In Num 11:25,

[The] LORD ... took some of the spirit that was upon him and put it upon the seventy elders[.]

From my understanding of Catholic philosophy, a spirit is a simple substance that cannot be apportioned.

What is the Catholic understanding and explanation regarding Num 11:25?

  • I present an invitation to discuss an alternate form of this translation in the following chat room: (chat.stackexchange.com/rooms/18684/…)
    – Decrypted
    Nov 15 '14 at 16:13
  • @FMS pray all is well and you are not in vog-danger,do not know CC interpret. but 'the anointing of the Holy Ghost/Spirit may include something tangible that resided in Elisha's bones, in the cloths from Paul's body(or Peter's?) and in the Train of God that filled the temple. (personally I encountered this in prayer shawls that were placed over me before a presbytery began to pray and prophesy over me. There was a tangible physical experience of encountering the anointing of the Holy Spirit issuing from the cloths unto me, before the prayers began...
    – Hello
    Nov 17 '14 at 3:16
  • @FMS this above felt like tingling and warmth, very desireable and comfortable and conforting,..sim. to drinking a hot toddy or warm spiced wine on a cold day don't know why I used those analogies as I am not typically a consumer of any kinds of alcohol
    – Hello
    Nov 17 '14 at 3:21
  • @Hello Very interesting!
    – user13992
    Nov 17 '14 at 4:56
  • I am curious as to where a spirit is a ... substance ... comes from. My general leading is this is, more or less, the Holy Spirir, not a "substance". John 3 I believe indicates He had the Spirit without measure, but the epistles say each s given a measure of faith... If this referrred only yo the Holy Spirit, or perhaps some other angelic presence (company of hosts) , while I do not know how the CC would interpret such per se, I see no difficulty with understanding it at face value.
    – user16825
    Dec 6 '14 at 4:58

Eight verses earlier (Num 11:17) has the same "some of the spirit" wording. Fr. George Leo Haydock's commentary on verse 17 says:

St. Augustine (q. 18,) reads "of the spirit which is on thee;" (Septuagint) referring it to the indivisible spirit of God, so that these ancients received what was sufficient for them, while Moses suffered no diminution. Thus one lamp communicates light to another, without being impaired. (Origen, hom. vi.) Theodoret (q. 18,) also adds, that a person confers baptism on thousands, and yet loses no part of the grace himself.

Haydock's reference to Augustine appears to be On the Trinity, Book 5, chapter 14:

And I will take of your spirit, and will put it upon them; that is, I will give to them of the Holy Spirit, which I have already given to you.

Cyril of Jerusalem, in Catechetical Lecture 16:25, says regarding Numbers 11:25:

The seventy Elders were chosen; And the Lord came down in a cloud, and took of the Spirit that was upon Moses, and put it upon the seventy Elders; not that the Spirit was divided, but that His grace was distributed in proportion to the vessels, and the capacity of the recipients. Now there were present sixty and eight, and they prophesied; but Eldad and Modad were not present: therefore that it might be shown that it was not Moses who bestowed the gift, but the Spirit who wrought, Eldad and Modad, who though called, had not as yet presented themselves, did also prophesy.

In other words, it's not that the Spirit was "apportioned" but rather that the power of the Spirit was conferred on more people.


I must admit that I don't know what the Angelic Doctor has said, but as a charismatic Catholic I would interpret the verse to mean that each of the seventy elders received a partial indwelling of the Holy Spirit with a specific charism for governance. The Holy Spirit, of course, being a person of the Holy Trinity, is omnipresent so no question of divisibility of divine substance arises. It would also be interesting to get the Jewish perspective since they are non-Trinitarian.

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