The Holy Spirit in the Old Testament -- By: Paul Martin Henebury

Journal: Conservative Theological Journal
Volume: CTJ 09:28 (Dec 2005)
Article: The Holy Spirit in the Old Testament
Author: Paul Martin Henebury

The Holy Spirit in the Old Testament

Paul Martin Henebury

The whole subject of the Person of the Holy Spirit, and especially of His work, is one that is something of a mystery to many Christians. They know that the Spirit is and has always been the third Person of the Godhead, but when they come to think about the way He is revealed in the Hebrew Scriptures, often they find it quite difficult to cite passages that plainly deal with Him. Still more, many believers are unsure about the specific roles taken up by the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament, and how one would elucidate the particulars of His working.


In the following study we shall try to explain the doctrine of the Spirit in the Old Testament by first giving attention to the main verses in which the Spirit’s activity is described. These can be separated into the categories of Creation, Redemption, Prophesying, Empowerment, etc. When we turn to prophets and prophesying we shall ask the question, “Did the OT prophets go into some kind of ecstatic trance-like state like the pagans, or was the Spirit’s influence on them outwardly less peculiar?” Lastly, we shall examine the question of the regeneration of Old Testament saints. Our specific inquiry will be to seek to understand whether the New Testament doctrine of regeneration can be predicated of Old Testament believers.

The Personality of the Spirit

The New Testament the witness to the personhood of the Holy Spirit, although it is quite minimal, is, nevetheless, clear (e.g. Acts 13:2, 4; cf. Jn. 15:26; 16:7–8; Acts 5:3, etc.). In one sense this is readily explainable since the Trinity is not as frankly revealed in the Old Covenant as it is in the New. On the other hand, it would be strange if the Person of the Spirit were portrayed with more clarity before Christ than after.

Nevertheless, there is sufficient testimony to the Spirit as personal in a number of passages in the three divisions of the Hebrew Bible. In Genesis 1:2 the “Spirit of God moved [brooded] upon the face of the waters,” a reference to an emotion such as only a person1 might feel - never,

indeed, a force. Providing one takes ruach in the text to refer, not to a wind, but to a spirit, the translation of rahap is slimmed down to words like “was moving” “hovered,” “brooded,” etc. Hamilt...

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