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In Heb. 9:14, it is written,

14 How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? KJV, 1769

Textus Receptus, 1550, Heb. 9:14

ΙΔʹ πόσῳ μᾶλλον τὸ αἷμα τοῦ Χριστοῦ ὃς διὰ πνεύματος αἰωνίου ἑαυτὸν προσήνεγκεν ἄμωμον τῷ θεῷ καθαριεῖ τὴν συνείδησιν ὑμῶν ἀπὸ νεκρῶν ἔργων εἰς τὸ λατρεύειν θεῷ ζῶντι TR, 1550

What is the meaning of the phrase “eternal Spirit” («πνεύματος αἰωνίου»)? Does it refer to the Holy Spirit or something else?

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I believe the phrase does in fact mean the Holy Spirit.

A large number of manuscripts actually use the word ἁγίου in place of αἰωνίου, including the Sinaiticus and Bezae Codices, as well as the source text used by John Chrysostom in his Homilies on Hebrews.

Ambrose of Milan (4th c.) cited this verse in Book I of On the Holy Spirit:

So as wisdom which proceeds from the mouth of God cannot be said to be created, nor the Word Which is uttered from His heart, nor the power in which is the fulness of the eternal Majesty; so, too, the Spirit which is poured forth from the mouth of God cannot be considered to be created, since God Himself has shown their unity to be such that He speaks of His pouring forth of His Spirit. By which we understand that the grace of God the Father is the same as that of the Holy Spirit, and that without any division or loss it is divided to the hearts of each. That, then, which is shed abroad of the Holy Spirit is neither severed, nor comprehended in any corporeal parts, nor divided.

For how can it be credible that the Spirit should be divided by any parcelling out? John says of God: “Hereby know we that He abides in us by the Spirit which He hath given us” [1 John 3:24]. But that which abides always is certainly not changed, therefore if it suffers no change it is eternal. And so the Holy Spirit is eternal, but the creature is liable to fault, and therefore subject to change. But that which is subject to change cannot be eternal, and there cannot therefore be anything in common between the Spirit and the creature, because the Spirit is eternal, but every creature is temporal.

But the Apostle also shows that the Holy Spirit is eternal, for: “If the blood of bulls and of goats, and the sprinkling the ashes of an heifer sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh, how much more the blood of Christ, Who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God?” [Hebrews 9:13,14]. Therefore the Spirit is eternal.

(Chapter VIII)

In his commentary on Hebrews (written in Greek), John Chrysostom (also 4th c.) writes:

For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh; how much more shall the Blood of Christ, who through the Holy [ἁγίου] Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works, to serve the living God.

For (he says) if “the blood of bulls” is able to purify the flesh, much rather shall the Blood of Christ wipe away the defilement of the soul. For that thou mayest not suppose when thou hearest [the word] “sanctifieth,” that it is some great thing, he marks out10 and shows the difference between each of these purifyings, and how the one of them is high and the other low. And says it is [so] with good reason, since that is “the blood of bulls,” and this “the Blood of Christ.”

Nor was he content with the name, but he sets forth also the manner of the offering. “Who” (he says) “through the Holy [ἁγίου] Spirit offered Himself without spot to God,” that is, the victim was without blemish, pure from sins. For this is [the meaning of] “through the Holy Spirit,” not through fire, nor through any other things

(Homily XV on the Epistle to the Hebrews)

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While the appearance of the expression "eternal Spirit" is singular (technical term: hapax logomenon), there are numerous contextual clues which might explain why the writer of Hebrews used the expression.

First is the context of the entire book of Hebrews with its theme of the superiority of Christ as contrasted to the inferior--though necessary for a time--Law of Moses, particularly as it applied to the rules and regulations of the sacrificial system of the tabernacle and, later, temple worship.

The writer of Hebrews fleshes out This superiority in numerous ways, but if we limit our focus primarily to Hebrews chapter 9, the author elaborates on that superiority through his use of contrasting terms, particularly present time and eternal.

The writer considers the inherent limitations of the temporal aspects of the "first covenant" or "old tabernacle" (9:1,8), particularly their rules, regulations, and methods. He then contrasts them with the perfections of the "new covenant" (9:15).

Warren Wiersby summarizes the inherent limitations well:

The Old Covenant sanctuary was inferior for five reasons. It was an earthly sanctuary (v. 1), it was a type of something greater (vv. 2-5), and it was inaccessible to the people (vv. 6-7). Furthermore it was only temporary (v. 8) and its ministry was external rather than internal (vv. 9-10) [at NET Bible, Constable's Notes for Hebrews 9:6-10, footnote 280].

On the other hand, the perfections are simply the "opposite" of the limitations which Wiersbe summarized:

  • a heavenly sanctuary; the very throne room of heaven, or the heavenly sanctuary, where Jesus presented to his Father, symbolically, the blood of his perfect, once-and-for-all-time sacrifice

  • the antitype, Christ, who is by definition the fulfillment and embodiment of the types and shadows of the old covenant

  • a completely accessible way, through faith, and by way of the blood of Jesus

  • eternal in the heavens (more on that, later)

  • internal and permanent cleansing within the consciences of repentant sinners (or "the called" of 9:15)

Second is the context of chapter 9, which elucidates the contrast between what is temporal and what is eternal. This contrast, then, seems to be the basis of the expression "eternal Spirit." Whether the word spirit should be capitalized or not is not relevant to this contrast, since either word is perfectly apt!

On the one hand are the "external regulations" (9:1 and 10), the "outer tent" and the "inner tent" (9: 1, 6, 7), and the continual entering of the Levitical priests and the once-a-year entering of the high priest (9:6 and 7). Altogether they comprise the letter of the law.

On the other hand are the eternal verities of which the regulations and modalities of the old covenant with its two priesthoods (Levitical and Aaronic) were but mere shadows. Put differently, they were verities cloaked in mystery and characterized by anticipation of better things to come; that is: Christ, in all his perfections. They comprise the spirit (or Spirit) of the Law.

In conclusion, the phrase "eternal Spirit" is the counterpart of, or antithesis to, all the earthly and temporary regulations of the Law of Moses as touching the Hebrews' cultus. Though the writer to the Hebrews may not have articulated the doctrine of the eternal counsels of God, as Paul did in his writings (e.g., Ephesians 1:11), the writer alludes to it in other, different words, which together give us what is close to being a full-orbed description of a salvation which was planned in eternity but was accomplished on earth in "the fullness of time" (Galatians 4:4).

What preceded the former was the determination of God's eternal counsels to reveal the eternal Spirit of the Word of God in a body of flesh, which despite the Word's self-imposed limitations (the kenosis or self-emptying of Jesus, elaborated in Philippians chapter 2), revealed to true believers the

glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14).

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  • (-1) The suggestion of this "answer" is that God "revealed the eternal Spirit of the Word of God in a body of flesh" yet the text shows that Jesus was clearly mortal and it was when he was resurrected that he obtained an everlasting breath: YLT Heb 9:12c ...age-during redemption [freedom] having obtained; αἰωνίαν λύτρωσιν εὑράμενος As Paul said: Rom 6:9-10 Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him. For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God. – user10231 May 29 '16 at 17:49