January 27, 2021

The Council

Proclaiming the truth to the world.

Eze. 36:24-27

24 For I will take you from the nations, gather you from all the lands and bring you into your own land. 25 Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols.26 Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances. 28 You will live in the land that I gave to your forefathers; so you will be My people, and I will be your God.

Jer. 31:31-34

31 “Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah,32 not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord. 33 “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. 34 They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the Lord, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”

Some think that this is problematic for Calvinism. If the changing of human hearts is a new covenant promise(that being understood as regeneration), then Calvinism would only be true in the NT. This raises questions relevant to the topic of covenant theology vs dispensationalism. Whether we are saved differently under different dispensations or the same way throughout various covenants. But it seems very clear that God saved everyone the same way. That it was always by grace through faith in Christ we have been saved. If regeneration is lacking in the Old Testament, then doesn’t that undermine that understanding in some regard?

The other issue is what these phrases mean. The heart is understood by commentators as the internal locus of emotions, the will, and thoughts. We have to check and see whether these things themselves appear in the OT. For example, take Dr. Greg Welty’s understanding:

Second, the New Covenant is made with believers only. This of course is the exact reason why the New Covenant is unbreakable, for only believers will persevere to the end without breaking God’s covenant. Three blessings are spoken of with respect to the New Covenant: law written on the heart–“I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts” (v. 33); personal knowledge of God–“No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest” (v. 34a); and forgiveness of sins–“For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more” (v. 34b). Now the contrast between the Old and the New is not that these three blessings will be experienced for the first time in redemptive history by the people of God! That would be to succumb to radically dispensational assumptions. The elect in every age have experienced these blessings, including the elect under the Old Covenant–law written on the heart (Psalm 37:31, 9:10, 76:1); personal knowledge of God (1 Samuel 2:12, 3:7); the forgiveness of sins (Psalm 32:1-2). Rather, the true contrast between the Old and the New Covenants is that now under the New Covenant, all who are covenant members experience these peculiar blessings. The fact that not all covenant members experienced these blessings under the Old Covenant is part of the divine motivation for readministering the covenant under the New! (v. 32: “It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers . . . because they broke my covenant.”)


You don’t have to accept that option but it shows that other solutions are possible. The idea that OT saints receive the benefit of having new hearts is found in most non-dispensational theologies.

Let’s consider the Ezekiel passage. What does it mean to have a ‘new heart’ and a ‘new spirit’? The metaphor is to encapsulate the internal seat or locus of a human person’s emotions, will, and thoughts. The stony heart metaphor is about how unbelievers are unresponsive and unyielding. So, God will change that by giving them a ‘new heart’ and a ‘new spirit’. These will allow them to respond positively to God and he will cause them to walk according to his commands.  The theme of spiritual renewal shows up as a need in the Old Testament as well(Psalm 51:10-12). 

The other text that should be discussed in John 3:5:

There is a better way of proceeding. First, set out John 3:3 and John 3:5 so that their parallels become obvious:

John 3:3                                                       John 3:5

Very truly I tell you                                        Very truly I tell you

no one can see the kingdom of God            no one can enter the kingdom of God

unless they are born again                           unless they are born of water and the Spirit

Immediately it becomes clear that “born of water and the Spirit” (3:5) is parallel to “born again” (3:5). In other words, “born of water and the Spirit” can’t refer to two births, one natural and one spiritual; rather, it refers to one birth, the birth Jesus is referring to when he speaks of being “born again.” It follows that Jesus’s use of “born of water and the Spirit” is Jesus’s explanation of what he means by “born again,” and is intended to answer Nicodemus’s question.

Second, in what follows it becomes apparent that Jesus thinks his explanation should have been enough for Nicodemus. Indeed, Jesus rebukes Nicodemus for not understanding, even though he is “the teacher of Israel” (3:9–10). As a learned Pharisee, Nicodemus had studied what we would call the Old Testament, along with a great deal of additional theological reflection. From all this learning, what should Nicodemus have picked up from Jesus’s words that should have given him much better understanding of what Jesus was talking about?

That brings us to the third detail, the decisive clue. The question to ask is this: where do “water” and “the Spirit” come together in the Old Testament in a context that promises a new beginning? There are several possibilities, but the most obvious is Ezekiel 36:25–27:

I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you will be clean. I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.

So God is promising through the prophet Ezekiel, six centuries before Jesus, that a time is coming when there will be a transformative new beginning, characterized by spectacular cleansing symbolized by water that washes away all impurities and idols, and by the powerful gift of the Spirit that transforms the hearts of people. That is what is required if people are to see and enter the kingdom of God.


One question from the person that opposes the view that I presented, why did Jesus tell Nicodemus to do this if this is impossible to do until Acts 2? Furthermore, this is something that Nicodemus is supposed to be familiar with.

Another argument for thinking so are the fruits of the Spirit:

Finally, there’s the argument from analogy. If, in the NT, certain virtues are the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23), and OT saints exhibit the same virtues, then by parity of argument, the same effect implies the same cause. The Spirit is the source or agent of both. That seems to be equivalent to “circumcision of the heart”.


This is also seen in the New Testament in places such as Romans 8:9-11

However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. 10 If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. 11 But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.

This states that anyone that belongs to Christ also is indwelt by the Spirit of God. This is also indicated by verse 14. Did OT saints not belong to Christ? Did Christ not redeem them? Is it not the righteousness of Christ that is imputed to them(Rom. 3-4, 2 Cor. 5:21)? This seems to be implied implications of the passage. Thomas Schreiner states in his commentary about the issue:

Paul writes, “If the Spirit of God dwells in you” (εἴπερ πνεῦμα θεοῦ οἰκεῖ ἐν ὑμῖν, eiper pneuma theou oikei en hymin) so that the readers consider whether the Spirit indwells them, wanting them to draw the conclusion that he does. D. Moo (1991: 518) rightly notes that “being in the Spirit” is a power sphere or realm in contrast to the realm of the flesh. A change in dominion has occurred for those who are united with Christ and have tasted the fruits of the dawning new era. The second half of verse 9 simply restates verse 9a and elaborates on it. Those without the Spirit of Christ don’t belong to Christ; they are unbelievers and still in the realm of the flesh. Dunn (1988a: 429) veers off in suggesting that Paul writes because some who claimed to have the Spirit may be deceived. Against Dunn, Paul is not addressing what believers claim but what they are, and thus the text emphasizes that all believers have the Spirit.

Schreiner, Thomas R.. Romans (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament) (pp. 752-753). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

It hardly seems like the dominion of the flesh is something new. People have been unbelievers throughout time. So, it seems unlikely that this is a New Covenant development. It also seems that the Spirit is a necessary precondition for one to be saved and be adopted by God.

Let’s look at certain Johnanian passages to see if there is a defeater for these other passages:

John 14:16-17

16 I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; 17 that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you.

This passage is possibly a knockdown text proving the Holy Spirit doesn’t reside in them now but he will later. The issue with that is it isn’t quite as ironclad as we would hope. This text has an early textual variant that reads that he is in them as well. This is noted in the NIV and the NET:

Some early and important witnesses (Ì66* B D* W 1 565 it) have ἐστιν (estin, “he is”) instead of ἔσται (estai, “he will be”) here, while other weighty witnesses ({Ì66c,75vid א A D1 L Θ Ψ Ë13 33vid Ï as well as several versions and fathers}), read the future tense.

We should also note that this response has difficulties:

When one considers transcriptional evidence, ἐστιν is the more difficult reading and better explains the rise of the future tense reading, but it must be noted that both Ì66 and D were corrected from the present tense to the future. If ἐστιν were the original reading, one would expect a few manuscripts to be corrected to read the present when they originally read the future, but that is not the case. When one considers what the author would have written, the future is on much stronger ground. The immediate context (both in 14:16 and in the chapter as a whole) points to the future, and the theology of the book regards the advent of the Spirit as a decidedly future event (see, e.g., 7:39 and 16:7). The present tense could have arisen from an error of sight on the part of some scribes or more likely from an error of thought as scribes reflected upon the present role of the Spirit. Although a decision is difficult, the future tense is most likely authentic. For further discussion on this textual problem, see James M. Hamilton, Jr., “He Is with You and He Will Be in You” (Ph.D. diss., The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2003), 213-20.


We should mention this is based on two assumptions. That when Christ states that he “will be in you” is referring to the Indwelling of the Holy Spirit that Paul speaks about. It also presupposes that the Holy Spirit indwells people at Pentecost. Looking at a passage cited in John 7:37-39

37 Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. 38 He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’” 39 But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

I believe the reason the word “given” being in italics were added for clarity by the translators. I suppose in the greek it states that the “Spirit was not yet”. That hardly can mean that he didn’t exist. We already see him prior(and during) to Jesus’s ministry(1:32; 3:34) and the Old Testament. We also know the Spirit was operative aswell.  Some think the Spirit was given when Jesus breathed on the disciples in John 20:22. That view isn’t accepted by everyone. The problem with this understanding is that this doesn’t seem to fit well as the fulfillment of Christ’s promise(1:33; 4:10, 13–14; 7:37–39; 14:16–17, 26, 28; 15:26–27; 16:7–15). The two most commonly cited issue is that Thomas wasn’t there and that the Disciples are not acting to the way we expect them to be acting if the promises were fulfilled. We find them still meeting out of sight(vs. 26). Other theories posit a two-tiered process where the Spirit is given but with greater force later on at Pentecost. That lacks any significant evidence. Some think it is talking about the empowering breathe of God and not the personal Holy Spirit because pneuma hagion lacks an article and Jesus is said to breathe in a similar style to many Genesis styled themes:

The words ‘on them’ are missing in the Greek text, being supplied by the NIV translators. So the text could simply read, ‘he breathed and said …’ However, the word used for ‘breathe’ is emphysaō, which, though found only here in the NT, occurs several times in the LXX, where it refers to God breathing life into the man formed from the dust (Gen. 2:7; cf. Wisdom 15:11), Elijah breathing into the nostrils of the widow’s dead son while calling upon the Lord to restore his life (1 Kgs. 17:21 LXX), and Ezekiel prophesying to the wind to breathe life into the slain in the valley of dry bones (Ezek. 37:9). It is therefore probably legitimate to add ‘on them’ in 20:22, and perhaps to see in it allusions to the life-giving work of God in creation.

Kruse, C. G. (2003). John: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 4, pp. 375–376). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

This idea doesn’t seem very convincing because the Gospel refers to the Holy Spirit without using an article in other places. For example, the text often most associated with this one is John 7:29 but it is without debate that it is referring to the Holy Spirit and it is anarthrous(lacking the article).

The most popular option is to take it to be a symbolic foreshadowing of Pentecost. Carson notes this is preferable given that everyone usually take it to be symbolic in some regard:

Although the matter is little discussed, virtually all sides would probably agree that Jesus’ action was symbolic in some sense. Unless one adopts a literalistic and mechanical view of the action, understanding the Holy Spirit to be nothing less than Jesus’ expelled air, one is forced to say that the ‘breathing’ was symbolic—an appropriate symbolism not only because ‘wind’ and ‘breath’ and ‘air’ could all be denoted by the same word (cf. notes on 3:8), but also because the gift of the Holy Spirit is certainly dependent on Jesus, on Jesus’ glorification. Granted that Jesus’ action is symbolic, the question becomes, What, precisely, is being symbolized? Is it the gift of the Spirit that is being imparted even as Jesus speaks, or is it the gift of the Spirit that has long been promised and that is now imminent? In short, are there contextual reasons for thinking that this is a symbolic act that anticipates the future imminent bestowal?

Carson, D. A. (1991). The Gospel according to John (pp. 652–653). Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; W.B. Eerdmans.

Let’s just assume Carson’s interpretation is correct and take a gander at Acts 2:

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance. …

14 But Peter, taking his stand with the eleven, raised his voice and declared to them: “Men of Judea and all you who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you and give heed to my words. 15 For these men are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only the third hour of the day; 16 but this is what was spoken of through the prophet Joel:

17 And it shall be in the last days,’ God says,
That I will pour forth of My Spirit on all mankind;
And your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
And your young men shall see visions,
And your old men shall dream dreams;
18 Even on My bondslaves, both men and women,
will in those days pour forth of My Spirit
And they shall prophesy.
19 And I will grant wonders in the sky above
And signs on the earth below,
Blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke.
20 The sun will be turned into darkness
And the moon into blood,
Before the great and glorious day of the Lord shall come.
21 And it shall be that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’

I would notice that the Joel prophesy lacks anything about the Holy Spirit indwelling individuals, but supposing this passage does refer to indwelling by talking about them being “filled” then the issue with that is people were filled before Penecoat and before the earthly ministry of Jesus. In Luke 1, we already have three people filled with the Holy Spirit:

15 For he will be great in the sight of the Lord; and he will drink no wine or liquor, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother’s womb. 

41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.

67 And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying:

This sort of “filling” isn’t so much like the indwelling Paul is speaking about in Romans 8 but more similar to the occasion where the Holy Spirit came upon individuals as Hays stated in his article:

In the OT, the action of the Spirit in relation to human agents usually concerns supernatural enablement. Conferring supernatural foresight, insight, skill, or even physical strength–rather than spiritual rebirth. 

And that’s paralleled in Acts, where the agency of the Spirit has reference to the charismata (e.g. revelatory dreams and visions, xenoglossy, exorcism, miraculous healing or hexing) rather than spiritual rebirth. The main difference between that kind of empowerment and OT counterparts is that it’s more widely experienced among Christians than OT Jews.


Another consideration is whether one is consistent in their acceptance of such an idea. If the Holy Spirit’s indwelling is connected to rebirth and our conscientious objector rejects that it occurs until the NT then he must accept a semi-pelagian perspective. Nothing is truly spiritually wrong with man, he merely is sin-stained or possesses certain proclivities towards sin. That is another consequence of this position.

A problem with the contrary position is that it also comes into conflict with Ephesians 1. God has blessed his elect with “every spiritual blessing”. Why suppose he fulfills these only in the New Testament era?

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight

Further Suggestions:

Daniel I. Block:

The Prophet of the Spirit: The Use of RWH in the Book of Ezekiel


If eternal security is true, why did the Holy Spirit depart from Saul?