In Acts 8:12–17 one reads (emphasis mine)

12 But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. 13 Then Simon himself believed also: and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done.

14 Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John: 15 who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost: 16 (for as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.) 17 Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost.

And this lead me to the question: How could they have been baptized, even “in the name of the Lord Jesus”, and not have received the Spirit?

Is this expressing Luke's view on the matter that baptism can only be done by one of the Twelve (or those sent forth by them), ignoring Paul's baptisms (as seen later in Acts 19:1-6) or John the Baptist's baptisms (such as Matthew 3:13-17)?

Helpful, or related (but not the same), threads/Q&As:

4 Answers 4


Let us be quite clear that the Holy Spirit is present with people well before conversion, else no one would be converted or be able to perceive spiritual things at all.

However, when a person commits his/her life to the service of the Lord and is baptized, under the "normal" circumstances, the convert receives the gift of the Holy Spirit (Luke 11:13, Acts 1:4, 2:38, 5:32, 10:45, Rom 5:5, 1 Cor 2:11, 12, Phil 1:19) and one of the gifts of the Spirit as per 1 Cor 12.

What people often forget is that we are instructed to earnestly pray for the gift of the Spirit:

  • Luke 11:13 - So if you who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!”
  • Acts 1 describes the disciples, after Jesus' ascension, earnestly praying together as instructed by Jesus to receive the Holy Spirit. Acts 1 and 2 describe the answer to that prayer.

Thus, it appears highly desirable (essential perhaps??) to specifically pray for the Holy Spirit, presumably in order to be prepared to receive the Holy Spirit to enlighten the recipient about Jesus:

  • John 16:13, 14 - However, when the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all truth. For He will not speak on His own, but He will speak what He hears, and He will declare to you what is to come. He will glorify Me by taking from what is Mine and disclosing it to you.

Little wonder that the Holy Spirit is essential to the Christian life as per Rom 8:9.


APPENDIX - Personal note

I am aware of many people who were baptized long ago and been a nominal Christian for many years but who are rather ignorant about the work and ministry of the Holy Spirit in their lives. Such I call secular Christians. I presume that many in Bible times were much the same as the OP's references clearly document.


The book of Acts narrates the foundation of the Church from its beginnings in Jerusalem through to an international movement. In Acts 1 Jesus explicitly links the expansion and growth of the Church with the coming of the Holy Spirit, and then the rest of the book then uses the coming of the Holy Spirit as evidence of what God is doing to grow the Church, to authenticate the Apostles' ministries, and to show the full acceptance of people into the church from all ethnic nations.

So in Acts 1:4-8, Jesus' very last words to his disciples before he ascended, he said:

Acts 1:4-8 (NIV): On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

The disciples being Jesus' witnesses in Jerusalem, all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth forms a schema followed by the rest of the book of Acts.

So firstly we see the initial coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost in Acts 2. At this time many Jews from all surrounding areas had come back to Jerusalem for the festival. God sends the Spirit first to his disciples, who then go out into the city preaching and speaking in tongues. Many of the gathered Jews hear and come to faith, and three thousands people are baptised and join the Church that day.

Over the next few chapters the disciples continue to preach in Jerusalem. But after the execution of Stephen in Acts 7, the disciples are scattered throughout Judea and Samaria in Acts 8, however the Apostles remain in Jerusalem. The Jews considered the Samaritan people to be effectively half-caste, a mixture of Jew and Gentile. In the well known parable of the Good Samaritan we can see the contempt which most Jews would have felt towards the Samaritans. So what happens when the Gospel first goes to the Samaritans is very important for understanding the mission of God.

One of those who leaves Jerusalem is the deacon Philip. He goes to a city in Samaria, and preaches the Gospel, and many respond. Philip was a leader of the Church, but of secondary status compared to the Apostles. So when the Apostles hear that people in Samaria had accepted the Gospel, they sent two representatives, Peter and John to confirm the ministry of Philip. Many people consider that even amongst the 12 Apostles there was a smaller group of Jesus' closest disciples: Peter, James, and John. Peter and John are not just representatives then, but the absolute top of the church, humanly speaking. And so they go to Samaria, pray over the new believers, and the Spirit comes to them as well.

The Gospel going to the Samaritans is one thing; they still worshipped the same God as the Jews and tried to follow the Law of the Pentateuch (even if the Jews would say they did so incorrectly.) To fulfil Jesus' words in chapter 1 the Gospel would now go to the gentiles, to begin its journey to the ends of the earth. The Jewish traditions the Apostles were raised in demanded that the Jews separate themselves from gentiles. In Acts 10:28 Peter says "You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile." There were a lot of prejudices that the early church needed to overcome, twisted misunderstandings of the Laws of purity which had been turned into racist exclusions of non-Jewish people. Even believing in the true God was not enough. That is what Cornelius was: in Acts 10:2 he and his family are called "God-fearers", a term indicating that they believed in the God of Israel, but had (probably) not been circumcised. To the Jews, and to a lot of the early church, the boundary for membership in the community was not belief and worship of God, but circumcision. Even Peter, leader of the Apostles, is still thinking in terms of Jewish requirements. It is only after God gives him a vision in which he is told to eat foods which the Jewish Law prohibited that he understood that everything had changed with the Gospel. So Peter goes to Cornelius, shares the Gospel with him and his household, and they believe. As they start speaking in tongues Peter's associates understand that the Holy Spirit has come on them too, and so he says that there can be no reason not to baptise them too. These uncircumcised Italians are now baptised members of the Christian Church.

Acts doesn't make explicit everything that we are meant to learn from it. We need to read careful to see what we should infer from it. To demonstrate what the spread of the Gospel should look like, God ordained that the Gospel would spread progressively, crossing ethnic boundaries in stages, and that Peter, first of the Apostles, would be there to witness and authenticate each event. We see the Gospel going to Jews, to Samaritans, and to gentiles, and each time the Holy Spirit is received by the new believers. And so that we can't misunderstand, the first gentile Christians are uncircumcised, and the Spirit comes to them before they are baptised by water. The Church would continue for many years to have debates over what was expected of gentile Christians, but these initial stories would be the foundation of gentile inclusion in the Church. After this time there is no hint that someone can repent and come to faith in the Gospel without the Holy Spirit coming to them. These were unique events to demonstrate and authenticate the expansion of the Church to all peoples.

There is one further weird story in Acts 19 where Paul comes across some "disciples" who had not received the Spirit. It's not completely clear, but it seems that they were disciples of John the Baptist, who may have heard something about Jesus but had clearly not heard the full Gospel. Paul tells them about Jesus and the Holy Spirit, re-baptises them in Jesus' name, and then the Spirit comes on them and they speak in tongues and prophesy. Rather than indicating that there can be Christians who haven't received the Spirit, I think this story just indicates that our language can be ambiguous, and that we should not just assume someone is a true disciple of Jesus. Just as Paul mistook John's disciples for Jesus' disciples, so too can we mistake cultural Christians for true followers of Jesus. Just like Paul in Ephesus, sometimes we need to evangelise the people in our churches so that they too can hear the Gospel and repent and believe.

  • The level of detail makes it very visual (+1). IMO the answer could be improved by addressing what's hinted in the question -> apostolic invocation of the Holy Spirit. Feb 21, 2022 at 14:47

“How could they have been baptized, even “in the name of the Lord Jesus”, and not have received the Spirit?” ..

This is not the only account of this.

ACTS 19:4 Then Paul said, “John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would 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 hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them [snip]

Let’s examine the account you reference in Acts 8. First, this is speaking of water baptism, as can be seen by the fact that these same people later received the baptism of the Holy Ghost when the apostles from Jerusalem came and prayed for them.

This was the first time in the experience of the young New Testament church that anyone except a proper Jew had become a believer in Jesus. The Samaritans were Jews who had corrupted their bloodline and the true worship of God, and they were therefore rejected by strict Jews as not being Abraham’s seed and heirs to the promises (John 4:4).

Because of this, the church at Jerusalem sent Peter and John to Samaria to check out what was happening there and see if they approved. Peter and John showed their approval by praying for the Samaritans that they would receive the Holy Ghost and even shared the Gospel with other Samaritans on their way back to Jerusalem (Acts 8:25).

Jesus had ministered to the Samaritans before (John 4:4-30 and 39-42) and had made it clear that He was the Savior of all (Matthew 15:26 and John 12:23). The believers came to accept this concerning the Samaritans, but the same wrong thinking cropped up again when it came to the conversion of a Roman centurion named Cornelius (Acts 10). This doctrinal issue of “Does one have to become a Jew to be saved?” caused a convening of a special council of the apostles and elders at Jerusalem to consider this issue (Acts 15:1-31).

Three books of the New Testament (Romans, Galatians, and Hebrews) were written containing the major theme that salvation in Jesus comes through grace by faith alone.

It is not explained in this instance why Philip did not pray for these new converts to receive the Holy Ghost. Some people have argued that only the apostles had the power to give the Holy Ghost to others, and therefore Philip was unable to do so. However, we see in Acts 9:10-18, Ananias, who was just a disciple at Damascus, was the instrument God used to give the Holy Ghost to Saul. So believers other than apostles were able to lay hands on people and have them receive the Holy Spirit.

This is one of the accounts in the book of Acts that has resulted in theological debate. Some argue that the born-again experience and the receiving of the Holy Ghost are two separate experiences (Acts 2:4) - and this passage does seem to clearly suggest this - but that is another question.

  • For those that want to extend on @Dave's last paragraph, this Q&A may be of relevance. Feb 21, 2022 at 13:11

Q. How could they have been baptized, even “in the name of the Lord Jesus”, and not have received the Spirit?

Because the baptism/infilling of the Holy Spirit is not tied to water baptism -- it can happen either before or after, and even multiple times.

  • Acts 2:1-4 is an example of spirit baptism that happened after water baptism (they were all disciples of Jesus who had received the baptism of John already for sure).

  • Acts 10:44-48 is an example of spirit baptism before water baptism.

  • Acts 4:29-31 is an example of spirit baptism/infilling happening again to disciples who had already been filled previously:

    29 And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, 30 while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” 31 And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness. [ESV]

As to why someone may not receive it, as Dottard indicated in his answer, one possible reason is the fact that earnestly asking/praying for the gift (Luke 11:13) or being prayed for explicitly about it by someone else (e.g. by the laying on of hands) is important. However, this doesn't rule out the possibility that God may grant the gift of the Holy Spirit to a new convert suddenly and unexpectedly (as was the case of Cornelius and his household in Acts 10:44-48), but this sort of exceptions to the rule are unpredictable and ultimately up to God's sovereignty. So the question of why God does this sometimes and not always is beyond my capacity to answer -- it is a mystery.

  • 2
    How do you know the 120 had all received John's baptism??
    – curiousdannii
    Feb 21, 2022 at 13:44
  • @curiousdannii - good point, I'm not 100% sure, just like I'm not 100% sure that the universe wasn't created 5 minutes ago with the appearance of age either, but it's very very likely that many of the them were already water baptized by that point, as Jesus himself, who was their master and role model, had received John's baptism long ago, and Jesus' disciples followed his example.
    – user38524
    Feb 21, 2022 at 13:57

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