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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: Introduction to the Gifts of the Holy Spirit

Don Stewart :: Were There Spiritual Gifts Given during the Old Testament Period?

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Were There Spiritual Gifts Given during the Old Testament Period?

Introduction to the Gifts of the Holy Spirit – Question 6

Do we find spiritual gifts exercised during the Old Testament period? The answer is, “No.” The Bible says that spiritual gifts are unique to this present age. There are a number of observations that we can make about this question.

1. Spiritual Gifts Were Not Given to Old Testament Believers

To begin with, there is nothing in the Old Testament that says believers would possess and exercise spiritual gifts. While there are some examples of people exercising miraculous abilities, such as Moses, Elijah and Elisha, these miracles were rare. There is no promise to those who believed in the Lord that they would receive any such thing as a spiritual gift as we find in the New Testament.

2. The Old Testament Promised an Outpouring of the Holy Spirit

However, throughout the Old Testament there was a promise to a future outpouring of the Holy Spirit. This outpouring would bring about new capacities for believers. Moses wrote.

But Moses replied, “Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the LORD’s people were prophets and that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!” (Numbers 11:29 NIV).

Moses desired that others apart from him would be given the ability to speak forth God’s Word.

The prophet Joel predicted the following would take place in the future.

Then you will know that I am here among my people of Israel and that I alone am the LORD your God. My people will never again be disgraced like this. “Then after I have poured out my rains again, I will pour out my Spirit upon all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your old men will dream dreams. Your young men will see visions. In those days, I will pour out my Spirit even on servants, men and women alike. “I will cause wonders in the heavens and on the earth— blood and fire and pillars of smoke. The sun will be turned into darkness, and the moon will turn bloodred before that great and terrible day of the LORD arrives. And anyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved. There will be people on Mount Zion in Jerusalem who escape, just as the LORD has said. These will be among the survivors whom the LORD has called” (Joel 2:27-32 NLT).

Peter quoted this prophecy on the Day of Pentecost to explain to the people what was happening. He put it this way.

For these men are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. But this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel (Acts 2:15, 16 NRSV).

The ultimate fulfillment of this prophecy of Joel will be when the Lord sets up His kingdom upon the earth.

3. There Were No Spiritual Gifts Given to All Believers during Jesus’ Earthly Ministry

The transition from the Old Testament period to the New Testament period did not see the beginning of spiritual gifts for all believers. There is no recorded miracle of John the Baptist. However, the ministry of Jesus saw Him performing miracles in the power of the Holy Spirit. Luke records the following.

And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about him went out through all the surrounding country (Luke 4:14 ESV).

Jesus showed power over all realms. This included the demonic. Matthew records Him saying.

But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you (Matthew 12:28 NRSV).

Jesus equated His power over demons as the evidence that the kingdom of God had arrived.

Jesus’ miracle ability was not limited to Himself. On certain occasions Jesus gave His disciples similar ability to heal the sick and raise the dead. We read about this in the gospel of Matthew.

And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction (Matthew 10:1 ESV).

However, this power of the disciples to do miracles was limited to the specific times when Jesus commissioned and sent them out. There is no record of them performing miracles on any other occasion during Jesus’ earthly ministry. Neither did the disciples receive any spiritual gifts during the time of Jesus’ public ministry..

Furthermore, this was not the experience of everyone who believed in Jesus. Those who believed Jesus’ message had no power to perform miraculous deeds; neither were they given any spiritual gifts. The fullness of the power of the Holy Spirit, along with the gifts of the Spirit, did not come to every believer until the Day of Pentecost.

4. Spiritual Gifts Are Connected to the Coming Power of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost

The Bible says that the gifts of the Spirit are connected to Jesus giving His disciples the power of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. In fact, Jesus told His disciples to wait for the power of the Holy Spirit. In the Book of Acts, it says the following.

While he was still with them, he said: Don’t leave Jerusalem yet. Wait here for the Father to give you the Holy Spirit, just as I told you he has promised to do. John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit. While the apostles were still with Jesus, they asked him, “Lord, are you now going to give Israel its own king again?” Jesus said to them, “You don’t need to know the time of those events that only the Father controls. But the Holy Spirit will come upon you and give you power. Then you will tell everyone about me in Jerusalem, in all Judea, in Samaria, and everywhere in the world” (Acts 1:4-8 CEV).

Instead of going out immediately and proclaiming the message of the risen Christ, Jesus told them to wait.

On the Day of Pentecost, the Spirit did come down and empower believers in a unique way. On that day Peter explained it in this manner.

This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing (Acts 2:32, 33 ESV).

Pentecost was a special day in the history of the Christian church.

5. The Gifts of the Spirit Were Given after Jesus’ Ascension

Therefore the gifts of the Holy Spirit could not be given until Jesus died, rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven. Paul wrote to the Ephesians.

Therefore it is said, “When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive; he gave gifts to his people.” (When it says, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.) (Ephesians 4:8-10 NRSV).

Consequently spiritual gifts are something unique to the believers of this age. They were not available until Jesus ascended into heaven.

Summary – Question 6
Were There Spiritual Gifts Given during the Old Testament Period?

While certain Old Testament believers were given various abilities by the Holy Spirit to perform special tasks for God, the idea of spiritual gifts for every believer is not found. Indeed, this is something which is unique to the New Testament age. A number of points need to be made about this question.

The Old Testament predicted a time when people would exercise great spiritual abilities. The prophet Joel spoke of a day when the Holy Spirit would be poured out in a mighty way. Peter quoted this prophecy on the Day of Pentecost to explain the power that was given to the disciples of Christ.

However, this outpouring of the Spirit did not occur until this time in history. Indeed, we do not find the giving or the exercise of spiritual gifts for every believer during the earthly ministry of Jesus.

While, on certain occasions, the disciples of Jesus had the ability to perform miracles, this was not the norm for them. Neither do we find that those who believed in Jesus performing miracles or exercising spiritual gifts during His earthly ministry. These gifts had not yet been given to believers.

Thus, the ability of each believer to have a spiritual gift for the work of the ministry did not occur until the Holy Spirit came in power on the Day of Pentecost. Scripture says that it was only after Jesus died, rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven that He was able to give spiritual gifts to the New Testament church. From that time forward everyone who has believed in Jesus Christ is given a spiritual gift for the work of the ministry.

What Are the Differences between Spiritual Gifts and Human Talents? ← Prior Section
What Are the Various Spiritual Gifts That the Bible Lists? Next Section →
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