"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 Spirit" (Acts 2:38).
Was this a "gift" bestowed by the Holy Spirit or was the Holy Spirit the gift? In order to find the answer let us look at the following passage where the same phrase is used:
"While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God" (Acts 10:44-46; NIV).
The Holy Spirit fell on Cornelius and his household and those who had accompanied Peter were astonished that "the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles." How did they know that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on Cornelius and his household?
They knew that they had received the "gift Holy Spirit" because "they heard them speak with tongues." Let us look at these verses again:
"...the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God."
Here the word "for" is translated from the Greek word gar, and the meaning of that word as used here is "it addresses the Cause or gives the Reason of a preceding statement or opinion" (Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon).
The reason that those with Peter knew that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out was because they heard them speak with tongues. So we can understand that the "gift of the Holy Spirit" is the ability to speak in tongues.
Let us look at the following verse:
"and, being assembled together with them, he charged them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, said he, ye heard from me: For John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized in the Holy Spirit not many days hence" (Acts 1:4-5; ASV).
At verse five the Greek words pneuma haigon are translated "Holy Spirit," but in the original Greek there is no definite article ("the") which precedes those two words. In The Companion Bible we read, " 'Pneuma hagion' (without Articles) is never used of the Giver (the Holy Spirit), but only and always of His gift. What this gift is may be seen by comparing Acts 1:4, 5 with Luke 24:49, where 'the promise of the Father' is called (in the former passage) 'pneuma hagion,' and in the latter is called 'power from on high.' This 'power from on high' includes whatever gifts the Holy Spirit may bestow 'according to His own will'" [emphasis mine] (The Companion Bible, [Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1990], Appendix 101; Section II, Part # 14, 147).
Indeed, we can see that truth illustrated when we look closely at the following verse:
"And with that he breathed on them and said, 'Receive the Holy Spirit'" (Jn.20:22; NIV).
It is impossible that this translation is correct. That is because in the following passage the Lord Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would not be sent until He departed to be with the Father and He had not yet departed to be with the Father when He said those words:
"But now I go my way to him that sent me; and none of you asketh me, Whither goest thou? But because I have said these things unto you, sorrow hath filled your heart. Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you" (Jn.16:5-7).
It is impossible that they had received "the Holy Spirit" because the Lord Jesus had not yet departed to be with the Father when He spoke the words at John 20:22. Therefore the correct translation of John 20:22 is as follows:
"And with that he breathed on them and said, 'Receive holy spirit'" (Jn.20:22).
The correct translation of Acts 1:4-5 is as follows:
"And, being foregathered, He charges them not to be departing from Jerusalem, but to be remaining about for the promise of the Father, 'which you hear of Me, seeing that John, indeed, baptizes in water, yet you shall be baptized in holy spirit after not many of these days'" (Acts 1:4-5; CLV).
The "gift" which the Lord Jesus promised was that they would be "baptized in holy spirit," and that baptism resulted in the ability to speak in tongues.
The "gift" of being able to speak in tongues is spoken of here by Paul:
"...no one can say, 'Jesus is Lord,' except by the Holy Spirit. There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them.To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines" (1 Cor.12:3-4, 8-11; NIV).
Those who submitted to the rite of water baptism on the day of Pentecost received a gift bestowed by the Holy Spirit--the ability to speak in tongues.
The Scriptures will be searched in vain for any passage which speaks of the third Person of the Godhead, the Holy Spirit, being referred to as a "gift."