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Johnny Elmore

As I write these words, I am aware that conscientious, God-fearing people differ with me on this subject and I have no desire to antagonize or alienate them. I do hope that they will read and consider even as I have been obliged to do on numerous occasions.

Oddly enough, I first began to form convictions on this subject after being given a clue in a discussion with a brother who believed in a “personal” indwelling of the Holy Spirit. When I questioned his view that the gift of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2:38 was the Holy Spirit Himself, he pointed out (correctly) that the phrase, “the gift of the Holy Ghost,” is the same in both Greek and English as the one in Acts 10:45, and there is no question that it was the Holy Ghost (Spirit) there, for Peter said they had received the Holy Ghost (v. 47). Of course, in each of these places, I do not understand that it was the Holy Spirit Himself which was received. Rather, that it is a metonymy—a figure of speech—the source named to suggest what the source gives, i.e., the power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit as a metonymy also helped me to understand the numerous passages that speak of being “full of” or “filled with” the Holy Ghost—such passages refer to miraculous manifestations of the Holy Spirit, such as prophetic insight.

The Gift: Eternal Life?

I have conceded that the phrase, “the gift of the Holy Ghost,” is the same in Acts 2:38 and Acts 10:45. Now, the occasion in Acts 10:45 had to do with miraculous manifestation, for “they heard them speak with tongues” (Acts 10:46). This is not to affirm that the gift would be received the same way that the house of Cornelius received it, but to simply say that the gift was the Holy Spirit. This seems hard to reconcile with the view that the gift of the Holy Spirit is eternal life, especially since Peter said that the Holy Spirit was given to “them that obey him” (Acts 5:32), i.e., those who repented and were baptized for the remission of sins.

The Gift: A Non-Miraculous Indwelling?

It also seems hard to reconcile with the view of some good brethren that the Holy Spirit comes to dwell personally at baptism for the remission of sins, but without miraculous manifestations. For as we have seen, if Acts 2:38 is the same gift as Acts 10:45, then it would involve miraculous manifestations, for Acts 10:45 did. Although this view agrees with the idea that miraculous manifestations have ceased, it does not seem reasonable to me. I believe that the case of the Samaritans contradicts this view. If everyone who obeys receives the Holy Spirit automatically at baptism, why did the Samaritans not receive the Holy Spirit automatically? It is plainly denied that they received the Holy Spirit in suck a way, for “Peter and John . . . prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost: (for as yet he was fallen upon none of ne only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus)  Acts 8:1-16). It does not say that they had not received the miraculous powers it says they had not received the Holy Spirit. If they had received a personal, literal indwelling of the Holy Spirit automatically at baptism, it could not be said that they had not received the Holy Spirit.

How Was the Holy Spirit Received?

In Acts 2:38, Peter said, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sin, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” He did not say how they would receive it and when they would receive it. I think the idea of automatically” receiving it is something which has been “read into” the text.

We learn from other passages how and when it was received. In Acts 8:12-18, the Holy Spirit was received some time after baptism. It was after Jerusalem had heard the news and after Peter and John were able to get there. The Samaritans received the Holy Spirit by the “laying on of the apostles’ hands” (v. 18), not automatically. In as 19:1-6, the Holy Spirit was received in the same manner, evident y shortly after baptism, but not automatically. There are no Bible examples of the Holy Spirit being received automatically in a non-miraculous way.

What Would You Have Expected?

Let us suppose for a moment that you had been in old Jerusalem on that first Pentecost after Jesus’ resurrection. If you had been there, you may have heard the mighty sound of the Spirit’s descent. You may have heard the rumors of Jesus’ resurrection and the tongues of fire upon the apostles, and their speaking in various languages which they had never learned. You hear Peter quoting Joel’s prophecy which speaks of God pouring out of His Spirit upon “all flesh,” resulting in miraculous manifestations—prophecy, visions and dreams.

In view of that, what would you have expected when Peter said, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost”? Would you have expected a non-miraculous, personal indwelling? Can you feature those new converts asking the apostles about when they would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit and being told that they had received it already at baptism? Or is it not more reasonable to believe that the apostles imparted the Holy Spirit to them as they later did the Samaritans and the Ephesians?

You Have Everyone Receiving Miraculous Power!

But someone objects, “You have everyone who repents and is baptized receiving miraculous power.” I know what verse 39 says: “For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.”

“You” would be those there that day. “Your children” would be the next generation.

“All that are afar off” would be the Gentiles (Eph. 2:17).

And even the phrase, “as many as the Lord our God shall call” would suggest limitation.

All agree that “all flesh” is limited. Miraculous manifestations were limited to a period of about forty years. The thought is simply that no one is excluded on the basis of age, gender or nationality. It is argued that if the gift of the Holy Spirit is limited, then so is remission of sins. But it was not stated that repentance and baptism were for the gift of the Holy Spirit; that was something in addition.

Other passages show that miraculous manifestations were limited (1 Cor. 13:8-10; Mic. 7:15). Some of us have no trouble understanding that the signs of Mark 16:17-18 were limited, but that Mark 16:16 is not limited. Why should we have trouble with Acts 2:38-39?

If we are true children of God, we do possess the Holy Spirit, and the many passages that teach about the Spirit’s marvelous work and fruit in our lives apply. But I believe the Holy Spirit dwells in us representatively by faith.

 Recommended articles:

Introducing the Church of Christ – Ronny Wade

God’s Sevenfold Unity – Jerry Cutter

Repentance – J. W. McGarvey


The Ancient Faith website is a thematic collection of scholarly yet simple Bible essays and sermons, many of which were composed by Restoration preachers such as J.W. McGarvey, Moses Lard, Benjamin Franklin, and Alexander Campbell. These courageous men of faith through hours of Bible investigation studied themselves out of denominationalism, asking for “the old paths” (Jer. 6:16) and seeking to return to “the faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). We hope you will join with these men in their fervent plea to restore “the ancient order,” “the ancient gospel” or, as it was sometimes called, “the ancient faith.”