Holy Spirit Granted to Samaritans
Following the murder of Stephen and the persecution of the church by Saul, most followers fled Jerusalem. The apostles however, defied Saul and remained in the city. Philip had gone to Samaria and we read, “Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ to them.”
Throughout the New Testament, including the Gospels, we read of people going “down” to towns that are obviously north of Jersusalem. That’s because it is talking about altitude, not location. Jerusalem is on a mountain, Mount Zion. To go anywhere from there, you need to come down from the mountain first.
The fact that Philip was preaching to the Samaritans in the first place is surprising as we shall see.
The Samaritans claimed descent from the tribe of Ephraim and tribe of Manasseh, two sons of Joseph. [Gen 50:22-26]
They believed that their worship, which was based on the Samaritan Pentateuch (the five books of Moses), was the true religion of the ancient Israelites from before the Babylonian captivity, preserved by those who remained in the Land of Israel. They saw Judaism as a related but altered and amended religion, brought back by those returning from the captivity.
The Samaritans believed that Mount Gerizim was the original Holy Place of Israel from the time that Joshua conquered Canaan. One major issue between Jews and Samaritans had long been the location of the Chosen Place to worship God – the temple in Jerusalem, at Mount Zion according to the Jewish faith, or the temple at Mount Gerizim (shown here) according to the Samaritan faith.
According to the Samaritans, it was on Mount Gerizim that Abraham was commanded by God to offer Isaac, his son, as a sacrifice. [Gen 22:2]
Both Jewish and Samaritan religious leaders taught that it was wrong to have any contact with the opposite group, and neither was to enter each others territories or even to speak to one another.
In The Woman of Samaria at Jacob’s Well [John#4:4-42] we read, “Jesus had to pass through Samaria, and he came to a town called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph.” He asked a woman who had come to draw water from the well for a drink and she said, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria? (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.)”
After discussing certain aspects of Scripture, Jesus said, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship one you do not know; we worship one we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
Jesus stayed with the people there for two days, teaching them. And when he left, the people said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Saviour of the world.”
Jesus had also spoken well of the Samaritans in the Parable of The Good Samaritan which he told to the apostles. But he had also forbidden them to teach there in The Apostles Sent as Missionaries “And he sent them out, two by two, instructing them, ‘Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.'” The time had not yet come for the Holy Spirit to be granted to the Samaritans.
But after his resurrection, in The Great Commission Jesus commands his apostles, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
So that is why Philip was now in Samaria, in fact in the city called Samaria, which they called their capital, later known as Sebastia. So, in Acts 8 we read, “Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the Word. Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ to them. And the multitudes with one accord heeded the things spoken by Philip, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did. For unclean spirits, crying with a loud voice, came out of many who were possessed; and many who were paralyzed and lame were healed. And there was great joy in that city.”
“Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them, who, when they had come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. For as yet He had fallen upon none of them. They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.”
There is much debate in Christianity about why their baptism did not include receiving the Holy Spirit, and the relevance of the apostles laying their hands on them, supposedly so that they could. Some believe to this day, that the Holy Spirit is passed to a newly baptized person by a priest or minister laying their hands on them. The argument being, why was it necessary for the apostles to come all the way from Jerusalem to do what Philip apparently could not?
Firstly, let me remind you of what I have said earlier, that the laying on of hands was a symbolic tradition dating back to the time of Moses, that signified approval of an important appointment. [Ex#29:10; Lev#1:4; 3:8; Num#8:9-11; 27:15-23; Deut#34:9]
It was also used when appointing the seven deacons, of whom Philip was one. And they had already received the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit comes from God, not man. No human has the ability to grant a person the gift of the Holy Spirit and nowhere in Scripture does it say they have.
In fact, Jesus as man, never baptized anyone with the Holy Spirit – not even the apostles. They too had to wait – until Pentecost, to receive the Holy Spirit.
I believe the reason the apostles needed to be present, was to authorize reconciliation between Jew and Samaritan in the new church. Jesus had tasked the apostles with making “disciples of all nations” and “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”. Peter and John “prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit”. They did not give them the Holy Spirit, God did. They were there purely as official spokesmen of Jesus, people with authority to guarantee that the Samaritans would no longer be seen as religious enemies or outcasts, but as one with the Jews in the new church.
Luke records two other stories in Acts 8, that read together, can be seen as the wrong and right attitude of heart and mind needed to be worthy of receiving the Holy Spirit, as we will see next.