Today’s passage has been the source of much controversy in the church. Peter and John are sent by the apostles to Samaria, they lay hands on the disciples who have been baptized in Jesus’ name (v. 16), and they receive the Holy Spirit (v. 17). Whose name should they have been baptized with in order to receive this Holy Spirit? It is clear they were true believers. Why had they not received the Holy Spirit at the time of their repentance, as did the 3,000 in Acts 2?
Some find here, in this two-stage experience, the basis for the practice of confirmation. That is, through the hand of the confirming bishop, the confirmee receives the Holy Spirit. Others argue that the normal Christian experience is two-stage; conversion is followed by Spirit baptism as a subsequent, second experience. Though other passages in Acts are cited to prove this point, the Acts 8 incident is the clearest.
Why was there a two-stage experience for the Samaritans when for the rest, God forgives our sin and gives us the Holy Spirit at one time (Acts 2:38–39)? Should Christians seek further fullness of the Holy Spirit beyond their conversion, thinking that without this second blessing they have not received all God intended for them? If this is the case, why don’t any of the New Testament letters urge the seeking of such a second blessing to solve any of the pastoral issues dealt with by the New Testament? Without backing from the letters of the New Testament for this belief in subsequence, was there a good historical reason for a two-stage blessing at Samaria?
There was ongoing conflict between Jews and Samaritans and such tension was not to be tolerated in the church. Therefore, Samaritan believers needed to realize that they were not a separate sect within Christianity, and so they received the Holy Spirit through the hands of the Jerusalem apostles. They were part of the one body of Christ. It was also important for Jerusalem believers to know that Samaritan believers were not inferior; the same Holy Spirit filled each. So Peter and John were eyewitnesses of the integrity of the Samaritan believers’ experience.
There are so many characters, stories and experiences of salvation in Acts. It is not Luke’s intention to show the normative spiritual experience for today.
Simon sought commercial value from the Holy Spirit (vv. 18–24). Why is Peter’s response appropriate? See Ephesians 1:13–14. What elements make up the normal Christian experience?