Receive vs. Fall Upon

Q. In Acts 8:14-17, we read that the Word of God had been received in Samaria and they had been baptized in the Lord’s name but the Holy Spirit had not come upon them until John and Peter came to them and laid hands on them. Since God’s Word cannot contradict itself, what does this mean in light of passages like Ephesians 1:13-14 where we are told we are sealed with the Holy Spirit the moment we believe? I have looked at the context of this passage with regard to Simon the magician and the rest of the Samaritians, but I still feel a bit confused. It’s such an extraordinary passage and puts light on seeking the Lord for the wrong reasons and having a wrong heart. Is this the reason for the delay in the Holy Spirit?

A. In English Acts 8:14-17 is a confusing passage that has to be read very carefully. The confusion goes away when we compare two words. On the surface it appears that there were believers in Samaria who been baptized but hadn’t received (1st word: Greek lambano) the Holy Spirit. To receive means to take to ones self as if to carry away. It denotes permanence and possession.

But that’s not what the passage says. Verse 16 says the Holy Spirit had not fallen upon (2nd word: Greek epipipto) any of them and that’s why they thought they hadn’t received Him. To fall upon means to overpower someone. It’s a temporary condition. So Peter and John went to lay hands on them and they “received” the Holy Spirit.

Now here’s another clue as to what happened. Simon saw this and offered to pay for the ability to do what Peter and John had done. This tells us that some sort of visible evidence had to have accompanied the laying on of hands. Therefore this had to be more than just receiving the Holy Spirit which is not visibly discerned. The Holy Spirit had to have fallen upon the Samaritans in a visible way, finally convincing them that they had received Him and exciting Simon’s imagination to the possibilities for personal gain. Later Paul cleared up this misunderstanding by saying the Holy Spirit is always sealed within us from the first moment of belief (Ephes. 1:13-14).

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