Acts 2:38 and Miraculous Works – 2
A previous article set forth the differing schools of thought on the last phrase in Acts 2:38 regarding the “gift of the Holy Spirit.” While some brethren see this as proof that miraculous powers were given to all who were baptized on that day, we disagree and argue instead that the gift of the Holy Spirit is actually salvation and its accompanying blessings. We showed sufficiently last week that the immediate context of Acts 2:36-38 centers on an awareness of the guilt of sin and the escape from it – not a desire to work miracles.
The people at Pentecost responded to the Gospel message because they were guilty and they knew it. What they sought was salvation, not the power to work miracles. In fact, we would seriously question their motives if they responded to the gospel commands for the purpose of gaining such power. No, these new brethren knew fully that the gift of the Holy Spirit was salvation. But now let us look at evidence from Scripture that argues against the common reception of miraculous powers.
We have contended that the apostles alone were enabled to work miracles at Pentecost. While some Christians were certainly given that power later, the initial gift was only to the apostles. If the “gift of the Holy Spirit” was given to all Christians at Pentecost, isn’t it interesting that there is no Biblical record of any of them doing any miracles? It isn’t until Acts 6:8 that we find a non-apostle performing a miracle and then only after apostolic intervention. Stephen is said to perform “great wonders and signs among the people” (Acts 6:8). Although we have no concrete way of pinpointing how much time has elapsed since Pentecost, it is likely significant as a controversy had grown within the young church (Acts 6:1). It is also noteworthy that the Bible says he did the miracles after the apostles had “laid their hands on them and prayed” (Acts 6:6). Later, Simon would correctly observe that “the Spirit was bestowed through the laying on of the apostles hands” (Acts 8:18). Hence we may conclude that after Pentecost, the first non-apostolic miracle was done only after the apostles granted that Christian the power. While one could argue that the apostles laid hands on everyone they baptized at Pentecost, the Bible’s silence is deafening on the working of miracles by these new Christians.
Proponents of this idea face another challenge from Acts 2:39, the very next verse uttered in the same context as that of the phrase under consideration. “For the promise is for you and your children and for all you are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to himself.” The underlying Greek text makes plain that this promise is an on-going promise, not otherwise limited to Pentecost. This promise is made to the present generation and at least to the generation that would follow it. Even more staggering is the thought that those who are “far off” are the Gentiles who receive the Gospel message in Acts 10. So let us ask what promise does Peter have in mind? It seems obvious to this writer that the promise lies in verse 38, “you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” In other words, if the 3,000 received miraculous gifts on this occasion, then everyone after them received the gift of miracle working too for that was the inspired apostolic promise. Those who believe that the gift of the Holy Spirit is miraculous power do not teach that themselves and would argue vehemently against such, but it does appear to be the natural, though unintended, progression of their position.
Next Week: Part Three