People in the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements believe there is a second blessing experience that follows conversion. They use Acts chapter 8:5-17 as a proof text to say that the Bible teaches a second blessing that happens post-conversion. Generally, the second blessing they are looking for is the ability to speak in tongues and many will claim that if you cannot do it you must not be saved. They will claim that people in the early church were saved yet had not received the Holy Spirit immediately upon being saved. Due to their understanding of the passage they expect all Christians should expect the gift of the Holy Spirit at a later time. However, this passage is not prescriptive to all Christians in every age and they fail to understand the Holy Spirit.
There are general steps used to interpret narrative texts and are useful in all of Scripture. A person should look at the immediate context of the text. They should look for a specific didactic teaching in it and look for clear support in the extended context. Christians should not be making doctrinal declarations based on a single verse or narrative but look at all the clear passages in the Bible to help with proper exegesis of the immediate text they are dealing with.
Acts 8:5-17 appears to suggest a Christian should expect a “second blessing” because the people appear to have not yet received the Holy Spirit. This passage does not clearly teach a Christian will be saved and then receive the Holy Spirit at a later time. To understand this text a person needs to look for a specific didactic teaching within it and if it is not there one must look for the clear support elsewhere in the Bible. There is nothing within the text to suggest it must be the model regarding the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. However, there are plenty of descriptions of what to expect regarding the Holy Spirit elsewhere in the Bible.
The Bible describes at least four blessings of the Holy Spirit. This is not to say a Christian needs to look for a four stage method of being saved. The first of the four blessings described is the “baptism of the Holy Spirit” which was a historical once for all time redemptive event. This redemptive event happened at Pentecost which was on a Sunday and where the Holy Spirit was poured out on the entire body of Christ’s church (Acts 1:5; Mark 1:8). This is an event which does not serve as a didactic model of salvation nor will it be repeated. In other words Christians should not expect any such thing as strong winds or flames when they are saved.
The blessing of the Holy Spirit is also a one-time personal event that happens at the conversion of a believer. This is the “gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38; 10:45). God provides all a person needs in this gift at conversion. Once God begins a work in a person He does not fail to sanctify them. A Christian can be sure God will not abandon them or remove the gift of the Holy Spirit once they have been placed in the body of Christ as a believer.
Then there is the “filling of the Holy Spirit” in which a believer will receive at various times in their daily lives and at various levels from a little bit to a lot. This filling of the Holy Spirit is used by God to strengthen a person for the things they are facing and absolutely for the work God has for them to do. For example a person may want to witness to a person and they pray for God to strengthen them for the job. It could be that the person is in need of comfort by the Holy Spirit due to a death in the family. Bottom line is a Christian should expect to be filled with the Holy Spirit (Eph. 5:18).
Then of course there is the state of being “full of the Spirit”. This is more a state of spiritual maturity and the appropriate state of being all Christian should desire to be in (Deut. 34:9; Acts 6:3, 5; 7:55; 11:24).
Our passage describes what had happened to those people but is not prescriptive to all Christians in every instance. Christians should not look for a “second blessing” as if God did not give them what they needed to be saved in the first place with the “gift of the Holy Spirit” at conversion. Because God always works in the life of a Christian a believer should expect various things as a result of Pentecost and of course the receipt of the “gift of the Holy Spirit” at conversion. Sinning Christians will not always be “filled with the Spirit” because of sin. That is to say they will not always be up to the task for a job or to overcome suffering because they have pushed God away with sin. This is not to say a person will lose their salvation but it is to say our sin gets in the way of being closer to God. Finally, Christian’s should always strive to be full of the Spirit in that they should be growing in spiritual maturity because sanctification is a continuing process over the lifetime of the believer.
Bock, Darrell L. Acts. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007.
Gaffin, Richard B. Perspectives on Pentecost. Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1979.