Topical Teachings

The Holy Spirit in Dispensational Theory

to hear Bible teachers describe different “dispensations” or “time periods” of how God deals with people here on planet Earth. This scheme of dividing the Word of God according to epochs of differing approaches by God to solving the problem of man’s sin and redemption is actually a young one in the history of theological constructions by man. It is only a few hundred years old!

If we accept the premise that God does not change (i.e. that He is the same yesterday, today, and forever) and also that “The Faith” was “once for all delivered” then there can be no “new gospel”.

All God’s truth is ancient.

C.H. Spurgeon said:

“There shall be no new God, nor new devil, nor shall we ever have a new Saviour, nor a new atonement. Why then should we be attracted by the error and nonsense which everywhere pleads for a hearing because they are new? To suppose the Theology can be new is to imagine that the Lord himself is of yesterday. A doctrine lately true must of necessity be false. Falsehood has no beard, but truth is hoary with age immeasurable. The old Gospel is the only Gospel. Pity is our only feeling toward those young preachers who cry: `See my new Theology!’ in just the same spirit as little Mary says: `See my pretty new frock!'”

The Dispensational approach espoused by so many preachers and Bible teachers actually diminishes and subverts the truths of the work of the Holy Spirit in His dealings with mankind over the course of history.

To be consistent with Dispensational theory, the theologians who created and currently espouse such a scheme have to be consistent for their theological “house of cards” to remain standing. Their premise (which I reject) is that there was a linear period of time called “Law” which was replaced by the current epoch of “Grace” or “the Church Age”, and that Israel failed to maintain her status by “keeping the Law” (which statement betrays a total ignorance of that Law) so that God had to create “Plan B’, as it were, which ushered in the current “age of Grace” by the birth of a new entity known as the “Church”. This entity was supposedly created by God during the time described in Acts chapter 2, thereby known as the “birthday of the Church.” To be consistent in the need to separate Law from Grace, a need exists to bifurcate the role of the Holy Spirit. After all, if the church now has the “better covenant” and it’s now all about grace and freedom from the Law, then we can’t allow any interpretation of a passage in the so-called Old Testament to even imply that there ever existed any continuity in the actions of the Holy Spirit that would overlap these time periods. There has to be a complete and obvious wall of separation. We simply cannot have grace in the Old Testament, or for that matter, Law in the New, for this theory to hold. The problem that this theory finds itself shipwrecked upon is the simple fact that the Bible clearly teaches just the opposite. Facts are stubborn things. Let us examine what the Scriptures themselves clearly teach and submit our theology to that as the final and absolute determiner of truth.

One of the axioms of the Dispensational theory as it refers to the Holy Spirit is that during “Old Testament” times the Holy Spirit only came upon certain people to empower them for specific works but that He had no other interaction among people. The idea that individuals in “Old Testament” times could experience the same regeneration and salvation as believers in the “New Testament” time period is anathema or cursed to the Dispensationalists. If we examine certain Scriptures, we do see where the Holy Spirit was active in empowering specific people for specific purposes.

Numbers 11:25-26

25 The standard of the camp of the children of Dan, which was the rear guard of all the camps, set forward according to their armies. Ahiezer the son of Ammishaddai was over his army. 26 Pagiel the son of Ochran was over the army of the tribe of the children of Asher.

Numbers 24:2-5

2 Balaam lifted up his eyes, and he saw Israel dwelling according to their tribes; and the Spirit of God came on him. 3 He took up his parable, and said, “Balaam the son of Beor says, the man whose eyes are open says; 4 he says, who hears the words of God, who sees the vision of the Almighty, falling down, and having his eyes open: 5 How goodly are your tents, Jacob, and your dwellings, Israel.

1 Samuel 16:13

13 Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the middle of his brothers. Then the LORD’s Spirit came mightily on David from that day forward. So Samuel rose up and went to Ramah.

Judges 3:9-10

9 When the children of Israel cried to the LORD, the LORD raised up a savior to the children of Israel, who saved them, even Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother. 10 The LORD’s Spirit came on him, and he judged Israel; and he went out to war, and the LORD delivered Cushan Rishathaim king of Mesopotamia into his hand. His hand prevailed against Cushan Rishathaim.

Judges 6:34

34 But the LORD’s Spirit came on Gideon, and he blew a shofar; and Abiezer was gathered together to follow him.

Judges 11:29

29 Then the LORD’s Spirit came on Jephthah, and he passed over Gilead and Manasseh, and passed over Mizpah of Gilead, and from Mizpah of Gilead he passed over to the children of Ammon.

Judges 14:6

6 The LORD’s Spirit came mightily on him, and he tore him as he would have torn a young goat with his bare hands, but he didn’t tell his father or his mother what he had done.

Judges 14:19

19 The LORD’s Spirit came mightily on him, and he went down to Ashkelon and struck thirty men of them. He took their plunder, then gave the changes of clothing to those who declared the riddle. His anger burned, and he went up to his father’s house.

Judges 15:14

14 When he came to Lehi, the Philistines shouted as they met him. Then the LORD’s Spirit came mightily on him, and the ropes that were on his arms became as flax that was burned with fire; and his bands dropped from off his hands.

2 Chronicles 20:14

14 Then the LORD’s Spirit came on Jahaziel the son of Zechariah, the son of Benaiah, the son of Jeiel, the son of Mattaniah, the Levite, of the sons of Asaph, in the middle of the assembly;

In all of the above references, it is clear that the Holy Spirit “came upon” these individuals empowering them for a specific work at a specific time. If we stop here, however, we may have made the case for the Dispensationalists. We cannot be so selective in our readings. That is the problem with modern theology.

Let us examine for ourselves what the “full counsel” of God’s word has to say. If we are diligent in our quest and faithful to the context we will arrive at what the popular radio host Paul Harvey used to say was “the rest of the story.”

We will begin by looking at the work of the Holy Spirit in the aspect of regeneration of those faithful souls in the time period of the “Old Testament”.

The Torah and the prophets gave the people the command to have their hearts circumcised.

Deuteronomy 10:16

16 Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiff-necked.

Deuteronomy 30:6

6 The LORD your God will circumcise your heart, and the heart of your offspring, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.

We know from Paul’s writings that this spiritual circumcision of the heart can only ever be accomplished by the Holy Spirit.

Romans 2:29

29 but he is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men, but from God.

In Romans chapter 4, Paul, in describing what true Biblical faith is, gives us the examples of Abraham and David. How were they saved? By keeping the law? Surely we cannot accept that conclusion because both failed on that account. Besides that, Avraham was declared righteous before the giving of the Torah!

Romans 4:1-8

1 What then will we say that Abraham, our forefather, has found according to the flesh? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not toward God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.”* 4 Now to him who works, the reward is not counted as grace, but as something owed. 5 But to him who doesn’t work, but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness. 6 Even as David also pronounces blessing on the man to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: 7 “Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, whose sins are covered. 8 Blessed is the man whom the Lord will by no means charge with sin.”

If salvation is described as having circumcised hearts and that action can only be accomplished by the Holy Spirit, the obvious conclusion is that the Holy Spirit was active in this role during the Tanach period. This raises the problem, however, of how people could see Yeshua in order to place faith in Him so necessary for salvation. We know from Paul’s writings that in ancient times, people’s eyes had to be opened to see Messiah.

2 Corinthians 3:14-17

14 But their minds were hardened, for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains, because in Messiah it passes away. 15 But to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart. 16 But whenever someone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.

Moreover, we know that Yeshua said the following:

John 8:56

56  Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day. He saw it and was glad.”

This can only mean that the Holy Spirit unveiled the eyes so Abraham could see Messiah.

David wrote the following:

Psalm 19:7

7 The LORD’s law is perfect, restoring the soul. The LORD’s covenant is sure, making wise the simple.

Was David saying that the Torah, without the work of the Holy Spirit, could actually bring restoration to the soul? Remember that the Dispensationalists would assert that the Holy Spirit was absent during that time period. Doesn’t that sound like legalism?

Consider Paul’s words:

Romans 8:9

9 But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if it is so that the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if any man doesn’t have the Spirit of Messiah, he is not his.

Romans 3:20

20 Because by the works of the law, no flesh will be justified in his sight; for through the law comes the knowledge of sin.

The inescapable conclusion here is that this restoration David was speaking of had to be empowered by the Spirit of God, because without the Holy Spirit, Torah observance can only engender condemnation and, therefore, spiritual death.

The larger passage in Romans mentioned above is also quite instructive:

Romans 8:5-8

5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. 6 For the mind of the flesh is death, but the mind of the Spirit is life and peace; 7 because the mind of the flesh is hostile toward God, for it is not subject to God’s Torah, neither indeed can it be. 8 Those who are in the flesh can’t please God.

One cannot help but note that those theologians who are so adamantly hostile to observing God’s Torah may find themselves on the wrong side of this categorization.

This is a clear binary separation of those who even the Dispensationalists would categorize as those who are “saved” and those who are “lost”. The issue of the work of the Holy Spirit within individuals in the Tanach period becomes clear when we simply ask whether those same individuals were submissive to God’s Torah and did they please God? Clearly the record indicates that many were not and did not but there has always been a remnant of faithful believers, sanctified and empowered by the Spirit who were faithful to God’s Torah and placed their faith in his coming Messiah. They were “saved” in every qualitative sense that “New Testament” believers are. Those who would challenge this statement fail to effectively deal with the listings of all of the “Old Testament” heroes of faith that we are exhorted to emulate as described in Hebrews 11.

Did all these early believers know that they were children of God?

Romans 8:14-17

14 For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are children of God. 15 For you didn’t receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry, “Abba!‡ Father!” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God; 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Messiah, if indeed we suffer with him, that we may also be glorified with him.

Were these remnant believers during the Tanach era sons of God? If so, they were certainly led by his Spirit as the text above so clearly indicates. That same Spirit gave them assurance in their hearts of their status. If they were sons and knew that fact, it was only due to the work of the Holy Spirit in their individual lives.

Did these remnant believers know the thoughts of God? Consider what Paul says:

1 Cor 2:10-12

10 But to us, God revealed them through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. 11 For who among men knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so, no one knows the things of God except God’s Spirit. 12 But we received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God, that we might know the things that were freely given to us by God.

How could these remnant believers have known the thoughts of God without the aid of His Spirit?

We understand that sanctification is totally a work of the Spirit:

1 Corinthians 6:11

11 Some of you were such, but you were washed. You were sanctified. You were justified in the name of the Lord Yeshua, and in the Spirit of our God.

Galatians 5:16

16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you won’t fulfill the lust of the flesh.

Galatians 6:8

8 For he who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption. But he who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.

Romans 8:13

13 For if you live after the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

Titus 3:5,6

5 not by works of righteousness which we did ourselves, but according to his mercy, he saved us through the mikveh of rebirth and renewing by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Yeshua the Messiah our Savior;

The believers in the remnant had to have had the Holy Spirit active in their lives to obtain sanctification and personal holiness as well as regeneration and “salvation”.

One of the Scriptures that Dispensationalists use to advance their theory is as follows:

John 7:38-39

38  He who believes in me, as the Scripture has said, from within him will flow rivers of living water.” 39 But he said this about the Spirit, which those believing in him were to receive. For the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Yeshua wasn’t yet glorified.

This text can be problematic due to the fact that different translators have attempted to “play” with the translation of the phrase “the Spirit had not yet been given”. The actual Greek text simply says “…for the Spirit was not yet…”. Various translators are apparently not happy with this simple phrase so they attempt to “color in the page”, so to speak. The NASB, ESV, NIV and others add the word “given”. Obviously, Yeshua did not mean that the Holy Spirit did not exist prior to this, so what did He mean?

The larger context of His teaching on the subject of the yet future and expanded role of the Holy Spirit had to be in mind. He had been telling his disciples that the Holy Spirit would empower them to do the very important work of fulfilling His great commission to make disciples of the nations. This was a new work but that does not mean that the Holy Spirit was not active in individual lives prior to that date for all of the Biblical examples mentioned so far in this paper. He says this:

Luke 24:49

49  Behold, I send out the promise of my Father on you. But wait in the city of Jerusalem until you are clothed with power from on high.”

This is what the disciples were to await to enable them to follow His instructions regarding the outreach to the nations. It will be experienced in Acts 2 as the additional and necessary empowerment of individuals who were already in an existing body of believers. It was not the birthday of a new entity entitled the “Church” which is divorced from the remnant of believing Israel. So what does it mean that “the Spirit was not yet”? The context gives us the answer. It clearly says that it was “because Yeshua had not yet been glorified.” What is this linkage between these two events? It was not until Yeshua would be demonstrated as the victor over sin and death. He had to be resurrected. He had to ascend to his Father. He had to be glorified. Only then could His message have validity and power. This is the culmination of the Abrahamic covenant of the promise whereby “all the nations/families of the earth will be blessed”.

About The Author

Rabbi Claude Scheiner
Rabbi at Torah For All | Website

Rabbi Claude Scheiner has a vast and varied experience, beginning with a 16-year active-duty career in the United States Navy where he served in many capacities including Avionics, Electronic Warfare, and Espionage systems. He did many tours overseas including having served at Danang Air Base, Vietnam. He then shifted gears and became trained and certified to work in the U.S. Navy’s Counseling and Assistance Centers for the majority of his active duty time. During this period, he was privileged to provide meaningful and in-depth counseling and education to fellow service members struggling with many issues.

After leaving the military, he added several professional certifications as a counselor, instructor, and clinical supervisor and worked in several community counseling agencies. He eventually became a clinical director of counseling programs for criminal offenders and was on a county and state board. Additionally, he has volunteered as a Mentor with a local Veteran’s court to provide guidance and direction to other fellow veterans.

Over the course of many years of study, he was ordained as a Messianic Jewish Rabbi in 2013 at Congregation Bet Shalom v’Emet in Fresno, California under the authority of Rabbi Amnon Shor.

He is blessed to be married to his wife, Carole, since 1979. She is his best friend. Their son, Sean, is a source of pride to them both.

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