By Johnny Stringer
We have seen that the apostles received the baptism of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4). Following this occasion, the Spirit continued with them to guide them in their teaching, revealing the truth to them and enabling them to express that truth infallibly (Eph. 3:3-5; 1 Cor. 2:10-13; 1 Tim. 4:1). This was in fulfilment of the promise which Jesus had made to them earlier (John 14:26; 16:13). Additionally, they were enabled to perform such supernatural feats as healing the sick and raising the dead (Acts 3:1-11; 5:12-16).
Those On Whom Apostolic Hands Were Laid
The apostles were not the only ones who were empowered with supernatural ability. Joel’s prophecy, which Peter quoted on Pentecost, promised that people of all ages, classes, and ranks would receive the Spirit (Acts 2:14-18). However, the Spirit did not automatically come to each Christian immediately after his baptism. Rather, the Spirit came to them only after the apostles had laid their hands on them.
This is clear from the case of the Samaritans, recorded in Acts 8:12-19. Through the preaching of Philip, the Samaritans believed and were baptized (v. 12). When the apostles heard about the conversion of the Samaritans, they sent Peter and John to them. It is plainly stated that when Peter and John arrived, the Samaritan Christians still had not received the Holy Spirit (v. 16). Upon their arrival, Peter and John prayed for them and laid their hands on them in order that they might receive the Holy Spirit (vv. 14-17), and “Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Ghost was given” (v. 18). Evidently, apostles were the only ones with the power to lay their hands on Christians and thereby enable them to receive the Holy Spirit. If Philip had possessed that power, surely he would have laid his hands on the Samaritans and they would have received the Holy Spirit without having to wait for the apostles. Though he had miraculous powers, Philip was not an apostle, hence did not have this ability. Another instance of the Holy Spirit being given by this means is found in Acts 19:5-6. All of those who received the Spirit in this manner were not endowed with the same abilities. There were various gifts, and all did not have the same gifts (1 Cor. 12:4-11).
Sometimes it is argued that Timothy received his spiritual gift, not through the laying on of apostolic hands, but through the laying on of the hands of the presbytery (eldership). The passage which is invoked is 1 Tim. 4:14, in which Paul said that the gift was given “with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery.” However, there is another passage dealing with Timothy’s gift. In 2 Tim. 1:6 Paul said that it was given “by the putting on of my hands.” Note the difference in prepositions: “with” (Meta “accompanied by”) in 1 Tim. 4:14, and “by” (dia – “By means of”) in 2 Tim. 1:6. Hence, the gift was given “by means of” the laying on of Paul’s hands (2 Tim. 1:6). The laying on of the elders’ hands was not the means by which the gift was bestowed, but merely accompanied its bestowal, probably as a sign of support and endorsement.
We have seen that in order for those other than apostles to receive the Holy Spirit, the hands of the apostles had to be laid on them. There is no record of anyone receiving the Holy Spirit other than the apostles and those on whom the apostles laid their hands – with one exception. Cornelius was not an apostle; yet, along with the other Gentiles gathered with him, he received the Holy Spirit directly from Heaven, not through the laying on of apostolic hands (Acts 10:44). Why should Cornelius be treated differently than the Samaritans (Acts 8) and the Ephesians (Acts 19)? His was a special case, and there was a special purpose to be served by his reception of the Holy Spirit when he did.
The conversion of Cornelius was highly significant in the history of Christianity, because he was the first Gentile to he converted. The Jews did not believe that the gospel was for uncircumcised Gentiles. The Jews accompanying Peter had gone to Cornelius’ house with that attitude. Due to their deep-seated prejudice about this matter, something astounding was needed to convince them that the Gentiles could enjoy the blessings of the gospel. The reception of the Holy Spirit by Cornelius and the other Gentiles with him served this purpose. It is affirmed that the Jews were astonished that the Gentiles had received the Holy Spirit (v. 45). After this, Peter asked, “Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?” (v. 47). The implication is that, if it had not been for their receiving the Holy Spirit, some would have forbidden that they be baptized. It was only when the Holy Spirit came upon these Gentiles that the Jews were convinced that they could be baptized. Later, when Peter was criticized by Jews in Jerusalem for going to uncircumcised Gentiles (Acts 11:1-3), he responded by informing them of all that had happened leading up to the conversion of Cornelius (v. 4ffj, climaxing the account by telling of the coming of the Holy Spirit upon these Gentiles (vv. 15-17). Only then were the Jews satsified. Upon hearing of the Spirit’s coming to the Gentiles, they “glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life” (v. 18).
It is obvious that Cornelius’ case was a special one and that his reception of the Holy Spirit was for a special purpose -namely, to convince the Jews that the Gentiles could receive the blessings of the gospel. If his reception of the Holy Spirit was not to serve this special purpose, there is no adequate explanation as to why he was treated differently than the Samaritans and Ephesians were. It is significant that in order to explain what had happened to Cornelius, Peter had to go all the way back to Pentecost when the apostles had received the Holy Spirit (Acts 11:15). What had happened to Cornelius was different from anything that had happened since Pentecost. It certainly was not something that happened to all Christians, as is evident from the case of the Samaritans.
The fact that Cornelius’ case was exceptional is obvious from the fact that he was not even saved when he received the Holy Spirit. According to Peter’s account in Acts 11, the angel told Cornelius, “Send men to Joppa, and call for Simon, whose surname is Peter; who shall tell thee words, whereby thou and all thy house shall be saved” (v. 14). Peter then said, “And as I began to speak, the Holy Ghost fell on them, as on us at the beginning” (v. 15). Thus, Cornelius was to be saved through Peter’s words, but Peter had not spoken those words when the Holy Spirit fell on them; he had only begun to speak the words. Therefore, Cornelius was not saved when he received the Holy Spirit, for he had not yet heard the words whereby he could be saved. Further, it was after his reception of the Holy Spirit that he was baptized in the name of the Lord (vv. 47-48); but the Bible puts salvation after baptism (Mk. 16:16; 1 Pet. 3:21). How, then, can anyone deny that Cornelius was an exceptional case? And how dare anyone treat an exception as though it were the rule?
Though all recognize that Cornelius received the Holy Spirit, there is dispute as to whether or not he received the baptism of the Spirit. In view of the fact that Peter connected what happened to Cornelius with the baptism of the Holy Spirit which the apostles had received on Pentecost (Acts 11:16-17), 1 believe that Cornelius received the baptism of the Holy Spirit. However, I see no point in arguing about the matter, as it really makes no difference whatever so far as I can see. The important points are: (1) Cornelius did receive the Holy Spirit directly from Heaven (whether this reception was what could be called an immersion or not), and (2) Cornelius’ case was an exceptional one, contrary to the normal occurrence, as he received the Spirit to serve a special need which existed only in his case as the first Gentile convert.
Since, with the one exceptional case of Cornelius, the only Christians to receive the miraculous spiritual endowments were the apostles and those on who the apostles laid their hands, we are led to conclude that the miraculous endowments would cease following the death of the apostles and those on whom they had laid their hands. They did cease, being no longer needed after the apostolic period. This point will be the subject of our next article.
Guardian of Truth XXV: 19, pp. 296-297
May 7, 1981