The Same Gift?
The phrase “gift of the Holy Spirit” appears only twice in most English Bibles. I know of no better example to highlight the “secret decoder ring” style of exposition currently in use regarding the Holy Spirit.
The first time the phrase appears in Acts 2:38. The promise extended to those would “repent and be baptized” was that they would receive the “gift of the Holy Spirit.” Current teaching about this gift highlights at least four of its characteristics:
- The Gift is received only At/after baptism – “be baptized . . . you shall receive.”
- The Gift is Universal – Per v. 39 it belongs to “as many as the Lord shall call.”
- The Gift is Forever (at least until the end of the world) – Per v. 39 – “to all that are far off.”
- The Gift is Non-miraculous/Prophetic – Given the three qualities above, we can know the miraculous is excluded.
The second appearance of the phrase is found in Acts 10:45 in the house of Cornelius: “While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. 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” (Acts 10:44-45).
In this second appearance of the phrase, we are also told this gift has at least four characteristics:
- The Gift is received Before baptism – Cornelius receives this gift in v.45 and is not baptized until v. 48.
- The Gift is Limited – Tongue-speaking and other gifts were only given to a few people.
- The Gift is Temporary – As this gift is seen by tongue-speaking (v. 46), it must be temporary.
- The Gift is Miraculous – Peter knew the gift was given because he witnessed tongue-speaking.
- One gift is given At/After baptism; one is given Before.
- One gift is Universal; one is Limited.
- One gift is Forever; one is Temporary.
- One gift is Non-Prophetic; one is Prophetic.
Keep in mind, these are the only two times this phrase appears in the text of scripture. The exact same, we are told, describes two gifts that have not one point of commonality between them except that they are both from God. I understand why people are confused when they hear teaching about the Holy Spirit. Is there another doctrine where God’s use of language is so unpredictable?
But the situation is worse than that. In Acts 11, Peter addresses a Jewish audience about his work with Cornelius, a Gentile. In Acts 11:17, he describes his response to seeing the gift of the Holy Spirit poured out to Cornelius: “If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ . . .” The same gift? Which of those four characteristics above is the same? In fact, as they are often currently described, the gifts are mutually exclusive.There is nothing the same about them.
But it is even worse still. Peter states that the same gift was given to Cornelius as was given to “us when we believed.” The gift in question cannot be the “gift” given to Peter and the apostles in Acts 2:4 (as some might suggest). The gift in question was given at the point when the recipients believed. The apostles were believers in Jesus Christ the Lord well before Acts 2. Their reception of the power in Acts 2:4 was not in any fashion connected to the point of their belief.
Yet the reception the “same gift” in Acts 11 is directly connected to the point in time when the “us/we” developed faith in Jesus. The “us/we” of Acts 11 must refer to his Jewish audience in Jerusalem (Acts 11:2). For the record, the initial point of faith for Jewish converts in Jerusalem is expressed in Acts 2:37: “Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart. . .” This group of people received the gift of the Holy Spirit “when we believed” because they gladly received the words of Peter and were baptized (Acts 2:41). It is the gift that they received “when they believed” that is the same gift that Peter saw given to the household of Cornelius.
Peter words directly and necessarily tie the gift of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2:38 to the gift of the Holy Spirit in Acts 10:45. They were, in fact, the exact same gift and God uses the exact same phrase to describe them. There is nothing unpredictable or unreliable at all in God’s word of words. It is those seeking to define this phrase in two separate manners that have some explaining to do.