Were the Old Testament Saints Regenerated and Indwelt by the Holy Spirit Prior to Christ’s Death on the Cross?

Sam A. Smith

According to the Bible, there has never been but one means of eternal salvation: sal­vation by grace, through faith in Christ. However, that should not be interpreted to mean that the temporal relations in the applica­tion of the various elements of salvation (justification, regeneration, indwelling, sanctification, etc.) are uniform in redemptive history. The desire of covenantalists to demonstrate that there is only one people of God, as implied by covenant theology, has led some to argue that there is little or no difference between salvation experi­ence before and after the cross; to be specific, they maintain that the Old Testament believers were cleansed, regenerated, and indwelt, when they exercised faith, just as in the present era. The objective of such arguments seems to be to eliminate, or obscure the clear dispensational transition between the Old and New Testaments.

Salvation, while often thought of as a singular event, is actu­ally a process involving many distinct operations. Even after the cross we refer to believers as “the saved,” as if salvation were a completed work, rather than a work in progress. The fact is that salva­tion isn’t complete until the entire process is complete, including justification, regeneration, sanctification, and glorifica­tion. The fact that God from his eternal perspective regards one’s salvation as complete, signifying the certainly of its ultimate achievement, does not make it actually complete in time. Salvation is a temporal process because we are temporal beings, and it will not be com­plete until Christ comes and resurrects the departed saints and transforms those still living. It is important that we recognize the difference between how God regards a saved sinner, sometimes referred to as the believer’s “position,” and the believer’s actual experience as a sinner still under the effects of sin and the curse. No one, whether saved prior to the cross or afterward, has yet to have his or her salvation completed. Thus, if in this New Testament (i.e., post-cross) era some aspects of salvation must await the out-working of temporal events (e.g., the glorification of the body), we should not be sur­prised to discover that the same was true for the Old Testament saints. In fact, since they exercised faith prior to the cross, they entered the process even further upstream. Not only do they, like us, have to wait for bodily redemption, but they also had to await the Christ’s atoning sacri­fice in order to have their sins cleansed. The sins of the Old Testa­ment believers were not removed prior to the cross; they were merely “covered” until the time of Christ’s atoning death, at which time they were removed. The fact that those saints lived when they did resulted in their en­tering the stream of salvation events at a different point; thus just as we must wait for our glorification in spite of the fact that God reckons it as a fact, cf. Rom. 8:31, so they had to await the cross for the remission of sin in spite of the fact that God reckoned their faith as righteousness, cf. Rom. 3:21-26. All of this under­scores the importance of a dispen­sational view of history. This is, no doubt, the underlying reason that some covenantalists are intent on uniformatizing all aspects of salvation in the Old and New Testa­ments, so as to minimize the otherwise obvious need for dis­pensa­tional interpretation.

Were the Old Testament believers regenerated and indwelt by the Holy Spirit? Some covenantalists say “Yes,” but the biblical facts indicate otherwise. As one surveys scripture regarding the work of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament, they cannot help but notice the total absence of any reference to the Spirit’s indwelling. Likewise, the new birth (regen­eration) seems equally absent;[1] nev­ertheless, some insist Old Tes­tament believers were both regener­ated and indwelt.[2]

How covenantalists argue for Old Testament
regeneration and indwelling

Offering an affirmative statement for the regeneration and in­dwelling of Old Testament believers, Walter Kaiser writes:

Never had an individual in the Old Testament been com­pletely without the aid and work of the Holy Spirit. Cer­tainly, Jesus held that the subjects of the new birth and the special work of the Holy Spirit in the gift of salvation were not new or inaccessible doc­trines to Old Testament men and women before the cross. In fact, he marveled that Nicode­mus could have been a teacher in Israel and still have been so totally unaware of this fact (John 3:10). Thus if salvation is not of works so that no man or woman ever could boast but is a gift of God to all who ever believed so that it might always forever be by grace (Eph. 2:8), then Old Testament saints were indeed regenerated by the Holy Spirit…Finally, in no way must this special profusion of the ministry of the Holy Spirit that operates much in accordance with the blessing found in the new covenant be interpreted in such a way as to suggest that the individual Old Testament saints and believers were unaware of any ministry of the Holy Spirit in their lives apart from temporary endowments of the Spirit for special tasks at special times. On the contrary, the Holy Spirit was the author of new life for all who believed in the coming man of promise (=regeneration), and he also in­dwelt those same Old Testament redeemed men, at least to some degree, even as David testified in Psalm 51:11.[3]

Regardless of the position one takes with respect to the regenera­tion and indwelling of Old Testament believers, there does seem to be a consensus that regeneration and indwelling occur co-exten­sively.[4] This seems only reasonable since regeneration is the re-establishment of vital (life giving) union with God (Jn. 6:63; 7:38-39; 1 Cor. 6:11), and indwelling is simply the continuation of that union. The question of whether Old Testament believers were regenerated and indwelt is a singular issue. If they were regener­ated, they must have been indwelt, and if they were indwelt, they must have been regenerated. The Old Testament historian, Leon Wood, states the relationship in the following way:

By indwelling is meant the continuedness of the Spirit’s resi­dence within the saint following the occasion of regenera­tion. Regeneration is a momentary act, when spiritual life is imparted to a sinner. It happens instantaneously. Indwelling on the other hand, only begins then. It is the Spirit that en­acts regeneration, and when he does he enters into the per­son, so that the person becomes “the temple of God” (1 Cor. 3:16,17; 2 Cor. 6:16). Indwelling means that this relationship continues from that point on.[5]

Accordingly, proof that Old Testament believers were either regen­erated or indwelt would substantiate both claims.

Generally, the arguments for the regeneration and indwell­ing of the Old Testament believers follow one of two patterns: The first pat­tern presupposes that all saved people, whether before or after Christ’s death, are regenerated immediately when they exer­cise faith. The logic goes like this: All saved people are regener­ated when they are saved; the Old Testament believers were saved; therefore, the Old Testament believers were regenerated, and thus indwelt. The other pattern of argument presupposes that all saved people, whether Old Testament or New Testament, are in­dwelt. This argument proceeds as such: Old Testament believers were indwelt; indwelt people are regenerated; therefore, the Old Testa­ment believers must have been regenerated. As can be seen, both lines of argumentation are built on assumptions. In one case, regeneration is assumed in order to prove indwelling; in the other case, indwelling is assumed in order to prove regeneration.

How proponents attempt to support Old Testament regen­eration

After conducting an extensive examination of every instance in the Old Testament where the Spirit is said to have come upon or left an individual, Leon Wood, himself a proponent of Old Testa­ment re­generation, said:

The conclusion has been definite: every instance concerned an aspect of empowerment for a task, with no instance seeming to involve spiritual renewal.[6]

Having concluded that none of the passages regarding the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament support the notion of the regeneration of Old Testament believers, Wood proceeds to estab­lish their regeneration based on two arguments. The first argu­ment is that Old Testament believers lived in such a way as is only possible for a regenerate person; he cites Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David as examples. While there can be no doubt that these biblical characters, as well as a good many others, were the re­cipients of the Spirit’s empowering, that fact does not prove they were regenerated.

Wood’s second argument is one that argues back from the New Testament. Wood states that such an argument is necessary because, “For some reason, the Old Testament does not speak of the matter directly.”[7] His argument is essentially that of the first argument above (i.e., that all saved people are regenerated when they are saved, and the Old Testament believers were saved; there­fore, Old Testament believers were regenerated, and thus in­dwelt). There are two serious flaws in this reasoning. The first is that the conclusion is assumed in the major premise. One cannot know that “all saved people are regenerated at the time they become saved” (major premise) without first knowing that Old Testament believers were regenerated at the time they were saved (conclusion). Since the major premise assumes the conclu­sion, this argument is circu­lar, and of course, circular arguments are invalid. The second flaw results from ignoring temporal relations. To be sure all saved peo­ple must eventually be regenerated, however, that in no way neces­sitates that Old Testament believers had to be regenerated at the time they exercised faith.

Proponents of Old Testament regeneration offer two addi­tional arguments: First, it is sometimes asserted that Jesus’ surprise at Nico­demus’ lack of knowledge about the new birth (Jn. 3:10) implies that such was, or at least should have been understood prior to the cross (see Kaiser’s statement above).[8] To this we agree; how­ever, that in no way implies that regeneration was experienced in the Old Testament, only that Nicodemus as a teacher of scrip­ture should have recognized that what Christ was teaching was part of the new covenant, which as Messiah he came to implement. Natu­rally, there were many things conceptualized only prophetically in the Old Testament that should have been understood by informed and God fearing Jews.

Second, it is suggested that since there is only one means of salva­tion in history, we should assume little, if any, distinction between salvation in the Old and New Testaments. While it is true there is only one means of salvation in history, that does not mean that the application of the individual elements of salvation is temporally uni­form. Although regen­eration at the moment of faith is the New Testament pattern, it does not follow that it must have been the pattern prior to the cross. We are partly beset by the problem of historical per­spective, for in the present age those who are saved are immediately regenerated, and there is a strong temptation to gen­eralize that to the Old Testament. However, there is no biblical or logical evidence that the Old Testament saints were regenerated.

How proponents attempt to support indwelling in the Old Testament

As Wood pointed out, there is no direct reference to in­dwelling in the Old Testament, neither is there any New Testament reference to the indwelling of Old Testament believers. J. Oliver Buswell refers to Numbers 27:18, where the Spirit is said to dwell “in” Joshua. It must be pointed out, however, that the word “dwell” does not appear in the original text and the Hebrew prepo­sition be can mean “with” as well as “in.” Therefore, we cannot prove anything more than that the Spirit was “with” Joshua. Buswell also cites Isaiah 63:11 where he states: “It is said of Israel under Moses’ leadership that ‘God put his Holy Spirit within him.’” That passage, however, is not referring to the Spirit’s indwelling of Moses per­sonally, but to his being present among the people (the singu­lar is employed to denote “the people,” or “Israel,” collectively). It is also worth mentioning that Kaiser, who argues elsewhere for Old Testament in­dwelling, fails to even men­tion the subject in his biblical theology of the Old Testament, a glaring omission were there any evidence to support Old Testa­ment indwelling.[9],[10]

If support for Old Testa­ment indwelling is absent from the Old Testament, is there any such support from the New Testament? Kaiser points to John 14:17 for support that Old Testament believ­ers were indwelt. He says:

Likewise, John 14:17 is especially important, for it affirms that our Lord’s disciples already had known the “Spirit of truth” because he was living with them. The prepositions are para “with,” the same word used in John 14:23 of the Father and the Son’s abiding in the disciples—a non-fluctuating re­lationship, and en, “in,” with a present tense verb éstai, “is” (rather than “will be” as in RSV, NASB, and NIV).[11]

It is largely on this statement that Kaiser bases his argument that Old Testament believers were indwelt. As can be seen, the weight of his argument hinges on the tense of the verb éstai, which he takes to be a present tense. However, éstai is unquestionably a future tense. It is possible that Kaiser meant to write éstin—present tense, which is to be found in only a handful of later manuscripts dating from the fourth through the sixth century. If this is what he in­tended to do, he failed to state that he was following a variant reading of the text. This is particularly significant in view of the fact that his entire argument hinges on the tense of this word, and the future tense is well attested. Suffice it to say that Kaiser’s argument fails to prove that the Old Testament believers were indwelt.

Having noted the lack of both Old and New Testament inductive evidence for the indwelling of Old Testament believers, we now turn attention to the deductive arguments. The general line of reasoning may be stated as fol­lows: Regenerate individuals must be indwelt; the Old Testament be­lievers were regenerate; therefore, Old Testament believers must have been indwelt. Wood posits this argument when he says:

…a strong argument that Old Testament saints were in­dwelt may be built on the fact that they were regenerated, as shown above. It was argued that, since they were regener­ated, it must have been the Holy Spirit who brought this about. Now it may be argued that, since these Old Testa­ment saints remained in a regenerated condition, it must have been the Holy Spirit who kept them so.[12]

The difficulty here is not with the major premise that all regener­ated people must be indwelt, but with the minor premise, that the Old Testament believers were regenerated. Interestingly, the major argument for the regeneration of Old Testament believers cited by Wood is that they were indwelt! This is the circular path trod by all who argue for the regeneration and indwelling of Old Testament believers: they must have been regenerate because they were indwelt, and they must have been indwelt because they were regenerate. Is there any wonder one gets the distinct impression there is a lack of biblical evidence for either?

Before moving on we should note one additional point: It is sometimes argued that the New Testament teaches that only those who are indwelt are truly saved, and passages such as Romans 5:5; 8:9,11; 1 Corinthians 2:12; 6:19-20; 2 Corinthians 5:5; Galatians 4:6; 1 John 3:24 and 4:13 are used as support. Of course, in the New Testament, regeneration and indwelling occur immediately at the time a person exercises faith; therefore, it is only logical that during this era a person who doesn’t have the Spirit would not be regener­ate. However, in order to gen­eralize that back to the Old Testament one would have to assume that regeneration and indwelling occurred there at the time faith was exercised, that of course, is what one is attempting to prove; thus, such an argument is circular. Sound dispensation interpretation (i.e., interpreting within the framework of the theological/historical perspective of the subject material) would prevent this type of error. Unfortu­nately, cove­nantalists generally do not interpret from a dispensational per­spective, so they flounder in a soup of temporally uncorrelated theological ideas.

Summary of the covenantal position on Old Testament re­genera­tion and indwelling

From the standpoint of induction, proponents have been unable to provide even the slightest support for the immediate regenera­tion of Old Testament believers. On the deductive side, the argu­ments employed are faulty with respect to either the facticity of the premises, or the logical structure of the arguments. The most com­mon error appears to be circular reasoning. We have also ob­served the lack of inductive support for indwelling in the Old Tes­tament. Wood’s analysis of the Old Testament passages relating to the comings and goings of the Spirit fails to yield even one instance of spiritual renewal (regeneration) associated with the work of the Spirit.[13] If Wood’s analysis is correct, then none of the instances of empowering can be classified as indwelling. Furthermore, one can­not argue for the immediate regeneration and indwelling of Old Testament believers from New Testament normative experience; any such argument would be circular since it must assume its own conclusion (i.e., it must assume that Old Testament and New Tes­tament normative experience is the same), clearly a logical prob­lem. Nothing short of clear inductive evidence from the Old Testa­ment, or a clear New Testament reference specifically refer­ring to Old Testament normative experience will suffice for proof. Propo­nents of Old Testament regeneration and indwelling have failed to provide such proof.

Arguments that the Old Testament believers were not regener­ated and indwelt prior to the cross

While the lack of evidence for the affirmative position is suf­ficient cause to view it with great suspicion, the lack of evidence for any position is not conclusive negation. We will now seek to pro­vide evidence that Old Testament believers were not regenerated, and consequently, not indwelt until Christ actually accomplished their re­demption on the cross.

Arguments against the immediate regeneration of Old Testament believers

Bear in mind, the argument is not that Old Testament believers were never regenerated, but that their regeneration occurred after Christ’s death. In other words, they were re­deemed, justified, regenerated, and indwelt when Christ’s sacrifice became effective. Ac­cordingly, redemption, justification, regeneration, and indwelling could not predate the cross. The rationale for this can be stated as follows: Eternal redemption is exclusively a provision of the New Covenant. No one was ever saved on the basis of the for­mer covenant (i.e., the Cove­nant of Law, cf., Gal. 3:2 1; Heb. 10:1-18); on this fact there is general agreement. Since eternal redemp­tion, and likewise justifi­cation and regeneration, is effected exclu­sively through means of the New Covenant, the question arises: Could God make applica­tion of the atonement provided by Christ’s sacri­fice prior to the time at which that sacrifice was actually offered? While there are several faulty arguments that seem to allow for this, scripture asserts the answer to be, “No.” Hebrews 9:15-17 reads:

(9:15-17) And for this reason he is the mediator of a new covenant, in order that since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant [the Law], those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance. (16) For where a covenant is, there must of necessity be the death of the one who made it. (17) For a covenant is valid only when men are dead, for it is never in force while the one who made it lives. [Explanation in brackets added]

Note the following observations from this passage: 1) Christ is now the Mediator of a new covenant; 2) that mediation is based upon his death having taken place (Gr. genomenou—aorist partici­ple); 3) this new covenant makes possible the redemption of sins committed under the former covenant (the Law); 4) redemption under the New Covenant is the basis upon which those who were called (contextu­ally including those called under the former cove­nant) might re­ceive the eternal inheritance; 5) the New Covenant could not have been in effect prior to Christ’s death, since a cove­nant has no force prior to the death of the one making the covenant.

We can now state our argument: 1) Eternal redemption, jus­tification, and regenera­tion/indwelling are exclusively provisions of the New Covenant. 2) The New Covenant could not have been in effect prior to the time of Christ’s death. 3) Therefore, no one could have been redeemed, and consequently justified and regener­ated/indwelt prior to Christ’s death. This is the reason why eter­nal redemption, regeneration, and in­dwelling are not pictured in the Old Testament, except propheti­cally as relates to the imple­mentation of the New Covenant (cf. Jer. 31:31-34). Hebrews 9:8 pro­vides further evidence by stating that the very figure of the outer tabernacle signifies that the way into the Holy Place (the presence of God) had not yet been dis­closed while the outer tabernacle stood. The readers were no doubt aware of the events surrounding Christ’s death and the fact that the veil of the Temple was torn in two when Christ died (Matt. 27:51). Both the teaching of Hebrews 9:15-17 and the symbolism from Matthew 27:51 are quite clear. The way into God’s presence was inaugurated at the time of Christ’s death, not before.

A faulty line of deduction has arisen in order to allow for the appli­cation of the atonement prior to the time of Christ’s death. John Feinberg states this position as follows:

In trying to understand how this can be so before the event occurs historically, we must distinguish between God’s per­spective and man’s. God has known about Christ’s death from all eternity. Since he decreed it, it was an accomplished fact in history. Because God knows that the deed will be done (since he decreed it), and because he sees all of history (including the completed work of Christ) at once, God can grant man salvation, even before the sacrifice is performed in history.[14]

Feinberg’s statement employs a combination of two lines of argu­mentation: 1) Since God knew from eternity that Christ would die for man’s sin he could make application of the atonement prior to the time of Christ’s death. 2) Christ’s death became an accom­plished fact from the instant it was decreed. Both of these argu­ments illustrate the fuzzy logic employed by proponents of Old Testament regeneration and indwelling.

The first issue to be addressed is whether the decree of God made the atonement actual immediately. On this point Feinberg seems confused, for while he states that the decree of God rendered the atonement actual, he also says, “It did not become a historical fact until it actually occurred.”[15] While it is correct to say that the decree of God necessitated the events so decreed, it would not be correct to think that the decree made those events actual, much less immediately actual, since the decree of God necessitated not only the events, but also the means for bringing those events about and the temporal rela­tions involved. The decree of God is that certain events will become actual in history, not apart from his­tory. Failure to make this distinction can lead to theological absurdities (such as one being saved before he, or she is born). That the New Covenant and its redemptive benefits could not have been in force prior to the death of Christ is quite certain, according to a normal read­ing of Hebrews 9:15-17. Feinberg’s approach further underscores the inadequacy of cove­nantal interpretation to deal with many of the tempo­ral issues involved in biblical interpreta­tion, particularly those that span multiple dispensations.

Another inconclusive argument is that God’s ‘‘reckoning” of faith as righteousness to the Old Testament believers (e.g. Abraham, cf. Rom 4:9) somehow implies an actual transfer of right­eousness. If that idea could be sustained, it would provide a powerful argu­ment for the immediate redemption, re­generation, and consequent indwelling of the Old Testament believers. However, the idea of such a transfer of righteousness cannot be sustained on the basis of reckoning, or imputation. The Greek term logizomai re­fers to an essentially cognitive operation; that is to say, it defines how God regarded, or thought of Abraham in the light of Abraham’s faith. It should be clear from Hebrews 9:15-17 that God did not cleanse Abraham or transfer righteousness to him, since the new covenant was not yet in effect; rather, God chose to regard Abraham in the light of his future redemption.[16] One objection that is sure to arise from this line of reasoning is this: Doesn’t the Old Testament talk about redemption and forgive­ness? Are we to conclude that the Old Testament believers knew nothing of cleansing from sin? The answer is that they knew of it, but only as prophetic of a future act of God.

If the Old Testament believers were not re­deemed until the time Christ died, how were their sins dealt with? Romans 3:21-26 addresses that problem.

(3:21-26) But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets, (22) even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction (23) for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, (24) being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; (25) whom God dis­played publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; (26) for the demonstration, I say, of His right­eousness at the present time, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Paul stated that the Old Testament believers were forgiven in the sense that their sins were “passed over” (Gr. paresin). Although holding a somewhat modified view, the New Testament scholar, R. C. H. Lenski made the following statement with regard to this “passing over”:

Paul’s “passing over” is used for the sake of exactness in the present connection. What actually took away the sins of the Old Testament saints was Christ’s blood. Until that blood was actually shed, all aphesis was, to be exact, a paresis; all “remitting” a “passing over.” The final reckoning with the sins of the Old Testament believers was, as it were, post­poned until the true mercy seat was set forth. In this way the Old Testament saints had their “remission,” it was in the form of a “passing over.”[17]

Did Old Testament believers experience forgiveness? “Yes,” God passed over the sins of Old Testament believers in anticipation of their actual redemption in the future. That redemption, however, was only anticipated in the Old Testament; its realization could only come about through the implementation of the New Covenant, which had no force prior to the death of Christ. Thus, God did not judge the Old Testament believers; he passed over their sins until they were atoned for on the cross. Essentially, God suspended the execution of divine justice (wrath) until their sins could be removed, but this in no way supposes that those be­lievers, who were still in their sin, could enter into the presence of a holy God; hence, the teaching of Christ regarding Paradise (Lk. 16:19-31) answers the question of the temporary disposition of the Old Testament believ­ers. It seems apparent from the New Testament that prior to the time of Christ’s resurrection believers were not immediately received into Heaven upon their death. While the existence of Paradise as a place sepa­rate from Heaven has been disputed, it seems a simple mat­ter to demonstrate that prior to Christ’s resurrection believers who died did not go to Heaven.[18]  On the cross, Jesus said to the repentant thief, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in para­dise”(Luke 23:43). Note the following: 1) Jesus and the former thief went to the same place immediately (Gr. semeron, “this day,” “now”) when they died. 2) That location could not have been Heaven, since Jesus made it clear upon his resurrec­tion that he had not yet ascended to Heaven (John 20:17 cf. Mark 16:19). With this information we are able to conclude that the for­mer thief did not go immediately to Heaven, so there must have been some other loca­tion to which believers went prior to Christ’s resurrection. Luke 16:19-31 refers to this place as “Abraham’s bosom.” It has been argued that since the place where Jesus went was called “Paradise” and since Heaven is also referred to as “Para­dise” (2 Cor. 12:4), they must be the same place.[19] However, that argument overlooks the fact that Paradise is only a generic designation for the abode of the saints, referring to Sheol prior to Christ’s resurrection, and to Heaven afterward. Such a view fits perfectly with the biblical information. Unless it can be shown that Christ ascended into Heaven prior to his resurrection, the conclusion seems obvious that Old Testament believers did not go immedi­ately to Heaven upon their death. Yet, if they were redeemed and regenerated, there would have been no reason that they should not have been able to enter Heaven immediately, as in the present era. While this line of reasoning does not prove that Old Testament saints were not regenerated, it is precisely what one would expect if Old Testament believers had to wait for the accomplishment of their redemption in Christ’s death.[20]]

Arguments against the indwelling of Old Testament believers

Just as there is no direct statement indicating that Old Tes­tament believers were indwelt, there is also no direct statement indicating that they were not indwelt. Indeed, why should there be? The proof they were not indwelt is to be seen from the forego­ing conclusion, i.e., that they were not regenerated, which of course, would initiate in­dwelling. As we have already seen, there is general agreement that regeneration and indwelling are co-extensive, since indwelling is simply the continuedness of regeneration.[21] If the Old Testament believers were not regenerated, then we can be certain they were not indwelt.

It is occasionally asserted that John 14:16-17 provides evi­dence that Old Testament believers were not indwelt since Jesus there states that the Spirit will (future tense) be “in you” (implying the Spirit was not hitherto indwelling believers). While this passage does seem to make such a statement, its value as evidence in this dispute is limited since the distributive use of the plural (Gr. en humin) “in you(plu­ral), i.e., “in each one of you (individually—distributively), rather than “among you” (corporately—as a group) cannot be proven, though it seems most likely.[22] Proponents of Old Testament re­generation and indwelling simply counter that this passage pre­dicts a special presence of the Spirit with or among the Church, not the beginning of the Spirit’s work of regenera­tion and indwelling of individuals. Nevertheless, it seems clear that Jesus was signaling a significant change in the work of the Holy Spirit to believers, a change from “with you” to “in you.” (Note this transi­tion is further supported in John 7:39, cf. 15:26; 16:13) Despite the fact that the grammar of this passage is somewhat imprecise, given the Old Testament context that Wood has pointed out, with no clear ex­amples of indwelling, and the personal and permanent nature of the Spirit’s work within the life of each individual believer begin­ning at Pentecost, it seems most likely that John 14:16-17 does pre­dict the beginning of the Spirit’s work of regen­eration and in­dwelling, and should not be so lightly dismissed by proponents of Old Testament regeneration and indwelling.

Summary of the position that the Old Testament believers were not regenerated and indwelt

In summary of the position that the Old Testament believers were not regenerated and indwelt, the argument is twofold: 1) Old Tes­tament believers could not have been indwelt since they were not regenerated. 2) There is no biblical evidence from either the Old or New Testaments demonstrating that the Old Testament saints were indwelt.


In regard to the matter of regeneration and indwelling in the Old Testament, we have noted the lack of any firm biblical support for either proposition. Arguments offered in support of Old Testa­ment regenera­tion and indwelling are inferential, and generally circular in nature (regeneration is assumed in order to prove indwelling, and indwelling is assumed in order to prove regenera­tion). Why doesn’t the Old Testament mention the new birth? Why are there no examples of indwelling in the Old Testa­ment? Why does the Old Testament view the veiled Holy of Holies as the place of God’s dwelling, whereas the New Testament records the rending of the veil and declares the believer the temple (Gr. naos = Holiest Place) of God? Why is there no indication that Old Testament believers were received into Heaven prior to the cross? Why does the New Testament declare that God “passed over” (Gr. paresis) the sins of the Old Testament saints? Why does the New Testament refer to the Old Testament economy as “bondage” (Gal. 3:22-4:7)? The answer to these questions is that God is holy, and while he could temporarily deal with men in the light of the salvation he knew he would ultimately provide for them, even that had limita­tions. It is only through the atoning sacrifice of Christ and the implementation of the New Covenant that sinners can be cleansed of their sin.

The larger issue is the way in which some covenantalists have dealt with this issue. The distortion of theological truth regarding salvation experience in the Old Testament by mod­ern-day covenantalists is simply another attempt to hide the clear­est of all dispensational transitions in redemptive history: the great divide between pre-cross and post-cross salvation experi­ence. The fact is, it is the cross that is the stake in redemptive history from which dispensationalism emerges. Covenantalists clearly see the implication of acknowledging a distinction between pre-cross and post-cross salvation experience. Not only are many mod­ern cove­nantalists intent on obscuring that distinction, some even assert that the very distinction between the Old and New Testaments is arti­ficial and unhelpful. Apparently they recognize that acknowl­edging such distinctions lends support to a dispensational view of redemptive history, something they feel they must avoid at all cost. In the course of coming to the logical end of their theological assumptions, covenantalists are themselves providing the clearest evidence of covenant theology’s inadequacy as a means of under­standing biblical truth. The fact is, any system of theology that ignores the temporal aspects of redemptive history, and the progressive nature of God’s work, can never do more than distort the message of the Bible.


[Unless otherwise indicated all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible.]

[1] The necessity of the new birth, as a future reality, certainly could be deduced from passages such as Isa. 53. However, since the work of Christ was from that perspective a future reality, so too was the new birth. Thus Jesus could say to Nicodemus, “You are the teacher of Israel and you do not know these things (in connection with the hope of Israel)?” Such certainly does not imply that regen­eration was experienced in the Old Testament.

[2] The terminology “permanent indwelling” is some­what of a misnomer. Since the Bible links indwelling with regeneration (1 Cor. 6:17-20 cf. v.11; Gal. 4:4-5), indwelling is by it’s very nature permanent. In other words, there is no such thing as temporary indwelling. (Temporary fillings of the Spirit in the Old Tes­tament should not be confused with indwelling; filling conveys power, regen­eration and indwelling conveys life.)

[3] Kaiser, Walter C. Jr., The Uses of the Old Testament in the New (Chicago: Moody Press, 1985), pp. 94, 100.

[4] Wood, Leon J., The Holy Spirit in the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976), p. 69.

[5] Wood, p. 69.

[6] Wood, p. 64.

[7] Wood, p. 65.

[8] Kaiser, p. 94.

[9] Kaiser, p. 95.

[10] Kaiser, Walter C., Toward an Old Testament Theology (Grand Rapids: Aca­demie Books. 1978).

[11] Kaiser, The Uses of the Old Testament in the New, p. 94.

[12] Wood, p. 70.

[13] Wood, p. 64.

[14] Wood, p. 64.

[15] Feinberg, p. 54.

[16] One might ask why the previous objections raised against foreknowledge would not also apply to this second option. The answer is that this option does not involve an actual pre-cross application of the atonement.

[17] Lenski, R. C. H., The Interpretation of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ro­mans (Min­neapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1936), p. 261.

[18] Ryrie, Charles C., Basic Theology (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1988), pp. 519-520. Also see: Harry Buis, The Doctrine of Eternal Punishment (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishers, 1957), p. 18.

[19] Ryrie, P. 520.

[20] As an additional point, the Old Testament states that “Sheol”—the place of the dead (Job 10:21-22; Psa. 6:4-5; 16:8-11; Isa. 38:18-19), was also the abode of the righteous dead. It seems highly unlikely that any connection can be drawn between Sheol and Heaven, par­ticularly in light of Ps. 16:8-11. The Hebrews certainly understood the idea of immortality (see, James Orr, “Immortality in the Old Testament,” Classical Evangelical Essays in Old Testament Interpretation, ed. Walter C. Kaiser [Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1982] pp. 253-265.). However, they seem to have had no concept of being immediately received into God’s presence in Heaven at death. That Heaven is the home of the believer is a truth first taught by Christ in John 14:2-3, and even there, it is presented as a future reality.

[21] Wood, p. 69.

[22] The problem with using this passage as a proof against Old Testament indwelling is not, as commonly suggested, due to the lack of a clear distinction between “with” [para] and “in” [én]. We have only to compare the locative use of these prepositions where a concrete object is employed. In such usages, the meanings are quite distinct. The real problem is in sustaining the distributive sense of én humin—”in you” [plural], for unless the distributive—“in each of you”—can be sustained, the translation “among you” (in the group—associa­tively–rather than the individuals) would certainly be permissible, though perhaps insensitive to the larger biblical context.

©  Copyright 1989, 2019 by Sam A. Smith
Published by: Biblical Reader Communications