What does "anointed" mean? Is there a difference between the Old Testament definition and the New Testament?

  • 1
    A very good question. This might be better asked on Bible Hermeneutics but you will need to ask the question from a particular text of scripture to be on-topic. It is a huge subject - as you say, covering both old and new testament and appearing in many (if not all) books of the bible.
    – Nigel J
    Aug 21, 2018 at 12:47

3 Answers 3


There are 2 types of anointing.

According to Bible Study Tools, anointing, in Holy Scripture, is either material (with oil) or spiritual (with the Holy Ghost), and it doesn't seem to be different between the old and new testaments with material anointing, but there are slight differences with the spiritual anointing.

Material Anointing

In an ordinary sense

Anointing the body or head with oil was a common practice with the Jews, as with other Oriental nations. (Deuteronomy 28:40 ; Ruth 3:3 ; Micah 6:15) Anointing the head with oil or ointment seems also to have been a mark of respect sometimes paid by a host to his guests. (Luke 7:46 and Psalms 23:5)

In an official sense

It was a rite of inauguration into each of the three typical offices of the Jewish commonwealth.

  1. Prophets were occasionally anointed to their office, (1 Kings 19:16) and were called messiahs, or anointed. (1 Chronicles 16:22 ; Psalms 105:15)
  2. Priests, at the first institution of the Levitical priesthood, were all anointed to their offices, (Exodus 40:15 ; Numbers 3:3) but afterwards anointing seems to have been specially reserved for the high priest, (Exodus 29:29 ; Leviticus 16:32) so that "the priest that is anointed," (Leviticus 4:3) is generally thought to mean the high priest.
  3. Anointing was the principal and divinely-appointed ceremony in the inauguration of the Jewish Kings. (1 Samuel 9:16 & 10:1 ; 1 Kings 1:34 & 39 ) The rite was sometimes performed more than once. David was anointed three times.
  4. Inanimate objects also were anointed with oil, in token of their being set apart for religious service. Jacob anointed a pillar at Bethel. (Genesis 31:13 ; Exodus 30:26-28)

In an ecclesiastical sense

Anointing with oil is prescribed by St. James to be used for the recovery of the sick. (James 5:14) Analogous to this is the anointing with oil practiced by the twelve. (Mark 6:13)

Spiritual Anointing

In the Old Testament a Deliverer is promised under the title of Messiah, or Anointed, (Psalms 2:2 ; Daniel 9:25-26 ) and the nature of his anointing is described to be spiritual, with the Holy Ghost. (Isaiah 61:1) In the New Testament Jesus of Nazareth is shown to be the Messiah (Luke 4:18-19), or Christ or Anointed, of the Old Testament, (John 1:41 ; Acts 9:22 ; Acts 17:2-3 ; Acts 18:4 & 28 ) and the historical fact of his being anointed with the Holy Ghost is asserted and recorded. (John 1:32-33 ; Acts 4:27 & 10:38) Christ was anointed as prophet priest and king.

Spiritual anointing with the Holy Ghost is conferred also upon Christians by God. (2 Corinthians 1:21)

"Anointing" expresses the sanctifying influences of the Holy Spirit upon Christians who are priests and kings to God.

  • good answer, how about the anointing of King Solomon? is the "Wisdom" that Solomon seeks is a form of God's "anointing"?You mentioned the Messiah anointing is spiritual, would it be the same with Solomon the "Wisdom" is his anointing as this is a spiritual gifts or attributed to the Holy Ghost? Aug 19, 2018 at 10:45

I found an article that explains the origins of anointing, which has to do with sheep! In order to prevent sheep from getting ear infections, oil would be poured into their ears, thus preventing insects from doing damage.

In Bible times, people were anointed with oil to signify God’s blessing or call upon that person’s life (Exodus 29:7; Exodus 40:9; 2 Kings 9:6; Ecclesiastes 9:8; James 5:14). A person was anointed for a special purpose—to be a king, to be a prophet, to be a builder, etc. The meaning of the word Christ is “Anointed One.” Jesus was “set apart” as God’s Servant (see Isaiah 42:1).

This is part of what the article said about the Greek words/meaning for anoint:

The New Testament Greek words for “anoint” are chrio, which means “to smear or rub with oil” and, by implication, “to consecrate for office or religious service”; and aleipho, which means “to anoint.”

Another meaning for the word anointed is "chosen one." The Bible says that Jesus Christ was anointed by God with the Holy Spirit to spread the Good News and free those who have been held captive by sin (Luke 4:18-19; Acts 10:38). After Christ left the earth, He gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit (John 14:16). Now all Christians are anointed, chosen for a specific purpose in furthering God's Kingdom (1 John 2:20). "Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us is God, who also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee" (2 Corinthians 1:21-22). Source: https://www.gotquestions.org/anointed.html

Will see if I can find anything on the Hebrew definition of anointing.

Edit: The NIV Study Bible (1985) makes this comment about the word 'anointed' in Isaiah 45:1: "Messiah comes from the Hebrew for anointed." The NLT Study Bible (2008) says that the designation, "anointed one" as it was applied to Cyrus (in Isaiah 45:1) means "Cyrus was anointed in the sense that he was selected to fulfill a special mission. This title was never used of any other foreign ruler." The ESV Study Bible (2008) comments that Cyrus was "God's instrument for His purposes."


What does annointed mean?

If you simply don't understand the word:

The English word seems to come from old French where the word means: "To apply an ointment".

In the Catholic church still today an ointment is applied to a person in many rites; for example immediately after the baptism an ointment is applied to the forehead of the baptized person.

What does annointed mean?

If you don't understand the meaning behind this word I can repeat what I have heard from a theologian:

Prophets and king David were anointed: There was a rite where an ointment was applied to some spot on their skin.

This application of ointment was a symbol that God gave the authority to these people and therefore these people are not allowed to fulfill their own wishes but that they must fulfill the will of God.

So when Jewish people were talking about an "anointed" person (especially: a king) they meant a person whose authority comes from God and who fulfills God's will instead of fulfilling his (or her) own wishes.

Especially in times when kings and other politicians were selfish and or corrupt the Jewish people wished that these people were "anointed" people instead - people who got their authority from God and who do what God wants.

(The fact that an ointment was applied was of course not important.)

Is there a difference between the Old Testament definition and the New Testament?

I don't think so.

However the situation in the time the New Testament is writing about was more terrible than in the times before:

King Herod (73-4 B.C.) for example was what we would call a "violent dictator" today. He killed thousands of people just for fun. His successors were not much better.

So the wish for authorities coming directly from God must have been very strong in these times.

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