Lesson 3: Comparing The Principle To The Experience – Acts 8
So far in this series we have done two things: established a basic principle for understanding tongues and then used that principle to analyze the first historical event when tongues were spoken.
- The principle is: tongues are for a sign to unbelievers not believers.
- Tongues were first spoken miraculously in Acts 2:1-13.
In Acts 2 the unbelievers were the Jews who refused to believe the Old Testament prophecies pointing to Christ. They also rejected the avalanche of evidence from Christ’s ministry, all of which shouted His Messiah credentials.
Because the term “unbeliever” is also associated with any person who is not a Christian, Acts 2 wasn’t as clear an example as other events when tongues were spoken. Those who heard tongues in that passage were believing in Christ as well as a ministry transition. But, the other examples bring more clarity to the discussion.
With these thoughts in mind we proceed to the next occasion on which tongues were spoken in judgment against unbelief, Acts 8:1-25.
- After His resurrection, Jesus told the first disciples to go every where and preach the Gospel to every creature. To this point there is no evidence they had given this command much thought.
- Persecution broke out in Acts 8:1-4: Stephen was martyred and the church was attacked, (v. 4)
- In response to the attack, all the Christians left Jerusalem, (v. 1).
- The Apostles were the only ones to stay in Jerusalem, (v. 1).
- Why did God allow this persecution to happen?
This persecution came approximately a year after Pentecost which means all of these people, many of whom were from out of town or other countries, were hanging around for almost a year. No one had made an effort to go anywhere yet. Persecution was God’s way of getting them to move.
- Since most of the people, if not all, were not from Jerusalem, why do you think they stayed so long?
Jerusalem was familiar ground and spiritually safe. Even though they were pressurized by the Sanhedrin they had enjoyed God’s protection. There was no immediate reason to leave even though God had said go.
- Once persecution broke out, Philip, one of those who left Jerusalem and probably one of the first deacons, went to Samaria.
Samaria was a no-go-zone for the Israelite faithful so it wasn’t the place you would expect them to mingle. In fact, when traveling between Judea and Galilee, most would take the long way around just to avoid contact with Samaria. Samaria and everything in it was considered unholy.
But that is exactly where we find Philip preaching the Gospel.
Apparently Philip took the command “preach the Gospel to every creature” more seriously than the Apostles.
Note: Samaria, the area in which the northern ten tribes of Israel settled, was invaded by Assyria and the people taken captive (2 Kings 17). Assyria repopulated the area with people from other conquered nations resulting in a group of people who were ethnically mixed and religiously eclectic. Consequently they were considered untouchables.
Wide spread disdain for all-things-Samaritan is what makes the story of the “good” Samaritan so compelling.
- Although Philip was not an Apostle he performed two kinds of miracles in Samaria: casting out demons and healing the lame, (vs. 6-8).
Traditional theology says only Apostles had the authority to perform miracles but in this case miracles were happening in great numbers and there was no Apostle to be found.
We’ll see why that happened a bit further on.
- The people of Samaria were getting saved, (v. 12).
The text says they “believed” the preaching of Philip and were baptized. Those are indicators of salvation. Obviously, some didn’t get saved – Simon for example – but the majority did.
- Since Philip was not an Apostle, a good question to answer is “why was God allowing him to perform these miracles?” (v. 14)
And the answer is found in verse 14: “when the Apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the Word of God they sent Peter and John to them.” Hearing about the miracles motivated the Apostles to do something besides sit on their duff in Jerusalem.
These miracles happened for no other reason than to get their attention and without these miracles, or something similar, there is no reason to believe the Apostles would have ever ventured into this no-go-zone, even though Jesus clearly told them to “Go!”
- The text also qualified the salvation of the Samaritans as missing a New Testament element: they had not received the Holy Spirit yet, (vs. 15-16)
Traditional theology says a new convert receives the Holy Spirit at the moment of salvation but some question this idea because it didn’t happen that way in Samaria. The people believed and were water baptized on one occasion and only later received the Holy Spirit. Even the first disciples received the indwelling of the Spirit after their salvation – Pentecost. Why is there a difference?
The answer has to do with timing. The initial period of the New Testament – recorded in the Gospels and Acts – was transitional. It wasn’t completely Old Testament or New. For many years it was a bit of both with the OT fading and the NT becoming more prominent all the time.
Acts 8 represents the very beginning stages of this transition and the people driving the transition were predominantly the Apostles. Preaching in Samaria was obviously a transitional exercise. It was a very New Testament thing to do but was contrary to an Old Testament mindset.
The lag time between salvation and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit was necessary to help the Apostles “believe” the transition was actually happening. Who knows, without seeing the evidence of the Holy Spirit indwelling these new believers – tongues – the Apostles and those like them might never have believed a Samaritan could get saved.
The first church in Jerusalem might still be the only church.
- The Apostles publicly acknowledged acceptance of the Samaritans and their salvation by laying hands on them, (v. 17).
Laying hands on these new believers was their way of saying “we get it,” nothing more and nothing less.
Understanding Laying On Hands
“Laying hands” on someone was nothing more than a symbolic ceremony with emphasis on symbolic. There was nothing mystical about it. It was the culturally accepted way for recognizing or endorsing a person’s qualifications.
- The Old Testament priests were ordained into office by publicly laying hands on them, (Num. 8:10).
- Moses laid hands on Joshua as recognition that he was chosen to take Moses position as leader of Israel, (Num. 27:18-23).
- The Apostles laid hands on the first deacons publicly to acknowledge their qualifications for the office of deacon (Acts 6:6). This had nothing to do with Spirit indwelling as being filled with the Spirit was a prerequisite for the office (Acts 6:3).
- The Apostles laid hands on the Samaritan believers to publicly recognize them as Christians (Acts 8:17).
- Ananias laid hands on Paul to show that he was accepted not only as a Christian but as an Apostle (Acts 9:12 & 17). It is true that Paul was filled with the Holy Spirit in this instance but it is also true that Paul’s case was an anomaly. He was also being ordained to a very high profile ministry as an Apostle, an issue that required others to “believe.” The truth is, Paul couldn’t do a thing for God and God couldn’t do a thing with Paul until local Christians accepted him. And he wasn’t easy to accept. Even Ananias questioned the wisdom of laying hands on Paul.
- The leaders in the church at Antioch laid hands on Paul and Barnabas both of whom were already filled with the Spirit. They were only being endorsed as missionaries (Acts 13:3).
- Timothy was instructed by Paul to be very cautious about laying hands on someone (1 Tim. 5:22). Why? If laying hands on someone enabled them to receive the Spirit wouldn’t it stand to reason that we should do this as soon as possible for every saved person. Yes! But because it was a public endorsement of a person it needed to be done cautiously.
- In one case – Cornelius and friends – people received the Holy Spirit without anyone laying hands on them (Acts 10:44).
Of course, the next question is:
- What happened when the Apostles laid hands on the Samaritan believers? (v. 17)
They all received the Holy Spirit.
The text doesn’t say they spoke in tongues but that idea is conceded. It was the sign that convinced the Apostles that Samaritans had gotten saved and others could also
- Who was the unbeliever in this situation? The Apostles.
If anything the Apostles loathed Samaritans. If revival had not broken out there they wouldn’t have given them a thought. But, once the miracles started they could hardly sit around looking pious. It was the only place anything was happening but it wasn’t happening under their leadership and it would look bad if they didn’t at least have a look.
- What was it they were not believing?
It was difficult for them to believe Samaritans could get saved.
- How do we know they had a change of mind? (v. 25)
On their way back to Jerusalem they made an effort to preach the Gospel in all the Samaritan villages along the route, something they failed to do on their way in. Oh, and before they left Philip’s city, they took time to minister to all the new believers there.
- Why do you think these Apostles were hesitant to go to Samaria?
It wasn’t culturally acceptable, leading us to understand that spiritual ministry can often be thwarted by bigotry.
The fact is, God used all kinds of things in this series of events to get that first group of believers going in the right direction.
- The martyrdom of Stephen, (Acts 7).
- The persecution of the church, (Acts 8).
- The miracles performed by Philip.
- And the tongues spoken by the Samaritans.
All of these things were signs and judgments on those first Christians. Tongues were a blessing ultimately but only in a backhanded sort of way.
How did Jesus respond to other nationalities in His ministry? Did He do anything to support the prevailing attitudes in the Jewish community toward Samaritans, Romans or any other nation? No! In fact, He did things that confounded them.
- In Matthew 15:21-28 He healed the daughter of a Canaanite woman.
And He did this in Canaanite territory. He traveled to that area with the disciples in tow. They probably spat and coughed their disapproval along the way.
When the woman approached Jesus the disciples reacted by asking Him to send her away. Instead He heals the woman’s daughter and commends her faith. You can read the entire story here.
- In Matthew 8:5-13 He heals a Centurion’s servant.
Being a commanding officer in the Roman army made the centurion the worst kind of Gentile. But instead of ignoring his request, Jesus heals his servant and again commends this man’s faith.
The disciples had to be scratching their heads.
- In Luke 10:29-37 Jesus told a parable which put Samaritans in a very good light.
This story is known as the “Parable of the Good Samaritan” and it was told to some of the worst bigots in Israel, Pharisees. In the story, the Samaritan is compared to a Priest and a Levite both of whom acted with no compassion at all while the Samaritan did a genuinely neighborly thing, helped a man who had been robbed.
All three had the same opportunity to help. Only the Samaritan did so.
- In John 4:3-42 Jesus ministers to a Samaritan woman and her friends.
His conversation with her started at the local well and then moved into the city – probably the same one Philip ministered in. The disciples witnessed this but clearly didn’t understand what was going on. They avoided Samaritans and here Jesus was socializing with them. You can read this woman’s story here.
The disciples should have learned something from this experience but the penny didn’t drop until they heard the Samaritans speak in tongues.
- Can we expect God to use these same signs in the same way today?
Well, if someone speaks in tongues now, we will have to ask the same questions:
Who is not believing?
What is it they don’t believe?
But the truth is, there is no transition happening now. There is no rationale to suggest we should still expect people to speak in tongues.