When the New Testament (NT) writers cited the Old Testament (OT), they drew from a core assumption that the Spirit of God inspired the OT scriptures. In this way the NT writers shared the assumptions of the broader world of second temple Judaism. This pneumatological assumption, however, was not merely “past.”  Instead, the NT writers also assumed the “present” working of the Spirit in the preaching of Christ’s gospel and the apostolic teaching. These points will be demonstrated in order.

The Spirit of God inspired the OT scriptures

Throughout the NT canon, the Holy Spirit is consistently associated with the inspiration of OT scripture.  Such inspiration fits within the broader concept of the Spirit moving within the ancient prophets as they spoke on God’s behalf. Second Peter reflects this work of the Spirit in 1:20-21, “But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.”[1]  In this passage the author credits the Holy Spirit with moving the prophets (specifically the writing prophets) to speak/write the words of God. Other NT writers also assume this pneumatological tenet as they cite OT scripture.

Below is a list of passages where NT writers quote an OT scripture and explicitly credit the Spirit with inspiring or speaking the scripture.

Matt 22:43 (also in parallel Mark 12:36):  “Jesus said to them, ‘Then how does David in the Spirit call Him “Lord,” saying . . .’” (quotation of Ps 110).

 Acts 1:16: “Brethren, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit foretold by the mouth of David concerning Judas. . .” (allusion to Ps 69 in verse 20).

Acts 4:25: “who by the Holy Spirit, through the mouth of our father David your servant, said. . .” (quotation of Ps 2:1-2)

Acts 28:25: “And when they did not agree with one another, they began leaving after Paul had spoken one parting word, ‘The Holy Spirit rightly spoke through Isaiah the prophet to your fathers . . .’” (quotation of Isa 6:9-10).

Hebrews 3:7: “Therefore, just as the Holy Spirit says . . .” (quotation of Ps 95:7-11).

 Hebrews 10:15: “And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us; for after saying . . .” (quotation of Jer 31:33-34).

Although the Pauline corpus is not represented,[2] these passages are found in the Gospels, Acts, and the general epistles. They reflect a pneumatology that assumes the Spirit’s agency in inspiring the OT scriptures.

This connection between the Spirit and the OT scriptures stands in continuity with the OT and second temple concept of the Spirit as the Spirit of prophecy. The Spirit of God as the Spirit of prophecy is well documented in the OT (Num 24:2-3; 2 Sam 23:2; 2 Chr 24:20; Neh 9:30; Ezek 11:5; Mic 3:8; Zech 7:12) and is not disputed.  This concept is carried into the literature of the second temple period as Levison notes, “Among the effects of the spirit prophesy is the most pervasive.”[3]  The Spirit as the Spirit of prophesy is the basis for, and is logically applied to, the Spirit’s inspiration in the writing prophets. This belief is displayed within the OT itself when the written prophecies of Jeremiah are considered the “word of the Lord” in Dan 9:2. God’s words (spoken or written) are given by the Spirit of God and as Sinclair Ferguson notes, “The doctrine of inspiration is, therefore, not invented but inherited by the New Testament writers.”[4]

In the second temple period this concept begins to take a “past looking” perspective as the written scriptures are viewed as a past work of the Spirit of God. For instance, Sirach 48:24 states, “By the Spirit of might he (Isaiah) saw the last things” (Similarly, see Mart. Isa 1:7).

Josephus doesn’t explicitly mention the Spirit as inspiring scripture but looks back on the prophets as those who perfectly preserved Israel’s history in scripture (Ag. Ap. 1:29-41).[5]  Because Josephus elsewhere states that the divine Spirit inspired prophecy (Ant. 6:166, 222; 8:408), it is warranted to assume an implicit connection in Josephus between the Spirit and prophetic scripture.  This inspiration of scripture is presented as a completed past work not to be added to or taken away from (Ag. Ap. 1:42).

The Rabbinic literature also credits the Holy Spirit with inspiration and scriptural pronouncements. The earliest reference occurs in m. Sotah 9:6. This passage is an analysis of Deut 21:8. The Rabbis differentiated between what the priests needed to say and what the Holy Spirit promised in response. The Talmud describes the Holy Spirit as inspiring David to write (b. Ber. 4b) and as departing after the prophets Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi died (b. Sotah 48b). The Spirit’s work in the Talmud clearly has a past-looking perspective.

Of all the writings of the second temple period, perhaps the Qumran scrolls provide the closest parallel to the NT writings concerning this concept. They depict the Spirit as inspiring the past OT writings, but they also describe the Spirit as moving in their community (1 QS 3:6-8).

The Rule of the Community (1 QS 8:15-16) captures the Spirit’s role in the writing prophets, “This is the study of the law which he commanded through the hand of Moses, in order to act in compliance with all that has been revealed from age to age and according to what the prophets have revealed through the holy spirit” (see also CD-A 2:12-13; 4Q381 Non-Canonical Psalms B, Frag 69, 4).

The above sources show that the NT belief in the Spirit’s inspiration of the OT scriptures was pervasive in the broader world of second temple Judaism.

The present working of the Spirit in the NT era.

The NT writers, like those at Qumran, not only look back to the Spirit’s work in the written prophecies, they testify to the Spirit’s present work in their community. The NT portrays a continuity between the Spirit’s prophetic inspiration in the OT with the current prophetic empowering of Christ’s followers. First Peter 1:10-12 reads this continuity back into OT history by describing the Spirit that inspired the OT prophets as the “Spirit of Christ.” In addition, this same Spirit that inspired the prophets now empowers those who preach the gospel.[6]  The passage reads:

As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful searches and inquiries, seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven– things into which angels long to look. (1 Peter 1:10-12)

This passage reflects continuity between the Spirit of Christ’s work in the ancient prophets and his work in preaching the gospel. In a similar fashion, Ephesians 3:4-5 claims that the “mysteries of Christ” have now “been revealed to the holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit.”  The NT writers, therefore, not only appropriate OT scripture with an assumption that it was inspired by the Spirit of God, they do so with the assumption that the same prophetic empowerment is active again in Christ’s apostles and the new messianic community. The NT shares the second temple literature’s past-looking perspective of the Spirit in OT scripture but sees the Spirit as active again with the advent of Messiah.

Luke seems to highlight the “re-activation” of the prophetic Spirit upon Messiah’s arrival as his birth narrative contains several instances of the Spirit causing prophecy similar to OT prophetic activity (Luke 1:67; 2:25-34).  The prophetic empowerment of the Spirit is a point of continuity between NT and OT pneumatology. A final example to show the pervasiveness of this continuity can be seen in John’s Apocalypse. John introduces his vision with, “I was in the Spirit” and includes references to being “carried away in the Spirit,” (Rev 1:10; 4:2; 17:3; 21:10) which is very similar to the prophetic commissioning and “conveyance”[7] found in Ezek 2:2; 3:14; 11:24. From Gospels to Revelation the Holy Spirit is depicted as the Spirit of prophecy who inspired the OT scriptures and now inspires the messianic community.

Summary Conclusion

The above data demonstrates that when the NT writers appropriated OT scriptures, they drew from a core assumption that the OT scriptures were breathed (2 Tim 3:16) by the Spirit of God.[8]  The authority and inspiration of written prophecy is inextricably linked with the “thus says the Lord” authority of the OT prophets. This belief is certainly “past-looking,” that is, as the NT writers looked back to the OT and past salvation history, the Spirit was responsible for the scriptures.[9] In this way the NT writers shared the assumptions of the broader world of second temple Judaism. This pneumatological assumption, however, was not merely “past.”  Instead, the NT writers also assumed the “present” aspect of the Spirit’s inspiration that was organic to the OT. This assumption caused the writer of Second Peter to elevate the written letters of the apostle Paul to “scripture” (2 Peter 3:15-16), and scripture was already described as not arising from “an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Peter 1:21).[10]  Just as the OT scriptures conveyed the Spirit’s past authoritative teaching for God’s people, the apostolic teaching, both spoken and written, conveyed the Spirit’s present authoritative teaching for God’s new covenant people.


[1] Scripture quotations taken from NASB unless otherwise noted.

[2] The key term  is explicit,  Paul implicitly shares the assumption of the Spirit’s inspiration of the prophets which would translate to inspiration of the writing prophets. See Rom 15:9; 1 Cor 2:12-13; 12:3, 10; Eph 6:17; 1 Thes 5:19; 1 Tim 4:1.

[3] John Levison, The Spirit in First Century Judaism (Brill: New York, 1997), 244.

[4] Sinclair Ferguson, The Holy Spirit (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1996), 26.

[5] Interestingly, Josephus claims that the writings after the time of Artaxerxes are not considered to have the same authority due to the insecurity of prophetic succession.

[6] Another example can be found in the conclusion to Stephen’s speech in Acts 7:51-52, “You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did. Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become.”  The religious leaders are resisting the Holy Spirit at work in the disciples just as their fathers resisted the Spirit in the prophets.

[7] Daniel Block, “The Prophet of the Spirit: The Use of RWH in the Book of Ezekiel” JETS 32 (1989): 27-49.

[8] Although 1 Tim 3:16 merely states that all scripture is qeo,pneustoj, the root pneu, combined with all the aforementioned data raise the possibility that the Spirit of God (which would simply be more specific) was understood as the more particular agent of breathing the scripture. Even if the Spirit is not in view in 1 Tim 3:16, this conclusion is warranted from the NT as a whole.

[9] Later, the apostolic fathers follow the NT in quoting the OT while crediting the Holy Spirit with speaking the passage. Perhaps the best summary statement is found in 1 Clem. 45:2, “Look carefully into the Scriptures, which are the true utterances of the Holy Spirit.” See also 1 Clem. 13:1; 16:2; Barn. 9:1-2; 12:2; 14:2.

[10] First Clement 47:3 also credits the Holy Spirit with inspiring the NT writings.

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