Acts, Lesson 8: The Gospel Spreads

Laying on of hands (610x352)In the last lesson, Luke introduced us to Saul, a Pharisee who held the cloaks of those who stoned Deacon Stephen to death. After that introduction, Luke continues to tell us about that man named “Saul.” Luke also tells us about another ordained deacon, Philip.


Persecution Begins

Read Acts 8:1-3

  • What began the same day of Stephen’s martyrdom?


Ravaging (Lumaino): means to “ravage” or “bring to ruin”; it is the usual word to describe a wild beast tearing apart its prey. The New Testament only uses that word here. The Greek-language Old Testament (Septuagint) uses that word to describe a wild boar ravaging field crops (Psalm 80:13) and King Asa meting out cruelty on others (2 Chronicles 16:10). The historian, Josephus, used lumaino to describe armies destroying cities and burning the countryside.

In this passage in Acts, lumaino emphasizes the intensity and brutality of Saul’s attack on the Christian Church. After God had brought Saul into the Church, he said that imprisoning and beatings were part of his tactics. He even petitioned for Christians to be executed (Acts 9:1, 22:4, and 26:9-11).

Saul was not merely harassing the Church–he strove to destroy the Christian faith and drive Christianity out of existence. Years later, haunted by those violent memories, he declared himself “not even fit to be called an apostle” (1 Corinthians 15:9) and even “the worst of sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15).

Read Acts 8:4-8

  • What did such persecution cause?


  • Instead of suppressing the Christian faith, what was an unintended result that the persecutors did not forsee?


  • How did persecution begin to bring about what Jesus told His Apostles: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).


  • What was God doing through Deacon Philip?


Lesson 8, The Spiritual State of the New Samaritan Christians


Simon the Magus

Read Acts 8:9-13

  • Who was Simon?


  • Why did the people revere him?


  • What happened to the people, and even Simon, hearing the “good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ”?


  • Although now a Christian, what still enthralled Simon? (vs. 13)


Read Acts 8:14-17

  • Which Apostles went to Samaria?


  • Although those Samaritans had been baptized, what had not happened, although both Jesus and Peter linked baptism with the receiving of the Holy Spirit (John 3:5 and Acts 2:38)?


  • How then did they receive the Holy Spirit?


“Only baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus”: At Pentecost, the Apostle Peter preached for his hearers to be baptized “in the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 2:38). Elsewhere, Scripture simply describes baptism as baptism “in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 8:16), “in the name of the Lord” (Acts 10:48), or simply as baptism “into Christ” (Galatians 3:27, Romans 6:3).

Such expressions as being baptized “into Christ” or “in the name of the Lord” are simply ways of distinguishing Christian baptism from other baptisms. For there were other baptisms: Jews ceremonially baptized their pots and pans; there were baptisms into Judaism for Gentile converts; and baptisms, such as John’s, were done to show repentance.

Being baptized “in the name of Jesus” means being baptized according to Jesus’ command and mandate, that is, according to who Jesus is. And so those baptisms “in the name of Jesus” were done according to Jesus’ mandate: “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” If that were not so, it would not be a baptism “in the name of the Lord Jesus.”


Excursus: The Laying on of Hands in Scripture and Church History

In Scripture

In the Old Testament, Jacob blessed Ephraim and Manasseh by the laying on of hands (Genesis 48:14). We also see the laying of on hands used to set apart the burnt offering to be the substitute for sin in an atonement sacrifice (Leviticus 1:4). God commanded Moses to lay hands on Joshua transferring leadership, or showing that Joshua would now lead the people as his successor (Deuteronomy 34:9). New-Covenant ordination was an outgrowth and development of those Old-Covenant, Jewish practices.

In the New Testament, Jesus sometimes laid His hands on a sick person to heal him (for example, Mark 8:22-26). The Apostles laid hands on the seven deacons to ordain them for Word and Sacrament ministry as they assisted the Apostles in their work. But hands were also laid on others: Peter and John laying their hands on the Samaritans and Paul with the Ephesians.

The laying on of hands always showed some granted blessing and/or derived authority from another. In Antioch, hands were laid on the new missionaries, giving them the authority to serve as missionaries. We find the Apostle Paul counseling Timothy, “Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands.” Timothy was not to ordain a man into the Office of Pastor haphazardly. In all these cases, something divine was happening because God was working through such activity in His Church.


In the Church

In the Church, hands are laid on another at various occasions: baptism, confirmation, absolution, commendation of the dying, the installation of both clergy and laity into specific church responsibilities, visiting the sick, and the marriage rite. Some of these situations have no specific biblical mandate or exact liturgical instructions, but each is associated with the working of God, specifically the Holy Spirit, on the individual.

Here are some examples. Baptism initiates faith. The laying on of hands in confirmation is confirming the Holy Spirit received in baptism (Acts 8:17, 19:6, and Old-Covenant priestly ordination in Exodus 29 led to the anointing of oil and laying on of hands during confirmation). The laying on of hands by a pastor during the commendation of the dying intends to lead the dying believer to the promises of baptism. Just as in baptism–it is not the water itself, but the word with the water that gives the Spirit and creates faith. Likewise, hands by themselves do nothing; it is the word with the laying on of hands. As Scripture attests and Church history confirms, hands can be the vehicles of the Holy Spirit, as well.


Excursus: What’s going on with the Holy Spirit being separated from Baptism?

Baptism is always a literal baptism with water. And baptism and the gift of the Holy Spirit normally and regularly come together (John 3:5 and Acts 2:38). Luke likewise implies that Saul’s baptism and receiving of the Spirit occurred on the same occasion (Acts 9:17-18).

Yet, we also see God making exceptions to this–four times in the book of Acts. However, all four times deal with the spread of the Gospel to the new locations that Jesus had specified earlier.

In Acts 1:8, Jesus said to His Apostles, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth”

  1. On the day of Pentecost, the first group of 120 Christians received the Holy Spirit (although Jesus breathed on His Apostles earlier on Easter evening and gave them the Spirit then, as well). The 3,000 who converted were brought to faith and then baptized (Acts 2:41). This is the Holy Spirit manifesting himself in Jerusalem and Judea.
  2. But God will also outwardly send His Spirit to Samaria, just as Jesus said He would do so through the Apostles. When the Gospel first came to Samaria through Deacon Philip, Luke makes a special point that when they were baptized, the Holy Spirit was not given to any of them. That would happen only when Peter and John, both Apostles, came to Samaria for God to use them as Jesus promised: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you, and you will be my witnesses in… Samaria.” This “Samaritan Pentecost” was important, because the Gospel reached the next step: “Samaria” (Acts 1:8).
  3. Later, in the first truly Gentile “Pentecost,” Cornelius and his family had the Holy Spirit poured out on them, and that led immediately to Peter’s direction that they should be baptized. This occasion shows that the further expansion of expansion of Christianity had begun into the Gentile areas: “to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). (Acts 10:44-48). Something similar happened in Ephesus when Paul baptized those who had only received John the Baptizer’s baptism of repentance. Paul laid hands on them afterward and they received the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues (Acts 19:1-6).

We find two circumstances taking place when Luke writes about the Holy Spirit being separated from baptism. First, God uses only an Apostle for such event. That would makes sense since Scripture elsewhere states that the Church is “built on the foundation of the apostles [New Covenant] and prophets [Old Covenant], with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:19-20). The second circumstance is that the Gospel has also moved into a new area. Without both (an Apostle and a new area for the Gospel), we do not find such manifestations of the Spirit.


Click here to go to the next lesson.