Search Bible
Click for Help   Click for QuickNav   Click for Advanced Search Options
Search KJV
Your Bible Version is the KJV
Go to Top
Link to This Page Cite This Page
Share this page Follow the BLB
Printable Page
 
 
Left Contextbar EdgeLeft Contextbar Edge BackgroundRight Contextbar Edge2Prior SectionReturn to CommentariesReturn to Author BiographyNext SectionRight Contextbar Edge2Right Contextbar Edge BackgroundRight Contextbar Edge1
The Blue Letter Bible
BLB Searches
Search the Bible
Search KJV
 [?]

Advanced Options

Other Searches

Multi-Verse Retrieval
x
Search KJV

Let's Connect
x
Daily Devotionals
x

Blue Letter Bible offers several daily devotional readings in order to help you refocus on Christ and the Gospel of His peace and righteousness.

Daily Bible Reading Plans
x

Recognizing the value of consistent reflection upon the Word of God in order to refocus one's mind and heart upon Christ and His Gospel of peace, we provide several reading plans designed to cover the entire Bible in a year.

One-Year Plans

Two-Year Plan

Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: The Holy Spirit: How He Works

Don Stewart :: Did the Holy Spirit Indwell All Believers during the Old Testament Period?

toggle collapse
Choose a new font size and typeface

Did the Holy Spirit Indwell All Believers during the Old Testament Period?

The Holy Spirit: How He Works – Question 6

There is a question as to whether the Holy Spirit has worked the same way in both testaments. Did He, from the beginning, indwell all who believe or was His indwelling reserved for those in the New Testament era? What does the Bible have to say?

There Are Two Basic Views among Bible Believers

There are two basic views on the subject among Bible-believing Christians. There are those who believe the Holy Spirit did not work in the same manner during the Old Testament age as He does today. Although it has been the same Holy Spirit all along, His methods have changed from age to age. They contend that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament was not universal to every believer, but was available only to certain believers. Those who hold this view Israel and the New Testament church as two distinct entities.

Another view sees the Holy Spirit indwelling believers from the beginning. It is contended that no one could obey the Lord’s commandments without the leading of the Holy Spirit. Those who hold this view tend to view Israel and the New Testament church as one continuous entity – but this is not always the case. Not all of those who hold this view agree as to the extent to which Old Testament believers experienced the ministry of the Holy Spirit. However they all agree that the Holy Spirit indwelt all Old Testament believers. We can make the following observations about each of these perspectives.

Option 1: There Was No Indwelling Holy Spirit for Old Testament Believers

Those who hold the position that the Old Testament did not indwell believers argue in the following manner.

In the Old Testament There Is No Promise of Indwelling for Those Who Believe

To begin with, it is noted that there is no promise in the entire Old Testament to the believer that he will be indwelt with the Holy Spirit. We read the following in the Book of Numbers about the Holy Spirit and Joshua.

The LORD replied, “Take Joshua son of Nun, who has the Spirit in him, and lay your hands on him” (Numbers 27:18 NLT).

This verse seems to indicate that the Holy Spirit is not to be found in everyone. By stating that the Holy Spirit is in Joshua, it infers He is not universally given. Otherwise there would have been no need to emphasize that the Spirit was in him.

The Holy Spirit Came upon Certain People

We also find that the Spirit is said to have come upon other individuals, such as the judge Othniel. We read the following in the Book of Judges.

The Spirit of the LORD came upon him (Judges 3:10 NIV).

This may indicate that Othniel did not have God’s Spirit until it came upon him.

He Was with Believers and Will Be in Them

One of the main reasons this view is held–that only certain individuals were indwelt with the Holy Spirit–is based upon an understanding of a statement made by Jesus. He told His disciples.

He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world at large cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But you do, because he lives with you now and later will be in you (John 14:17 NLT).

This verse is interpreted to mean that the Holy Spirit was only “with” believers during Old Testament times but now dwells “within” each believer in the New Testament age.

In another place in the Gospel of John, Jesus spoke of the Holy Spirit as having not been given while He was here on the earth. We read the following words.

On the last and most important day of the festival, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone is thirsty, he should come to Me and drink! The one who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, will have streams of living water flow from deep within him.” He said this about the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were going to receive, for the Spirit had not yet been received, because Jesus had not yet been glorified (John 7:37-39 HCSB).

Jesus did not mean that Spirit had not manifested Himself during the Old Testament period – the evidence is clear that He did. He evidently spoke of some aspect of the work of the Spirit that had been previously unknown. Indeed, there was certain works that the Holy Spirit could not do until Jesus died, rose from the dead, and then ascended into heaven. This is consistent with the idea of some type of limitation to the work of the Holy Spirit during the Old Testament.

There Was a Limited Indwelling during the Old Testament Period

Not only was the Spirit limited to certain individuals, it also seems that the extent of the indwelling was limited. Indeed, He could leave an individual after He had indwelt them. The life of King Saul serves as an example. First we are told that the Spirit of God came upon Saul.

When they arrived at Gibeah, a procession of prophets met him; the Spirit of God came upon him in power, and he joined in their prophesying (1 Samuel 10:10 NIV).

It is obvious that the Spirit of God was indwelling and leading Saul at this time.

At a later time, however, the Spirit departed from Saul. We read.

The Spirit of the Lord had left Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord was terrifying him (1 Samuel 16:14 CEV).

Thus, at one time, Saul had the Holy Spirit while later He did not. This seems to indicate the indwelling of the Spirit was not permanent.

David prayed that the Holy Spirit would not be taken from him. We read the following words from him.

Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me (Psalm 51:11 NIV).

This prayer could not be prayed during the New Testament era. Indeed, the Holy Spirit does not depart from those who have believed in Christ.

The Holy Spirit Is a Gift

The fact that the word “gift” is used of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament has the idea of a permanent indwelling and abiding. This has also caused some to believe that there was no permanent indwelling of the Holy Spirit during Old Testament times; since the term is not used in reference to the Old Testament believers.

There Was a Promise of a Future Indwelling

While believers in the Old Testament did not have the Spirit permanently indwelling them, they did have a promise of a time when this would occur. The Lord said the following to the people through the prophet Ezekiel.

A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances (Ezekiel 36:26, 27 NRSV).

This passage seems to assume that the Spirit did not permanently dwell within the Old Testament believers.

Paul Said the New Covenant Will Be One of the Holy Spirit

When Paul compared the Old Covenant with the New Covenant, he emphasized that the New Covenant consists of the ministry of the Holy Spirit. We read the following words of the Apostle in his second letter to the Corinthians.

He has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter, but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit produces life. Now if the ministry of death, chiseled in letters on stones, came with glory, so that the sons of Israel were not able to look directly at Moses’ face because of the glory from his face–a fading glory– how will the ministry of the Spirit not be more glorious? For if the ministry of condemnation had glory, the ministry of righteousness overflows with even more glory. In fact, what had been glorious is not glorious in this case because of the glory that surpasses it. For if what was fading away was glorious, what endures will be even more glorious (2 Corinthians 3:6-11 HCSB).

This is consistent with the fact that those who lived under the Old Covenant did not possess the indwelling Holy Spirit.

In sum, these passages have caused people to assume that the Holy Spirit indwelt only certain people during the Old Testament era, and then for only periods of time. He was not permanent in anyone until after Jesus Christ had ascended into heaven.

Option Two: The Holy Spirit Did Indwell Believers during the Old Testament Period

There is the point of view that the Holy Spirit did indeed indwell all believers during the Old Testament period. The evidence is as follows.

The Holy Spirit Anointed Certain People for the Ministry

First, the references of the Holy Spirit coming upon certain people do not make it necessary to assume that these people were without the Spirit at other times. When it says the Holy Spirit came “upon” Joshua, as well as others, it speaks of a “special anointing” of the Holy Spirit – not the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The Scripture is not emphasizing their lack of possession of the Holy Spirit.

To the contrary, the Spirit, who was already dwelling in them, came upon them in a special way to perform a particular ministry. Therefore, the statements about the Holy Spirit coming upon certain believers, does not necessarily mean that He was not indwelling them at the time.

The same thing can be said about the Holy Spirit “leaving” Saul. What left Saul was the special anointing of the Holy Spirit to rule Israel. It speaks of one aspect of the workings of the Holy Spirit – not the Holy Spirit Himself.

The same thing can be said about David’s prayer. The Holy Spirit would not entirely leave David. However, the unique anointing that David received to rule Israel could temporarily leave him because of his sin.

The Need for the New Birth

The Bible teaches that we all have a sinful nature and need to be saved from our sins. If the Holy Spirit did not indwell individuals during the Old Testament period, how were they saved and how did they lead a godly life? It seems impossible for them to be able to do so without the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

Indeed, we find that Jesus told the religious leader Nicodemus about the need for a spiritual rebirth. We read the following.

Jesus replied, “I assure you, unless you are born again, you can never see the Kingdom of God.” “What do you mean?” exclaimed Nicodemus. “How can an old man go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?” Jesus replied, “The truth is, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit” (John 3:3-5 NLT).

According to Jesus, everyone has to have a spiritual rebirth to enter God’s kingdom. Furthermore, no one can serve God in his own strength. It seems more consistent to say that the Holy Spirit indwelt everyone who believed in the promises of God.

While the act of regenerating a believer is not specifically stated in the Old Testament, Jesus made it clear that the Holy Spirit was involved with the human race from the very beginning.

Since no one can enter the kingdom of God without a spiritual rebirth, and since the Old Testament believers are certainly in the kingdom, it follows that the Holy Spirit regenerated them during the Old Testament period.

They Had the Ability to Serve the Lord

There is more. The Old Testament assumes that the people of Israel had the ability to serve the Lord. Moses wrote about this. He said.

Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach (Deuteronomy 30:11 NIV).

Something had to give them the ability to keep God’s commandments. If it was not the power of the Holy Spirit, then what power was it? Are we to assume the people were able to love God and keep His commandments without the indwelling Spirit of God? Were they following Him in their own strength rather than in the strength and power of the Lord?

The Future Outpouring Would Surpass the Previous One

While the believers in the Old Testament were promised a future outpouring of the Spirit, this does not necessarily mean that they had not, up to that time, received the Holy Spirit. It is more likely that this future outpouring was to be a greater fullness of the work of the Spirit. This outpouring would be greater than anything they had previously received.

Jesus Did Not Deny That Old Testament Believers Were Indwelt with the Holy Spirit

There are passages that are cited to prove that Jesus made a distinction between Old Testament believers, who did not have the indwelling Spirit, and those after the Day of Pentecost, who were indwelt with the Spirit.

However, these passages teach no such thing. Jesus is not emphasizing the location where the Holy Spirit resided with the believer during these two different eras. What He is emphasizing is that there will be a new work of the Spirit after He ascends into heaven. This new power will allow believers to proclaim the gospel of the risen Christ and the forgiveness of sins based upon His death and resurrection. This, of course, was not possible before He died and rose again.

Thus, Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit will be given in a unique way after He leaves the earth. There is no specific statement from Jesus that those who lived in the Old Testament era lacked the indwelling Holy Spirit. None whatsoever.

Paul Was Not Making a Distinction between Those Who Had the Spirit and Those Who Did Not

While the Apostle Paul speaks of the “New Covenant” as one that consists of the ministry of the Holy Spirit, he never says that those who lived under the Old Covenant lacked the Holy Spirit. The Old Covenant emphasized the outward and external while the New Covenant emphasizes the internal workings of the Holy Spirit. Under the New Covenant the Holy Spirit works in a greater way in the hearts and lives of believers. The Holy Spirit testifies to the forgiveness that is available in Jesus Christ. He also provides power to the believer to proclaim the message of Jesus. None of this was available during the era of the Old Covenant.

In sum, we can say that there is every reason to believe that the Holy Spirit was indeed working in the hearts and lives of believers from the very beginning. However, after Jesus Christ came into the world, His work was different. Indeed, His testimony is now to the risen Christ; the One who died for the sins of the world and came back from the dead. It is this message which He is now proclaiming through those who have believed in Jesus.

Summary – Question 6
Did the Holy Spirit Indwell All Believers during the Old Testament Period?

There are two basic views with respect to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit during the Old Testament period. Some hold to the idea that the Holy Spirit did not indwell all believers while others argue that He did.

Those who believe that there was no indwelling of the Holy Spirit in all believers during the Old Testament period argue as follows.

First, while the Holy Spirit was working during the Old Testament era, there is no specific promise to believers that the Spirit of God would continually dwell with them. However, we do have this specific promise in the New Testament. This seems to show that the indwelling of the Spirit is limited to the New Testament age.

Moreover, there are instances where the Scripture says that a certain person was indwelt with the Spirit of God. If every believer was indwelt by the Holy Spirit, then it seems that statements like these would have been unnecessary.

Furthermore, there are direct statements of the Spirit leaving people such as what happened to King Saul. These statements further indicate that there was no permanent indwelling during the Old Testament era.

Indeed, King David asked the Lord not to take the Holy Spirit away from him. His prayer is another indication that the Spirit did not dwell permanently with believers.

Finally, the indwelling of those who believe is only a promise that is given to New Testament believers. It has to do with Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension. Once Jesus ascended into heaven, the Spirit of God could permanently indwell believers, not before.

However, we should not conclude this. Indeed, there are a number of reasons as to why we should assume that the Holy Spirit has indwelt all believers from the very beginning.

While there is no specific promise to believers of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit we should assume that this is what took place. For one thing, it is impossible to love and serve God in our own strength. Jesus emphasized that people need a “spiritual” rebirth. We should not assume that this was limited to the Old Testament era. Otherwise one would have to contend that people followed God’s commandments in their own strength, with their own fallen nature, rather than by the leading of the Holy Spirit.

The objections to this idea are not difficult to deal with. When Scripture spoke of the Spirit “leaving” individuals it was a special anointing that was in view. Saul and David were anointed by the Holy Spirit to lead the people. When they sinned, this anointing would leave them. Therefore, we should not assume that the Holy Spirit left them entirely.

It is true that the Holy Spirit is working differently in this age because of the coming of Christ into the world. Indeed, today He testifies of Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension. Of course, He could not do this until Jesus came into the world. However, we should not assume that the Spirit of God was not working with believers until the time of Christ. He was.

Consequently, while the Spirit of God is, in fact, working with Christians today in a unique way, the best evidence is that He has been working with every believer from the very beginning testifying to the truth of God and allowing them to live a godly life.

How Did the Holy Spirit Work during the Old Testament Period? ← Prior Section
Was the Holy Spirit upon Believers during the Old Testament Period but in Them during New Testament Times? 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.


Donate Contact

Blue Letter Bible study tools make reading, searching and studying the Bible easy and rewarding.

Hotjar - Unlimited insights from your web and mobile sites

Blue Letter Bible is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization