, 2014 at 5:21
  • They may have wanted to believe in the one John was preparing the way for, but John couldn't have told them the gospel - he died before the cross. He couldn't have told them that it was truly God himself come as a man who would die for them to take their sin before being raised to life again, because before the cross no one other than God knew that was what he was planning. Jesus' own disciples were completely confused. John did his job and prepared his disciples to accept Jesus, which they did immediately after Paul told them everything about him.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Mar 10, 2014 at 5:33

Acts 2:38 Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."

Depending on your doctrine, in Acts 8 they DID have the HS. The apostles just added the GIFTS (i.e. miracles) of the HS to them so they can make miracles, get bitten by snakes and live, etc.

Depending on your doctrine, now a days like then, Philip could not pass the gifts of the HS - that is why Simon did not ask Philip for the gifts. Today xtians just have the mark of the HS (Romans 8:9) not the gifts because xtians now have the NT. The apostles where passing the gifts around because the church did not have the NT.

Depending on your doctrine, with the apostles dead and no more miracles thus the church made the NT. Heaven and Hell - make the right choice and be aware of real world consequences.

  • 1
    Rather than saying "depending on your doctrine" it would be helpful if you could tell some groups which teach both sides of the issue, and the reasons why they take those sides. After all, they're asking the question because they're not sure!
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Mar 9, 2014 at 22:50

The outline of the book of Acts, and of the mission of God, is given in Acts 1:8:

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. (NLT)

The rest of the book then follows the apostles as they travelled out from Jerusalem taking the gospel with them. The book can be divided up exactly in that order:

  1. Jerusalem: chapters 1-7
  2. Judea, Samaria (and other adjacent regions): chapters 8-9
  3. To the ends of the earth: chapter 10 to the end

Because of how God had dealt with them in the past and because of the Old Testament Law, the Jews expected Christianity to still be very Jewish - although they did expect non-Jews to become followers of Jesus, they expected them to adopt the cultures of the Jews as well. This was not however God's plan, he would save people and start churches among the Gentiles without requiring them to live as Jews.

God showed the apostles, the leaders of the church, that this was his plan by making sure that they were present when the gospel crossed one of these boundaries. Additionally the showy gifts like speaking in tongues are demonstrated at these times to show that the holy spirit really has come to these people - in fact these times are the only times when speaking in tongues is mentioned in Acts. These passages are:

  1. The spirit coming to Jews: Acts 2 with all the apostles present
  2. The spirit coming to Samarians (half-Jews): Acts 8 with Peter and John present, and they lay their hands on the believers
  3. The spirit coming to gentiles: Acts 10 with Peter present (and others) who doesn't lay his hands on them
  4. The 'time-warp' Ephesians of Acts 19 who had missed out on hearing the whole gospel. Paul is present and he does lay his hands on them

What should we make of this? First we must remember that these are unique events, showing the gospel and the spirit going out into the whole world. The spirit and gifts like speaking in tongues are given to show that these people are legitimate Christians even though they weren't circumcised and didn't obey the rest of the Jewish law.

Secondly, though the apostles sometimes did lay their hands on people, sometimes they didn't. Indeed, at the most important times they didn't! These are when the spirit first comes in Acts 2, and when he comes to the gentiles in Acts 10.

The apostles laid their hands on people when they understood that the holy spirit was coming to people, but them doing that had no impact on whether or not the holy spirit would or not. It was simply them recognising what God was doing - and they only recognised what he was doing some of the time!

  • @KorvinStarmast It's a general non-charismatic protestant answer.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Oct 5, 2016 at 21:48

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 dream dreams:

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 it.

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.

  1. All the gifts continue today as they were then.
  2. Some of the gifts continue today (this is often described by differentiating “sign” gifts from administrative gifts)
  3. 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.

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