Acts 8:17
Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost.
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(17) Then laid they their hands on them.—The act had already appeared as at once the symbol and the channel of the communication of spiritual gifts and offices in the appointment of the Seven. (See Note on Acts 6:6.) Historically, the act here recorded has the interest of being the starting-point of what afterwards developed into the rite known as Confirmation. Taking the narrative of the Acts by itself, a question might be raised how far what we read of was normal or exceptional, connected, for a time only, with the bestowal of new and marvellous powers, or powerful, through the whole history of the Church, as a means of grace strengthening the spiritual life after those powers had been withdrawn. In any case it was probable that no hard and fast line marked the disappearance of the special and marvellous forms of spiritual power which were at first manifested in connection with the laying-on of hands, and so the practice had time to become part of the fixed order of the Church. When they ceased altogether we can understand the reluctance of men to give up a rite that had come down from the days of the Apostles. They would feel that the prayer of faith was still mighty to prevail; that the Spirit would still be given in answer to prayer joined with the symbolic act, though no longer in the same form, and would confirm and strengthen the work which had been begun in baptism, and so the primitive laying-on of hands passed into Confirmation, and was accompanied by other symbolic acts, such as anointing. The thought that it is so called because in it adults confirm the promises made for them when baptised as infants, is entirely modern, and cannot be traced further back than the sixteenth century.

8:14-25 The Holy Ghost was as yet fallen upon none of these coverts, in the extraordinary powers conveyed by the descent of the Spirit upon the day of Pentecost. We may take encouragement from this example, in praying to God to give the renewing graces of the Holy Ghost to all for whose spiritual welfare we are concerned; for that includes all blessings. No man can give the Holy Spirit by the laying on of his hands; but we should use our best endeavours to instruct those for whom we pray. Simon Magus was ambitious to have the honour of an apostle, but cared not at all to have the spirit and disposition of a Christian. He was more desirous to gain honour to himself, than to do good to others. Peter shows him his crime. He esteemed the wealth of this world, as if it would answer for things relating to the other life, and would purchase the pardon of sin, the gift of the Holy Ghost, and eternal life. This was such a condemning error as could by no means consist with a state of grace. Our hearts are what they are in the sight of God, who cannot be deceived. And if they are not right in his sight, our religion is vain, and will stand us in no stead. A proud and covetous heart cannot be right with God. It is possible for a man to continue under the power of sin, yet to put on a form of godliness. When tempted with money to do evil, see what a perishing thing money is, and scorn it. Think not that Christianity is a trade to live by in this world. There is much wickedness in the thought of the heart, its false notions, and corrupt affections, and wicked projects, which must be repented of, or we are undone. But it shall be forgiven, upon our repentance. The doubt here is of the sincerity of Simon's repentance, not of his pardon, if his repentance was sincere. Grant us, Lord, another sort of faith than that which made Simon wonder only, and did not sanctify his heart. May we abhor all thoughts of making religion serve the purposes of pride or ambition. And keep us from that subtle poison of spiritual pride, which seeks glory to itself even from humility. May we seek only the honour which cometh from God.Then laid they their hands ... - This was an act of "prayer," expressing an invocation to God that he would impart the blessing to "them." On "how many" they laid their hands is not said. It is evident that it was not on "all," for they did not thus lay hands on Simon. Perhaps it was done on a few of the more prominent and leading persons, who were to be employed particularly in bearing witness to the truth of the gospel. It was customary to lay the hands on any person when a "favor" was to be conferred or a blessing imparted. See notes on Matthew 9:18. 15, 16. prayed … they might receive the Holy Ghost. (For only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus)—As the baptism of adults presupposed "the renewing of the Holy Ghost" (Tit 3:5-7; 1Co 12:13), of which the profession of faith had to be taken for evidence, this communication of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of the apostles' hands was clearly a superadded thing; and as it was only occasional, so it was invariably attended with miraculous manifestations (see Ac 10:44, where it followed Peter's preaching; and Ac 19:1-7, where, as here, it followed the laying on of hands). In the present case an important object was served by it—"the sudden appearance of a body of baptized disciples in Samaria, by the agency of one who was not an apostle, requiring the presence and power of apostles to perform their special part as the divinely appointed founders of the Church" [Alford]. Beautiful, too, was the spectacle exhibited of Jew and Samaritan, one in Christ. That this laying on of the hands of the apostles was not intended here as any rite whereby the apostles did confirm some, or ordain others, seems evident from the context.

They received the Holy Ghost; the power of speaking with tongues, and working of miracles; which throughout this book is so often spoken of in this acceptation.

Then laid they their hands on them,.... The Ethiopic version adds, "who had been baptized"; but not upon all of them, men and women, only on some they were directed unto by the Spirit of God; whom he had designed, and now would qualify for the work of the ministry, that so this new church, might be supplied with proper officers, pastors, and teachers, to feed them with knowledge and with understanding, and who might not only have ministerial gifts to qualify them for preaching the Gospel, but extraordinary ones, which would serve for the confirmation of it; and for this purpose the apostles, "both" of them, as the Arabic version reads, laid their hands on them: for it will not seem probable, that they laid their hands upon the women, on such an account; and it will hardly be received, that they should lay their hands on Simon Magus, otherwise he would have received the Holy Ghost too; so that it seems a plain case, that imposition of hands was not used to them all:

and they received the Holy Ghost; that is, they received the gifts of the Holy Ghost; so that they could prophesy and speak with tongues, and heal diseases, and do other wonderful works: and since now these effects have ceased, the rite and ceremony which was peculiar to the apostles as such, it should seem should cease likewise.

Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost.
Acts 8:17. There cannot be any reason to doubt the validity of St. Philip’s baptism, and it is therefore evident that the laying on of hands (cf. Acts 19:6) is here distinct from baptism, and also from the appointment to any Church office (as in Acts 6:6, Acts 13:3), or the bestowal of any special power of healing as in the person of Ananias, Acts 9:12; Acts 9:17, although gifts of healing might no doubt accompany it. But both here and in Acts 19:6 (cf. Hebrews 6:2) it follows closely upon baptism, and is performed by Apostles, to whom alone the function belongs, although it is reasonable to suppose that the prophets and teachers who were associated with them in their Apostolic office, and who could lay on hands in Acts 13:1-3, could do so in other cases also for the reception of the Holy Ghost (Gore, Church and the Ministry, p. 258). The question why St. Philip did not himself “lay hands” upon his converts has been variously discussed, but the narrative of Acts supplies the answer, inasmuch as in the only two parallel cases, viz., the verse before us and Acts 19:6, the higher officers alone exercise this power, and also justifies the usual custom of the Church in so limiting its exercise (“Confirmation,” Dict. of Christian Antiq. (Smith & Cheetham), i., p. 425; B.D.1, iii., App.; and Hooker, Eccles. Pol., v., ch. lxvi. 5, and passage cited; Jerome, Advers. Lucif., c. 4, and St. Cyprian, Epis. 73, ad Jubaianum (reference to the passage before us)). Undoubtedly there are cases of baptism, Acts 2:41; Acts 16:15; Acts 16:33, where no reference is made to the subsequent performance of this rite, but in these cases it must be remembered that the baptiser was an Apostle, and that when this was the case its observance might fairly be assumed. For the special case of Cornelius see below on Acts 10:44, see further “Confirmation,” B.D.2, i., 640]. Weizsâcker contrasts this account in 8., Acts 5:16, which he describes as this crude conception of the communication of the Spirit solely by the imposition of the Apostles’ hands (Apostolic Age, ii., 254 and 299, E.T.), and which represents baptism as being thus completed, with the account of baptism given us by St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:14-17. But in the first place we should remember that Acts does not describe baptism as being completed by the laying on of hands; the baptism was not invalid, the Samaritan converts became by its administration members of the Church; and the laying on of hands was not so much a completion of baptism as an addition to it. And, in the next place, Hebrews 6:2 certainly indicates that this addition must have been known at a very early period (see Westcott, in loco). It may also be borne in mind that 2 Corinthians 1:21 is interpreted of confirmation by many of the Fathers (cf. too Westcott’s interpretation of 1 John 2:20; 1 John 2:27), and that St. Paul is writing a letter and not describing a ritual.—ἐλάμβανον: Dr. Hort, who holds that the reception of the Holy Spirit is here explained as in Acts 10:44 by reference to the manifestation of the gift of tongues, etc., points out that the verb is not ἔλαβον, but imperfect ἐλάμβανον, and he therefore renders it “showed a succession of signs of the Spirit” (sec also above). But this interpretation need not conflict with the belief in the gift of the Spirit as a permanent possession, and it is well to remember that ἐπετίθεσαν (ἐπετίθουν) is also imperfect. Both verbs may therefore simply indicate the continuous administration of the laying on of hands by the Apostles, and the continuous supernatural result (not necessarily external manifestation) which followed upon this action; cf. ἐβαπτίζοντο in Acts 8:12, imperfect, and so in Acts 18:8.

17. Then laid they their hands on them] That there might be some outward sign of this imparted grace. So Ananias (Acts 9:17) laid his hands on Saul, and he received the Holy Ghost. But on Cornelius and his companions (Acts 10:44) the same gift was bestowed while Peter spake unto them.

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