Was the gift of the Holy Ghost present prior to the day of Pentecost or only manifestations of the spirit? I am wondering who was the first person to ever receive the gift of the Holy Ghost by laying on of hands, Adam?
The Gift of the Holy Ghost was definitely present prior to the day of Pentecost, not just its manifestation. At Lds.org we can read the following,
“The baptism of water, without the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost attending it, is of no use; they are necessarily and inseparably connected.” (Source)
We know that baptism was occurring in the Book of Mormon before the day of Pentecost as we can read here,
“Wherefore, my beloved brethren, I know that if ye shall follow the Son, with full purpose of heart, acting no hypocrisy and no deception before God, but with real intent, repenting of your sins, witnessing unto the Father that ye are willing to take upon you the name of Christ, by baptism—yea, by following your Lord and your Savior down into the water, according to his word, behold, then shall ye receive the Holy Ghost; yea, then cometh the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost; and then can ye speak with the tongue of angels, and shout praises unto the Holy One of Israel.
But, behold, my beloved brethren, thus came the voice of the Son unto me, saying: After ye have repented of your sins, and witnessed unto the Father that ye are willing to keep my commandments, by the baptism of water, and have received the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost, and can speak with a new tongue, yea, even with the tongue of angels, and after this should deny me, it would have been better for you that ye had not known me..” (2 Nephi 31:13-14)
Nephi is teaching of baptism and the baptism of fire, which is receiving the Holy Ghost. So, if Nephi is preaching this doctrine, then we are safe to assume Nephi was baptized and that Nephi did in fact receive the Holy Ghost. If baptism is of no use “without the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost”, then I believe we can say that whenever the priesthood was upon the earth, and baptisms were performed in righteousness, then surely the baptism of fire followed after (receiving the Holy Ghost).
Now, to provide a thought regarding the first person who received the gift of the Holy Ghost by laying on of hands. If we review our scriptural records regarding Adam we can read the following,
“And thus he was baptized, and the Spirit of God descended upon him, and thus he was born of the Spirit, and became quickened in the inner man.
And he heard a voice out of heaven, saying: Thou art baptized with fire, and with the Holy Ghost. This is the record of the Father, and the Son, from henceforth and forever;” (Moses 6:65-66)
The previous verse specifies that Adam was “caught away by the Spirit of the Lord…down into the water.” This is definitely a different experience from any other baptism we are familiar with in scripture.
Here are some thoughts from Lds.org we can read from the teaching of Joseph Smith regarding baptism,
“Now taking it for granted that the scriptures say what they mean, and mean what they say, we have sufficient grounds to go on and prove from the Bible that the gospel has always been the same; the ordinances to fulfil its requirements, the same; and the officers to officiate, the same; and the signs and fruits resulting from the promises, the same: therefore, as Noah was a preacher of righteousness he must have been baptised and ordained to the priesthood by the laying on of the hands, etc. For no man taketh this honor upon himself except he be called of God as was Aaron” (Source)
If God is the same yesterday, today, and forever then in light of this I would feel safe in saying that the posterity of Adam were baptized, and that they did receive the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands through Adam.