Though I linked in my previous post to a much earlier one which explored the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament, I didn’t repeat any of its Biblical references. Which I possibly should have, because there are several ways that the Holy Spirit worked through believers in God in those days – some of which are not repeated in the New Testament.
Probably the first man in the Bible to be identified with the Holy Spirit was Joseph (Genesis 41:38), and the one who recognized Him in Joseph was – of all people – Pharaoh. The reason Pharaoh credited Joseph with the Spirit’s guidance was undoubtedly that Joseph accurately interpreted his strange dreams – and predicted the famine which was to engulf Egypt and her neighbor nations. So I believe it’s justifiable to conclude that at least Pharaoh linked a gift of interpretation of dreams and prophecy as a gift of the Holy Spirit. (Suffice it to say that Joseph also displayed gifts of leadership and administration, at the very least.)
I missed that one in my post of five years ago, and it’s an unintentional omission. I won’t repeat the others; you can read them yourself there. But you will find many other gifts, talents and abilities linked to the Holy Spirit in the eras of the Old Testament: leadership, great physical strength, even success in battle.
I cannot defend an opinion one way or another about whether those old covenant gifts are still given through the Spirit of God today. Some of them – such as dreaming dreams and seeing visions (which I’ve already discussed as promised in Joel 2:28 and as fulfilled in Acts 2:17) are actually exemplified in passages like Acts 10:1-23, Acts 11:1-18 and Acts 16:6-10. So it’s foolish to conclude that all gifts or abilities associated with the Spirit in the Old Testament belong only to its eras.
And I think it’s fair to ask questions like:
- Are we living under the same covenant as those in the New Testament?
- Are the same promises which were made to those believers also made to believers now, under that same New Covenant?
- Did the Spirit inspire scripture writers only for Old Testament works, or also for the New?
- Is there anything in scripture which says only they – or only the apostles and/or only those on whom the apostles placed their hands – would receive the Spirit Himself and the gifts God chooses to distribute through Him?
- Does scripture make a distinction between certain gifts that would persist and others that would perish?
- Does scripture say that some already have been withdrawn?
The only Biblical response I can find to give to these questions is:
- First of all, the gifts of the Holy Spirit are distinct from the Holy Spirit Himself. The gift of the Holy Spirit himself is given to all believers and forever.
- Secondly, any need for gifts to be given or withdrawn is sufficiently described by the summation of the listing of gifts in 1 Corinthians 12:11 … “All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.” The phrasing seems to be independent of era; the Spirit gives as He determines.
Some people simply cannot be trusted with certain gifts of the Holy Spirit, no matter how much they ask or desire – see Acts 8:9-25. It is quite possible that Ananias and his wife Sapphira were given the gift of generosity (Romans 12:8), yet silently lied to the Holy Spirit about the size of their gift (Acts 5:1-11). It would not have mattered what era they lived in; their hearts were corrupted by self-interest.
Those incidents – and the miracle Paul spoke against Elymas Bar-Jesus at Paphos (Acts 13:4-12) indicate a darker side to the miraculous gifts apportioned by the Spirit – not unlike the Spirit-given ability (Judges 14-15) that Samson had to vanquish enemies or bring down the temple of Dagon around himself (Judges 16:23-31), or – less violently – to change Saul into a different person (1 Samuel 10), perhaps to prepare him spiritually to become the kind of king he ought to have been over a people who ought to have accepted God as their King.
On the other hand, the more constructive gifts given to those under the old covenant would likely have been just as useful under the new. (I won’t quibble about Bezalel, whose gift of designing for the tabernacle might well have been less useful in an era in which the temple was to fall forever. Or just as useful. Who knows?)
Perhaps the more important question is whether God could put to use such a gift in proclaiming His gospel today, in this graphic-art-saturated society.
What seems – to me, at least – the determining factor in whether the Spirit gives a gift to one who asks or needs or through whom it might even be used unawares is whether that gift will help those who have never encountered God’s grace SEE and HEAR it proclaimed and lived out in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Whether God still gives gifts to those whom He chooses through His Spirit, I leave to your discretion. Whether He gives it only to those who ask, who are baptized, who realize that they have it … I will let you work out on your own. I know what I believe.
And I submit as evidence to support it this video, recorded December 26, 2010 at my home church, of nine-year-old Davis, who read his passages in The Daily Bible along with the rest of his church family last year, and shared with us (from memory) his summation of it:
Most of us will agree that this young man is extraordinarily gifted.
I believe I know by Whom.