November 28, 2012

Were OT saints filled with the Spirit?

by Jesse Johnson

Did the Holy Spirit permanently indwell all Old Testament believers?


No. While the Holy Spirit regenerated sinners in the Old Testament, the indwelling of the Spirit in the hearts/lives of believers began at Pentecost. I am a dispensationalist, and I see the church as beginning in Acts 2. I am a progressive, leaky, modified dispensationalist, but even in my compromised form, I cannot imagine any understanding of the uniqueness of the church that simultaneously rejects the uniqueness of Spirit baptism and indwelling.

In the Old Testament, God dwelt corporately with his people in his temple. This changed under King Manasseh’s reign, when the glory of the Lord left the temple. In the New Testament the glory of the Lord returns, but not to a temple made by human hands. Rather, he returns to the a new temple consisting of every believer. This is a radical change from the Old Covenant, as no longer is the glory of the Lord in manifest form confined to a nation, but under the New Covenant there is one body (both Jew and Gentile), and one baptism, and one Spirit.

Obviously the Holy Spirit is necessary for sanctification. But sanctification in the Old Testament was radically different than it is in the church. The basic problem with the Old Covenant was that the people did not have the law on their hearts, thus they not only needed others to teach them, but they consistently broke the Old Covenant. In fact, this is the main point of Hebrews 8:6-12:

But Jesus…is the mediator of a better covenant, which has been legally enacted on better promises. ..For if that first covenant had been faultless, no opportunity would have been sought for a second one. But finding fault with His people, He says: “…I will put My laws into their minds, and I will write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they will be My people. And each person will not teach his fellow citizen,and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know Me, from the least to the greatest of them.

The Old Covenant simply did not entail the writing of the Law on the heart and the mind that is evident in the New Covenant. John says that this is exactly what the Holy Spirit corrects in the New Covenant: “The anointing which you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you abide in Him” (1 John 2:27). This anointing is the filling and indwelling of the Spirit under the New Covenant, and is the correction to the deficiency of the Old Covenant.

At this point, my argument has already become more convoluted than necessary. The main reason that I believe the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is a New Covenant ministry is because there is not a single verse that teaches it as an Old Testament reality. In fact, every biblical description of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the Bible is either in the New Testament, or—if it is in the OT—laden with future hope over present experience. Obviously the Holy Spirit came upon people to empower them for service, and equally obvious is that this temporal empowering often left people and had nothing to do with personal salvation.

There was conversion in the OT, and this conversion is of course from regeneration; after all, total depravity and the necessity of regeneration for repentance and conversion are both clearly taught in the OT. I also grant that the Holy Spirit came upon many of the prophets, and this was supernatural and unique. But the idea of the Spirit indwelling the least and the greatest in the Covenant is purely a post-Pentecost concept.

The reality of the Holy Spirit indwelling every believer’s heart is new to the church, and would have sounded strange to an OT saint. If you would have asked one of the Levites under Solomon’s reign where the Spirit of the Lord dwelt, he would have pointed at the temple. If you would have asked a priest that same question after Manasseh (if you could have found a priest without a Baal statue on his dashboard), he would have looked around timidly and shrugged, as if he did not understand the question. If you would have asked the sons of the prophets that question before Elijah went up in a whirlwind, they would not have pointed at their hearts, but at Elijah. In fact, Elisha did ask the question (2 Kings 2:14), and he answered it by parting the Jordan, not by singing the song, “Down in my heart, down in my heart…”

Moreover, Ephesians 1-3 is distinctly New Covenant. If you take Acts 1 and John 20 seriously when it says the disciples did not yet have the Spirit, you cannot possibly say they were simultaneously bereft of the Spirit and indwelt by the Spirit. In Acts 1, Jesus told them to wait for power before they went off witnessing. They were not missing the languages, they were missing the presence of the Paraclete, because as of yet, Jesus was still with them, and the Spirit could not come until he was taken away. This does not speak to some dispensational time warp, as if they could not have Spirit between Luke 2 and Acts 1, but it speaks of something new in the economy of God: namely, that the Spirit will seal believers, and cause them have the law of God written on their hearts, rather than on those boxes tied to their foreheads.

The chief weakness of the Old Covenant is the lack of the Spirit indwelling every member of the covenant. The chief reason the disciples had to wait to act on the great commission was to wait to be Spirit-filled. The chief reason the Apostles were witnesses of the dramatic signs and wonders in the Samaritans, John’s disciples, and Gentiles was so that they would realize that in the New Covenant, every member (regardless of ethnicity) is filled with the same Spirit. This is the glory of the New Covenant.

Jesse Johnson

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Jesse is the Teaching Pastor at Immanuel Bible Church in Springfield, VA. He also leads The Master's Seminary Washington DC location.
  • Jesse Liang

    Hi Jesse,

    I was just wondering how you would approach the case of John the Baptist, who was said to be “filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb”


    • Good question Jesse. As I noted above, I grant that there were several prophets and OT saints who were filled with the Spirit, for specific tasks. John’s filling in the womb demonstrates that he was set apart from birth for the task of introducing Jesus to the world.
      I’d say it is hard to argue from any perspective that John was normative of Old Covenant believers. It is precisely because of how unique his ministry (and his indwelling) was that the fact is even noted. If the endwelling of the Spirit was normative, it would not have been noted with John.
      Jesus calls John the greatest person who ever lived (pre-church), and then says that the least in the kingdom of God will be greater than John.
      Thanks Jesse,

  • So, if the Spirit of God did not indwell the OT saints, what made them saints? To be sure, the filling of men with the Spirit was not constant nor ubiquitous, what enabled them to delight in law of the Lord?

    • Barry,
      Those are great questions. Let me first answer then simply, then go back to my main point: They were saints because of their faith, and they delighted in Yahweh’s law because of thier new nature.
      But my main point is that the Scripture teaches that the Old Covenant did NOT involve the permanent indwelling of the Holy Spirit, as that is a New Covenant reality. There may be various reasons that logically it might make sense in our systimatic theology for it to be confined to the NT, that is exactly what Scripture presents.
      Thanks for asking, as those are the two strongest arguments against the view I explained above.

  • Jeff Weaver


    Regarding Jesus ‘blowing’ on the Spirit in John 20, does that fall into the transition category of temporary filling? How ought we compare that incident with Acts 2? Were the disciples indwelt in John 20, get a preview, or were they told what to expect in Acts 2? Thanks for the clarity?

    • Jn 20:22 is obviously a tough question, but let me note this. Either way, it is evidence that the disciples clearly didn’t have the Spirit pre- (at least) John 22, and is one more of example of the fact there was no permanent indwelling pre (at least) John 22, if not Acts 2.

      Sincethe disciples didn’t receive the Holy Spirit until Acts 2, it is best to
      understand John 22 as a pledge on behalf of Jesus to send the Spirit once he is
      taken away. That is my best answer.

      • Jeff Weaver

        Thanks so much Jesse!

  • Mark

    Hi Jesse,
    I wonder if and how John 14:17 could be added to your discussion. I currently see a distinction here between the abiding of the Spirit with the OT saint and the indwelling of the Spirit for the NT saint under the New Covenant. Thanks.

    • Hi Mark. I think you are exactly right re: John 14:17. It is one more example of the fact that every time Scripture speaks of the presence of the Spirit pre Pentacost, it is always points forward. In other words, that is simply one more verse where Jesus describes the permanent indwelling of the Spirit as a future reality, not a present experience.

  • Steve


    Thanks, good summary of a knotty topic. Quick, less-important question on theological labels. At what point are you so “progressive, leaky, modified” that using the “dispensational” designation becomes misleading?

    I’ve begun to drop it – and even deny it – because most (if not all) equate it with Scofield / Chafer / Ryrie’s systems, which are unscriptural on several levels (e.g., Kaiser’s critiques in Promise-Plan of God). Though, I would obviously hold to the Church’s “uniqueness” on the basis of Scripture.

    Sorry for the tangent, but curious your thoughts. Press on.

    • It depends on context. I don’t call myself a Calvinist around people that assocaite that with infant baptism and theonimy. I don’t call myself dispensational around people that associate that with charts and helicopters.

      But I hold that the church was started at Pentecost does not fulfill the land promises given to Israel, and that God will fulfill those and other promises to Israel in the future, in teh kingdom. I say the OT Law was given to Israel, and is not binding to believers. For those reasons, I call myself a dispensational.

      • Steve Meister

        Thanks. Yes, that’s pretty sane and my general practice with most labels. I’ve just had a hard time finding anyone who doesn’t associate it with “charts and helicopters,” so I’ve just begun to drop it entirely. Thanks, man.

  • Funny you should post on this today – I have a student doing a presentation on this topic later this morning. Here’s a question I may be posing to him, so I’ll also ask you: in light of 1 Cor 12:13 and the fact that the Spirit’s initiation of the (new) believer via regeneration constitutes that new believer “in Christ,” and in light of your affirmation that the Spirit regenerated (i.e., initiated) OT saints, would you affirm that OT saints are “in Christ”?

    • Andy: you have the spiritual gift of asking penetrating questions. Have you considered a carreer as a seminary prof?

      If I were that student and in your class, I would respond this way: “It depends on what you mean by ‘in Christ.’ If you mean to limit that term to the context of 1 Cor 12, I would NOT affirm that OT saints are ‘in Christ.’ The concept of every believer having spiritual gifts for the building up of the (local church) body is a new covenant concept. BUT…if you mean ‘in Christ’ as in the redemptive family of beleivers that are saved by faith and seen since Adam, then I would affirm that they are in Christ. But I hasten to add that calling them ‘in Christ’ is not the way the bible refers to the them. There is certainly a tension. THe church as the body of Christ and temple of Spirit is a post-pentacost thing. But the OT saints had faith in the forgiving power of God, atoning power of sacrifices, and hope in a future Messiah, without whom they are still waiting to for us to join them, so that they can receive what was promised to them. So I affirm their salvation by faith in sacrifices, atonement, and messiah, but would not call them “in Christ” in the sense of spiritual body of believers that form the church.

      And, if I were your student, I would then brace for your follow up question, knowing that you probably already have it locked and loaded…

      • If Christ is the Lamb crucified before the foundation of the world, and Ephesians tells us that we were chosen “in Christ” before the world began, why would that only include new testament believers? I really appreciate your thinking on this matter however, I think there is a really big issue that is at state here. If God saved people prior to Christ through any other means than joining them to to the atoning finished work through baptism into Christs life death and Resurrection, then by what means is atonement possible? After all Hebrews says that the blood of bulls and goats could never take away sin? How is that atonement made if not through unity with Christ in his active and passive obedience?

        • It is also important to note that most who believe that the church began with Adam would agree with you that in Acts there is a special or greater manifestation of the spirit, the “charismata” aspects of the gifts were new to the new covenant and given in a special way to the building up of the early church.

          • If the church “began with Adam” what do you mean by calling the book of Acts “the early church”?

        • Great question Aaron, and one probably deserving of a full blog post. But in the mean time, all I mean by “atoning power of the sacrifices” is what Leviticus means when it says that the saccrifices are done “to make atonement on behalf” of the one offering them (Lev 1:4, and 50 other places–literally–in Lev.).
          A question for you: When you say those in the OT are saved through “baptism into Christs life…” what do you mean? How are you using the word “baptism” there in an OT context, and what do you mean by connecting it to salvation? Trying to understand. Thanks man,


  • A proper Biblical study would bear out the fact that there was a church in existence before Acts 2. Jesus began His church and it was well organized before Pentecost. Matt 16:18, Acts 2 says there were added to the church. So maybe your dispensationalism is more leaky than you realized!

    • jane-o

      John 7:37-39

      • Exactly Jane. I can’t beleive I didn’t use that verse above. Excellent point.

    • Hey Randy. I disagree that the church was in existence pre-Pentecost. Jesus told Peter he “will” (future tense) build his church, pointing to some time in the future. And maybe we are using different translations, but I can’t find the word “church” in Acts 2. Can you tell me what verse in particular you are thinking of?

      • Acts 2:41
        BTW, I agree with the idea of the indwelling Holy Spirit as outlined in you article above. Just leaky on the beginning of the church. The day of Pentecost was an empowering and authentication of the church proving to the Jews and gentiles this was God’s way of bringing about His plan for the church age.

        • I don’t want to belabor this, but it does say “added to their number.” It is probably not significant that Luke says it that way instead of “added to the church”…UNLESS your point is that the church existed pre-Petnacost because of this verse. If that is what you are saying, then I still don’t agree. More likely, in Acts 1 there were 140, now there are more. Its not a reference to when the church started, as much to the group growing throughout Acts. Thanks for interacting here Randy.

  • Harry

    Great article Jesse. Could you please unpack how you would explain John 20:22-23 in the context of your article. Thanks

  • Matt

    Hi Jesse, thanks for the article. It’s added more to my plate, but what a feast it is!

    I do have a couple questions about something you mentioned, which I know is seriously OT. (And by “OT” I mean, “Off Topic.” Haha.)

    There were two Scripture you mentioned regarding the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer. One from Hebrews, quoted from Jeremiah: “…I will put My laws into their minds, and I will write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they will be My people. And each person will not teach his fellow citizen,and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know Me, from the least to the greatest of them.”
    And the other from 1 John: “The anointing which you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you abide in Him.”

    As for the verse in Hebrews (Jeremiah) what does it mean by putting “My laws into their minds”? I don’t think he can be referring to conscience, I’m also pretty sure it doesn’t mean that when one converts they are suddenly endowed with a supernatural knowledge of the Old Testament law.
    My second question is: both verses at face value, seem to be saying “you don’t need a teacher”…but, it can’t be that, can it? If it’s true, then John would’ve written that letter in vain and we wouldn’t really need the Bible itself since we’d all just “know” and be gnostic, or whatever.

    Any insight or direction (or a link somewhere!) is much appreciated, thanks. 🙂

    • I’d check out MacArthurs’ study Bible and commentary on both of those verses. His 1 John commentary deals with the notion of needing a teacher rather extensively, and is quite helpful.

  • Busdriver4jesus

    I think you’re treading in dangerous water, common to dispies; I’m sure you would say that there is one ordo salutis for all people, past and present, but how can that be true without the permanent indwelling of the Spirit? If you acknowledge that O.T. saints were regenerated and changed to delight in the law of God (great point, Barry), did the Spirit just do these things to convert them, and then leave them high and dry, like a divine one night stand? I don’t see how you could reconcile your view with our continual need for righteousness… if O.T. saints weren’t indwellt (yet not fully enabled to obedience until Pentecost), their appetite for Scripture would quickly fade and they would apostasize (proving TULIP’s 5th point untrue). This is why we must be kept by the power of God. I guess I would ask to summarize “How new is the New Covenant?” Not very, I would say.

    • Hey Bus Driver:
      If you see the OT as permanetly indwelling OT believers, what verses do you look at that teach that? Also, what changed at Pentacost? What did Jesus mean when he said that the disciples had not yet received the Spirit? I’m not asking to be snarky, but I really want to learn what non-dispies say about this. Thanks.

      • Busdriver4jesus

        Brother Jesse,

        Thanks for your interest, and if my comment was snarky, I ask your forgiveness. Off the top of my head, I would see implicit reference to the indwelling Spirit in the various descriptions of OT saints, how they “walked with God”… whether you look at the implications of the Hebrew halak or the Greek peripateo, I see a continual style of life, a consistent obedience is communicated, and that’s only possible through a continual presence of His Spirit. We know it is “God who works in us both to desire and to do His good pleasure”. For a much better presentation of this, I would heartily recommend Piper’s take: . God bless you today!

        • …and that’s only possible through a continual presence of His Spirit.

          I don’t meant to butt in here, but it’s that assertion that needs to be proven Scripturally. The appeal to Phil 2:12-13 makes that point for for saints under the New Covenant given the presence of the Spirit, but given the biblical testimony of the newness of the indwelling of the Spirit, you’d have to produce a verse (OT or NT) that made this case clearly for those before the New Covenant age.

          It’s that kind of reading of the theology of the New Covenant back into the Old Testament that is a poor interpretive practice. See my reply to Aaron for more.

  • Bee Jones

    The Church (ekklesia-the called out) was here in the wilderness says Paul. The church didn’t “begin” at Pentecost. Acts 7:38. This is why dispensationalism is unbiblical. The Spirit is truth (John 14:16, 15:26, 1 John 5:6) To say that the Spirit was not here in the OT is to say that the church or Israel before God poured his truth on all men did not have truth. All Scripture must align.

    “And the spirit of God came upon Saul” 1 Sam 11:6

    This can’t be another Spirit. The Bible doesn’t teach two spirits.

    “If you would have asked one of the Levites under Solomon’s reign where the Spirit of the Lord dwelt, he would have pointed at the temple”

    This is correct. But the reason why the Spirit or truth dwells in the believer is because the body is the temple (2 Cor 6:16) and the heart is the ark of the covenant (Heb. 10:22).

    The Old Testament is the shadow (Heb. 10:1) and the NT is the image. There is no “chief weakness” of the OT. The “rituals” are the only thing that was blotted out after Christ (Col 2:14).

    This “indwelling of the Spirit” is very Pentecostal-ism which is not biblical. We know the disciples were young immature men that needed to be taught and become mature. So this idea of the Spirit coming upon someone and they instantly knowing truth is wrong. It takes years to understand God’s truths while laboring in his word.

    • Dude, youre entire comment is totally confusing. I have no clue what the heck you’re trying to say here.

      • LOL. Among other things, I think Bee Jones isn’t seeing the difference between the attendant ministry of the Holy Spirit (He abides with you, John 14:17) and the indwelling ministry of the Holy Spirit (and He will be in you, same verse). He seems to think that it’s indwelling or nothing.

        • Well, we have to be careful though. If we have regeneration of the Spirit without indwelling of the Spirit, we have no sealing of the Spirit for the day of redemption. If we are not kept by His indwelling power, not saint OT or new would last one second without apostasy! I think John 14:17 must refer to a greater manifestation of the Spirit beginning at Pentecost. Id rather have John 14:17 be a problem text met with tension and a some deal of uncertainty then have the problem of trying to determine why the Holy Spirit would regenerate a saint, and then leave Him to His own devises to stay regenerate.

          • Hi Aaron. Thanks for your comments.

            If we have regeneration of the Spirit without indwelling of the Spirit, we have no sealing of the Spirit for the day of redemption.

            I agree. I believe the sealing of the Spirit is something that is unique to the New Covenant ministry of the Spirit. Though, I’d be open to seeing Scriptural evidence to the contrary. As it stands, I don’t see the ministry of the Spirit’s sealing the believer as a reality before the New Covenant.

            If we are not kept by His indwelling power, no saint OT or new would last one second without apostasy!

            I understand how you reason to this conclusion, but I think it’s based more upon reading the theology of the New Covenant back into the Old Covenant than it is based upon Scripture itself. I would just disagree with your assertion. But again, I’m very open to seeing any textual indication that this was the case for Old Testament saints. I would also ask what Scriptural evidence requires us to believe that God’s preservation of the OT saint must have been by the indwelling of the Spirit. Why could not He have kept the OT saint in a different manner? Especially a manner that would afford the New Covenant ministry of the Holy Spirit the uniqueness that the New Testament affords it?

            I think John 14:17 must refer to a greater manifestation of the Spirit beginning at Pentecost.

            I think you have to force that interpretation of the text to satisfy your theology — an interpretive practice that we should all strive to avoid. I think you recognize the weakness of this position yourself by speaking of a “problem text” and “uncertainty.” Theology can inform interpretation, but it shouldn’t drive it. If our interpretations of texts create problems and uncertainties, perhaps it’s our theology, and not the text, that should change. 🙂

            …the problem of trying to determine why the Holy Spirit would regenerate a saint, and then leave Him to His own devices to stay regenerate.

            Again, this is an assumption that you require the dispensationalist to make that he doesn’t have to make based on the text. To prove that this is necessary, you’d have to demonstrate exegetically the reason for which God could not have preserved the OT saint by any other gracious means than the indwelling of the Spirit.

            I respect your position as a brother, but I believe it creates more problems than it solves, doesn’t do exegetical justice to the fullness of the biblical witness, and is interpretively driven by theology and a desire to maintain more Testamental continuity than Scripture allows.

  • If Old Testament saints did not have the Holy Spirit living inside them, how did they put to death sin? Is there any other means of putting to death sin than the Spirit?

    • Communion with God is much richer than what is experienced post-pentacost. I mean, you have to grant that the disciples did not have “the power” of God pre-pentacost/pre Spirit. Yet they did have God’s word. They had communion with God through the Word, which contains the Father’s Law and commands. Moreover, there is the ministry of the temple and priests, which point to the effective communion with the Son, even in the OT. Moreover, the Spirit works on people’s hearts through regeneration, causing them to grow in love for God through the promises of His word. In short, communion with God is (and was in the OT) an entire trinitarian effect. So certainly there was communion with God pre-pentacost.