Acts 2:38 and Miraculous Works – 3
In two previous articles we have explained why, in our judgment, the “gift of the Holy Spirit” in Acts 2:38 is not a promise of miraculous power. As we said in our first article, this is not an issue of fellowship. For many years good and honest brethren have differed on this subject and have debated it vigorously. However neither position has sought to force their beliefs on the other and neither has made agreement with their position a test of faith. We heartily agree and wish to continue the discussion in that same vein. In this final article, we wish to discuss one final passage and then summarize and conclude our argument.
Two passages in the English Bible use the phrase “gift of the Holy Spirit” while one uses the plural “gifts of the Holy Spirit.” The writer of Hebrews, in discussing the precious Gospel message and its revelation to man, uses the term in Hebrews 2:4. His purpose in this context is to remind people of how tragic it would be if we were to neglect that salvation revealed to us by Jesus and by those who heard him. Of these people, the text says that God was “testifying with them … by gifts of the Holy Spirit.” Here, the inspired writer is speaking of the multiplicity of miraculous gifts given to confirm (or testify to) the veracity of the message. This plural nature of these gifts is perhaps best seen in 1 Corinthians 12 where Paul discusses their proper usage . In 1 Corinthians 12:1 he speaks of “pneumatikōn” or spiritual gifts. Note the plural use. To emphasize even more, note verse 8: “For to one is given the word of wisdom though the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, and to another the effecting of miracles and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as he wills.” The reader will observe that Christians received individual gifts as the Spirit saw fit. There was no package gift which supplied any but the Apostles with such blanket power. Therefore, it is unlikely that the singular use of “gift” in Acts 2:38 means the power to work miracles. Rather it speaks of the non-miraculous power of the Spirit’s presence in the lives of everyday Christians.
If the above paragraph is correct, then we may take Acts 2:38 and 39 as a promise that really is “for all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call to himself.” Otherwise, we must, by necessity, limit the promise.
Let us now sum our arguments against the interpretation that Acts 2:38 promises miraculous gifts:
1. The single, overriding concern of the people baptized on Pentecost was salvation, not the working of miracles. Therefore, any interpretation must take such context into account. The purpose of baptism was remission of sins, not the working of miracles.
2. The promise of Acts 2:38 was to all people who obey including all those who would later obey the Gospel. Since we all agree that miracles do not exist today, we must either find a way to limit the promise or accept that a non-miraculous gift was intended.
3. There is no evidence of any miracle being done by the people baptized at Pentecost apart from those who later enjoyed the laying on of the Apostles hands. This laying on of hands was the medium though which miraculous gifts were imparted. Since this step seems required and since there is no mention of it in Acts 2, there was no miraculous gift given.
4. When speaking of “gifts” we conclude that miraculous works are in view since there were many different kinds of miracles. But since people received individual gifts, not a package, the singular term “gift” would not be used to suggest all received miraculous powers.
To have lived in the first century in the opening days of the church age must have been exciting. God had remembered his people and sent his Son for their salvation. No doubt it was thrilling to watch the lame walking and the blind seeing. What a joy it was to hear a man speak in a language he did not know. But far beyond all of this was the rejoicing of lost men and women who had been found! In the words of the song so dear, “I once was lost but now I’m found!” Salvation was the central issue in their lives just like it should be in ours!