Phillip the Evangelist, the deacon, not the apostle, went to Samaria and made the first Christian converts there. But there was a problem –
(Act 8:14-17 ESV) 14 Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, 15 who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16 for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.
The Samaritans had been baptized but had not received the Spirit “yet” — contrary to all expectations, as the Spirit was normally received concurrently with water baptism (2:38). This was such a problem that the apostles Peter and John left Jerusalem, traveled to Samaria, and imparted the Spirt to the Samaritans.
The theme sentence of Acts is –
(Act 1:8 ESV) 8 “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
Jesus himself had told the apostles to go to Samaria, but years after Pentecost, they’d not done so. Rather, it was a deacon who made the trip and made the first converts. But God refused to send his Spirit to the Samaritans until the apostles themselves appeared and blessed the addition of the Samaritans to the church.
Boles’ take on this story is to argue that it was the miraculous gifts of the Spirit that the Samaritans lacked and that such gifts could only be imparted by the laying on of hands. But that is plainly not what the text says. Rather, the apostles prayed “that they might receive the Holy Spirit.”
Acts frequently uses “receive” in the context of the Spirit common to all Christians –
(Act 2:33 ESV) Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.
(Act 2:38 ESV) And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
(Act 10:47 ESV) “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?”
(Act 19:2 ESV) And he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”
The statement that the Samaritans had not yet “received” the Spirit means they’d not received the Spirit in the Acts 2:38 sense. You see, God withheld the promised Spirit from the Samaritans to induce the apostles to accept the Samaritans as fully brothers in Christ.
After all, given that Jesus had explicitly commanded the apostles themselves to preach the gospel in Samaria and that they had failed to do so shows that they needed some encouragement from On High to overcome their resentment (or fear) of the Samaritans. (It was common for Jewish travelers in Samaria to be murdered. The antipathy ran in both directions.) Forcing the apostles to personally lay hands on the Samaritans (touching people the Jews considered unclean, even subhuman) demonstrated that the gospel crosses national and ethnic barriers as well as overcoming racial prejudice. The Samaritans would not be second-class Christians but were fully incorporated into the apostolic community — at last.
(Act 9:17-19 ESV) 17 So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; 19 and taking food, he was strengthened. For some days he was with the disciples at Damascus.
In this famous passage about the conversion of Paul, Ananias was sent by God so that Paul might “be filled with the Holy Spirit.” He baptized him, but the stated purpose of his visit was to fill him with the Spirit.
We in the Churches of Christ read this as a baptismal passage, and it is, but the baptism is surprisingly incidental to Luke’s narrative. Luke emphasizes the impartation of the Spirit but adds baptism as an incidental detail. This does not make baptism unimportant, but just as was true with regard to the Samaritans, the point of the narrative is the receipt of the Spirit.
(Acts 22:12-16 ESV) “And one Ananias, a devout man according to the law, well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there, 13 came to me, and standing by me said to me, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight.’ And at that very hour I received my sight and saw him. 14 And he said, ‘The God of our fathers appointed you to know his will, to see the Righteous One and to hear a voice from his mouth; 15 for you will be a witness for him to everyone of what you have seen and heard. 16 And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.’”
Paul recounts the events a second time in Acts 22, after his arrest in Jerusalem. In this re-telling, Ananias emphasizes baptism and doesn’t mention the Spirit: “Rise and be baptized and wash way your sins, calling on his name.” There is no contradiction (he surely said both things!). Rather, Paul uses this occasion to emphasize the forgiveness of his sins — indirectly arguing that it’s a great sin to persecute those who honor Jesus as Messiah. Of course, Ananias closely associates baptism with forgiveness of sins.
His language, “wash away your sins,” would have recalled this famous passage to Paul’s Jewish audience –
(Isa 1:15-17) When you spread out your hands,
I will hide my eyes from you;
even though you make many prayers,
I will not listen;
your hands are full of blood.
16 Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,
17 learn to do good;
bring justice to the fatherless,
plead the widow’s cause.
Ananias paraphrases Isaiah to make the point that Paul, like the Israelites at the time of Isaiah, had blood on his hands (v. 15). Therefore, prayer would not be enough (v. 15). He had to be forgiven, and forgiveness requires repentance (v. 15-16) — replacing a life filled with evil with righteous living. Indeed, the Isaiah passage is remarkably appropriate to Paul’s situation at the time Ananias visited him, and by recalling the passage to his persecutors, Paul indirectly charged his accusers with being guilty of the sin he’d been forgiven of.
Therefore, it’s not necessarily so that “wash away your sins” is grammatically caused by the baptism (as would be the case in “be baptized, washing away …”). Indeed, Ananias was likely giving two parallel commands: to repent and to be baptized (in parallel with Acts 2:38). The commands are connected closely, of course, but they are not a single command.
We’ve considered Cornelius already. I just want to add this passage to the exploration –
(Act 10:42-48 ESV) 42 “And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. 43 To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
44 While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. 45 And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. 46 For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, 47 “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?”
48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days.
Peter preached, based on the prophets, that “everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” The Spirit then fell on the listeners — obviously because they’d come to believe in Jesus. They were then baptized.
The Spirit “fell” on Cornelius and his household without baptism. We see similar phrasing in –
(Act 8:16 ESV) 16 for [the Spirit] had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
(Act 11:15 ESV) 15 As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning.
In 8:16, the problem was that the Spirit had not yet “fallen” on the Samaritans, contrary to expectations. And yet Luke uses the same language of the conversion of Cornelius and Pentecost. “Fallen” seems to emphasize that the Spirit comes directly from heaven above, and the three events where Luke offers this emphasis are the three events found in Acts 1:8 — Jerusalem, Samaria, the Gentiles — the three steps in the spread of the gospel to all the world and the end of ethnic barriers to the spread of the Kingdom.
The point seems to be that God himself was driving the gospel further and further out into the world through the power of the Spirit.
Luke then refers to the Spirit being “poured out” on the Gentiles (v. 45), which is a clear reference to the Old Testament prophesies regarding the Spirit. Luke is showing that the outpouring of the Spirit on the Gentiles (beginning with Cornelius but not just Cornelius) shows that the Kingdom has truly come just as prophesied. God is at work ending the Exile and establishing his long-promised Kingdom.
As a result, Peter commands them to be baptized in water. The presence of Spirit baptism argues for water baptism. They are not supposed to be separate. They obviously can be, but Peter sees that the two should normally go together.
Finally, Luke emphasizes that this baptism was “[into] the name of Jesus.” (Compare 2:38; 8:12,16.) This is not John’s baptism.