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Variants of the expression "(to be) filled with the Spirit" can be found multiple times in the Bible:

  • and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, (Exodus 31:3 ESV)
  • and he has filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, with intelligence, with knowledge, and with all craftsmanship, (Exodus 35:31 ESV)
  • Now Joshua son of Nun was filled with the spirit of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands on him. So the Israelites listened to him and did what the Lord had commanded Moses. (Deuteronomy 34:9 ESV)
  • But as for me, I am filled with power, with the Spirit of the Lord, and with justice and might, to declare to Jacob his transgression, to Israel his sin. (Micah 3:8 ESV)
  • for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb. (Luke 1:15 ESV)
  • When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. (Luke 1:41 ESV)
  • And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying, (Luke 1:67 ESV)
  • And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. (Acts 2:4 ESV)
  • Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, (Acts 4:8 ESV)
  • And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness. (Acts 4:31 ESV)
  • So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 9:17 ESV)
  • But Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him (Acts 13:9 ESV)
  • And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit. (Acts 13:52 ESV)

Moreover, the Apostle Paul exhorts Christians to pursue this:

  • And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, (Ephesians 5:18 ESV)

My layman interpretation after reading all these passages is that the expression "(to be) filled with the Spirit" denotes a transient/temporary experience, which Christians are encouraged to pursue frequently (Ephesians 5:18).

However, there are other passages that use the closely related expression "full of the Spirit", and sometimes this expression appears to describe a more permanent state of being, rather than a mere transient experience:

  • And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness (Luke 4:1 ESV)
  • Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. (Acts 6:3 ESV)
  • And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. (Acts 6:5 ESV)
  • But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. (Acts 7:55 ESV)
  • for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord. (Acts 11:24 ESV)

Question: Does the expression "(to be) filled with the Spirit" denote a transient/temporary experience (which can be repeated multiple times) or a permanent state of being?


Related questions

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  • Luke 1:14-15 New International Version 14 He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. That text answers your question.
    – Bagpipes
    Jul 4 at 19:57
  • @Bagpipes - would you mind posting an answer? Jul 4 at 20:34

3 Answers 3

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The OP's question actually involves two different Greek verbs which are closely related and both mean "fill" in some sense.

πίμπλημι (pimplemi) or πλήθω (pletho) (24 occurrences)

This verb is used to describe things like:

  • wedding filled with guests, Matt 22:10.
  • a sponge filled with vinegar, Matt 27:48.
  • someone being filled with the Holy Spirit and subsequently doing something remarkable, Luke 1:15, 41, 67, Acts 2:4, 4:31, 9:17, 13:9.
  • a time or prophecy being fulfilled and thus completed, Luke 1:23, 2:22, 21:22.
  • being being filled with anger, fear, wonder, etc, Luke 4:28, 5:26, 6:11, Acts 3:10, 5:17, 13:45, 19:29.
  • ships being filled, Luke 5:7.

πληρόω (pléroó) (88 Occurrences)

This word is used for things like:

  • to fulfill a prophecy, Matt 1:22, 2:15, 17, 23, 3:15, 4:14, 5:17, 8:17, 12:17, 13:35, 21:4, 26:54, 56, 27:9, 35, Mark 14:49, 15:28, Luke 1:20, 4:21, Luke 24:44, John 7:8, 12:38, 13:18, 15:25, 17:12, 18:9, 32, 19:24, 36, Acts 1:16, 3:18, 13:25, 27
  • to fill a container with something, Matt 13:35, Luke 3:5, John 12:3
  • to complete something, Matt 23:32, Mark 1:15, Luke 7:1, Acts 12:25, 14:26, 19:21, Rom 15:19, Col 2:10, 4:17, 2 Tim 1:4
  • Joy/knowledge or other emotion completed, John 3:29, 15:11, 16:6, 24, 17:13, Acts 2:28, 13:52, Rom 15:13, 14, Phil 2:2, Col 1:9
  • Filled with wind or spirit/Spirit, Acts 2:2, Gal 5:18
  • filled with Satan, Acts 5:3
  • filled Jerusalem with teaching, Acts 5:28
  • time completed, Acts 7:23, 30, 9:23, 24:27
  • filled with righteousness, Rom 1:29, Phil 1:11
  • fulfilled the law, Rom 8:4, 13:8, Gal 5:14
  • God fill all things, Eph 1:23, 3:19, 4:10

The difference between the two is subtle and their meanings overlap but do not fully coincide.

There is nothing innate in the meaning of either verb to suggest that when something is complete, or full, that it must remain so. The same is true of being filled with the Holy Spirit. Indeed, there are many examples of people turning away from the faith, or at the time of an incident, were clearly not "filled with the Spirit".

  • King Saul who was a statesman and prophet called by God (1 Sam 10:11, 12, 19:24), yet was ultimately lost when he consulted demons for advice and then committed suicide.
  • Similarly, Heb 6:4-6 also teaches that some “who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit…” can fall away.
  • Heb 10:29 - How much more severely do you think one deserves to be punished who has trampled on the Son of God, profaned the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and insulted the Spirit of grace?
  • In Acts 13:9 Paul (& Barnabas) is filled with the Holy Spirit, but in Acts 15:36-41 they had such a sharp disagreement that could not work together and parted company. [It appears they later reconciled.]
  • In Acts 4:8, Peter is described as "filled with the Holy Spirit". But in Gal 2:11-16, Paul found it necessary to publicly rebuke Peter for his unchristian racism. [Peter later repented.]
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  • Good answer. On the last two examples, Peter repented, and Paul seemed to still be on good terms with Barnabas and Mark, so it's not an indication of them turning away from the faith. Jul 5 at 13:33
  • @JamesAjiduah - good point but it does indicate that, at the time of the incident, they could not be described as "filled with the Spirit". I have updated the answer to better reflect this. Many thanks for your comment.
    – Dottard
    Jul 5 at 20:42
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Does the expression "(to be) filled with the Spirit" denote a temporary experience or a permanent state of being?

Yes it does.

When one receives God's holy spirit at baptism, that is the beginning of a permanent state of being. One's human spirit and God's holy spirit combine to create a new you:

Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. — 2 Corinthians 5:17

But there are other times when God temporarily fills someone with his holy spirit to help them with a special purpose:

When they came there to the hill, there was a group of prophets to meet him; then the Spirit of God came upon him, and he prophesied among them.
— 1 Samuel 10:10

That temporary gift can be removed though:

But the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and a distressing spirit from the LORD troubled him. — 1 Samuel 16:14

I've described these and other forms of spirit in my answer to hermeneutical approaches - 2 Corinthians 6:16 a subtle reference to the Holy Spirit’s Deity?.

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  • In your opinion, which of the two senses is being used in Ephesians 5:18? Jul 5 at 2:17
  • 1
    @SpiritRealmInvestigator, as you suggest, this is my uneducated opinion. 5:18 is a tough one, as it's both passive and imperative. It's not something that happens to them, but something that they allow or want to happen. It seems to be telling them to make the most of the spirit that is already within them to create their personal joy etc., so while it certainly includes the permanent spirit they received at baptism, it could include any extra that they happen to have, and perhaps encourages them to ask for more. Jul 5 at 3:04
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Temporary. Only pertains to prophetic empowerment. Not to permanent Holy Sprit personal indwelling. Ephesian passage is “Be filled in sprit”. Only imperative. See ASV footnote.

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