No, it’s not about getting twice as much as your predecessor. Just your fellow heirs.
2 Kings 2.9-10
The first time I heard of the idea of “the double portion,” it was in Sunday school, in a lesson our overeager youth pastor taught us about the eighth-century
2 Kings 2.9-10 KWL
- 9 This happened when they crossed the river:
- Elijah told Elisha, “Ask me to do for you, before I’m taken from you.”
- Elisha said, “Please assign the double portion of your spirit to me.”
- 10 Elijah said, “You ask for a serious burden.
- If you see me get taken from you, it’s yours.
- If not, it’s not.”
Elisha, our youth pastor explained, requested twice the spirit of Elijah. Double the anointing. Double the power. And after he watched Elisha ascend to heaven, he got it—as proven by the fact Elijah performed seven miracles in the bible, but Elijah performed twice that number, a whopping 14. True, one of ’em took place after Elisha died, when a corpse came back to life after touching his bones.
Some years later I became Pentecostal, and I heard the charismatic spin on this interpretation: Elijah didn’t just get twice Elijah’s spirit, but twice the Holy Spirit. ’Cause the Spirit inspired
And y’know, had one of Elisha’s students made this same request of him, theoretically this guy could’ve received twice Elisha’s anointing. Elisha did 14 miracles; Elisha’s successor could’ve performed 28 of them. And if this successor passed a double-portion anointing on a third guy, that guy could’ve done 56 miracles. And his successor, 112 miracles. And so on, and so on.
A thousand generations later, devout descendants of Elijah’s anointing and Elisha’s double anointing, could potentially perform so many miracles, they’d do ’em by accident. Sneeze in an elevator, and everybody steps out totally cured of their allergies. Fart and everyone’s gastroenteric problems are gone. And so forth.
How sad, this Pentecostal lamented, that people didn’t have the faith to keep pursuing this “double portion anointing.” They could’ve doubled the miracles in the world with every successive generation.
How sad, I’ve learned since, that people keep repeating this old Christian cliché. ’Cause it proves they’ve clearly not read the other parts of the bible, which clear up precisely what a “double portion” is. Heck, they’ve probably heard it explained before, but some mental disconnect keeps ’em from applying it to the Elijah/Elisha story.
Inheritance and double portions.
As I explained in my article on patriarchy, when a father died his property was divided into equal portions, equal to the number of his sons plus one. If he had no sons, the L
Whichever child held the
So in order to help start ’em off, they were granted one more portion than their siblings. Twice what the others inherited. Or as it was also called, the “double portion.”
Nope, it wasn’t twice what the father left behind. That’s not physically possible: “I have 20 acres, but my eldest shall receive 40.” I mean, the father could predict his son might gain 20 more acres, through purchase or marriage or conquest. But unless God’s behind this prediction, it’ll come to nothing—and even so, he can’t deed 20 hypothetical acres. Nope; if the father had 20 acres and four sons, the land got divided by five. Three sons got four acres, and the one with the birthright got twice that: Eight acres.
Of course, the Holy Spirit is indivisible. Either we get all of him, or none of him. He doesn’t come in portions. So it wasn’t like God would divide himself into pieces and scatter himself among all the prophets of Israel… and Elisha would receive two pieces. That’s bonkers. “Double portion” isn’t literal; it’s a euphemism. It means Elisha wanted the birthright. He wanted to be Elijah’s designated successor.
Elisha, the new Elijah.
Elisha wanted to be recognized as the L
Now, he could’ve asked for the birthright because he wanted the honor of the position. And if that were the case, the Spirit would have ignored his request. Only idiots or fakes wanna be prophets for the honor. Prophets serve. And real prophets know: It ain’t that much of an honor. I mean yeah, it’s nice to be able to hear God—but considering how pagan our world is (and considering how pagan the kings of ancient Israel were, including the constant threat of death if you prophesied stuff they didn’t wanna hear), it’s a rough duty.
This is why Elijah’s response was, “You ask for a serious burden.” The
Much of the reason for this teaching about “twice the spirit” isn’t just because people are ignorant of the historical context. It’s because people love the idea of getting more of something—more of anything. It’s basic human greed.
So we like the story, and never fact-check it. The claim that Elisha performed twice the miracles of Elijah? Well, depends on what jiggery-pokery you gotta do to combine or dismiss miracles. I’ll list ’em all, individually.
Obviously I count God speaking to them, and their prophecies, among their miracles. (’Cause it’s not like hearing God isn’t miraculous.) Nope, didn’t count ’em before I listed them: I just plowed through the scriptures and listed every God-action in their stories. It just happens that each prophet winds up with 24 miraculous items. Though we can probably grant Elisha a few more: We don’t know exactly how many times he warned Joram about the Syrians.
Funny math abounds in Christian interpretations of scripture. We want so much to find meaningful coincidences, we’ll monkey with the numbers till we create one. I’ve heard people claim Jesus’s apostles performed twice as many miracles as their Lord did. I haven’t sat down and listed them, as I did with Elijah and Elisha—and it’ll get a bit tricky with the way the gospels overlap. But let’s put the bible aside for a tick, and think about it: The apostles should’ve performed way more than twice Jesus’s miracles. Jesus ministered on earth what, three years or so? And the apostles ministered for decades. And there were more of ’em, each with the same Holy Spirit who empowered Jesus. See, our lists only include the bible stories. There are likely dozens, even hundreds, more miracles not listed in the scriptures. Certainly true when it comes to Jesus.
Yeah, we should see later generations do more mighty acts. We’re preceded by so many good examples; we should have way more faith than we demonstrate. It’s not a matter of doubling the power. Nor doubling the spirit, doubling anything; it’s not about math. Math is actually limiting: We might aim for achieving twice what our predecessors did, and the Spirit may want us to do ten times as much, ’cause our predecessors started late, slacked off, lacked faith, whatever. In certain cases the Spirit actually expects less of us—’cause our predecessors were burning themselves out instead of multiplying themselves, and the Spirit wants more miracle-workers, not fewer people with bigger jobs.
If you wanna follow Elisha’s actual in-context example, do this: Get involved in a ministry like Elijah’s. Doesn’t have to be a prophetic ministry. Any ministry will do. Assist the leader. Be helpful. Be useful. Be humble. Be Spirit-led. Develop those gifts and abilities that help the ministry, and grow God’s kingdom, most. When the time comes, and you see your talents can serve the ministry best in administration, then ask your boss for that double portion. If you ask in all humility, your boss may say yes. Or not, ’cause other plans had already been made. If you did ask in all humility, you’ll be okay with your boss’s answer either way.
Christianity always suffers a shortage of humble leaders. If you wanna take on such a role, go for it.