God is the “Father of Spirits.” Doesn’t that mean we live on as spirits?
Text in question: Hebrews 12:9
“Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live?”
A Bible student must be careful about the study techniques he uses to gain knowledge of God and divine things. It is a common temptation to “read into” Scriptural texts a pre-determined idea that we merely want to be true. However, when we add meaning to verses that is not explicitly inferred, we often come to incorrect ideas that are not otherwise supported by the Bible, or which even contradict other parts of the Bible.
Such is often the case with the text regarding the “Father of spirits” in Hebrews chapter 12. This is the only location in the entire canon of Scripture where this phrase is used. Even with the added context of the rest of chapter 12, no additional information comes to light as to what, exactly, the author meant by this phrase.
Some churches take this single text as proof that we continue to live in spirit form after death: Because God is our Father, and also the Father of spirits, we must therefore be the spirits in question. Other churches use this text to support the idea that we lived in spiritual form before our human births, and they therefore build entire theologies around the idea of pre-existence. The human body becomes temporary, in this view; it did not exist in the beginning, and will not exist after death, but we were and will be alive even without the body.
Without any other explicit texts throughout Hebrews, we must turn to the other Scriptures to gain a better understanding of the nature of “spirits” as they are described in the Bible. We find many such examples in Revelation.
John, the author of Revelation, uses the phrase “in the spirit” several times throughout the book. The first instance is in Revelation 1:10, which reads:
“I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, and I heard behind me a loud voice, as of a trumpet.”
John repeats this phrase in Revelation 4:2, 17:3, and 21:10. Each time, the Spirit of God brings John to a different location to see a prophetic vision, even though he remains physically on the island of Patmos. Thus we see the term “spirit” used to describe the state of a prophet while in vision.
We see another use of the word in Revelation 1:4, which says:
“John, to the seven churches which in are Asia: Grace to you and peace from Him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven Spirits who are before His throne.”
Here the spirits appear to be other beings in heaven who minister before the throne of God. While we don’t know specifically, they appear to be non-physical beings, since elsewhere throughout the book we also see “elders,” “angels,” and “creatures.” We can be reasonably certain, however, that they are not deceased human beings, because Revelation 20:4, 5 tells us that the dead do not return to life until after the second coming of Jesus Christ. Those two verses encompass all the dead, both the righteous and the wicked.
Finally, Revelation also tells us about “unclean spirits.” We read, in Revelation 16:13, 14: “And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs … they are the spirits of demons.”
These texts specifically tell us that the term spirit can refer to demons! Demons are, very clearly, not deceased human beings.
These are only a few of the instances in which the Bible uses the term “spirit.” The word clearly refers to a multitude of creatures and states of being. Yet God is Father over them all, because the Bible tells us plainly that all things were made through God (John 1:3).
In light of this, we cannot state conclusively that Hebrews 12:9 refers to people in spiritual form, either before human birth or after death. To make such a claim requires us to ignore other biblical evidence.
*All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.