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

Don Stewart :: Was the Holy Spirit upon Believers during the Old Testament Period but in Them during New Testament Times?

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Was the Holy Spirit upon Believers during the Old Testament Period but in Them during New Testament Times?

The Holy Spirit: How He Works – Question 7

There is the popular idea that in the Old Testament period the Holy Spirit was merely “upon” believers and during the New Testament period He is “in” believers. In other words, He did not come to indwell them until the New Testament era. This idea, however, does not always hold true. We can make the following observations.

The Holy Spirit Was in Believers during the Old Testament Period

To begin with, we find people during the Old Testament period who are said to have the Holy Spirit “in them” while in the New Testament He is said to have come upon them.

The Holy Spirit Was in Joseph

Joseph is said to have had the Holy Spirit “in him.” We read in Jesus.

Pharaoh said to his servants, “Can we find anyone else like this—one in whom is the spirit of God?” (Genesis 41:38 NRSV).

The New American Standard Bible says.

Then Pharaoh said to his servants, “Can we find a man like this, in whom is a divine spirit?” (Genesis 41:38 NASB).

Pharaoh recognized the Spirit of God, or some unique spirit, was in Joseph.

The Holy Spirit Was in Bezalel

We also read that God said that He filled a man named Bezalel with the Holy Spirit. The Bible records Him saying.

And I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of crafts (Exodus 31:3 NIV).

The Spirit was “in” this particular person.

Joshua Had the Holy Spirit in Him

The Bible also says that the Spirit was in the leader Joshua. We read.

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

Joshua was a man with whom the Spirit of God dwelt.

The Holy Spirit Was in the Prophet Daniel

The people in Babylon recognized God’s Spirit was in Daniel. We read what they said in the Book of Daniel.

Here is a man in your kingdom who has the spirit of the holy gods in him. In the time of your father he found to have insight and intelligence and wisdom like that of the gods. King Nebuchadnezzar your father—your father the king, I say—appointed him chief of the magicians, enchanters, astrologers and diviners (Daniel 5:11 NIV).

The Spirit of God was with Daniel the prophet. This was even recognized by the pagans in the city of Babylon.

Consequently, certain people in the Old Testament era were said to have the Spirit of God “in them.” Thus, this was not something limited to the New Testament era.

The Holy Spirit Was upon Believers during the New Testament Period

There are also people in the New Testament period who have the Holy Spirit “upon them.” Jesus made the following promise to His disciples.

Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high (Luke 24:49 NKJV)

In this instance, the Lord told His disciples that they would receive “power from on high.”

Right before Jesus ascended into heaven, He promised that the Spirit would come “upon” believers in the New Testament era.

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8 HCSB).

The Holy Spirit would work in a special way in the lives of believers by giving them power for the ministry. This would take place when the Spirit came “upon them.”

Be Careful about Making Doctrine Out of Prepositions

We should be extremely careful about attempting to make any type doctrine out of prepositions. The words translated “in” and “upon” have a variety of different meanings. Since these prepositions are not very precise, we should not attempt to make some precise distinction between the Spirit being “in” a person or “upon” a person.

The Holy Spirit Has No Physical Form

There is something else. The Holy Spirit does not have a physical form. Therefore, it seems useless to try and explain the difference between Him being “in” someone and “upon” someone. Consequently, there should be no real attempt to make a fine distinction between the Holy Spirit being “in” someone and “upon” someone. Each of these words seems to be describing the same thing.

Summary – Question 7
Was the Holy Spirit upon Believers during the Old Testament Period but in Them during New Testament Times?

It is argued that the Holy Spirit did not indwell all believers until the New Testament era. Sometimes this is supported by noting that the Old Testament says the Holy Spirit merely came “upon” people but the New Testament emphasizes that He come “in” individuals. Thus, there is this distinction made in both testaments.

Although it has been taught that the difference between the work of the Holy Spirit in the two testaments consisted of the Spirit being “upon” believers in the Old, but “in” them in the New, this distinction does not hold. Indeed, there are instances of Old Testament saints in whom the Holy Spirit dwelt “in” them. This includes such people as the patriarch Joseph, the man Bezalel, the leader Joshua, and the prophet Daniel. Scripture says the Holy Spirit was “in” each of these people.

Add to this, the New Testament has examples of believers in whom the Spirit of God was “upon.” This includes the disciples of Jesus. Indeed, Jesus Himself promised that the Holy Spirit would come upon them.

There is something else which should be appreciated. It is not a good idea to try and make any type of doctrine out of prepositions – they are not that precise in their meaning. Indeed, at times they overlap. Thus, no attempt should be made to construct some technical doctrine or belief merely by the use of prepositions.

Furthermore the references the Holy Spirit being “in” or “upon” someone are not to be understood literally. Indeed, an invisible, non-physical being does not literally come “upon” a person. The references speak of the Holy Spirit guiding and empowering the person – not a physical description of how the Holy Spirit attaches Himself to believers. This is a further reason why this particular argument does not have any substance to it.

Did the Holy Spirit Indwell All Believers during the Old Testament Period? ← Prior Section
What Was the Relationship of the Holy Spirit to the Earthly Life of Jesus? Next Section →
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