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Old Testament Saints and the Holy Spirit


From basic dispensational teaching I heard that — per John 7:39 and later references to Christ sending the Holy Spirit (Pentecost) – Old Testament saints were regenerated but did not have the permanent indwelling Holy Spirit; the Holy Spirit only came upon them from time to time, for special empowerment, whereas we now have the permanent indwelling.  Yet I wondered about it, as something that didn’t make sense: how could people be regenerated and yet NOT have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit? In daily Bible reading of the Old  Testament, we come across so many descriptions of believers who have “a different spirit” and a relationship to God in so many ways like ours.  John 3 tells us that OT believers were regenerated, as this was something that Nicodemus was expected to already know as a present reality, and Luke 1 and 2 (the birth narrative) include many references to godly people and the Holy Spirit present in their lives, before Christ’s birth.

As I’ve recently learned, the Protestant/Reformed understanding is that OT saints had the permanent indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the same salvific relationship to God (their understanding on the hope of what God would accomplish; and Christ’s work on the cross is applied to those who lived before Calvary).

The following posts from David Murray’s blog address this very question, of the difference between the Old and New Testament indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

Regarding the original idea above (OT believers regenerated but didn’t have the indwelling Holy Spirit) I especially appreciate his point in the first post, that if Old Testament ‘believers’ believed by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit but kept believing without the indwelling work of the Holy Spirit, then Old Testament believers were not as depraved as we are, as they did not need the ongoing indwelling work of the Holy Spirit. (And in some ways, this debate really is a debate about the nature of human depravity in the Old Testament. Could anything less or other than the indwelling of the Holy Spirit keep a believer believing, repenting, hoping, obeying, etc?)

I also find helpful the analogy of the sponge with a water dropper, versus a sponge with a pressure washer. The difference in the Holy Spirit experience of OT and NT believers is one of degree and extent, not of quality or type. The OT believers had a small amount to sustain them in their personal lives, but after Pentecost the Holy Spirit flows out in excess, giving believers greater joy that overflowed and led to great missionary zeal and desire to share the gospel with unbelievers – and the amazing (humanly speaking) spread of the gospel during the 1st century and beyond.  As shown in the many quotes in the last post linked above, many commentators throughout history, as far back as Augustine and including also the Reformers as well as 19th century preachers including J.C. Ryle, have affirmed this as well, that OT believers did have the indwelling Holy Spirit, and the difference between then and our age post-Pentecost is one of degree and extent.

As a side note here, I find it interesting that this same difference of degree between the OT and NT — of the great spread of the gospel in the NT – is said by amillennialists to be the result of a supposed “binding of Satan” allowing the gospel to spread unhindered. Yet as premillennialists have pointed out, what really hinders or allows the spread of the gospel is the Holy Spirit – as evidenced in the book of Acts, where the Holy Spirit did not allow Paul to travel east to Asia or Bithynia (Acts 16:6-7). Understanding the difference between the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in Old and New Testament times (the water dropper versus the pressure washer) fits the biblical data much better, both in relating to the OT saints continually sustained by God and His presence, as well as the results of the great spread of the gospel that began at Pentecost.

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  1. October 27, 2014 at 6:09 am

    Reblogged this on Talmidimblogging.

  2. October 27, 2014 at 1:56 pm

    Reblogged this on OneDaring Jew and commented:
    The indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the OT and the NT.

  3. Truth2Freedom
    October 27, 2014 at 2:20 pm

    Reblogged this on Truth2Freedom's Blog.

  4. William Jacobian
    October 27, 2014 at 3:01 pm

    The sponge, dropper and pressure washer analogy may sound good, however, there is no biblical support for that position. We must be careful not to come with our pre-suppositions and logic to arrive at biblical truth.

    • October 27, 2014 at 3:19 pm

      Could you please be more specific, rather than a general comment of “no biblical support for that position”? The linked articles include quite a few scriptures related to this position and the analogy, and it is the position of many scholars throughout church history.
      What is your position and what scriptures support your view?

      • William Jacobian
        October 28, 2014 at 4:00 pm

        John 14:17 – Jesus told His disciples, in the upper room, that the Holy Spirit has been “with them”, but promised that He shall be “in them”.

  5. Pauline
    October 27, 2014 at 4:58 pm

    I agree with this whole heartedly Lynda. I also had wondered how the OT saints could have continued to be faithful to The Lord without the indwelling Holy Spirit . Amazing how certainly theology. We have been taught flavours our beliefs

    • October 27, 2014 at 5:47 pm

      Thanks, Pauline. Yes indeed, and so we go back and reconsider and sort it all out, including the smaller details, of the particular theology we’ve been taught.

  6. Neil Schoch
    October 27, 2014 at 7:33 pm

    David Murray fails totally to provide any passages of scripture to prove that ALL OT believers were indwelt by the Holy Spirit.
    How were all OT believers saved – BY FAITH as in Hebrews 11. The Holy Spirit is not even mentioned, let alone said to indwell all OT believers here.

    C I Schofield has an excellent summary of the Holy Spirit in the OT in Zechariah 12:10 which like so many other scriptures speaks of a yet future outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the house of David. I will not post it here as it may breach copyright.
    There are several references to the Holy Spirit being in individual people in the OT but nowhere is it stated that all were indwelt.
    The Holy Spirit is spoken of as coming upon men, and even a dumb animal, in an exercise of free divine sovereignty, in many different ways.
    In relation to John 3 and the new birth there is a condition for new birth which is faith in Christ crucified V14-15; Galatians 3:24. Despite all the OT prophecies relating to the Lord Jesus they could not be born again until He sacrificed Himself on the cross. In the OT their sins were covered (atonement) until Christ died and thereby they were saved by faith in the One God had promised.
    Nicodemus, as a Pharisee should have known from all the Old Testament references about the coming of the Holy Spirit that he would need to be born again once Jesus died and the Holy Spirit was poured out at the beginning of the church age. The final fulfillment will be upon Israel prior to His return.
    The indwelling of the Holy Spirit when we are saved/born again is a NT blessing not enjoyed by OT saints. This does not take away anything from the mighty work of the Holy Spirit in the OT.

    • October 28, 2014 at 4:14 am

      Interesting comments, Neil, and yes that is the standard dispensational view. However, please note first that this is not unique to David Murray, but is the historic view going back to the early church. The dispensational view is the novel one, and one basic rule of hermeneutics notes that the person with a unique view, not known before, should consider with humility how or why his own interpretation is to be preferred when many before him have seen it differently.

      Regarding your first paragraph: see the last link referenced, which addresses this very error, point #1 of “Two Mistakes in Bible Interpretation”:
      “1. Confuse the unfolding of truth with the existence of truth. Just because a truth had not been revealed (or clearly revealed) at some point in biblical history, does not mean that it did not then exist. One of the reasons that Rob Bell’s Love Wins fell into error was by concluding that just because the Old Testament did not reveal much about eternal punishment, that it did not exist.” Also under point 2 of this same article: “Just because the Old Testament did not clearly unfold the Holy Spirit’s indwelling of Old Testament believers, does not mean that such an indwelling did not exist. And to start with “hard” texts like John 7:37-39, or at least to let such difficult texts be determining texts, is very likely to mislead us.”

  7. Neil Schoch
    October 28, 2014 at 7:28 am

    Thanks Lynda! I’ve said it before but I believe it is worth repeating that we read in the Bible of the Apostles addressing those who were bringing in false teaching even at the point of time that they were still writing. Gnosticism was being brought in to the church by false teachers and still is today. Colossians 2:18-19 speaks of those who were advocating the worship of angels which can easily be shown to be false teaching.

    The fact that a belief was a “historic view going back to the early church” in no way makes it correct unless it can be proved to be true by the entire Word of God. Early church leaders and history is interesting, but it is dangerous to think that because a belief was held there, it must be correct.

    I quoted C I Schofield, as a well known dispensationalist but he is not always correct eg in relation to creation and the age of the world.
    I have an interest in church history but what I say about the Holy Spirit not indwelling OT believers is based on many years of studying Gods Word and I do not follow anyone or any particular viewpoint.
    Neither Old or New teach this doctrinal belief. Countless men and women far greater than I down through the ages have held the same belief as under the conviction of the Holy Spirit.
    A scripture by scripture article on this subject would be far too long for this forum.
    I in no way want to minimize the mighty role of the Holy Spirit in empowering and guiding and directing those wonderful OT saints of God but where is the scriptural proof that they were indwelt – I can find none.
    I have read the material that you provided but I must stay true to what I personally believe to be the truth of God’s Word. Having said that I always welcome those who disagree with me and all may feel free to criticize. Nothing will change the love that exists between my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus. God’s blessings to all!

    • October 31, 2014 at 7:26 am

      Well this is something that not everyone agrees about, and God reveals His truth to His people at different times and different ways; “if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained” (Phil. 3:15-16).

      However, I am not aware of any Christian teachers, those within the mainstream of Christian thought, prior to the Darby-Brethren group that taught that Old Testament saints did not have some type of indwelling of the Holy Spirit. As to “proof” that the OT saints were indwelled, it goes back to what was said in those articles; a truth does not have to be explicitly stated for it to be so (remember the Rob Bell example) – and basic principles of interpretation, that scripture does not conflict with itself. The “root” issue of saying OT saints did not have Holy Spirit indwelling, DOES seriously conflict with other biblical teaching about man’s nature, including man’s total inability as well as the doctrine of sanctification; total inability to come to God in the first place, and the same inability to “keep” oneself with God, apart from the Holy Spirit working in that person — which means the Holy Spirit present in them, even if in a more limited extent/measure. And just logical sense, and related to the doctrine of sanctification: unregenerated people do not have the Holy Spirit. What would distinguish unbelievers from believers in the OT, if both unbelievers and believers did not have anything from God, any presence of God in one group to distinguish them from the other group?

      And though church history itself does not “prove” a doctrine, yet it does play a part in our
      understanding, such that it is not necessary for every generation and every new Christian to “reinvent the wheel” and to attempt to develop all biblical doctrine on their own — and such would be foolish, as God has purposed in His providence that the church throughout the generations hold fast to the faith and to teach it and pass it down to the next generation. And so when a particular doctrinal idea was unknown in the early church, and not known by any in the church until the 19th century, that does bring it into question, something to be considered more carefully as to if it is the correct view (basic hermeneutics). It is the church history angle that has even led some current-day teachers to the error of historical revisionism, trying to give that “extra support” of a history for their doctrine. (And this applies to the history of dispensationalism as well; the original teachers including Scofield did acknowledge that their teaching was new and unknown before the 19th century — contrasted with some today who have attempted that historical revisionism for dispensational ideas that really were unknown prior to the 19th century.)

  8. Neil Schoch
    November 1, 2014 at 2:15 pm

    No one who has ever diligently studied the role of the Holy Spirit in the OT would ever even think of suggesting that through the work of the Holy Spirit the OT saints were not a clear witness to all around them, that God had chosen them and that God remained with them, empowering them in so many ways, despite their repeated failures, just as we all do today.

    I quite clearly did not remotely suggest that there was nothing to distinguish unbelievers from believers in the OT. It would be absurd to suggest it. There are so many wonderful passages relating to the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of individuals and groups of people, and to a yet future mighty work yet to be fulfilled.

    The teaching that the “brethren movement” brought in a new and novel teaching in relation to the Holy Spirit in OT times is not correct even if some thought so. The Apostles knew it well and it is clearly taught in the New Testament. Many important teachings taught by the Apostles were restored at that time and I thank God for them.
    Peter in Acts 2 did not quote the entire passage from Joel in relation to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. He made a distinction. God has never been left without a remnant who held to the truth of the Apostles teachings, even in the darkest day of the Churches history, often leading to persecution and death. They may not all have had it perfectly correct but I for one will not criticize them as we are not perfect also.

    Every believer today who comes to faith in Christ is immediately in Christ – a new creation – baptized by one Spirit into one body – sealed with the Holy Spirit until the day of redemption and it goes on and on, all clearly spelt out in NT Scripture.

    God, in His own sovereign way, did a mighty work through the Holy Spirit for those wonderful Old Testament saints but not in the same way as happened after the death; burial; resurrection and ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ.

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