A huge amount of ink and electrons have been devoted to answering that question.

Personally, I can’t understand why this is deemed such a complex issue. It all really depends on our answer to this simple question: Were Old Testament believers believers?

If the Old Testament believers were real believers, the Holy Spirit indwelt them. No one can be born again, believe, or repent without the inward work of the Holy Spirit. And no one can stay a believer for one second without the ongoing internal work of the Holy Spirit – neither in the OT nor the NT. Without the Holy Spirit constantly in and at work in our hearts, we will immediately apostatize.

So, here are the options:

1. Old Testament “believers” were not real believers.

2. Old Testament “believers” believed by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit but kept believing without the indwelling work of the Holy Spirit.

3. Old Testament believers, like New Testament believers, believed and kept on believing as a result of the Holy Spirit’s initial and ongoing indwelling work in their hearts.

If #1 is true, then the Bible is not true (Jn. 8:56; Heb 11).

If #2 is true, 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?)

If #3 is true, then the question that’s left is: “In what ways did the indwelling work of the Holy Spirit differ in the Old Testament compared to the New, especially post-Pentecost?” Everyone accepts there was a difference. But what was it?

That’s a question I’ll return to in coming days (there are some difficult texts to deal with that seem to contradict #3), but in the meantime let the weight, significance, and consequences of the three options clarify our thoughts.

  • http://aborrowedlight.wordpress.com MarkO

    Glad you brought this up. As a youth I was taught that OT believers did not have the Holy Spirit. The only people who had the Holy Spirit were men or women who were doing a very special work for God (like King David, etc.) BUT the Holy Spirit could be with them on a temporary basis (like Samson).

    Upon further reflection – I now see this was taught me in error.
    Psalm 139 sealed that truth in my mind among other Scriptures.
    Another one that helped me is John 4 – Jesus was an OT worshiper and He offers us a simple syllogism (and He wasn’t even an Aristotilean – ha).

    A – God is Spirit
    B – true worshipers worship Him in spirit…
    C (A+B) – true worshipers have the Spirit in union with their spirit

    • http://salvationquestionsandanswers.blogspot.com/ WordsofLife TheBible

      One must be born-again to worship God in Spirit and Truth.

  • http://www.housewifetheologian.com Aimee Byrd

    Thank you for this post. I always look forward to your work and passion to show us Christ in the OT. Looking forward to the exposition you will be doing on this common misconception.

  • John F

    Thanks for this. Could you please explain John 14:16 “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper,to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and WILL BE IN YOU.”

    If they already were indwelt by the Holy Spirit, why was this future promise necessary – what does it mean?

    • http://salvationquestionsandanswers.blogspot.com/ WordsofLife TheBible

      Just as the coming of Messiah was the great promise of the Old Testament, so is the coming of the Spirit the great promise of the New Testament, although ***Jesus Christ is the lamb slain from before the foundation of the World and Holy Spirit is at work in the lives of the true believers through out the history***. They are manifested in due time. Atoning of sins by Christ’s blood and renewing and regeneration by Holy Spirit is required for Salvation in any generation in the history of the world. The fruit (Gal 1:22) of the Spirit’s regenerating work is faith (Eph 2:8). By this Faith produced by the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit, Old Testament believers looked ahead to the cross, believing that what God had promised in regard to their redemption would come to pass.

  • http://headhearthand.org/blog/ David Murray

    Thanks Aimee and Mark.
    John F: That’s one of the “difficult” verses I referred to and I hope to suggest an explanation. However, the difficulties of explaining John 14:17 seem to pale beside the suggestion that anyone could remain in the faith for one second, worship acceptably, or produce any spiritual fruit, etc, without the indwelling Holy Spirit.

    • Doug Lay

      Respectfully I have to point out that you arguments are based on human reasoning alone with little scriptual support. Clearly the spirit came upon and then left individuals in the Old Testament. Saul, Sampson are two of many examples. The indwelling spirit is spoken of by the Apostle as a mystery that is not only hidden in the Old Testament and revealed in the new but it is unique to the new covenant and in particular to the Church. Colossians 1:26-27, Ephesians 5:30-32

      I will be watching for your future posts on this I think you have many difficult passages to deal with to support your position.

  • http://www.seektheholy.com/ Chris Roberts

    This very thing has been coming up for me lately ( http://www.seektheholy.com/2011/09/10/total-depravity-prevenient-grace-and-john-168/ ) and was already on my schedule to dig into today, so I appreciate this post and look forward to more.

  • Jared O.

    John F., isn’t this where the important distinction between historia salutis and ordo salutis applies? In the history of redemption there is a linear chronology of redemptive events happening from Gen 3:15 onward, yet the application of those significant events, including Pentecost, gets applied to individual believers both retrospectively and subsequently to those various historical events.

  • ryan case

    will be interested to see the future posts. i’m assuming you’ve read dr. jim hamilton’s book, “God’s indwelling presence”, which has convinced me that OT believers were regenerated by the Holy Spirit, but not indwelt, which is a NC promise (hence “the Spirit of promise” in eph. 1, etc.). his strongest text is john 7:39, where it says explicitly that the disciples had not yet been given the Spirit, since Jesus had not yet been lifted up/glorified. this seems to make sense to john’s emphasis of Jesus constantly promising the believers the empowering Holy Spirit to complete the Servant’s mission after His departure. anyways, looking forward to your posts, as i want to be noble as the bereans.

    • http://www.seektheholy.com/ Chris Roberts

      Ryan,

      Thanks for the Hamilton reference, that’s not a book I’d been familiar with and looks like it would be useful to me.

    • http://aborrowedlight.wordpress.com MarkO

      Ryan,
      just a thot: how can a believer be regenerated by the Spirit and subsequently not be indwelt by Him? For what purpose then would the Holy Spirit regenerate (make new and alive) if not to find a home, yeah verily, a sanctuary within? To regenerate and not inhabit seems kinda like buying a primary residence, a fixer upper, then renovating it, but never moving in.

      as for Jn 7:39, Why would the Spirit be needed while you have the 2nd Person of the Trinity sitting across the table from you?

  • http://www.rekindle.co.za James Cuénod

    I’m not commenting on where I stand but really:

    4. Old Testament believers believed by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit and kept believing by the work of the Holy Spirit who worked externally from them.

    Why is the ongoing work of the Spirit predicated on His indwelling?

  • http://headhearthand.org/blog/ David Murray

    James Cuenod: A constant internal work requires a constant internal Spirt.

  • Mark Spence

    David,

    Thank you for this blog post.

    I tend to think more along the lines that it is God’s dwelling presence that ensures the faithfulness of his people.

    In other words, God tabernacles among his people in the O.T. Jesus dwells with his people in the gospels. The Holy Spirit dwells within God’s people starting at Pentecost (otherwise, as John F points out, John 14:6-7 doesn’t make sense.)

    So in response to this idea “anyone could remain in the faith for one second, worship acceptably, or produce any spiritual fruit, etc, without the indwelling Holy Spirit” – I would change to, “anyone could remain in the faith for one second, worship acceptably, or produce any spiritual fruit, etc, without the” dwelling presence of God – in the O.T. it was with God the Father, in the Gospels it was Jesus and starting with Pentecost it was the Holy Spirit.

    • http://salvationquestionsandanswers.blogspot.com/ WordsofLife TheBible

      Just as the coming of Messiah was the great promise of the Old Testament, so is the coming of the Spirit the great promise of the New Testament, although Jesus Christ is the lamb slain from before the foundation of the World and Holy Spirit is at work in the lives of the true believers through out the history. Atoning of sins by Christ’s blood and renewing and regeneration by Holy Spirit is required for Salvation in any generation in the history of the world. The fruit (Gal 1:22) of the Spirit’s regenerating work is faith (Eph 2:8). By this Faith produced by the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit, Old Testament believers looked ahead to the cross, believing that what God had promised in regard to their redemption would come to pass.

  • http://aborrowedlight.wordpress.com MarkO

    @John F
    Not sure what David will say, but it is clear that in Jn 14 Jesus is addressing a group so I take “in you” to mean that the Holy Spirit will have a special manifestation in a group of believers. Jesus

    God did indwell believers in the OT just as He does now, however, His group or institutional Presence is manifested in varying manners across Redemptive History.

    In the New Heaven and Earth God’s Spirit Presence in the midst of His People will be even more intense and sensible (touching the senses) than every before.

  • John F

    Thank you David and the other commenters. I believe the points made in the article are absolutely sound. Just not sure how to rightly interpret the verse I quoted.

    • http://aborrowedlight.wordpress.com MarkO

      @John,
      I’ll give it another try if I may.

      Jn 14.17
      “You know him (the Spirit) – a present reality for the disciples of the Personal nature of the Spirit. In other words, He was not just mystical Force, but they KNEW Him in their ‘now.’

      “…for he dwells with you…” – a present reality for the disciples of the Divine Presence of the Spirit

      “…and WILL BE IN YOU.” – a promise of the Spirit’s continued Presence. Jesus knew He was about to leave them physically so He sets out to reassure them that the Spirit of Jesus will still be with them thru the Holy Spirit who they already knew.

      For my part these verses do not say anything about the Spirit’s non-presence in the OT. I don’t see anything in the context which suggests that angle. The interpretation you struggle with appears to be born of Dispensational pre-suppositions brought to the text before hand.

      Your struggle may be what was my struggle. In the past I was looking at every Scripture passage with a pair of Dispensational glasses that had been strapped to my head. Once I took those off I could begin to SEE continuity between the OT and NT.

      Again, I defer to David for the final word on this.

  • Donna A

    Does worshipping in the spirit mean being indwelt by the spirit as in John 4:21 – 24?

    • http://salvationquestionsandanswers.blogspot.com/ WordsofLife TheBible

      yes.

      • http://salvationquestionsandanswers.blogspot.com/ WordsofLife TheBible

        Worshipping in Spirit and in Truth means, being indwelt by Holy Spirit and by the Word of God. This is how one is born again too. Holy Spirit uses the Sword of Spirit to make one born-again.

        John 6:63 “It is the ***spirit that quickeneth [make alive]***; the flesh profiteth nothing: ***the words that I speak*** unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.”

        1 Pet 1:23 “Being ***born again***, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, ***by the word of God***, which liveth and abideth for ever.”

        John 3:5 “5Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be ***born of water ["the washing of water by the word", Word of God typified by water Eze 36:25-27, John 3:5, John 4:13-14, John 7:37-39, Eph 5:25-27, Rev 22:17. Heb 10:22 ] and of the Spirit***, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”

  • George

    I have a question. Why is it that the Holy Spirit is presented as absolutely essential for salvation and its continuance in the N.T. but is not so presented in the O.T.? Considering the vital nature of the Spirit, how is it that the Spirit-led prophets did not pick up on this phenomenon? Or did they and I just missed it? Are we told anywhere in the O.T. that salvation is impossible without the work of the Spirit? Or is this an implication we draw solely from the N.T.? If you had asked Moses about the necessity of the Spirit (didn’t he refer to the movement of the Spirit over the void before creation?), do you have any evidence of what he might have said?

    • http://salvationquestionsandanswers.blogspot.com/ WordsofLife TheBible

      1 Pet 1:10-11 “Of which salvation ***the prophets [of old testament time which includes Moses]*** have enquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you: 11Searching what, or what manner of time ***the Spirit of Christ which was in them*** did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow.”

    • http://salvationquestionsandanswers.blogspot.com/ WordsofLife TheBible

      These are parallel.

      John 3:3 “Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. 4Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born? 5Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water [Word of God typified by water] and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. 6That which is born of the flesh is flesh [unsaved state]; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.[saved state]”

      Eze 36:25-27 “Then will I sprinkle clean water [Word of God typified by water] upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. 26A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. 27And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.”

  • Adrian

    Looking forward to this series of posts David – it was a topic hotly discussed a while back on a list that I’m on, so I’m very interested in hearing your understanding of what scripture teaches about the difference between OT and NT believers with resepct to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

  • David L

    Thanks for an interesting post.

    However, although I can see why you chose the options you’ve listed, it seems to me that they limit the possibilities in too restrictive a way, which affects the debate. At the very least I’d have said that #2 should be a reduced subset of #3 rather than a denial of any further work of the Spirit after conversion. Something like this:

    #2 Old Testament believers believed and kept on believing as a result of the Holy Spirit’s initial and ongoing work in their hearts. However, that work was not as comprehensive as with New Testament believers who are indwelt by the Spirit.

    I’d then rewrite #3 to bring out more strongly your logic concerning combating total depravity in order to be a believer. Something like this:

    #3 Old Testament believers, like New Testament believers, believed and kept on believing as a result of the Holy Spirit’s initial work and subsequent permanent indwelling in their hearts, producing all the effects of grace but in an environment of limited knowledge about the plan of salvation.

  • http://www.jimhamilton.info Jim Hamilton

    Dear David,

    I think you’ve oversimplified the issues here. My view is that regeneration and indwelling are not the same thing, and I think that my view fits better with what the Bible does and does not say.

    You can find it in 1,000 words here: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2011/07/05/you-asked-before-pentecost-where-did-ot-israelites-faith-originate/

    In 5,000 words here: http://www.jamesmhamilton.org/renown/wp-content/uploads/2008/06/them30-1.pdf

    Or in book form here: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0805443835?ie=UTF8&tag=forhisreno-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=0805443835

    I’d be interested in your response to my arguments,

    Jim

  • John doe

    comment

  • Trevor

    Hey David,

    I like that you are going after this issue, it’s definitely one where the church could use some clarity. I myself am not totally clear on these issues. I have some comments which I’m praying will come across graciously (as is hard to do in the impersonal world of blog commenting), recognizing that you are trying to do something helpful here with this post.

    I was kind of disappointed by the following things in the article:

    1. In the beginning of the article you say, “Personally, I can’t understand why this is deemed such a complex issue.” This gives the impression that you think the issue is easy where others think it is difficult, which given the nuances of this particular issue come off a bit disingenuous. It would be a more thoughtful approach to give some consideration to the difficulty men of God have had wrestling with this issue before providing your conclusion, and would probably strengthen your point.

    2. Still towards the beginning of the article, you make the point: “If the Old Testament believers were real believers, the Holy Spirit indwelt them.” Now I may be unclear on the debate a bit, and if I’m way off, please forgive me and pass by this comment. But this point seems to be the point in question, yet without any biblical support it is stated in the beginning as a known fact. To me, this came across as begging the question. I think that some argumentation from the Word before concluding that the Spirit indwells believers the same way in both covenants would have been more helpful.

    Once again, thank you for going after this issue. i think the heart of the article is good, I would just like to see more biblical discussion before the above statements.

  • Foppe VanderZwaag

    Thank you, David, for this post, and you all for your comments. Just some points to ponder:

    1. The Holy Spirit always has been involved, in creation and in re-creation. (Gen. 1:2; 2:7; 6:3; Job 33:4; Ps. 33:6; 104:30) David knows about the Spirit’s indwelling in Psalm 51:11, “Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me.”

    2. One main distinction between OT and NT: “Upon all flesh” (Joel 2:28), pertaining to the breadth/width of His work. Another distinction perhaps between being indwelt & being filled by the Spirit, pertaining to the depth/height of His work, in the OT being equipped to specific tasks (eg. Bezaleel & Aholiab in Ex. 31:3 etc.), while in the NT to proclamation of the gospel (Acts 2:4; 4:8, 31; etc.)

    3. Another distinction flowing from the other two (or preceding them?) may be the OT indwelling (of being filled with the) Spirit of the LORD, as a tri-une God, while in the NT more specifically with the Spirit of Christ. As God the Son dwelt (& now dwells) in our flesh, so the Holy Spirit, who dwells in Christ now dwells in us, but even now not in the fullness as He dwells in Christ (John 3:34).

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  • http://pouredout.net david

    Romans 8:9 end of story….

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  • http://headhearthand.org/blog/ David Murray

    Thanks for all your comments. I hope to reply to them early next week, and write some more on the subject. In the meantime here’s vintage John Piper: http://headhearthand.org/blog/2011/09/15/10-ways-that-believers-experienced-the-holy-spirit-in-the-ot/

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  • James S

    I have always thought of the cross as transcending time. Meaning, that because it (the cross) happened and God knew it would happen, He could reach ahead in time and give all the benefits of the cross to the believers of the promise in the OT.

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  • Cheryl Ratliff

    We are studying King Saul in Sunday School. I am under the understanding that the Holy Spirit did indeed “rest” on/in those who God was using for special purposes, i.e. Moses, Saul, Sampson, etc. But that the ONLY two people that the Holy Spirit actually indwelled in permanently before Pentacost were King David and John the Baptist. Then after Pentacost, as promised throughout the OT the HS is sent to indwell in ALL believers NEVER to be taken away.

    However back to the OT and going back to the account of King Saul, God specifically TOOK His Spirit away (1 Samuel 16:14) along with his Kingship for disobedience and then anointed David as King. When I first read this in the OT, I immediately was afraid that God would indeed take His Holy Spirit away from us if we disobeyed like Saul. So I sought some clarification on this which is where I was explained that it was not until after Pentacost that the HS actually indwells all believers as promised throughout the OT.

    I would appreciate your thoughts on this. Thanks bunches