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Acts 8:14-17 – Why didn’t the Samaritans receive the Holy Spirit straight away?

When Philip had proclaimed the gospel to the Samaritans, they believed, repented, and were baptized in water – but they did not receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This only happened when Peter and John came from Jerusalem, laid hands on them and prayed that they might receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Some people think this passage shows the one can become a Christian and not have the gift of the Holy Spirit. However, the New Testament is clear that the Holy Spirit is necessary for being a Christian and the gift of the Spirit comes at conversion. So why in this account is there a delay in the Samaritans receiving the Spirit?

The Samaritans were not Gentiles, but they were not fully Jews either. They were on the fringes of Judaism. Peter at Pentecost had said that the promise of the Spirit was for all those who were far off. It was not clear to the Jews that the Samaritans were included in those who were far off. It seems that God held back from giving the Spirit to the Samaritans so that Peter and John, apostles from Jerusalem, could witness their conversion and then testify to it back in Jerusalem. By delaying the gift of the Spirit, the Lord Jesus acted to save his church from a potential division into a Jewish Christianity and a Samaritan Christianity. As the Lord Jesus had saved the Church by his righteous judgment of Ananias and Saphira so the Lord now saved the Church through his wisdom by preventing a division. The giving of the Spirit indicates God’s acceptance of persons – those who God has accepted in this way are to be accepted by us as well.

One also recalls that in Luke 9:51-56, the Samaritans had not received Jesus on his journey to suffer in Jerusalem. On that occasion John and James had desired to call down fire from heaven to judge the Samaritans. Jesus refused the request, thus preserving the Samaritans for this day. What a change in John – the man who had wanted to call on God to send fire-of-judgment upon the Samaritans now calls on God to send the fire-like Spirit.