Why did the first Samaritan Christians receive the Holy Spirit by the laying on of hands?

The origin of Christianity and its early growth is described in the book of Acts. It began in Jerusalem and then spread to Samaria and then to lands around the Mediterranean Sea (Acts 1:8).

The order of events associated with the initial reception of the Holy Spirit was different for different groups of people, namely:

Jews (Acts 2:38)

  1. Repentance
  2. Water baptism
  3. Reception of the Holy Spirit

Jewish disciples of John the Baptist (Acts 19:1-7)

  1. Believed
  2. Were rebaptised
  3. The Apostle Paul laid hands on them
  4. Reception of the Holy Spirit

Samaritans (Acts 8:12-17)

  1. Believed
  2. Water baptism
  3. Apostles (John and Peter) prayed
  4. Apostles(John and Peter) laid hands on them
  5. Reception of the Holy Spirit

Gentiles (Acts 10:43-48)

  1. Faith
  2. Reception of the Holy Spirit
  3. Water baptism

In all these cases salvation is based on faith in the Lord. The Bible doesn’t give a reason or explanation for the differences noted above. However, these facts may be relevant.

  • The original church in Jerusalem was comprised of Jews who still kept various Jewish traditions.
  • There was a transitional period between the original church and the multinational church that included Jews and Gentiles. During this period, the barriers between the Jews and the Gentiles were broken down (Acts 10:9-48; 15:1-35; Eph. 2:11-22).
  • Before the crucifixion, the Jews called out, “His blood is on us and on our children!” (Mt. 27:25). Their religious leaders instigated the sequence of events that led to the crucifixion of Christ. Public baptism would be a means by which Jews could dissociate themselves from this act of the Jewish nation and identify themselves with Christ. It demonstrated a change of allegiance and separated Christianity from Judaism.
  • There was hostility between the Jews and the Samaritans (Lk. 9:51-53; Jn. 4:9). The visit of the apostles and their laying of hands expressed unity and fellowship between the Jewish and Samaritan believers as an example of the unity of the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:12-13; Eph. 4:3-6). This reduced the possibility of the formation of separate national churches.
  • The events described in Acts 19 showed that Paul was not inferior to the other apostles.
  • The apostle Peter was given a vision to help explain why the Gentiles received the Holy Spirit at Caesarea (Acts 10:9-16; 11:5-18).

As the church today is largely comprised of Gentiles (Acts 15:14), the order of events associated with the reception of the Holy Spirit today is that found in Acts 10. This means that belief in Christ and reception of the Holy Spirit are concurrent; there is no gap between them (Jn. 7:38-39). So, the fact that the initial Samaritan believers received the Holy Spirit by the laying of hands was a special occurrence to protect the unity of the body of Christ and is not to be considered the pattern for every believer.

Written, May 2012

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