Question: "What is the spirit of wisdom and revelation in Ephesians 1:17?"
Answer: Paul, in his prayers “for saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 1:1, ESV), asks that God “may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better” (verse 17).
Prior to his prayer for the spirit of wisdom and revelation, Paul reminds the Ephesian believers of the blessings God has bestowed upon them (Ephesians 1:3), their adoption as children through Christ (verse 4), the wisdom and insight they have been given (verse 8), and “the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ” (verse 9). He also reminds them that they have been “marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance” (verses 13–14). Now he desires for them to be given the spirit of wisdom and revelation.
Since Christians receive the promised Holy Spirit at the moment of salvation (John 14:17), the spirit of wisdom and revelation that Paul prays for cannot refer to the initial gift of the Holy Spirit. Paul’s reference could easily be to an attitude or frame of mind (although the NIV and ESV capitalize Spirit, other translations such as the NASB and BSB translate it as “a spirit,” and the NLT simply has “spiritual wisdom and insight”). If not the Holy Spirit, then what does Paul ask for in his request for “the spirit of wisdom and revelation”? The key is in the phrase that follows, “in the knowledge of him” (ESV), or “so that you may know him better” (NIV).
Paul had commended the Ephesians for their faith in the Lord Jesus and their love toward all the saints (Ephesians 1:15), but now he is asking God to give them a deeper and greater understanding of the mysteries of His character and will, to know Him more thoroughly and intimately. Now that they have the Holy Spirit in their hearts, Paul desires Him to grant them more understanding and greater insight. The “wisdom” is a better understanding of the doctrines of God, and the “revelation” is a clearer picture of the divine character and will. In the NLT, the prayer is that believers would have “spiritual wisdom and insight so that you might grow in your knowledge of God.” The AMP translation has Paul asking that God “may grant you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation [that gives you a deep and personal and intimate insight] into the true knowledge of Him.”
God is infinite, and He can never be fully known by finite creatures. We all need wisdom from above. No matter how far we may advance in our understanding of God, there is an unfathomed depth of knowledge that remains to be explored. Scripture is full of admonitions to grow in our knowledge of Christ (2 Peter 3:18; 1 Peter 2:2; Ephesians 4:15).
Paul outlines some of the mysteries he wants the Ephesians to understand through this spirit of wisdom and revelation. He desires them to grasp “the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance” (Ephesians 1:18). This is the hope of eternal life, which Paul refers to as the “upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14, ESV). We inherit the riches of eternal life through Him who saved us and called us to holiness in Christ before time began (2 Timothy 1:9). Paul also prays the Spirit will reveal God’s “incomparably great power for us who believe” (Ephesians 1:19)—power so great it raised Jesus from the dead. It’s a power that we can only comprehend as we possess the spirit of wisdom and revelation.
The spirit of wisdom and revelation is not some mysterious blessing given to a special few, and it is not the ability to speak as a prophet. Rather, it is the work of the Holy Spirit to help the people of God understand the things of God more fully and completely.