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Imparting Spiritual Gifts: How Were Miraculous Powers Obtained?

Imparting Spiritual Gifts: How People Received Miracle PowerNote: This article continues a series of studies about miracles, tongues, Holy Spirit baptism, healings, and spiritual gifts. 

If you have not read the previous articles, then please click here to start at the beginning.


Who received spiritual gifts, and by what means did they receive them? How were the gifts bestowed?

As we study note carefully: (1) There are only two possible methods mentioned anywhere in the New Testament by which anyone could receive miraculous gifts of the Spirit. (2) Both of these methods required the direct involvement of apostles.

I. Holy Spirit Baptism

By definition, Holy Spirit baptism was a complete immersion or overwhelming in the Holy Spirit (or more precisely, in the power given by the Spirit, since the Spirit Himself is a person).

The New Testament often mentions the Holy Spirit. But remember that the Spirit did many things and gave many different gifts. Some people see the Holy Spirit mentioned and assume it means Holy Spirit baptism or spiritual gifts. But not all references to the Spirit refer to Holy Spirit baptism.

Also, the Bible refers to several kinds of baptisms. Not all references to baptism refer to Holy Spirit baptism.

A. Who Received Holy Spirit Baptism?

There are only two events, which the Bible refers to as Holy Spirit baptism:

1. The apostles on the occasion of the first Jewish converts - Acts 1 and 2.

Note Acts 1:2-8.

Jesus spoke to the apostles (v2). These were "men of Galilee" (v11).

He said they would be baptized in the Holy Spirit, as God promised through John the Baptist (v4,5). Note that Holy Spirit baptism is separate and distinct from water baptism (v5).

This promise would be fulfilled in Jerusalem "not many days hence" (v4,5).

Those who received the promise had no control over when, where, how, or on whom it came. All this was decided by God (vv 4,5,7,8).

This is a promise to a specific group of people to be fulfilled at a specific time and place. No one today can claim this promise is addressed to them, for they are not apostles waiting in Jerusalem, "not many days" after Jesus ascension.

We may as well build arks like Noah or sacrifice our sons like Abraham as to claim Holy Spirit baptism for us today based on this verse.

Now note Acts 2:1-21,33 (read 2:1-7,14,33)

On the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit came on the apostles as promised (v4,33). As a result they spoke in tongues (v4-11) and preached to the people (v14ff).

This is clearly the fulfillment of the promise of Acts 1, since it came on the apostles in Jerusalem not many days after Jesus' ascension, just like Jesus promised (2:1,5,14; cf. 1:12). Peter said it fulfilled the Father's promise to send the Spirit (v33; cf. 1:4,5).

Some claim that, in addition to the apostles, all of the 120 of 1:15 received Holy Spirit baptism here. However:

* The promise had been addressed to the apostles (1:2-8).

* The pronoun "they" in 2:1-4 would refer to the nearest antecedent (unless there is clear evidence otherwise), and that would be the 11 apostles plus Matthias (1:26).

* The 12 apostles were the ones who were empowered to preach to the multitudes (2:14,37).

* Those who spoke were all Galileans (2:7). This agrees with the descriptions of the apostles in 1:11 and 13:31.

Obviously, the apostles were directly involved in this occurrence of Holy Spirit baptism.

2. Cornelius' household on the occasion of the first gentile converts - Acts 10 and 11 (read 10:44-48; 11:15-18).

Several miraculous events convinced Peter to visit Gentiles and preach to them (10:1-43; 11:1-14).

As Peter preached, the Spirit fell on the hearers and they spoke in tongues (v44-46; 11:15-17). Peter cites this as fulfilling the promise of Holy Spirit baptism, and says it was a "like gift" to what he and others received "at the beginning" (11:15-17).

Peter concluded Gentiles could be baptized, and other Jews agreed (10:46-48; 11:17,18; 15:5-11). Note again that Holy Spirit baptism was a separate and distinct baptism from water baptism. Cornelius received both (10:44,48; 11:16).

Again, God decided who, how, when, and where people would receive Holy Spirit baptism. Those who received it had no control over these matters.

Acts 2 and Acts 10 are the only recorded occurrences of Holy Spirit baptism. This was a special promise fulfilled in special cases involving specific people. Nowhere did God promise or require all people or all of His children to be baptized in the Spirit.

Note again that an apostle (Peter) played an essential role in this occurrence of Holy Spirit baptism.

3. Some people claim that Holy Spirit baptism was for more people than just these.

Consider some evidence they may present:

Matthew 3:11 (Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16)

Some claim John promised Holy Spirit baptism to the whole multitude (or all his disciples). However:

* John's promise said that some people present would receive the Holy Spirit baptism. But it nowhere said that all of them would.

* Pharisees and Sadducees were present and were firmly rebuked (v7-1O). Did they receive Holy Spirit baptism too?

* Some were promised baptism in fire. But the context shows the "fire" refers to eternal damnation (v10,11,12). Is John promising this baptism to all who were present?

* The fulfillment of John's prophecy is demonstrated later when this very passage is specifically quoted to show who did receive the promise: the apostles and Cornelius - Acts 1:5; 11:16.

Acts 2:38,39

Some claim this says Holy Spirit baptism was promised to all whom the Lord will call. However:

* The passage does not say all who are saved receive "Holy Spirit baptism" but "the gift of the Holy Spirit." The Spirit has given many gifts. We must not assume this is Holy Spirit baptism without proof.

* All who receive remission of sins definitely would have this gift (v38,39). But it would contradict Scripture to say that every saved person must have Holy Spirit baptism, as the next point shows.

* All who received Holy Spirit baptism spoke in tongues (Acts 2:4; 10:46). But not all saved people spoke in tongues (1 Corinthians 12:7-11,29f). Therefore, the "gift of the Spirit," which was for all people, cannot have been Holy Spirit baptism.

* If this gift is Holy Spirit baptism, then all saved people receive two baptisms: one baptism was necessary to receive remission and the other came afterwards (v38,39). The apostles and Cornelius did receive two baptisms, but they were special cases. By the time Ephesians 4:4-6 was written, and since that time, there is only one baptism.

* The "gift of the Holy Spirit" fits best the description of the indwelling of the Spirit. This is a different work of the Holy Spirit, and definitely is not Holy Spirit baptism.

B. What Was the Purpose of Holy Spirit Baptism?

1. It gave miraculous powers.

The apostles spoke in tongues - Acts 2:4-11.

Cornelius' house spoke in tongues - Acts 10:44-46; 11:15-17.

All who were Holy Spirit baptized immediately spoke in tongues. But we learned earlier that miraculous powers served their purpose and are no longer needed. So Holy Spirit baptism is no longer needed for this purpose.

2. It gave the apostles direct guidance in teaching.

See Acts 1:8; 2:14-36. See also John 16:13; 14:26.

This power was needed when the Scriptures were not complete. But as has also been discussed earlier, the Scriptures are now complete, so we no longer need this power.

3. It confirmed that the Gentiles could obey the gospel.

See Acts 10:44-48; 11:1-18.

But this truth too is now clearly confirmed and revealed in the Bible. Holy Spirit baptism is no longer needed for this purpose.

For what purpose then do we need Holy Spirit baptism today? All its purposes have been accomplished. It is no longer needed at all. This is why it was given only on a few special occasions. Like Noah's flood, it served only a special, temporary purpose and is no longer being repeated.

C. Who Administered Holy Spirit Baptism?

1. In some baptisms, a human agent administers the baptism.

This is the case with water baptism. A man immerses another man into the element.

The man who administers the baptism is acting by the authority of the one who commanded the baptism, so he is said to act "in the name of" the one who gave the command - Acts 8:35-39; 10:47,48; Matthew 28:19; 3:11,6,13; etc.

2. Jesus himself was the administrator of Holy Spirit baptism.

No human agent was involved, but the Spirit came directly from heaven upon the subject who received it (Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; John 1:33; Acts 2:1-4; 10:44-46; 11:16)

D. Is Holy Spirit Baptism Essential to Salvation?

The Bible speaks of a "baptism" which is essential to salvation - Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; Romans 6:3,4; etc. Some say this is Holy Spirit baptism. But God's word mentions more than one baptism (note Matthew 3:11; etc.). Which baptism is the one that is essential to salvation?

The baptism essential to salvation was a command addressed to all people.

See Mark 16:15,16; Acts 2:38; 22:16.

But Holy Spirit baptism was not a command. It was a promise fulfilled in certain select cases - Acts 1:2-8; chap. 2 and chap. 10.

Water baptism, however, was a command - Acts 10:47,48.

The baptism essential to salvation was administered by men in the name of God.

See Matthew 28:19,20 (with Mark 16:16); Acts 2:38.

Water baptism was administered by men in the name of Jesus - Acts 8:35-39; 10:47,48.

But as discussed earlier, Holy Spirit baptism was not administered by men. It came directly from heaven without any human agents or intermediaries being involved - Matthew 3:11; Acts 2:1-4; etc.

People had to choose or decide for themselves whether or not to be baptized to be saved.

See Mark 16:15,16; Acts 2:38; 22:16.

This fits the pattern of water baptism - Acts 8:35-39; 10:47,48.

But God decided who would receive Holy Spirit baptism, when, where, etc., regardless of the people's choice - Acts 1:2-8; chap. 2; 10:44ff.

When people decided to be baptized for remission of sins, they were told not to wait.

They were baptized immediately - Acts 22:16; 2:38-41; 16:31-34.

This fits the pattern of water baptism - Acts 8:35-39; 10:47,48.

But people who received Holy Spirit baptism had to wait till God's chosen time - Acts 1:4,5.

People who were baptized for salvation did not always receive miraculous gifts.

Those who did receive these gifts, did so only after other events had occurred, not immediately - Acts 8:12-24; 19:1-7; 1 Corinthians 12:7-11,29,30. (In the exceptional case of Cornelius, the gifts came first, to convince Peter to do the baptizing for salvation - 10:44-48).

But when Holy Spirit baptism occurred, it always immediately gave the power to speak in tongues - Acts 2:4; 10:44-46.

No passage anywhere states or implies that Holy Spirit baptism is essential to salvation. The one baptism which is for today (Ephesians 4:4-6) and which is essential to salvation is water baptism. Holy Spirit baptism has accomplished its purpose and is no longer needed at all.

II. Laying on of Apostles' Hands

Laying on of hands was a common practice for various purposes. Sometimes it had a religious significance. Other times it was a customary sign of special dedication or honor. We will study only cases where spiritual gifts were imparted.

A. Examples of Laying on of Apostles' Hands to Impart Miracles

Acts 8:14-21 - The Holy Spirit was given through the laying on of apostles' hands (v18). Although Philip could perform miracles (v6-13), yet the people he converted did not receive the Holy Spirit till the apostles came from Jerusalem and laid hands on them (v14,15). [Cf. Acts 6:6.]

Acts 19:1-7 - Men received Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues when Paul laid his hands on them.

Romans 1:8-11 - Paul desired to come and see them to impart some spiritual gift. An apostle had to personally visit them, in order for a gift to be imparted to them. If Holy Spirit baptism can come in other ways, why would they need Paul to come?

2 Timothy 1:6 - Timothy received a gift by the laying on of Paul's hands.

Although other people besides apostles possessed miraculous powers, only the apostles could bestow or impart gifts to others.

B. But the Church No Longer Has Apostles Living on Earth.

1. Apostles had to be eyewitnesses of the resurrected Christ.

All the 12 were eyewitnesses - 1 Corinthians 15:4-8; Acts 2:32; 3:15; 4:33; 5:32; 10:39-41; etc.

Judas' replacement had to be an eyewitness - Acts 1:21,22.

Paul was an eyewitness - 1 Corinthians 9:1; 15:8; Acts 22:14,15; 26:16.

However, living eyewitnesses are no longer needed, because we now have the written record of the eyewitnesses (John 20:30,31; etc.).

Paul said Jesus' appearance to him was "last of all" and "out of due time" (1 Corinthians 15:8), because it was after Jesus' ascension (Acts 9), whereas other apostles had seen Him before the Ascension (Acts 1). If Jesus is continuing to appear to men, then Paul would not have been "out of due time" at all, for there would be many more like him. In fact the original 12 would be the exceptions!

2. Apostles were guided directly by the Holy Spirit in their teaching.

See John 16:13; Matthew 10:19,20; Ephesians 3:3-5; 1 Corinthians 14:37; etc.

But we have seen that this power is no longer needed, because the Scriptures now completely record God's will.

3. The apostles performed miracles by the power of the spirit to confirm their message was from God.

See 2 Corinthians 12:11,12. [Acts 5:12; 14:3; Heb. 2:3,4]

But again, we have seen that this power is not needed today, because the New Testament record of miracles is adequate evidence. And no one today does signs with the characteristics of true miracles.

The work of the apostles pertained to the foundation of the church - Ephesians 2:20. We no longer need apostles living on earth today, just as we no longer need Jesus living on earth today.

Nevertheless, just as people in Jesus' day "had" Moses and the prophets (Luke 16:29-31), so we have apostles today. We have the end product of their work, the complete Scriptures.

There are only two ways people received spiritual gifts: Holy Spirit baptism and the laying on of apostles' hands. Both of these methods required direct involvement of apostles, but there are no apostles living today.

Furthermore, the purpose of spiritual gifts has been fulfilled, so there is no need for either Holy Spirit baptism or laying on of hands today. This harmonizes with the evidence we studied earlier showing that there is no need for spiritual gifts today. This is why the means of imparting those gifts is not needed.

To see the next article in this series about spiritual gifts, please click here.

(C) Copyright 2000, David E. Pratte;
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