Warfield The Spirit of God in the Old Testament is a single chapter work on the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament. (Presbyterian)

Warfield The Spirit of God in the Old Testament

Warfield The Spirit of God in the Old Testament is a single chapter work on the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament. (Presbyterian)

Warfield The Spirit of God in the Old Testament is a single chapter work on the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament. (Presbyterian)


The Spirit of God in the Old Testament[1]
by B.B. Warfield

THE doctrine of the Spirit of God is an exclusively Biblical doctrine. Rückert tells us that the idea connoted by the term is entirely foreign to Hellenism, and first came into the world through Christianity.[2] And Kleinert, in quoting this remark, adds that what is peculiarly anti-heathenish in the conception is already present in the Old Testament.[3] It would seem, then, that what is most fundamental in the Biblical doctrine of the Spirit of God is common to both Testaments.

The name meets us in the very opening verses of the Old Testament, and it appears there as unannounced and unexplained as in the opening verses of the New Testament. It is plain that it was no more a novelty in the mouth of the author of Genesis than in the mouth of the author of Matthew. But though it is common to both Testaments, it is not equally common in all parts of the Bible. It does not occur as frequently in the Old Testament as in the New. It is found as often in the Epistles of Paul as in the whole Old Testament. It is not as pervasive in the Old Testament as in the New. It fails in no New Testament book, except the three brief personal letters Philemon and II and II1 John. On the other hand, in only some half of the thirty-nine Old Testament books is it clearly mentioned,[4] while in as many as sixteen all definite allusion to it seems to be lacking.[5] The principle which governs the use or disuse of it does not lie on the surface. Sometimes it may, perhaps, be partly due to the nature of the subject treated. But if mention of the Spirit of God fails in Leviticus, it is made in Numbers; if it fails in Joshua and Ruth, it is made in Judges and Samuel; if it fails in Ezra, it is made in Nehemiah; if it fails in Jeremiah, it is made in Isaiah and Ezekiel; if it fails in seven or eight of the minor prophets, it is made in the remaining four or five. Whether it occurs in an Old Testament book seems to depend on a number of circumstances which have little or no bearing on the history of the doctrine. We need only note that the name “Spirit of God” meets us at the very opening of revelation, and it, or its equivalents, accompanies us sporadically throughout the volume. The Pentateuch and historical books provide us with the outline of the doctrine; its richest depositories among the prophets are Isaiah and Ezekiel, from each of which alone probably the whole doctrine could be derived.[6]

In passing from the Old Testament to the New, the reader is conscious of no violent discontinuity in the conception of the Spirit which he finds in the two volumes. He may note the increased frequency with which the name appears on the printed page. But he would note this much the same in passing from the earlier to the later chapters of the Epistle to the Romans. He may note an increased definiteness and fulness in the conception itself. But something similar to this he would note in passing from the Pentateuch to Isaiah, or from Matthew to John or Paul.

The late Professor Smeaton may have overstated the matter in his interesting Cunningham Lectures on “The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit.” “We find,” he says, “that the doctrine of the Spirit taught by the Baptist, by Christ and by the Apostles, was in every respect the same as that with which the Old Testament church was familiar. We nowhere find that their Jewish hearers on any occasion took exception to it.

The teaching of our Lord and His Apostles never called forth a question or an opposition from any quarter — a plain proof that on this question nothing was taught by them which came into collision with the sentiments and opinions which up to that time had been accepted, and still continued to be current among the Jews.” Some such change in the conception of God doubtless needs to be recognized as that which Dr. Denney describes in the following words: “The Apostles were all Jews, — men, as it has been said, with monotheism as a passion in their blood.[7]

They did not cease to be monotheists when they became preachers of Christ, but they instinctively conceived God in a way in which the old revelation had not taught them to conceive him. . . . Distinctions were recognized in what had once been the bare simplicity of the Divine nature. The distinction of Father and Son was the most obvious, and it was enriched, on the basis of Christ’s own teaching, and of the actual experience of the Church, by the further distinction of the Holy Spirit.”[8] But if there be any fundamental difference between the Old and the New Testament conceptions of the Spirit of God, it escapes us in our ordinary reading of the Bible, and we naturally and without conscious straining read our New Testament conceptions into the Old Testament passages.

We are, indeed, bidden to do this by the New Testament itself. The New Testament writers identify their “Holy Spirit” with the “Spirit of God” of the older books. All that is attributed to the Spirit of God in the Old Testament, is attributed by them to their personal Holy Ghost. It was their own Holy Ghost who was Israel’s guide and director, and whom Israel rejected when they resisted the leading of God (Acts 7:51). It was in Him that Christ (doubtless in the person of Noah) preached to the antediluvians (I Pet. 3:18). It was He who was the author of faith of old as well as now (2 Cor. 4:13). It was He who gave Israel its ritual service (Heb. 9:8).

It was He who spoke in and through David and Isaiah and all the prophets (Matt. 22:43, Mark 12:36, Acts 1:16, 28:25, Heb. 3:7, 10:15). If Zechariah (Zec 7:12) or Nehemiah (Neh 9:20) tells us that Jehovah of Hosts sent His word by His Spirit by the hands of the prophets, Peter tells us that these men from God were moved by the Holy Ghost to speak these words (II Pet. 1:21), and even that it was specifically the Spirit of Christ that was in the prophets (I Pet. 1:11). We are assured that it was in Jesus, upon whom the Holy Ghost had visibly descended, that Isaiah’s predictions were fulfilled that Jehovah would put His Spirit upon his righteous servant (Isa. 42:1) and that (Isa. 61:1) the Spirit of the Lord Jehovah should be upon Him (Matt. 12:18, Luke 4:18, 19). And Peter bids us look upon the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost as the accomplished promise of Joel that God would pour out His Spirit upon all flesh (Joel 2:27, 28, Acts 2:16).[9]

There can be no doubt that the New Testament writers identify the Holy Ghost of the New Testament with the Spirit of God of the Old.


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