The Language of the Spirit

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The Spirit of God (AI generated image)

This is Part 11 in a series about the timing and precedent of receiving the Holy Spirit.

Part 1 When Did Jesus Receive the Holy Spirit?
Part 2 First Baptism, and Then the Holy Spirit
Part 3 The Holy Spirit’s Role in the Salvation Process
Part 4 The Holy Spirit Withheld in Samaria
Part 5 The Spirit Comes Before Baptism for Cornelius
Part 6 The Ephesian Twelve Receive the Gift of the Holy Spirit
Part 7 What Is the Baptism of the Holy Spirit?
Part 8 The Timing and Means of Spirit Baptism
Part 9 The Indwelling Gift of the Holy Spirit
Part 10 The Holy Spirit in the Old Covenant

How do the biblical authors describe the activity of the Holy Spirit in the lives of humans? Below is a list of the use of language as it appears in seven categories. Also, each category is separated into Old and New Covenant usage, with commentary following.

1. Referring to the moment of receiving the remaining presence of the Spirit (Spirit baptism)

Old Covenant

  • rested on: the seventy elders (Numbers 11:25-26)

New Covenant

  • descend/descending/descended on: Jesus (Mark 1:10; Luke 3:22; John 1:32-33)
  • rested on: Apostles (Acts 2:3)
  • fallen on: Samaritans (Acts 8:16)
  • fell on: Cornelius (Acts 10:44; Acts 11:15)
  • came on: Ephesian Twelve (Acts 19:6)

2. Referring generally to being given/receiving the Spirit

Old Covenant

  • pour/poured upon/on: Isaiah 32:15; offspring (Isaiah 44:3); Israel (Ezekiel 39:29); all people (Joel 2:28 & Joel 2:29)

New Covenant

  • pour/poured out; poured out on: on all flesh (Acts 2:17); Apostles (Acts 2:33); Gentiles (Acts 10:45); Titus 3:6
  • receive/received: later believers (John 7:39); the Apostles (John 20:22); promise for all believers (Acts 2:38); Samaritans (Acts 8:15; Acts 8:17); Simon wanting the power to give it (Acts 8:19); Gentiles (Acts 10:47); Ephesian Twelve (Acts 19:2); Christians (Romans 8:15; 1 Corinthians 2:12; 2 Corinthians 11:4; Galatians 3:2; Galatians 3:14)
  • given/giving: believers (Acts 5:32); Samaritans (Acts 8:18); Gentiles (Acts 15:8); Romans 5:5; 2 Corinthians 1:22; 2 Corinthians 5:5; Ephesians 1:17; 1 Thessalonians 4:8; 1 John 3:24; 1 John 4:13
  • has/will come upon: Apostles (Acts 1:8); Mary (Luke 1:35)
  • remained on: Jesus (John 1:32-33)
  • anointed with: Jesus (Acts 10:38)

For Category 1, regardless of the specific language used, the authors describe the Spirt in many ways as initially coming to a person. From a New Covenant reference point, we would categorize all these occasions as Spirit baptism. In the New Covenant, the Spirit is for all believers, not just for the select few, as in the Old Covenant. The giving of the indwelling Spirit in the New Covenant is not only for empowerment evidenced in external manifestation, but also for permanent, personal sanctification, which includes inner transformative power.

All the varying language used in the first two categories refers to the same thing: either describing the Spirit’s initial coming to a person, or the fact that he has or will come to a person. All variations in Category 1 of “came on,” “rested on,” “descended on,” “fell on,” and “fallen on” refer to the same concept of the Spirit’s initial coming to a person (also known as Spirit baptism). Category 1 shows the action of the Spirit’s coming to a person.

And all variations in Category 2 of “has/will come upon,” has/will pour out on,” “remained on,” “receive,” and “give” refer to the same concept of the fact that the Spirit has or will come to a person. This category shows the fact or promise of the Spirit’s coming to a person.

3. Referring generally to having the remaining presence of the Spirit

Old Covenant

  • in: Genesis 41:38 (Joseph); Numbers 27:18 (Joshua)
  • on: Moses (Numbers 11:17); the seventy elders (Numbers 11:25); Elisha (2 Kings 2:9)
  • upon: the Chosen Servant (Isaiah 42:1); offspring (Isaiah 59:21); Jesus prophecy (Isaiah 61:1)
  • rests on/upon: Elisha (2 Kings 2:15); the Branch (Isaiah 11:2)
  • was upon: Othniel for leadership (Judges 3:10); Jephthah for leadership (Judges 11:29)
  • rushed upon: David (1 Samuel 16:13—referring to a continual presence)
  • within you: all Israel (Ezekiel 36:27; Ezekiel 37:14)

New Covenant

  • full of the Holy Spirit: Jesus (Luke 4:1); the seven (Acts 6:3); Stephen (Acts 6:5); Barnabas (Acts 11:24)
  • filled with: John (Luke 1:15); Saul (Acts 9:17) disciples (Acts 13:52); Ephesians 5:18
  • in/within/into: believers (John 14:17); Romans 8:9; Romans 8:11; 1 Corinthians 3:16; 1 Corinthians 6:19; Galatians 4:6; 2 Timothy 1:14; 1 John 3:24
  • upon: Jesus, quoted from Isaiah (Matthew 12:18; Luke 4:18 ); Simeon (Luke 2:25);
  • rests upon: 1 Peter 4:14
  • in the power of the Spirit: Jesus (Luke 4:14)
  • in/by the Spirit: Romans 8:9; Ephesians 2:18; Philippians 3:3; Colossians 1:8
  • have the Spirit: Romans 8:9; 1 Corinthians 6:19; Paul (1 Corinthians 7:40)
  • sealed with: Ephesians 1:13
  • shared in: Hebrews 6:4

Luke characteristically uses the phrases “full of the Holy Spirit” and “filled with the Holy Spirit” as descriptors of someone who has the remaining presence of the Holy Spirit. All instances of “filled with” except one (Paul in Ephesians 5:18) belong to Luke. Since Luke also uses this same phraseology to describe the moment of Spirit empowerment (Category 4), Luke’s Category 3 references are best defined as Luke referring to someone who has the Spirit’s remaining presence that characteristically empowers, particularly in external manifestation. For Luke to describe a person as generally being “full of” or “filled with” the Spirit means that this person is considered to be faithful and active in his/her Spirit empowerment, often tapping into and displaying such Spirit empowerment. They are likely well-know to the church for such a display of faith.

Does this mean that those who do not display such an exemplary faith are not filled with or full of Spirit? No, and this is not why Luke uses the descriptive phraseology. He uses this particular phraseology to highlight the exemplary faith in people and the work of the Spirit in general through people.

The other single use by Paul is best interpreted as his charge to everyone to be faithful and filled with the Spirit, as opposed to being filled with drunkenness. Paul specifically spells out this charge in actions that are not necessarily charismatic (Ephesians 5:19-21). And so, to be characterized as filled with or full of the Spirit does not only refer to expressions of the Spirit’s external, miraculous manifestation, but also to the Spirit’s inner transformative power by which a Christian grows in the progressive sanctification of love and faith.    

The language used in this category is not to be confused with some similar language of Category 4, which pertains specifically to the moment of Spirit empowerment. I will highlight this below.

4. Referring to the moment of Spirit empowerment

Old Covenant

  • came upon: Numbers 24:2 (Balaam); Saul’s messengers (1 Samuel 19:20); Saul (1 Samuel 19:23); Azariah (2 Chronicles 15:1); Jahaziel (2 Chronicles 20:14) (also refers to Saul when a harmful spirit affected him (1 Samuel 16:16; 1 Samuel 16:23; 1 Samuel 19:9))
  • rush/rushed upon: Samson (Judges 14:6; Judges 14:19; Judges 15:14); Saul (1 Samuel 10:6; 1 Samuel 10:10; 1 Samuel 11:6; (also refers to Saul when a spirit affected him (1 Samuel 18:10))
  • fell upon: Ezekiel (Ezekiel 11:5)
  • clothed: Gideon (Judges 6:34); Amasai (1 Chronicles 12:18); Zechariah (2 Chronicles 24:20)

New Covenant

  • filled with: Elizabeth (Luke 1:41); Mary (implied; Luke 1:46); Zechariah (Luke 1:67); Apostles (Acts 2:4); Peter (Acts 4:8); believers (Acts 4:31); Paul (Acts 13:9)
  • full of the Holy Spirit: Stephen (Acts 7:55)
  • he came in the Spirit: Simeon (Luke 2:27)
  • empowered “in” the Spirit: Jesus (Luke 10:21); 1 Corinthians 12:3; 1 Corinthians 14:2; Ephesians 6:18; 1 Thessalonians 1:5; Jude 1:20; Revelation 1:10
  • empowered “through” the Spirit: disciples (Acts 21:4); 1 Corinthians 12:8
  • empowered “by” the Spirit: Ephesians 3:5; Hebrews 2:4; 1 Peter 1:12
  • carried along by: 2 Peter 1:21
  • said by the Holy Spirit: David (Acts 4:25);
  • through/by the Spirit: Galatians 5:5; Galatians 5:16; Galatians 5:18; Galatians 5:25; Ephesians 3:16; 2 Timothy 1:14

Luke uses “filled with” and “full of” the Spirit in these instances as indicators to the reader that the Spirit is actively empowering someone for some task. The nature of this specific phraseology is to indicate that the Spirit ramps up in a person, providing the necessary power for the task at hand. It would be similar to imagining a car’s engine revving up to give a necessary burst of speed. The idea is that the Spirit provides the necessary power to provide the means for the particular manifestation. For Luke, these are mostly external, charismatic manifestations. However, for other New Covenant authors, Spirit empowerment also pertains to a non-miraculous inner expression and benefit.

The Old Covenant mainly uses forms of “came upon” and “rushed upon” to describe the Spirit’s moment of empowerment. This is similar to the New Covenant’s use of “filled with” the Spirit. One main difference, however, is that the location from which the Spirit empowers Old Covenant saints is not from an indwelling position, but from an ondwelling position (see Part 10). This is why no Old Covenant author uses the expression “filled with” to describe the moment of empowerment, but rather uses “filled with” to express the particular way the Spirit manifests from an ondwelling position, as we will see in Category 5.

5. Referring to the Spirit’s particular empowerment

Old Covenant

  • filled with the Spirit: Bezalel (Exodus 31:3 & Exodus 35:31, referring to ability/skill, intelligence, knowledge and all craftsmanship); Joshua (Deuteronomy 34:9, referring to wisdom); Micah (Micah 3:8, referring to power, justice, and might)

New Covenant

  • impart some spiritual gift: (Romans 1:11)
  • Spirit of wisdom and revelation: (Ephesians 1:17)
  • S(s)pirit of prophecy: (Revelation 19:10)

In the Old Covenant, the Spirit empowers people from an ondwelling position, although the gifts he gives and empowers are sometimes described as a result of being “filled with the Spirit of God….” This refers to the Spirit’s empowerment, and is not commentary or reference to any kind of indwelling ministry or empowerment from a position of indwelling as in the New Covenant. Luke uses this phraseology in the New Covenant to refer to the Spirit’s empowerment and presence from an indwelling position.

The point of this usage in the Old Covenant is to show that God gave a select few people gifts by the power of the Spirit for particular tasks to fulfill his will. The point is to show that the individual is filled with the power of the Spirt rather than the Spirit himself, as in the New Covenant indwelling.

The Old and New Covenants are clear that the Spirit can manifest spiritual gifts through a person regardless of his position of ondwelling or indwelling.

6. Referring to the Spirit’s Affectation/Influence

Old Covenant

  • stir: Samson (Judges 13:25)
  • entered into me: Ezekiel (Ezekiel 2:2; Ezekiel 3:24)
  • lifted me up: Ezekiel (Ezekiel 3:12; Ezekiel 3:14; Ezekiel 8:3; Ezekiel 11:1; Ezekiel 11:24; Ezekiel 37:1; Ezekiel 43:5)

With Samson, the Spirit “began to stir” him. This phraseology refers to the Spirit beginning to exert influence on Samson and lead him in some way that would start him on the active path of judging Israel. From the context of the story of Samson, including that Samson was a Nazarite, the reader may assume that God gave Samson the ondwelling presence of the Spirit from birth (Judges 13:3-6). This is reminiscent of another famous Nazarite, John the Baptist, who shares a similar pre-birth story (Luke 1:13-17), and who was filled with the Spirit even from the womb.

One also could interpret the Spirit “began to stir him” as the Spirit’s initial coming to Samson, but to me, this phraseology seems to suggest more of a beginning of influence of an already ondwelling Spirit. If this is correct, then it is a precedent showing that the Holy Spirit’s presence with a believer, either from an ondwelling or indwelling position, does not require any sort of proof of manifestation as if to prove his presence. While the Spirit in the Bible indeed often gives proof of his presence in some initial manifestation, such initial manifestation is not a requirement, nor should it ever serve as a test of fellowship or standard to discern whether God has given his Spirit to someone. The gold standard to discern whether God has given someone his Spirit is if the person has obeyed the salvation teaching of scripture, for God promises to give his Spirit to those who obey him (Acts 2:38-39; Acts 5:32).

7. Referring to God taking away the presence of the Spirit

Old Covenant

  • left/departed: Samson (Judges 16:20); Saul (1 Samuel 16:14); David asking God not to take the Spirit from him (Psalm 51:11)

Even though these references are few, they speak clearly to the concept of the Spirit of God representing God’s personal presence, as opposed to some kind of non-personal power from God. The Old covenant paradigm of a “spirit” includes reference to a personal being, or a spirit-being. We see this concept in many places (Genesis 41:38; Judges 9:23; 1 Samuel 16:15-16; 1 Samuel 18:10; 1 Samuel 28:8; 1 Kings 22:21; Job 4:15). And the Spirit of God also represents his personal presence:

Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence? (Psalm 139:7)

This is an instance of poetic parallelism where two sentences reference or echo the same concept—the object being the personal presence of God by the Spirit. “Where shall I go from” finds its parallel in “Or where shall I flee from.” And “your Spirit” finds its parallel in “your presence.”

That God departs from Samson (Judges 16:20) and Saul (1 Samuel 16:14) by taking away his ondwelling Spirit, and that David begs God not to take the Spirit from him (Psalm 51:11), shows the nature of the ondwelling presence. It is something that God can give and take away. This further solidifies the understanding of the Old Covenant ondwelling of the Spirit, in that its purpose is not the same as the New Covenant indwelling. God gives his Spirit to a select few saints for the specific purposes of his will, and never promises that it is permanent. But in the New Covenant, the promise of the indwelling Spirit is permanent (Isaiah 59:20-21; John 14:16).

Further Insights and Analysis

Generally speaking, any activity of the Spirit recorded in the New Testament before Pentecost in Acts 2 falls under the Old Covenant ondwelling paradigm. This includes the activity leading to and surrounding the birth of Jesus, as well as Jesus’ earthly ministry through the cross. Jesus fulfills the Isaiah prophecies of completing his earthly ministry with the Holy Spirit upon him (Isaiah 1:1-5; Isaiah 42:1-4; Isaiah 61:1-4). While the authors of the Old and New Covenants may use varying descriptive terms in detailing the Spirit’s activity, the concept is the same—the Spirit empowers people by his ondwelling presence until Jesus pours him out at Pentecost in Acts 2 for all to receive in a new, indwelling way.

The Old Covenant language of the Spirit serves as a foundation for the way New Covenant authors describe the Spirit’s activity and presence. In the New Covenant, John and Paul include discussion and example of both of the Spirit’s main indwelling functions—inner, non-miraculous transformative power, and external, miraculous manifestation. Luke’s concern, however, is only to detail the external, miraculous manifestation of the Spirit in the spread of the gospel. He is not concerned with detailing the Spirit’s inner, non-miraculous transformative power. Nor does he even mention the Spirit’s role in the salvation process concerning the working of the individual’s justification and regeneration. Further, Luke does not link the salvation work of the Spirit in the water of baptism with what it means to receive him, but views these as two different and separate works, both in scope and timing. This does not mean we may assume that Luke’s personal theology excludes these doctrines; rather, his point in Acts is to focus on the Spirit’s leadership as well as his indwelling, external-working power in spreading the gospel from Jerusalem to Rome. It is important to remember that the Spirit empowers external, miraculous manifestations in believers from an indwelling position—which is Luke’s focus.

Also, and especially when reading Luke-Acts, one should take caution so as not to separate or confuse the indwelling Spirit’s inner-working power with his external-working power, as if the former refers to a salvation-giving indwelling Spirit and the latter to a separate non-salvation, non-indwelling related “coming upon,” as in the Old Covenant ondwelling. One Spirit exists for all authors, and specifically for New Covenant authors, the Spirit indwells the believer, providing power for living the Christian life, which includes both inner and external manifesting power.   

In all its descriptive language, the New Covenant follows suit with the Old Covenant in treating the gift of the Holy Spirit as the personal empowering presence of God, which is given to individuals for their empowerment according to the purposes of God. The New Covenant authors further develop language describing the increased scope of work of the Spirit, which includes his permanent indwelling. For the New Covenant authors, receiving the gift of the Spirit is not related to the actual salvation work of justification and regeneration that God does via his Spirit in water baptism. Just as in the Old Covenant the means of salvation was separate from the Spirit’s ondwelling presence, the New Covenant follows suit that the Spirit’s work in salvation is of a different scope and timing than what it means to receive the gift of his indwelling presence, or the baptism in the Holy Spirit. Nowhere in the entire Bible is the Holy Spirit’s ondwelling or indwelling presence linked with the means by which God saves someone. Rather, in the New Covenant, the Spirit’s indwelling presence serves as a proof that one is saved, for God gives the Spirit to those who obey him in belief, repentance and water baptism for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38; Acts 5:32).


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