nav
search
globe
monitor
monitor
  • English
  • Mandarin Chinese
  • Spanish
  • Arabic
  • Russian
  • Kiswahili
  • Hindi
  • Portuguese
  • Mongolian
  • French
  • Amharic
  • Kinyarwanda
  • Indonesian
  • Greek
  • Farsi
arrow left

ADVANCED SEARCH OPTIONS

Add, remove or edit search terms:

any of these words
all of these words
exact phrase
Select resource types:
articles
Q&A
video
audio
Study Bible
Results should display:
full details
author names only

Search Tips
Attach an asterisk (*) to the end of a word as a wildcard.
Attach a tilde (~) to the front of a word to omit results containing that word.
More search tips >>
  Share

The Holy Spirit in the Old and New Testaments

Question
How does the ministry of the Holy Spirit differ in the Old and New Testaments? Were Old Testament believers permanently indwelt by the Holy Spirit, or did the Spirit simply come upon them for special tasks? What is the significance of Pentecost? Was this when believers were indwelt by the Spirit? How were Old Testament believers sanctified? Was it through the keeping of the Law, the work of the Spirit, or both?
Answer
"How does the ministry of the Holy Spirit differ in the Old and New Testaments? Were Old Testament believers permanently indwelt by the Holy Spirit, or did the Spirit simply come upon them for special tasks? What is the significance of Pentecost? Was this when believers were indwelt by the Spirit?"

The Holy Spirit's ministry in the Old Testament differs from his ministry in the New Testament not so much in kind as in degree. We can think of this ministry under two major headings: salvation and gifting.

In terms of salvation, the Bible is clear that fallen man is born spiritually dead and incapable of saving faith (i.e. totally depraved). In order to be justified (which is part of the salvation process), we must have faith, and in order to have faith we must first be "regenerated" or "born again." In regeneration, our spirits are made alive, or regenerated, only because they draw life from the Holy Spirit who indwells us (Rom. 8:9-11); our spiritual life lasts only so long as we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. As in the New Testament, salvation in the Old Testament was permanent, requiring the permanent indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Old Testament saints were saved, regenerated and justified, and they had faith. Thus, they were indwelt by the Holy Spirit. In this regard, the Holy Spirit's ministry was the same in the Old Testament as it is now.

Sometimes it can be confusing to think about the Holy Spirit permanently indwelling Old Testament believers because David spoke of the possibility of God taking away his Holy Spirit (Ps. 51:11), but David was not speaking of the indwelling presence of God. Rather, he was speaking of God's anointing him as king. David did not want God to punish him for his sin by taking away the throne of Israel, as God had previously done to Saul.

In terms of gifting, the Holy Spirit gifted people for ministry and service in the Old Testament, but he did so in ways that were very limited compared to the way he gifted people in the New Testament. Primarily, the Holy Spirit's special gifting was limited to people such as prophets, priests and kings - especially to prophets. Consider for example that when Saul (a king) prophesied, the question arose as to whether or not he was a prophet (1 Sam. 10:10-11).

But Joel foretold a day when God's Spirit would be poured out on all people, regardless of their office within the covenant community (Joel 2:28-29). This was precisely the passage that Peter quoted during his Pentecost sermon (Acts 2:17-18) in order to state that Joel's prophecy had been fulfilled: the Holy Spirit had begun to gift everyone in the covenant community in incredible ways, empowering them in ways that had been limited to a select few in the Old Testament. Pentecost was the moment when the Holy Spirit began to give this superior gifting to everyone.

"How were Old Testament believers sanctified? Was it through the keeping of the Law, the work of the Spirit, or both?"

Sanctification has two aspects that theologians typically address. First and foremost, it is a setting aside as holy unto God, or what we might call "consecration." This takes place only once for each person by his or her inclusion in the covenant community, placing him or her in covenant with God (cf. 1 Cor. 7:14). For most in the Old Testament, this took place by birth (and circumcision). In the New Testament, this takes place by birth or conversion, and subsequent baptism.

The second aspect of sanctification that theologians typically identify is purification. This is a process that continues throughout a believer's life and through which the believer is made more like Christ. In the Reformed tradition, sanctification has typically been called "progressive," meaning that the generally trend in a believer's life is that he or she becomes more righteous, less sinful. A minority view in the Reformed position (which I happen to hold) is that sanctification is not necessarily a process that makes one more and more righteous over the course of his life (although it ought to be), but rather a continual process of purification required by the fact that we continue to sin. This minority view is that our sin continually makes us less pure, and sanctification continually purifies us from that sin (cf. 1 John 1:7,9). This does not deny the idea that believers ought to become more and more righteous as they live their Christian lives, but rather assigns this idea to what the Bible calls the process of "maturation" rather than to sanctification in and of itself. If believers are obedient to God, their sanctification may make them progressively less sinful, but this is not a necessary model for all believers prior to glory (in Eph. 5:26 glorification is the ultimate act of sanctification).

But whatever view one takes of sanctification as purification, the question of how believers are sanctified remains. According to Paul in Romans 6:19-23, sanctification occurs as believers submit themselves as slaves to righteousness, and because they have been enslaved to God. The first idea is that believers are active in the sanctification, and the second is that they are passive. Together, they indicate that sanctification is God's gracious work (cf. Phil. 2:13; 1 Thess. 5:23; 1 Pet. 1:2), and that it takes place by means of our cooperation (cf. 1 Thess. 4:3-7; 2 Tim. 2:21) and faith (Acts 26:18).

In the Old Testament, the process was the same, though the Old Testament does not use the same vocabulary. In the New Testament, "sanctification" comes from the word group that means "holiness" (hagiasmos), "holy" (hagios), and "to be holy" (hagiazo). But the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) does not use these terms in this way. It almost exclusively speaks of "sanctification" as "consecration."

When the Old Testament speaks of purification akin to New Testament sanctification, it often uses terms related to "purify" or "cleanse," frequently in the context of forgiveness (e.g. Lev. 16:30; Num. 8:21; Ps. 51:2; Jer. 33:8; Ezek. 36:25,33). The New Testament reflects this language in 1 John 1:9: "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." In these passages it is still God who graciously sanctifies, commonly in response to man's effort. Just as in the New Testament, in the Old Testament sanctification was not earned, but it was graciously applied in response to man's submission to God.

Answer by Ra McLaughlin

Ra McLaughlin is Vice President of Creative Delivery Systems at Third Millennium Ministries.