Revelation 1:4c: The Seven Spirits?

Verse 4:[1] John to the seven churches which are in Asia: Grace be unto you, and peace, from him (Ex. 3:14; Rev. 1:8) which is, and (John 1:1) which was, and which is to come; (Zech. 3:9; 4:10; Rev. 3:1; 4:5; 5:6) and from the seven Spirits which are before his throne…


[And from the seven spirits which are before His throne (thus Beza, etc.)] The seven spirits here are, either, 1. Angels (certain interpreters in Grotius, Pererius, Ribera, Lapide, Menochius, Beza, Drusius,[37] Hammond, Mede, Rheims[38]), as also in Revelation 5:6 and 8:2. So many thought, because it was received among the Hebrews that there are seven chief Angels who stand near to God, that is, just as seven Princes were standing near to the King of the Persians;[39] because this palace was the most magnificent of all, the Hebrews imagine the palace of God in accordance with it. See Tobit 12:15;[40] Matthew 18:10; and what things were said by us in both places. Add The Shepherd of Hermas[41] 2:9 and Clement’s Stromata 6 (Grotius). Now, here are understood, either, the entire body of the Angels, which is designated by the number seven (certain interpreters in Ribera), to which it is objected that not one or two times, but often and always, seven is used, which indicates a certain and definite number (Ribera): or, the Angels of these seven Churches (certain interpreters in Pererius), or rather, the seven principal Angels (Pererius, thus Ribera, Lapide, Hammond), the primary administrators of divine providence concerning the government of the Church, and indeed even of the world (Pererius, similarly Ribera): whom others call Archangels (Drusius). Now, it is apparent that Angels are to be understood, from a comparison with Revelation 5:6 (Mede’s Works 1111 out of Beza), where those seven spirits are called the horns and eyes of the lamb, that is, ministers (Beza):  and with Revelation 8:2, where they are expressly called the seven Angels which stand before God (Mede’s Works 1111):  and with Revelation 15:6, 7 (Ribera), and Zechariah 4:10, those are the seven eyes of the Lord, etc.  Consult Tobit 12:15 (Mede’s Works 1111).  [To others this opinion does not satisfy, and they oppose it in this way:]  1.  It is absurd that Angels should be placed in the same order and society with Divine persons (certain interpreters in Pererius), and placed before Christ (certain interpreters in Ribera, thus Gomar, Estius).  Response:  They are reckoned in this place, not as equals, but as ministers (Pererius):  but they are set before Christ because He is here treated according to His human nature, with respect to which He was inferior to the Angels (Ribera).  On the contrary, Christ according to the glory of His humanity is above the Angels and is their head, Ephesians 1:21 (Estius).  2.  There is another weightier argument, that what is given by God alone is not to be attributed to Angels (Gomar).  It is absurd that grace and peace would be sought from Angels (certain interpreters in Pererius, thus Gomar, Pareus), who are neither the authors, nor givers, of it (certain interpreters in Pererius).  There is in Sacred Scripture no promise or example of the grace and peace of God sought and given by Angels or any creature (Gomar).  Good Theology does not bear that these things were sought from Angels (Pareus).  Response:  1.  These things are sought from them, not as the authors, but as the instruments of God in the dispensing of them (Mede’s Diatribes 10:55,[42] thus Pererius).  See Hebrews 1:14.  2.  The prayer here is directed to God (Mede), not to the seven spirits (Hammond, thus Mede), whether immediately or ultimately (Hammond).  This is not a prayer, but a wish, which is directed to God as the giver (certain interpreters in Gomar); but He makes mention of the Angels as instruments through whom He gives these things in His own way, in the manner of keeping, etc.  Therefore, there is nothing here in support of the invocation of Angels (Gomar).  Now, why is it not lawful to seek from God grace and peace from the Ministry, whether external of the word, or invisible of Angels?  It is certainly lawful to seek from God blessing by an instrument, which blessing He is wont to give by that instrument (Mede’s Diatribes 10:55).  But no equivocation ought to be contrived here. This particle ἀπὸ/from, here thrice repeated, relates συνωνύμως, or univocally, that it is sought from God and from the seven spirits and from Christ, as from operating causes, or rather from one cause, the Triune God.  Therefore, a religious supplication is treated here.  Now, all worship of angels is condemned, Colossians 2:18; Revelation 19:10; 22:9 (Pareus).  God alone is to be worshipped, Matthew 4:10; neither does God bestow His own glory upon another, Isaiah 42:8 (Gomar).  This is not a prayer, but only a salutation (Mede, Hammond); and grace and peace are here able to be taken, not strictly, but broadly, so that he might express the favor and blessing of God in general, and all prosperity, which things God is certainly wont to give by the ministry of Angels (Mede).  [These things concerning the first opinion.]  2.  He that will judge all things rightly, and will bring in Revelation 5:6 for comparison, where the Spirits are called the eyes of God, by which eyes we said on Zechariah 4:10 to be signified the manifold providence of God, will rather proceed to the point that he might here esteem those seven members of divine providence, named in Revelation 5:12 and 7:12, to be denoted.  And thus it will be ἕν διὰ δυοῖν, an hendiadys.  For peace is desired from God and the seven spirits, that is, from God operating by these seven modes.  He confirms this interpretation, insofar as in Revelation 5 the Spirits and Angels are distinguished (Grotius).  3.  By the seven spirits the Holy Spirit is understood (Cotterius, Cluverus, Pareus, Brightman, Gomar, Durham, Apocalyptic Harmony, Gagnæus).  This is the common interpretation.  Thus Ambrose, Andreas Cæsarius, Primasius,[43] Rupertus,[44] and a great many other great men, take it (Pererius, similarly Ribera).  This is evident, 1.  from a comparison with Revelation 4:5, where the seven spirits are said to be seven burning lamps.  Now, the Holy Spirit is often compared to a fire, as in Matthew 3:11; Acts 2:3.  2.  And especially from a comparison with Revelation 5:6, where the seven spirits are clearly distinguished from the four beasts, which are Angels.  Where also those spirits are said both to be in the midst of the throne, and to have been sent into all the earth, while Angels are not able at the same time to be in heaven and on earth (Cartwright[45]).  3.  Because in that very place these seven spirits are defined to be the seven horns and seven eyes of the Lamb (Cartwright, Cluverus, Durham).  The eyes denote His omniscience; the horns, His omnipotence (Durham).  Now, Christ sees not with the eyes of Angels and others, but with His own; and Christ is mighty with horns, or power, not of Angels and others, but with His own (Gomar, Cartwright).  Now, the power and wisdom of the Holy Spirit is the power and wisdom of the Son, inasmuch as the Spirit proceeds equally from the Father and the Son (Cartwright).  Consult Zechariah 3:9, where upon that singular stone, which beyond controversy is the Messiah, seven eyes are said to be, that is, the most perfect wisdom of the Spirit, etc.  Add Revelation 3:1, These things saith He that hath the seven spirits of God.  But Christ (according to the flesh, let us suppose) is not anointed with the power, nor does He see by the wisdom, of Angels, but of the Holy Spirit, Isaiah 11:2; 42:1; 61:1; John 3:34; Acts 10:38.  Neither is the throne of God illuminated by Angels, but by the Spirit.  Neither are Angels able to see the secrets of the book of God, except they be revealed by the Spirit of Christ, Revelation 5:2, 3 (Cluverus).  4.  Because, while in Revelation 4 and 5 the living creatures and the elders worship God, the seven spirits are never read to worship God:  by which it is indicated that, not a creature, but the creator is understood (Gomar, Apocalyptic Harmony).  [To others this opinion does not satisfy, which they thus assail:]  1.  These spirits are seven; therefore, these are not the Holy Spirit, who is one (certain interpreters in Gomar).  Response:  A multiplicity of persons is not here denoted, but an infinite variety of gifts (Cartwright, similarly Gomar), 1 Corinthians 12:4 (Gomar), whence the sevenfold spirit is given to Christ, Isaiah 11:2, 3 (Gomar, similarly the Apocalyptic Harmony).  Neither is it alien to the prophetic and figurative style that the Spirit would be called by seven gifts, by a Metonymy of Effect in the place of the cause, just as contrariwise the gifts of the Spirit are called the Spirit, John 7:39, by a Metonymy of Cause in the place of the effect.  Thus the one providence of God is indicated by innumerable eyes in Ezekiel,[46] and the one person of Christ is signified by various shadows in the Old Testament (Gomar).  By a similar mode of speaking God is said to place of the Spirit, or a portion of the Spirit, upon someone; likewise the spirits of the prophets, 1 Corinthians 14:32 (Cocceius).  Now, the Spirit of God is called the seven spirits (Cotterius), either, 1.  because this number is sacred in this book (Durham):  or, 2.  so that every sort of perfection might be attributed to Him (Cotterius), the seven spirits, that is, the sevenfold Spirit (Pererius, Ribera, Cotterius), that is, the omnifold Spirit.  Now, I have preferred to say the seven spirits, so that it might signify that the perfections of that Spirit are not accidents, as in us, but His essence, and that all those subsist οὐσιωδῶς/ essentially in the Divine essence (Cotterius).  Or, 3.  because He was flowing into these seven Churches (Apocalyptic Harmony, thus Cocceius), as if the spirit of the individual Churches was His own (Cocceius).  [These things concerning the first argument.]  2.  The Holy Spirit is on the throne, as Lord and God (Ribera), not, as here, before the throne; which is of subordinates and ministers, who stand prepared to carry out and execute commands (Pererius, similarly Ribera), as it is evident out of Zechariah 3:7; 6:5; Tobit 12:15 (Ribera).  Response:  The expression, to be, or to stand, before the throne does not always and necessarily denote inequality and separation.  For as the Holy Spirit, although equal with respect to essence to the Father, with respect to voluntary office and by dispensation is said to be sent by the Father and the Son (Gomar); thus in this place to be before the throne is used, that is, to be prompt to fulfill one’s duty (Gomar, similarly Durham), to be present with the Father and the Son, who by the Spirit exhibit grace and consolation to the people of God (Durham).  By this, to be before the throne, it is denoted that the Holy Spirit both was given to us by Christ, and that He is to us παράκλητον, a Helper:  consult Romans 8:26, 27 (Cocceius).  [This is the second argument.]  3.  The order is incompatible, because this is set before the Son (certain interpreters in Gomar).  Response 1:  Among the persons of the Trinity the order is often confounded, as in Galatians 1:1; Ephesians 5:5; etc., neither is this absurd, on account of the equality and unity of all.  Response 2:  Wisely and opportunely is He here set before, either, lest the proper order of speech be interrupted (Gomar); because concerning the Son he was going to say more things (Cocceius, thus the Apocalyptic Harmony, Gomar, Cluverus), and was going finish the salutation in δοξολογίᾳ, a doxology, of Him:  or, lest an inequality be thought in the Trinity; or, lest someone understand the seven spirits, if they be subjoined in the last place, of angels:  or, so that he might insinuate the proper character of the Holy Spirit, who is, as it were, the love and bond of the Father and the Son (Cluverus).

And from the seven Spirits which are before his throne; it is very difficult to determine what is meant by the seven Spirits here before the throne: we read of them also, Revelation 3:1; 4:5; 5:6. Christ is described, Revelation 3:1, as having the seven Spirits of God. It is said, Revelation 4:5, that the seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, are the seven Spirits of God; and Revelation 5:6, that the Lamb’s seven eyes were the seven Spirits of God. This is all the light we have from Scripture. Some think they are seven angels that are here meant. We read, Revelation 8:2, of seven angels that stood before God; and in Revelation 15:6-8, there is a like mention of seven angels; and Zechariah 4:2, 10, Zechariah had a vision of seven lamps, and seven pipes, which, Zechariah 4:10, are said to be the eyes of the Lord, which run to and fro through the whole earth. But John saluting the churches with grace and peace from these seven Spirits, and joining them with Christ, they do not seem to be creatures, angels, that are here meant, but such a Being from whom grace and peace cometh. Others therefore understand by them, the seven workings of Divine Providence in his management of the affairs of the world, with relation to the church, of which we shall read after; but this also seems hard. The sense seems to be, and from the Holy Ghost, who, though but one spiritual Being, yet exerteth his influence many ways, and by various manifestations, called here seven Spirits, because all flow from the same Spirit. They are therefore called, Revelation 4:5, burning lamps; the Holy Ghost descending in the appearance of fire, Acts 2:3, 4, and being compared to fire, Matthew 3:11. They are called the Lamb’s seven eyes and seven horns, Revelation 5:6. Christ had the Spirit without measure;[47] and the Holy Spirit is oft called the Spirit of Christ.[48] This seemeth the best sense; the reader may find the objections to it answered in Mr. Pool’s Synopsis Criticorum upon this verse.

[1] Greek: Ἰωάννης ταῖς ἑπτὰ ἐκκλησίαις ταῖς ἐν τῇ Ἀσίᾳ· χάρις ὑμῖν καὶ εἰρήνη ἀπὸ Θεοῦ ὁ ὢν καὶ ὁ ἦν καὶ ὁ ἐρχόμενος· καὶ ἀπὸ τῶν ἑπτὰ πνευμάτων ἃ ἐνώπιον τοῦ θρόνου αὐτοῦ.

[37] John Drusius (1550-1616) was a Protestant, who excelled in Oriental studies, Biblical exegesis, and critical interpretation, as is evident from his Annotationes in Pentateuchum, Josuam, Judices, Ruth, Samuelem, Estheram, Jobum, Coheleth, seu Ecclesiasten, Prophetas Minores, Ecclesiasticum, Tobit, 1 Librum Machabæorum; Notæ Majores in Genesin, Exodum, Leviticum, et Priora 18 Capita Numerorum; Annotata in Novum Testamentum.  He served as Professor of Oriental Languages at Oxford (1572), at Louvain (1577), and at Franeker (1585).

[38] This is a reference to notes attached to the Douay-Rheims translation.  The Douay Old Testament (1609) and the Rheims New Testament (1587) constitute the Douay-Rheims Bible.  It is a Roman Catholic English Version of the Latin Vulgate.

[39] See Ezra 7:14.

[40] Tobit 12:15:  “I am Raphael, one of the seven holy angels, which present the prayers of the saints, and which go in and out before the glory of the Holy One.”

[41] The Shepherd of Hermas was written in either the late first century, or mid-second century.  The work consists of five visions, twelve mandates, and ten parables, in which the Church is called to repentance; the method of instruction is allegorical.  It was considered canonical by some early Christians.

[42] On Zechariah 4:10.

[43] Primasius (sixth century) was Bishop of Adrumentum in Africa, and a disciple of Augustine.  He wrote Commentarium in Apocalypsim.

[44] Rupertus (1091-1135) was a learned Benedictine, Abbot of Tuits on the Rhine.  The citation is likely taken from his commentary In Apocalypsim.

[45] Thomas Cartwright (c. 1535-1603) was an English Presbyterian and Puritan leader.  He wrote A Plaine Explanation of the Whole Revelation of Saint John.

[46] See Ezekiel 1:18, for example.

[47] John 3:34.

[48] For example, Romans 8:9; 1 Peter 1:11.

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