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What is the anointing?

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In the Bible, anointing with oil is performed in religious ceremonies and used for grooming (Ruth 3:3; Matthew 6:17), refreshment (Luke 7:46), medicinal treatments (Luke 10:34), and burial traditions (Mark 16:1).

Ceremonial anointing in the Old Testament was a physical act involving the smearing, rubbing, or pouring of sacred oil on someone’s head (or on an object) as an outward symbol that God had chosen and set apart the person (or object) for a specific holy purpose.

The Hebrew term mashach meant “to anoint or smear with oil.” The oil used for religious anointing was carefully blended with fine spices according to a specific formula prescribed by the Lord (Exodus 30:22–32). Using this oil for any other purpose was a serious offense carrying the penalty of being “cut off” from the community (Exodus 30:33).

Kings, priests, and prophets were anointed outwardly with oil to symbolize a more profound spiritual reality—that God’s presence was with them and His favor was upon them (Psalm 20:6; 28:8). While David was still a young shepherd, God told Samuel to anoint him to become king over Israel (1 Samuel 16:3). From that day forward, the Spirit of the Lord rested powerfully upon David’s life (1 Samuel 16:13; Psalm 89:20).

Centuries before David’s time, the Lord had instructed Moses to consecrate Aaron and his sons to serve as priests (Exodus 28:41; 30:30; Leviticus 8:30; 10:7). God authenticated their priestly ministry with the fiery glory of His presence that consumed their offerings. Holy items, including the tabernacle itself, were also set apart or consecrated by anointing for use in worship and sacrificial ceremonies (Genesis 28:18; Exodus 30:26–29; 40:9–11).

The Bible contains a literal reference to a prophet’s anointing when the Lord commanded Elijah to anoint Elisha as the prophet to succeed him (1 Kings 19:16). It also includes metaphorical references to anointing to indicate that prophets were empowered and protected by the Spirit of the Lord to perform their calling (1 Chronicles 16:22; Psalm 105:15).

Anointing the head with oil was also an ancient custom of hospitality shown to honored guests. In Psalm 23:5, King David pictures himself as an esteemed guest at the Lord’s table. This practice of anointing a dinner guest with oil reappears in the Gospels (Luke 7:46; Mark 14:3–9; John 12:3).

In the New Testament, Jesus Christ reveals Himself as our anointed King, Priest, and Prophet. He is God’s Holy and chosen Son, the Messiah. In fact, Messiah, which literally means “anointed one,” is derived from the Hebrew word for “anointed.” Christ (Gr. Christos) means “the anointed one.”

Jesus declared at the launch of His ministry, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor . . . to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free” (Luke 4:18; cf. Isaiah 61:1). Jesus Christ fulfilled Old Testament prophecy as the Anointed One, the chosen Messiah (Luke 4:21). He proved His anointing through the miracles He performed and the life He sacrificed as Savior of the world (Acts 10:38).

There is also a sense in which Christians today are anointed. Through Jesus Christ, believers receive “an anointing from the Holy One” (1 John 2:20). This anointing is not expressed in an outward ceremony but through sharing in the gift of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:11). At the moment of salvation, believers are indwelt by the Holy Spirit and joined to Christ, the Anointed One. As a result, we partake of His anointing (2 Corinthians 1:21–22). According to one scholar, this anointing “expresses the sanctifying influences of the Holy Spirit upon Christians who are priests and kings unto God” (Smith, W., “Anointing,” Smith’s Bible Dictionary, revised ed., Thomas Nelson, 2004).

The New Testament also associates anointing oil with healing and prayer. When Jesus sent out the disciples to preach the gospel, “they cast out many demons and healed many sick people, anointing them with olive oil” (Mark 6:13, NLT). James instructs believers to “call the elders of the church to pray over them” when they are sick “and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord” for healing (James 5:14).

Those in Charismatic religious circles speak of “the anointing” as something Christians can and should be seeking. It is common for them to speak of “anointed” preachers, sermons, ministries, songs, etc., and to advise others to “unlock their anointing” or “walk in the anointing.” The idea is that the anointing is an outpouring of God’s power to accomplish a task through the anointed one. Charismatics claim there are corporate anointings as well as various types of individual anointings: the five-fold anointing; the apostolic anointing; and, for women, the Ruth anointing, the Deborah anointing, the Anna anointing, etc. Some even speak of a “Davidic anointing” upon musical instruments—“anointed” instruments are played by God Himself to drive away demons and take worship to a higher level than ever before. Special anointings are said to allow a person to use his spiritual gift to a “higher degree.” Charismatics say that special anointings are received by “releasing one’s faith.”

Much of the Charismatic teaching on the anointing goes beyond what Scripture says. In their hunger for signs and wonders, many Charismatics seek new and ever more titillating experiences, and that requires more outpourings, more spiritual baptisms, and more anointings. But the Bible points to one anointing of the Spirit, just as it points to one baptism: “As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you” (1 John 2:27; see also 2 Timothy 1:14). This same passage also refutes another misconception, viz., that Satan can somehow “steal” a believer’s anointing. We don’t need to worry about losing the anointing we received because Scripture says it remains.

Another aberrant teaching concerning the anointing of the Spirit is the “Mimshach anointing.” Mimshach is a Hebrew word related to mashach (“anoint”) and found only in Ezekiel 28:14, where the anointing is said to “cover” (NKJV) or “cover and protect” (AMP). According to some, the Mimshach anointing (which was bestowed on Lucifer before his fall) is available now to believers. Receiving this anointing will cause everything one touches to increase or expand, and the anointed one will experience greater levels of success, material gain, health, and power.

Rather than chase after a new anointing, believers should remember they already have the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is not given in part, He does not come in portions or doses, and He is not taken away. We have the promise that “his divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness” (2 Peter 1:3).

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This page last updated: July 26, 2023