What Scripture Says About Salvation
A Bible Study by Fred Kenison
Monograph 18: Receive Ye Holy Spirit
When used in reference to holy spirit, some people automatically "see" the words receive, poured out, fell upon, and come upon to mean "baptize." This error creates a great deal of confusion about the spirit. These words all have very different meanings, and to roll them together diminishes the facets of truth that scripture has to impart. We will begin with "receive," a word misunderstood by most people.
John 7:39 says,
"(But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.)"
The word receive comes from lambanein, an infinitive in the active voice, which simply means the people are the ones acting.
Notice that the means of receiving is faith, or believing on him, Jesus. It says nothing of them asking, praying, or cleansing themselves in preparation for this reception of the spirit. The holy spirit would be given by God through Jesus, and would be received by those believing in Jesus.
Faith in Jesus would be the ground on which holy spirit would be received. The receiving would be individually, but the giving would be done corporately for everyone at one time. [For more details about this last point, please refer to the monographs in Part I of this study.]
Notice, too, that holy spirit was not yet given. The Greek does not have the article with spirit, although the English translations do have the article. This has raised many questions and led to much confusion. Since the holy spirit is mentioned numerous times in the Old Testament, this appears to be a contradiction. How could the spirit be operating in the Old Testament and be not yet given in the New Testament?
The key to understanding this apparent dilemma is to realize that it was "holy spirit," not "the holy spirit," which had not yet been given. "Holy spirit," without the article, emphasizes quality or characteristics rather than identity. In the Old Testament, only a few selected individuals, such as prophets, priests and kings, were endowed with the spirit, or spirit, to do a specific work for God. In the New Testament, holy spirit would be universally given, but had not yet been bestowed at the time of John 7:39 because Jesus had not yet been glorified.
It is the work of Jesus, not the work of men, that is the basis on which God has bestowed the spirit. Furthermore, God does not give the spirit to men one at a time. As these studies will show, the spirit was sent by God to be among men corporately. Of course, each person must make an individual decision about faith in Jesus which is the ground on which holy spirit begins to act as a truthful guide for their lives.
However, to say that someone "receives" holy spirit when they come to faith in Jesus is misleading and confusing. Since all people already have holy spirit, faith does not cause them to have holy spirit given to them. Faith simply releases the holy spirit they already have so it can operate in their lives.
After his resurrection and before his ascension, Jesus told his disciples,
"Receive ye the Holy Ghost. Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained." (John 20:22-23).
In commenting on this scripture, Green (p. 190) says,
"When the spirit is imparted, the article disappears (xx.22) labete pneuma agion, 'receive ye holy ghost.'"
Jesus was not telling his disciples to receive "the holy spirit," but "holy spirit," which is a quality of the spirit shown in John 20:23 to be that of remitting or retaining sins, i.e. judgment.
This is not the same condition as after Pentecost, but was only for the interim until the universal giving of holy spirit. To treat this as a norm for the giving of holy spirit would create great confusion, especially when considering Acts 2. This event mentioned in John 20:22-23 was a specific action to meet a specific need.
When Jesus instructed the disciples to receive holy spirit, it was still up to them to act individually. This is in the active voice, and therefore an act each would do or not do individually. Jesus breathed on them all, but he ordered them to act and receive. They could choose to obey or disobey. He did his part by breathing out; they would do their part by deciding whether or not to receive.
Blass and DeBrunner (p. 134) comment that,
"In Lk. to pneuma to agion (the spirit the holy) is rather the Pentecostal spirit, agion pneuma (holy spirit) rather an unknown power."
When Jesus breathed upon the disciples (John 20:22-23) he bestowed the power of judging sin. Please keep this in mind as our study turns to Acts, where other instances of pneuma agion will be found. If you recall that the spirit is the truth, when Jesus breathed on his disciples he simply gave them the ability to discern truth when they judged.
Acts 2:33 relates part of Peter's sermon explaining what happened on the day of Pentecost.
"Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear."
Several aspects of this scripture should be carefully considered. (1) Jesus has been exalted; (2) Jesus received the promised holy spirit from the Father; and, (3) Jesus then poured out what they were seeing and hearing. The holy spirit was given to Jesus as a result of his faithfulness, and he gave the spirit of the truth to people just as he said he would. This spirit belongs to God and it is graciously given.
Notice that the scripture does not speak of this as "the baptism of the holy spirit." Peter's foundation was that any reception of the holy spirit was due to the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. Without his faithfulness the spirit would not have been given to him to be poured out.
Bruner, (p. 162) commented that,
"Pentecost was not occasioned by the disciples' marvelous prayer-life or their fulfilling of conditions. Pentecost, according to Peter's sermon, came by one means: by the exaltation of Jesus Christ to the right hand of the Father where he received and gave the spirit in the same name by which he had been announced...as 'the promise.'"
As Peter continued to preach (Acts 2:37-38), the people gathered on the day of Pentecost,
"were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost."
They were first to repent and then to be baptized upon, epi, the groundwork, or the name, of Jesus Christ, or what he had done for remission of sins, and they would receive the gift of the holy spirit. Again, the basis for men receiving the spirit was that of faith, in this case exemplified by being baptized on the foundation laid by Jesus for remission of sins.
Acts 2:37-38, together with Acts 2:4, 8:17, 10:45, and 19:2 are commonly considered to be the ones substantiating the doctrine of "the baptism of the holy spirit." However, the word "baptism" in conjunction with holy spirit does not appear in any of these verses. In fact, the word "baptism" appears in conjunction with holy spirit in only two verses in Acts (1:5 and 11:16). That is why we chose to first examine those scriptures which speak of "receiving" holy spirit before looking at those speaking of "baptism" in holy spirit. Unfortunately, there is much error being taught concerning this issue.
Acts 8:14-17 says,
"Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John: Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost: (For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.) Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost."
Take note that they did not ask God to give the holy spirit. They did not tell the people to seek the holy spirit. They did not tell them to clean up their lives. They did not even tell them to pray for the holy spirit. They prayed that people would submit to, or "receive" holy spirit. The people did as instructed and the spirit was released, or fell upon them.
The scripture gives no further information about any reaction on the part of those who received, or submitted themselves to, the spirit. However, the sorcerer Simon, who had become a believer, misunderstood what he had seen and assumed that holy spirit was caused by the laying on of the apostles' hands. Consequently, he offered to pay the apostles if they would teach him how to do it. Peter took him to task and warned of dire results from any attempt to purchase the gift of God (Acts 8:18-23).
Bruner (p. 181-184) made the following comments on this section of scripture:
"However, to make the record clear at once it is not yet said in Acts 8:14-17 that the holy spirit was given through the hands of the apostles. Simon desired the spirit that he might (1) have greater spiritual power; (2) he was willing to make a costly sacrifice to obtain this power; and (3) he was obliged, however, to face the consequences of this spurious spiritual quest. First, Simon was impressed by what the gift of the holy spirit does—it gives power. Consequently he desired to have and to confer this power himself. This motive and its subsequent judgment should constitute a warning: the desire to have, get, or give the gift of the holy spirit primarily for the power it grants is a dangerous desire. The fact that in our subject it is by the appeal of power that a special baptism of the holy spirit is most often urged is not a propitious sign. It was not the crass offer of money alone which repelled Peter, it was the offensive 'notion' that the gift of God can by human means be obtained. There is in fact no great distance between magic and conditions [means by which many believe they receive holy spirit]. Both seek beyond faith to get a hold of supernatural powers. Both are out of place in the church. However, in one form or another both have always remained to vex the church. Gnosticism, which has no merely accidently connection with Simon Magus, posed the first and probably the most formidable of the early church's struggles for life. Paul's letters to Corinth are the classic memorials to this warfare. We shall discover that Simon's 'notion' develops into the 'Corinthian theology' of Paul's opponents, and that both find perhaps their most recent correspondence in the theology of Pentecostalism. The Simon Magus passage serves as a lasting warning to the making of conditions for God's free gift. How had Simon sinned against God? By presuming to give God something for his gift when God alone is its giver; by supposing that one must 'pay a price' for what God makes free. The important matter in the Christian faith is that God gives everything (cf. 1 Cor. 4:7). Therefore the gift of God can only be received."
The main point to remember is that the word "received" actually means "submitted to."
Many today still have the mistaken idea that receiving holy spirit can somehow be bargained for or earned by some kind of "spiritual" activity, such as self-denial, striving in prayer, cleansing their lives, or other exercises. They assume these activities are pleasing to God, and they completely miss the point that holy spirit is a gift which has already been bestowed. Notice, too, that neither Peter nor John gave the Samaritans any orders to be obeyed.
It isclear that God had no favorites; he made no distinction of race or religion when he gave his gift of holy spirit to all. What God had promised, he fulfilled:
"And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh." (Acts 2:17).
God's spirit was poured out on everyone.
Simon made the mistake of thinking that the Samaritans received holy spirit because the apostles laid their hands on the people, but the apostles knew better. The holy spirit may be "received" (submitted to) but never obtained for any reason or means; it is a gift and a promise. Simply because the spirit can only be "received," or submitted to, is the reason we chose to study the reception of holy spirit before that of baptism.
In Acts 10:43-47, Peter was preaching to the Gentiles.
"To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins. While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost. For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter, Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?"
This is another of the so-called "baptism by the spirit" scriptures commonly cited as a series of "spirit baptisms" which took place soon after the day of Pentecost.
However, as previously noted, the word "baptism," does not appear in any of them. If these verses were accepted as examples of baptism then it would lay a foundation for the practice of continuing baptism in the future at any time desired, as practiced by some denominations today.
If noted carefully, however, people are not treated individually in any of these scriptures. In every case, what happens to one happens to all those present. If these scriptures do not refer to "baptism," then interpreting them as such sets a dangerous and mistaken precedent.
Stilltoday, many do not realize that God has already bestowed some of holy spirit upon every person, and people can "receive" holy spirit only in the sense of yielding themselves to it as a guide.
Acts 10:43, when studied carelessly or casually, has led some to believe that God does not forgive anyone unless that person first believes on Jesus. Many churches hold to this position. Peter understood that by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, God had already acquitted all men and forgiven their sins; therefore, he was not saying that belief on Jesus brought about God's forgiveness.
The word Peter used for receive comes from labein, an active infinitive. The active voice shows that the person is acting, not God. The only way anyone is able to "receive" the remission of sins already brought about by the work of Jesus is to believe on him. Faith enables them to believe the truth that God has already forgiven them, and this is equally true of holy spirit. This is the "receiving."
Faith in the sacrifice of Jesus is the only way people can take God's gift of grace unto themselves in order to experience the salvation that is already theirs. But let us be absolutely clear about this point: their faith does not cause God to forgive them; God's love, as exhibited in the life and death of Jesus Christ did that long before they ever believed. Neither did their faith cause God to bestow holy spirit upon them. That also occurred long before they believed.
Acts 10:45 notes that "they of the circumcision" (Jewish believers) who were with Peter were amazed to see that the gift of holy spirit was also poured out upon the Gentiles. When the term "the spirit the holy" is used in Acts it usually refers to the spirit of Pentecost.
This interpretation is substantiated here because the phrase was poured out comes from ekkechutai, a perfect indicative passive verb, which simply means it was something which had taken place in the past, had reached completion with continuing effects, and that the people affected were passive, or inactive, when this occurred. The people had nothing to do with the act of "pouring out."
The Jews who witnessed Peter's sermon to the Gentiles were astonished, because they had assumed that "the spirit the holy" poured out at Pentecost had come only to those present. However, Peter had said (back in Acts 2) that God had poured out of his spirit upon all flesh, not just Jews and not just believers.
Those with Peter observed that the Gentiles performed in the same way as the people did on the day of Pentecost—they spoke with tongues and magnified God. If these were the same tongues as spoken at Pentecost, then the Jews heard the Gentiles speaking in tongues that every man present could understand without interpretation.
Peter, in essence, was saying all this when he asked
"Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?" (Acts 10:47).
The words as well as come from kathos, a comparative particle, which shows that the Gentiles had received the same thing, in the same manner, as had Peter and the others on Pentecost. They only had to believe the word preached about Jesus to receive (yield to) the spirit, which had already been poured out on them on the day of Pentecost.
Some claim that since they were receiving the spirit, that must indicate that they did not already have the spirit. However, they were not really receiving, or getting, the spirit, but for the first time they were experiencing the fact that they already had spirit. In other words, the spirit was being unlocked in their lives.
Although everyone already has some portion of holy spirit poured upon them, most do not realize that until they hear about Jesus, believe what they hear, yield themselves to God, and thereby "receive" holy spirit.
The spirit's job is to testify about Jesus, so receiving Jesus as Lord of our lives is receiving the spirit. When we receive the word about Jesus, we are receiving the spirit. "The spirit the holy" was poured out by the grace of God and becomes operable, or experienced, in our lives when we believe. This is eternal life, a life which shows a spirit similar to that of God, i.e. one of love.
Perhaps it might be well to point out that in the scripture about the Samaritans, the word used there was that the spirit had not yet "fallen" upon them (Acts 8:14-17). In the scripture about the Gentiles it speaks of the spirit the holy already having been poured out upon them (Acts 10:43-47).
The Samaritans were a mixture of the Jews left behind when Judah was taken to Babylon and the Gentiles who were moved in to populate the land of Judah. The Samaritans expected the messiah and knew about holy spirit, while the Gentiles did not even know about holy spirit. The difference in terminology indicates that the Samaritans needed only to submit, while the Gentiles needed to be told everything about the holy spirit.
In Ephesus, Paul had a similar experience:
"He said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost. And he said unto them, Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John's baptism. Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus. When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied." (Acts 19:2-6).
To lay hands on someone meant to pray for them, since laying on hands was the common way of praying for people in those days. His prayer was probably for them to yield themselves to God which was their reasonable service.
These people had believed John the Baptist, and they were looking for the soon coming of the messiah. They had heard nothing about the holy spirit, nor about the coming, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus, who was the messiah they were looking for. When they finally heard about Jesus, they were baptized in his name.
This scripture says nothing about the people "receiving" holy spirit, but that the spirit "came upon them." This verse has been included here because it is often included as one of the scriptures relating to "the baptism of the spirit." We will return to this passage a little later when we comment about the spirit "coming upon" someone.
In I Corinthians 2:12, Paul gave his version about the source of the spirit and the reason for its presence.
"Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God."
The source of the spirit is God, and the reason for the spirit is so men might know the things graciously given to them by God.
The word given comes from chariothenta, an aorist participle passive, which shows that this giving was something already done by God and that people were inactive during this giving. The only part people play is to experience it, or receive it, after God has already given it. This is done simply by believing the testimony of the spirit about the things of Jesus Christ.
The word "received" is active, showing that it is the people acting, not God. God has long ago given; people are only now yielding, submitting, or receiving.
Paul strengthened his argument in Galatians 3:2 when he asked,
"Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?"
Paul was pointing out that they had received the spirit by believing the word preached to them, not by works. Works would include all the preparatory things preached today as necessary to receive the holy spirit. Again, "received" is in the active voice.
In Galatians 3:14, Paul said three things of significant interest to this study about the holy spirit.
"That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith."
He pointed out, (1) that the holy spirit is the blessing of Abraham; (2) that sending the spirit was the fulfillment of that promise; and (3) that we receive the spirit through faith. Again, the word "receive" is in the active voice. Paul was simply saying that the spirit was given to Jesus Christ, the first cause, and then the spirit is received by faith, the secondary cause.
Paul elaborated on this point in Galatians 3:16.
"Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ."
If anyone believes that Jesus is the Messiah, his faith is the channel through which he receives holy spirit. Paul also referred to this as the promise (Galatians 3:17) and the inheritance (Galatians 3:18).
Thank God for the apostle Paul! God used him to bring these things to our attention and help us understand how God bespoke his grace in the Old Testament!
In Genesis 17:4, God said to Abraham:
"As for me, behold, my covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be a father of many nations."
After Isaac was born, God told Abraham to slay Isaac as a sacrifice, which he prepared to do. Abraham was willing to slay his son because he believed God when he said that Abraham would be the father of many nations. Even if God had him slay his son, he believed God was able to raise him up again to fulfill his promise.
Because Abraham believed God was truthful, God fulfilled his covenant by giving Abraham's seed, Jesus, the spirit of truth, which was then poured out upon both the Jews and the Gentiles. This was the promise, or the gift, which are names the New Testament used in describing the spirit in the Old Testament. Jesus was the heir of Abraham's covenant and his inheritance was "the spirit the holy," which he then shared with everyone.
# When used in reference to holy spirit, some people automatically "see"
the words receive, poured out, fell upon, and come upon to mean
"baptize." This creates a great deal of confusion about the spirit.
# The means of receiving is faith, or believing on Jesus. The holy spirit
would be given by God through Jesus, and would be received by those
believing in Jesus. Faith in Jesus would be the ground on which holy
spirit would be received. The receiving would be individual, but the
giving was done corporately for everyone at one time.
# "Holy spirit," without the article, emphasizes quality or characteristics
rather than identity.
# In the Old Testament, only a few selected individuals, such as prophets,
priests and kings, were endowed with the holy spirit to do a specific
work for God. In the New Testament, holy spirit would become
universally given, but had not yet been bestowed at the time of John
7:39 because Jesus had not yet been glorified.
# It is the work of Jesus, not the work of men, which is the basis on which
God has bestowed the spirit.
# God does not give the spirit to men one at a time; the spirit was sent by
God corporately to be among men.
# Each person makes an individual decision about faith in Jesus which is
the ground on which holy spirit begins to act as a truthful guide for
# To say that someone "receives" holy spirit when they come to faith in
Jesus is misleading, and causes confusion. Since all people already
have holy spirit, faith does not cause them to "receive" holy spirit.
Faith simply releases the holy spirit they already have so it can operate
in their lives.
# Jesus has been exalted; Jesus received the promised holy spirit from the
Father; Jesus then poured out that spirit. The holy spirit was given to
Jesus as a result of his faithfulness, and he gave the spirit of the truth to
people just as he said he would.
# Take note that they (apostles) did not ask God to give the holy spirit.
They did not tell the people to seek the holy spirit. They did not tell
them to clean up their lives. They did not even tell them to pray for the
holy spirit. They prayed that they would act, submit to, or "receive"
holy spirit. The people did as instructed and the spirit was released, or
fell upon them.
# The word "received" actually means submitted to.
# Many people have the mistaken idea that holy spirit can somehow be
bargained for, or earned, by some kind of "spiritual" activity. They
assume these activities are pleasing to God and completely miss the
point that holy spirit is a gift which has already been bestowed.
# People are not treated individually in any of these scriptures. In every
case, what happens to one happens to all those present. Since these
scriptures do not refer to "baptism by the spirit," then interpreting
them as such sets a dangerous and mistaken precedent.
# Still today, many do not realize that God has already bestowed some
of holy spirit upon every person, and people can "receive" holy spirit
only in the sense of yielding themselves to it as a guide.
# Faith enables people to believe the truth that God has already forgiven
them, and this is equally true of holy spirit. This is the "receiving."
# Faith in the sacrifice of Jesus is the only way people can take God's gift
of grace unto themselves in order to experience the salvation that is
already theirs. But let us be absolutely clear about this point: their
faith does not cause God to forgive them; God's love, as exhibited in the
life and death of Jesus Christ did this long before they ever believed.
Neither did their faith cause God to bestow holy spirit upon them.
That also occurred long before they believed.
# God had no favorites; he made no distinction of race or religion when
he gave his gift of holy spirit to all. Peter said that God had poured
out of his spirit upon all flesh, not just Jews and not just believers.
# Although everyone already has some portion of holy spirit poured
upon them, most do not realize that until they hear about Jesus, believe
what they hear, yield themselves to God, and thereby "receive" (or
unlock) holy spirit in their lives.
# The spirit's job is to testify about Jesus, so receiving Jesus as Lord of our
lives is receiving the spirit. When we receive the word about Jesus, we
are receiving the spirit.
# "The spirit the holy" was poured out by the grace of God and becomes
operable, or experienced, in the lives of men when they believe. This is
eternal life, a life which shows a spirit similar to that of God, i.e. one of
The aorist participle passive shows that this giving was something
The only part people play is to experience it, or receive it, or submit to
it, after God has already given it. This is done simply by believing the
testimony of the spirit about the things of Jesus Christ. God long ago
gave, but people are only now yielding, submitting, or receiving.
© 2009, Fred Kenison and Merrill Douglass. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.