Measures of the Spirit John 3:34

By Frazier Conley

Vol. 115, No. 11

In biblical language, especially in the OT and in the Gospels and Acts, often when the Spirit is said to come upon someone, the meaning is that the Spirit comes upon that one to bestow a gift of power. The angel said to Mary, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (Luke 1:35). This is typical phraseology in Holy Scripture (Num. 11:29; Judges 3:10; 6:34; 11:29; 14:6; 15:14; 1 Sam. 19:20, 23; 1 Chron. 12:18, etc.). It is hardly correct to say that the Spirit himself is not present when he comes to bestow a measure of power. It is more accurate to seek to determine what role or office the Spirit chooses to take when he comes upon someone.

Further, it is entirely correct to speak of “measures” of the Spirit.

In Numbers 11 the text tells how God took “some of the Spirit” which he had given to Moses and put it on the seventy elders. Since the text (Num. 11:17, 25) speaks of taking “some of” the Spirit it is implied that they received a lesser measure of the Spirit than that possessed by Moses. The text says, “And when the Spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did so no more” (Num. 11:25). Again it seems to be indicating that their gift of the Spirit was limited when compared to that of Moses.

It is related in Numbers 27:18ff that Joshua became vested with “some” of the authority of Moses, a measure of it. In the same way that Joshua was vested with some of his authority (Num. 27:18-20), so he was possessed of a measure of the Spirit: “And Joshua the son of Nun was full of the Spirit of wisdom, for Moses had laid his hands upon him [presumably in the events of Num. 11]; so the people of Israel obeyed him, and did as the Lord had commanded Moses” (Deut. 34:9). The text is careful to say however that though Israel followed the Spirit-endowed Joshua, yet there had not at any time, “arisen a prophet … in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, none like him for all the signs and the wonders which the Lord sent him to do in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, and for all the mighty power and all the great and terrible deeds which Moses wrought in the sight of all Israel” (Deut. 34:10-12). Certainly it is implied that Moses had a greater measure of the Spirit than Joshua or any other prophet of the Old Testament.

In 2 Kings 2:9-15, the text gives an account of the passing from Elijah to Elisha of a double portion of his spirit. Although the translators use a lower case “s” for spirit, there should be little doubt that the reference is to the prophetic Spirit of God as it, or he, resided in Elijah to empower prophetic gifts. Elisha received a “double portion,” implying again that greater or lesser measures of the Spirit dwelt in the prophets of the Old Testament.

In 1 Samuel 10:6 a promise was given to Saul, “the Spirit of the Lord will come mightily upon you, and you shall prophesy with them and be turned into another man.” It would appear that in saying “mightily” the conception is that the Spirit sometimes came less, and sometimes more powerfully upon recipients. It might again be noted that the text does not say that Saul received the prophetic gift of the Spirit, but that he received the Spirit himself for the purpose of being endowed with the gift of prophecy.

For the preparation of the tabernacle, the Lord bestowed the Spirit upon certain ones. The Lord said to Moses, “See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Un, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah: and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze” (Ex. 31:1-4). It should be noted that Bezalel did not receive the Spirit so that he might have unlimited powers. The gifts were limited and measured and specific.

In the Old Testament, the Spirit came upon some to bestow gifts for conducting war (Judges 3:10) and on some to bestow physical strength (Judges 14:6, 19; 15:14).

The ancient Jewish rabbis also noted the existence of measures of the Spirit in the OT prophets. Rabbi Acha said, “The Holy Spirit, who rests on the prophets, rests [on them] only by weight … [by measure].”

The early Christians also were limited in the gifts of the Spirit, “But grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift” (Eph. 4:7). As the context shows, the gifts were not all equal and certainly not without measure, but by measure. This merely confirms what is said of the gifts of the Spirit in I Corinthians 12:4ff. and Romans 12:3ff.

Again in Hebrews 2:4 the gospel affirms, “God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his own will.” There is no indication here that the Spirit came on the early Christians in fullness of power, but that the role he played in them was limited and varied.

An interesting expression occurs in Acts 2:18. Peter quotes Joel 2, “On my menservants and my maidservants in those days I will pour out of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy” (Acts 2:18). When the text says “out of” it implies that the Spirit was not coming upon the recipients in its entirety, but in measure.

As Moses had laid his hands on Joshua (Deut. 34:9; and presumably in this way he had also conferred a measure of the Spirit to the seventy elders) so at Samaria Peter and John bestow (with prayer as well as hands) the Spirit in a measure upon the Samaritan converts (Acts 8:14-17). Although Simon was also surely a recipient of the same Holy Spirit empowerment as the other Samaritan believers, he perceived that the apostles had a greater measure, the power to confer the Spirit, and he coveted it, “Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, saying, “Give me also this power [taking houtos as emphatic], that any one on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit” (Acts 8:18-19).

The Holy Spirit had also come upon Paul for this same office, and he too could confer the Holy Spirit so that early Christians could be empowered in a measure (Acts 19:1-7).

This brings us to the case of our Lord, Jesus. The author of Hebrews implies that while the Spirit-inspired prophets of the Old Testament did speak God’s Word in various ways, their gifts could not compare to the revelatory gifts of the Son of God (Heb. 1:1-3).

The famous prophecy of Christ in Isaiah 11:1-3 implies a great fullness of the Spirit, not a limited measure: “There shall come forth a shoot’ from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.”

In John 3:32-35, the text speaks of Jesus, “And what he hath seen and heard, that he testifieth; and no man receiveth his testimony. He that hath received his testimony hath set to his seal that God is true. For he whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God: for God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him. The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his hand” (KJV). Or, as Goodspeed renders: “For he whom God has sent speak God’s words, for God gives him his Spirit without measure.”

It is true that a number of translators have taken a text and an interpretation which leaves ambiguous who gives the Spirit to whom, rendering the passage: “for he giveth not the Spirit by measure” (ASV, NKJV; NASB, NIV, RSV). Some will say that the passage is affirming that Jesus (not God) gives the Spirit. And it is also affirmed that in any case the Spirit as a general rule is never given in a measure, that is, always in fullness to believers. But a number of translators remain in agreement with the KJV that it is grammatically sound to supply “to him” that is, to the Son, (see Goodspeed, the New Living Translation, Today’s English Version, Williams, Phillips, NIV, Beck, Moffatt, the Jerusalem Bible, the Jewish New Testament, Contemporary English Version, Amplified, and Barclay’s translation. Further many of the most erudite commentators on John also affirm this rendering: Bengel, Olshausen, Godet, Alford, McGarvey, Lipscomb, Barclay, Morris, Pack, Deissner in Kittel’s TDNT, iv, 634, etc. Of course, luminaries are also to be found taking the opposing view: Meyer; Westcott, Brown, etc.). No simplistic interpretation holds the day unquestioned.

At any rate, in the context of the passage, the argument is that Jesus is able to bear witness to God in truth. Jesus has seen and heard, having been with the Father (John 1:18). Further, he is able to speak the exact words of God because God gave the Spirit to him. John 1:32 says that John “saw the Spirit descend as a dove from heaven, and it remained on him.” This was no temporary or limited office. Jesus possessed all the fullness, John 1:16, “And from his fullness have we all received, grace upon grace.” Verse 3:35 continues the thought, “the Father loves the Son, and has given all things into his hand.”

Who is it that is receiving from the Father? The Son (see also John 3:27). Whose words are being validated? Jesus’ words. From whence does Jesus get his words? From God through the Spirit.

Also it seems reasonable, given their proximity, to correlate the word give in verse 34 to the word give in verse 35. In both cases God is giving to the Son.

Therefore, regardless of the variant textual readings, and the ellipsis to be supplied (“to him,” that is, to Jesus), the context indicates that the force of the passage is that God is giving the Spirit without measure to the Son.

As we saw above, all the rest of God’s revelation indicates that in the Spirit’s role in empowering those on earth, no one had the fullness of the Spirit in the limitless measure of our Lord. Believers then received from his bounty: “But each one of us has been given his gift, his due portion of Christ’s bounty” (Eph. 4:7 NEB)

Musical Instruments in the Temple

By Owen D. Olbricht

Vol. 122, No. 4

An argument often made for the use of musical instruments in worship is that by worshipping in the temple early Christians showed they had no problem with their being used in worship. A proof text states, “So continuing daily with one accord the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart” (Acts 2:46; NKJV).

Some things that are assumed are not stated in the above passage—that Christians were:
• Assembling in the area of the temple where Jews were worshiping.
• Worshiping where musical instruments were being used.
• Giving approval of musical instruments by assembling in the temple.
• Meeting during the time of day when the Levites were singing with musical instrumentals.

These assumptions have at least four major flaws.

Apostles’ Teaching

First – Instead of engaging in Jewish practices, early Christians continued to observe what Jesus commanded as taught by the apostles (Matt. 28:20; Acts 2:42). The apostles could not have taught Christians in an assembly that included Jewish leaders, for they threatened and flogged the apostles for preaching Jesus in the temple (Acts 4:1-3, 17-18, 21; 5:28, 33, 40).

Neither example nor command to use musical instruments is found in the writings of the apostles. If such are not found, then early Christians were neither using nor approving them, consequently, musical instruments cannot be used based on apostolic authority.

Where They Met

Second – Christians met in Solomon’s porch, not in the section of the temple where the Levites sang with musical instruments. Herod’s temple complex was not like a large, modern church auditorium where all the worshipers gathered in one place. Josephus described the external dimensions of the temple as follows:

According to Josephus (Ant xv.11.3 [400], each side was about 180 m. (600 ft) long (500 cubits, according to the Mish. Middoth ii.1, though here we may suspect the influence of Ezk. 41:20). (The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Vol. Four, Q-Z, fully revised, 1988, p 771).

The temple complex, which was 600 feet by 600 feet, was larger than four football fields. Its outer walls enclosed four inner sections of the temple: the sanctuary that was in the upper court, which was adjacent to the woman’s court. These were inside the outer most court, the large Gentile’s court.

In the upper court was the temple sanctuary (30 by 90 feet), which included the holy place (30 by 60 feet) that only the priests and Levites could enter, and the most holy place (30 by 30 feet) that only the high priest could enter once a year. The more than 3,000 Christians (Acts 2:41) could neither have assembled in the sanctuary of the temple where the priests alone could go nor could they have crowded into it.

Between the upper court and the woman’s court were the fifteen steps where the Levites sang with musical instruments during the morning and evening sacrifices.

Fifteen steps led up to the Upper Court, which was bounded by a wall, and where was the celebrated Nicanor Gate, covered with Corinthian brass. Here the Levites, who conducted the musical part of the service, were placed (Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, p. 245.).

This is confirmed by the Jewish Mishna:

And Levites without numbers with harps, lyres, cymbals, and trumpets and other musical instruments were there upon the fifteen steps leading down from the court of the Israelites to the court of the women, corresponding to the fifteen songs of ascents in the Psalms [120- 134]. It was upon these [and not at the side of the altar where they performed at the time of the offering of sacrifices] that the Levites stood with their instruments of music and sang their songs (Everett Ferguson, A Cappela Music in Public Worship of the Church, Abilene Texas, Biblical Research Press, 1972, p. 31; quoted from a translation of The Mishna by Herbert Dandy, London: Oxford University Press, 1933).

The walled woman’s court and the upper court were inside the large Gentiles’ court from which Jesus drove the Jews who were buying and selling animals (Matt. 21:12; Mark 11:15; Luke 19:45; John 2:14). Solomon’s porch, approximately 600 feet long, where Christians met (Act 5:12) was open to the Gentile court on one side and enclosed by the outer wall on the other side.

By meeting in Solomon’s porch, Christians could assemble without seeing or hearing the Jewish services. Walls and more than 300 feet, a football field length, separated the assembled Christians from the animal sacrifices and the fifteen steps where the Levites were singing and playing instruments. When they entered the temple, they could pass through the outer gates and walk across the Gentile court to Solomon’s porch without coming near to the place where Jewish religious ceremonies were being conducted.

The Levites sang with instruments during the morning and evening sacrifices (Exod. 29:38-42; Num. 28:3, 4; 1 Chron. 16:40-42). It is not a foregone conclusion that Christians met during these times, for they had at least eight hours between the morning and evening sacrifices when they could meet.

Christians met in the temple because they needed a large meeting place, like Solomon’s porch, and not because they desired to worship where the Jews were worshiping. The burden of proof is on those who claim that by meeting in the temple Christians showed that they were not against musical instruments being used in worship.

Third – If Christians saw nothing wrong with worshiping in the temple where the Levites were singing with instruments, the same would have been true concerning their assembling where animal sacrifices were being used in worship, for the musical renditions were associated with the animal sacrifices. Their attitude toward the one would have been the same as their attitude toward the other.

When David brought the Ark of the Covenant into the tabernacle, he worshiped with singing, instrumental music, dancing, and animal sacrifices (1 Chron. 15:17-29). Solomon did the same, except for dancing, when he brought the ark into the temple (2 Chron. 5:11-14). After this he prayed. “Now when Solomon had finished praying, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the Lord filled the temple” (2 Chron. 7:1).

The ceremony continued with Solomon and all the people worshiping in the temple by sacrificing hundreds of oxen and sheep to the Lord while the Levites played musical instruments (2 Chron. 7:5-7). If God showed his approval of musical instruments in worship, thus acceptable for Christian worship, by filling the temple with a cloud (2 Chron. 5:13, 14), as some have argued, then God’s lighting the sacrifice and his glory filling the temple when animals were sacrificed (2 Chron. 7:1) showed his approval of them in worship, hence meaning they are all right for Christian worship. If not, why not?

Some would object to this line of argument by contending that the New Testament teaches that Jesus’ sacrifice replaced animal sacrifices but nowhere states that musical instruments are no longer to be used. Sin sacrifices were replaced by the death of Jesus (Heb. 5:1-3; 7:27; 9:9-14; 24-28; 10:1-18), but what passage in the New Testament specifically states that worship sacrifices were abolished?

Worship offerings such as thank, freewill, first fruit, and peace offerings were as prevalent as sin sacrifices. Neither Jesus, the book of Acts, nor any other New Testament documents specifically state that worship sacrifices were abolished. If a specific statement must be made before an Old Testament practice is not to be used, then worship sacrifices are still acceptable to God. However, the statement that the “first” was replaced by the “second” (Heb. 10:9) is proof that not only worship with animal sacrifices was abolished, but that the complete Old Testament sacrificial and worship systems were set aside. The only way to bring any practice of the Old Testament into Christian worship is to find that practice taught in the New Testament.

Singers Were Male Levites

Fourth – Male members (not women) of the tribe of Levi (2 Chron. 5:12; 35:14, 15; Neh. 11:22) were the only ones who sang with musical instruments during the animal sacrifices (1 Chron. 15:16-26; 2 Chron. 5:6-14; 29:27-35; 35:13-16). If temple worship can be used as a pattern, then singing and playing of instrument should be done only by male Levites.

Other Considerations

Some argue that Christians should feel free to practice what they read in the book of Psalms about worshiping with musical instruments. If this is true, then Christians should follow the statements in Psalms concerning the use of animal sacrifices in worship (Pss. 20:1-3; 50:7, 8; 51:18, 19; 66:13-15; 96:8, 9; see also Jer. 17:26; 33:15-18). David wrote that he would “offer in His tent [tabernacle] sacrifices with shouts of joy” (Ps. 27:6; NASB). Christians also should praise God with a “two-edged sword in their hands, to execute vengeance on the nations, and punishment on the peoples; to bind their kings with chains and their nobles with fetters of iron, to execute on them the written judgment” (Ps. 149:6b-9a; NKJV). If musical instrument should be accepted in worship based on Psalms, so also should animal sacrifices and swords for vengeance.

Altars for Sacrifice

Altars for worship sacrifices were used before the Law (Gen. 8:20), during the Law age (Exod. 20:24; 24:4-6; 27:1-6), and were seen in heavenly visions by John while he was on the Island of Patmos (Rev. 6:9; 8:3, 5; 9:13; 11:1; 14:18; 16:7). If Christians can use musical instruments because they were used in worship before the Law commanded in the Old Testament and pictured in the book of Revelation, then they can use sacrifice altars in worship. If anyone should respond that the altar in the book of Revelation is symbolical, then musical instruments should also be considered symbolical.

Synagogues

All historical evidence indicates that Christians worshipped without musical instruments for many centuries after the beginning of the church. Everett Ferguson wrote, “Recent studies put the introduction of instrumental music even later than the dates found in reference books. It was perhaps as late as the tenth century when the organ was played as part of the service” (Ferguson, ibid., 81).

Some explain that the reason for non-use of musical instruments in worship by Christians was that they were influenced by Jewish synagogues where instruments were not used. They gathered in homes (Rom. 16:3-6; 1 Cor. 16:19; Col. 4:15; Philemon 2) instead of Jewish synagogues. Even though they came out of Judaism, they were guided by the apostles instead of Jewish practices and traditions. The question then is:

Were early Christians influenced by temple worship to look favorably on musical instrument or the synagogue to turn against them? The answer is neither. Apostolic teaching, not Jewish customs, was what governed Christian worship.

Conclusion

No conclusive argument can be made that Christians associated with, accepted, or used instrumental music based on their assembling in the temple. Even though Christians gathered there for a short period of time before persecution scattered them (Acts 8:1), they met in Solomon’s porch, a meeting place far removed and isolated from the singing and playing of musical instruments and animal sacrifices. Instead of following Jewish practices, Christians continued in the apostles teaching (Acts 2:42:). Christians should do the same today.