Seven Deadly Spirits in Revelation 2-3

I first read Revelation seriously (or at least responsibly) with Dr. Bruce Metzger at Princeton Seminary, first as his student and then as his teaching fellow. I’ve been fascinated with the book, and the seven messages in chapters 2-3, ever since. And I am now finishing a little book called Reading Revelation Responsibly, which should come out from Cascade in the spring.

Meanwhile… in a recent book, Seven Deadly Spirits: The Message of Revelation’s Letters for Today’s Church, T. Scott Daniels suggests that five of the seven churches addressed in Rev 2-3 have a dominant, deadly sin—and hence a message for us about avoiding those corporate sins in our own context. The other two (Smyrna and Philadelphia), which are commended and not at all censured, could have developed a spirit opposite that for which they are praised. Daniels contends that each of the churches has, or could have, such a specific deadly sin because it has developed an ethos, a kind of corporate personality, and that every church in every age has such a distinctive collective spirit. These “unholy spirits” (my term) are:

• Ephesus: the spirit of boundary keeping, or ungenerous orthodoxy
• Smyrna: the spirit of consumerism
• Pergamum: the spirit of accommodation, or failed witness
• Thyatira: the spirit of privatized faith, or dividing body and soul
• Sardis: the spirit of apathetic faith
• Philadelphia: the spirit of fear
• Laodicea: the spirit of self-sufficiency

The point of Rev 2-3, when heard faithfully today, is to listen for the Spirit of God identifying our own church’s peculiar unholy spirit and offering us the presence and grace of Christ to transform us into a more faithful people of God.

The book is not cutting-edge scholarship, but it is excellent biblical interpretation grounded in good exegesis.

I am wondering which church I belong to… Are you?

5 Responses to “Seven Deadly Spirits in Revelation 2-3”

  1. David Jacobson says:

    These are very challenging chapters, and this is a very challenging post. Thanks! Do you plan to be teaching Revelation in the near future?

  2. MJG says:

    Thanks, David. I teach Rev in the seminary (day time) spring 2010 and in the summer (again, day time) for EI in 2010 or 2011, God willing.

    I have a lot of posts on Rev, with some good reading recommendations, I think.

  3. Michael,
    Thanks for the nice review. I’m glad the book was helpful.
    Scott D.

  4. MJG says:


    Thanks for stopping by; I hope the book attracts and impacts lots of readers.

  5. Angela says:

    Excellent, Michael!!

    Rev 2-3 is one of my favorite sections. Crazy?!

    I am coming to know the church “I belong to” and as a Godly watchwoman I hope that as we corporately contend with these “unholy spirits” we seek to gain dominion over them! In fact, if we grasp and heed the Spirit’s counsel then our lives will be drastically altered and infused with a different life and relationship with God. That is my prayer for the church I am serving.

    Thank you for pointing out T. Scott Daniels’ book and your own work and resources! If I am unable to take your class then to the posts I go. : )

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