Acts 2:38 and Miraculous Works
“Peter said to them, Repent and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
The above quoted passage is properly used by Christians to assert the essential activity of baptism for the remission or forgiveness of sins. Taken from the first recorded Gospel sermon it is taught as the norm for present day conversions. A believer, which these obviously were, must repent of past sinfulness and submit to immersion for the purpose of forgiveness. Further, the passage is used, again properly, to make the same demand of Christians today.
The last phrase of this verse has proved troubling for some. In fact, faithful Christians have differed for many years on the precise meaning of the nature of the “gift of the Holy Spirit.” There has never been, and must never be, any schism arising from the passage. Passionate discussion from either side can be had without dividing the church. How one understands this phrase does not determine the destination of the soul. Nevertheless, there is much understanding to be had by delving deeply into a discussion of what Peter meant when he, through inspiration, promised the gift of the Holy Spirit to all who comply.
Two schools of thought seem to exist. One, to which this writer holds, is that the gift of the Holy Spirit was simply the gift of salvation and all that accompanies it.
A second line of reasoning is that the gift of the Holy Spirit was a promise of miraculous powers. They note that these abilities came to end in the first century but affirm that such a gift was given to all believers at Pentecost, and, one would assume, to all believers throughout the period of miracles.
The phrase, “gift of the Holy Spirit” occurs one other time in regards to Cornelius in Acts 10:45. There, Luke records the events prior to the baptism of the Gentiles. The Jews traveling with Peter note that the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the Gentiles as well as the Jews. Some point to this as evidence that the phrase should be understood in both places as miraculous. One would be hard pressed to argue that Acts 10:45 is speaking of anything other than miracles. But, it is equally as hard to force the Acts 2 passage to mean miracles when the surrounding evidence shows otherwise. A Third passage, Hebrews 2:4, uses the plural form which is significant and will discussed in a later article.
At least two great events happened on Pentecost in Acts 2. First, there was the great working of miracles by the Apostles and there was the beginning of the church and the proclamation of forgiveness of sins. It was the miracles of tongue speaking that had attracted the crowds and confirmed the bona fides of the speakers. But it was the message, not the miracles that pierced the heart of the hearers.
When these people cried out “Brethren, what shall we do?” they were not asking what to do to get miracle-working power. They were asking how to remove the guilt and cleanse their soul from sin! Their concern was not miraculous power but salvation. Therefore, Peter’s response centered on their immediate, passionate concern. While they were certainly amazed and enthralled by the miracles, they were more concerned about their salvation – the miracles were secondary.
Next Week: Acts 2:38 and Miraculous Works – Part 2