Acts 8:4-24

4 Therefore, those who had been scattered went about preaching the word.
5 Philip went down to the city of Samaria and began proclaiming Christ to them.
6 The crowds with one accord were giving attention to what was said by Philip, as they heard and saw the signs which he was performing.
7 For in the case of many who had unclean spirits, they were coming out of them shouting with a loud voice; and many who had been paralyzed and lame were healed.
8 So there was much rejoicing in that city.

9 Now there was a man named Simon, who formerly was practicing magic in the city and astonishing the people of Samaria, claiming to be someone great;
10 and they all, from smallest to greatest, were giving attention to him, saying, " This man is what is called the Great Power of God."
11 And they were giving him attention because he had for a long time astonished them with his magic arts.
12 But when they believed Philip preaching the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were being baptized, men and women alike.
13 Even Simon himself believed; and after being baptized, he continued on with Philip, and as he observed signs and great miracles taking place, he was constantly amazed.

14 Now when the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent them Peter and John,
15 who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. 16 For He had not yet fallen upon any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
17 Then they began laying their hands on them, and they were receiving the Holy Spirit.

18 Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was bestowed through the laying on of the apostles' hands, he offered them money,
19 saying, "Give this authority to me as well, so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit."
20 But Peter said to him, "May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money!
21 "You have no part or portion in this matter, for your heart is not right before God.
22 "Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray the Lord that, if possible, the intention of your heart may be forgiven you.
23 "For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bondage of iniquity."
24 But Simon answered and said, " Pray to the Lord for me yourselves, so that nothing of what you have said may come upon me." NASU

In Acts 8:4-25 Luke tells the missionary story of the gospel reaching Samaria. It was a missionary story in the cross-cultural sense. The Samaritans were the descendants of the Assyrians and Jews who intermarried after Assyria captured Samaria. The Assyrians came in to take the place of the upper classes of the land who were deported at the time (722 B.C.) of the fall of the northern kingdom of Israel. Because of their origin, the Jews refused to have any dealings with the Samaritans. Now, the gospel would transcend this ancient barrier.

Lampe goes further and suggests that the church in Samaria would itself become a missionary force. He (p. 72) writes: "It may not be too much to assert that this event is meant to demonstrate that a new nucleus of the missionary Church has been established, and to suggest that Luke's readers are intended to infer that the Gospel proceeded to radiate outwards from this new centre of the Spirit's mission."

The Story

The context of the story is the entire book of Acts. In this book Luke narrates the story of the expansion of the church. According to him, Jesus said (Acts 1:8), "but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth." NASU Our text records the fulfillment of this command with regard to Samaria.

When Stephen was martyred, Saul began persecuting the church. Luke writes (Acts 8:1-2): "Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death. And on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles." NASU Because of this persecution, and the scattering of the church, the gospel reached Samaria.

Luke says that they were "all scattered." Some writers hold that it was the Hellenists in the Jerusalem church who were persecuted and that it was mainly they who were scattered. Usually these writers point out that Stephen and Philip are Greek names and that these men were most likely Hellenists. Stephen had just been martyred, and the church was scattered.

Others focus more on the word "all." According to Lenksi (p. 312), Luke means "all" in the popular and not the absolute sense. Horton (p. 101) takes "all" more literally, saying that "Only the apostles remained in Jerusalem." Whatever the sense of "all" is, it seems that many, if not absolutely all, of the Hellenists and Hebrews were scattered.

Philip was among those who were scattered. He had been appointed to serve tables. He was among those (Acts 6:3)) who were "full of the Spirit and wisdom." He went to Samaria and began proclaiming Christ. His ministry brought about a powerful result.

Philip preached, the people believed, miracles happened, the people were baptized, and they received the Word of God, but the Holy Spirit "had not yet fallen upon" any of them. Upon hearing the report, the apostles in Jerusalem sent Peter and John to Samaria. While there, Peter and John laid hands on them and prayed that the Samaritans might receive the Holy Spirit. When Peter and John prayed, the Samaritans "were receiving" the Spirit.

There are several aspects to the Samaritan narrative. They include: (1) the ministry of Philip (vv. 4-13), (2) the ministry of Peter and John (vv. 14-17), and (3) Peter's interaction with Simon (vv. 18-24). Special attention is given to Simon in the narrative.

The Holy Spirit

With regard to our study of the Holy Spirit, this is a very crucial passage. The main issue concerns the reception of the Spirit. Dunn (p. 15) says that this passage is "the chief stronghold of Pentecostal (baptism in the Spirit) and Catholic (Confirmation) alike." He rejects the views of both the Pentecostals and Catholics and calls this "The Riddle of Samaria."

One group of commentators uses the term "receive" the Spirit in a very restrictive way. They hold that there is only one reception of the Spirit in a believer's life and that this reception comes immediately upon believing in Christ or, as some declare, at baptism. Obviously, this passage poses a problem for them.

They may resolve this problem in a couple of ways. One way is to hold that the experience of the Samaritans was not genuine. Although Philip's message was not defective, they misunderstood his message and did not truly believe in Christ. As we will see the facts of the story do not support this view.

Another way is to maintain that Samaria was an exceptional case. According to this view, there cannot be a separation between faith (or baptism) and reception of the Spirit, but in this case there was. For some reason the reception of the Spirit was delayed at Samaria. Luke included this story to demonstrate that they should not be separate. This view contains an inherent contradiction. It allows in an exceptional case a delay that it says cannot exist.

Another group of commentators do not restrict the term "receive" as much. Some will say that the Samaritans had received the Spirit upon believing and being baptized, but that they had not received the "gifts" of the Spirit. There are, of course, variations of this view. Others identify the reception of the Spirit at Samaria as a second reception of the Spirit. Some in this camp believe that the second reception has to do with ethical purposes or sanctification. Others say it is for empowerment.

My own view is that we need not limit the term "receive" to either one or two receptions. The term may be flexibly used of multiple and even continuous reception of the Spirit. We all use the term "filled" with the Spirit in a very flexible way. We need to use the term "receive" with the same flexibility. Such an approach eliminates most of the "problems" with this passage.

Our purpose in the discussions that follow is not to present a complete summation and evaluation of all views. That would be a major work in itself. We simply will present our view and touch on others as they arise.

George M. Flattery

For Further Study

Beasley-Murray, G. R. Baptism in the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1962.
Biederwolf, William E. A Help to the Study of the Holy Spirit. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1974.
Bruce, F. F. The Book of Acts. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1975.
Bruner, Frederick Dale. A Theology of the Holy Spirit. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1970.
Dunn, James D. G. Baptism in the Holy Spirit. London: SCM Press Ltd. 1970.
Haenchen, Ernst. The Acts of the Apostles. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1971.
Horton, Stanley M. The Book of Acts. Springfield: Gospel Publishing House, 1981.
Lenski, R.C.H. The Acts of the Apostles. Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1961.
Robertson, A.T. A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1934.
Robertson, A. T. Word Pictures in the New Testament, Vols. 1-6. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1930.
Schep, John A. Baptism in the Spirit. Plainfield: Logos International, 1972.
Swete, Henry Barclay. The Holy Spirit in the New Testament. London: Macmillan and Company, 1910.

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