A passage that is usually offered in support of the view that the Holy Spirit literally and personally dwells in the body of the Christian in a non-miraculous fashion is Acts 2:38: “Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” The expression “and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost” is said to constitute scriptural proof of the non-miraculous, personal and literal indwelling position. It is said that this passage proves that the Holy Spirit is given to those who are baptized for the remission of sins at the time of their baptism. But let us look at the context of this passage further.
Imagine, first of all, being a Jew in first century Jerusalem on the first Pentecost after the Lord’s resurrection. You would have as a knowledge base the Old Testament scriptures. The first thing you know of the Spirit of God is His work in creation (Gen. 1:2; Job 26:13). You would also know of His inspiring the prophets (e.g., Num. 11:25,26,29, et. al) and men who wrote the Old Testament, such as David (II Sam. 23:2). You would know of His empowering men such as Sampson, whom the Spirit of the Lord began to move at times (Jud. 13:25). In short, you would know of the miraculous power conferred by the Spirit of God upon His people. Please investigate further the knowledge that first century Jews would have had of the Spirit’s work in their history through the Old Testament Scriptures. Also, they would have understood that the Spirit had not spoken by the prophets for 400 years!
Furthermore, being a Jew in first century Jerusalem you would no doubt have heard of the work of Jesus and His apostles. (This would have stood in stark contrast to the prophetic silence of four centuries.) You would know that, at the very least, He was reported to be a “doer of wonderful works.” You would have heard that it was reported that He had raised individuals from the dead. You may have even been among the great multitudes of people who were flocking to Him to be healed of some dreaded disease because His fame went abroad into all the land (Matt. 9:26; Luke 4:54; 5:15). Maybe you had even heard that He taught that His apostles would be empowered by the Holy Spirit to speak words they had not studied (Matt. 10:20). Perhaps you heard Him say that He cast out devils by the Spirit of God (Matt. 12:28). Possibly, if you had kept up on the news swirling about Jerusalem after Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion, you would have heard it said that Jesus had miraculously risen from the dead by the power of the Spirit and appeared to His apostles and told them that they would be baptized with the Holy Spirit and be endued with power not many days hence (Acts 1:4-8).
Moreover, if you were present in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost you would have heard of the commotion caused by the apostles of the Lord when they were astonishingly heard to be speaking in languages they had never studied (Acts 2:1-8).
Then, these apostles begin speaking and quoting the Old Testament prophet Joel: “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit. And I will shew wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the Lord come” (Joel 2:28-31).
After this Peter states unequivocally, “This is that.” “This” referred to their being able to speak in languages they had never studied and “that” was Joel’s prophecy that the Spirit would be “poured out.” The Spirit’s being “poured out” was initially fulfilled in the gift of speaking in unlearned foreign languages by the apostles. This was also the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise that the apostles would be baptized in the Holy Spirit and be endued with supernatural power (Acts 1:4-8). To be baptized in the Holy Spirit was to be endued with power from on high, according to Jesus!
Now, when Peter tells these Jews who were present in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost to “Repent and be baptized everyone of you for the remission of sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Ghost” (2:38), what do you suppose they would have immediately understood? Do you think they would have thought, “Ah! Peter is promising us the non-miraculous personal and literal indwelling of the Holy Spirit!”? Why, they had never even heard of such a thing! It was not in their experience.
What would they have thought, really? They would have thought that they would receive the same kind of power the apostles had received because they would have remembered Joel’s prophecy just quoted by Peter that their sons and daughters and young and old men would prophesy, dream dreams and see visions. Which, by the way, is what subsequently happened in New Testament history.
Rather than supporting a non-miraculous, personal and literal indwelling of the Holy Spirit’s person, a doctrine nowhere taught unequivocally in scripture, this passage teaches that the reception of the Holy Spirit was an outpouring of miraculous power by the Spirit upon the apostles. They needed this to be reminded of the words of Christ and to bring to their knowledge all truth He had not yet taught them (John 14:26; 16:13). They then were able to impart the Holy Spirit, i.e., pass these miraculous gifts to others, by and only by the imposition of hands (Acts 8:8) in fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy.
Acts 2:38 is a fulfillment of what Jesus said in Mark 16:15-18:”And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.”
Acts 2:38 parallels Mark 16:15-18. In Mark 16:17 Jesus says that “these signs shall follow them that believe.” But He does not tell us how that would occur. The way some interpret Acts 2:38 they would have to reason that miraculous signs were given immediately at baptism. But we know that it was through the apostles laying their hands on an individual that this occurred (Acts 8:18).
Also, please notice this passage says nothing about the Holy Spirit inhabiting the physical body of the Christian. It says nothing about God’s Spirit literally or personally being in the body of the Christian. The passage says nothing about the Holy Spirit doing anything non-miraculously. So to offer this passage as proof that the Holy Spirit literally and personally inhabits the body of the Christian in a non-miraculous way is completely without warrant.
See also this entry.
Eric L. Padgett