Commentary on Acts 8:14-17
Acts 19: 1-7 has the message of the Holy Spirit as the promise to all believers and read in the context of Acts 8: 14-17; one wonders as whether the Holy Spirit needs a human being to authenticate the reception on others who are deemed outside of the pillars of the church.
The Samaritans and any other group of people, nations, tribes, ethnicities, male and female could surely be baptized and receive the Holy Spirit at the same time. Whether God delayed the Holy Spirit among the Samaritans for purposes of building relationships with Peter and John, as well as the entire Jerusalem apostles is indeed a puzzle to 21st readers of this narrative. As a way to move us forward, we should accept the fact that, the delay is a literary device to assists readers establish the linking role of the Holy Spirit in building bridges of reconciliation among all Global peoples, nations, tribes, ethnicities, male and female. While Acts 8 is inconsistent with the Holy Spirit agenda of Luke, readers should be open to the very fact that all human beings are open candidates to receive God’s power.
In other words, Acts 8:14-17 is probably an invitation to cross-cultural discipleship models. Considering the long history of hostility between Jews and Samaritans, the delay of the Holy Spirit is indeed a literary device meant to summon believers to recognize the role of the Spirit in opening worship doors to all people (see John 4: 7-26). Keeping with the missionary focus of the book of Acts, the message of this chapter might also be revolving around outreach as the central axiom of mission.
In some way, mission in Acts involves entering unfamiliar cultures with the hope of sharing the gospel with others. With calling to mission comes also the sensitivity to courage on the part of those who seek to contextualize the gospel in all parts of the world. The challenge to readers of this part of the narrative of Acts is on “becoming all things to all people” (1 Corinthians 9: 22) with the only purpose of building the Kingdom of God in the world.
The presence of Peter and John in Samaria among Samaritans may be interpreted as call to reconciliation and peace building among nations once hostile to each other. Mission work, especially in the 21st century, maybe envisioned as a process of reconciling all peoples to God and each other. In this episode, Peter and John had no negative feelings toward Samaritans but instead the laying of hands signals new forms of fellowship between the Jerusalem and Samaritan Church.
It is, therefore, fitting to mention that the role of the Holy Spirit in reconciliation building was needed then and is deeply called for in the 21st century Church. Where the Holy Spirit has acted, believers are also transformed and if that is the case, we can confidently say that, ‘faith in Christ,’ is incomplete without the authentication of the Holy Spirit (Acts 8: 14-17; Acts 18: 24-19:7). Our identity as Christians in the Global world should be marked by the Holy Spirit and this identity sets us apart as a family of God.
The laying on of hands upon Samaritans by Peter and John is worth noting in the sense the two are signaling the equalizing power of the Holy Spirit in making anyone a believer and disciple without racial, cultural and gender distinction. Luke’s narrative uses the name of the nation and we are not privileged to know the names of actual believers and this could be a way for Luke to express the overall narrative of God’s mission. Through the power of the Holy Spirit and the laying on of hands, we are made to learn that all peoples, regardless of geography, nationality, racial, ethnicity and gender are part of God’s mission. That said, we can surely affirm that the Holy Spirit removes all monopoly on the Church and invites Christian believers to diversified Christian and faith communities.
Lastly, as we read narratives in Acts in the midst of the crossroads of our time, the calling of Jesus for the church to go beyond Jerusalem and Judea to Samaria leaves believers with no option, except to engage and be engaged in or by multicultural and multi- religious missionary work to people we are eager to avoid and not willing to embrace. Without the Holy Spirit’s power to empower the church and effectively transform clergy leaders, the Church will perhaps become self-proclaimed clubs.