the Seven-fold Spirit of God

What are your spiritual gifts?  What has God especially gifted you to do?  How is the Holy Spirit working in your life?  These are questions that we hear a lot in the churches of today.  Usually in the course of such discussions we turn to various spiritual gift inventory questionnaires which draw from the famous lists of gifts of the Spirit in Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12.  What’s interesting about this approach, however, is that this is a decades-old phenomenon.

Supporters of this approach to identifying the work of the Spirit in the life of the individual believer usually argue that the Holy Spirit was under-appreciated in generations past, even going so far as to calling him “the forgotten God.”  While it is admittedly true that Western Christianity has, for a long time, been less attentive to the person & work of God the Spirit than it should be, it is quite an arrogant claim to call him “the forgotten God.”  If anyone forgot him, it was the extreme modernists who rejected all things supernatural and the extreme Jesus freaks who unwittingly rejected the doctrine of the Trinity.  But the Church in her mainstream, well-anchored to her past because she is one Body, has never forgotten the life-giving Spirit.

the seven-fold Spirit

One of the most popular paradigms for talking about the Holy Spirit for much of history (at least in the West – I don’t know if the Orthodox draw from this in the same way) is the image of the “seven-fold Spirit of God” in Revelation.  The phrase appears four times in that book (and this Wikipedia article lists them).  Many people today read that and get confused, forgetting that the Church has, for centuries, understood this not as a reference to the “number” of the Holy Spirit(s), but to the ministry of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is not known by us directly, but through his work in us.

The seven-fold gifts, or the seven-fold ministry of the Holy Spirit can be found prophesied in Isaiah 11:1-3.

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.  The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him — the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord — and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.

So first of all this is a prophecy of the promised Christ: Jesus will come from the stump (family tree) of Jesse (David’s father), and the Holy Spirit will rest on him (which is described to happen at Jesus’ baptism), giving him these gifts of wisdom and understanding, and so forth.  Trouble is, there appears only to be six gifts here.  That’s actually a shortcoming of our modern English translations.

The King James Bible gives us a closer picture of what these seven things are:

And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord; And shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the Lord…

It’s that verse 3 being tricky, the way it’s worded may cloud the fact that the “delight in the fear of the Lord” or “understanding in the fear of the Lord” is also from the Spirit, bringing the six gifts in verse 2 up to seven gifts.

Objection #1 at this point might be that this is talking about Jesus, not us!  Yes, that is true.  However, if we believe that the same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead now dwells in us, then the gifts and ministry of the Holy Spirit in the life of Jesus is also for those who are one with him!  Jesus is the second Adam, the new man, the prototype for the human race redeemed; what the Spirit gives him, the Spirit gives his people also.

Figuring out the actual list of seven

Now, what exactly are these seven gifts or ministries of the Spirit?  Again, Wikipedia has a nice summary, but let’s look at this more closely.
#. Hebrew, Greek, Latin, English

  1. hacmah, sophias, sapientiae, wisdom
  2. biynah, suneseos, intellectus, understanding
  3. etsah, boules, consilii, counsel
  4. g’vurah, ischuos, fortitudinis, might
  5. da’ath, gnoseos, scientiae, knowledge
  6. yir’ath YHWH, eusebeias, pietatis, fear
  7. hariycho b’yirath YHWH, phobou theou, timore Domini, fear of the Lord

It turns out there is a slight discrepancy between the Greek and Hebrew Old Testament texts that we have today.  In Hebrew, #6 and #7 are both “fear of the Lord,” while in Greek #6 is “godliness” or “piety” and #7 is “fear of the Lord.”  Which is the original?  Nobody knows.

  • Pros of the Hebrew: it’s the same basic language as the original.
  • Cons of the Hebrew: the manuscripts only go back to about 1,000AD and was preserved by Jews who were probably biased against Christians.
  • Pros of the Greek: the manuscripts go back to about 200AD and comes from both Christian and Jewish scribes.
  • Cons of the Greek: it’s been translated into a language very different than ancient Hebrew.

What makes these gifts so important

In one of the most famous chapters of the Bible, St. Paul writes about the virtue of love.  What’s easily overlooked about that chapter is that it’s sandwiched between two other chapters about spiritual gifts: 1 Corinthians 12 describes various gifts of the Spirit to the Body of Christ, chapter 14 describes how they should be used, but chapter 13 in the middle points out that all those gifts are useless without the virtue of love.  The critical lesson here is that character is more important than giftedness.  Yes, those charismatic gifts are great, but without Christian character they’ll do nobody any good.  And so that’s why, I think, it’s important to look to old teachings like this seven-fold ministry of the Spirit first before delving into the “spiritual gifts inventory.”

for further consideration

Rather than discuss each of these here, I’ll just list some New Testament references that describe these virtues/gifts of the Spirit.

hacmah, sophias, sapientiae, wisdom: 1 Corinthians 1-2, Ephesians 1, James 3

biynah, suneseos, intellectus, understanding: Colossians 1:9, 2:2, 2 Timothy 2:7

etsah, boules, consilii, counsel: Acts 5:38, 20:27

g’vurah, ischuos, fortitudinis, might: Ephesians 6:10, 1 Peter 4:11

da’ath, gnoseos, scientiae, knowledge: 1 Corinthians 8, 2 Corinthians 4:6, Philippians 3:8, 2 Peter 1:5-7, 2 Peter 3:18

eusebeias, pietatis, godliness: 1 Timothy 3;16, 1 Timothy 6, 2 Timothy 3:5, 2 Peter 1

b’yirath YHWH, phobou theou, timore Domini, fear of the Lord: Matthew 10:28, 2 Corinthians 7, Philippians 2:121 Peter 3:15-16

Last of all, consider Mark 12:33, where Jesus says to love God with all your heart, mind, and strength.  The “mind” there is “boules” which is the virtue/gift of understanding, and the “strength” there is “ischuous” which is the virtue/gift of might.  In a way, everything seems to come back to that basic commandment: love God first and completely.

About Fr. Brench

I'm an Anglican Priest and a sci-fi geek. Therefore, I write about liturgy & spiritual formation, theology & biblical studies, and Doctor Who. But I keep those blogs separate so I don't confuse too many people!
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2 Responses to the Seven-fold Spirit of God

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