Is the Holy Spirit the Spirit of the Father or the Spirit of the Son

Who is the Holy Spirit? Is He the Spirit of the Father? Or maybe the Spirit of the Son? Does it matter? And is it “who” or “what”? So many questions! And it’s tempting to just ignore them. Or assume they don’t really matter – just call it/him the Spirit of God. And yet, the Holy Spirit is one of the three “persons” of God. And so, it is important to know what we can about Him.

Is the Holy Spirit the Spirit of the Father or Spirit of the Son

And yes, by the way, the correct pronoun is Him. And, it should be capitalized. After all, the Holy Spirit is, in ways we can’t begin to understand, one of the three persons of God.

The Holy Spirit is an eternal, essential trinitarian person, a personal subsistence in the divine essence. He exists eternally in perfect union with the Father and the Son. He is commonly referred to as the “third Person of the Trinity.”* This description arises out of man’s attempt at a logical understanding of the mystery of the Trinity. It is acceptable as long as we remember that it does not infer any inferiority, subordination, or posteriority.  1Cairns, A. (2002). In Dictionary of Theological Terms (p. 212). Belfast; Greenville, SC: Ambassador Emerald International.

The Seven Spirits of God

Huh? The seven Spirits of God? What’s that about? Where does it even come from?

Well, it’s from Revelation. Specifically, it’s from the Letter to the Church in Sardis. The one known as the dead church. Uh Oh. That doesn’t sound good, does it? It’s not. In that letter, Jesus identified Himself as he who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. The letter went on to tell this church to wake up, or they were going to die. That is, die spiritually. The second death.

Given that identification, it seems very important that we know something of the Seven Spirits of God, doesn’t it?

If you'd like to read more about the Letter to the Church in Sardis, please check out The letter to the dead church in Sardis. 
Or, to see the entire series on all seven of the letters in Revelation, I invite you to go to Seven Letters to Seven Churches.

What follows is based on what I wrote for the study of the letter to Sardis, with additional information because this is a broader scope.

Who or what are the Seven Spirits of God?

There are only four references to the seven spirits of God – and all four of them are in Revelation. Given the term is only used in Revelation, we probably think it’s always bad. However, as I often point out, Revelation isn’t all bad news. Yes, there is plenty of bad news in Revelation. However, there’s also plenty of word from God on how to avoid that bad news, not only in Revelation but throughout the Bible

I believe that, as we go through this, we can see the importance of knowing and communicating with the Holy Spirit. The choice of whether we face spiritual death or spiritual life, as Jesus points out in the letter to the Sardis church, really is up to us. And it’s through the Holy Spirit that we can have spiritual life.

The first reference to the seven spirits of God is at the very beginning of Revelation.

Here’s the complete introduction to the Book of Revelation, with the “Seven Spirits” verse underlined.

Greetings and Doxology

Rev 1:4 John,

To the seven churches in the province of Asia:

Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, 5 and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, 6 and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.
Rev 1:7 Look, he is coming with the clouds,
and every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him;
and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him.
So shall it be! Amen.
Rev 1:8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.”

All of those descriptive words in verses 4 and 5 are about God. Taken together, they seem to indicate the Trinity. The three “persons” of God.  Of course, while the Bible never actually uses that word, it does indicate the three persons of God.  Today, we normally talk about the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  However, in those verses, I believe we see the Father, the Holy Spirit and the Son – in that order.

The Father – him who is, and who was, and who is to come
The Holy Spirit – the seven spirits before his throne
The Son – Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth

I suspect we get a bit confused about who the Holy Spirit is.  Some of that may come from trying to assign the Holy Spirit to either the Father or to Jesus.  But who says there must be a distinct separation between the three of them into non-overlapping “persons”?  After all, it’s not like we actually know how those three persons exist, interact, Etc. In fact, we don’t know much at all about them.

Paul refers to the Holy Spirit as the mind of Christ

For example, many of us remember what Paul wrote about Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

Wisdom From the Spirit

1Co 2:6 We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. 7 No, we speak of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. 8 None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9 However, as it is written:

“No eye has seen,
no ear has heard,
no mind has conceived
what God has prepared for those who love him”— 10 but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit.

Did I mention the importance of knowing the Holy Spirit? Yes, I did. And this just begins to tell us why. I also pointed out that communicating with the Holy Spirit is a very important factor in things like, is Revelation good or bad? Even is God good or bad? Here, it’s plainly written that:

“No eye has seen,
no ear has heard,
no mind has conceived
what God has prepared for those who love him”— 10 but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit.

How can we even start to understand God’s revelation to us if we don’t know of, let alone communicate with, the Holy Spirit? Paul goes on to say just that:

The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. 11 For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. 13 This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. 14 The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. 15 The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man’s judgment:

So as Christians, we have been given the Holy Spirit. By God. Then why shouldn’t we want to learn what we can about Him? Why wouldn’t we want to learn from Him? Communicate with Him?

1Co 2:16 “For who has known the mind of the Lord
that he may instruct him?”

But we have the mind of Christ.

And here at the end, we have Paul tying together the Holy Spirit and the mind of Christ.

But is that the final word on the subject? Or is there more?

Maybe we think “the mind of the Lord” refers to Jesus.  It would have been really nice if Paul had been more specific.  But in that sentence, he wasn’t.  As for context, it seems to be pointing to God, the Father.  And we have access to God the Father through the mind of Christ, by way of the Holy Spirit.  Or at least something possibly along those lines.  Who are we to know?  We just can’t.

But to try to bring this thought to a close, the Greek word we read as Lord in that phrase “the mind of the Lord” could refer to either the Father or to Jesus.

So – when we read the Greetings and Doxology section of Revelation, verses 4 and 5 do appear to be saying it’s from the Father, the Holy Spirit and the Son.  

Therefore, the question becomes how the Holy Spirit comes to be called the seven spirits of God. So let’s keep going and see what we learn.

The second instance of the seven spirits of God is in the letter to Sardis,

Rather than reproduce the entire set of articles on the letter to the church in Sardis, I just point you to the introduction to that letter, where each part contains a link to the next portion of the letter: The letter to the dead church in Sardis.

The third instance of the seven spirits of God is in Chapter 4

Not surprisingly, it’s in a description of what John saw at the Throne in Heaven.

I underlined verse 5 below for reasons we’ll get to in a moment.

The Throne in Heaven

Rev 4:1 After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” 2 At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. 3 And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian. A rainbow, resembling an emerald, encircled the throne. 4 Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders. They were dressed in white and had crowns of gold on their heads. 5 From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder. Before the throne, seven lamps were blazing. These are the seven spirits of God. 6 Also before the throne there was what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal.

In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes, in front and in back. 7 The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle. 8 Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under his wings. Day and night they never stop saying:

“Holy, holy, holy
is the Lord God Almighty,
who was, and is, and is to come.”

Rev 4:9 Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, 10 the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne, and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say:

Rev 4:11 “You are worthy, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they were created
and have their being.”

Here’s the thing about verse 5:

There’s a bit of a problem with the NIV translation.  Again.  It’s too simple.  There’s a word left out that can lead to difficulties for us today.  Something that would have been obvious at the time, but maybe not so much today.  Worse yet, the missing word is in verse 5 – the very one we’re looking at.  Here it is from Young’s Literal Translation.

5 and out of the throne proceed do lightnings, and thunders, and voices; and seven lamps of fire are burning before the throne, which are the Seven Spirits of God.  2Young, R. (1997). Young’s Literal Translation (Re 4:5). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Again, for comparison, the NIV:

5 From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder. Before the throne, seven lamps were blazing. These are the seven spirits of God.

Notice –
The NIV says – seven lamps were blazing
Young’s Literal says – seven lamps of fire are burning

If you’re interested, here’s the KJV translation as well, which is in line with the YLT wording.

5 And out of the throne proceeded lightnings and thunderings and voices: and there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God.  3The Holy Bible: King James Version. (2009). (Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version., Re 4:5). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

One specifically mentions fire. The other doesn’t. Oddly enough, it’s the older translation that actually says fire. I point out the fire, because these days we don’t need a lamp of fire to have something to give bright light.  LED lights today can outshine even a fire.  The difference matters because of the implications of fire in the Bible.  In addition to providing light, fire also has the power to destroy or to purify.  For the church in Sardis – the significance of fire in those terms cannot be overstated. That means it’s also important for us today.

But let’s keep going so we can get one final look at the seven spirits of God.

The fourth and final instance of the seven spirits of God is in Chapter 5 where the Lamb opens the scroll.

The Scroll and the Lamb

Rev 5:1 Then I saw in the right hand of him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals. 2 And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?” 3 But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it. 4 I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside. 5 Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.”

Rev 5:6 Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. He had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. 7 He came and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne. 8 And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.

…  

Let’s go to an outside source to bring all of this to a close.

Seven horns (κερας [keras]) is a common symbol in the O. T. for strength and kingly power (1 Sam. 2:10; 1 Kings 22:11; Psa. 112:9; Dan. 7:7, 20ff.) and often in Rev. (12:3; 13:1; 17:3, 12). Fulness of power (the All-powerful one) is symbolized by seven. Seven eyes (ὀφθαλμους ἑπτα [ophthalmous hepta]). Like Zech. 3:9; 4:10 and denotes here, as there, omniscience. Here they are identified with the seven Spirits of Christ, while in 1:4 the seven Spirits are clearly the Holy Spirit of God (3:1), and blaze like torches (4:5), like the eyes of Christ (1:14). The Holy Spirit is both Spirit of God and of Christ (Rom. 8:9). Sent forth (ἀπεσταλμενοι [apestalmenoi]). 5 And out of the throne proceeded lightnings and thunderings and voices: and there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God.  4The Holy Bible: King James Version. (2009). (Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version., Re 4:5). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

Notice the comments about what the various seven items represent. Maybe we haven’t brought this to a close yet?

Since we’re already seen the verses in Revelation, let’s bring up the passage from Romans to clear this up.  As usual, I include the entire passage for context, but especially pay attention to the underlined verses.

Life Through the Spirit

Ro 8:1 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. 3 For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, 4 in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.

Ro 8:5 Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. 6 The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; 7 the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. 8 Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.

Ro 8:9 You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. 10 But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. 11 And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.

Ro 8:12 Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation—but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. 13 For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, 14 because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba,Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

Again:

Ro 8:9 You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. 10 But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. 11 And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.

So – the Holy Spirit is both the Spirit of God (the Father) and of Jesus (the Son).

We also know the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, from Rev 1:20.

And, what seems like the most reasonable explanation of the seven spirits of God (the Holy Spirit) comes from Isaiah 11-16.  It”s part of a prophecy about the coming of Jesus.  The first few verses tell of the seven spirits – and the remaining ones demonstrate them.

As you read this, look for the seven spirits.

The Branch From Jesse

Isa 11:1 A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.

Isa 11:2 The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him—

The Spirit of the Father, resting on the Son,
with the seven spirits being the underlined items below.
Keep in mind, seven is a number representing completeness or fullness.

the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of power,
the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD

Isa 11:3 and he will delight in the fear of the LORD.

That’s six, if you counted.  Six underlined, at any rate. Did you see the seventh one?

What’s number 7?  It’s actually at the beginning of the verse – 
The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him

It’s beyond our understanding to figure that one out.  It looks like the six I underlined are part of the overall Spirit of the Lord.  And yet – somehow – maybe having to do with the concept of completeness, or the perfection that comes from the synergy of all of them together,  it’s seven.

And as I mentioned, the remainder of the passage shows examples of each of them.  As such, here they are for you to read, but there will be no further explanation of them in this particular article.

He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,
or decide by what he hears with his ears;

Isa 11:4 but with righteousness he will judge the needy,
with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;
with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.

Isa 11:5 Righteousness will be his belt
and faithfulness the sash around his waist.

Isa 11:6 The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
and a little child will lead them.

Isa 11:7 The cow will feed with the bear,
their young will lie down together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox.

Isa 11:8 The infant will play near the hole of the cobra,
and the young child put his hand into the viper’s nest.

Isa 11:9 They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea.

Isa 11:10 In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his place of rest will be glorious. 11 In that day the Lord will reach out his hand a second time to reclaim the remnant that is left of his people from Assyria, from Lower Egypt, from Upper Egypt, from Cush, from Elam, from Babylonia, from Hamath and from the islands of the sea.

Isa 11:12 He will raise a banner for the nations
and gather the exiles of Israel;
he will assemble the scattered people of Judah
from the four quarters of the earth.

Isa 11:13 Ephraim’s jealousy will vanish,
and Judah’s enemies will be cut off;
Ephraim will not be jealous of Judah,
nor Judah hostile toward Ephraim.

Isa 11:14 They will swoop down on the slopes of Philistia to the west;
together they will plunder the people to the east.
They will lay hands on Edom and Moab,
and the Ammonites will be subject to them.

Isa 11:15 The LORD will dry up
the gulf of the Egyptian sea;
with a scorching wind he will sweep his hand
over the Euphrates River.
He will break it up into seven streams
so that men can cross over in sandals.

Isa 11:16 There will be a highway for the remnant of his people
that is left from Assyria,
as there was for Israel
when they came up from Egypt.

Conclusion – Is the Holy Spirit the Spirit of the Father or Spirit of the Son?

Ultimately, I guess the best answer is a simple “Yes”. Any attempt to try to go any deeper runs into at least two problems.

First, it’s beyond what’s in the Bible. Going beyond what God tells us about Himself is dangerous, at best. It’s a start on a path that leads somewhere we really don’t want to go. A path to creating God in our image, rather than the reality that He created us in His image.

Second, it’s incredibly arrogant. Yes, arrogant. How can we even begin to think that we can understand anything about God beyond what He tells us. If anything, we can’t even fully understand what the Bible says about God, let alone think we can go beyond the text.

But then, if we still try to go deeper anyway, are we getting lost in the weeds? Trying to ascertain things that lead us away from the truths that we need to know and understand as best as we can?

Somehow, some way, the Holy Spirit is one of the three persons of God. We’ve been told about the role He will play in our lives. What else do we honestly need to know? Shouldn’t we be not only satisfied, but actually thrilled that God provides the Holy Spirit for us? And then, with the appropriate joy at His presence, take every opportunity to allow the Holy Spirit to help us?

I believe the answer to that last question is yes. I’m satisfied, thrilled, and overjoyed with that answer, and with the Holy Spirit in my life.


Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

  • 1
    Cairns, A. (2002). In Dictionary of Theological Terms (p. 212). Belfast; Greenville, SC: Ambassador Emerald International.
  • 2
    Young, R. (1997). Young’s Literal Translation (Re 4:5). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software
  • 3
    The Holy Bible: King James Version. (2009). (Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version., Re 4:5). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
  • 4
    The Holy Bible: King James Version. (2009). (Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version., Re 4:5). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

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