What is the filioque clause controversy? Is it biblical?

The filioque is a Latin term that deals with the church controversy concerning the phrase "and from the Son," filioque, which was intended to indicate that the Holy Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son (double procession) and not from the Father alone. The controversy contributed to the split between the Eastern and Western churches in A.D. 1054. The Eastern Church, or the Orthodox Church, rejected the filioque and maintained that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father alone, where the Western church, the Roman Catholic church, accepts it.

The word filioque is a Latin term that means “and from the Son.” It was not included in the Nicene Creed in either the first version of A.D. 325 or the second version of A.D. 381. Those versions simply said that the Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father.” But in A.D. 589, at a regional church council in Toledo (in what is now Spain), the phrase “and the Son” was added, so that the creed then said that the Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father and the Son (filioque).”1

So which is it? Does the Holy Spirit proceed from the Father alone or from both the Father and the Son? The question is difficult to answer because we can understand it in two different senses, eternal procession and temporal procession. If it is eternal procession, then we are dealing with the nature of the Trinity. If we're speaking of temporal procession, then we're dealing with the order of events. 

Now, there is no doubt that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father. 

John 15:26, “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me."

The Greek word for "proceeds" is ἐκπορεύομαι, ekporeuomai. It means to come out of, to proceed from, depart out of, to leave from. It is used in many places in the New Testament. But we do not find a verse that says the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son. So, it would seem fair to say that the Holy Spirit proceeds only from the Father. However, we find other verses that influence the discussion.

  • Matt. 10:20, "For it is not you who speak, but it is the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you."
  • John 16:7, "But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you."
  • Rom. 8:9, "However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him."
  • Galatians 4:6, "Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”
  • Philippians 1:19, "for I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayers and the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ."
  • 1 Peter 1:11, "seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow."

Because of the verses above, many theologians have concluded that there is a procession of the Spirit from the Son because of how the Holy Spirit is said to be of the Father (Matthew 10:20), of God (Romans 8:9), of the Son (Galatians 4:6), and of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:19). So, if the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and he is the Spirit of the Father (Matthew 10:20), and since he's also the spirit of Christ (Philippians 1:19), some have concluded that necessarily it must follow that the Holy Spirit also proceeds from the Son.

The controversy continues, and we will probably never know the correct answer this side of heaven. God has not specifically revealed the answer to this question. So, we can conclude that the Holy Spirit does proceed from the Father (John 15:26), and whether or not he also proceeds from the Son is still debated.

  • 1. Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan), 1994. p. 246

About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.