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The 'Seven Spirits" in Revelation.

Revelation can be quite perplexing, and it does take some textual and theological digging to mine its riches for the church in our time. This blog series focuses on questions that the church might ask but go unaddressed during the teachings as we walk through this series.

Question: What or who are the seven spirits in Revelation?

Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, 5 and from Jesus Christ (Rev. 1:4 NRSV)

There are two primary interpretations, and it could go either way. So, whatever position you hold, be careful not to be too staunch about it as you dialogue with others.

1. Seven angelic spirits. Some interpreters believe the author of Revelation intends for us to connect the seven spirits of 1:4, 3:1, 4:5, and 5:6 with the angels in Revelation 8:2 because they occupy the same place and function within John's vision. Additionally, the stars held in Jesus's hand are called spirits and angels (3:1). Further, in other ancient Jewish texts (such as the Dead Sea Scrolls) “angels” and “spirits” are “parallel expressions.”[1]

2. The Holy Spirit. Some interpreters believe that this refers to the Holy Spirit because early Christians sometimes included the Spirit in their introductions and conclusions to letters. Additionally, “The lamp and eye imagery that Revelation uses for the seven spirits comes from Zechariah 4, which refers to God’s Spirit in the singular (Zech 4:6). Therefore, the seven spirits could be the Spirit that addresses the churches.”[2] Lastly, some believe that “seven spirits” refers to the seven traits of the Spirit described in Isaiah 11:2-4 (wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, knowledge, reverence, and fear of the Lord).[3] The Hebrew, however, only presents six traits, which weakens this position.[4]

Ultimately, whichever position one holds has no interpretive consequences for the book of Revelation as a whole. There is good scholarly support for both. In either case, it does not diminish the belief in a triune God, nor does it elevate angels to an equal authority as God. Angels by nature and vocation are messengers. Personally, I am not quite sure, but I gravitate towards the first interpretation. The second option is also attractive for many reasons, but I think it is a bit of a stretch and reads more into the text than what the author intends. I struggle with this because of my strongly-held trinitarian convictions. [5] I hold this opinion loosely and remain open. Who knows, I might change my mind tomorrow!

[1] Craig R. Koester, Revelation: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, ed. John J. Collins, vol. 38A, Anchor Yale Bible (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2014), 216. [2] Ibid, 216. [3] Ian Paul, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, ed. Eckhard J. Schnabel, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (London: Inter-Varsity Press, 2018), 62. [4] Koester, Revelation, 216. [5] Ian Boxall, The Revelation of Saint John, Black’s New Testament Commentary (London: Continuum, 2006), 31.


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