What Is the ‘Anointing’?

Renewalists (Pentecostals, Charismatics, and Neo-Charismatics) use the term all the time, but do we know what it means? What does the Bible say?

For these movement sweeping though the Church, see this post:

What Are Renewal Movements in Christianity?

Let’s start with an old-fashioned word study and then apply the terms and the main idea.

Old Testament 

It was written in Hebrew (and Aramaic in a few places).

1.. The verb is mashaḥ (pronounced mah-shakh and used 70 times). The basic meaning is to rub or wash with a liquid, e.g. painting a house (Jer. 22:14) or rubbing a shield with oil (2 Sam. 1:21; Is. 21:5) or using a cosmetic lotion (Amos 6:6). Objects in the tabernacle were oiled up (Exod. 40:9-11). Wafers were spread with oil (Exod. 29:2l; Lev. 2:4; 7:12; Num. 6:15).

People can be anointed, like priests (Exod. 30:30), kings (1 Sam. 16:12-12; Ps. 89:20), a prophet (1 Kings 19:16). These people have been empowered and set apart for God’s service, so oil can signify consecration (Is. 61:1). Jesus embodies or fulfills the office of priest, prophet, and king, in his one person. See “prophet” (Matt. 21:11; John 6:14) “priest” (Heb. 3:1; 4:14-16, 8:1), and “king” (Matt. 27:11, 37, 42; Rev. 17:14; 19:16). We can also have the ministry of the prophet, priest and king of our household.

2.. The noun is mashiaḥ (pronounced mah-shee-akh and used 38 times), and we get our word Messiah from it. It means the “anointed one.” And once again three classes of people are anointed ones: priests (Lev. 4:3, 5, 16; 6:22), prophet (Ps. 105:15) and king (2 Sam. 22:51). As noted, Jesus embodies or fulfills all three offices. Then the “Anointed One” takes on an eschatological significance (eschatology means study of the end times or a new age). Dan. 9:25-26 refers to the Anointed One, and the best fulfilment of this promised person is Jesus. Ps. 2:2 is a messianic verse; the Anointed One is mentioned, and it is fulfilled in Christ Jesus (Acts 4:25-26).

New Testament

It was written in Greek.

1.. The noun christos (pronounced khree-stoss), from which we get our word Christ, is used 529 times in the NT, mostly referring to Jesus. BDAG is considered by many to be the authoritative lexicon of the Greek NT, and it defines the proper noun, as follows: (1) “fulfiller of Israelite expectation of a deliverer, the Anointed One, the Messiah, the Christ”; (2) “the personal name ascribed to Jesus, Christ.”

In the LXX (abbreviation for the Septuagint, pronounced sep-TOO-ah-gent, a third-to-second century Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible), the noun is used of the anointed priest who sins (Lev. 3:4). So even an anointed priest can sin (but not the anointed Messiah, Jesus, later on!). In 1 Sam. 2:10 Hannah praises God because he will give strength to the king, his anointed one. In Ps. 105:15, anointed ones are prophets. We are not to harm them.

Therefore, the anointed one applies to priests, kings, and prophets. And as noted twice before, Jesus embodies all three offices in one person.

2.. The verb is chriō (pronounced khree-oh), and it is used five times. BDAG says it means, simply, to “anoint.” Its more basic meaning is to rub oil.

In Luke 4:18, Jesus proclaimed in the local synagogue that Jesus was anointed Jesus this day to move forward in his ministry.

Acts 4:27 says Herod and Pontius Pilate conspired against Jesus, whom God anointed.

In Acts 10:38, God anointed Jesus with the Holy Spirit and power, who went around doing good and setting people free from Satan because God was with his Son.

Heb. 1:9, quoting Ps. 110:1, says that Jesus’s throne will last forever because God has set him above his companions and anointed him with the oil of joy.

Finally, 1 Cor. 1:21-22 offers believers the anointing. “Now it is God who makes both us and your stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come” (NIV). So the Spirit’s anointing is a seal and guarantee of the life to come, but it also enables us to stand firm in Christ.

3.. Another verb is aleiphō (pronounced ah-lay-foh and used nine times). BDAG says it means “literally to anoint by applying a liquid such as oil or perfume.” In Luke 7:38, 40, the sinful woman anointed Jesus feet with oil, as he sat at dinner. In John 12:3, Mary anointed Jesus’s feet with expensive perfume, for his burial (v. 7). In Mark 6:13, the disciples healed many people by anointing them with oil (I never noticed that method before). Matt. 6:17 says that Jesus tells us to disguise our fasts by anointing our head with oil and washing our face. So clearly anointing with oil is a sign of celebration—the opposite of suffering. Mark 16:1 women brought spiced oil to anoint Jesus’s body. Finally, Jas. 5:14 says the elders are supposed to pray for the sick by anointing them with oil. More restrictive churches say this is just first-century medicine. Perhaps, but the term oil also involves the Holy Spirit’s power surge.

4.. The noun chrisma (pronounced khrees-mah), and it is used only once in the NT. It means “anointing.” The ma– suffix means “result of” and the chris– stem means, as noted, pouring oil, so together they mean is “the result of pouring oil (of the Holy Spirit).” 1 John 2:20 says that we have an anointing from the Holy One, so that we can discern truth from a lie, which in his context John defines as someone who does not believe Jesus has come in the flesh. In our context, it may mean some other flawed teaching about Jesus. Liddell and Scott, two lexicographers, say it means “anything that is smeared on.”

The LXX again: In Exod. 29:7, it refers to the anointing oil, and Moses was to take it and anoint (pour) it on the head of Aaron. Exod. 30:25, God tells Moses how to make the anointing oil, from certain ingredients. Clearly the NT author John goes beyond the physical oil.


Here’s a quick look at the deeper meaning of anointing and oil and the Spirit.

Oil speaks of the sacred anointing for consecrating the priests (Exod. 29:7; 30:22-33).

Next, Samuel took a flask of oil and anointed first Saul (1 Sam. 10:1) and then David (1 Sam. 16:1) to be kings. In 1 Sam. 6:3, we read: “So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David” (see Ps. 89:20). In Ps. 23:5, David proclaimed that God anointed his head with oil.

Heb. 1:9 says that God anointed his Son Jesus with the “oil of joy.”

Mark 6:13 says Jesus anointed many sick people with oil and healed them. James 5:14 says oil was used to anoint the sick.

In Luke 4:18 Jesus said God has anointed him to carry out the ministry of God. Acts 10:38 says God anointed Jesus with the Holy Spirit. Paul said that God anointed them (2 Cor. 1:21).  We, God’s New Covenant people, are also have an anointing from the Holy One, who will guide his people to the truth (1 John 2:20, 27). The Holy One is the Holy Spirit (John 14:17; 15:26; 16:13).

From these verses oil came to symbolize the Holy Spirit. Oil, the anointing, and the Spirit are linked. Being in Christ, we are all anointed by the Spirit.

How does this post increase my knowledge of God?

The anointing means the permanent indwelling of the Spirit, so we can discern truth from error.

It also indicates a surge or empowerment of the Holy Spirit, so you can do the works of Christ and proclaim his name boldly. The anointing is for service and ministry in the Spirit. It is the Spirit’s power surge in our lives, with a ministry purpose.

Some churches have anointing services. The leaders go around and anoint people with oil, for powerful service. Is this legitimate? The New Covenant believers never did this, as far as we know. Yes, they anointed the sick with oil, but not for service. Jesus never anointed his disciples with oil for their ministry. Instead, he poured out his Spirit on them (Acts 2:1-4). However, I see no reason why this practice is so objectionable. It is found in the Old Covenant. Objects and people were anointed with sacred oil. So once again, it is up to the individual churches. If they do it, they can leave the results up to God.

In any case, this word study teaches us that we can be anointed as Jesus was, but without the same eschatological significance as his ministry had. He was ushering in the kingdom, while we are simply living in it and following him to advance it. But we can do mighty works today by the power of the Spirit, so we can help people. And the Spirit may want to anoint us for service in an eschatological way—together, corporately, not individually. An individual has no messianic or eschatological significance! But corporately we depend on the Anointed One to carry on his eschatological ministry.

Finally, a little theology about Jesus. There is a debate between whether Jesus worked miracles by the anointing and power of the Spirit or whether his divine nature shone forth and he worked his miracles in that way. The dominant image is that Jesus worked them by the power and anointing of the Spirit. He was, after all, the Anointed One. However, maybe in some contexts the divine nature was involved as he walked on water and calmed the storm by one command. One gets the impression that he just did those things without begging or pleading with God. Yet even the miracles in those passages can be done only when the Father wills it and the Spirit empowers the Son. In that case, his divine nature remained hidden behind his humanity. He did not lose his divine nature when he became a baby and grew into a man, but it was hidden behind his humanity, as the Father willed it.

Better yet, the Trinity was involved in the Son’s ministry. The Father willed that his Son work a miracle, the Son’s divine nature was involved in working the miracle, and the Spirit anointed him to work the miracle.

See my post in a series:

4. Do I Really Know Jesus? He Took the Form of a Servant


Gifts of the Spirit in Romans 12:6-8

Gifts of the Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12:7-11 and 12:28

1. Gifts of Spirit: Word of Wisdom

1. Gifts of Spirit: Word of Wisdom

2. Gifts of the Spirit: Word of Knowledge

3. Gifts of the Spirit: Faith

4. Gifts of the Spirit: Gifts of Healings

5. Gifts of the Spirit: Workings of Miracles

6. Gifts of the Spirit: Prophecy

7. Gifts of the Spirit: Discernings of Spirits

8. Gifts of the Spirit: Spirit-Inspired Languages (‘Tongues’)

9. Gifts of the Spirit: Interpretation of Spirit-Inspired Languages


Works Cited

At that link look for BDAG and Mounce.

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