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Acts 8:14 When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to Samaria. 15 When they arrived, they prayed for the new believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16 because the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.

Was placing their hands on them a necessary condition to receive the Holy Spirit?

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3 Answers 3

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There is no single way to receive the Holy Spirit.

Acts 8:17 - the Holy Spirit was received when when Peter and John prayed and placed their hands on them. This also happened in Acts 19:6, 1 Tim 4:14, 2 Tim 1:6.

In Acts 10:44 and 11:15 the Holy Spirit is received while Peter is speaking

In Acts 2:3 the Holy Spirit descends on people while people prayed

Baptism is supposed to symbolize the gift of the Holy Spirit as recorded in places like Matt 3:11, Mark 1:8, Luke 3:16, Acts 1:5, 2:38, 8:12-16, 10:47, 48, 11:16, 19:4, 5.

In the case of Acts 8:17 the placing of hands to receive the Holy Spirit was (according to the text) because the recipients had only received a baptism of repentance by John and needed to also receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

APPENDIX - placing hands on someone

The rite of placing hands on someone is used in the NT for various purposes:

  • 3 times to bless someone (Matt 19:13, 15, Mark 10:16);
  • 8 times to arrest someone to put them in prison (Matt 26:50, Mark 14:46, Luke 20:19, 21:12, 22:53, John 7:44, Acts 12:1, 21:27);
  • 6 times to receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:17, 18, 19, 19:6, 1 Tim 4:14, 2 Tim 1:6);
  • 10 times to heal someone (Mark 5:23, 6:5, 8:23, 25, 16:18, Luke 4:40, 13:13, Acts 9:12, 17, 28:8);
  • 4 times with an unstated purpose but the context suggests that it was for the reception of the Holy Spirit or similar (Acts 6:6, 13:3, 1 Tim 5:22, Heb 6:2).
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  • "There is no single way to receive the Holy Spirit." Acts 2:38 There is ONE single way? +1 Jul 10 at 16:12
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This particular case of the Samaritans receiving the holy spirit through the hands of the Peter and John is significant.
There had been a long schism between Samaria and Jerusalem.

"This must now end, And Samaria must acknowledge Jerusalem as God's earthly seat of government. The supreme gift can be bestowed only as they recognize their dependence on Peter and John as come down from Jerusalem." Concordant and Commentary

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Correct, an additional ordinance was needed to complete the baptism of the Holy Spirit (aka the Gift of the Holy Ghost).

Acts 8

Verse 16 in the OP indicates that they had been baptized in the name of Jesus and had not received the Holy Ghost, so clearly something was lacking. Once what was lacking was supplied, they received the Holy Ghost.

So either:

  1. The apostles were frauds in claiming that their actions could extend this gift to the people they administered to OR
  2. The laying on of hands (and praying for/over them) was what was lacking

I'll go with option 2 (so did Luke). Once the apostles performed the laying on of hands, the Holy Ghost was given.

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Paul in Ephesus

We see the same principals reinforced in Acts 19:

2 He said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost.

3 And he said unto them, Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John’s baptism.

4 Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.

5 When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.

6 And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them;

In this case, they had not received the the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and Paul corrects several things that were lacking:

  1. They didn't know that there was a Holy Ghost. Paul taught them, but this did not give them the Holy Ghost.
  2. They appear not to have grasped what exactly John's baptism meant or what covenant they were making, so they were baptized again--in the name of Jesus. But this did not give them the Holy Ghost yet either.
  3. Paul laid his hands upon them, and then they received the Holy Ghost.

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John the Baptist

Although it is unclear if/when John performed baptisms in the name of Jesus, or in the name of the Messiah, or in another name, John is clear that the baptisms he performs do not provide the baptism of the Holy Ghost (e.g. Matt. 3:11)

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Conclusion

In all 3 cases, water baptism was insufficient to receive the baptism of the Holy Ghost. A separate ordinance was needed. In no case is it stated that the receipt of the Holy Ghost came immediately upon the performance of the ordinance of the laying on of hands, but in each case an ordinance was needed (see John 20:22 to this effect as well).

Was placing their hands on them a necessary condition to receive the Holy Spirit?

I don't know if elbows might work too=), but clearly an authorized ordinance was needed in order to complete the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

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  • This answer excludes instances where the Holy Spirit is received without any additional ordinance or others without even water baptism. Laying on of hands appears to have been helpful/necessary in some cases but not all and therefore should not be treated as a requirement now when it was not required then. Jul 10 at 16:09
  • @MikeBorden I certainly agree that the influence of the Holy Ghost has come many times without an ordinance (see my linked answer), but what scriptural instances of baptism of the Holy Spirit do you have in mind where there definitely wasn't an ordinance? Jul 10 at 18:10
  • @MikeBorden it probably would have helped if I had included the link =) Jul 10 at 18:14
  • Acts 10:44-48 is a primary case. Prior to baptism and without laying on of hands these folks who the Holy Spirit did receive—even as also we? (YLT) To whatever degree Peter had received the holy spirit, so also did Cornelius and his household. In fact, Peter says that since this has happened who can deny them baptism? Jul 11 at 12:33
  • @MikeBorden although I do not understand the account the same way, I can see how it could be read that way. I do agree, though, that gifts of the Spirit can be manifested in people prior to water baptism. Jul 12 at 1:22

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