The Spirit Baptism Problem in Acts 8:14-17

Justin Johnson

Acts 8:14-17 poses a real problem if you think the church, the Body of Christ, began with the appearance of the Holy Ghost outpouring at Pentecost.

The problem disappears when a mid-Acts Pauline perspective is used which rightly divides Acts 8 from the present dispensation of grace.

Spirit ≠ Body

The main argument for the subject of the mystery, the Body of Christ, beginning at Pentecost is 1 Cor 12:13.

“For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.” – 1 Cor 12:13

Spirit baptism identifies us as the one body. The argument goes that this Spirit baptism occurred at Pentecost; therefore, so did the start of the body. This remains the most common objection to Pauline right division.

The first problem is in turning two different baptisms into one. Whereas 1 Cor 12:13 is a baptism performed by the Spirit into the body of Christ, the baptism at Pentecost differed in that Christ did the baptizing, and that into the power of the Spirit (Matt 3:11). This is not the subject of the present article.

The second problem is in thinking that wherever the Spirit is present he must be doing the same thing. We could call this the same-Spirit-same-ministry approach. This does not accurately depict the work of the Spirit throughout the Bible which changes depending on the dispensation. A failure to recognize that the same Spirit could have different ministries has fertilized the growth of charismatic Pentecostalism. This is not the subject of the present article.

The concern at the present is a third problem found in Acts 8:14-17 with the Pentecostal Spirit identifying the mystery Body.

To Be or Not to Be

In Acts 8 Philip the great evangelist preaches the word in Samaria and many believe and receive him with his signs and wonders. They were even water baptized (which gives false comfort to those who make that a matter of importance, Acts 8:12). However, it is not until many days later when Peter and John came from Jerusalem that any believing Samaritan received the Holy Ghost (Acts 8:14-16).

“For as yet he [the Holy Ghost] was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.” – Acts 8:16

Instead of getting sidetracked about the formula in which they were baptized notice that these were men and women believing Jesus was the Christ, who had repented, and were water baptized by Philip, but they had not received the Holy Ghost.

Here is the problem: were these people in the Body of Christ or not?

The Problem Stated Clearly

If they were in the Body, then this means a person’s identity with the Body is unrelated to the presence of the Spirit. This would undermine the original position that the Spirit identifies the Body at Pentecost.

If they were not, then this means believing the gospel, even when water baptism occurs, does not identify them as members of the church, the Body of Christ. (This should cause many Baptists to blow a fuse who water baptize for church membership.)

This second option is worse than the first in that it concludes that it is possible to believe the gospel while lacking a complete position in Christ through the Spirit.

This is the beginning of the second blessing teaching that instructs believers to wait, will, and work for the second blessing of Spirit empowerment that comes sometimes years after their belief in the gospel (often accompanied by tongue talking, so it is said).

All second blessing teachers confuse the gospel of grace by adding works and making believers incomplete in Christ, but it is derived from the pattern and problem in Acts 8:14-17.

The problem persists only when it is maintained that the church of today began at Pentecost.

The Mid-Acts Solution

The problem should make clear the reality that the church, the Body of Christ, could not have begun before Acts 9. Paul says that all that believe his gospel are sealed with the Holy Spirit who baptizes them into 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 with that holy Spirit of promise:” – Eph 1:13

“For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit:” – 1 Corinthians 12:13

This was not true for the Samaritans in Acts 8. The information had not yet been revealed. If it had been true in Acts 8 it would have conflicted with the events.

Knowing that the gospel of the kingdom with signs and powers to Samaria was not the gospel of the grace of God rescues the gospel from the holiness second blessing heresy.

Knowing that the mystery church of Christ’s body was not present in Acts 8 allows these believers in the gospel of Jesus’ name to receive the word of prophecy for a time without the prophesied power of the Holy Ghost.

If the church, the Body of Christ, did not begin until it was first dispensed and described to the apostle Paul then the Acts 8 problem goes away.

Why the Delay

The mid-Acts position also clears up why there was a delay for these Samaritans in receiving the Spirit: they required acknowledgment by the authoritative kingdom apostles to receive what Jerusalem was not. This kingdom authority does not concern the church which does not answer to Jerusalem.

The presence of Peter and John in Samaria shows that the glory of the Lord’s kingdom had departed from Jerusalem, since they were instructed to stay in Jerusalem by the Lord (Luke 24:47; Acts 8:1). Samaritans were receiving what should have been received by the priests and scribes. Samaritans were still Israelites (not Gentiles) and what was happening here was according to prophecy not mystery. Nevertheless, the kingdom could not be ushered in by the hands of Samaritans without a converted Jerusalem.

The kingdom come had been postponed, and the Holy Ghost was demonstrating this by His presence among the Samaritans blessed by Peter and John, but long rejected by those in the temple. The gospel for the church today had not yet been revealed.

Not only does this resolve the problem with Acts 8, but it explains why Paul is saved. Since Acts 8 represents the Spirit’s departure from the prophetic purpose, in the next chapter the Lord creates a new apostle and sends him to all men with a mystery. The mystery concerns a new creature, a one-body church identified with Jesus Christ by the Spirit.

Acts 8:14-17 poses a real problem if you think the church body of 1 Cor 12:13 began at Pentecost. There is only one consistent solution: mid-Acts Pauline right division.

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Published: January 29, 2016
Last Modified: September 1, 2018
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