The Gift of the Holy Spirit (Part 4)

The Gift of the Holy Spirit (Part 4)

The Promise of the Gift of the Holy Spirit

There is another strong piece of evidence in Acts 2 as to the meaning of the gift of the Holy Spirit. Peter states that the respondents to his sermon would receive the gift because, as verse 39 says, “[T]he promise is for you . . .” We know then that the gift of the Holy Spirit is a matter of biblical promise. That means that somewhere in the Bible’s text prior to Acts 2, God promised the gift of the Holy Spirit to those who obeyed the gospel.

There is only one Old Testament passage that could fulfill that demand: Joel 2:28-32.

  • Peter establishes that the events of Acts 2 are the direct fulfillment of the promise of Joel 2 (Acts 2:16-21).
  • It is the only Old Testament passage directly quoted and applied to Holy Spirit’s work in the church.
  • And Acts 2 is the last time any Bible prophet ever referred to the Old Testament to explain the Holy Spirit’s work.

Joel 2 is the promise of the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Further, there is another point that needs to be emphasized in this context. Those who believe the gift of the Holy Spirit is a non-prophetic blessing are caught in a bind regarding finding a promise of gift of the Spirit before Acts 2.

What was promised?

What was promised?

As discussed in earlier articles on this topic, Peter does not explain the nature of the gift. The most reasonable conclusion that can be drawn from that fact is that he expected his audience to understand the effect of a man’s receiving the Holy Spirit.

What Acts 2:39 necessitates is that the promise and understanding of the gift of the Spirit comes from a pre-existing biblical statement about the work of the Holy Spirit. So then, if the gift is “non-prophetic,” Peter’s argument demands that a non-prophetic experience of the coming of the Holy Spirit was known before Acts 2:38. The problem that truth creates for this view of the gift is:

If this non-prophetic indwelling existed among the Jews prior to Acts 2, how then could it be used as the identifying “seal” of the true people of God after Acts 2?

Many current proponents of an “ordinary” or non-prophetic indwelling claim that the indwelling produces no visible or demonstrable effects. But if it is true that the effect of indwelling from the gift of the Holy Spirit is only internal, then it cannot be evidentiary. That is especially true, if the Old Testament Jews also had this same indwelling. As the Judaistic teaching began to impact the church, how could the gift of the Spirit be used to identify the people of God? Both doctrines could simply claim to have experienced this non-demonstrable indwelling.

  • If the Jews had experienced and understood the Spirit’s non-prophetic indwelling to the degree that it did not need to be explained by Peter, would they not simply claim the continued possession of this indwelling after Acts 2?
  • If they could successfully make that claim, they would have nullified the apostles’ appeal to the seal of the Spirit among the early Christians.

Acts 2:39’s statement that the gift is a fulfillment of a promise of God demands that the gift of the Holy Spirit be of Old Testament origin. If the gift is of a non-prophetic nature its inclusion in the Old Testament ruins its ability to be used as evidence of a true Christian. Yet, if it is of a prophetic nature, the fact that the gift is demonstrable means its ability to be used as evidence continues. If after Acts 2:38-39, there were no “Jewish” prophets to counter the “Christian” prophets, the evidentiary impact of the gift would still have efficacy.

The fact that the gift is a part of Old Testament prophecy means that it must be prophetic.

Objections Considered

While it is impossible to anticipate every possible objection to this position, there are two objections that need a brief comment.

First, many would argue that Peter’s promise is universal in its nature and so if the gift is prophetic then all Christians must be prophets. In answer to that, we would simply agree. Yes, all the saints who receive the gift of the Holy Spirit are prophets. The New Testament is quite emphatic in its affirmation that the distribution of prophetic powers among the early saints was universal. Other of this author’s articles have examined the extent of the prophetic/miraculous powers in the early church. That material shows that the apostles aggressively spread the powers of the Spirit among the first-century Christians (see Acts 8, 19). Once that fact is seen, this particular objection has no merit.

Second, many would then argue that because Peter’s statement that the promise of the gift of the Holy Spirit applies to “all who are far off” that it is an enduring promise. Further, as the miraculous gifts of the Spirit were temporary in nature, the gift of the Holy Spirit cannot be prophetic.

That objection arises from a misunderstanding of the phrase “far off.” This objection view the phrase “far off” as a statement of time. However, the Jews had a different use for this phrase. The Jews viewed the Gentile nations as being “far off” from God. Paul uses this language in Ephesians when he states that the Gentiles that were “far off” have now been “brought near by the blood of Christ” (2:13). The promise of Acts 2:39 is described as being for all nations, even the ones “far off.” Other than the fact that two generations are mentioned, “you and your children,” Acts 2:39 makes no specific mention of time.

The gift of the Holy Spirit was for all of God’s people for as long as the promise was active. Joel 2 was for all flesh, but it was not for all-time.

Conclusion

The gift of the Holy Spirit is simply the expression of the fulfillment of Joel 2:28-32. God promised that “all flesh” who followed the Messiah would have the Holy Spirit poured out to them. Peter is stating that if one would respond to the gospel he would receive the Holy Spirit as God had promised. Understanding the nature of the gift is simple so long as one remembers that whenever the Holy Spirit comes upon, falls upon, fills, or is received by man in any way, the effect is prophetic in its nature. That is why after Acts 2, the references to “gift” and “Spirit” are always in prophetic contexts. The gift of the Holy Spirit is the Holy Spirit and possession of Him as a gift made prophets of “all flesh” in the early church.

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The Gift of the Holy Spirit (Part 3)

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.

Is there a difference between "gift" and "gifts"?

Is there a difference between “gift” and “gifts”?

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:

  1. (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?”
  2. (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)

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The Gift of the Holy Spirit (Part 2)

The Gift of the Holy Spirit (Part 2)

The Gift of the Holy Spirit or the Holy Spirit as a Gift

Another area of great controversy on this topic is essentially a grammatical one. For many it is a critical discussion. The desire is to create a duality in the Spirit’s work with man. It seeks to establish a grammatical separation (and so a textual basis) between the Spirit’s prophetic work and His non-prophetic work with man. This allows commentators to find needed expositional space later in the New Testament. In short, it allows for there to be verses which apply to the prophetic gifts of the Holy Spirit which are viewed as limited and temporary and other verses which apply to the non-prophetic works of the Holy Spirit which are viewed as universal and enduring.

Inside churches of Christ two main views have developed from this construction:

  • “Word Only” Indwelling.

This approach usually views the gift of the Holy Spirit as a gift that the Holy Spirit provides. Broadly stated, this view admits that the Spirit gifted the early saints with prophecy but after the age of prophecy ended He only continued to dwell within man by faith from the word He revealed.

  • “Literal, Personal” Indwelling.

On the other side of the discussion is the view that the Holy Spirit Himself is the gift that is given to each Christian. This view then creates the belief that each Christian has a literal and personal indwelling of the Holy Spirit. It then takes Acts 2:38 as inclusive of all the blessings of the Holy Spirit throughout the entire Christian era.

Does the Greek Help?

The answer to understanding the work of the Holy Spirit is not found in specialized Greek knowledge. That is also true in this instance. The controversy about the gift of the Holy Spirit or the Holy Spirit as a gift centers on the use of the genitive case in the Greek language. The genitive case in Greek roughly equates to the English possessive case.

Spirit gift or gift of Spirit? The Greek won't help.

Spirit gift or gift of Spirit? The Greek won’t help.

The problem is that it can be translated in either of two ways in this instance. It can mean the Spirit’s gift or the Spirit as a gift. Both camps can make extensive arguments in support of their position. Those arguments are available in many works and students of this topic should be familiar with them. However, if either side truly had a conclusive argument it would likely have been made already. A resolution to the controversy is not going to be found in arguments from the Greek.

A Distinction Without a Difference

Arguing over whether the Spirit GIVES the gift or IS the gift implies that if one side is true then the Spirit’s work with man has one effect and if the other side is true then the Spirit’s work with man has another effect. The question is not about the meaning of the phrase “gift of the Holy Spirit.” The question must be answered:

Can it be established that the Holy Spirit provides man with any benefit beyond prophetic blessings?

The argument that has been put forth in other writings from this author that whenever the Spirit works with man, His work is always prophetic in its nature. There are over 100 verses in the Bible prior to Acts 2, that discuss the Spirit’s work with humanity. All of them point to the Spirit’s prophetic/miraculous among the saints.

Even in the context of Acts 1-2 in which the gift of the Spirit is introduced, the Spirit’s work is referenced 10 times. Acts 2:38 is the tenth of those references. Without question from most every commentator, the first nine of those references are prophetic. So where is this non-prophetic work of the Holy Spirit introduced into Peter’s narrative?

If one cannot insert a non-prophetic conception of the Spirit’s work into the text, in practical terms, to state the gift of the Spirit is the Spirit and the gift of the Spirit is given by the Spirit is the same statement. If the Spirit’s work is always prophetic, when one receives Him as a gift, that one becomes a prophet. If the Spirit’s work is always prophetic and He gives man His gift, the effect is that man would become a prophet. In the end, this discussion becomes a distinction without a difference.

Before passing from this thought an important point needs to be highlighted. It is from Acts 2:38-39 that many seek to establish the non-prophetic blessing of the Holy Spirit. However, as it relates to the gift of the Holy Spirit two observations can be made:

  • Every argument made against the prophetic nature of the gift of the Holy Spirit comes from after Acts 2:38.

Proponents of a non-prophetic indwelling will appeal to those having the Spirit in Romans 8 and other New Testament texts. However, they cannot appeal to any Old Testament text to establish it. They cannot because in so doing they would then deny the exclusive possession of this blessing by the Christian that their doctrine demands. If the indwelling is a new blessing brought in by the exaltation of Christ, then it cannot exist prior to His exaltation. No appeal to an Old Testament text or to any New Testament text based on Old Testament teachings can be made. It is only after Acts 2 that the work of the Spirit can be non-prophetic.

  • Every argument made against the prophetic nature of the gift of the Holy Spirit comes from a “non-gift” passage.

After Acts 2, the Holy Spirit is connected to the gift (both in the singular and plural) several times. We will examine those texts in Part #3 of this article. One telling truth in this area is that none of those texts can be used to establish a “non-prophetic gift” from the Holy Spirit. One would think that the best places in the biblical text to establish the meaning of a phrase is in the actual texts that use the phrase. That is so obvious that it should not have to be stated. Unfortunately, it does.

  • Where in the display of tongue-speaking and the flames like fire on Pentecost does one find argumentation for a non-prophetic Spirit?
  • What specific language in Acts 8 can describe God’s gift as non-prophetic while Peter and John are busy laying hands on the Samaritans?
  • Amidst the noise of the tongue-speaking in the house of Cornelius, what textual feature indicates that the gift of the Spirit in his house was non-prophetic?

It cannot be done. Each of those passages must be explained away. They cannot be used as the basis for this non-prophetic work.

The work of establishing that non-prophetic function is claimed in other texts and then applied backwards into Acts 2. The only way to place a non-prophetic work in Acts 2 is to read the Bible back-to-front.

The Spirit’s Gift or the Spirit as a Gift?

What is the answer then? Is the Holy Spirit the gift or does He give the gift? Acts 2:38 describes the “gift of the Holy Spirit” as a gift that is received. The Bible speaks of people “receiving” the Holy Spirit in at least 15 places (John 7:39, 14:17, 20:22, Acts 1:8, 2:33, 8:15, 8:17, 8:19, 10:47, 19:2, Romans 8:15, 1 Corinthians 2:12, 2 Corinthians 11:4; Galatians 3:2; Galatians 3:14). Beyond that, if a man receives not only a gift from the Spirit, but also the Spirit Himself, that one would then be in possession of the Holy Spirit. He would “have” the Spirit. There are dozens of verses which speak of men having the Spirit clothing, resting, being placed or put on, filling, and coming upon them. The Bible’s testimony is clear in both testaments that God’s people receive a communion with the person of the Holy Spirit, not just a dispensation of a gift that He provides.

The issue is not really whether man receives that communion with the Holy Spirit. It is what that communion does for man. As we have seen, the Holy Spirit’s coming upon man provides prophecy, visions, and dreams.

(2 Additional Articles to Come)

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