Are people “filled with the Holy Spirit” once or multiple times?

Q. Why are the apostles “filled with the Holy Spirit” when they pray for boldness after Peter and John are released from prison, when they have just recently received the Spirit on Pentecost? Isn’t the receiving of the Holy Spirit a one-time thing as opposed to how it was in the Old Testament times? If there are deeper levels / experiences, what do they consist of?

El Greco, “Pentecost” (detail). If the apostles were already filled with the Holy Spirit on this occasion, why did they need to be filled again?

As I understand it, on the day of Pentecost, it is the community of Jesus’ followers that is filled with the Holy Spirit, as the “new temple” of the new covenant.

Under the old covenant, when the tabernacle was first set up in the wilderness, “the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle,” to such an extent thatMoses could not enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.”  Later, when Solomon built the first temple in Jerusalem and brought the ark of the covenant there, similarly “the cloud filled the temple of the Lord, and the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled his temple.”

Unfortunately the Israelites broke this covenant and they were conquered and exiled, and the first temple was destroyed.  Shortly before this, as Ezekiel saw in one of his visions, “the glory of the God of Israel went up from above the cherubim [i.e. upon the ark], where it had been, and moved to the threshold of the temple.”  As Ezekiel looked on, “the glory of the Lord departed from over the threshold of the temple” and it was escorted away out of the city by angelic beings.  (I’m always horrified when I read about this departure of God’s glory and Spirit!)

There is no record in the Bible of God’s glory filling the second temple, which was rebuilt in various stages after the return from exile.  I believe this is because, under the promised new covenant, the community of believers was to constitute the new temple.  As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, addressing the community corporately, not the members individually, “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?”  Paul wrote similarly to the Ephesians:

“You are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.”

So this is what I think was happening on the day of Pentecost.  As I put it in the title of a sermon I preached one Pentecost Sunday when I was a pastor, it is the “filling of the new temple.”  This is something different from the filling of an individual believer by the Holy Spirit.  I believe that such an individual filling takes place in one sense on a one-time basis, but that in another sense it can happen on a repeated basis.

Everyone who becomes a committed follower of Jesus receives the Holy Spirit as a gift, to equip and empower them to serve and to live a holy life.  So this one-time filling is not a matter of us getting more of the Holy Spirit.  Rather, it’s a matter of the Holy Spirit getting more of us.  Christians throughout the ages have reported an experience that sometimes goes by the name of “complete surrender,” in which they realize that Jesus must have unchallenged lordship in their lives.  They therefore surrender their wills to do only God’s will.  And many report that concurrently something happens that they call the “baptism in the Holy Spirit.”  (“Baptism” is simply the Greek word for “to fill by immersing,” so this is just another way of saying “the filling of the Holy Spirit.”)  The point is that the Holy Spirit, who has now been given free access to the whole being, fills all those areas in our lives that had once been closed off.

This experience is known by other names as well, such as the “Second Blessing,” but it does not have to come a long time after a person’s first commitment to Christ.  Churches in the Pentecostal tradition associate it with receiving the “gift of languages” (which I discuss in this post), but the experience was well attested in church history long before the Pentecostal movement began in 1906.  Basically it is a one-time “filling” with the Holy Spirit that occurs when we open our entire life for the Spirit to fill.

This is different from the kind of “filling” we might need and experience on a recurring basis when the Spirit makes use of us in a special way as an instrument of God’s work on earth.  This recurring kind of filling is, as you say, described in the Old Testament, as well as in New Testament passages like the one in which the apostles pray for boldness.  These are those situations in which, as I explain in this post, it is said that “the Spirit of Yahweh clothed herself with” a certain person, in effect “putting that person on” like a garment so that they could become God’s instrument.

Even when this particular language is not present, and we hear simply about the person being “filled with the Spirit,” the idea is the same.  A special measure of God’s presence and empowerment is needed for a particular task, and so it is granted for that occasion.

I hope these distinctions are helpful in answering your question.

Has the Holy Spirit ever taken on human form?

 

Francesco Albani, “The Baptism of Christ” (detail). The Holy Spirit appeared in material form, as a dove, at Christ’s baptism. But has the Holy Spirit ever appeared in human form?

Q. I know God and Jesus have taken human form before, and I was wondering, has the Holy Spirit ever done so? I don’t remember any passages where He does, but are there any?

(This is the second part of a question whose first part is answered in this post.)

I’m not aware of any biblical passages that describe the Holy Spirit taking on human form quite the way Jesus did in his incarnation, or the way God the Father did on several occasions in the Old Testament when He appeared as the “angel of the LORD” (that is, “the angel of Yahweh”). In some of those episodes, the so-called “angel” is identified directly with Yahweh. For example, after the angel of the LORD’s very first appearance in the Old Testament, to Hagar, we read that she “gave this name to Yahweh who had spoken to her: ‘You are the God who sees me.’”

However, there are at least a couple of places in the Bible where the Holy Spirit appears in material form. Luke tells us in his gospel that when Jesus was baptized, “the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove.” And Luke tells us in Acts that “what seemed to be tongues of fire” came to rest on each of the disciples as they were filled with the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost.

Beyond this, there are three very intriguing occasions in the Old Testament when the Holy Spirit is said to put on the body of an existing human being as if it were clothing, in order to speak and act on earth.

Before I discuss these places, I need to say a word about Hebrew grammar so that I can quote from the original language without being misunderstood. The word for “Spirit” in Hebrew is feminine. This doesn’t mean that the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, is a woman (biologically female), any more than the masculine pronouns that are used conventionally in Hebrew and Greek (and typically in English) for the first person of the Trinity, whom Jesus taught us to call “Father,” mean that this person is a man (biologically male). Rather, “Spirit” in Hebrew is feminine because it’s the same word as “wind,” and natural forces (sun, fire, wind, etc.) are conventionally feminine in Hebrew. But the Holy Spirit is a person, not a thing, and so the Spirit should definitely be given a personal pronoun, not an impersonal one (“it”). For this reason, when translating directly from the Hebrew, I say “she,” “her,” and “herself” for the Spirit.

Now here are the places in the Bible where the Holy Spirit is said to put on the body of an existing human being.

First, in the book of Judges, after God called Gideon to deliver the ancient Israelites from Midianite domination, “the Spirit of the Lord came on Gideon” and he gathered an army to fight. The Hebrew text says literally, “The Spirit of Yahweh clothed herself with Gideon.” The text is saying that the Spirit put on Gideon as if he were a garment, in order to be the one who was really acting to bring victory and liberation in this situation.

The next episode took place when David was living in Ziklag after he’d had to flee from Saul. Some men from the tribes of Benjamin and Judah came to him there and offered to join him. David couldn’t be sure whether they were sincere or whether they were trying to trick him and turn him over to Saul. So he told them, “if you have come to betray me . . . may the God of our ancestors see it and judge you!” In response to this challenge, which really amounted to a curse if the men were insincere, “the Spirit came on Amasai,” who would become one of David’s most trusted commanders, and he made an impassioned poetic protest of their loyalty and sincerity:

“We are yours, David!
We are with you, son of Jesse!
Success, success to you,
and success to those who help you,
for your God will help you.”

Once again, the Hebrew text reads literally, “The Spirit clothed herself with Amasai.”

Finally, some centuries later in the kingdom of Judah, when the formerly godly king Joash began to worship idols, “the Spirit of God came on Zechariah son of Jehoiada the priest” and he warned the people that they would not prosper because they had forsaken Yahweh. In this instance as well, the Hebrew text says that “the Spirit of Elohim clothed herself with Zechariah.”

So although the Holy Spirit has apparently never taken on human form in the sense of appearing on earth as if human, on three occasions the Spirit has put on the body of an existing human being as if it were clothing, in order to speak and act to bring deliverance, affirmation, or judgment in a situation.