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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: Baptism with the Holy Spirit

Don Stewart :: Was the Holy Spirit Only with Believers, and Not in Them, before the Day of Pentecost?

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Was the Holy Spirit Only with Believers, and Not in Them, before the Day of Pentecost? (John 14:16, 17)

Baptism with the Holy Spirit – Question 28

What was the relationship of the Holy Spirit with those who believed in Jesus Christ before the Day of Pentecost? There is a difficult passage in John’s gospel that seems to speak to this issue. Jesus said.

Then I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you forever–the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept, because it does not see him or know him. But you know him, because he resides with you and will be in you (John 14:16, 17 NET).

The context of this passage is of a future ministry of the Holy Spirit. The question is what exactly does this future ministry consist of?

There Is a Question as to How the Text Reads

There is, however, a question as to what the text says. The last part of verse 17 has a variant reading – there is a difference among the existing manuscripts as to what Jesus said.

Some manuscripts read, “for he lives with you and is in you” instead of “for he lives with you and will be in you.” This variant reading makes the residing of the Holy Spirit a present reality of the disciples – not something that will occur in the future.

While most translations understand the future “and will be in you” is the original reading, there are some do not. They believe the present tense “and is in you” is what Jesus originally said. For example, we read the following translation of these verses in the New Jerusalem Bible. It says.

I shall ask the Father, and he will give you another Paraclete to be with you for ever, the Spirit of truth whom the world can never accept since it neither sees nor knows him; but you know him, because he is with you, he is in you (John 14:16, 17 New Jerusalem Bible).

If this is the correct reading of the text, then, according to Jesus, the Holy Spirit was already in His disciples. He is not describing some future work of the Holy Spirit in believers but is stating the fact, in two different ways that the Holy Spirit is already in them.

However, if He is describing a future work of the Holy Spirit, then how are we to understand it? They are two main options.

Option 1: Some See Two Distinct Ministries, or Locations, of the Holy Spirit

One view sees this verse giving two different relationships that believers have with the Holy Spirit. They see the work of the Holy Spirit with Jesus’ disciples being in two distinct time periods. He is now “with them” but will be “in them.” Before the Day of Pentecost He was only “with the disciples,” while after the Day of Pentecost He will be permanently “in” them.

This, it is argued with the meaning of the two Greek prepositions that are found in this verse. First, Jesus says the Holy Spirit now lives “with” them. This is a translation of the Greek preposition para.

Then Jesus says the Holy Spirit will be “in” them. This is the translation of the Greek preposition en. It is contended that Jesus must have meant something when He used two different prepositions to describe the work of the Holy Spirit. It seems clear that He meant there are two different relationships that the Holy Spirit has with the believer.

Does This Mean the Holy Spirit Did Not Indwell Old Testament Believers?

This passage is used to support the idea that the Holy Spirit did not indwell believers during the Old Testament period. The Holy Spirit was only “with” believers before God the Song, Jesus Christ came into the world but was not “in” them.

The permanently indwelling did not occur until Jesus ascended into heaven and sent the Holy Spirit to the earth. This began the church age. Previously, the Holy Spirit was only with believers on a temporary basis.

Option 2: Jesus Is Not Attempting to Explain the Location of the Holy Spirit

There is another way of understanding what Jesus was saying. The idea that the Holy Spirit was “with” the Old Testament believers, but “inside” New Testament believers, assumes that Jesus was attempting to explain the exact location of the Holy Spirit. He is telling the disciples what they now have, compared to what they will have someday with respect to the Spirit’s indwelling.

However, there is another way of looking at Jesus’ statement. Instead of emphasizing the location of the Holy Spirit, He is speaking of a new relationship with the Holy Spirit. Although the Holy Spirit is already in them, He will be with them in a new way after Jesus ascends into heaven. This point of view assumes the Holy Spirit was already “in” the disciples.

Was the Holy Spirit in the Disciples before Pentecost?

There are passages that speak to the issue of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the believer before the Day of Pentecost? One is found in Matthew’s gospel. Jesus said to His disciples.

When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you (Matthew 10:19, 20 NRSV).

Jesus promised that the Spirit of the Father would speak through the disciples when they were arrested. This does not necessarily refer to the time after Jesus has ascended into heaven. To have the Holy Spirit speaking through a person assumes the Holy Spirit is in them. This could have taken place during Jesus’ public ministry.

Old Testament Believers Were Said to Have the Spirit in Them

Furthermore, there are examples of people in the Old Testament whom the Spirit is said to be “in” them. The Bible says the Spirit was in Joshua.

So the Lord said to Moses, “Take Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is the Spirit, and lay your hand on him” (Numbers 27:18 ESV).

Joshua, according to this verse, was a man of the Spirit.

There are also Old Testament examples of people being filled with the Holy Spirit. We are told that Micah the prophet was filled with the Spirit of the Lord. Scripture records him saying.

But as for me, I am filled with power, with the Spirit of the LORD, and with justice and might, to declare to Jacob his transgression, to Israel his sin (Micah 3:8 NIV).

Consequently, the indwelling and filling of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers was not limited to the New Testament age.

Therefore, the idea of the Holy Spirit being “with” the believers when Jesus was here on earth, and then “in” the believers after He ascended into heaven, cannot be in an absolute sense. The Scripture seems to be teaching here that the unique ministry of the Holy Spirit, in explaining the identity of Jesus to the world, could not take place until Jesus, died, rose, and ascended.

We Should Not Establish Doctrine Based upon Prepositions

There is something else we should note. We should not attempt to establish biblical doctrine based upon the use of prepositions. In fact, there may not be any difference between the two prepositions used in John 14:17. The two prepositions that are used may be John’s way of saying the same thing in two different ways.

For example, in the previous verse we read.

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever (John 14:16 NRSV).

Here Jesus uses the same preposition, para, which is translated “with.” Does this mean that the Holy Spirit will only be “with” the disciples forever and not “in” them? Obviously it does not.

We Find Another Example of the Same Two Prepositions Saying the Same Thing

Later, in this chapter, we find these same two Greek prepositions referring to the same thing. Jesus said the following to His disciples.

On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you (John 14:20 NRSV).

Jesus uses the Greek preposition en (meaning in) to describe the relationship of Himself to the Father as well as the relationship of the Father to the believer. The Son is “in” the Father and believers are in the Father and the Son. Yet a few verses later we read the following.

Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them... (John 14:23 NRSV).

In verse 23 He says that the Father and the Son will make their home “with” the believer. Here He uses the Greek preposition para. Therefore, the believer is not only “in” the Son, he or she is also “with” the Father and the Son.

Since these two prepositions are used to refer to the same thing in these verses, we should see verse 17 in the same way; the writer John is using the two prepositions to describe the same thing.

There Is No Emphasis of the Word En in the Book of Acts

Finally, if we are to understand the new relationship of the Holy Spirit as being “in” the believers, then we should find examples of this in the Book of Acts. Yet this is not the case. We never find this preposition used in the Book of Acts with reference to the Holy Spirit being in believers. This is another illustration of the fact that Jesus did not mean to emphasize two different locations of the Spirit in the believer.

Be Careful of Establishing Doctrine on This Verse Alone

There is one final point that must be emphasized. Because there is a question about how John 14:16, 17 originally read, one should be careful about establishing any doctrine with respect to the Holy Spirit on this passage alone. Indeed, all essential doctrines of the Christian faith are recorded more than once.

Summary – Question 28
Was the Holy Spirit Only with Believers, and Not in Them before the Day of Pentecost? (John 14:16, 17)

In the Gospel of John, we find a statement of Jesus Christ with reference to the Holy Spirit. He said that the Holy Spirit was presently “with” the disciples but would be “in” them. There are a number of ways in which this has been understood.

Some have understood this to mean there have been two different locations that the Holy Spirit has lived among believers. Before Pentecost, He was only with believers, never in them permanently. However, after the Day of Pentecost, He came to live permanently with every believer. Therefore, Jesus is emphasizing the new location of the Holy Spirit that will occur in the life of believers.

The problem with this view is that it assumes every believer before Pentecost did things pleasing to the Lord in their own strength without the leading or filling of the Holy Spirit. This seems difficult to reconcile with the idea that we cannot do anything to please God with our old nature. Therefore, the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers has always been an absolute necessity.

Another position holds that the Holy Spirit has been both “with” as well as “in” all believers from the beginning. The two prepositions are not speaking of two different positions where the Holy Spirit is located. Neither is it speaking of the permanently indwelling of the Spirit as opposed to either temporary indwelling. Basically, it is saying the same thing in two different ways; the Holy Spirit will be with the disciples forever. Consequently, Jesus is not talking about some new relationship with the Holy Spirit.

This idea has further support because we find that John also using the same two prepositions a few verses later to explain the same thing – that believers are in the Son.

We should also note that there is also a variant reading in the text. This means that some of the Greek manuscripts have a different wording of the verse. In this case, this reading has the text saying, “for he lives with you and he is in you.” If this is the correct reading, then it is not speaking of two different relationships that believers have had with the Holy Spirit rather it is stating a biblical truth. However, most Bible students do not think that this was the original wording of the verse.

Whatever the case may be, it is clear that this verse should not be the basis of claiming that there were two different locations of the invisible Holy Spirit within the lives of believers.

What Is Meant by the Statement, "the Spirit Is Not Yet Given?" ← Prior Section
What Conclusions Can Be Made concerning the Baptism with the Holy Spirit? Next Section →
CONTENT DISCLAIMER:

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.


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