What's Your Question?

Bible Answers to Bible Questions

James P. Needham
Winter Park, Fla.

QUESTION: Concerning the Gift of the Holy Spirit.

"Specifically, what is the gift of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2:38 which those Christians received?"--S. C.



This question has been discussed for generations. It was disputed before any of us were born. It has received increasing attention of late because of some rather wild claims of some brethren, such as speaking in tongues and other semi-miraculous, if not out-right miraculous, occurrences. In view of this, the subject deserves further consideration.

How the Expression Is Used

The New Testament uses the expression "the gift of the Holy Spirit" in different passages and in different ways. Let us notice:

(l) Acts 2:38--"Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift o/the Holy Spirit."

(2) Acts 10:44,45--"While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Spirit fell on them which heard the word. And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Spirit."

(3) Acts 8: 18-20--"And when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles' hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money, saying, give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Spirit. But Peter said unto him, thy money perishes with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money."

(4) 1 Cor. 12:l--"Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant." (See also v. 4).

(5) Acts 5:32 And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Spirit, whom God hath given to them that obey him."

We see that the words "gift," "gifts," and "given" are frequently used in connection with the word "Spirit." Also, the gift of the Holy Spirit is called "the gift of God" (Acts 8:20).

The expression "the gift of the Holy Spirit" is a difficult one. The discussion centers around whether it means the Holy Spirit as a gift, or a gift which the Holy Spirit gives. Some argue that if the former is meant, the word gift would be superfluous; that Peter would have said "and you shall receive the Holy Spirit." This sounds plausible enough until we note that when the Holy Spirit was given at the household of Cornelius, it is said that "On the Gentiles was poured out the GIFT of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 10:45). Acts 11:17 says, "God gave them the like GIFT as he did unto us..." Hence, it is useless to argue that the expression "gift of the Holy Spirit" cannot mean the Spirit as a gift, because it obviously means just that in Acts 10, 11. When the household of Cornelius received "the gift of the Holy Spirit," they received the Holy Spirit as a gift.

Another fact worthy of note is that the expression "the gift of the Holy Spirit" is used to describe both miraculous (Acts10:45) and non-miraculous (Acts 2:38) phenomena.

II. What "The Gift of the Holy Spirit" in Acts 2:38 Is Not

(1) It is not miraculous power: That the "gift of the Holy Spirit" which immediately follows baptism is not miraculous is proven by the case of the Samaritans (Acts 8). They believed and were baptized (v. 12}, hence, at that time received what was promised in Acts 2:38, but received no miraculous power until the apostles "laid their hands on them" (v. 17). There is no case on record where miraculous power was ever bestowed upon any person as the direct result of baptism. There is also no case on record since Acts 2, where anyone ever received miraculous power in the absence of an apostle. The reason for this is quite clear from the case of Simon the sorcerer. He sought to buy from Apostles Peter and John the power to impart miraculous power by the laying on of hands, and received this reply, "Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter ."(Acts 8:21) The impartation of miraculous power seems to have been a peculiar function of the apostolic office, not something directly attributable to baptism. Indeed, Cornelius received miraculous power previous to his being baptized (Acts 10:44-48). Hence, the conclusion is inevitable and undeniable, that whatever is the gift of the Spirit in Acts 2:38, it is not miraculous.

(2) Not some mystical, special guidance or protection: The gift of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2:38 is not some special mystical, incomprehensible protection or guidance. Some brethren claim that the personal indwelling of the Holy Spirit gives them some special treatment. One brother claimed that the Holy Spirit saved him a parking place, guided him to a certain elevator, and into a certain hospital room where he taught and converted a person. Another claimed that the Holy Spirit changed his voice from a deep, resonant one to a high-pitched feminine one to keep him humble. This whole idea is a reversion to the age-old mysticism of denominationalism.

These are just what I said they are, "claims." They rest on no sounder evidence than the unfounded and improvable assertions of the claimants. For many years we have contended with denominational people who made similar claims. Some claimed the Holy Spirit healed them of cancer, or some other disease. Others claimed the Spirit enabled them to speak in "unknown tongues." Yet others claimed the right to teach unscriptural doctrines because the Holy Spirit had given them special insight which we have not received.

The problem with such mystical claims is that they are unproved, and improvable. There is not a shred of evidence available, or that can be made available, to substantiate them. The Bible does not indicate that such are the results of receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit as promised in Acts 2:38, and in the absence of such, we must deny such claims, and brand them as false, misleading and improvable.

III. What is "The Gift of the Holy Spirit" in Acts 2:38?

I am firmly convinced that the "gift of the Holy Spirit" in Acts 2:38, is the indwelling
of the Holy Spirit which is spoken of in so many places in the New Testament {Acts
5:32, Gal. 4:6; 1 Thess. 4:8; 1 Cor. 3:16; 2 Cor. 6:19,20; Eph. 1:13; Rom 8:9-11, 13 etc.) Then there is the question as to whether this is a gift which the Spirit gives, or the Spirit as a gift? In view of the above passages, I cannot avoid the conclusion that it is the Spirit as a gift. For instance, Acts 5: 32, says, " the Holy Spirit WHOM God hath given to them that obey him. "Whom" is a personal pronoun, hence, it indicates that the "personal" Spirit has been given to the obedient. In fact, I cannot conceive of any other way the Spirit could dwell in one. Is there any other kind of Spirit than the "personal" Spirit? Now, the question of "how" arises: How does the Spirit "personally" dwell in the obedient? This, I may not be able to explain, but this does not destroy the fact that the Bible affirms that he so does. I cannot even explain all about how my own spirit dwells in me, much less, how the Holy Spirit does so! I just know that He does, because the Bible tells me so. The Bible is not very explicit on how the Holy Spirit dwells in the Christian; there are many theories, but none of them is completely satisfactory, I believe He dwells in the Christian through the medium of the Word which He inspired (Jno. 16: 13), but the word and the Spirit are not the same. They are inseparable, but not identical. Jesus said, "... the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life" (Jno. 6:63). The word is the Spirit's agent, but there is always a distinction between an agent and that which employs it. Making this distinction is one thing, explaining it so people can understand it is something else! If, as some claim, the Spirit and the Word are the same, there would only be 2 members of the godhead! The "gift of the Holy Spirit" is communion or fellowship with the Spirit (2 Cor. 13:14; Phil. 2' 1). It is the Spirit's "witness "which He bears with our spirit that we are the children of God (Rom. 8:16). It is the "firstfruits" of the Spirit which we have received (Rom. 8:23). It is the "intercession'' which the Spirit makes in our behalf (Rom. 8:26). It is the "help" He gives our infirmities (Rom. 8:26). It is the leading which the Spirit provides (Gal. 5:18). It is the "access to the Father" which the Spirit gives us (Eph. 2: 18). It is the strength which the Spirit gives our "inner man" (Eph. 3:16). This is "specifically" what the "gift of the Holy Spirit" is in Acts 2:38.

The evidence that one has "the gift of the Holy Spirit" is "fruit." Jesus said that a tree is known by its fruit (Mt. 7: 16-20). Hence, the "gift of the Holy Spirit" is something concrete; capable of being witnessed by its recipient as well as by others. We know and others know we have "the gift of the Holy Spirit" when we bear the fruits of the Spirit: "Love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, meekness, temperance..." (Gal. 5:22, 23). Thus, unlike the mystical concept discussed earlier, the "gift of the Holy Spirit" is provable. It rests upon firmer ground than wild emotional claims.

Some insight into the meaning of the gift of the Spirit is gained by a comparison of Acts 2: 38 and 3:19. Note first, that in these two chapters, Peter preached to the same class of people, Jews who had crucified the Saviour. Obviously, then, the commands and the promises given are identical. With this in mind, note the following chart.

"Seasons of refreshing from the presence of the Lord" {Acts 3:19) serves as a commentary on what is "the gift of the Holy Spirit" in Acts 2: 38. It parallels it, and is a description of it. The gift of the Holy Spirit is therefore, both subjective and objective. From the standpoint of its recipient (subjectively) it is "seasons of refreshing from the presence of the Lord." From the standpoint of others (objectively) it is "Love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, meekness and temperance ..." (Gal. 5: 22, 23). These are the fruits that others can observe and thereby know that we have received the gift of the Holy Spirit, rather than having to rely upon certain unfounded and improvable claims. It is noteworthy, that all of these "fruits" are a direct result of obedience to the word of God.


As stated at the beginning, this subject has long been controversial. I am not sufficiently presumptuous to think that this answer will settle the controversy. It is altogether conceivable that it will add to it! On such matters we must maintain open minds and Bibles, never refusing to engage in a free exchange of ideas. The easiest thing to do is to close the doors of our minds and bar the doors of our hearts and begin to form parties around a given view. There is some evidence that this is being done. We can afford to be dogmatic on matters that are clearly taught in the scriptures, but there are some areas that will never be as clear in this life as we might like. In these we must learn to be tolerant and understanding of differing view points, realizing that if the matter had been vital to our salvation, God would not have left it vague.

TRUTH MAGAZINE; XIV 27, pp. 8-10

May 14, 1970