NOT FROM A BUCKET
By Larry White
The teachings on the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Acts chapter two have always been copious and varied. Many strange and harmful doctrines have come out of a wrong application of this subject. Indeed, it seems our understanding of Acts chapter two will determine how we understand much of the rest of the word of God.
Of late, relatively speaking, there has been a particular view of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit that is being taught throughout the brotherhood that I believe will ultimately prove, also, to be harmful. That is the view that the Holy Spirit wasn't really given at all on the day of Pentecost, but rather, that something coming from the Holy Spirit was all that was given. This hinges mainly on the translation of one Greek word in Acts 2:17-18, namely, the word "apo" translated "of" in the KJV.
However, before I deal with this, I would like to look at another word that seems to be made hard to understand by many. It's the Greek word EKCHEO, translated in Acts 28:17-18 as "pour out"; EK (meaning out) and CHEO (meaning pour). Some find it incomprehensible that God could pour out the third person of the God-head, and I've heard some very "scholarly" arguments about a bucket that God would have to use to pour him out if this were taken literally. H. Leo Boles, in his book The Holy Spirit Pages 149-150, deals with this, and shows that "pour out" is a figurative expression and should not be taken literally. He says that whenever a figure is used it must point to something literal, and therefore we should always interpret the figure by this literal fact. But brother Boles never tells us what figure of speech is being used here, nor what is the literal fact to which the figure points.
Franklin Pucket in his article in Vanguard Vol.1, Num.11, page 7 says, that "the idea that one could 'pour out' the divine person of the Godhead, just like one would pour water out of a pitcher, is beyond my ability to accept." Therefore, since this is figurative, he concludes that it must have been something from the Holy Spirit that was poured out.
The only figure of speech I could find that Greek authorities say “pour out” takes, is a metaphor. We use this figure in much the same way today in our speech, for instance, if we saw a boxing match where one boxer was pounding the opponent with a fast flurry of terrible and effective blows, we might be moved to say, "Boy, he really poured it on him." Obviously, his punches aren’t in a liquid state, and what we literally mean is that he was delivering an abundant amount of blows to his opponent. The literal fact that “pour out” points to in Acts 2:17-18, is that God would give the Holy Spirit in a large, free and generous manner. God didn't pour out the Spirit like a liquid, that is just the colorful and expressive language used to describe the abundant and liberal manner in which God would give the Holy Spirit.
As brother Boles has said, a figure always points to something literal. Just because a figurative expression is used doesn't stop the fact that something is actually occurring. The Holy Spirit was literally given on the day of Pentecost to a very generous and abundant extent. The word "pour out" is a good choice of words and it says it all. I think the arguments to make this phrase ridiculous by using the idea of a bucket, are simply slinging mud on the astounding and unspeakable gift, that by the grace of God, was poured out that day.
There might be some new readers who when they read this phrase might, in their minds, put a break in the phrasing such as, "I will pour.....out of my Spirit". This may lead to the idea that something was going to come from the Spirit, and not the Spirit himself. But "pour out" is one Greek word as we have already seen. It might be better to read it with other translations of the word EKCHEO, "I will distribute largely of my Spirit"; "I will bestow abundantly of my Spirit". These renderings clearly give the sense that it is the Spirit being referred to as being given. Paul uses the same word in another place with yet another rendering in Titus 3:5-6. "...he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Spirit; which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior." I might add that this pouring out or shedding here is said of the Holy Spirit, and cannot be easily misunderstood to mean anything else.
Now, Peter also used the interesting word, "apo", in the phrase "I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh", quoting Joel, in Acts 2:17-18. Many teachers, in an effort to remove the idea that the Holy Spirit was being personally bestowed on the Apostles, have said that the word "apo" means “the source of” and therefore should be understood to mean that God was going to pour something out from the Holy Spirit. Although "apo" can mean “the source of” or “the origin of”, it can also mean "separation" which is the primary definition that Thayer gives. Greek authorities say that here, in Acts 2:17-18, "apo" is the "partitive of separation". In other words, as Thayer explains, "a part from the whole; where, of a whole some part is taken". Some examples are, when the Syro-Phoenician woman said to Jesus in Mt.15:27, "yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their master's table". Here, the dogs would not be eating something coming from the crumbs, but would be eating part of the crumbs that were separated from the whole supply of crumbs which fell from the table. When they ate of the crumbs - they ate crumbs. Another example of "apo" used in this way is when Jesus appeared to his disciples at the shore in Jno.21:10. Jesus said, "Bring of the fish which ye have now caught". When they did this, they would not be bringing something that came from the fish, but a part of the many fishes from the whole of the many fishes. When they brought of the fish - they brought fish. Check Thayer for about 10 other examples. Peter quoted Joel saying, "I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh", when he does, he isn't saying that God would pour out something from the Spirit, but that of the “whole” of the Spirit he would pour out a “part”. When he poured out of his Spirit - he poured out Spirit.
This supports the traditional view that there are different measures of the Spirit given to different individuals in the Bible. John says in Jno.3:34-35, that the Spirit was not given by measure to Jesus, because Jesus was given all things. This suggests that everyone else who received the Spirit, did so only in measure.
Now, if someone objects at this point, and declares confidently that God surely could not take a person and divvy him up, and distribute him to the four winds; I might remind him that we are not speaking of a physical occurrence. I might also ask him to explain how this same person can be everywhere in the universe, all in the same instant, all of the time. (Psa.139.7-10) As long as we think carnally, we’ll have a problem.
One interesting observation I had while running these references, was that every time "apo" is used in the sense of "FROM" (or origin), the verse will go ahead and state clearly what is "from". For instance, Paul said, "for I have received of (apo) the Lord..." (1Cor.11:23a). The term "apo" here, could rightly be rendered "from" but good grammar could not leave the sentence hanging; Paul must go on and tell us what he had received of the Lord, namely, “that which also I delivered unto you.” Good grammar necessitates that when Jesus said to "bring of the fish", he had reference to fish, and not something coming from the fish, else he would have completed the sentence and stated what he wanted from the fish. If Peter meant that something was going to be poured out from the Spirit, he would have stated what was being poured out from the Spirit. "I will pour out 'from' my Spirit upon all flesh.......” What? Pour out what? This becomes a fragmented sentence lacking a complete thought. However, when "apo" is understood as a separation of a part from the whole, no more of the sentence is needed to complete the thought. Therefore, what the dogs ate were crumbs; what the disciples brought were fish; what God poured out was His Spirit.
It has been alleged that Peter changes the words that Joel uses, so that he might offer a divinely approved commentary on what Joel really meant. Joel doesn't use the word "of", but plainly says God would pour out his Spirit. (Joel 2:28-29)
I don't think that Peter is offering a divine commentary on what Joel said. Peter simply quotes Joel in a rather free form. In the phrase "of my Spirit", Peter follows the Septuagint version which had already been written for some one to two hundred years. The Hebrew has: "I will pour out my Spirit" (the accusative); the LXX and Peter have the partitive; "of my Spirit". If Peter is giving a divinely approved commentary of what Joel meant, then the Septuagint translators had already given a non-divine and unapproved commentary of the same verse. Peter or maybe Luke, the writer, simply follows the Septuagint version’s rendering of this phrase. Joel has reference to the Holy Spirit himself being given, and Peter can have reference to nothing less than that when he quotes Joel.
What God poured out that day was what Jesus went to heaven to receive (Jno.16:7), and which the Father promised to give (Acts 1:4-5) and which Jesus received of his Father after he was set on his throne and glorified (Acts 2:33; Jno.7:39), and which the Father finally shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior (Tit.3.5-6), that is, the Holy Spirit whom we today also receive after that we have been immersed (Acts 2:38-39).