Acts 5:12 and the Gift of the Holy Spirit
Outside of any specific argument from Acts 2:38, there are three significant passages to which appeals are made to exclude prophetic or miraculous components to the gift of the Spirit: Acts 5:12; 5:32; and 6:3-6. In the name of any semblance of brevity this article will examine only the first of these passages as they appear in the order of the text – Acts 5:12. The other passages will be examined in subsequent articles.
According to those that see no prophetic component to the gift of the Spirit, the most common construction of events following Pentecost is as follows:
- The Gift of the Holy Spirit was given at Pentecost and so all believers possessed it.
- All of those who obeyed the gospel were given the Spirit (Acts 5:32).
- Yet, no one outside of the apostles was able to use any spiritual gift (Acts 5:12).
- The seven men chosen in Acts 6 were “full of the Spirit” (Acts 6:3).
- They were the first people upon whom the apostles laid hands (Acts 6:6).
- It is only after Acts 6:6 (in the person of Stephen) do saints outside the apostles use spiritual gifts (Acts 6:8-10; 7:55).
- Therefore, one receives the gift of the Holy Spirit at baptism (Acts 2:38). At which point God gives him the Spirit (Acts 5:32). He is then “full of the Spirit” (Acts 6:3). That filling of the Spirit or indwelling of the Spirit does not grant one spiritual gifts. It is the same gift that all Christians are given to this day.
The role in which Acts 5:12 is used to support this argumentation is to prove that prior to Acts 6:8-10, no saints outside the apostles possessed any spiritual gifts. It reads: “Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico” (Acts 5:12).
Admittedly, at first reading, it appears this verse does confirm the needed supposition. It draws a distinction between the apostles and the rest of the believers in that signs and wonders “were regularly done by the hands of the apostles.” It seems to prove that only the apostles had access to spiritual gifts.
However, a closer examination of the verse shows this conclusion to be an assumption, at best. Consider the following elements of the verse:
- The Verse Makes No Direct Statement that Only the Apostles Worked Signs and Wonders.
It does affirm that the apostles worked signs and wonders. It does not state that “only” the apostles worked signs and wonders.
- The Verse States that “Many” Signs and Wonders were done by the Apostles.
Is it not possible that a “few” signs and wonders were done by other saints?
- The Verse States that “Signs and Wonders” were done by the Apostles.
Not all the spiritual gifts need be characterized as “signs and wonders” – (ex. Wisdom – 1 Cor. 12:8. Compare to Acts 6:3). Is it not possible that other saints had access to these gifts?
- The Verse States that Signs and Wonders were done “Regularly” by the Apostles.
Is it not possible that signs and wonders were done occasionally or infrequently by other saints?
- The Verse States that Signs and Wonders were done “Among the People” by the Apostles.
“Among the people” means that the apostles’ signs and wonders were public events. Is it not possible that other saints used, for example, the gift of prophecy to teach the apostles’ doctrine while breaking bread in some of the daily meetings taking place in the homes of the saints (Acts 2:46)?
- The Verse States that Signs and Wonders were done “By the Hands” of the Apostles.
“By the hands” suggests acts of power such as the healing of the lame man at the temple gate in Acts 3:7: “He took him by the right hand and raised him up. . .” Many of the spiritual gifts (tongues, interpretation of tongues, prophecy, wisdom, etc.) cannot fairly be characterized as being done “by the hands.” Is it not possible that miracles such as Acts 3 were reserved only for the apostles, while other saints had access to the numerous other spiritual gifts?
The needed distinction in the supremacy of the apostles’ authority does not necessitate the absence of all spiritual gifts in other saints. If it does before Acts 6, why would not their authority be diminished after Acts 6 when supposedly those powers begin to be shared with the other saints?
Understand the importance of even one of these objections being true. Acts 5:12 is seen as definitive in proving the limited distribution of “gifts” among the saints. We are told that from Acts 2:38 to Acts 6:6, only 12 men were gifted. After that point only 19 were gifted and so on. The consequence of establishing this limited distribution of gifts is to establish that the “universal” statements about the Spirit in Romans 8 and elsewhere, simply cannot be prophetic. In turn, Romans 8 is seen as the “proof” that the “universal” statements of Acts 2:38-39; 5:32, etc. cannot be prophetic. Acts 5:12 is the glue in this circle of argumentation. Yet, if even one of the six listed points has the possibility of being true, the claimed logical adhesion claimed from Acts 5:12 loses its grip.
The above objections show that the language of Acts 5:12 is simply too qualified, limited and precise in its presentation to exclude all other saints from having access to every spiritual gift.It may not be correct that all six points listed are true. However, it is also true the text simply will not invalidate all six points. Acts 5:12 does not support the burden placed upon it by proponents of the non-prophetic “gift of the Holy Spirit.”
If even one point of the six above is possible, then it would also be possible that any/all saints from Acts 2:38 forward were given spiritual gifts. That would mean that the “giving” of Acts 5:32 could be prophetic. Without the certainty that Acts 5:32’s “giving” excludes the miraculous or prophetic, then no clear distinction between it and the “giving” of Acts 8:32 can be drawn. Further, no distinction between the “gift of God” in Acts 8:20, the “gift of the Holy Spirit” in Acts 10:45 and Acts 2:38’s “gift of the Holy Spirit” can be sustained. Nearly all admit that the “gifts” of Acts 8:20 and 10:45 are prophetic. If no textual reason exists to exclude “gifted” saints between Acts 2:38 and Acts 6:3-6, why not simply allow all the expressions in these three passages to have the same meaning. Doing so would create a much simpler, clearer, and more understandable exposition of these texts. The only problem it would create is to force people to reexamine their understanding of Romans 8 and other texts. While inconvenient, that reason is insufficient to nullify the argument made in this article. The most common construct for understanding the spread of the prophetic gifts among the saints cannot be sustained without the support of Acts 5:12.
To make the challenge of this article clear as possible, one question is offered: “Which phrase of Acts 5:12 would exclude the possibility that Stephen’s being ‘full of the Spirit and of wisdom’ was a product of the prophetic influence of the Holy Spirit?”
We know that every reference to being “Full of the Spirit” prior to Acts 6:3 is a statement of inspiration (please see this author’s article entitled – “Full of the Spirit”). We know that “wisdom” was one of the gifts given by the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:8). We know that Stephen’s speaking with wisdom and the Spirit in Acts 6:10 is a reference to his empowerment by the Spirit. So then, specifically, how does the language of Acts 5:12 prohibit Stephen from being a gifted saint from any point from Acts 2:38 onward?
If no specific answer can be found, supporters of the non-prophetic “gift of the Holy Spirit” must acknowledge the challenge that he and the other six men of Acts 6 create to their position.