A reflection on Acts 8:14-17 for the Baptism of the Lord, Sunday, January 9, 2022.
Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. The two went down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit (for as yet the Spirit had not come upon any of them; they had only been baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus). Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.
Acts 8:14-17 (NRSVA)
There is a temptation to see a systematic two-stage baptism here: firstly a baptism into Jesus and secondly one in the Holy Spirit. I am sympathetic. Certainly if you are looking for a such an approach this passage looks like confirmation.
I would suggest, however, that Jesus and the Spirit are much closer than we might first appreciate. A little later in Acts there is the following, intriguing, title used for the Spirit: ‘Then coming to the borders of Mysia, they headed north for the province of Bithynia, but again the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them to go there.’ (Acts 16:7, NLT).
I am drawn to this holding together of Jesus and the Spirit. Every time I read it it makes me wonder if we are prone to divide what cannot be separated: The Spirit of Jesus.
What then do we do with a passage like the one above? Somehow this seems to be more historical – or descriptive – rather than pre-scriptive. Here is a telling of what happened – rather than an instruction regarding a sequence that must happen. Certainly this is the pattern for some (like these Samaritans), but that does not necessarily translate into a belief that this is the only way to know the Spirit of Jesus.
Perhaps for some – or even many – an encounter with the Spirit preceeds an encounter with Jesus.
When working with an historical document like Acts, this is an important question to continually be asking – and one that will cause different scholars will land in different places. Some of this genre will be instructional and some historical. Perhaps the answer – for most – lies in some kind of overlap.
What is really important here, however, is that Paul and John have come to fully expect that even the half-cast Samaritans are so much a part of the church that the Spirit of Jesus desires to operate in and among them.
Here is a God for all – and neither nationality nor purity of nationality – is relevant.
It is a lesson God constantly affirmed in the early church. Perhaps it remains one we do well to heed two thousand years later.
How do you feel about the title ‘Spirit of Jesus’? Does this hold together an relationship within the trinity that you have been prone to separate? Can you say the same about the title ‘Spirit of God’?
How helpful do you find the continuum from Prescriptive to Descriptive to be when considering the book of Acts? Where do you think you fall?