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Jonathan Bollinger wrote:

Hi, guys —

I have questions pertaining to the Holy Spirit in Scripture:

  1. Did the Apostles receive the Holy Spirit twice (in John 20:22 and at Pentecost)?
  2. Did the Apostles receive the Holy Spirit at their Baptism like Catholics do today?
  3. How come some verses like in Acts 8 and Acts 19 seem to confer that we receive the Holy Spirit only after Confirmation and not at Baptism?

For example: Acts 8:14-17:

14 Now when the Apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, 15 who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit; 16 for it had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.)

Thanks for all your help!


  { Can you answer some questions on the Holy Spirit and how it was received by the Apostles and us? }

John replied:

Dear Jonathan,

Let's handle the doctrinal issue first. 

We all receive the "indwelling of the Holy Spirit"  when we are born again. The normative way to be born again is through the Sacrament of Baptism. By this indwelling, if we cooperate with the Holy Spirit, we are progressively sanctified and saved.

However, there is a secondary "infilling" or some call it "Baptism of the Holy Spirit" in which we receive Power and Gifts from the Holy Spirit to serve the Gospel. There is a myriad of gifts, although the Church tends to focus on (7) seven of them listed in Isaiah (Isaiah 11:1-3). 

The normative way we have this secondary infilling is through the Sacrament of Confirmation or Chrismation as it is called in Eastern Churches. 

  • In the Western Church, we normally separate these Sacraments by a period of time, unless someone is being baptized at an older age.
  • In the Eastern Church, they baptize and chrismate all at once, even if it's an infant.

So in short —

  • At Baptism we receive the Holy Spirit for our own regeneration, justification, and sanctification.
  • At Confirmation/Chrismation, we receive the Power and Gifts of the Holy Spirit, which are meant for service to the Church and the Gospel.

Now the Apostles, like all Christians, received the Holy Spirit when they were born again (baptized) and then they awaited the outpouring of the Holy Spirit Jesus told them to wait for, before ascending into Heaven.  This is referenced to at Pentecost as described by Luke in the Book of Acts. (Acts 1:1-11)

Now as for John's account, modern scholars, who don't necessarily treat these texts as strictly historical, would say that John just records this secondary outpouring as happening when Jesus sees the Apostles in John 20:22. Whether they are correct is an open question but they do have a point.  The Gospels were written by different witnesses, each trying to teach specific things to particular audiences. They weren't necessarily giving a chronological play by play of what happened when.

I see it this way.  In just a few verses in John 20, there is a whole lot going on. Let's look at the context.

21 So Jesus said to them again, "Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you." 22 And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them,

"Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."

(John 20:21-23)

  • So what's going on here?

Jesus is commissioning them again. But this is more specific. In other Gospels they are told to preach the Gospel and baptize.  At the Last Supper, He institutes the Eucharist but here Jesus is instituting the Sacrament of Confession, in some form, and He gives them the Holy Spirit.  We normally associate the Institution of the Priesthood with the Last Supper when He commands them "Do this in remembrance of me."  simultaneously instituting the Eucharist but here we see the same sending forth that  we see in the other three Gospels, adding the Sacrament of Confession to the Commission, rather than Baptism . . . He gives them the Holy Spirit. 

I see a direct connection between that action and Ordination. (Remember John's account of the Last Supper, completely omits the institution of the Eucharist.)

Again, we can't get caught up in time lines.  Different authors express these events differently so don't get lost in the weeds trying to reconcile chronological details.

I hope this helps,

John DiMascio

Bob replied:

Dear Jonathan,

Thanks for the question.

The Holy Spirit comes in different ways to do different things. In John 20:22, the Spirit was given that the Apostles might receive the ability to forgive men's sins in the name of Jesus. A remarkable feature of Jesus' ministry is that he was constantly forgiving people's sins, which sparked incredulity amongst the scribes and pharisees.  No man can forgive sins that are not perpetrated against his own self personally. Only God can forgive all sins, because He is the one always offended in every case. We could say that since Jesus is God he has the authority to forgive sins. That power resides in His Godhead so, by giving the Spirit in this unique way, the Apostles were endowed with that same authority that Jesus had.  It was specific to this need and of course every bit as scandalous to those who cannot brook the idea that a man can forgive another's sins for which he has no personal stake. It is truly shocking that Jesus entrusted such power to His Church, but also a testimony to His unfailing Covenant with Her.

In the case of Baptism, the Spirit is given to bring sanctifying grace and new life (cf. John 3:5; 1 Peter 3:15) and to clear our conscience that we may stand before the Lord justified.

14 Now when the Apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, 15 who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit; 16 for it had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.

Acts 8:14-16

Acts 8:14-16 is speaking directly to the outpouring of gifts of the Spirit that enable the Christian to live the full mature life in Christ.  This is what Confirmation is all about.  (Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist, are all connected as Sacraments of Initiation, and each has a place to increase, amplify and insure that the Christian has all that is needed to live out the call of Christ).  In this specific context the Samaritans in question had only received Baptism, probably by a Deacon, but the outpouring of the Spirit, like that of Pentecost, which brought about the gifts that enabled the Apostles to leave their cowardice behind and become true witnesses of Christ, was reserved for the Bishop and the laying on of hands.  

The Church recognized early on that we each need a sort of personal pentecost, what we call the sacrament of Confirmation, to release those gifts the Spirit brings.  Some Eastern rites do this at the same time as Baptism, but in the Western Roman rite, Confirmation has been held off until the age of reason so that the person to whom the gifts are given can fully employ them.


Bob Kirby
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