Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 4, 2002
How were Samaritans baptized?
By SR. LOUISE ZDUNICH, NDC
How come the Samaritans in Acts chapter 8 did not receive the Holy Spirit with their Baptism?
How did the disciples know they had not received the Spirit?
There is in Acts a number of instances where the Holy Spirit is received with Baptism or before or after Baptism. The New Testament does not always clarify who received Baptism, nor whether they received the Spirit.
We know Jesus received John's Baptism, but we do not know whether the disciples did, although we know they received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost apart from any formal Baptism, but their dramatic reception of the Spirit was a Baptism in itself.
However, after Peter's Pentecost sermon, he calls for repentance and Baptism for his hearers so they could receive forgiveness and the Spirit (presumably with Baptism).
In the Cornelius story (chapter 10), the Spirit comes upon the people following their reception of the Word of God. Peter takes this as a sign from God that they should be baptized. In this instance, the Spirit came before Baptism.
In some cases, imposition of hands following Baptism seems to be required for the reception of the Holy Spirit. Philip was preaching and baptizing in Samaria (chapter 8), but "they had received nothing other than teaching and Baptism in the name of Jesus."
For them to receive the Spirit, it seems that it was necessary that hands be laid upon them. Therefore, here, the Spirit did not come with Baptism but only later with the laying on of hands.
Apollos (chapter 18) is a disciple who "taught accurately about Jesus but knew only the Baptism of John." Given further instruction by Priscilla and Aquila, he continued his powerful preaching. There is no mention of a subsequent Christian Baptism for Apollos nor of laying on of hands for the Spirit.
However, 12 disciples (chapter 19) who had received the Baptism of John but not the Spirit had hands laid on by Paul in order to receive the Spirit.
How did they know that the Spirit had not been received? In New Testament times, there appears to have been a manifestation of charismatic gifts upon reception of the Spirit. Perhaps these were not evident in those communities and so it was thought that they had not received the Spirit.
Once Peter and John laid hands on the Samaritans, these gifts were visible as shown by Simon's request to buy his power (v. 19).
Therefore, it may be that what was missing was not the Spirit, but the special gifts that usually came with Baptism.
One can see that sometimes the Spirit came with Baptism but at other times it seems that it did not, coming either before (Cornelius) or later with the laying on of hands (Samaritans and Ephesians). It is not clear why the Spirit came at diverse times or why Baptism did not seem to give the Spirit to all.
But one lesson we can learn from this is that God is not bound by our rules. God can give special gifts to those chosen to receive them, as well as through ways and means unexpected by us chosen by God.
Our task is to remain attentive and open so as to receive whatever God's loving goodness offers us and ready to respond with gratitude in prayer and action.