The Samaritans and the Spirit
In Acts 8, the Samaritans believe the gospel that Philip preaches, and then they are baptized. However, they do not receive the Holy Spirit until Peter and John lay their hands on them. The discussion between charismatic and non-charismatic is whether the Samaritans were really believers. If they were believers, the charismatics make a case for reception of the Holy Spirit as a second stage experience. Some non-charismatics, possibly because of these implications, urge that the Samaritans were not true believers. If this were true, the reception of the Holy Spirit is the only salvation.
Missing the Point
This debate does not seem to be Luke’s point or purpose. As Don Carson explains in Showing the Spirit: The problem in part is that the debate has been cast in simple antithesis: either the charismatic insistence that the Samaritans were converted immediately upon hearing is correct, or the non-charismatic insistence that the Samaritans were not converted until after they had received the Spirit is correct. But we are not limited to those alternatives. It is far from clear, judging from the diversity of his approaches (see Acts 2:38; 8:12; 10:44-48) that Luke is particularly interested in the question of normative order of faith, water rite, experience of the Holy Spirit, and the like.
The Samaritans were considered “half-breeds,” both racially and religiously, and they were operating from the Pentateuch of the Jerusalem Canon. In Acts 8, it appears as if the Spirit is withheld to draw a connection between the Jerusalem church and the Samaritans. If the order of events was different from this the Samaritans may have assumed autonomy from Jerusalem or Jerusalem may not have accepted them as full brothers and sisters in the family of God. To Be Continued…