The Gift of the Holy Spirit (Part 3)
The Gift of the Holy Spirit vs. the Gifts of the Holy Spirit
There are some who seek to make a distinction between the gift of the Holy Spirit and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The gift of the Spirit is said to be the personal indwelling of the Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit refers to the prophetic demonstrations of the Spirit’s power in the early church. The attempt, once again, is to define a duality in the Spirit’s work. However, if this distinction is to be accepted as true, there must exist some textual evidence that the singular form of gift is used differently than the plural form. Nearly all agree that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are the spiritual or miraculous gifts mentioned in passages like 1 Corinthians 12-14, Ephesians 4:8-14, and Hebrews 2:4. As such, there is little reason to examine those passages in this context. Without dispute, they are statements of the prophetic abilities the Holy Spirit provided to man.
However, does the singular “gift” make a clear break from the use of the plural form?
“Gift” appears in contexts discussing the Holy Spirit six times in the Bible; four of them are within the book of Acts. The first is in the text under discussion, Acts 2:38.
The second connection of “gift” to the Spirit is found in Acts 8:17-20. When Simon observed that the Holy Spirit was “given” through the “laying on of the apostles’ hands” he sought to purchase that ability from Peter. In Peter’s response, he refers to that action as attempting to purchase the “gift of God.” What Simon was attempting to gain in the purchase of the “gift” was the ability to pass on prophetic powers to others. Here, “gift” and Spirit are in a prophetic context.
The third and fourth appearances occur in the same setting. In describing Peter’s actions and the defense of his actions in the house of Cornelius, Luke records these words from Peter:
- (Acts 10:45-47) And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?”
- (Acts 11:15-17) As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?”
Peter states that the “gift of the Holy Spirit” is a “gift” that is “poured out.” Every Bible student should pay attention to that language as it also appears in Acts 2:33 and is found in Joel’s prophecy that Peter used as the basis of the activity in Acts 2. The words of God’s prophets are never meaningless or coincidental. That which was “poured out” in Acts 2 was “seen and heard.” The “poured out” Spirit of Joel’s prophecy gave “prophecy, visions, and dreams.” The “poured out” gift in the house of Cornelius baptized its members in the Holy Spirit and produced the same tongue-speaking recorded at the beginning in Acts 2. If it were not for the troubling implications which challenge the view of a non-prophetic gift of the Holy Spirit, connecting Acts 2 with Acts 10-11 (as Peter does) would be done naturally by most Bible students. If God were desirous of drawing a clear distinction between the “gift of the Holy Spirit” and the “gifts of the Holy Spirit,” He chose a very suspect way of accomplishing that task.
The fifth occurrence of gift and Spirit together in the same passage is found in Hebrews 6:4. There “tasting the heavenly gift” is connected to having “shared in the Holy Spirit.” Notice the other words in that same context:
For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come (Hebrews 6:4-5)
The individuals under discussion in this text have been enlightened, have the heavenly gift, share in the Holy Spirit, have tasted the word of God and have powers of the age to come. What, other than the prophetic abilities of the Holy Spirit, would give a first-century saint knowledge of God’s word, a dispensation of divine powers, and some measure of enlightenment from God? As we know, the prophetic powers of the Spirit were at work among the recipients of Hebrews (2:4), how could this verse, in its original context, be referring to any other work?
The last appearance of “gift” and “Spirit” together is found in 2 Timothy 1:6-7: “For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” There is some ambiguity in the “spirit” reference in this text. Some translations render the verse as “the spirit” and other translations, such as the ESV, render the passage as a reference to the human spirit by saying simply “a spirit.” For this discussion, the specific usage of the word “spirit” has little impact on the meaning. What is easy to see is that the “gift of God” comes through the laying on of an apostle’s hand in the person of Paul. The connection back to Acts 8 and Acts 19 is easily made. Prophetic abilities were given through that means to the early saints including Timothy.
In every context outside of Acts 2:38 whenever the word “gift” appears alongside the “Spirit” it is a reference of prophetic abilities. How then in Acts 2, when nine previous references to the Holy Spirit in the context have all been prophetic in nature, can a reader assign a non-prophetic meaning to the gift of the Holy Spirit?
This truth must be remembered:
No argument can be crafted from verses which connect “gift” and “Spirit” to establish a non-prophetic work of the Holy Spirit.
That is telling and indicative that the gift of the Holy Spirit produces only prophetic abilities.
(One More Article in this 4 part series)