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42 Questions List
42 Questions



Question 27
Reception of the Holy Ghost

If nobody can receive the Holy Ghost without the laying on of hands by one "having authority," how can the cases of Cornelius (Acts 10:44-48), Joseph and Oliver (Joseph Smith 2:73), the Nephite 12 disciples (3 Nephi 9:13), and Adam (Moses 5:9-20) be properly explained?

Response: by John A. Tvedtnes (FARMS)

The teaching of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been misstated here.  We believe that the Holy Ghost can influence whomever God wishes to receive such influence.  Thus, prior to the introduction of the Aaronic priesthood and the ordinance of baptism, the Lord promised Oliver Cowdery, "Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart" (D&C 8:2).  When teaching others about the restored Church, we tell them how they can receive the Holy Ghost to reveal the truth to them.  We encourage them to follow the admonition of Moroni:

"And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.  And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things" (Moroni 10:4-5).

A number of leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ have stressed the difference between being inspired by the Holy Ghost (something available to all who ask God for help) and having the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands.  When the elders lay hands on newly-baptized people to confirm them members of the Church, the one performing the ordinance says, "Receive the Holy Ghost."  This does not mean "Here's the Holy Ghost," as some people have mistakenly supposed.  Rather, it is a commandment for the individual to be prepared to receive the Holy Ghost in his or her life.  This ordinance of laying on of hands is mentioned in the Bible (Acts 8:14-19; 1 Timothy 4:14; Hebrews 6:2).

Not only do we acknowledge that people can be inspired by the Spirit (as in Acts 10:47), we actually expect it of those seeking baptism, as is clearly stated in D&C 20:37: "And again, by way of commandment to the church concerning the manner of baptism-All those who humble themselves before God, and desire to be baptized, and come forth with broken hearts and contrite spirits, and witness before the church that they have truly repented of all their sins, and are willing to take upon them the name of Jesus Christ, having a determination to serve him to the end, and truly manifest by their works that they have received of the Spirit of Christ unto the remission of their sins, shall be received by baptism into his church."

It should be further noted that the Holy Ghost has two major functions insofar as we mortals are concerned.  The first is the spiritual guidance and witness of Christ (John 14:26; 15:26).  Paul wrote that "no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost" (1 Corinthians 12:3).  The second role is that of purification (Moroni 6:4), which brings the baptism of fire to seal the baptism of water.  While people can receive the first prior to baptism, the second is available only after baptism.