The laying on of hands to give the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:17)

“Then Peter

And John

Laid their hands

On them.

They received

The Holy Spirit.”

τότε ἐπετίθεσαν τὰς χεῖρας ἐπ’ αὐτούς, καὶ ἐλάμβανον Πνεῦμα Ἅγιον.

The author of Acts indicated that then Peter and John laid their hands (τότε ἐπετίθεσαν τὰς χεῖρας) on these Samaritans (ἐπ’ αὐτούς).  Thus, they received (ἐλάμβανον) the Holy Spirit (Πνεῦμα Ἅγιον).  These two apostles laid their hands on the Samaritans, so that they could receive the Holy Spirit.  Many see this Samaritan Pentecost as a reflection of the institutions of that time.  This either was a primitive admission practice, or an indication that the laying-on of hands was part of the Christian initiation in the second half of the first century.  The projection of this activity upon the two major apostles, Peter and John, enhanced the value of this normative practice.  This laying-on of hands could also be a token of fellowship and solidarity.  As part of their missionary power, Peter and John’s presence was an element of fellowship, in order to overcome the racial and ethnic conflicts with the Samaritans.  These two apostles consummated the work of Philip.  They brought the young church or assembly to fulfillment with the bestowal of the Spirit.  The main interest of this text was not primarily pneumatological, but rather ecclesiological, to put this church or assembly in Samaria in communion with the church or assembly of Jerusalem.  Although the emphasis was on these two great leaders as ratifying church agents, they clearly did not control the Spirit.  The Spirit comes through them, but they must pray for his presence.  For many Roman Catholics and some other Christians, this laying-on of hands to bestow the Holy Spirit was the foundation of what later medieval Christians would call the sacrament of confirmation.  This also represents the overseeing role of the apostles in the development of these nascent Christian communities.  Have you received the Holy Spirit?

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