Laying on of Hands: Matthew 8:14-19
“14) Now when the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent them Peter and John, 15) who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. 16) For He had not yet fallen upon any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17) Then they began laying their hands on them, and they were receiving the Holy Spirit. 18) Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was bestowed through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, 19) saying, “Give this authority to me as well, so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”” ‭‭Acts‬ ‭8‬:‭14‬-‭19‬
This was a monumental event. Samaria had received the Word of God. In keeping with Acts 1:8, the gospel had spread from Jerusalem, and all Judea and was now moving into Samaria. This was an area with significant Gentile intermarriage with the Jewish population.
Traditionally, Orthodox Jews would shun the Samaritans. (See John 4:9) They had no dealings with them. In response, the Samaritans set up their own center of worship in the mountain region and boycotted the temple in Jerusalem. The conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman captures this rivalry. See John 4:19-22.
But Jesus took it to the next level way beyond a discussion of geography. Listen to the next two verses; “23) But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. 24) God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”” (John‬ ‭4‬:‭23‬-‭24‬) In a very real sense, these verses from the mouth of Jesus were prophetic. Now lets return to our text in the book of Acts.
When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent them Peter and John, who when they came down prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. For some reason, He had not yet fallen on any of them; they had simply believed and had been baptized in the name of of the Lord Jesus. This wording merges Acts 8:12-13 with Acts 8:16. They both believed and were baptized.
The text provides no explanation for the problem of them not receiving the baptism of the Holy Spirit, but the fix was simple; the apostles began laying their hands on them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. When Simon saw that the Holy Spirit was bestowed through the laying on of hands, he offered them money so that he might also receive this authority. This brought a strong rebuke from Peter.
Few passages in the Bible have been more criticized, twisted, explained away or nullified by scholars than these verses. I admit, this text baffles me for numerous reasons, but good hermeneutics must read them at face value. Three things stand out in this text.
First, the apostles coming from Jerusalem fulfilled the words of Jesus from John 4:21-22. Salvation was tied back to the Jewish Messiah and everything that had just transpired in Jerusalem with the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. God was making it clear that He did not accept the alternative worship system established in the mountains of Samaria.
Second, it is possible for some people to believe and be water baptized but still not be filled with the Holy Spirit. In 1 Corinthians 3:1-3, Paul called these people “carnal Christians.” They live according to the flesh and not the Spirit. Possibly their salvation was rational rather than spiritual. I cannot explain this mystery, but our churches are full carnal Christians today.
Third, the Apostles immediately addressed the problem by laying their hands on them and praying that they might receive the Holy Spirit. They wasted no time trying to figure out the problem, they moved straight to the solution. The Bible is clear that Jesus is the one who baptizes people in the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 3:11-12; John 1:33; Acts 1:4-5; Acts 2:33) They were simply asking Jesus to fulfill His promise.
The New Testament practice of the laying on of hands includes things like healings, blessings, filling people with the Holy Spirit, anointing for service and ordination into ministry. This text illustrates that those filled with the Holy Spirit become the hands of Jesus. Jesus was touching the Samaritans through the hands of the Apostles. It was Jesus who was baptizing them with the Holy Spirit.
This explains why Simon had no part in this ministry. He was promoting self and not Jesus Christ. His heart and his hands remained carnal, sinful and dirty. Satan still had a grip on him. He needed deliverance.
Let me quickly add that the Bible does not put God in a box. Acts 10 tells the story of the gospel spreading to Cornelius and the Gentiles. Verse 44 says; “While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message.” In this case there was no laying on of hands. Jesus poured out His Spirit upon them as they were listening to the message. This became a sign to Peter and his Jewish companions that salvation was also for the Gentiles. They then ordered them to be baptized in water.
We get in trouble any time we force our theological bias on God. That was the constant rub between Jesus and the Pharisees. He did not fall in line with their traditions and bias. The Bible often has exceptions to our narrow understanding. Walking by faith involves letting God be in control and not twisting or explaining away clear passages of Scripture because they do not fit our grid.
Daily Bible Commentary By Terry Baxter: Cofounder of GoServ Global