I’ve always heard that oil in the Bible represented the holy spirit. And it has always fit – more or less – and so I’ve used it here and there. But I’ve never trusted it. It always felt like it was close, but… wrong. It’s one of those things I like to call a “placeholder” answer. It sort of fits, and it’s about the right size, so you can use it for reference here and there until you get a better answer… but it’s still the wrong piece.
The primary problem I had with oil symbolizing the holy spirit is that we already HAVE a symbol for the holy spirit: water. Water is repeatedly shown to be a symbol of the holy spirit, in so many places I won’t even reference them. So having ANOTHER symbol for the exact same thing, while not necessarily impossible, still made me uncomfortable. Then of course there is the fact that nowhere in the Bible does it explicitly SAY oil=spirit, nor are there any good scriptures that really imply it. In short, someone made it up and it stuck. And we need more than that if we’re going to understand the Bible….
Before we get into it, we have to make it clear that the anointing oil in the Bible is not the same as regular oil; anointing oil as used to anoint the Aaronic priests was made of a blend of spices in olive oil (no one really knows which spices it was) which was so sacred that no one was even allowed to make something that SMELLED like it under threat of exile (Exodus 30:25-38).
But before we can hope to understand that, we have to understand the BASE of the anointing oil, which was olive (Exodus 30:24). So for now, we are speaking strictly about oil itself, not the anointing oil. So what does that oil represent?
When oil is mentioned in the Bible it always means olive oil unless specifically excepted (Esther 2:12 for instance). So what we’re really asking is what what does olive oil represent. To answer that, we have to back up to the symbolism of the olive tree. Psalms 52:8 But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God: I trust in the mercy of God for ever and ever.
This was a prophecy of Christ speaking about the judgment of Satan (compare the rest of the Psalm to Isaiah 14). So the concept that Jesus is “like a green olive tree” is a good start to our symbology. This is supported well by:
Romans 11:17 And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert graffed in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree;
As we all know, this is explaining how gentiles can be grafted in to the nation of Israel and partake of the blessings God promised Abraham. It says that the Israelites were branches in this olive tree, but those branches were cut off so that the gentiles could be grafted into that tree.
Verse 24 For if thou wert cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and wert graffed contrary to nature into a good olive tree: how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, be graffed into their own olive tree?
This tree represents the body of Christ, the Church of God; Christ is the head, and all of us members; this verse expresses the same concept with a different symbol by saying that Christ is the root (and the trunk as I’ll show in a minute) and we are the branches, all growing out of the same holy tree.
Verse 16 For if the firstfruit be holy, the lump is also holy: and if the root be holy, so are the branches.
So Christ is the tree, we are the branches. Now the identical terminology was used when Christ told the disciples about the grapevine….
John 15:1,5,8 I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. … I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. … Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.
The Father is the source of power to grow the vine; the vine is the source for the branches; and the branches are what does the actual WORK of producing the fruit. And if a vine doesn’t produce enough fruit, the Father cuts it off (vs 2), and from Romans 11 we can infer that He would graft a new branch in to replace it. The point of this process for our purposes is that the Father is the source of the waters of life…
John 5:26 For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself;
And that He has given those waters of life to His Son; who in turn gives them to us…
John 7:37-39 … Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. (But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: …
And then we receive that spirit from Him and DO something with it…
John 15:16 Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.
And that the end product of that spirit is our fruit. See, the holy spirit is a fairly abstract concept; it’s JUST a guide, and while it tells you right and wrong, it doesn’t DO the right thing for you. In this sense, a roadmap is abstract; it only shows you the way, and without a car to go places, the roadmap is a dead, useless piece of paper. Likewise, the symbolism of the grapevine shows how we take the abstract holy spirit from the Father and turn it into concrete FRUITS, which are real, visible, and tangible.
Christ is the tree of life as most people would agree. This tree of life shows up in Eden, in Revelation 21, and Ezekiel 47. In all places, it is clear that the tree of life ONLY grows beside the waters of life flowing out of the throne room of God. And Ezekiel 47:12 specifically says that this tree brings forth fruits BECAUSE of the waters flowing out of the sanctuary.
Revelation 21:2 In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.
This tree (Jesus) bore twelve manner of fruits; and it only did this because of the waters of life flowing from the Father. Whether the twelve fruits were the apostles or the tribes or both is moot for now; the point is, the fruits represent the PRODUCT of the tree which started with the water and turned it into these “fruits”.
Now back to the Olive tree; it represents Jesus. Its branches represent the Christians. And the FRUITS of those branches – the fruits of those Christians – is the oil. When you back up and think about this question in a fresh light, it’s rather obvious in retrospect – what does an olive tree do? It converts water into oil. Some fertilizer is used of course, but the vast, vast majority of any plant’s consumption, by weight, is water.
Exodus 27:20 And thou shalt command the children of Israel, that they bring thee pure oil olive beaten for the light, to cause the lamp to burn always.
The olive oil causes the lamp to burn within the tabernacle. The seven-candled lamp. This brings light into the dark tabernacle. Now can it be an accident that it is OUR FRUITS which are the light of the world?
Matthew 5:14-16 Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.
WE provide the oil that burns in that lamp! Yes, we get the source for our power from the Father, through Christ, but ultimately it is OUR FRUITS that light the candle of the church of God! The world sees our light from the burning of our oil and glorifies God BECAUSE OF OUR GOOD WORKS! Just as was said in John 15:8:“Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit”
Judges 9:9 (BBE) But the olive-tree said to them, Am I to give up my wealth of oil, by which men give honour to God, and go waving over the trees?
This clearly says that men give honor to God by the oil of olive trees; the Bible never says that the sacrifices give honor to God. Only the oil. And the only thing that YOU can do to give honor to God is to OBEY Him; again, your fruits are what honors God.
Psalms 50:23 Whoso offereth the sacrifice of thanksgiving honoureth Me; and to him that ordereth his way aright will I show the salvation of God.’
The word “Honor(eth)” is the same Hebrew word in both cases. Simply put, your fruits bring honor to the God you serve. God’s holy spirit is the energy; the energy is then transformed into oil; and the oil feeds the flame of the candles in the temple of God.
This transformation takes place in us. Naturally, some of us produce more fruit than others. Sometimes the candle of the church has burned brighter than at other times, and this is primarily due to the efforts of a few great men during those times.
Zechariah 4:11-14 Then answered I, and said unto him, What are these two olive trees upon the right side of the candlestick and upon the left side thereof?And I answered again, and said unto him, What be these two olive branches which through the two golden pipes empty the golden oil out of themselves? … Then said he, These are the two anointed ones, that stand by the Lord of the whole earth.
The angel appears to say that the branches are the two anointed ones, since that was the more recent question. We know from Revelation 11:3-4 that the two witnesses are the two olive trees (or perhaps branches?); and that these branches are emptying the oil out of themselves and into the candlestick which revelation tells us symbolizes a church:
Revelation 1:20 … the seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches.
So these two witnesses, two of the (many) branches of the tree which collectively are the Church of God, are bringing forth much fruit, which means they have much oil; and the oil flows FROM these two witnesses, who are branches OF the olive tree, and the oil is used to BURN in the candle that is God’s church, and PROVIDE the light of the world. By the actions of these two witnesses, the entire church burns brighter for a time.
Now that we have the basics down, let’s use this explanation in other areas and see if it fits. For instance, oil could not be offered with a sin offering:
Leviticus 5:11 …then he that sinned shall bring for his offering the tenth part of an ephah of fine flour for a sin offering; he shall put no oil upon it, neither shall he put any frankincense thereon: for it is a sin offering.
Also, if a man was suspicious of his wife he could bring her to the priest and make her take a potion which basically said that if she was an adulteress her body would rot off, and if she wasn’t she’d be fine. But the interesting part is that no oil could be offered because this offering brought sin to remembrance!
Numbers 5:15 Then shall the man bring his wife unto the priest, and he shall bring her offering for her, the tenth part of an ephah of barley meal; he shall pour no oil upon it, nor put frankincense thereon; for it is an offering of jealousy, an offering of memorial, bringing iniquity to remembrance.
I have found no offerings that involved sin where oil was offered, and in fact it was specifically commanded not to be offered with the ones I have found. So why couldn’t oil be offered in a sin offering? Simple. A sin offering requires a CLEAN sacrifice. Only the sacrifice of Christ can forgive sin.
But the oil is the FRUIT of the people of God. It’s not a product of God personally, it’s a product of the fruit of his branches; and as such, it is the product of people who are tainted with sin. Which is why it cannot be used as a sin-offering, since it is not pure. So this definition I’ve proposed answers that scripture quite well.
But let’s plug it into another parable and see if it makes good sense there too; this is one we’ve all heard over and over again. See if “fruits” doesn’t fit better than “holy spirit”.
Starting in Matthew 25:1, Christ tells the parable of the Ten Virgins. I imagine you remember it, so I won’t dwell on the details. Five were wise, five foolish. Five took an extra container of oil with their candles, and five didn’t. None knew exactly when the bridegroom was returning. His arrival was announced suddenly, and those who took no extra oil realized to their shock that they had run out!
Matthew 25:8-9 And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out. But the wise answered, saying, Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you: but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves.
And of course, while they were out trying to find more oil, the groom returned and was was married to the five who had brought extra oil along, just in case. The others found that the groom was no longer interested in them. And Jesus said the point of this story was…
Matthew 25:13 Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.
This parable came in the midst of a series which had the same thread; that “in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh.” (Matthew 24:44). The POINT of these stories was always the same; that some people thought that by obeying Christ JUST ENOUGH to get by, they’d be alright when He returned.
But as time wore on, and they all drowsed a bit, and when He actually did return, the foolish ones realized that they weren’t good enough! They were out of oil, and their light had stopped burning, and they had nothing with which to replenish it! Their contribution to the light of the world had GONE OUT, and they were OUT of fruits!
They had made some fruits in the beginning, and saved up a little oil; but when the time wore on, they got lazy, complacent, and said… “My lord delayeth his coming;” (Matthew 24:48), and then started doing things they would NEVER had done if Jesus was returning “soon”! (Vs 49)
When they realized Christ’s return was imminent, they all started behaving better, getting their act in a pile – trimming their lamps (vs 7). But some were just too far behind – they just couldn’t catch up fast enough to get their lamp burning by the time the bridegroom was coming!
So many people will be caught unprepared when they realize that Christ is finally returning, only to awake to the knowledge that they’ve never read their Bible, can’t quote the ten commandments, never truly cleansed their conscience and really have NOTHING to show God for their years or decades in the church! And THAT’S the point of the Parable Of The Ten Virgins!
Now if you try to make the “holy spirit is oil” fit in that parable… yeah, it sort of works. Like I said, as a placeholder answer it was… ok I guess. But it doesn’t REALLY fit. It wasn’t the RIGHT piece. It doesn’t make COMPLETE SENSE of the Parable. But “oil is your fruits” fits perfectly. It IS the right piece.
Those people thought Christ wasn’t coming back, so they did just enough to keep their pew warm and figured “they’d study tomorrow”. And so their zeal faded, their light dimmed, and eventually went out. And when Christ actually DID come back, they were caught in the dark.
You don’t know when Christ will come back. And it doesn’t matter; it’s like trying to buy just enough gas at one gas station so you can coast into the next one on fumes – yeah, you might be able to do it most of the time. But if the gas station is another two blocks farther than you thought, you’ll be walking. So a wise driver just buys an extra gallon. Just to put the parable in more … contemporary terms.
While we’re on the subject of oil, there is one more fun thing we can do with the concept. Oil is what burns in our lamps. And when you have an oil fire, can you put it out with water? No! Water only makes the oil fire spread. It jumps from place to place, splatters, and becomes even larger than before!
So also, if you drop the holy spirit (water) on a fire of our fruits (oil), it cannot extinguish it; it only makes it grow, splatter, jump and become more powerful than before!
So if you want to put out an oil fire, what do you use? Baking soda! LEAVENING! And so if you want to put out a fire in the church of God, if you want to stymie the fruits of active Christians, you must LEAVEN them with sin! Only sin can put out the fire of the light of the world!
Galatians 5:9 A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.
I have to admit, this could be a coincidence; but come on, it’s a pretty compelling coincidence. It almost makes you think that God built all this stuff to work alike… and thought His analogies through pretty well… doesn’t it?
I guess it’s time to get to the point. The conclusion of all this is pretty simple. When oil is used as a symbol in the Bible, whether in the sacrifices or in a parable, it doesn’t mean “holy spirit”. It means “fruits of the people of God”. Your works. The end product of converting the abstract holy spirit into a concrete fruit; so in a sense, you might say that oil is the … fruit of the spirit.
Ephesians 5:8-9 For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light: (For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth;)
Notice it doesn’t say we are IN light, it says we ARE light. And so we walk as children OF light, not children IN light. The light is produced by OUR works. Our righteousness.
The symbol of the oil is simply that goodness and righteousness and truth which, when a few great men produce it in abundance, shines a light into the world and builds and feeds the church of God, giving it the example and the energy it needs to fuel the candlestick that is… the light of the world.