WHY DID PETER AND JOHN NEED TO LAY HANDS ON THE SAMARITANS FOR THEM TO RECEIVE THE HOLY GHOST?
by Shawn Brasseaux
“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” (Acts 8:14-17). What is going on here? Is it something we should practice?
Hebrews 4:12 should always be kept in mind when considering any passage of the Bible, especially the controversial ones: “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” God’s Word is a “discerner” as in a “judge,” evaluating our views and motives.
Firstly, if we want the truth, if we come with a longing to believe verses, God honors that wish and enlightens us as we read and believe the Scriptures. We will therefore teach verses as He desired us. Secondly, if we want to use the Bible to teach what we want—that is, seeking to defend and uphold our theological system—God will give us over to this error. Yea, it is entirely possible to thus use the Bible and still wind up in spiritual darkness. These two alternatives demarcate the difference between the propagation of God’s pure words to His glory versus the foundation of cults, sects, and denominations to our glory.
Beyond any shadow of a doubt whatsoever, the Book of Acts is the most abused and most misunderstood part of the Bible. Over the course of the last 2,000 years, innumerable readers have taken these precious words of God the Holy Spirit and taught all kinds of heresies and absurdities. It is a real shame that Acts has frequently been used to teach what denominationally-minded people wanted instead of what the Holy Spirit intended. Acts 8:14-17, which we now analyze, is an excellent case in point. May we wish to have the truth regarding it.
In chapter 6 of Acts, seven men “of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom” (verse 3), were chosen to manage the food distribution amongst the Messianic Jews in Jerusalem. One of these seven believers was Philip. When Saul of Tarsus ruthlessly persecuted the Jerusalem church, Philip fled the city and traveled to Samaria in the north to preach to them (Acts 8:5-13). The 12 Apostles, who had remained in Jerusalem (verses 1-4), hear of Philip’s converts in Samaria and send Apostles Peter and John to investigate (see Acts 8:14-17). Strangely enough, although these Samaritans are now believers, they do not receive the Holy Ghost until Peter and John lay hands on them. Nearly 2,000 years later, and Bible readers still needlessly struggle with this unusual situation.
One of the curses of the violated Law of Moses was Israel’s political destruction: “I will break the pride of your power,” the LORD promised them in Leviticus 26:19. This prophecy was fulfilled once idolatrous King Solomon died, David’s kingdom split into two kingdoms, 10 northern tribes and two southern tribes (see 1 Kings 11:1-13,28-39). “Samaria” eventually became a title for the Northern Kingdom. Due to their isolation from Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem (Southern Kingdom), the northern tribes quickly fell into pagan idolatry or devil worship (see 1 Kings 12:25-33; 1 Kings 13:32; 1 Kings 16:23-33; et al.). Furthermore, when their evils led to their eviction from the Promised Land centuries later, idolatrous Gentiles resettled the area and further corrupted it with false religion, Jews even intermarrying into these families (2 Kings 17:24-41). Samaria languished in spiritual darkness all the way to Christ’s earthly ministry.
The Samaritans were ethnically, religiously, and politically distinct from the pure-blooded Jews: hence, “the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans” (John 4:9). Samaritans, although sharing Israel’s patriarch Jacob as their own forefather (verse 12), resulted from Gentile-Jewish marriages during the centuries before Christ. The Samaritans had a hybrid religious system (syncretism), some Law of Moses mixed with heathen beliefs. Instead of worshipping at Jerusalem (Mount Zion), the Samaritans worshipped at Mount Gerazim to the north (verses 20-22). Samaritans vehemently opposed the Jews visiting Jerusalem for religious reasons (read Luke 9:51-56). Lastly, Samaritans (Northern Kingdom) had broken from David’s house or dynasty (Southern Kingdom).
Consequently, during the first installment of the so-called “Great Commission:” “These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10:5-6). Like the Gentiles (non-Jews), the Samaritans (half-Jew/half-Gentile) were spiritually unclean. The full-blooded Jews were to be reached first with the Gospel of the Kingdom. Later, the Lord expanded the commission in Acts 1:8: “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.”
Their order was to convert Jerusalem first, then Judaea (region surrounding Jerusalem, or Southern Kingdom), next Samaria (Northern Kingdom), and finally the world or the Gentiles (also, see Luke 24:47 and Matthew 28:19-20). However, with Philip and Acts 8:14-17, there was a radical departure from that sequence.
The Little Flock, Israel’s believing remnant (see Luke 12:32), was not to preach to Samaritans until after converting Jerusalem and Judah (recall Luke 24:47 and Acts 1:8). Yet, with Jerusalem and Judah still in unbelief, the Book of Acts records Philip moving to Samaria and evangelizing the Samaritans (the context of Acts 8:14-17). Philip’s actions signal God is no longer operating the prophetic program, for Philip, filled with the Holy Ghost (Acts 6:3,5), has departed from the commission given to the Little Flock.
Israel had fallen back in chapter 7, when Stephen, another one of the seven Spirit-filled men selected in chapter 6, was stoned to death (see Acts 7:51-60). Stephen’s murder was Israel’s unforgiveable blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:31-32). From chapter 7 of Acts to the end of the Book (chapter 28) is the 30-year-long transition period from Israel’s prophetic program to our mystery program.
When the Holy Ghost had been poured out on the Day of Pentecost (Acts chapter 2), that was a foretaste or preview of the New Covenant blessings: “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them” (Ezekiel 36:26-27). Though the prophetic program had been paused in Acts chapter 7, and our mystery program was beginning with Paul (see Acts chapter 9), the Lord through Luke writing Acts chapter 8 shows us how the New Covenant (yet future) will reunite the Samaritans and Jews under one government.
Remember, Jerusalem is “the city of the great King” (Psalm 48:2; Matthew 5:35). It will be Israel’s capital when the Lord Jesus Christ sits on David’s throne in the ages to come. The 12 Apostles are the new Jewish governmental leaders: “And Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matthew 19:28).
Also, recall the Samaritans (Northern Kingdom) had broken away from the Davidic dynasty (Southern Kingdom) many centuries before Christ. As the Son of David and thus Heir to David’s throne, Jesus Christ selected His princes to rule with Him. The 12 Apostles therefore represent Jerusalem’s government, and Samaria must be brought back under and submit to David’s house. After all, according to Jeremiah 31:31, the New Covenant will reunite “the house of Israel” (Northern Kingdom) and “the house of Judah” (Southern Kingdom). You can also read Ezekiel 37:15-23, the reunion of “Joseph/Ephraim” (Northern Kingdom) with “Judah” (Southern Kingdom) to enjoy Kingdom glory. “And David my servant shall be king over them: and they all shall have one shepherd…” (Ezekiel 37:24).
So as to preview these New Covenant blessings, the Holy Spirit in Acts 8:14-17 works through Apostles Peter and John—representing Jerusalem and David’s throne—to approve the Samaritans’ conversion. Samaria receives authority and power from Jerusalem’s Apostles, surrendering to David’s government, thereby reversing the political division brought about under the Law of Moses all those hundreds of years prior.
The Holy Ghost was given in Jerusalem (Acts chapter 2), previewing Israel’s New Covenant and Millennial Kingdom blessings. To demonstrate how He would one day rejoin the Northern Kingdom (10 tribes, including the Samaritans) to the Southern Kingdom (two tribes; capital city Jerusalem), the Holy Spirit moved Philip to preach to the Samaritans and then motivated Apostles Peter and John of the Jerusalem Church to confirm or authorize these Samaritans’ entrance into the Little Flock (Israel’s believing remnant).
Denominationally-minded people, no matter how sincere, are sincerely wrong if they believe Acts 8:14-17 defines what the God of the Bible is currently doing with us. We should be ever so careful before we “name and claim” passages—ignoring contexts and lacking a firm understanding of what the Scriptures have already stated about those topics. Contrary to popular belief, just because it is in the Bible does not mean it is our pattern. We can be “Scriptural” and still be outside God’s will!
According to the Bible, Paul is “the apostle of the Gentiles” (Romans 11:13), God’s spokesman to us. We do not appeal to Peter or John—including Acts 8:14-17. If we study Paul’s epistles, Romans through Philemon, we will discover there is absolutely nothing about laying hands on anyone to impart the Holy Spirit to them. That is Israel’s doctrine, not ours. If anyone wants the Holy Spirit today, they need to believe Christ died for their sins, was buried, and rose again the third day (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). “That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ. In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed [preserved] with that holy Spirit of promise,…” (Ephesians 1:12-13).
» Who were the Samaritans?
» Was Jesus Christ a dispensationalist during His earthly ministry?
» Did John 10:16 predict the Church the Body of Christ?
» Have I blasphemed against the Holy Ghost?
» Can you explain Acts 19:1-7?