Note of the Day – June 7

John 14:16-17, 26; 15:26; 16:7, 13

In the previous daily note, I surveyed the passages in the Gospel of John which mention the (Holy) Spirit; today I will focus in a bit more detail on the so-called “Paraclete” passages in chapters 1416 (Jn 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7; cf. also 1 Jn 2:1). Of all the references to the Holy Spirit in the Gospels (and Acts), it is here that we perhaps come closest to the idea of the Spirit as a distinct person. This will be addressed further below, at the end of the note.

The Greek noun para/klhto$ (parákl¢tos) is derived from the verb parakale/w (parakaléœ, “call alongside”). Literally, the noun means “one (who is) called alongside” (passive) or “one (who) calls alongside” (active). The “calling alongside” normally implies the sense of giving help—i.e. aid, comfort, encouragement, etc. Sometimes it carries the technical meaning of a legal advocate. This semantic range has made interpretation and translation of para/klhto$ somewhat difficult in these passages, being rendered variously as “Comforter”, “Counselor”, “Advocate”, or simply transliterated as “Paraclete”. In ordinary English, the word is probably best translated as “Helper”.

A number of (critical) commentators have felt that, in the underlying Gospel tradition, this Paraclete/Helper originally referred to a being or figure separate from the Holy Spirit (as understood by early Christians). This is rather questionable, though it must be admitted that, in all three passages, the Paraclete is identified by the title “the Spirit of Truth”, and only once as “the Holy Spirit”. The expression “Spirit of Truth” is not found elsewhere in the New Testament outside of the Johannine tradition (1 Jn 4:6; cf. 5:6; Jn 4:23-24), but it does appear several times in the Qumran texts (Dead Sea Scrolls), especially in the so-called Community Rule [1QS] 3:18-19; 4:21, 23, the portion sometimes referred to as the “Treatise of the Two Spirits” (cf. also 4Q177 12-13 i 5; 4Q542 1 i 10, and note in 1QM 13:10). These “Spirits”—one of Truth, and one of Falsehood/Deceit—correspond to heavenly beings, i.e. Angels (cf. 1QS 3:24), opposed to one another, according to the dualistic worldview expressed in the Qumran texts (as also in the Testament of Judah ch. 20). Thus, at the time of Jesus (and early Gospel tradition), the expression “Spirit of Truth” as referring to a guarding/helping Angel, would have been current and familiar to some. It is also thought that the Paraclete idea in Jn 14-16 may have been influenced by Jewish Wisdom tradition, in which Divine Wisdom, personified or described as a person, gives help and guidance to the righteous. For a convenient survey and discussion of these topics, cf. R. E. Brown, The Gospel According to John XIII-XXI, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 29A, pp. 1135-43 (Appendix V).

There are three basic Paraclete passages in John 14-16:

1. John 14:15-24 (& v. 26)—the Spirit in the disciples.

Here the emphasis is on the abiding presence of Jesus (the Son)—and, by extension, God the Father—in believers. Jesus is going away (back) to the Father, but will come again and be seen by his followers:

  • The world will no longer see (physically)
    —but believers will see (through the Spirit), v. 19 (cf. 9:39; 20:29, etc)
  • The world cannot receive the Spirit, v. 17; only those who trust in the Son can/will do so

The Paraclete/Helper is called:

  • The Spirit of Truth“—whom the Father sends, at Jesus’ request (v. 17), and also
    The Holy Spirit“—whom the Father will send in Jesus’ name (v. 26)

The last reference gives specific emphasis on the Spirit/Paraclete teaching the disciples, so that Jesus’ words will remain/abide in them.

2. John 15:18-16:4a—the disciples speaking by the Spirit.

In this passage, the emphasis is on the Divine presence, i.e. of the Son (and the Father), for believers in the face of persecution (hatred by the world), so that they may testify on Jesus’ behalf—i.e., believers as Jesus’ representatives (cf. Mark 13:9-13 par; Matt 10:16-23; Luke 12:10-12). The disciples (indeed, all believers) are chosen out of the world, and do not belong to the world (v. 19).

The Paraclete/Helper is called:

  • The Spirit of Truth“—whom Jesus will send from the Father (v. 26)
3. John 16:4b-15the Spirit speaking through the disciples.

Here, in this third section, the emphasis is on the witness by the Spirit (against the world), through the testimony of believers. It is Jesus (the Son), and, by extension, the Father, who is speaking by way of the Paraclete (Matt 10:20; Lk 21:15). This is a profound reflection of the relationship between Father and Son (vv. 12-15), which, through the Spirit/Paraclete, results in the triadic unity: Father—Son—Believers (cf. 14:20-21, 23; 15:9-10; 17:20-26).

The Paraclete/Helper is called:

  • The Spirit of Truth“—who will come, from the Father and Son together (implied) (v. 13)
Reference to the Trinity?

Commentators and readers are often anxious to find expression of the orthodox formulation of the Trinity in the pages of the New Testament. In all fairness, it must be admitted that is really only present in a very rudimentary, seminal form—e.g., in passages such as 1 Cor 12:4-6; 2 Cor 13:14; 1 Pet 1:2; and Matt 28:19 (on this last, cf. my earlier notes). The basis for the orthodox belief, however, is found in the various statements which relate Jesus to the Father and/or the Spirit. There are two main sources in the New Testament which would shape the development of Christological and Trinitarian thought—(1) the letters of Paul, and (2) the Gospel (and First letter) of John, i.e. Pauline and Johannine theology. The Paraclete passages in the Discourses of Jn 13-17 are central to the Johannine view, which, I believe, may be summarized as follows:

  • The Spirit/Paraclete essentially represents the abiding (spiritual) presence of Jesus in believers, while he himself remains in heaven with the Father. Elsewhere in the New Testament, the expression “Spirit of Jesus” or “Spirit of Christ” is effectively synonymous with the “Spirit of God” or the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 16:7; Rom 8:9; Phil 1:19; 1 Pet 1:11; and note also “Spirit of the Lord” in Acts 5:9; 8:39; 2 Cor 3:17).
  • The Son (Jesus) was sent by the Father; once he returns to the Father, he, in turn, will send the Spirit/Paraclete to his disciples in his place. The Son will continue to act and work alongside the Father (in Heaven), but will, at the same time, be present with believers through the Spirit. This is described at several points within the Discourses (cf. above), and in the narrative context of Gospel is referenced (briefly) in Jn 20:17, 22.
  • The (reciprocal) relationship between Father and Son is such that the Son, in turn, does what the Father is doing (or has done). This is expressed throughout the Discourses in the Gospel, and is emphasized all the more in the context of the Son returning to a position alongside the Father in chs. 14-17. An interesting effect of this is that the sending of the Spirit can alternately be said to take place: (a) by the Father, in Jesus’ name (or at his request), or (b) by Jesus, from the Father.
  • This same relationship is extended to believers, in a two-fold manner:
    (1) The Father comes to abide in believers, just as the Son (Jesus) does—the presence of both (together) is realized for believers through the Spirit
    (2) The Son ‘prepares a place’ with the Father in Heaven for believers—he is the way to the Father and believers, insofar as they are faithful, will follow the Son to abide in union with the Father. This is marked by the other side of the Spirit’s presence—just as the Son abides in believers, so also believers abide in the Son.

Thus, we do not see a Trinitarian formula, properly speaking; but rather a triadic unity marked by the Spirit, which one might diagram (however imperfectly) in the following manner:

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