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Acts 8:14–17

“When the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.”

The Samaritans whom we read about in the New Testament were descendants of Israelites who intermarried with gentile peoples that the Assyrian Empire settled in the northern kingdom of Israel after Assyria conquered Israel and took most of its citizens into exile (2 Kings 17:7–41). These Samaritans also practiced an impure form of Old Testament Judaism that centered worship on Mount Gerizim and altered the Pentateuch (Genesis–Deuteronomy) to justify offering sacrifices there (see John 4:20). First-century Jews detested the Samaritans for their mixed ethnic ancestry and their false religious practices. As the Apostle John comments in his account of the Samaritan woman at the well, “Jews have no dealings with Samaritans” (v. 9).

In today’s passage, we see how this hostility came to an end for those Jews and Samaritans who embraced Jesus by faith. Having already told us about Philip’s successful evangelistic mission in Samaria (Acts 8:9–13), Luke reports that once news of the Samaritans’ conversion reached Jerusalem, the Apostles sent two of their own, Peter and John, to Samaria to investigate (v. 14). That John was willing to go is particularly noteworthy. Not long before, during the ministry of Jesus, John had wanted to call down destruction on the Samaritans (Luke 9:51–56). Now he came to Samaria to receive his former enemies as brothers in Christ. Jesus broke down the walls between the Jews and the Samaritans (see Eph. 2:14).

When Peter and John arrived in Samaria, they laid their hands on the Samaritans and prayed for them to receive the Holy Spirit because they had “only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.” The Holy Spirit came upon them in a kind of repeated Pentecost experience for the Samaritans (Acts 8:15–17; see ch. 2). In reading that Philip had baptized the Samaritans only in the name of Jesus, we should not think that Philip did not use the Trinitarian baptismal formula given in Matthew 28:18–20. Rather, the Samaritans had truly been saved and incorporated into Jesus but did not receive the indwelling of the Spirit immediately at their conversion. Pentecostal Christians take stories like this as evidence that the Holy Spirit comes upon people in a second blessing after their conversion. The Samaritans’ experience was not normative, however. Instead, it provided an opportunity for the Holy Spirit to give a special confirmation that the gospel was not for the Jews alone but also for the Samaritans.

Coram Deo Living before the face of God

Acts describes a transitional period when God was showing the new covenant church the full ramifications of salvation in Christ. God wanted to make clear that He received the Samaritans through Christ, and delaying their reception of the Spirit and giving them a Pentecost experience proved that Samaritan believers were kingdom citizens. In the post-Apostolic era, there is no delay between conversion and the reception of the Holy Spirit.

For further study
  • Jeremiah 31:1–6
  • Luke 10:25–37
  • Luke 17:11–19
  • Acts 10:44–48
The bible in a year
  • Judges 13–14
  • Luke 9:28–62

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Apr 2024 Issue