|How does one "receive the Holy Ghost" (Spirit), and when? It is this
writer's belief that many New Testament passages mentioning the Holy Spirit have been
misinterpreted, pulled from their original context, and made to refer to a dwelling of the
Spirit (either a direct, personal dwelling of the Spirit or to a representative dwelling,
i.e., a figurative or metaphorical dwelling). If such passages were left in their original
context, and that context be taken into consideration, we would see that the actual
reference is to a miraculous event of the first century, and not to a dwelling of the
Spirit at all.
"Does a convert to Christ receive the Holy Spirit upon his being baptized in water for the remission of sins? Additionally, what is the nature of that which he receives, or in simpler terms, just what is it that he receives?" (Price/Cosby, page 2). Just as some brethren erroneously use Acts 2:38, Acts 5:32, and Acts 19:1-7 — our passage under consideration in this treatise — to refer to a personal, direct dwelling of the Holy Spirit, others use Galatians 3:2 to refer to a "figurative dwelling of the Holy Spirit." It is this writer's studied conclusion that these passages, and numerous similar ones, refer to the miraculous element in the first century, and not to a supposed dwelling of the Holy Spirit within the Christian today.
Since the expression "receive the Spirit" is a reference "to the miraculous, and the Scriptures are consistent, all passages using the expression, 'receiving the Spirit' are a reference to the miraculous. Those who reject this conclusion must set forth a good reason for the language not being consistent" (Fox, page 309).
The New Testament teaches that the receiving of the Spirit is not simultaneous with a convert being baptized into Christ, but is subsequent to that event. We now take a look at the passage in question, Acts 19:1-7.
Since Paul had last visited Ephesus (Acts 18:21), Apollos arrived there (Acts 18:24-25) and began teaching. Due to his efforts, evidently a number of people were influenced by his teaching, inadequate as it was (Acts 18:26). Unlike Apollos himself, of whom the New Testament says nothing about his being baptized again, those baptized by Apollos after Pentecost, yet under John's baptism, were baptized again (Acts 19:7) because John's baptism had ceased to be valid.
Upon Paul's return to Ephesus after Apollos' departure, Paul encountered these disciples mentioned in Acts 19:1-7. The question asked by Paul is an intriguing one, due to the circumstances that prevailed. He asked: "Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed" (Acts 19:2). The verb "believed" is merely a synecdoche for "saved," which leads inquiring minds to ask "Why would Paul ask such a question if one automatically receives the Spirit when he is baptized?" If the Spirit — or Holy Ghost — were given automatically, simultaneously with one's obedience to the gospel which includes his burial in baptism for remission of sins, and since Paul thought that they had obeyed the gospel, why would he ask such a foolish question?
The question is foolish only to those who believe that one automatically receives the Spirit when he is baptized! Paul's purpose in asking this question was to ascertain whether or not they had received miraculous gifts, because that was dependent upon an apostle laying hands upon them. This was why Paul asked such a question, and the context bears out such a purpose because after being "baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus," Paul — an apostle — "laid his hands upon them" and "the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied" (Acts 19:5-6). The context itself irresistibly leads to this conclusion as the purpose of Paul's question in the first place. He was not asking if they had obeyed the gospel, and thus were saved; he was asking if "they had received the Holy Ghost" since they were saved, since he thought they had already obeyed the gospel.
The response of these disciples of John (vv. 2-3) helped Paul to understand that something was amiss. He then asked, "Unto what then were ye baptized?" They answered, "Unto John's baptism." In Paul's original question "have ye received the Spirit since you believed," he was not referring to a supposed "non-miraculous measure of the Spirit," but to whether they had received miraculous gifts since they were Christians. But notice that Paul's question establishes the fact that it is possible for one to be saved, and yet to not receive the Spirit.
The obvious conclusion is that "the reception of the Spirit did not automatically and necessarily follow baptism, but rather was dependent upon the laying on of apostles' hands" (Price/Cosby, page 5). Thus about 12 men (Acts 9:7) received the Spirit that day, but when on that day? It was when the Apostle Paul laid hands upon them. Let it be remembered that in both Acts 8:14-18 and Acts 19:1-7, "those who had believed and were baptized" as commanded by Christ (Mark 16:16) received the Holy Spirit, not because they had believed and were baptized and that alone, but because apostles laid hands upon them!" (Price/Cosby, Ibid.).
Something, in addition to obeying the gospel, had to be done in order to receive the Spirit, and that was to have an apostle lay hands upon a disciple. Hence, to "receive the Spirit" once again refers to being endowed with a miraculous gift of the Spirit. Furthermore, "the gift of the Holy Ghost" is a reference to miraculous gifts being imparted, not only by the laying on of an apostle's hands (Acts 2:38), but also to those gifts which came directly from heaven to prove Gentiles and Jews were accepted by God on an equal basis (Acts 10:44-47).
To those who maintain that the reception of the Spirit was only available to those who have obeyed the gospel, and that they received it simultaneously with their being baptized into Christ, be it remembered that Cornelius "received the Holy Spirit" (Acts 10:44-47 ASV) before baptism (v. 48). This reception of the Spirit was also used by Paul to prove that he was an apostle (2 Cor. 12:12; 1 Cor. 9:2). Hence, we confidently affirm that the Spirit was bestowed, not because these men in Acts 19 had become Christians, but because an apostle laid hands upon them (Acts 19:6). It is a mistake to automatically assume that all uses of the term "Spirit" in the New Testament refer to a non-miraculous — yet personal — dwelling of the Spirit, since to do so is to divorce the term from the first century miraculous context in which it is found.
The question naturally arises then, "What about today? Does the Holy Spirit dwell in anyone in this 21st century, and if so does He dwell personally or through agency? There are but three ways to interpret passages that make reference to the Spirit's dwelling: (1) He dwells literally, i.e., not through the agency of the word of God; (2) He dwells both literally and figuratively, or (3) He dwells only through the agency of the word of God.
There are a number of problems with the idea that the dwelling of the Spirit within a child of God must be a dwelling of the "person" of the Spirit Himself within the physical body of a Christian. Many of our brethren holding this view maintain that this personal dwelling of the Spirit does not do anything for the Christian except through the word of God. This has been dubbed "the hibernation theory," i.e. He is in there, but not doing anything. However, it is not long before some of their students go a step further, thinking that if the Spirit is personally living within an individual, He must be doing something in there!
Since God never does anything without a reason behind it — the principle of parsimony — then some argue that the Spirit must be doing something after all, because He has to have some reason to be in a Christian's physical body. However, the same law of parsimony can be used to argue against a personal dwelling of the Spirit. A personal dwelling of the Spirit is not needed to bring about conviction of one's heart (Jn. 16:8) because the word of God given by the Spirit Himself does that as well (Titus 1:9). Both the Spirit and the word of God are also said to beget (2 Cor. 3:16; Jas. 1:18), teach (Neh. 9:30; 2 Tim. 3:16), sanctify (1 Cor. 6:11; Jn. 17:17), strengthen (Eph. 3:16; Acts 20:32), et al. The irresistible conclusion is that the Spirit does all of these things through the inspired word of God. Hence, there would be no need for an "in person" dwelling of the Holy Spirit, and no reason for His personally dwelling within a Christian. Conclusion? The hibernation theory violates the law of parsimony.
If those advocating the personal dwelling theory believe that the Holy Spirit comes to dwell within a Christian at the time he is baptized, how do they explain the Spirit's dwelling in Old Testament times (1 Pet. 1:11)?
At times, those advocating the personal indwelling of the Holy Spirit base their argumentation on John 1:12 and Acts 2:41. Their argument goes like this: "Our representative indwelling brethren believe the Holy Spirit is the word of God" — we don't, but some set up this "straw man" so they can knock him down. Next, they argue that if the indwelling is figurative, then those of John 1:12 and Acts 2:41 must have received the Holy Spirit before baptism, since they received the word before baptism. However, if valid, and if this argument proves a literal dwelling as they claim, then there must have been a literal dwelling before Pentecost in Acts 2, and hence before one is baptized into Christ, thus contradicting their assumption that Acts 2:38 refers to a literal indwelling of the Holy Spirit that one receives at the point of baptism.
Another problem with using Acts 2:41 to show the representative indwelling is wrong due to the fact that one "receives the word" before baptism, is that they equate "receiving" with "dwelling." If the words meant the same thing, then they might legitimately contend that a figurative dwelling of the Spirit would mean that a believer receives the dwelling before baptism. However, the word "receive" simply means to "accept, welcome" but it does not mean "dwell." Obviously the non-Christian is influenced by the word of God before becoming a Christian, as well as afterwards, but that does not insinuate that the non-Christian's welcoming of the word makes him a Christian. In fact it is the welcoming of that word of God — his receptiveness — that hopefully will lead to his obeying the gospel and being baptized. When you welcome someone into your home, does that mean that they've come to dwell (live) with you? It didn't in the case of Paul (Acts 20:28), where the same word is used. The fact is, Acts 2:41 does not militate against a representative dwelling of the Spirit. The word of God must first be welcomed (received, Lk. 8:15), then it dwells in the heart when that receptive attitude results in obedience to the truth (Heb. 5:9)! Some claim that no preachers have ever been able to answer this Acts 2:41 argument. We just did!
Does the Holy Spirit dwell within the child of God? Absolutely! How does He dwell? Representatively, metaphorically, or figuratively through the dwelling — or influence — of the word of God in our lives. The Holy Spirit works in conviction and conversion of the non-Christian the same way that He does in sanctification of the Christian — only through the agency of the word of God! He does not change His methodology when one becomes a child of God; He continues to work on Christians through the same medium — His inspired word.
When compared with Colossians 3:16, Ephesians 5:18 illustrates that the Holy Spirit dwells in Christians in a figurative manner — through the influence of God's word in our lives. Ephesians 5:18 says "be filled with the Spirit" while Colossians 3:16 words it this way: "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly." These companion passages which discuss the same thing aid us in seeing that the Spirit's indwelling is a figurative one through the word of God.
Ephesians 5:18 has this indwelling as a command "be filled with the Spirit." Both verbs in this eighteenth verse ("be filled" from plhrousqe and "be drunken" from mequskesqe) are conjugated as 2nd person plural imperatives, and are either passive or middle in voice. The middle voice better describes both verbs, since Paul is not talking about something that is done to someone, but rather what one "does for himself." The Ephesians, to whom this epistle was directed, were to "fill themselves" with the Spirit, and Paul immediately informs them how this can be accomplished.
It is significant that this indwelling is described not as a one time thing but that which is to be done continually. Also significant is the fact that this is not a "promise" of the Spirit, but a "command" to be obeyed! If this "filling" were the same as a "dwelling" of the Spirit, and were a promise to be received, then it could not be a command to be obeyed. However, if it were correctly understood as metonymy, with the Spirit bringing about a changed life through the influence of God's word in one's life, then it could be obeyed. This cannot be referring to a personal indwelling of the Spirit, but rather to His dwelling figuratively, or metaphorically through the agency of the word of God.
The great majority of passages used to bolster the concept of a personal dwelling of the Holy Spirit today in the lives of saints are passages that speak of the miraculous age of the first century, and are then mistakenly applied to our non-miraculous age of this 21st century. The author of the following material [ Hinton — ed. ] makes a valid point which far too many modern day Christians have never considered when it comes to Bible interpretation. With this quotation, we close this treatise, with the wish that this matter of the dwelling of the Spirit never become a point over which to divide the brotherhood. Good men on both sides of this issue have fellowship with one another, yet both realize that the "direct operation" of the Holy Spirit in salvation and sanctification is another entirely different matter. To claim direct guidance of the Spirit is to "go beyond the teachings of the Scriptures" and we also stand in unity opposing this false doctrine.
"When it comes to the proper interpretation of scripture, one of the necessary principles to employ is that of considering the historical context in which a book was written. Sadly, many of those who insist upon this principle the strongest fail miserably to apply it to the subject of the work of the Holy Spirit.
"(1) The New Testament documents came into existence miraculously (by inspiration of the Holy Spirit).
"(2) The New Testament documents were confirmed by miraculous signs.
"(3) The original recipients of those New Testament documents had seen and heard, as well as possibly experienced, the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit themselves.
"(4) Those original readers would have known absolutely nothing about some "non-miraculous hibernating personal indwelling."
"(5) Every passage they read which mentioned the Holy Spirit would have been understood in the context of the miraculous age.
"(6) It is the responsibility of the present day reader to take this (i.e., the historical setting) into account, and not leap to interpretations that would have been untrue for the original readers.
"(7) This means that a passage cannot now mean something that it never meant.
"(8) Since the age of miracles has ceased (and it has), we would do well to tread lightly in suggesting that anything we read about the Holy Spirit in the New Testament is for us today, beyond the effect He has upon us by means of the written word of God" (Hinton, bulletin article).