Why do Paul’s epistles often open with salutations from both the Father and the Son, but never the Holy Spirit?
To the Romans Paul writes “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and [our] Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 1: 7). Identical or very similar words are used in most of his other epistles (see 1 Cor. 1: 3; 2 Cor. 1: 2; Gal. 1: 3; Eph. 1: 2; Phil. 1: 2; Col. 1: 2; 2 Thess. 1: 2; 1 Tim. 1: 2; 2 Tim. 1: 2; Titus 1: 4). It is worth noting that the form of words generally used (‘God our Father’ and ‘Lord Jesus Christ’) is in accord with 1 Cor. 8: 6: “yet to us [there is] one God, the Father, of whom all things, and we for him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom [are] all things, and we by him”. The context of this passage is the contrast between the polytheism of the pagan world (“as there are gods many, and lords many”—v5) and the monotheism of Christianity “there [is] no other God save one”—v4). Christ is of course God (see Heb. 1: 8), as is the Holy Spirit (see Acts 5: 3, 4), but to us (that is, in terms of presentation), it is as Father that God is known. Similarly, both the Father and the Holy Spirit are spoken of as Lord (see Matt. 11: 25; 2 Cor. 3: 18), but in the Christian revelation, Lordship is the particular preserve of Christ. Nor are there three Gods or three Lords, for God is one and there is one God (see Eph. 4: 5–6).
Some would have it that “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and [our] Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 1: 7) is just a form of words that Paul uses with little intrinsic meaning. On the contrary, it indicates that he wrote in the belief that he was bringing a message from God. The apostle may sometimes have written without the absolute certainty of being inspired (see 1 Cor. 7: 40), but this does not alter the wisdom in the choice of words he uses to open his epistles. Paul had a message to the saints, but he did not see himself as writing in isolation. There is that which he associated with his own words—what comes ‘from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ’.
Why then does the apostle never include the Holy Spirit in his opening salutation? The answer lies in how the Spirit is presented in the context of opening up the truth. In John 16: 13, the Lord Jesus said that “when he is come, the Spirit of truth, he shall guide you into all the truth: for he shall not speak from himself; but whatsoever he shall hear he shall speak” (my emphasis). Of course the Holy Spirit, being God, has every right to speak from Himself, but that is not the way He conducts Himself. He is instead the One through which these divine communications reach the Christian. Thus Paul speaks of “Things which … God has revealed to us by [his] Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God … that we may know the things which have been freely given to us of God” (1 Cor. 2: 9, 10, 12). Nor does John’s expression “what the Spirit says to the assemblies” (Rev. 2: 7) in any way weaken this rule, for there the Spirit speaks through John as the messenger of the One who says “I know” (v2). If the “Spirit speaks” (1 Tim. 4: 1) it is because He is conveying what He has heard.
Returning to John 16, the Lord says of the Spirit that “He shall glorify me, for he shall receive of mine and shall announce [it] to you” (v14). Thus the Spirit does not speak from Himself, but instead takes what is of Christ and conveys it to His people. But this is not all. The Lord goes on to say “All things that the Father has are mine; on account of this I have said that he receives of mine and shall announce [it] to you” (v15). Thus the Father and the Son are associated together as being the source of divine communications, while the Holy Spirit brings them to the believer.
In the worship of God, the Holy Spirit takes a similar place. Since “to us [there is] one God, the Father” (1 Cor. 8: 6), we can understand the connection between worship and the Father made in John 4. However, the Lord also says there that “God [is] a spirit; and they who worship him must worship [him] in spirit and truth” (v24). Thus the Spirit is the power of worship while the Father is the object.
The same principles are evident in relation to fellowship. Thus if John writes that: “our fellowship [is] indeed with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1: 3), Paul speaks of a “fellowship of” (not with) “[the] Spirit” (Phil. 2: 1, my emphasis; see 2 Cor. 13: 14).
It ought to be clear now why the apostle was led to omit the Holy Spirit from his salutations. The Lord Jesus Christ speaks from Himself, and so does the Father, but the Holy Spirit speaks what He hears, guiding us into all the truth. In this context, He does not occupy the place in the foreground occupied by the Father and the Son. Yet if the epistle comes from the Father and from Christ, it also comes in the power of the Spirit. God not only speaks, but He delivers the message.