Revelation 1:4—How can the Holy Spirit be seven spirits if He is one person?

Problem: According to the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit is one person, the third person of the triune Godhead. Jesus referred to the Holy Spirit as “He” (singular). But John referred to “the seven Spirits who are before His [God’s] throne” (Rev. 1:4), which many commentators see as a reference to the Holy Spirit. But how can the Holy Spirit be seven spirits?

Solution: The Book of Revelation contains a good bit of symbolism, and this is only one example. There is similar symbolism in other portions of this book. For instance, most agree that Revelation 12:3 speaks about Satan, but he is called a “great red dragon” with “seven heads and ten horns.” Here, the seven heads and ten horns are attributed to one individual, Satan. Also, speaking of the beast from the sea, Revelation 13:1 says that he has “seven heads and ten horns.” The number seven symbolizes completeness, as there are seven days in a complete week.

Other symbols are used of the Holy Spirit in Scripture. For instance, He is spoken of as a dove in Mark 1:10 and is likened to the “wind” in John 3:8 and water in John 4:14. He is also portrayed as “tongues as of fire” in Acts 2:3. And Ephesians 1:13 says we are “sealed” by the Holy Spirit, signifying God’s ownership of us and the security of our salvation.

Many Bible students believe the sevenfold nature of the Holy Spirit may derive from the reference in Isaiah 11:2 where He is called the Spirit of the Lord, the Spirit of wisdom, of understanding, of counsel, of might, of knowledge, and of the fear of the Lord—seven different characteristics of one and the same Spirit.

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This excerpt is from When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992). © 2014 Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Click here to purchase this book.