Acts 8:17

Senate, Texas Capitol.

Wednesday, 22 June 2022

Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. Acts 8:17

Note: You can listen to today’s commentary courtesy of our friends at “Bible in Ten” podcast. (Click Here to listen)

You can also read this commentary, with music, courtesy of our friends at “Discern the Bible” on YouTube. (Click Here to listen), or at Rumble (Click Here to listen).

In the previous verse, Luke carefully noted that the Holy Spirit had not fallen on any who had believed in Jesus. Rather, it said, “They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.” With that understood, it next says, “Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.”

The verbs in both clauses are imperfect. It more precisely reads, “Then they were laying hands on them, and they were receiving the Holy Spirit.” This is important because it leaves the number of believers in the area unrecorded, but it gives the sense of a large number. As the apostles laid their hands on each person, that person would then receive the Holy Spirit. With this in mind, the clauses can be evaluated, beginning with, “Then they were laying hands on them.”

It is the apostles, after having come down from Jerusalem, who “were praying for them” (verse 8:15), meaning the people of Samaria. As they did, they then “were laying hands on them.” How completely different than anything seen yet! It is a recorded account of what happened, and yet something entirely different was needed for the process to be complete.

No explanation is given, and yet, it is clear that this was deemed necessary by God for us to learn something concerning both the book of Acts in general, and of His workings within the church as well as He reveals His intent for it. With this act of the apostles noted, it next says, “and they were receiving the Holy Spirit.”

There is a process that is being followed and a result that is occurring. Each person who has the hands of the apostles laid upon him only then receives the Holy Spirit. One must ask, “Is this normative?” The answer should be obvious. If it is, then it would have been required for everyone since Acts 2. Further, it would continue to be needed throughout Acts. But in Acts 10, it will say, “While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word” (Acts 10:44).

One must read the whole account to see the process that occurs there, but it is clear that what is happening now in Acts 8 cannot be normative. And more, it is almost wholly ignored by churches that hold to various accounts in Acts in a prescriptive manner. However, for those churches that do claim hands must be laid upon a person in order for him to receive the Spirit, various problems arise, such as:

  • It ignores the other accounts where this process is not followed.
  • It assumes that the person laying the hands on another has apostolic authority, which he does not.
  • It leads to a convoluted theology that does not match what the prescriptive epistles clearly state.

In Acts 10, a more thorough evaluation of the various differences between the accounts will be made. At that time, these things will be considered and the purpose for them will be explained.

Life application: What has been the common denominator so far in the various accounts recorded in Acts, including in the manner of baptisms that have occurred? Consider this as you read and continue to explore the book. We are being given insights into the redemptive scenario as it continues throughout history.

As for the account in Acts 8, one can see the importance of properly translating verbs from the Greek. A few varying translations of Acts 8:17 say –

Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost. (KJV)
Then they began laying their hands on them, and they were receiving the Holy Spirit. (NASB)
Then Peter and John laid their hands on them [one by one], and they received the Holy Spirit. (Amplified Bible)
Then Peter and John placed their hands on the Samaritans, and they received the Holy Spirit. (NET Bible)
then were they laying hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. (YLT)
Then they were laying hands on them, and they were receiving the Holy Spirit. (CG)

As you can see, some introduce words (italics) to provide clarity of the subject. The Amplified Bible gives a fuller explanation of the process. Instead of directly translating what is happening, the explanation gives the mind time to consider what is being said. The NET Bible inserts the word “Samaritans” in order to remind the reader exactly who is the object of the action. Young’s (YLT) translates the first imperfect verb as it actually should be, and then it translates the second imperfect verb as a perfect verb. The final translation most closely follows the Greek, but it includes the italicized word “the” before “Holy Spirit” as is needed in the translation.

The words are mostly understandable from any of the translations. The italicized words may help with clarity if they are rightly inserted. The explanatory insertions can be useful for a reader who is new to the passage or who just needs help understanding it. But in accurately translating the verbs in the imperfect as they are in the Greek, the sense of motion and continuance is more fully appreciated.

Don’t be afraid to read various translations of Scripture, and don’t be captivated by just one as well. Most translations truly want people to understand the word in order for God to be glorified, but not all do. There are hidden agendas behind some translations, so get the advice of trusted sources in order to ensure your study is both productive and glorifying of God.

What a gift Your word is, O God! Thank You for it and thank You that we can have a more intimate relationship with You as we search it out, consider it, and apply it to our walk before You. Praises to You for revealing Yourself to us in this Superior Word! Amen.