The Gift of the Holy Ghost & Why Non-LDS Christians Have It – 2001

COMMENTS: I wrote this as an argumentative essay for my Honors 200 writing class during my first semester at BYU, sometime between February 2001 and April 2001. My teacher loved it; it was the first paper she ever awarded with a 100, and she insisted on reading it to the class as an example of a good argumentative essay. However, I think she’s the only Latter-day Saint I’ve ever met who loved it that much. At the time I could not find a single good LDS counter-argument to some of the passages I used.

I’ve heard better answers from more level-headed Latter-day Saints since then, including admission that the examples I’ve used from Acts must have been exclusive, one-time deals. But still, here it is pretty much as written.

Changes in this version of the paper:

  • Numerous grammatical and stylistic re-wordings
  • Conversion from icky MLA format to heavenly CMS format including hyperlinked endnotes
  • Capitalization of the “T” in the LDS church’s name
  • New Testament citations are now from the ESV instead of the KJV
  • Hyperlinks to either Crosswalk or the official LDS church scripture web site have been added for all New Testament and Book of Mormon citations
  • Edited out the paper’s original “it would seem/I answer” format (it was required for the class) for a much smoother argument

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The Gift of the Holy Ghost and Why Non-LDS Christians Have It
Bridget Jack Jeffries

According to Gordon B. Hinckley, the fifteenth prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the gift of the Holy Ghost is “the companionship of the Holy Spirit to guide us, protect us, and bless us, to go, as it were, as a pillar before us and a flame to lead us in paths of righteousness and truth.”1 Both members of the LDS church and members of evangelical Christian denominations can agree with this definition. Both members of the LDS church and members of evangelical Christian denominations claim to have the gift of the Holy Ghost—though it is often referred to as “the indwelling of the Holy Spirit” by evangelicals and as “baptism by fire” or “baptism of the Holy Spirit/Ghost” by both parties.

The LDS church teaches that evangelicals and other Christians claim this in vain, for the “gift of the Holy Ghost is the privilege, given to people who have… been confirmed as members of the [LDS] Church, to receive guidance and inspiration from the Holy Ghost.”2 A non-Mormon may have “the Spirit, or Light of Christ, which is given to every person who is born into the world”3 and which is “a sure source of spiritual power,”4 but “the gift of the Holy Ghost is reserved exclusively for worthy baptized members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”5 However, contrary to the Latter-day Saint claim that only Mormons possess the gift of the Holy Ghost and the authority to give it, the Bible plainly teaches that the gift of the Holy Ghost is available to all those who believe on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Latter-day Saints often appeal to a number of biblical passages to argue that the gift of the Holy Ghost can only be given by the laying on of hands. For example, in the Acts of the Apostles, after Philip preached the “good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ” (8:12), men and women believed and were baptized, yet the Holy Ghost did not fall upon any of them until Peter and John came from Jerusalem and “laid their hands on them” (Acts 8:13-17). In another place the Book of Acts describes a group of believers for whom “when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying” (19:6). Elsewhere in the New Testament, Paul tells Timothy not to “neglect the gift [he has], which was given [him] by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on [him].” (1 Timothy 4:14), and the author of Hebrews writes concerning the doctrine of “laying on of hands” (Hebrews 6:2). Latter-day Saints interpret these passages to mean that laying on of hands was necessary in the early church in order to receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.

LDS prophets and apostles have further taught that ordinances such as baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost can only be performed by men holding the Melchizedek Priesthood. A favorite passage to cite as a proof of this is Hebrews 5:4: “[N]o one takes this honor for himself, but only when called by God, just as Aaron was.” Other examples include Matthew 16:19, wherein the apostle Peter is given “the keys of the kingdom of heaven” with the power to bind and loose, and a passage in Acts which describes Paul ordering a group of disciples to be re-baptized presumably because they were not baptized by one having the proper authority (Acts 19:1-5). The LDS church teaches that “a priest in the Aaronic Priesthood may perform baptism by immersion” and “only Melchizedek Priesthood holders may confer the gift of the Holy Ghost,”6 and since the LDS Church is “the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth” (D&C 1:30)—meaning the only church with the true Melchizedek Priesthood—only members of the LDS church are authorized by God to give and receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.

Unfortunately, Latter-day Saints who cite these passages as proof of their exclusionary Holy Ghost doctrine are not examining all that the Bible has to say on the matter. Elsewhere the Bible teaches that the gift of the Holy Ghost is something available to every person who has put his or her faith in Jesus Christ—baptism into any particular denomination notwithstanding. The Lord promised that “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water” (John 7:38). The author of John explained Jesus was speaking “about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given” (John 7:39)—hence, it is promised that all believers will have the gift of the Holy Ghost. Elsewhere, Jesus taught his disciples: “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13). If Christ’s words as recorded here are true, it logically follows that a man may ask his heavenly Father for the gift of the Holy Spirit and the Father will give it to him by any means He chooses.

The New Testament does include examples of men receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands as Mormons practice it, but it also contains clear examples of men receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost without the laying on of hands and even before baptism. In the first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, the disciples are reassured by Christ that they shall be “baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now” (1:5). The second chapter finds the disciples gathered together on the day of Pentecost, waiting for the gift of the Holy Ghost:

And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. (Acts 2:2-4)

In spite of the meticulous detail the author has given to this passage, no mention is made of any laying on of hands; indeed, there could be no laying on of hands, for according to Acts 1:5, no one had yet received the gift. A similar event happens in Acts 10:34-48, when the Gentiles are presented with the gospel for the first time. Peter has arrived at the home of the Roman centurion Cornelius and is preaching the gospel to the Gentiles, and “[w]hile Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word.” (Acts 10:44) The Jewish believers “were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles.” (Acts 10:45) The fact that Peter was still preaching as this happened indicates that no laying on of hands was involved—the gift of the Holy Ghost simply fell on the Gentiles from heaven just as it fell on the disciples on the day of Pentecost. Additionally, Peter adds that the men should be baptized, for they had received the Holy Ghost just as he and the disciples had (Acts 10:47). Not only did the Gentiles receive the gift of the Holy Ghost without the laying on of hands, but they did so before baptism. They were not “worthy baptized members” of any earthly church.

Although evangelical Christians do not accept the Book of Mormon as scripture, it is also worth noting that the Book of Mormon teaches that it is possible for a person to receive the gift of the Holy Ghost without the laying on of hands. 3 Nephi 9:20 presents Jesus Christ as promising the gift of the Holy Ghost to the Nephites:

And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost, even as the Lamanites, because of their faith in me at the time of their conversion, were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and they knew it not.

If a person was “baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost” and “knew it not,” as the Lamanites were in Helaman 5, it logically follows that no laying on of hands was involved lest that person would have known. Ether 12:14 reaffirms that the Lamanites were baptized “with fire and with the Holy Ghost.”

Finally, the doctrine of ordination to the Melchizedek Priesthood as taught by the LDS church is not found in the New Testament7 because, like the gift of the Holy Ghost, priesthood is something that is available to all believers. The New Testament uses the word “priesthood” seven times: four times in reference to the Levitical priesthood (Hebrews 7:5,11,12,14), once in reference to the priesthood of Christ (Hebrews 7:24), and twice in reference to the priesthood of all who belong to Christ’s church (1 Peter 2:5,9). None of these are references to anything that resembles the current LDS priesthood. Furthermore, the New Testament contains no accounts of a man being ordained to the priesthood by the laying on of hands. There are accounts of men being ordained to offices in the church such as Stephen (Acts 6:5-6), but this is not the same as being ordained to the priesthood. Hebrews 5:4, the most common proof-text used by Latter-day Saints to support this doctrine, simply means that a person must be called by God, as Aaron was called by God and as all believers are called by God (Romans 8:28,30), not that a person must have hands laid on him. To argue that this passage means that a person must be ordained to the priesthood by the laying on of hands is to make assumptions about the text which are unsupported by the text itself. Similar eisegesis occurs when members of the LDS church try to use Acts 19:1-6 and Matthew 16:19 as support of the current LDS priesthood doctrines. Acts 19:1-6 does not say that the disciples needed to be re-baptized because it had not been done by the proper authority the first time and Matthew 16:19 does not say that Peter was given a legalistic authority which could be transferred from one person to the next by the laying on of hands. Speculations about these texts may fly, but since the texts themselves do not illuminate their meanings, speculations will remain just that: speculations.

This paper has shown that both the Bible and the Book of Mormon teach that the gift of the Holy Ghost may be received without the laying on of hands, and that, if the Bible is to be trusted, a line of priesthood authority has nothing to do with it. Yet one more issue remains to be dealt with: can the Bible be trusted? The Eighth Article of Faith of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints states that, “We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly,” meaning that the Bible may have been corrupted in some places and the text we have has diverged from the autographs. Because of this, some members of the LDS church would respond that the texts cited here have been “mistranslated” and that the parts of the New Testament which taught the Melchizedek priesthood have been removed. However, there is not one iota of evidence that these specific passages have been changed in any of the extant manuscripts of the texts which we do have, nor did Joseph Smith make significant changes to them in the Joseph Smith Translation8. If a member of the LDS church wishes to believe the texts cited here are corrupt, she does so on her own authority and not on the authority of the LDS church or evidence from textual criticism.

Both the New Testament and the Book of Mormon may very well teach that the gift of the Holy Ghost can be given directly from God without the laying on of hands, and the scriptures are certainly a powerful witness. However, to the non-LDS Christian, the ultimate argument does not lie in any scripture or paper or scholarly journal. It lies in his own heart and in his own life, where every new day he is hearing that still-small voice urging him on, guiding him, directing him, going “as a pillar before [him] and a flame to lead [him] in paths of righteousness and truth,” and all the arguments and proof-texting in the world will never make it otherwise.

NOTES

1 Gordon Bitner Hinckley, Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley (Salt Lake City: Deseret, 1997), 259. At the time of this paper’s writing in 2001, Hinckley was the prophet and head of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

2 The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Gospel Principles (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1997), 138.

3 The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Doctrines of the Gospel Student Manual Religion 231 and 232 (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1986), 44.

4 Richard G. Grant, Understanding These Other Christians: An LDS Introduction to Evangelical Christianity (Sandy: Sounds, 1998), 217.

5 Ibid., 203.

6 Victor L. Ludlow, Principles and Practices of the Restored Gospel (Salt Lake City: Deseret, 1992), 293.

7 The initial length limit on this paper was 6 pages, so I only had space to treat uses of the word “priesthood” in the New Testament. Examples of words like “power” and “authority” would also be relevant to the discussion, but I don’t believe the evidence there is any more compelling.

8 With the exception of Luke 11:13 (Luke 11:14 in the JST), which was changed to read, “how much more shall your heavenly Father give good gifts, through the Holy Spirit, to them who ask him.


Comments

The Gift of the Holy Ghost & Why Non-LDS Christians Have It – 2001 — 8 Comments

  1. Thank you for this article you have written.
    My eyes to open at the word of God laying on hands by the presbytery released the Holy Ghost. I had been a member of an RLDS congregation cell church.
    My daughter did not come to participate until she was threeor there about but she was speaking in tongues before we had ever been in the RlDS Church. Jesus reminded me
    when She was born i prayed over her and lifter her to the Lord giving her to God
    I laid hands and anointed her hands with oil for service to the Lord. So I had imparted to my daughter what was imparted to me and the Lord told me I am the priest for my husband which sent me on a search this morning bringing me to your document.
    Thank you for taking the time to post this.

  2. ps I missed a completed thought
    my eyes opened to the word of God that laying on of hands imarted the gift of the Holy Ghost. It dawned on me as i was reading this that I had laid hands and anointed my daughter with oil at her birth and lifted her to God for His service
    So when we joined the RLDS cell ministry My daughter was already speaking in tongues and
    carried the Gift of the holy ghost with evidence she would pray in her mind.
    so in agreement with your article and the fact the Lord Jesus said I was a priest for my husband just gels all things together for me and while looking fo rinformation on priesthood
    the Lord Christ led me your way.
    Thanks.

  3. Interesting read. On my mission in Texas working all those small towns in Texas I met LOADS of evangelicals. At some point in their life, there is no question in my mind, that they became aware of Christ, his atonement, or his role as a Savior of mankind and the HOLY GHOST spoke to them in their heart.

    I think however, that most LDS will clarify that feeling the POWER of the Holy Ghost is not the same as the GIFT of the Holy Ghost. You did not make this disctinction in your paper.

    Also, if the bible is the only text that will rely on, then yes, you are forced to stay within its confines, even if meaning or context is lost either in translation or over time. Using that premise, this is an excellent paper.

  4. I think however, that most LDS will clarify that feeling the POWER of the Holy Ghost is not the same as the GIFT of the Holy Ghost. You did not make this disctinction in your paper.

    Sure I did, Matt. I said:

    A non-Mormon may have “the Spirit, or Light of Christ, which is given to every person who is born into the world” (Doctrines 44) and which is “a sure source of spiritual power” (Grant 217), but “the gift of the Holy Ghost is reserved exclusively for worthy baptized members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” (Grant 203).

    Anyways, the real point of this paper is that the Bible (as it is now) shows people receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost before baptism and without the laying on of hands, contrary to how the LDS church teaches it must be done today. A lot of Mormons will blindly assert that the Bible says that the gift of the Holy Ghost must be given by laying on of hands, and this simply isn’t true.

  5. Are you at all familiar with the story of the conversion of Alma the Elder? Priest of King Noah? The reason I am asking is that upon his conversion, he took another person (forget the name) into the water and they both went under at the same time – hence baptizing each other. I bring it up because it is outside the bounds of normal LDS procedure as far as authority goes (One of them should have been ordained, etc.)

    I guess this in many ways is semantics. I get your point though and even if there is some distinction about the mormons in which authority gives them the only right to confer the GIFT or not, you could not convince me those evangelicals in Texas did not feel the Holy Ghost and were not converted to Christ. To me that’s even more of a testimony of a loving God.

    I’d like to focus on what someone else told you (Your old Prof maybe?) and look for the best in other religions. Those are words to live by.

  6. You bring up an interesting point about the story of Alma the Elder, Matt. It’s been a while since I read the BoM, but I do remember marking that story down as unusual. I’m okay if Latter-day Saints want to regard the case from Acts 10 as a special exception to standard practice, in fact the text itself says it was a pretty special occasion since it was the gospel being poured out on the Gentiles; it still opens the door for special exceptions to exist today though, doesn’t it?

    I hope I didn’t come off as too negative in this paper, I mostly wrote it because I was a freshman at BYU and the talk of laying on of hands being required for the gift of the Holy Spirit was driving me crazy. I’m all for comparing positive to positive—or, at a bare minimum, checking carefully to see if similar controversies exist in my own theological system before I start slamming Mormons. Lots of motes and beams going around in interfaith dialogue these days.

  7. Joseph Smith Jr was a true and living prophet of the Most High and of His Son Jesus Christ.Has the Holy Spirit given to you the “gifts” to know that the Book of Mormon is true? And by the power of the Holy Spirit to know that “Jesus is the Christ” the promised “Messiah” come in the flesh? And also that Joseph Smith was a prophet? That the “J.S.T” of Luke 11:13 is actually Luke 11:14. and is translated as follows:”If ye than,being evil,know how to give good “gifts” unto your children:how much more shall your Heavenly Father give good “gifts,” through the Holy Spirit, to them that ask Him? Did not Peter know that Jesus was the Christ the Son of the Living God,and was blessed by Jesus for his testimony because flesh and blood had not revealed it unto him but the Holy Spirit given to him from Heavenly Father and this testimony was given long before the “Gift of the Holy Ghost” was given to him or the other eleven Apostles or the Church of Jesus Christ that He was establishing on the earth and which the gates of hell would not prevail which this Rock of revelation it would be built upon and of which Peter or “Cephas” ( a stone ) the Aramaic name of which Petros is the corresponding Greek, given by our Lord to Simon when he was called to be a disciple and chief Apostle or prophet of the Twelve and the Church unto whom was given the “Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven:” and whatsoever he or the Eleven would bind on Earth it would be bound in Heaven:and whatsoever he and the Eleven would loose on Earth it would be loosed in Heaven.Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in Heavenly places in Christ: According as He hath chosen us in Him before the the foundation of the World,that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love:Having foreordained us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to Himself,according to the good pleasure of His will,To the praise of the glory of His grace,wherein He hath made us accepted in the Beloved.In Whom we have redemption through His blood,the forgiveness of sins,according to the riches of His grace;Wherein He hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence;Having made known unto us the mystery of of His will,according to His good pleasure which He hath purposed in Himself:That in the dispensation of the of the fullness of times He might gather together all things in Christ,both which are in Heaven,and which are on Earth;even in Him:In Whom also we have obtained an inheritance,being foreordained according to the purpose of Him Who worketh all things after the counsel of His Own will:That we should be the praise of His glory,who first trusted in Christ.In whom ye also trusted,after that ye heard the word of truth,the gospel of of your salvation in whom also after you believed ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise,Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession,unto the praise of His glory.Wherefore I also,after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus,and love unto all the Saints,Cease not to give thanks for you,making mention of you in my prayers;That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ,the Father of glory,may give unto you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him:The eyes of your understanding being enlightened;that you may know what is the hope of His calling,and what is the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the Saints.And what is the exceeding greatness of His power to us-word who believe,according to the working of His mighty power,which He wrought in Christ,when He raised Him from the dead,and set Him at His own right hand in heavenly places,Far above all principality,and power and might,and dominion,and everyname that is named,not only in this world,but also in that which is to come:And hath put all things under His feet,and gave Him to be the head over all things to the Church Which is His body,the fulness of Him that filleth all in all. EPHESIANS CHAPTER 1

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