The Holy Spirit and the Apostles

The Holy Spirit was promised by Christ to his apostles for their special work.
By Wayne Jackson | Christian Courier

The relationship of the Holy Spirit to the apostles of Christ is an issue that invites serious study. We will look at the matter in several ways.

The Holy Spirit’s Relationship with the Apostles Predicted in Old Testament Prophecy

Several centuries before the birth of Christ, the prophet Joel announced a coming era when Jehovah would “pour out [his] Spirit upon all flesh” (Joel 2:28-29). New Testament evidence demonstrates that the prophecy had a first application to the apostles of Christ (cf. Acts 2:16 ff). The “all flesh” expression (suggesting both Jews and Gentiles) points to the events at the household of Cornelius (Acts 10).

John the Baptist also foretold that some would be “baptized” in the Holy Spirit, and Luke identifies the recipients as the apostles (Acts 1:2, 4-5, 8).

The Selection of the Disciples

Shortly after his baptism, the Lord began choosing a small body of men to work with him in preparation for his death and the developments that would unfold thereafter (Mt. 4:18-22; 9:9-13; Jn. 1:35-51).

After an early teaching period in Judea, Jesus moved northward into Galilee. He selected twelve disciples/apostles and sent them forth to proclaim the coming kingdom.

Christ gave them the "authority’’ to perform certain miracles, e.g., healing various kinds of sicknesses, casting out demons, etc. (Mt. 10:1 ff), although such powers may have been used sparingly, relatively speaking.

R.C. Foster has thoughtfully noted that there is no record of the disciples performing miracles while they were accompanying the Lord in his various movements about the country (616). But in this ministry, they clearly were empowered by the Holy Spirit (Mt. 10:20).

Though their efforts were fortified by the Spirit’s power, they would be enriched with an even greater measure of his presence on the day of Pentecost and afterward. As the Lord assured them, if one may paraphrase, “the Spirit is by your side [Grk. par' humin] now, and in the future will be in you [Grk. en humin]” as well (see Jn. 14:17).

There is significance in the change of prepositions—from “with” to “in.” Morris also notes the escalation from present reality to future certainty (577). That "future certainty’’ would find its fulfillment on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:4).

Lenski is correct in noting that the ultimate focus of the promise points to Pentecost. He was wrong, however, in asserting that this pledge, in its most direct application, was not restricted to the apostles (1001).

Before we commence a discussion of what the Spirit did through and on behalf of the apostles, it might be prudent to address some of the misconceptions relative to the association of the Spirit and the Twelve.

Misconceptions about the Spirit’s Work among the Apostles

There is considerable value in examining the connection between the Spirit and the apostles from the negative side, i.e., what was not the case relative to their association.

First of all, the baptism of the Holy Spirit did not insulate the apostles from personal sin. Peter acted hypocritically with reference to the Gentiles (Gal. 2:11-12), and John acknowledged that he could not claim a sin-free life (1 Jn. 1:8).

Second, the empowerment of the Spirit did not grant the apostles a complete understanding of all religious issues.

On Pentecost, Peter had preached that “all flesh,” i.e., representatives from among the Gentiles, would receive an outpouring of the Spirit. Yet it took a thrice-repeated vision and the providentially-timed visit of the men sent by Cornelius to convince the apostle that the Gentiles were entitled to full gospel privileges (see Acts 2:17, 39; 10:9-23). Later, Peter would confess that Paul had written some things that are “hard to understand” (2 Pet. 3: 16).

Third, the presence of the Spirit did not grant the apostles unerring judgment in matters of expediency.

When Paul and his companions started to enter the Roman province of Asia and then Bythynia to evangelize on that second missionary campaign, on both occasions, the Holy Spirit intervened and detoured them elsewhere (Acts 16:6-8).

On the positive side, however, it is interesting to note that the Holy Spirit was directing them in the appropriate evangelistic direction—whether by miraculous means or by providence, we are not informed.

Fourth, the reception of Holy Spirit baptism did not license the apostles to exert their supernatural powers for the needs of self-interest.

Paul received a painful ’’thorn in the flesh," which he sought to be rid of—though he was denied (2 Cor. 12:7-10). He had healed others (Acts 14:8-10), but he was not allowed to heal himself ( cf. also 2 Tim. 4:20).

Fifth, Holy Spirit baptism did not provide the apostles with inspired insight as to their personal futures.

Paul hoped to visit the saints in Rome but was not absolutely positive that he would make the trip (Rom. 1:10; 15:24, 28-29, 32). The apostle entertained a confident, though uncertain, hope.

Sixth, the presence of the Spirit did not imply that every word the apostles spoke was given supernaturally.

Their ordinary daily conversations, e.g., “pass the meat,” were not Spirit-directed. At times, Paul indicated that he was expressing his "judgment’’ on certain optional issues (1 Cor. 7:25).

The Spirit and Apostolic Powers

The New Testament makes it quite clear, however, that the apostles had great powers that resulted from the endowment of the Spirit of God. Possibly the greatest concentration of material on this theme is found in John’s Gospel, chapters 14-16. We will focus on three issues from this section.

First, Christ promised the apostles: “But the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said unto you” (Jn. 14:26).

For three and one-half years the great Teacher had instructed his disciples each day in matters pertaining to the coming kingdom. The tutoring had been oral. So far as anyone knows, the Lord never penned a paragraph on parchment.

After his departure from them, under normal circumstances, they would have been forced to recall from memory his teaching. And everyone knows how fragile human memory is at times.

But such was not so with the Lord’s chosen men. They, by the Spirit’s guidance, would be able to remember “all that [he] said to them.”

This truly is an ambitious statement, but it is not without support.

Consider this. Two of the four gospel writers were apostles (Matthew and John). Further, there is evidence that Mark wrote under the guidance of Peter. Eusebius, a church historian of the 4th century, records the testimony of Papias (AD 60-130) that Mark was the companion of Peter, and by means of his gospel account, he was the apostle’s “interpreter” (iii. 39).

Finally, Luke was a companion of Paul (cf. Acts 16:10-17; 20:5-21:18; 27:1-28:16), who was a careful researcher (Lk. 1:1-4 ), and whose gospel narrative was considered to be an inspired document. [Note: Paul’s quotation of Luke 10:7 is characterized as “scripture” (1 Tim. 5:18).]

With these facts in view, consider the absolutely amazing harmony that exists between the four gospel accounts. While there are some supplemental differences between the records—which actually demonstrate a lack of collusion between the writers—there are no bona fide discrepancies that are beyond the possibility of harmonization (see Haley’s work).

This is an amazing illustration of the fact that the Spirit of God was at work in guiding the apostles in their recollections of the deeds and teachings of their Master.

Second, Christ promised the apostles: “When the Holy Spirit comes he shall guide you into all the truth” (Jn. 16:13a). There are two points to be emphasized here.

The term “guide” derives from the Greek hodegeo. The word may be used literally of guiding someone in a desired direction (cf. Mt. 15:14) or in another sense, to assist someone in acquiring information or conveying it (as in John 16:13). It can even denote leading one to an understanding of instruction (Acts 8:31; see Danker 690).

This does not mean that the apostles were mere “tape recorders,” repeating word-for-word messages spoken by the Holy Spirit (sometimes called the “mechanical dictation” theory of inspiration).

Rather, the term simply suggests that however their information was obtained, whether by hearing Christ personally or later checking other sources (cf. Lk. 1:1-4), they were infallibly guided in the selection of or omission of that material.

For example, clearly, John knew of many miracles in the ministry of Jesus other than the few he recorded (cf. Jn. 21:25). The apostle’s "selectivity’’ was divinely orchestrated.

Included in this process is the more refined guidance of the oversight of the words by which the divine mind was conveyed. The scriptures affirm for themselves a concept no less than that of “verbal” inspiration, i.e., ultimately, the sacred text contains the exact words God wanted to be used in the imparting of his eternal truth (cf. 1 Cor. 2:13; 2 Tim. 3:16-17).

While it is clear, from the various literary styles employed by the biblical writers, that their respective linguistic styles and educational levels were utilized, the Spirit of Christ was carefully guiding the process.

John 16:13a also indicates that the Holy Spirit guided the apostles (and others who wrote under the influence of inspiration, e.g., Mark, Luke, or James) into “all the truth.”

This means that the Spirit, through the apostles and others, saw to it that nothing was incorporated into the scriptures that Heaven did not include.

For example, though the Old Testament documents are quoted frequently by the New Testament writers, the apocryphal writings are never quoted. Further, nothing was omitted that God intended to be embraced—not even Paul’s original letter to the church at Corinth (cf. 1 Cor. 5:9).

Third, the Lord foretold that the Spirit would declare unto the apostles “the things that are to come” (Jn. 16:13b). This does not mean that the apostles would be able to predict every trivial detail of life (as modem astrologers pretend to do). Rather, it merely suggests that the Spirit would provide to them the supernatural ability to record prophetic information relative to certain aspects of the kingdom of God.

This would include such matters as the great apostasy from the faith that would occur eventually (2 Thess. 2:1 ff; 1 Tim. 4:1 ff; 2 Tim. 4:1 ff; see also Jackson “Who was Paul?” 106-117), and events relative to the end of time (cf. 2 Thess. 1:7-9).

When we reflect on the language of just these two passages from John’s gospel account (14:26; 16:13), and the three points discussed above, it is apparent that the Holy Spirit covered the entire chronological terrain from the apostolic vantage point—past, present, and future.

A Concluding Matter

There is one final point upon which we must comment. One unique function of an apostle, related to the work of the Holy Spirit, was the conveyance of certain “spiritual gifts” by the imposition of hands (Acts 8:17-18; 19:6; 2 Tim. 1:6). Inasmuch as there are no modern successors to the apostles (see McClintock 311), we are forced to conclude that miraculous gifts, e.g., healing, tongues, etc., are not available to Christians today (What Does the Bible Say About Miracles?).

  • Danker, Frederick William, et al. 2000. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature. Chicago: University of Chicago.
  • Eusebius. 1955. Ecclesiastical History. Grand Rapids: Baker.
  • Foster, R.C. 1971. Studies in the Life of Christ. Grand Rapids: Baker.
  • Haley, John W. 1958. An Examination of the Alleged Discrepancies of the Bible. Nashville: Goodpasture.
  • Jackson, Wayne. “Who Was Paul’s ‘Man of Sin’?” Select Studies From the Book of Revelation. Stockton: Courier, 1995.
  • Lenski, R.C.H. 1943. The Interpretation of St. John’s Gospel. Minneapolis: Augsburg.
  • McClintock, John and James Strong. 1968. Cyclopedia of Biblical Theological & Ecclesiastical Literature. Vol. 1. Grand Rapids: Baker.
  • Morris, Leon. 1995. The Gospel According to John-Revised. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.