It comes up every three years, and every time I find myself puzzling over the Gospel reading offered in the Revised Common Lectionary as one of the options for Year A on Pentecost Sunday.

In John chapter seven, the Gospel writer reports that,

On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there,he cried out, ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, “Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.” ’ (John 7:37,38)

John goes on to make an editorial comment that Jesus

said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive….

So far, so good. But here is where the puzzle comes in. John then concludes stating that, Jesus said “this about the Spirit” because

as yet there was no Spirit. (John 7:39)

“No Spirit”? Really? When was there ever “no Spirit”?

The Scriptures of the Old and the New Testament bear witness to the constant work and presence of the Holy Spirit throughout all of history from before the beginning of time.

What could John possibly have meant when he affirmed in John 7 that,

as yet there was no Spirit?

How are we to account for the consistent testimony of Scripture bearing witness to the work of God’s Holy Spirit in light of John’s contention that,

as yet there was no Spirit?

Ponder the following passages. How is it possible to reconcile their testimony of the work of God’s Spirit throughout history with John’s contention in John 7 that “as yet there was no Spirit”?

The Holy Spirit At Work
Throughout Scripture

(nb: the use of capitals is an arbitrary construct of biblical translators. There is no textual reason why in one verse “spirit” should be capitalized while in another verse the lower case is used)


the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind/spirit (rü’·akh – wind, breath, spirit)  from God swept over the face of the waters. (Genesis 1:2)

Pharaoh said to his servants, ‘Can we find anyone else like this—one (Joseph) in whom is the spirit of God?’ (Genesis 41:38)

See, I have called by name Bezalel son of Uri son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah: and I have filled him with divine spirit, with ability, intelligence, and knowledge in every kind of craft. (Exodus 31:2,3)

Balaam looked up and saw Israel camping tribe by tribe. Then the spirit of God came upon him. (Numbers 24:2)

So the Lord said to Moses, ‘Take Joshua son of Nun, a man in whom is the spirit, and lay your hand upon him; (Numbers 27:18)

The spirit of the Lord came upon Othniel, and he judged Israel (Judges 3:10)

the spirit of the Lord took possession of Gideon. (Judges 6:34)

The spirit of the Lord began to stir Samson in Mahaneh-dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol. (Judges 13:25)

When they were going from there to Gibeah, a band of prophets met Saul; and the spirit of God possessed him (I Samuel 10:10)

Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. (I Samuel 16:13)

You gave your good spirit to instruct them (Hebrew people wandering in the wilderness). (Nehemiah 9:20)

When you send forth your spirit, they (all created beings) are created. (Psalm 104:30)

Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence? (Psalm 139:7)

But as for me, I am filled with power,
with the spirit of the Lord. (Micah 3:8)

Yet now take courage, O Zerubbabel, says the Lord; take courage, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest; take courage, all you people of the land, says the Lord; work, for I am with you, says the Lord of hosts, according to the promise that I made you when you came out of Egypt. My spirit abides among you; do not fear. (Haggai 2:4,5)

The angel said to me, ‘This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, says the Lord of hosts. (Zechariah 4:6)

Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit….
an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 1:18, 20)

just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. (Mark 1:10)

And the Spirit immediately drove Jesus out into the wilderness. (Mark 1:12)

Jesus: David himself, by the Holy Spirit, declared… (Mark 12:36)
(nb: Jesus is referring here to an event that took place in the Old Testament – in spite of this the English translators choose to capitalized “Holy” and “Spirit” in a way they do not in the Old Testament)

But the angel said to him, ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. (Luke 1:13-15)

The angel said to Mary, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you. (Luke 1:35)

When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. (Luke 1:41,42)

Then John’s father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke this prophecy. (Luke 1:67)

The child (John the Baptist) grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day he appeared publicly to Israel. (Luke 1:80)

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God (Luke 2:25-28)

And John testified, ‘I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” (John 1:32,33)

When Jesus had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. (John 20:22) (nb: this event took place after the resurrection but before Pentecost)