Word Study #155 — Anointing

It has become common, in some circles, to enthuse effusively about an “anointed meeting”, “anointed” preaching or singing, or some other type of flamboyant performance. The speaker / writer is usually describing some sort of emotional high, the achievement of which is interpreted as being Spirit- induced, and therefore assumed to be desirable. Others credit (or blame) a “strong anointing” or “heavy anointing” for an irresistible impulse to speak or act in an unusual manner, implying that they are following the Lord’s direction. This is yet another popular concept that is completely absent from the New Testament text.
While it is true that there are occasions described in the Old Testament in which bizarre behavior is attributed to “the spirit of the Lord” (Jdg.14:6,19; 15:14; I Sam.10:10-11, 19:24), the term “anointing” is not used.

“Anointing” was used, under the old covenant, for the selection and coronation of kings, the dedication of artifacts (tabernacle, temple, or their furnishings), and the appointment of priests. Except for the few instances where it refers simply to personal hygiene (Ruth 3:3, Mic.6:15), it was the act of a prophet or other leader. Only rarely (Ps.45:7, Is.61:1) is God himself the actor.

There are no such incidents described in the New Testament at all. Bizarre or uncontrolled behavior is never attributed to the Holy Spirit. In fact, the only references to out-of-control behavior are recognized overtly as an attack by an evil spirit (Mt.17:14-18 and parallels; Mt.8:28-29 and parallels, Ac.19:13-16). In fact, Paul’s sensible instructions for public meetings include admonitions to the careful exercise of control (I Cor.14).
The word “anoint” does appear several times, however, so it behooves us to examine what is intended by its use. Please notice that the direct object of “anoint” is almost exclusively the Lord Jesus himself, unless he is the subject.

New Testament occurrences represent five different Greek verbs: aleipho, egchrio, epichrio, murizo, and chrio, and only one single noun, chrisma. (This is NOT the same word as charisma,with which some people confuse it.)

Historically, aleipho, the most commonly used of the words, was an athletics-derived practice: the rubbing of one’s body with oil in preparation for gymnastic training or competition. In New Testament usage, it referred to simple personal hygiene (Mt.6:17), to honoring a guest with extra attention after the normal courtesy of washing his feet (Lk.7:38,46; Jn.11:2, 12:3), or the preparation of a body for burial (Mk.16:1). Mark (14:8) also uses murizo in this latter sense – its only New Testament appearance.
Aleipho, egchrio, and epichrio all describe the therapeutic application of any substance in connection with physical healing, whether by disciples (Mk.6:13), or elders (Jas.5:14), or by Jesus himself (Jn.9:6,11), as well as in Jesus’ instructions to the (willfully) blind church of Laodicea (Rv.3:18).

Only the un-prefixed form of chrio is used in what might be called a “spiritual” sense. Lexically, this word was also used of the cosmetic and hygienic application of oil, but additionally includes the symbolic expression of “anointing in token of consecration.” I think it is significant that four of its five appearances refer overtly and specifically to Jesus having been “anointed” by God.

Jesus himself made that claim, in quoting Isaiah’s prophecy upon the inauguration of his ministry (Lk.4:18). The folks at the prayer meeting (Ac.4:27) when Peter was delivered from prison bore testimony to the same fact, as did Peter in his sermon at Cornelius’ home (Ac.10:38), and the writer to the Hebrews (1:9). Only Paul (II Cor.1:21 ) extends the term to “us” – the faithful – and it is clearly considered a part of our incorporation into the Body of Christ (perhaps the means of that incorporation). Read vv.20-22 as a unit. Notice that in no instance is either privilege or responsibility conferred upon any individual except Jesus!

The adjective, christos, universally rendered “Christ”, of course, is related etymologically, and is never used of anyone but the Lord Jesus, except in the occasional claim of an impostor (Mt.24:5 and parallels).

There remain for consideration only the three occurrences of the noun, chrisma – all of which occur in John’s first letter (I Jn.2:20, 27) – twice traditionally translated “anointing” and once “unction”. Yes, that is the ONLY New Testament use of the word.
From 2:18 through the end of the chapter, John is addressing the issue of deserters, deceivers, and deceptive teaching. He reminds his readers that they (together – it is plural!) are already equipped to sort out questions of faithfulness. He had quoted Jesus in his gospel account, explaining that the Holy Spirit / “Spirit of Truth” would be coming for the purpose of guiding his people (Jn.16:13) “IN (not “into”) all truthfulness.” Here is another of many places where prepositions matter! Faithful disciples do not need to be led INTO truth: that is the sphere they already inhabit, by virtue of their commitment to Jesus and his Kingdom. But they / we will always need to be led properly to function IN the truth, as different challenges / situations will require differing responses.

Enabling this discernment is a major function of the Holy Spirit, who, I believe, personifies the “anointing” to which John refers here. Notice how the “job description” in v.27 matches the Jn.16 passage.

Notice also the results of the anointing, when applied to the people of God: occasional physical healing (Jas.5), incorporation into the Body of Christ (II Cor.1), and the discernment necessary to function appropriately in that Body (I Jn.2).

As we have seen so frequently elsewhere, in every case, the mortal recipients of the “anointing” are addressed in the plural. It is neither a gold medal awarded, nor a position of power or status granted, to any individual, but rather the gracious enabling provided to the gathered citizens of the Kingdom, in their mutual quest for faithfulness to their anointed King!

Thanks be to God!

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