Did the believers receive the Holy Spirit when they were baptized in Samaria in Acts 8? When were they saved?
In Acts chapter 8 Philip, one of the Seven, goes to a city in Samaria and preached the gospel. It says, “But when they believed Philip as he proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized both men and women.” later on in the passage it says “When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, the sent Peter and John to Samaria. When they arrived, they prayed for the new believers that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the LORD Jesus.”
It’s my understanding that the receiving of the Holy Spirit is the point of salvation. Why then did these believers not receive the Spirit when they believed and were baptized? One answer I’ve gotten is that they were saved when they believed and were baptized but did not receive works of the Holy Spirit until the apostles prayed for them. To me this seems highly eisegetic, the same wording used here is used in Acts 2:38 and so if we take Acts 2:38 to be referring to salvation I don’t see why we wouldn’t take this verse in the same way.
This is a common question. You are correct in your belief that the point of salvation is when the believer receives the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is a seal, guaranteeing our salvation (Ephesians 1:13-14), and to have this seal is to be saved. What is going on in this passage is that two different manifestations of the Holy Spirit are in play. What is not in doubt is the teaching about when one receives the indwelling gift of the Holy Spirit. Acts 2:38 is unambiguous here. It gives as a promise, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Anyone who accepts the message of salvation and decides to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, truly repents of his or her sins, and is baptized into Christ is forgiven of sins and receives the Holy Spirit.
This being true, then what is going on in Acts 8:4-17? We understand from many passages that the apostles were able to grant special gifts of the Holy Spirit through the laying on of hands. These gifts included the ability to heal, to prophesy, to speak in tongues and to interpret tongues. Such miraculous gifts were not given to all believers, but to individuals on whom the apostles laid their hands. We can infer this from the Acts 8 passage, as well as from 2 Tim 1:6 and other passages. Phillip was not an apostle. Apparently, not being an apostle, he was not able to impart the miraculous gifts. Of course, we know that the believers in Samaria received the indwelling gift of the Holy Spirit when they were baptized, as this is promised to all believers (Acts 2:38), but they did not receive the miraculous gifts, such as healing and tongue-speaking. Therefore, Phillip sent to Jerusalem for apostles to come down to the brand new church in Samaria and bring the miraculous gifts through the laying on of their hands.
I agree with you that the two descriptions can be confusing. They had received the indweling gift of the Holy Spirit when they were bapized, but they had not received the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit. If we recognize that not all believers had the miraculous gifts, then the event and the description begin to make sense. From a study of Church history we can discover that by the second century, the miraculous gifts were rare. We can infer that this was because there were relatively few people who had had apostolic hands laid on them, and perhaps also because the need of such gifts had faded, now that the New Testament letters were generally available. By the second century very few had the miraculous gifts which were given to some of the disciples in Samaria in Acts 8. What we can be sure of, however, is that all believers at all places and times who repent and are baptized into Christ will receive the indwelling gift of the Holy Spirit, which is a mark of our salvation, as promised in Acts 2:38.
By the way, I like your use of the really fancy word eisegetic. For those reading this Q & A, he is claiming that the interpretation that the Samaritans received the works of the Holy Spirit in Acts 8 involves reading INTO rather than OUT OF the passage. I can see why you are inclined to see it this way. Bottom line, Luke does not provide us an interpretation here, so we are forced to infer the meaning from other passages. I suppose we could call this eisegetic if we like, but if we infer that the Samaritans were not saved until the apostles came to town that would also be eisegetic because the passage does not say this, so we are forced to make a decision based on the full weight of the evidence from scripture either way. I believe that the interpretation I give above is the one which is easily most consistent with the scripture as a whole, so I will stick by my interpretation.