The Spirit's Presence from the Old to the New Testament

There is an interesting view that circulates around the church about the Holy Spirit.  It goes something like this. In the Old Testament the Holy Spirit did not indwell anyone but only remained with people.  However, in the New Testament the Spirit literally dove into His work.  In other words, He indwelt the people of God. He made His home in them.

Now, at least one of the Biblical texts used in support of this idea comes from John 14:17.  There Jesus is in the midst of his upper room discourse.  It is the night of the Passover celebration.  And Jesus has come to the place in the discourse wherein He tells the Disciples that another Helper, the Spirit of Truth, will come to them upon His departure. This is what He says of the Spirit, “[for] he dwells with you and will be in you.” Well, there it is.  Case closed. It looks like a slam dunk passage.  But is it?

It is true that the words “will be in you” could be translated “he is among you.”  However, most agree that the textual evidence leans heavily toward a future reading or “he will be in you.”  And it is clear that the preposition used in the first part of the phrase is para, which is correctly translated “with.” But is there an alternative way to understand the idea that the Spirit is with the disciples? Yes, there is.

We might understand Jesus statement about the Spirit being with the disciples in terms of the Spirit’s being with them as He is with Christ.  In other words, the Spirit was on and in Christ in a special and most powerful way. It was, after all, the Spirit who overshadowed Mary in the conception of Jesus.  It was the same Spirit who descended upon Jesus at His baptism.  What is more, Mark tells us that the Holy Spirit drove Christ into the wilderness in order to face the tempter and there overcome the evil one that He, Christ, might be the second Adam.  What is more, Jesus spoke Spirit filled words and was divinely energized by the Spirit to do the miraculous works that He did.  Finally, according to Paul in Romans and first Corinthians the Spirit had some involvement in the resurrection of Christ.

So, perhaps when Jesus said that the Spirit was with the disciples He did not actually mean that the Spirit only hovered around them but rather the Spirit was with them in a special way because He was with Jesus. 

I find that this view is actually strengthened by what Jesus says just a few short verses later in verse 23.  There He says, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”  Now, this verse is wonderful.  It is full of theology and it is replete with pastoral application but I want us to focus on the phrase “and make our home with him.”  The preposition “with” is the same as that in verse 17 and in this case it doesn’t mean with but in. Clearly the Father and Son are going to indwell the believer. 

Now, what’s my point?  First, I find it impossible to argue on the basis of the preposition “with” in verse 17 that the Spirit was only hanging around believers when in verse 23 the same word is used to essentially mean in.  What is more, I believe that Jesus is telling the disciples that the Spirit is with them in a special way because He is with Jesus.  However, there will come a day when that special relationship will end. Jesus will ascend and the relational dynamic would change.

What is more, I believe that whether in the Old Testament or in the New Testament the Spirit indwelt believers.  That case hasn’t been proven in this article but I did kick a little dust toward the opposing view. 


Jeffrey A Stivason (Ph.D. Westminster Theological Seminary) is pastor of Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church in Gibsonia, PA.  He has recently been appointed Professor of New Testament Studies at the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh, PA. Jeff is also an online instructor for Westminster Theological Seminary. Jeff is the author of From Inscrutability to Concursus (P&R), he has contributed to The Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia (Eerdmans) and is the Senior Editor of Place for Truth an online magazine for the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals.

Jeffrey Stivason