The Gift of the Holy Spirit – Ron Cosby

Ron Cosby

What is “the gift of the Holy Spirit”? Acts 10:45-46 indicates that it is the miraculous endowments given by the Spirit in the first century. However, in view of Acts 2:38-39, some students disagree with this concept.

Clem Thurman teaches a view that disagrees. Writing in response to a question in the Gospel Minutes, he asserts, “You are correct that we receive the Holy Spirit when we are baptized into Christ (Acts 2:38)” (8/01).

Bruce Terry also disagrees with our proposition. In the Restoration Quarterly, he claims, “Thus ‘receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’ in Acts 2:38 means ‘receive the gift which is the Holy Spirit.’ This is both good Greek and good English, as illustrated by the fact that ‘drink a glass of water’ refers to drinking the water” (1978, p. 196).

But consider these reasons why the phrase in both Acts 2:38 and Acts 10:45-46, indicates miraculous endowments. Using the phrase, “gift of [person],” no English writer means the person is the gift.

Usage of the phrase makes a difference. When the phrase refers to a thing, the thing in the phrase may be the gift—“gift of eternal life.” In contrast, when using the phrase to refer to a person—“gift of Christ”—the person in the phrase is not the gift. We can show from both the English and the Greek that this distinct difference is maintained. No writer uses the phrase “gift of [person]” to refer to the person as the gift. Note that Terry does not cite an example to illustrate his claim. He merely attempts to do so by the example of a thing given rather than a person, and Thurman merely makes his assertion without attempting to substantiate it.

Try to recall any writer in English who uses the phrase “gift of [person]” to mean that the person in the phrase is the gift given. You will not be able to. Checking the internet for the phrase, “gift of [person],” I could not find one time that the person in the phrase was the gift given. No Bible verse using the phrase “gift of [person]” means the person in the phrase is the gift.

Check the New Testament (Mat. 5:23-24; Luke 21:1; Heb. 11:4). Check the Old Testament (Num. 18:11, 29; Dan. 5:17; Lev. 23:38; Eze. 20:26, 31, 39; Mic. 1:7). Note: When the Bible uses the phrase “thy gift,” it is comparable to saying, “gift of thee.” Therefore, we have included this type of phrase for technical reasons. No Bible verse using the phrase “gift of [Divine person]” means the person is the gift.

Check the Old Testament (Eccl. 3:13; 5:19). Check the New Testament. John 4:10 speaks of the “gift of God,” meaning God’s gift. Acts 8:20 speaks of the “gift of God,” meaning God’s gift. The same can be said of Romans 6:23 and 11:29, Ephesians 2:8, 2 Timothy 1:6. When the Bible speaks of the “gift of God,” it always means God’s gift.

Only one verse in the New Testament (Ephesians 4:7) speaks of the “gift of Christ.” Yet, it too means, the gift Christ gives. Most students agree that Hebrews 2:4 which speaks of the “gifts of the Holy Spirit” has reference to the Spirit’s gifts. Most students also agree that the “gift of the Holy Spirit” in Acts 10:45 is the Holy Spirit’s gift. That only leaves one verse, Acts 2:38. We strongly suggest it too means what all the others are indicating. The “gift of the Holy Spirit” in Acts 2:38 is the Holy Spirit’s gift.

Three More Principles Showing That the Phrase

Refers to Miraculous Endowments in the First Century

One method of understanding Bible wording is to use the phrase in one Bible passage to understand the identical phrase in another. For instance, what does “for the remission of sins” mean in Acts 2:38? It means the same thing that it means in Matthew 26:28. Jesus died “for the remission of sins” (Mat. 26:28). This being the case, then sinners are baptized “for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38). Now, if we use this same methodology with the phrase “the gift of the Holy Spirit,” we conclude it is the miraculous.

After all, in Acts 10:45 (the only other time that this wording is used), Luke indicated such, saying, “For they heard them speak with tongues” (Acts 10:46). If we allow the known passage to define the passage under dispute, then the phrase in Acts 2:38 means the miraculous endowments of the first century.

A closer look at the background of Peter’s audience in Acts 2 also helps us. Who in Peter’s audience would have thought that Peter’s promise of the “gift of the Holy Spirit” was non-miraculous? No one. His audience consisted of Jews who had studied the Old Testament. They had read Old Testament passages on the Holy Spirit and His work with human agents. When details concerning the Spirit’s relationship to the recipient of the Spirit are given, the recipient always worked miracles.

Furthermore, Peter’s audience also witnessed the miracles of Jesus, the miracles of the Twelve and the miraculous events on Pentecost. Therefore, when Peter mentioned the Holy Spirit, were they going to be thinking of the miracles? Of course!

Look at the context of Acts 2. Every verse associated with the Spirit depicts a miraculous endowment (Acts 2:4, 11, 17-18, 33, 38, 43). Joel’s prophecy, which Peter quoted, spoke only of the miraculous (Acts 2:17-18). Joel does not even hint of a non-miraculous out pouring. There is not one undisputed reference to the personal indwelling in the context of Acts two.

Actually, Luke makes over 130 allusions to the Holy Spirit or His work in the book of Acts. Of those, 118 are clear, unmistakable references to the supernatural. Only a few of the references are even considered (by some) to mean non-miraculous (Acts 2:38-39; 5:32; 6:3, 5; 9:31; 11:24; 13:52; 20:28). However, not one is a clear reference to the non-miraculous, personal indwelling being heralded today.


In both secular writings and in the Bible, the phrase “gift of [person]” always means that which the person gives, not the person as the gift. The “gift of the Holy Spirit” is that which He gives, not the Spirit as the gift.

In the first century, the Holy Spirit gave miraculous powers unto Christians. Joel prophesied it. Peter called it to mind, and a host of first century Christians received this mighty power for revealing and confirming the word of God. No one today is endowed with “the gift of the Holy Spirit” nor do we receive the Holy Spirit at baptism.

   Send article as PDF   

Author: Editor

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *