Does God give His Holy Spirit to people who have not been baptized?


In the writings of the Bible there are a small number of examples of individuals who received the Holy Spirit without a Christian baptism. Prior to the time of the establishment of the New Testament Church, some received the Holy Spirit without first being baptized. They were used by God at that time for a specific and special purpose. They had a job to do, which involved establishing the truth of God among people on the earth and executing the plan of God.

Following the establishment of the New Testament Church, the standard process for receiving the Holy Spirit involves a Christian baptism followed by the laying on of hands by a minister of God.

We write in our free booklet, Baptism – A Requirement for Salvation?

“Without baptism based on biblical teaching, we normally would not receive the Holy Spirit and we would not be in a position to look forward to salvation. (An obvious and extremely rare exception to this rule would be, of course, when it is physically impossible to baptize someone, because the person is physically incapable of being baptized.) We understand, of course, that the situation was different in Old Testament times because God did bestow His Spirit on a few people without prior baptism, so that they could fulfill His specific commission for them.

“This is no longer true in New Testament times. We read in Acts 8:16–17… that the Holy Spirit was given to people only AFTER they were baptized and had hands laid upon them—not before then.”

What can we learn about the examples of the individuals who received the Holy Spirit in Old Testament times? A good place to start such a study is by understanding what purpose the Holy Spirit serves in man. Why does God provide His Holy Spirit in the first place?

A very important purpose of the Holy Spirit is to help man understand the things of God. Paul states this fact clearly in 1 Corinthians 2:11-12, “… no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit [which] is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God.”

This Scripture clearly states that it is necessary to have the Holy Spirit of God if we are to understand His truth. In addition, we can see that a reason for providing His Holy Spirit is to know the things of God. It makes good sense too. The way mankind thinks is fundamentally different than the way God thinks (compare Isaiah 55:8-9), and if God wants man to understand His ways, it is necessary that a means is provided to do so. The Holy Spirit helps man to understand God and His perfect Will, and it gives man the power to obey that Will.

With this fact established, we can begin to understand some of the reasons why God provided His Holy Spirit to people in Old Testament times. We find proof that establishes this in the historical account of the construction of the tabernacle when Israel came out of Egypt.

“Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: ‘See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. And I have filled him with the Spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding, in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship, to design artistic works, to work in gold, in silver, in bronze, in cutting jewels for setting, in carving wood, and to work in all manner of workmanship.’” (Exodus 31:1-6).

In this subtle, but clear example, we read that Bezalel was filled with the Holy Spirit, for the special purpose of understanding exactly what was necessary to build God’s tabernacle. The spiritual understanding and wisdom was required to properly design and build the physical tabernacle used in the practice of worshiping God correctly at that time. In addition, God gave him the physical skills required to carry out his task.

Evidence exists in the Bible where several other people in the Bible were given the Holy Spirit in Old Testament times. Again, quoting from Baptism–A Requirement for Salvation? on page 31:

“We understand that the Holy Spirit was not offered to the people of ancient Israel, except for a few people in Old Testament times who were selected by God to receive the Holy Spirit for a special purpose. These would include Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, David, and the prophets of old, among others.”

Noah and Enoch both walked with God (compare Genesis 6:9 and Genesis 5:22 respectively). Walking with God indicates a special relationship with God, in which common understanding is shared (compare Amos 3:3). Since we know that having a common understanding with God requires having His Holy Spirit, we can conclude that Noah and Enoch both had the Holy Spirit. Noah in particular had an important purpose in executing the plan of God in that he “…became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith” (Hebrews 11:7). Enoch too served as an example to the earlier lineage of mankind of how to live by faith (Hebrews 11:5-6). Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob fulfilled a special purpose by establishing the family and nation of Israel, which was to receive God’s promise of eternal life and inheritance of the Kingdom of God (Galatians 3:16). Moses and Aaron were both responsible for administering the law of God and leading the nation of Israel. With such important commissions to fulfill, it was important in Old Testament times (as it is now) that the individuals responsible for carrying out the plan of God understood that plan spiritually. Therefore, it was necessary for God to give His Holy Spirit to people carrying out His Plan.

We understand, of course, that these were not the only reasons why the ancients received the Holy Spirit. It was God’s preordained purpose to call them for salvation and eternal life at that time. Without the gift of God’s Holy Spirit within a person at the time of his or her physical death, he or she would not be resurrected in the First Resurrection to eternal life and enter the Kingdom of God (compare Romans 8:11).

The only biblical example of the Holy Spirit being granted to people following the historical event of the establishment of the New Testament Church occurred when Gentiles were proven to be included in the promise of salvation. Quoting from Baptism – A Requirement for Salvation? on page 3:

“There is only one recorded incident since the establishment of the New Testament Church where someone received the Holy Spirit prior to baptism, and that is the Gentile Cornelius and his household. This was an exception for a specific purpose—God wanted to make it clear to the disciples that He had called Gentiles into the Church, and indeed, to salvation. Before Cornelius, only Jews had been accepted as Church members.”

Interestingly, even though the Holy Spirit was given prior to baptism in that particular and unique case, Peter commanded those who had received the Holy Spirit to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 10:44–48). This example indicates that baptism is a very important requirement for salvation.

Following the establishment of the New Testament Church, the gift of the Holy Spirit is still limited to those whom God uses for a specific task, according to His pre-ordained purpose. Christians are called today to qualify for the Kingdom of God by becoming teachers, so that they can teach others later. Especially in this end time, they are also called for the task of supporting the commission of the Church of God to preach the gospel of the Kingdom in all the world as a witness to all nations. In addition, when Christians are ordained as deacons and ministers, God gives them an additional amount of the Holy Spirit to enable them to fulfill their responsibilities.

In Acts 2:38 we read: “Then Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission [Margin: forgiveness] of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.'” This passage makes it clear that today, a Christian baptism is intimately involved in the process of receiving the Holy Spirit.

This process of baptism, as a means of obtaining the Holy Spirit, highlights another important purpose. The Holy Spirit serves as a guarantee of the promise of God of the gift of eternal life and the corresponding inheritance of the Kingdom of God. Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “… you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, [which] is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory” (Ephesians 1:13-14). And to the Romans Paul wrote, “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption (better “sonship” NIV) by whom we cry out, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit [itself] bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together” (Romans 8:14-17).

Taken together, we can see that the Holy Spirit is provided as personal proof of the promise of eternal life in the Kingdom of God.

The Bible makes it clear that the Holy Spirit was given to people by God without a Christian baptism prior to the establishment of the New Testament Church. God’s Word also reveals that since that time, a proper Christian baptism IS required for salvation. Then, as now, the Holy Spirit is given so that a special purpose in the plan of God can be fulfilled. The Holy Spirit was necessary then, and it is necessary now, to understand the things of God, to live in accordance with that understanding, and to inherit eternal life in God’s Kingdom.

Lead Writer: Eric Rank

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