ARTICLES

Volume 46 - Issue 1

Spirit-Anointing and New Testament Church Leadership: Are Our Church Leaders Uniquely “Anointed?”

By Scott MacDonald

Abstract

Does the church need Spirit-anointed leadership? “Anointing” is an increasingly common topic in relation to Christian leaders. This article aims to clarify the role of Spirit-anointing in the Old and New Testaments, with special attention to texts that are explicitly relevant to the church’s experience (i.e., 2 Cor 1:21–22; 1 John 2:20, 26–27). The misuse of the term “anointing” arises from a recast of Old Testament pneumatology as post-Pentecost. This misapplication of Old Testament texts denigrates the Holy Spirit’s expanded role of inhabitation in the New Testament era. Furthermore, the obfuscation of Spirit-anointing has incurred significant harm to the practices and doctrines that relate to local church leadership.

“Your church needs more than called leadership; it needs anointed leadership!” Such catchphrases are proliferating throughout contemporary Christian circles.1 Innumerable church leaders have staked their claim to the anointing, which supposedly sets them apart from lesser leaders. For instance, The Potter’s House North Dallas (affiliated with T. D. Jakes) boasts concerning one of their leaders, “The fresh anointing on Bishop Joby Brady, complemented with an insight in the revelation of God’s word, is touching the hearts of people around the world.”2 If someone is not sure if they have received anointing, they do not need to worry since articles like “5 Things Anointed Leaders Have” are aplenty online.3

As a seminary instructor in the Global South, I have observed this pursuit of anointing firsthand. Evangelical seminarians, thanks to the encroachment and infiltration of Neo-Pentecostal teachings, have embraced these new pneumatological terms and ideas. The rest of the visible church around the world is not immune to this inclination. Appeals and references to anointed men of God are aplenty. Anyone like myself who would dare to voice caution is silently branded at best “stuck in his ways” or at worst “anti-Spirit.”

But is the clamor for anointed leadership a biblical concept? In the pages ahead, let us recall the Old Testament background and the New Testament concept of Spirit-anointing. We need to correctly diagnose the misunderstandings which undergird our proclivity for “anointing” and warn against the consequences from such a misuse of terminology.4

1. Old Testament Spirit-Anointing

Throughout the Old Testament, anointing primarily pertains to leadership over God’s people, in some formal capacity. The act of anointing with oil consecrated specific people for service. The Hebrew verb itself (מָשַׁח , the origin of the word “Messiah”) initially appears in Genesis 31:13 concerning the rock which Jacob covered with oil, meaning literally to “smear” or “anoint.”5 The first biblical examples of the anointing of persons are Moses and Aaron. Moses’s anointing, though no oil is used, is implied from the wording of Numbers 11:17 where it is said that “the Spirit was on him” and that this anointing would be spread to the seventy elders.6 This incident inaugurated the formal prophetic role in Israel, as evidenced by Moses’s exclamation in verse 29, “Would that all the LORD’s people were prophets, that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!” The anointing of the prophetic office is also evidenced through other instances like Elijah and Elisha (1 Kgs 19:16).

In contrast with Moses’s reception of the Spirit, the role of anointing with oil is more explicit and literal in the initiation of the Aaronic priesthood. The consecration scene is depicted in Leviticus 8:10–13:

Then Moses took the anointing oil and anointed the tabernacle and all that was in it, and consecrated them. And he sprinkled some of it on the altar seven times, and anointed the altar and all its utensils and the basin and its stand, to consecrate them. And he poured some of the anointing oil on Aaron’s head and anointed him to consecrate him. And Moses brought Aaron’s sons and clothed them with coats and tied sashes around their waists and bound caps on them, as the LORD commanded Moses.7

While the Spirit is not mentioned in the immediate context, his involvement is implicit, since the priests were commissioned to serve the Lord in his presence (and the Spirit would come upon their line in cases like 2 Chr 24:20).8 The Holy One consecrated them as holy for their ministry.

The post of king, especially in the early years as the Israelite kingdom solidified, exhibits the importance of anointing.9 Saul, David, and Solomon are all anointed with oil. The description of David’s anointing is one of the clearest expressions of Old Testament Spirit-anointing: “Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers. And the Spirit of the LORD rushed upon David from that day forward. And Samuel rose up and went to Ramah” (1 Sam 16:13).10

While David did not seize the royal office at that time, he is set apart and spiritually equipped for the role. In contrast to his older and more respectable brothers, God uniquely qualifies David by the presence of the Spirit whom the others did not possess. First Samuel provides little commentary, but the picture of the oil flowing down David’s head speaks more than anything else! Bergen expounds, “The shapeless, invasive fluid used in the ceremony served fittingly as a symbol of the mystical presence of God. As the oil worked its way into the individual’s hair and pores, it symbolized the divine presence entering into the one being anointed.”11 Anointing is the physical expression of the spiritual event of the covering or inhabitation of the Holy Spirit of God.

However, while anointing pertains to kings like David, it also applies to disreputable ones such as Jehu, who did not “walk in the law of the LORD, the God of Israel, with all his heart.”12 According to the will of God, the installation of this ordained dynasty appears to demand such a procedure. Thus, the spiritually deficient leader was anointed.

So he arose and went into the house. And the young man poured the oil on his head, saying to him, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, I anoint you king over the people of the LORD, over Israel”…. Then in haste every man of them took his garment and put it under him on the bare steps, and they blew the trumpet and proclaimed, “Jehu is king.” (2 Kgs 9:6, 13)

The concept of anointed leadership is even flexible enough to encompass a foreign ruler like Cyrus, as the Lord calls him “anointed” in Isaiah 45:1! Especially considering his “deliverer” role in relationship to the nation of Israel, the title is warranted. Thus, moral standards are not a prerequisite for anointing in this basic sense. This understanding also accounts for the Holy Spirit’s use of the ethically suspect judges.

In general, the Old Testament context establishes a bifurcated pattern for the people of God—the Spirit-anointed who are elected and equipped for leadership and the rest of God’s people who lack the same influence of the Spirit of God. While one could debate whether some leaders were more anointed than others, this comparison is not prioritized from the text. Instead, the natural juxtaposition is that the Holy Spirit accompanies and utilizes a few, while the remainder are not so blessed.

2. The Spirit-Anointing of the Messiah

The broader Old Testament context leads us into the Messianic concept of anointing, relating to Jesus. Cyrus is not the only anointed figure in Isaiah! Isaiah 61 speaks of another anointed one (i.e., the Messiah). This prophetic text which Jesus claims for himself in Luke 4:18–19 declares:

The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;

he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;

to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor.13

The presence and power of the Spirit is uniquely associated with the Greek word “anointed” (related to χρίω, the origin of the word “Christ”).14 However, the quality of this Anointed One, the Messiah, is extraordinary. In the moral sense, he is unquestioned, as framed in Hebrews 1:8–9, where the Son always loves righteousness (setting Jesus apart from the anointings of Cyrus, Saul, and even David).15 The Messianic role extends beyond a single office, enveloping prophet (Luke 4:18), priest (Heb 7:11–28), and king (Heb 1:8). In the chronological sense, he reigns “forever and ever.” In Jesus, we behold the culmination of Spirit-anointing.

While entirely and eternally divine even in his incarnation, Jesus follows and fulfills the pattern of Spirit-anointing in his baptism.16 No physical oil is used, but the Spirit descends upon him and guides the initiation of the Messianic ministry.17 This includes both the wilderness temptation and the public fulfillment of the Isaiah 61 prophecy. Jesus then ministers in the power of the Spirit, as Peter testified in Acts 10:38, “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.”18 It is not surprising that Jesus considers the Pharisees’ objections to his ministry as blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (Matt 12:24–32)!19

3. New Testament Spirit-Anointing

What about the New Testament church and us today? Should we apply the Old Testament anointing or the Messianic anointing motifs to the church? We must examine the texts which expound on the Spirit’s role of anointing in the church.

First, Paul raises the subject in 2 Corinthians 1:21–22, stating, “And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.”20 As an extension of his introduction to the epistle, the apostle is discussing travel intentions. And in the midst of this pericope, he unearths a theological nugget about the Holy Spirit. Despite changes of plans, the church at Corinth and Paul are united in Christ by the “anointing, sealing, and giving” of the Holy Spirit.21 Christ is “the Anointed One,” and since Paul and the Corinthians are united in Christ, they too are anointed.

Second, John mentions Spirit-anointing in his first letter:

But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge…. I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you. But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him. (1 John 2:20, 26–27)22

Again, the extent of this anointing is broad.23 In verse 18, John employs the familial term “children” “to show that he is addressing the community as a whole.”24 In light of their struggles with antichrists (2:18) and false prophets (4:1), the beloved disciple is reminding them of the anointing they have all received through the Spirit who guides them into the truth and protects them from the deceptions of the age.

Beyond these explicit references, Spirit-anointing is primarily assumed throughout the New Testament. The canonical progression is straightforward. In the Old Testament, a few are anointed by the Spirit. The Messiah comes as the “Anointed One,” whom the Spirit of God leads and empowers to fulfill the mission of the Son as determined by the Father. Then, springing from our union with Christ, all of God’s people receive the anointing by the Spirit of God to carry out the mission of the church. In most cases, the anointing ministry of the Spirit is incorporated within his baptizing and inhabitation of all Christians. Just as the Spirit baptism of all members of the church is standard (1 Cor 12:13), so too the Spirit-anointing of all believers is normative. Thiselton virtually shouts down any misunderstandings about Spirit baptism in 1 Corinthians 12, admonishing, “Any theology that might imply that this one baptism in 13a in which believers were baptized by [or in] one Spirit might mark off some post-conversion experience or status enjoyed only by some Christians attacks and undermines Paul’s entire argument and emphasis.”25 Similarly, the apostle insists that “it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us” (2 Cor 1:21). Thus, the New Testament is emphatically clear concerning Spirit-anointing: the very fabric of apostolic doctrine disintegrates with the notion that Spirit-anointing graces an exclusive few instead of uniting and empowering the corporate body.

4. Spirit-Anointing for a Few?

What about those “receiving the Holy Spirit” narratives in the New Testament? Do these stories provoke us to reevaluate and allow for the possibility of unique anointings for church leadership? Beyond the hermeneutical issues of defining a doctrine by pitting narrative example against didactic instruction, the texts involved do not support Spirit-anointing as a special grace upon church leaders.

In John 20:22, the resurrected Christ visits his disciples. John recounts, “And when he [Jesus] had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” But does this passage refer to Spirit-anointing, and is this anointing only for the apostles? One hurdle in trying to fashion this event as a special anointing for leaders is the timing. The pre-Pentecost event is early and necessarily narrow. Most persons do not receive the Holy Spirit by the breath of the incarnate Christ! The overall event is a figurative demonstration of what was to become universal among God’s people—the reception of the Holy Spirit. Beasley-Murray wisely summarizes,

The significance of this act [i.e., the giving of the Spirit], accordingly, is not to be limited as though it were solely for the disciples in relation to vv 21 and 23. All three sentences [i.e., the sending of the disciples, the giving of the Spirit, and the forgiveness of sins] have to do with the whole church, like the promises of the Spirit earlier in the Gospel.26

Jesus is not instituting a special anointing for his disciples which the rest of the church would never experience. Instead, the disciples are the first recipients of the promise of the Holy Spirit—he who would rest upon the entire community of faith.

During the transition from the Spirit’s Old Testament ministry to the Spirit’s New Testament ministry, other unusual times of unevenness in the dispersal of the Spirit occur, where the Spirit is not automatically provided (e.g., the converts of Samaria in Acts 8:14–17).27 But again, these cases do not involve leaders lacking a unique anointing for ministry. The Spirit’s inhabitation ministry is widening, even as he works in partnership with the message and mission of the Apostles.

5. The Cost of Confusing the Anointing of the Spirit

Therefore, should we look for “anointed leadership” in the church today? The Scripture does not support such language or the theology behind it. We will encounter the following four consequences when we obfuscate the biblical terminology.

First, leadership offices are arbitrarily safeguarded for a privileged status (i.e., anointed) that is not biblically delineated as a unique leadership quality. The requirements for holding New Testament offices are stated (apostle: 1 Cor 9:1, 15:7–9; elder/overseer: 1 Tim 3:1–7, Titus 1:5–9; deacon: 1 Tim 3:8–13), and possessing an additional anointing is not included, as that is an Old Testament concept of leadership. Instead, when churches foist “anointing” into their leadership requirements, it can function as shorthand for “someone who is uniquely or spectacularly called, beyond the usual gifting” or “someone who has a unique relationship with God and his divine power.” This hodgepodge boils down into Gnosticism, personality cults, and legalism.

Second, Christians misunderstand the importance and role of Spirit-filling. While the Bible contains no imperative to “be anointed,” Ephesians 5:18 commands, “Be filled with the Spirit.” Although “anointed” is a trait of the entire church in the New Testament, filling is not, and thus Christians are commanded to pursue it, which results in wisdom, knowledge of the will of God, heartfelt worship, and thankfulness.28 It would then follow that we would expect our leaders to exhibit Spirit-filling in their roles before the body. And the Spirit does occasionally use such filled persons in powerful ways, but this occurrence does not mean that we should misuse the biblical term “anointed” in the description of those persons.

If we post the placard “you must be anointed” to hold a certain office in the church, consider the misunderstanding in the hearts of aspiring ministers. “Am I anointed?” “How can I be anointed?” “Who will anoint me with the Spirit of God?” Of course, the search for extraordinary “anointing” can be well-intentioned, but the example of Simon offers a cautionary tale (Acts 8:18). Furthermore, instead of potential Christian leaders pursuing the filling of the Spirit by faith in Christ, the pursuit of anointing can lead to a misused Old Testament example (e.g., Elijah and Elisha) that does not represent the Spirit’s present anointing work in the church.

Third, the “anointing” label for church leaders only deepens the divide between laity and clergy. Like the Old Testament where Moses stood before God while the people trembled at a distance, classes of Christians also form today when it should not be this way! Ironically, the apostle Paul referenced the anointing of the Spirit as a source of unity and commonality, even as the usage of “anointed” by many modern leaders implies the opposite. Laity are led to believe that levels of the Spirit’s ministry are inaccessible, requiring that they rely upon the anointed clergy class.

We bemoan the atrophy of many pew-dwellers, those who muster mere overtures concerning the mission of the church in the world. Yet as long as we embrace concepts like Spirit-anointing for a few privileged leaders, should they not be apathetic? They supposedly lack the full commission of the Spirit, and the spiritually rich can surely accomplish the work of the ministry without the minute contributions of the spiritually poor. What an error! Does not the body need all of its parts anointed for service? Let the church unite in our Spirit-anointing, that we may realize our common standing before God and our joint mission in the world. Our pastors and leaders are not our “Moseses.” As we are partakers of a greater covenant in Christ, the Spirit has come upon the entire people of God, whom he has permanently anointed and set apart for ministry.

Fourth, when “anointed” is a title reserved for a privileged class, the doctrine of the priesthood of believers suffers. First Peter 2:9 and Revelation 5:9–10 depict the totality of God’s people as a priesthood.29 But how could this be possible apart from anointing (figuratively or literally)? In a contemporary church culture that overlooks or diminishes the universality of the anointing within the body of Christ, the anointed class also becomes the priestly class, to the exclusion of others. But by virtue of our union with Christ in his life, death, and resurrection, we also are anointed by the Spirit as prophets, priests, and kings under the rule of Jesus—the Prophet, the Priest, and the King.

The contemporary use of the title “anointed” conflates the operation of the Holy Spirit’s anointing ministry in the Old Testament with his broader anointing work in the New Testament. The offices and gifts of the church all require and flow from the anointing of the Spirit! No special sense of anointed leadership is outlined in the New Testament, and when we finagle that language into our churches, we are downplaying the relationship of the Holy Spirit with the church, while anachronistically disseminating the Old Testament divide wherein some are anointed and some are not anointing among God’s people. For the health of the church, let us fervently oppose such misguided terminology.


[1] In addition to the example from The Potter’s House mentioned above, here are some other articles that reflect the present clamor to seek and produce “anointed” leaders: Brad Long, “5 Principles of Growing Anointed Leaders,” Presbyterian Reformed Ministries International, https://www.prmi.org/5-principles-of-growing-anointed-leaders/; Stephen Mayers, “What’s Your Leadership Anointing?” Healthy Leaders, https://healthyleaders.com/whats-leadership-anointing/; Christopher Peppler, “Anointed Leadership: The Church Jesus Would Attend Series,” Truth is The Word, http://www.truthistheword.com/anointed-leadership-the-church-jesus-would-attend-series/.

[2] https://www.tphnd.org/our-leaders/.

[3] Artie Davis, “5 Things Anointed Leaders Have,” Church Planting, https://www.churchplanting.com/5-things-anointed-leaders-have/.

[4] We are differentiating between anointing for consecrated leadership and other anointings like healing (e.g., Mark 6:13, Jas 5:14) and burial (e.g., Mark 14:8). While these other anointings are related, we are focusing on the specific issue of leadership. For more on New Testament anointing narratives, see S. Miller’s helpful article “Anointing,” DJG, 17–18.

[5] BDB 602, s.v. “מָשַׁח.” The event of setting apart Bethel is described in Genesis 28:18.

[6] Cole explains, “Moses’ role was to gather … the seventy elders and present them before the Lord at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting, the standard place for revelatory activity from the Lord and where priests and Levites were anointed and commissioned for service. The Lord would then descend in the cloud and speak to Moses, the key individual in the revelatory activity of Yahweh. In the process he would impart to them some of his spirit, which heretofore had been endowed only upon Moses.” R. Dennis Cole, Numbers, NAC 3B (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2000), 189.

[7] All Scripture citations in this article follow the ESV.

[8] Wenham connects the anointing of Aaron with the ministry of the Holy Spirit, commenting, “Since the Spirit brings unity and blessing, this may explain the reference to this ceremony in Ps. 133.” Gordon J. Wenham, The Book of Leviticus, NICOT [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979], 141.

[9] Judges were also presumably anointed in some sense (e.g., Gideon is “clothed” by the Spirit in Judg 6:34), though not literally anointed with oil like Aaron the priest or David the king.

[10] “For both Saul and David, after they were anointed king, the spirit of the Lord came upon them to equip them to carry out their commission,” according to David Toshio Tsumura, The First Book of Samuel, NICOT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), 423.

[11] Robert D. Bergen, 1, 2 Samuel, NAC 7 (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1996), 180.

[12] 2 Kings 10:31. Jehu’s anointing and commission is quite specific. He is not only elevated from commander to king, but he is selected to fulfill the prophesies of God. “Jehu takes the prophet to a private place, where the messenger anoints him. Instead of running as soon as he declares him king, as Elisha has instructed him, the anointer tells Jehu that his rise to power will occur so that Elijah’s predictions about Ahab’s lineage and about Jezebel can come true. Indeed, this language in 9:10 sounds very much like 1 Kgs 21:23” according to Paul R. House, 1, 2 Kings, NAC 8 (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1995), 287

[13] While a reading of Isaiah alone might lead a student of the Scripture to assume that the anointed one was purely prophetic, Luke has a broader concept in mind. Nolland adds, “Luke thinks in both prophetic and messianic terms …, though in the immediate pericope the prophetic thought is predominant. In any case, the stress is on Jesus as anointed by the Spirit.” John Nolland, Luke 1:1–9:20, WBC 35A (Dallas: Word, 1989), 196.

[14] William D. Mounce, Mounce Concise Greek-English Dictionary of the New Testament (Accordance Electronic Edition, 2011), s.v. “Χριστός,” “χρίω.”

[15] The author of Hebrews is contrasting the Son and the angelic host. The anointed Son’s superiority is evident, as he stands above the heavenly powers. “God has assigned to him a superior office. Their [the angels’] function is to serve; his is to rule,” according to William L. Lane, Hebrews 1–8, WBC 47A (Nashville: Nelson, 1991), 30.

[16] Jesus rightfully receives worship from the Magi (Matt 2:11) before his public ministry. No narrative room exists to permit that Jesus was emptied of divinity prior to birth or that Jesus was adopted as divine at the baptism.

[17] “Messiah” is a “rendering of a Hebrew term meaning ‘anointed one,’ equivalent to the original sense of the Greek term translated ‘Christ,’” according to Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, 2nd ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2014), 783.

[18] Peter understood what was obvious to Jesus’s followers after the resurrection—that Jesus represented Himself as the Son of God and the Messiah in one person. Bruce mentions, “It was at his baptism that Jesus was thus anointed, for then the Holy Spirit descended on him from above, while the voice from heaven acclaimed him as God’s Son and chosen one Messiah and Servant in one. Part of the force of Peter’s words will come home to us if for a moment we render ‘God anointed him’ as ‘God made him Messiah.’” F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, revised ed., NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988), 214.

[19] Hagner comments, “The gravity of the blasphemy against the Spirit, however, depends upon the Holy Spirit as the fundamental dynamic that stands behind and makes possible the entire messianic ministry of Jesus itself.” Donald A. Hagner, Matthew 1–13, WBC 33A (Nashville: Nelson, 1993), 348.

[20] Harris confirms that Paul is intending to apply anointing broadly in this text, not merely to himself or other church leadership. “Rather, σὺν ὑμῖν after ἡμας alerts the readers that in the further two uses of ἡμεῖς in this sentence, the pronoun refers not to Paul alone (as in v. 18) or to Paul and his colleagues (as in v. 19) but to Paul and the Corinthians as typical of all believers (as in the transitional v. 20). And just as ‘anointing’ is a universal Christian privilege (1 John 2:20, 27), so too are ‘sealing’ and receipt of the Spirit (v. 22).” Murray J. Harris, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text, NIGTC 12 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), 206–207

[21] David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, NAC 29 (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1999), 105.

[22] Interpreters debate the precise meaning of the Holy One in verse 20. Some suggest different members of the Trinity, but with trinitarian cooperation in mind, the answer to the question is not terribly relevant, since “there is really no contradiction between the two possible interpretations, for the divinely effected anointing has the same function as that which the Fourth Gospel attributes to the Holy Spirit as the Paraclete: teaching the Christian community in order that it may know the truth, follow the way of truth, and abide in God.” Georg Strecker, The Johannine Letters, Hermeneia (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996), 64–65.

[23] “When it is now said of the readers of 1 John, in contrast to the false teachers, that they have been anointed, it seems that anointing is attributed only to the true community. They alone possess the chrism, the oil of anointing, to the extent that they have true knowledge. What is meant is therefore the possession of the spirit of truth, which is not automatically bestowed in the sacramental action but is a gift of God requiring faith. This is precisely what the author presupposes regarding all the readers, in contrast to the opponents who threaten the community.” Strecker, The Johannine Letters, 65.

[24] Daniel L. Akin, 1, 2, 3 John, NAC 38 (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2001), 113.

[25] Anthony C. Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text, NIGTC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 998.

[26] George R. Beasley-Murray, John, WBC 36 (Waco, TX: Word, 1987), 381.

[27] While this text always provokes debate, it cannot be interpreted apart from the epistolary doctrine on the ministry of the Spirit. Understanding the unusual timing and circumstances, Bruce harmonizes accordingly, “It is not suggested by Paul when he speaks in 2 Cor. 1:21–22 of Christians’ being anointed, sealed, and given the Spirit in their hearts as a guarantee; he does not include the power of thus imparting the Spirit among the spiritual gifts listed in 1 Cor. 12:4–11, and when he thanks God that he did not baptize more than a handful of his Corinthian converts (1 Cor. 1:14–16) the whole force of his argument would disappear if we had to suppose that, even so, he confirmed them all. In other places in Acts, too, there is no hint that apostolic hands were laid on converts before they received the Spirit. Nothing is said about this being done to the Pentecostal believers at Jerusalem (2:38–42) or, later, to the household of Cornelius at Caesarea (10:44–48). The only near parallel to the present occasion is the exceptional case of the Ephesian disciples in 19:1–7. In general, it seems to be assumed throughout the New Testament that those who believe and are baptized have also the Spirit of God. In the present instance, some special evidence may have been necessary to assure the Samaritans, so accustomed to being despised as outsiders by the people of Jerusalem, that they were fully incorporated into the new community of the people of God.” Bruce, The Book of the Acts, 169.

[28] While New Testament narratives associate the filling of the Spirit with miraculous events and public preaching, the essence of Spirit-filling is explained here by Paul. Persons filled with Spirit by faith understand the will of God and act wisely in carrying it out. Lincoln frames the passage well: “The command to be filled with the Spirit stands in the center of the passage and has links with what precedes—wisdom—as well as with what follows—worship. The Spirit provides the power for both aspects of Christ living. Believers … are now exhorted to allow the Spirit to have the fullest control that they are conscious of in their lives and to open themselves continually to the one who can enable them to walk wisely and to understand Christ’s will and who can inspire their worship and thanksgiving.” Andrew T. Lincoln, Ephesians, WBC 42 (Dallas: Word, 1990), 345.

[29] What is Peter indicating by applying “royal priesthood” to the church? “This means both that they are a priesthood and that they belong to the king. In the ancient world it was not unusual for the king to have his own group of priests. In our writing surely the kingdom of God is referred to, which indicates that they serve, not the earthly cult of Israel or any other such cult, but that which belongs to the inbreaking kingdom whose king is Christ. Their priestly duties have already been indicated in 2:5, namely, the offering of spiritual sacrifices. The priest has the privilege of serving in the presence of the deity, of ‘coming near’ where no one else dares (cf. Heb. 9:1–10:25). Thus together the words indicate the privileged position of the Christians before God: belonging to the king and in the presence of God.” Peter H. Davids, The First Epistle of Peter, NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990), 91–92.

Scott MacDonald

Scott MacDonald serves as the academic dean and a lecturer at the Baptist Theological Seminary of Zambia in partnership with the International Mission Board.

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