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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: The Identity of the Holy Spirit

Don Stewart :: What Do We Learn About The Nature Of The Spirit Of God From The Old Testament?

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What Do We Learn about the Nature of the Spirit of God from the Old Testament?

The Identity of the Holy Spirit – Question 10

The Old Testament records the beginning of God’s work with humanity. It also records how the Holy Spirit worked among the people of God as well as in the unbelieving world. Thus, from the Old Testament, there are a number of things that we learn about the Spirit of God. We can make the following observations.

1. The Subject of the Spirit of God Is Not as Prominent in the Old Testament

As we examine the pages of the Old Testament, we find that the subject of the Holy Spirit, or the Spirit of God as He is usually called, is not as prominent as in the New Testament. In fact, there are less than one hundred direct references to the Spirit of God in the Old Testament. He is clearly mentioned in about half of the Old Testament books. However there are sixteen Old Testament books in which there is no direct reference to Him.

2. The Spirit of God Was Familiar to the People

Although the Spirit of God is not mentioned that often in the Old Testament His existence seems to have been commonly understood and accepted. We find a reference to Him in the second verse of Scripture.

Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters (Genesis 1:2 NIV).

Here we have the Spirit of God mentioned without any explanation. This seems to indicate that the people of the Old Testament era were familiar with the Spirit of God and His works.

3. The Teaching about the Spirit of God Is Not Fully Developed

A fully developed teaching concerning the Spirit of God is not found in the Old Testament. The Old Testament speaks of the Spirit of God as the one who executes God’s program. He is the executor, or the active agent of God – the dynamic worker of God’s will. As is true in the New Testament, God is seen to be at work in the world by His Spirit. Whenever we encounter the Spirit of God something is always happening.

4. The Personality and Deity of the Holy Spirit Are Not Developed in the Old Testament

Yet the personality and the Deity of the Holy Spirit are not developed in the pages of the Old Testament. This is not to say that there are statements in the Old Testament that would deny the personality and Deity of the Holy Spirit. It is that the Old Testament does not develop the truth of the Deity and the personality of the Holy Spirit. This is done in the New Testament.

The New Testament Develops the Teaching about the Holy Spirit

The doctrine of the Holy Spirit is more fully developed in the New Testament. However, there is no fundamental difference between the Spirit of God as revealed in the Old Testament and the Holy Spirit who is active in the New Testament.

The conception of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament is based upon that which is revealed in the Old Testament. In fact, the New Testament doctrine of the Holy Spirit is built upon the teachings of the Old Testament. The martyr Stephen said.

You stubborn people! You are heathen at heart and deaf to the truth. Must you forever resist the Holy Spirit? But your ancestors did, and so do you! (Acts 7:51 NLT).

The Jewish people understand that it was Holy Spirit whom their ancestors resisted.

Peter wrote about the Old Testament prophets and what they understood. He put it this way.

They wondered what the Spirit of Christ within them was talking about when he told them in advance about Christ’s suffering and his great glory afterward. They wondered when and to whom all this would happen (1 Peter 1:11 NLT).

The way the Holy Spirit is mentioned in these and other New Testament passages, assumes a direct correlation with the teaching of the Old Testament on the subject. Therefore, the teaching in Scripture with respect to the person and work of the Holy Spirit is consistent from beginning to end. Yet the teaching on the subject in the Old Testament is incomplete. It is from the New Testament that this doctrine of the Spirit of God is truly developed.

Summary – Question 10
What Do We Learn about the Nature of the Spirit of God from the Old Testament?

The subject of the Holy Spirit, or the Spirit of God, is not that prominent during the Old Testament period. There are a number of observations which we can make about what was taught.

While not prominent, the Spirit of God was familiar to the people of God. Indeed, He is mentioned on a number of occasions with no explanation about Him whatsoever. This assumes the people who read or heard the story read had some knowledge of the Spirit of God.

Consequently, as we search the Old Testament we do find that the doctrine of the Holy Spirit is not fully developed. We should not expect it to be. The Bible consists of God progressively revealing Himself to humanity.

Therefore we find that the doctrines of the personality and the Deity of the Holy Spirit, while not denied in the Old Testament, are not as developed as they are in the New Testament.

We do though find that the New Testament assumes the truth of the Old Testament with respect to the Spirit of God. It develops the doctrine of the Holy Spirit in a thoroughly consistent manner.

In sum, the doctrine of the nature of the Spirit of God, who He truly is, is not fully developed until the New Testament. Yet the Old Testament set the foundation for this all important doctrine.

Why Do Some Argue That the Holy Spirit Is an Impersonal Force? ← Prior Section
Is the Holy Spirit Called God? Next Section →
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