Saturday, February 2, 2008

Gift of the Holy Ghost by the Laying on of Hands

Latter-day Saints "believe that the first principles and ordinances of the gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost." We also "believe that a man must be called of God, by prophecy, and by the laying on of hands by those who are in authority, to preach the gospel and administer in the ordinances thereof" (Articles of Faith 4 & 5).

In other words, after a person believes in Jesus Christ, repents, and is baptized by immersion, the gift of the Holy Ghost is bestowed by the laying on of hands by those who are in authority to do so.

I have known some good Christian people that have believed that the gift of the Holy Ghost is bestowed on an individual at the moment he believes without reference to baptism or the laying on of hands. I will here argue that such an idea is inconsistent with the Biblical record while the LDS view is more consistent.

First, on the day of Pentecost, Peter preached a powerful sermon that was well received. The Holy Ghost bore record to his audience that Jesus was indeed "both Lord and Christ." After he had preached, the people "were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?" (Acts 2:37). Clearly, they began to exercise faith in Jesus Christ by believing Peter's message. They wanted to know what they should do. If the doctrine of being saved by saying the sinner's prayer were indeed true, this would have been the perfect time for Peter to say something like "Pray to Jesus and ask him to forgive you and you will be saved," but what did he say?

"Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost" (Acts 2:38).

These people who had 1) Faith in Jesus Christ were told to 2) Repent 3) be baptized for the remission of sins and that 4) they would then receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. This is clearly incompatible with the idea that you receive the Holy Ghost after simply believing or saying the "sinner's prayer." If ever Peter had the opportunity to teach such a doctrine, here it was. He didn't teach such a doctrine, however, but he taught one that is entirely consistent with the LDS article of faith mentioned above.

One could attempt to argue that this was the prescribed method for being saved and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost for this particular group of people but that ti isn't required of all people at all times. However, Peter makes certain that this isn't the case by what he said next:

"For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call" (Acts 2:39).

He then exhorted them to "save [themselves] from this untoward generation. Then they that gladly received his word were baptized..." (Acts 2:40-41). Once again, baptism was the door to salvation. In order to "save themselves" they must not stop with faith alone or with repentance, but also be baptized. (I digress)

Another fascinating insight comes from Acts 8.

"But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.
13 Then Simon himself believed also: and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done.
14 Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John:
15 Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost:
16 (For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.)
17 Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost.
18 And when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Ghost was given,
he offered them money,
19 Saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost.
20 But Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money."

This is significant for several reasons. First, these people in Samaria already believed on Jesus' name and were baptized, yet they hadn't received the Holy Ghost. Only did they receive this gift after Peter and John came and laid hands on them to give them the gift. Simon saw that this gift was given this way and offered to buy the gift from the apostles.

If the gift of the Holy Ghost comes just through belief in Jesus, why didn't these Samaritans receive that gift the moment they believed? Also, why didn't Philip give them the gift? He apparently baptized them, but didn't lay hands on them. Why?

According to LDS doctrine, a person who hold Aaronic priesthood can baptize but cannot confer the gift of the Holy Ghost. However, apostles or elders can confer the gift of the Holy Ghost. This story makes perfect sense from an LDS doctrinal standpoint: Philip had authority to baptize but he didn't have authority to confer the gift of the Holy Ghost. The apostles then came and conferred this gift on the recently baptized believers.

There are many other such examples, but suffice it to say these scriptures seem to imply that a person must:

1) have faith in Jesus
2) repent
3) be baptized for the remission of sins
4) receive the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands by those who have authority


5) some have authority to baptize but do not have authority to bestow the gift of the Holy Ghost.

LDS belief is entirely consistent with these scriptures. Is the rest of modern Christianity?

For further clarification, LDS believe individuals may receive manifestations of the Holy Ghost prior to baptism to strengthen faith in Christ and to bring people to repentance and baptism. There are several instances of people receiving such manifestations of the Holy Ghost in scripture and outside of scripture. If a person rejects such manifestations, however, the Holy Ghost will not abide with him. On the other hand, if a person follows such manifestations he will eventually find himself with faith, having been baptized, and having the gift of the Holy Ghost sealed upon his head.


chad said...

From an Evangelical perspective or maybe more clearly from a 'pentecostal' perspective...

A person receives a portion of the Holy Spirit at the point of conversion...because it is the Spirit that brings one to Christ.

At a later date the new believer may receive the "baptism of the Holy Spirit" which is the gift of guidance, direction, and most notably speaking in other tongues.

The LDS view is also similar to the Catholic, Episcopal, Orthodox view in that a person is first baptized and later (usually around 12yrs old) Confirmed (by a Bishop in the RC & Episcopal realm and the priest in the Eastern Orthodox church + confirmantion in the eastern church takes place immediately following infant baptism - they call it Chrismation) This Confirmation is by the laying on of hands of the one holding appropriate authority and then the confirman receives the Holy Spirit - in most mainline Protestant churches it is the local pastor who does the laying on of hands but the 'result' is the same - the gift of the Holy Spirit...

Intersting the apparent similarites between LDS and the prevelant churches of the time of J.S. -

I have also found it intersting that J.S. had contact with the Presbyterian church through his mother and sister and two brothers because the system of leadership by ordained Elders exists in both the LDS and Presbyterian (or other Reformed/Calvinist churches)churches. There are definate difference in duties and rights of Elders in these churches but nonetheless the systems are similar...

So these could be elements of truth in other churches, coincindences or Joseph taking already existing systems and understandings and giving them unique LDS meanings...

Great post...thanks

chad said...

Of course the stark difference I failed to point out is that in all those 'mailine churched' be they Catholic or not - baptism is usually performed on infants...

The LDS doctrine of faith then repentance then baptism then confirmation is more akin to Anabaptism (and it's many descendants/variants) then to the others I mentioed

Andrew Miller said...

One other difference is the unique role of two priesthoods in the LDS Church. Those of the lesser priesthood can baptize but not confirm. Those of higher priesthood can do both. My reading of Acts 8 seems to imply the same thing. Philip could baptize, but Peter and John had to go to confirm. I don't think this exists in other churches.

chad said...

Andrew said

"Those of the lesser priesthood can baptize but not confirm. Those of higher priesthood can do both. My reading of Acts 8 seems to imply the same thing. Philip could baptize, but Peter and John had to go to confirm.I don't think this exists in other churches."

Well that is exactly how it is in the 'catholic' denominations...

In Catholic, Episcopal and Orthodox churches ordained Deacons can Baptize and Marry and Preach but cannot ordain priests or deacons or celebrate the eucharist or confirm people. Only Bishops in these churches can ordain others and priests can celebrate the eucharist & as noted above with the exception of the Orthodox church only Bishops can confirm people in the faith.

In these churches the office of Bishops holds all the 'powers & privelages' of the priesthood. Priests and deacons hold some but not all. Similar I suppose to the Melchizidek & Aaronic Priesthood system in the LDS church.

Acts says that Phillip was one of the "seven men of good reputation, filled with the Spirit and with wisdom," (Ac 6:3) The Seven were presented by the full assembly of disciples to the Apostles. The Twelve, "after prayer, laid their hands on them." (Ac 6:6) These men, "Stephen, ... together with Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and ... Nicolaus of Antioch, a convert to Judaism," (Ac 6:5) constituted the first group of Christian deacons. (diakonos (διάκονος), which literally means 'through the dust' and is often translated servant or waiter).

So it would appear to me (and Catholic, Episcopal & Orthodox theologian I might add) that Phillip was a Deacon and as such had authority to baptize as do deacons in the modern 'catholic' denominations as I noted above - Unless I am mistaken doesn't the Aaronic Priesthood include 'Deacon'? - so in essence the LDS concept (I am emphasizing the word concept here) of the priesthood is not unique among all churches - but if this priesthood concept is true (or if this is the way the priesthood is supposed to look) then it would be safer to say that the concept at least (maybe not the actual authority i.e. "Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof" 2 Timothy 3:5)passed through the apostasy intact - I don't think it is correct to say that it is a unique LDS concept however.

Andrew Miller said...

Thanks for the information. I didn't know most of that. However, I don't think Joseph Smith was familiar with Catholicism, Orthodoxy or Episcopalians. These churches were not in existence where he was raised, as far as I can tell.

He was however very familiar with Presbyterianism, Methodism, and Baptists. Do they have similar priesthood organizations to the churches above?

I think you're right about the possibility of the basic concept being passed on even if there were an apostasy. LDS, of course, believe that many concepts and doctrines were passed on correctly even though there was an apostasy.

chad said...

From the website of Zion Episcopal Church of Palmyra NY:

"Zion Episcopal Church was officially "organized" on June 28, 1823, but our roots actually began 20 years earlier. From the very beginning, it was obvious that Zion was a church intensely dedicated in its desire to succeed. The first Episcopalians in Palmyra were helped financially by the stronger, established congregations in the east. They were instrumental in the construction of the first Zion church and the first organ." (See:

There is a Catholic church in Palmyra was founded in 1849 according to: (I couldn't find a church website)

So Joseph could have been familiar with the Deacon, Priest, Bishop offices of ministry in at least the Episcopal church that had been there since 1823...

As for the Methodists - they do have deacons and pastors and Bishops but I am not sure what role the deacons play - I do know that the office of bishop in the United Methodist Church is fairly functional and administrative...

Presbyterians as I pointed out earlier operate with a system of leadership by "Elders" either teaching Elders who are ordained, professional ministers/pastors and ruling Elders who are also ordained but are taken from among the laity - ruling Elders cannot baptize (only in an emergency where no teaching Elder can be found) nor can they confirm or celebrate the eucharist...teaching Elders (pastors) can do all of that...So this system would have introduced J.S. to the pratice of leadership by Elders but would have been silent on the priesthood ministry...

Baptists have nothing like Elders or Priests...they do have deacons but they are lay people (whereas in the Episcopal & Catholic churches a deacon is an ordained ministry of the priesthood) so there is nothing in most Baptist circles that even remotely looks like the LDS priesthood..

Now with all of that said and all of what I said before, please do not think that I am saying Joseph made it (the priesthood) up...I don't that...but it (in concept and practice at least) is not unique...

I should also note that I have an undergraduate degree in church history with a minor in theology and I have spent a great deal of time working on ecumenism and with cross-denomination I am very familiar with the differences and the working of most mainstream denominations...

Andrew Miller said...

I wasn't concerned that you were suggesting that Joseph Smith borrowed his concepts of priesthood from another church. That is, rationally, a possibility. I don't think that's the case, but I have to admit that it is a rational possibility.

I didn't know there was an Episcopalian church in Palmyra.

Thanks for the info.