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The Holy Spirit Proceeding from both the Father and the Son

Question of Matthew Overway

I am Matthew Overway and am a member of First Protestant Reformed Church of Holland, Michigan. I have a question for you I hope you can answer in your section of the Beacon Lights (The Reader Asks) concerning the Trinity. After reading the Nicene Creed and the Triple Knowledge on Lord’s Day VIII, I was struck by the fact that the Holy Spirit proceeds out of the Father and the Son. This doctrine was not new to me, but I had never wondered what it meant. Now after reading these two expositions of scripture on this doctrine I ask you to help me (and fellow readers) understand what it means that the Holy Spirit proceeds out of the Father and the Son. Also, I ask if you could help explain the importance of this specific doctrine to the general doctrine of the Trinity.

And finally could you cite some scriptural passages that support this doctrine or at least make it clearer.

Dear Matthew,

It is a delight to read of your desire to understand this profound truth concerning the life of the Triune God. Admittedly, it is a truth that is beyond our full comprehension. But, nevertheless, since God has revealed this truth to us, it is something we believers can begin to understand.

We begin by quoting a passage where we read of this. John 15:26 says,

But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me:

The word translated “proceedeth” literally means “goes out from.” Here we read that the Holy Spirit goes out from the Father, and is sent by the Son. But if He is sent by the Son, then He goes out from the Son. Thus this passage has been one of the main ones used to support the teaching that the Spirit proceeds not only from the Father, but also from the Son.

There are, however, other passages that describe this eternal activity within the Being of God. Another way of saying that the Spirit proceeds is to say that He is breathed forth. The word translated “Spirit” is a word that also means “Breath.” Therefore, it is proper to say that the Holy Spirit is the Breath of God, and that He is breathed forth from both the Father and the Son. We read of this in John 20:22: “And when he (i.e. Jesus) had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost.”

The second Person of the Trinity is the Word of God (John 1:1, 14), and the third Person of the Trinity is the Breath of God. We read of both of them in Psalm 33:6, “By the word of the LORD were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth.”

When we speak a word, out from our mouth comes both the word and our breath. But the Word of God and the Breath of God are two real, distinct Persons, different from the Father and from one another. This tells us something about how intimate the communion is within the triune Being of God. We cannot fully comprehend this, but we know from Scripture that it is so.

It is very important that we understand that the Spirit proceeds not only from the Father, but also from the Son. There was a controversy over this issue that led to the split of the eastern churches from the western churches in the year 1054. We can see more clearly why an understanding of this truth is so important when we remember that the second Person is the Word of God. If the Spirit is breathed forth from the Word of God, then we will experience the blessings of the Holy Spirit only when we are listening to and embracing the truth of the Word of God.

This is a very glorious and fascinating truth. If you have any other questions regarding this or anything else, please write again.