Acts 5:32 and the Gift of the Holy Spirit
[For the complete thought, please refer to my article entitled “Acts 5:12 and the Gift of the Holy Spirit”] http://churchofchristarticles.com/blog/administrator/acts-512-and-the-gift-of-the-holy-spirit/
The second passage after Acts 2:38 to which an appeal is made to prove the gift of the Holy Spirit must be non-prophetic is Acts 5:32. It reads:
“And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”
The argument made from this verse rests upon this argument:
- The Spiritual Gifts of the Holy Spirit were not given to all saints.
- The “Giving” of the Holy Spirit of Acts 5:32 is applied to all “those who obey Him.”
- Therefore, the gift received by all “those who obey Him” must be non-prophetic.
If one accepts point #1 as true, a reading of Acts 5:32 seems to support the idea proffered and so would eliminate any prophetic or spiritual gift from consideration in the gift of the Holy Spirit.
However, argumentation from this verse is flawed in several ways:
It Requires a Limited Distribution of Spiritual Gifts.
It is axiomatic among proponents of a non-prophetic gift of the Holy Spirit that the spiritual gifts were only sporadically given among the early saints. That position is often asserted and assumed – never proven.
The text shows otherwise:
- The promise of the coming of the spiritual gifts (Joel 2:28-32) states that “all flesh” inclusive of rich and poor, young and old, sons and daughters, and rich and servants would be able to see visions, dream dreams, and prophesy.
- In Acts 8, all that were scattered from Jerusalem preached the word everywhere they went. I wonder how they did that without being gifted and possessing no Bibles?
- Also, in Acts 8, as soon as the word bore fruit outside of Jerusalem, Peter and John were dispatched to Samaria to ensure that those who believed were given gifts.
- In Acts 10-11, all the house of Cornelius (not just Cornelius himself) is given the gift of the Holy Spirit and speak in tongues.
- In Acts 19, Paul finds 12 disciples who needed to be baptized and he meets that need. He then immediately lays hands on all 12 disciples and they all speak in tongues.
- In Acts 21, Phillip, who was a prophet himself, is said to have 4 virgin daughters. How many of them prophesied? All four.
- In 1 Corinthians 12-14, Paul uses the words “each, every, and all” over a dozen times to describe the possession of gifts in Corinth.
Where again does the text indicate that only a few people were empowered by the gifts?
Surely, as the church grew, and the apostles aged and died, the numbers would have worked against the apostles. However, by that time, the gifts would have been nearing their end anyway. It remains true that in the earliest days of the church (certainly in Acts 5 as the whole church resided in Jerusalem at that point) the apostles could have (and by the indication of the text “would have”) distributed the gifts freely.
It Misapplies the Word “Given.”
However, even the universal distribution of the gifts is not needed to meet the demands of the language of Acts 5:32. This verse is not the first time that God is said to have “given” His Spirit to His people. Nehemiah 9:20 states, “You gave your good Spirit to instruct them and did not withhold your manna . . .”
So, God “gave” His Spirit to Israel in the wilderness. Did all 600,000+ men of “war” age plus all the members of their families possess the Spirit? No, far from it. The count is:
- Moses (Numbers 11:17)
- Joshua (Deuteronomy 34:9)
- Oholiab and Bezalel (Exodus 35:30-35)
- The 70 elders upon whom Moses laid hands (Numbers 11:24-25).
Less than 100 people are recorded as being “given” the Spirit in wilderness. Yet, Nehemiah states that God had, indeed, given the Spirit to His people. Nothing in the language of Acts 5:32 demands that each individual has personally received the Spirit any more than the language of Nehemiah 9:20 does so.
It Fails to Account for the Purpose of the Spirit’s Bearing Witness in Acts 5:32.
Perhaps even more importantly is that the function fulfilled by the given Spirit is that He “bears witness.” This view does not have a tangible allowance for how the Spirit “bears witness.” To bear witness one must provide testimony. By its nature, testimony must be evidentiary. Current views inside churches of Christ will not allow for the Spirit’s witness to be evidentiary or objective in its manifestation. His witness must hide in the convenient shadows of ambiguity and mysticism.
That distinction is arbitrary and will not suffice for long in mainstream churches of Christ. Simply because the idea of uncertain, clouded testimony is no bearing witness at all. We are already moving to a place where preachers feel free to express what, in my opinion, they have long believed: The Holy Spirit is providing them with a personal, evidentiary witness to their faith. Their voices will continue to grow both in numbers and volume.
Further, the biblical text already affirms how the Spirit bears witness. There are at least eight clear references in Acts (outside of Acts 5:32) to the testimony confirming the exalted Christ borne through or by the Holy Spirit:
- Acts 1:8 – “ . . . you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses . . .”
- Acts 2:40 – “And with many other words he bore witness . . .”
- Acts 3:15-16 – “And you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. And his name . . . has given this man perfect health in the presence of you all.”
- Acts 4:33 – “And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.”
- Acts 10:39 – “And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and Jerusalem. . . ”
- Acts 10:43 – “To him all the prophets bear witness . . .”
- Acts 14:3 – “. . . speaking boldly for the Lord, who bore witness to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands.”
- Acts 15:7-8 – “. . . that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word . . .And God . . .bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us,”
There should be no difficulty understanding the nature of the Holy Spirit’s witness in the book of Acts. His witness is not some personal testimony to convince others to have faith based on the outcome of one’s life. His witness is not even some internal validation one has within the depths of his heart. The witness of the Spirit is borne by prophets and apostles. It is expressed in inspired words which are confirmed in the demonstration of the Spirit’s power in the signs and wonders He granted to the early church. Acts knows no other witness from the Holy Spirit.
The given Spirit in Acts 5:32 is providing witness to the risen Lord and is doing so with signs, wonders, and words. Is that what you believe the indwelling of the Spirit is providing for you?
It Fails to Account for “How” God Gives the Holy Spirit.
Also lacking in this view is that it does not address the issue of “how” God gives the Spirit. There is only one verse in the Bible that explicitly states how the Holy Spirit is given to Christians: “Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money” (Acts 8:18).
[As a side note, the most nearly similar passage to this is found in Deut. 34:9. In which Joshua is said to be “full of the spirit of wisdom for Moses had laid his hands on him.” Two different covenants, but one identical manner of giving and receiving the Holy Spirit]
The consequence of the Spirit’s being given is that men received Him. There are a few texts that reference how men received the Holy Spirit:
- In Acts 8, prayer and the laying on of hands is credited with allowing men to receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:15, 17, 19).
- Acts 19:2-6 connects prayer and the laying on of hands from Paul for the reception of the Holy Spirit in Ephesus.
- More broadly, Jesus promises that the Holy Spirit would come on the apostles in Acts 2 from “on high” and provide them “power” (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:8).
- Paul states that the “gift of God,” which is equated to “receiving the Spirit” in Acts 8, was in Timothy through the laying on of Paul’s hands (2 Timothy 1:6-7).
The pattern here is easily seen. In passages which specify the manner the Holy Spirit is given, He is either given directly from Heaven, or He is provided in a specific distribution from the apostles’ hands. In all cases, the effect of the giving and the reception of the Holy Spirit is prophetic.
If there were no “how” about the Spirit’s being given, one could just assert that He is given in baptism and be done with it. But Peter does not say that one receives the Spirit in baptism. He states that if one would be baptized, he “shall” receive the gift of the Spirit. Other than baptism’s preceding the gift, no direct connection of time is made in the verse.
Given that scripture then states a clear method of giving not just the spiritual gifts of the Spirit, but the Spirit himself (Acts 8:18 says that Simon saw that the Holy Spirit – not His gifts but His person – was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands), is not the most consistent application of Acts 5:32 to connect Acts 2:38 and Acts 8:18? Other than the doctrinal dilemma into which that connection places most current views of the indwelling of the Spirit, what reason exists to reject it?
Acts 5:32 does not have the necessary force to reject the idea that spiritual gifts existed in the saints outside the apostles before Acts 6:3-6. In order to use Acts 5:32 to establish that position, it is the case that not even one of the above points can have any possibility of being true. If any of the above items rises at all above being impossible, then one cannot know for sure that Acts 5:32 excludes the prophetic before Acts 6:3-6. As the claimed certainty from Acts 5:32 evaporates, so does much of the argumentation against a prophetic gift of the Holy Spirit.