Seven men “of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom” were set before the apostles by the assembly of Jesus’ disciples in Jerusalem. Out of the thousands of followers in the holy city, these seven were set apart to be put over the “duty” of “serving tables,” making sure that no Hellenistic widows “were being neglected in the daily distribution” of food. After prayer, the apostles “laid their hands on them” (Acts 6:1-6). Considered by many today to be during this infancy stage of the church the prototypes for the deacons who would later come, these seven men were instrumental in helping keep peace in the first church of Christ in the history of Christianity as it faced its first internal problem on scriptural record.
Two of these seven men were Stephen and Philip. Stephen would immediately be cited by Luke as the first disciple outside of the apostles who “was doing great wonders and signs among the people” (v. 8). By the end of chapter 7, he would meet a violent end at the hands of the enemies of Christ for his preaching of the gospel, including a man named Saul of Tarsus who held his murderer’s coats and went on to “ravage” the church, dragging male and female followers of Christ from their homes and throwing them into prison (Acts 8:3). Stephen’s martyrdom prompted “a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles” (v. 2). And yet…the gospel was not silenced. The disciples fleeing persecution still “went about preaching the word” (v. 4). Philip was among them.
He “went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ” (v. 5). His preaching received great attention from the Samaritan crowds as they heard him “and saw the signs that he did,” such as the exorcism of unclean spirits and the healing of the paralyzed and lame (v. 7).
Luke then informs us of Simon, a known magician in that area whom the people likened to the power of God and had a great following due to amazing the crowds with his magic (vs. 9-11). Yet in spite of his former fame, the Samaritans “believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ” and “were baptized, both men and women” (v. 12). Simon himself believed and was baptized, afterwards continuing on with Philip and being amazed as he saw “signs and great miracles performed” (v. 13).
When the apostles in Jerusalem “heard that Samaria had received the word of God,” Peter and John made the journey there and “prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit” (vs. 14-15). The reason they did this as stated by Luke was this: “For He had not yet fallen upon any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus” (v. 16). As they had done with Philip, Stephen, and the rest of the seven earlier in chapter 6, these two apostles “laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit” (v. 17). This prompted Simon the magician, upon observing that “the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands,” to offer them money with the plea, “Give me this power also, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit” (vs. 18-19). This prompted Peter to rebuke him for thinking he “could obtain the gift of God with money” (v. 20). He indicted Simon’s heart as not being “right before God,” and urged him to repent and pray that God would possibly forgive the intent of his heart (vs. 21-23). Simon in turned asked Peter to pray for him (v. 24).
There are several points worthy of note in Luke’s account of the Samaritans’ conversions. Perhaps most relevant to the Christian is Peter’s directive to Simon to repent and pray that God would forgive him of his sin (v. 22). Simon’s earlier conversion was spoken of as genuine (v. 13). Thus, we learn that a saved soul can in fact still sin in such a way as to be in danger of condemnation (cf. 1 John 1:8, 10; Heb. 10:26-31). Yet, we also learn that God’s forgiveness is still readily available to the Christian who sins if they continually repent and pray for forgiveness (v. 22; cf. 1 John 1:7-9; 2 Cor. 7:9-11).
The Samaritans’ conversions also teach us something important about miraculous gifts given by the Holy Spirit. The apostles had made the trip to Samaria after hearing of the Samaritans’ baptisms for the specific purpose of praying for them and laying their hands on them in order for them to receive the Spirit (vs. 14-17). Simon himself saw that “the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands” (vs. 18-19). This is significant because it teaches us how some early Christians were given miraculous spiritual gifts.
I call your attention back to Stephen, Philip, and the rest of the seven chosen from the Jerusalem church to be over the feeding of the widows (Acts 6:1-6). In order to be chosen for this work, they had to have already been “full of the Spirit” (vs. 3, 5a). This had occurred when they had been baptized for the forgiveness of their sins (Acts 2:38), a promise made to all whom God would call through the gospel (Acts 2:39; 5:32; cf. 2 Thess. 2:14). Yet notice that there is no mention of them — or anyone else other than the apostles — performing any miracles until after the apostles had laid their hands upon them (v. 6). Only then do we read of disciples other than the apostles performing miracles, particularly Stephen (v. 8) and Philip (Acts 8:6-7). The rest of the New Testament teaches this also (cf. Acts 19:6; Rom. 1:11; 2 Tim. 1:6). Interestingly, the description of the Spirit “falling” upon people as is mentioned in the case of the Samaritans (8:16) is used in Scripture only in reference to people receiving miraculous power (10:44-46; 11:15; cf. 2:1-4). Thus, it is reasonable to conclude that while the Samaritans upon their baptism had received “the gift of the Holy Spirit” promised in Acts 2:38-39, the Spirit had not yet “fallen” upon them resulting in giving them miraculous gifts and would not do so until the apostles had laid their hands upon them (Acts 8:14-17).
This is relevant to answering the question of whether miracles take place today. Paul had prophesied that the miraculous spiritual gifts he had described to Corinth (1 Cor. 12:1-11) would cease “when that which is perfect has come” (1 Cor. 13:8-10). “Perfect” (teleios) refers to that which is complete or mature and is used elsewhere to refer to the New Testament (Rom. 12:2; Jas. 1:25). Historically, within a few years of the New Testament’s completion all of the apostles, as well as all those on whom they laid their hands and gave miraculous spiritual gifts, were deceased. Thus, no human being has been given miraculous power from God today. Such has been the case for almost two thousand years.
One final lesson of importance can be learned from the Samaritans’ conversion, but to fully grasp it would do us good to first examine another conversion in Acts: that of John’s twelve disciples (Acts 19:1-7). By this time Saul of Tarsus had been converted to Christianity and had become the apostle Paul. During his missionary travels, he found some disciple in Ephesus (v. 1). These disciples informed Paul that they had not heard of the Holy Spirit (v. 2), prompting him to ask about their baptism (v. 3; cf. Matt. 28:19; Acts 2:38). They informed him that they had been baptized “into John’s baptism” (v. 3). Apparently they, like Apollos during this same time period (Acts 18:25), were only familiar with the baptism of John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ. And just as Aquila and Priscilla had taken Apollos aside and “explained to him the way of God more accurately” concerning baptism (Acts 18:26), Paul likewise taught them the difference between John’s baptism and baptism in the name of Jesus before baptizing them in Jesus’ name and bestowing upon them miraculous spiritual gifts through the laying on of his hands (19:4-6).
There is much this episode can teach us about baptism (literally immersion in the Greek). For one, there were similarities and yet also distinct differences between John’s immersion and the immersion in the name of Christ commanded after Christ’s resurrection (Matt. 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16; Acts 2:38). Both baptisms were correlated with repentance (Acts 19:4; Mark 1:4; Acts 2:38). Both baptisms were for forgiveness of sins (Mark 1:4; Acts 2:38). Both baptisms were done in water (John 3:23; Acts 8:36-39). Yet John’s immersion was commanded by him during the time before Christ died, whereas the immersion in the name of Christ is baptism “into His death” (Rom. 6:3), thus making John’s baptism not able to meet that spiritual goal since it was commanded before Christ died.
This brings to mind the fact that immersion in Jesus’ name — the “one baptism” of Ephesians 4:5 — is done for more reasons than just the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38; 22:16). Remember, John’s baptism was also for forgiveness of sins (Mark 1:4), yet Paul still considered it lacking and thus “re-baptized” those twelve men. Since many ask the often legitimate question of “Should I be baptized again?”, it would be good to review all the purposes given in scripture for baptism in Jesus’ name.
In addition to forgiveness of sins, the purpose of baptism in Jesus’ name (Acts 2:38) is to bring one into the possession of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. A study of the Greek terminology used in Matthew 28:19 shows this to be the literal meaning of the phrase “in the name of” used in that passage. Obtaining salvation is another purpose of the one baptism (Mark 16:16; 1 Pet. 3:21), one synonymous with forgiveness. Being born again, “of water and the Spirit,” is another purpose of the one baptism in Jesus’ name (John 3:3-5; cf. Acts 2:38; Tit. 3:5). Participating in the spiritual circumcision as a sign one is part of God’s chosen people in the new covenant is another purpose of the one baptism (Col. 2:11-13; cf. Rom. 2:28-29; James 1:1; Gal. 6:16).
Alluded to earlier, being baptized into Christ and thus into His death via burial in baptism to rise to a new life, causing one to be “clothed” with Christ, is another purpose of the one baptism (Rom. 6:3-5; Gal. 3:27). Further examination must be given to what it means to be baptized “into Christ” because it gives us the next scriptural purpose of baptism, which is to be baptized into His body (1 Cor. 12:13). The church is called Christ’s body which fills Him (Eph. 1:22-23). Paul goes on to refer to that body as “one body” (Eph. 4:4) before identifying it again as the church of which Jesus is the Savior (Eph. 5:23). Thus, to be baptized “into Christ” means to be baptized “into one body” (1 Cor. 12:13)…Christ’s body, His church which fills Him, of which there is only one.
This brings us back to the Samaritans’ baptism as we read that they had first believed the “good news about the kingdom of God” before being baptized (Acts 8:12). God’s kingdom was prophesied to come during the lifetimes of Jesus’ disciples (Dan. 2:44; Mk. 9:1). When asked about the kingdom, Christ pointed towards the establishment of His church on Pentecost (Acts 1:6-8; 2:1-47). After Pentecost, it was always spoken of as presently existing, with Christians as its inhabitants (Col. 1:13; 1 Thess. 2:12; Rev. 1:6, 9). Thus, Christ’s church — His body, the “one body” (Eph. 4:4; 1 Cor. 12:13) — is the kingdom of God. To be baptized into Christ is to be baptized into His body, His one church, His kingdom.
Paul’s conversion of the twelve disciples of John teaches us much about baptism in Jesus’ name. The Samaritans’ conversion also teaches us about the one baptism, as well as miraculous spiritual gifts and God’s directives on how Christians who sin can still be forgiven. It is my prayer that our study of these conversions, as well as this issue’s study of the conversions in Acts overall, has strengthened your faith and encouraged you to bring the gospel to others.