Question Box: Did John actually have the Holy Spirit before birth?

Question or Topic Scripture
Did John actually have the Holy Spirit before birth? Luke 1:15

Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist was informed by the angel that his son would be special. He told him: "For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb" (Luke 1:15). Did John actually receive this gift before his birth? If so, what would be the purpose?


It would appear that John is the only one mentioned in scripture with this distinction. Jesus received the Holy Spirit without measure, but only at the time of his baptism, at which time there was "a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased" (Matthew 3:17).

It would be useful to note that there are some variations in the translations concerning the timing of the gift for John: The NRSV states: "even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit." Conversely, the NIV states: "he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth." The Diaglott agrees with the NIV on this wording.

I understand that there are at least 10 translations that support the KJV and the NRSV, which places the timing in the womb, before his birth. There are, on the other hand, another 5 translations that support the idea that he had the Holy Spirit from his birth.

Which View?

Whether we prefer one or the other interpretation may not even be the issue. On the surface, there would not appear to be any particular reason for John to have the Holy Spirit until he actually came "preaching in the wilderness of Judaea, And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matthew 3:1-2).

This would suggest then, that whether he had the Holy Spirit in the womb, or at the time of his birth is irrelevant. If this were really the case, it would be almost a contradiction that Zacharias was informed in such detail about this particular phase of the ministry of John.

Another Consideration

Before we admit to the possibility that the angel was mistaken in his information, there is one more fact that must be considered. There is an interesting event that takes place as the story in Luke 1 progresses. Mary is told by the angel that "behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren" (v. 36). We understand then that Elisabeth was 6 months pregnant and we know that the babe in her womb was John.

We read further:

  1. Luke 1:39-45
  2. Mary arose in those days, and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Juda;
  3. And entered into the house of Zacharias, and saluted Elisabeth.
  4. And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost:
  5. And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.
  6. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
  7. For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy.
  8. And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord.
The Holy Spirit Moved John

John, moved by the Holy Spirit, leaped with joy at the sound of Mary's voice. This provided a very sure sign for Elisabeth, who also was moved by the Holy Spirit to speak her own words of prophecy. It is reasonable to assume that in addition to the prophetic message, these words were also intended to encourage and strengthen Mary during her own very difficult circumstances.

The Significance of the Event

I suggest that this event is recorded to provide us with an explanation for the provision of the Holy Spirit for John in the womb. This circumstance may seem to be just an incidental event as we read about it today. However, in the lives of these two women, this was a very powerful miracle. For John, it was actually the first act of his ministry in preparing the way for the Lord.

He was unaware that he had leaped, and had no knowledge of the significant reaction that was generated by his action. This simple and wonderful movement that has thrilled so many expectant mothers, had a very special significance on this unique occasion. He leaped because he was inspired to leap. The Holy Spirit had come upon him, even in his mother's womb, and the way was being prepared for the coming of the Messiah.


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