Sunday, January 9, 2011
Acts chapter 2 is a very important portion of the sacred word of the living God. Many things that we read in it are indispensable to the correct interpretation of other parts of the new testament. Some exegetes refer to Acts 2 as “the hub of the Bible.” I
believe such a designation is appropriate.
In it we learn about the descent of the Holy Spirit, the preaching of the apostles, the reign of Christ, the fulfillment of prophecy, the conditions necessary for the forgiveness of sins, the establishment of the assembly of Christ, the worship of God, and the unity among fellow believers.
Peter and the other apostles informed the Jews that they were guilty of murdering Jesus the Son of God. “Now when they heard this they were stricken with grief in the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Men, brothers, what shall we do?’ And Peter said to them, ‘You must change your minds, and be immersed every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.’ ” (Acts 2:37-39)
The question is, “What is the gift of the Holy Spirit” that Peter promises in v. 38? I am convinced that whatever “the gift of the Holy Spirit” is will have to be determined by the immediate context of Acts 2, and related information in the remote context
of the Book of Acts.
Some believe “the gift of the Holy Spirit” is salvation. It seems to me that such is not the case as salvation is implied in and understood by the phrase “so that your sins may be forgiven” in v. 38. Others say “the gift of the Holy Spirit” refers to the benefits and blessings that proceed from the Holy Spirit . There are blessings that proceed from the Holy Spirit just as they do from God the Father and from Christ Jesus, but such is not the likely meaning of the phrase “the gift of the Holy Spirit” in verse 38. And there are others who say it refers to the Holy Spirit himself, given
to dwell literally, bodily, and personally in believers. I see nothing in the context that supports such a view.
I believe there are at least two things (one in chapter 2 itself and the other in chapter 10) that are decisive in determining what the “gift of the Holy Spirit” refers to.
The people on Pentecost “all were amazed and perplexed (by what they were seeing and hearing), saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ But others mocking said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’ But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them…’this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; yes, and on my male slaves and female slaves in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy…” (verses 12-18)
I am persuaded that when he promised them the “gift of the Holy Spirit,” that he is reiterating what he has already stated in the immediate context, particularly in verses 17-18. In essence Peter is saying, “You will receive the miraculous outpouring of God’s
Spirit that Yahweh promised through the prophet Joel.” This is further strengthened by the fact that the only other time the phrase “the gift of the Holy Spirit” is mentioned is Acts 10:45, and there it is undeniably a miraculous manifestation of the Holy Spirit.
Someone might ask, “So, are you saying that part of Acts 2:38 is applicable today and part of it isn’t?” Yes. The same is true of Mark 16:16-18. Part of the text applies today, and the other part isn’t applicable because no signs accompany believers today.
No one casts out demons, (miraculously) speaks in new languages, picks up snakes (without being hurt if bitten), drinks deadly things without being hurt, or lays their hands on the sick that they may recover. Those things passed away when all other miracles
ceased. But, the command to “change your minds and be immersed so that your sins may be pardoned” is applicable. People still need to be saved from the guilt of their past sins.
Contextually speaking, Peter had informed them by quoting Joel’s prophecy, that the time for the “outpouring” of the Holy Spirit had arrived, and that this would be accompanied by miraculous manifestations. (verses 17-18) Therefore, when he mentioned “the gift of the Holy Spirit” in verse 38, they understood it to be what
he has already told them; the fulfillment of what God promised through Joel, “I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,” and people would prophesy, see visions, dream dreams, etc.
We learn from other texts in the book of Acts, that the miraculous powers of the Holy Spirit were bestowed on those who were not apostles, through the laying on of the apostles’ hands. (cf. Acts 6:6; 8:14-18; 19:6; Rom. 1:11)