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THE LAYING ON OF HANDS IN SCRIPTURE “TO RECEIVE THE HOLY SPIRIT?”
Where it says in Acts 8:17, “Then they began laying their hands on them, and they were receiving the Holy Spirit [because they were speaking in tongues.]” This was impossible in the full context of the New Testament, and it could not really have been the indwelling Holy Spirit Himself they ‘gave’ with the laying on of hands. The context is Acts 8:5-17. Only Jesus baptizes with the Holy Spirit at the moment a believer sincerely accepts Him, (Mt. 2:11-12.) It is more likely that these Samaritans were already believers and thus baptized by Jesus with the Holy Spirit, (Acts 8:12,) because they were already baptized in water as Jesus’ disciples, (8:13.) Therefore, Peter and John, knowing the teachings and prophesies of Jesus, obviously came to them to explain the Gospel and the work of the Holy Spirit, Who only came to indwell believers at Pentecost, more clearly. They could not have prayed for those believers to ‘receive the Holy Spirit Himself,’ as a temple of the Spirit can never be empty, (Rom. 8:9; Gal. 4:6—8.) They must have prayed for the manifestation of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. As always, the truth is right before our eyes in the context of Scripture, not in individual verses that people separate from the context.
Ž Footnote, 1991 Spirit Filled Bible, “The sequence of events described in Acts 8:5-13 leaves little doubt the Samaritans had already become believers. They had “received” the Holy Spirit, [were baptised with the Holy Spirit by Jesus Himself when they accepted Him,] evidenced by their [earlier] water baptism, (v. 12, 16.) Now, through the ministry of Peter and John, they were taught the Gospel of Christ [and by their acceptance of the truth, the Spirit manifested His gifts through them.]”
One must be aware of the fact that the first believers, the apostles too, did not have the Scriptures as we have them today, and like today, none of those believers “knew it all;” especially not from the beginning of their new lives in Christ. From the epistles of the apostles and the full context of the Gospels, it is evident that all the first believers, (the apostles too,) also constantly grew in systematic understanding (Rom. 12:1-2) or “expanding revelation” of the work and power of the indwelling Holy Spirit and the teachings of Jesus.
To avoid confusion and misinterpretation, Paul commanded that “everything, (the Scriptures, beliefs, spirits, and teaching) must be “tested” according to the context of the passage and then interpreted in the full context of Scripture, (1 Ths. 5:21.) From Paul’s teachings on these subjects, it seems the early believers, just as modern believers, were confused about the sequence of salvation and growth in Christ. I.e., understanding the true Gospel, believing in Jesus, personally accepting Jesus, Jesus’ baptism with the Holy Spirit to indwell His temple, water baptism as disciples, the Spirit manifesting His gifts through them, and the growth and function of the individual members of the body of Christ.
Fact remains that human beings cannot ‘confer’ or ‘transfer’ the Holy Spirit Himself by breathing on people or even by the laying on of hands! Only Jesus is the Savior, Redeemer, Healer, and Holy-Ghost Baptizer! Christ Jesus Himself ‘confers’ the indwelling Holy Spirit to all those who sincerely accept Him in sincere obedience to His Word, (Jn. 1:12-13; Gal. 4:6; Acts 5:32!)
The Holy Spirit may or many not use the spiritual ‘elderlyship’ of 1 Tim. 4:14 to manifest His gifts by the laying on of hands. He may or may not separate or set apart spiritual workers such as teachers by the laying on of hands – which is not the lofty ‘ordination’ of a hierarchical ‘eldership’ or human-elected priesthood; exalting them to superior ‘offices’ or well-paid ‘posts,’ - (Acts 13:2-3; 1 Tim. 5:22.)
The Spirit may and most probably will heal the sick through the laying on of hands, as and when He chooses, (Mark 16:18; 1 Cor. 12:11.) The Spirit may also use the anointing of oil in prayer to heal the sick, (Jam. 5:16-17.) He may also use doctors, or the human body’s own marvelous, God-given ability to ‘heal itself’ as witnessed every day when we hurt ourselves — but all healing ultimately emanates from God Alone!
God commanded that we should only lay hands on people for a specific purpose and as the Holy Spirit leads us. 1 Tim. 5:22, “Do not lay hands upon anyone too hastily and thereby share responsibility for the sins of others; keep yourself free from sin.” Evil spirits can and will be transferred if Satanists or false believers lay hands on us or visa versa.
The laying on of hands can, as the Holy Spirit leads, also be used to bless children and people in ministry. Acts 13:3, “When they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.”