For years now, we’ve been hearing teachers from various halls of Christian faith quoting Joel 2:28 and Acts 2:17, declaring that God is pouring out His Spirit upon “all flesh”, meaning all of humanity. They cite examples of cases where non-believers had dreams of Jesus and then came to faith.
While these cases are wonderful and awe-inspiring, they are not proof the Holy Spirit is poured upon “all flesh”. Allow me to explain why this particular teaching is a misinterpretation of the Joel and Acts passages.
Take a look at the wording of the Acts passage from the KJV translation:
Acts 2.16-18 But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh*: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: And on My servants and on My handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.
Ok. So, the KJV makes it sound like the Spirit will be poured upon “all flesh”. Case closed, right?
Well, not so fast. What did the original language say? Who is the audience? For, that reveals intention. And, what is the context around the phrase or sentence in question?
First, let’s look at the definition of the word for “flesh” in Greek: “sarx”.
*Definition of Sarx from Strong’s:
(g4561) σαρξ, — sarx; probably from the base of (4563) (σαροω); flesh, i.e. the meat of an animal, or the body… as the means of kindred…
2. the body a. the body of a man b. used of natural origin, generation or relationship
So, “flesh” is half of the original meaning, but with the broader definition from Strong’s Bible dictionary, we see there is more to the story, a 2nd half, “the body”, which implied kindred, or relationship. This narrows the scope to people in relationship with God, His family, not all mankind. With these two shades of the same word, is it one over the other? How do we choose?
Let’s return to the passage to better understand the audience and context.
When we glance a little further back from our phrase in question in both Joel 2 and Acts 2, we see each author was addressing the people of God.
In Joel, he is addressing the nation of Israel. In Acts, Peter is addressing the new believers, the followers of Christ.
Plus, note the wording immediately following God’s declaration of outpouring His Spirit:
“…your sons and your daughters will prophesy… your young men, your old men…”. The word, “your” means those belonging to the audience, again, the people of Israel in the Old Testament and the new believers in the church.
Taking it another step further in subsequent verse, Acts 2:18, God goes even further to clarify: “on My servants and My handmaidens will I pour out My Spirit…”
God was reiterating the object of the outpouring of His Spirit – upon His servants, His body, His people.
We can conclude by translating sarx within this passage as, “the body”, either instead of, or in addition to, “flesh”. This does not contradict but rather complements the tone in the rest of each passage.
If we need further convincing proof, listen to the words of Jesus from John’s Gospel:
And I will pray to the Father, and He will give you another Comforter, that He may dwell with you forever; even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it sees Him not, neither knows Him: but you know Him; for He dwells with you, and will be in you. John 14:16-17
The world CANNOT receive the Spirit of God! Only those who believe, who trust Christ, receive the Spirit of God and He dwells with us to comfort and guide us
Bottom line: God’s promise of outpouring His Spirit was to His people, not to the whole world.
Originally from the prophet, Joel, this prophecy of His outpoured Spirit was fulfilled starting with the disciples at Pentecost. Remember, Jesus promised the Comforter would come to His followers after His Ascension.
And did He! He came and began filling the new believers, aka the body of Christ, from that point forward, giving them His gifts, empowering them for life and ministry. Just as He continues to fill each new believer today!
Perhaps there does appear to be a fresh outpouring of His Spirit in recent years, an awakening of His people and prophecy. If so, no doubt for the purpose of strengthening His body to once more sweep the world for another great harvest, and to face the challenges of the last days before Christ’s return.
At the same time, over decades there has been a shallowing in many branches of God’s people in America, a diluting of Biblical truth. And there is a wide and growing division between the people of God and an ever-darkening world hardening their hearts to His salvation, and even His reality! This division has swept Europe and is gaining ground in America.
What do we do? We ask His help to purify our lives, daily surrender, and pursue loving relationship with our Savior and the filling of His Spirit every day. What can God do with a child of His fully surrendered to His power and grace? Reach the world!
In closing, I will say we can agree with the teachers referenced at the start with one caveat: All mankind is impacted by His outpouring upon His body. For, it is when His people are fully yielded into His mighty hands that He can then use us for maximum reach to “all flesh”.
Jesus, fill us anew today, as we trust You and give ourselves into Your capable hands. Strengthen and use us to reach every last person on earth before You return! Amen.
Scripture and Definition taken from:
Strong, James. A Complete Bible Reference Study Library (4 in 1): [Illustrated]: KJV Bible with Strongs markup, Strongs Concordance & Dictionaries, Lexicon Definitions, and Bible word index (Kindle Locations 104192-104209). Bestbooks. Kindle Edition.